Category Archives: nutrition

A Guide to Gardening Alternatives

Many people love gardening but find that because of limitations in their physical space (living in an apartment), or perhaps limitations of their physical bodies (bad back, etc.), they are no longer able to enjoy this activity. Read on and you may find some alternatives that will prevent your gardening hobby from “wilting and dying.”

Container Gardens
If you do not have space for a garden, you may be surprised to know that you can grow a wide assortment of vegetables right on your back patio in containers. Container gardening is a successful method that requires a lot less work than planting directly into the ground. It’s perfect for apartment dwellers and people who aren’t able to do the more physically challenging work involved with an in-ground garden.

What you will need:

  1. Containers – from $5-$10
  2. Seed – (From 20 cents/packet at dollar stores to $2.50/packet at garden shops)
  3. Tools: hand trowel, spade, gloves – $2-$10
  4. Soil – Plain bags of topsoil cost under $4, but if you get the more expensive kind with Miracle Grow or other fertilizer mixed in, expect to pay $6-12.
  5. Sunny location – Even the best seed and soil won’t produce vegetables without a lot of sun. If you have a porch that receives shade most of the day, you probably won’t have much success growing vegetables. There are plenty of shade-loving flowers though, so you could still enjoy gardening in containers.

When selecting containers, make sure they have enough space for the roots to spread and grow. You’ll need them to be a minimum of 12-14 inches wide, and at least 10-12 inches deep. Drainage is important too, so if your containers do not have pre-drilled holes at the bottom, be sure to drill some, or your plants may get root-rot and die.

These are some vegetables that do well in containers:

  • Tomatoes
  • Green onions
  • Turnips
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Peppers
  • Green beans
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Squash

Tall plants, such as tomatoes and some peppers, will need a trellis support around them as they grow so that they don’t topple over.

For vining plants such as beans, squash, and cucumbers, you can use stakes and supports that go around the plants, or you can train them to grow up string or yarn that you suspend from above. Some people use one long pole with yarn tied at the top and let the vines grow up the yarn around the pole. Make a “privacy screen” of green leaves by letting the plants grow up a “framework” of yarn string that you hang from the top of the porch. Get creative!

Raised Beds
If you do have space in your yard, and you want to try a small garden, consider a raised bed. They require less space than a traditional garden. Gardening in a raised bed is less physically demanding than an in-ground garden because you do not have to till the soil, and depending on how high it is, you won’t have to bend over quite as much. There is also much less weeding to do than with an in-ground garden, so it is less work overall.

Plants grow more vigorously with a raised bed because the soil in the prepared bed is more conducive to plant growth than the topsoil of your yard. The soil you add to the raised bed is soft and easy for roots to move through, and you can prepare the bed with fertilizer and soil amendments to make it perfect for plant growth. Raised beds have less compaction in the soil, more aeration, and better draining than in-ground gardens, and they are easier to weed. The walls also create a barrier to pests such as snails and slugs.

The richer soil of raised beds (with its higher content of organic matter and compost) can support more plants per square foot than a traditional garden, therefore, increasing your yield. Plants in a raised bed are intended to be planted close together, filling in the bed as they grow, with the leaves touching to provide additional protection from would-be weed invaders.

While pre-constructed raised beds are available for purchase, you can build one yourself much more cheaply with a few planks of wood and some screws. Use cedar; it is rot and bug resistant. Although it is more expensive, cedar lasts many years longer than other types of wood. Avoid using railroad ties as they may be coated in creosote, which is toxic. Thicker wood will last longer. If you opt to use concrete blocks or bricks, be aware that concrete will raise your soil pH over time, requiring that you eventually use amendments to lower the pH.

What you will need:

  1. Wood – $15-$20 (If you purchase from Home Depot or Lowes, they will cut it to your requested dimensions at no additional cost.)
  2. Bag of Compost or manure – $2-$5 per bag
  3. Bag of fertilizer-enriched soil – $3-8 per bag
  4. Wheat Straw mulch – $4-$6/bale
  5. Seed – .20 cents/packet – $3.00/packet depending on store
  6. Hand tiller/trowel/gloves – $2-$10 (Cheapest at the dollar stores)

Choose a location that gets lots of sunlight during the day, at least 6 to 8 hours. Don’t make the bed too wide or it will be hard to harvest from the center. You can choose the depth but keep in mind that most plants’ roots extend 6-12 inches in depth. Consider a design that will allow you to sit on the border of the bed while you work inside it. This will take additional strain off your body.

Prepare the ground beneath the bed by covering with a black tarp to kill off any weeds or weed seed that are currently there. Leave it for 3-4 weeks, and then remove the grass and any weeds that remain.

It is advisable to till the soil a good 6-8 inches deep before building the raised bed. The good news is you only have to do it this first time and then enjoy till-free gardening for years to come!

Next, fill the bed with a mixture of compost, topsoil, organic matter (manure, bone meal, peat, hay, or straw mulch). This provides a nutrient-rich environment for plant growth and helps hold some moisture in the soil.

Raised beds dry out faster, so during the hot months of summer, consider adding straw, mulch, or hay as a layer on top of the soil to hold in moisture. Water frequently when your seedlings first sprout and begin to grow, but after that your raised bed will need very little maintenance.

All the plants that grow well in containers also do well in raised beds. Just about anything can be grown well in a raised bed. Other than the ones mentioned above, some other veggies to consider growing in your raised bed garden include these:

  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Pumpkins
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Pumpkins
  • Broccoli

Whether you opt for a raised bed or a container garden, don’t let space or a bad back be a limiting factor in your horticultural adventure! Get out and grow!

 

 

Eating Healthier: In-Season Veggies and Fruits

The arrival of spring brings more people out running, going to the gym, and dieting (sometimes “crash” dieting) to be prepared for spring break, spring and summer vacations, and to “become healthier.”

One way to become healthier is to improve the quality of the nutrients you consume by eating locally grown, in-season fruits and vegetables. In-season being the time of year when a fruit or vegetable is usually harvested, is at its peak ripeness, and is most plentiful.

You may see fruits and other produce in your grocery store during all seasons of the year, but much of the time, it has been shipped from a distance—even other countries—where it may have been many days since it was harvested, and it also may have questionable nutrient value.

Benefits of Eating In-Season Fruits and Vegetables

Flavor. The flavor is more intense: Freshly harvested produce just tastes better than produce even a few days older. Think of biting into a fresh, crisp apple that is so fresh it squirts its juices with each bite, or a fresh peach which gives off its inviting smell before you even bite into it.

Higher-quality nutrients. Produce picked before it ripens does not have enough time in the sun for the nutrients to fully develop in the flesh of the fruit or vegetable. In-season fruits and vegetables have a higher vitamin C content which lowers the risk of infections, unlike the infection risks from the pesticides and preservatives in canned and processed foods. Canned fruits and vegetables rapidly lose anti-oxidants like vitamin C, folate, and carotenes when they sit on store shelves, but freshly picked ones are loaded with these health-giving substances.

Price. Seasonal produce and fruits are in abundant supply, so the price per pound is less—making it not only better for you but also cheaper. For non-seasonal produce shipped from other places such as California and Mexico, the shipping cost is passed along to the purchaser, resulting in higher prices. Transported produce must be picked before ripening, chilled during transportation to prevent rotting, and upon arriving at its destination, possibly heated in a hothouse to artificially ripen, which changes the texture and taste as well as greatly reducing the nutrients.

Avoiding Contaminates. Because of the stringent regulations on food grown in the United States, we can feel safe consuming foods grown here (and if there is an outbreak caused by foods grown in some areas, we are notified and told to return or throw out the named food). However, many countries overseas (from which some of our vegetables and fruits are sourced) have very relaxed laws concerning chemicals that are sprayed on crops grown there. They may not conduct or regulate soil contamination tests to ensure safe ground in which to grow fruits and vegetables. In some of these agricultural areas, heavy metals and other toxic contaminates have been found coming from industrial sites located in or near the same areas.

Community. Most communities have a farmer’s market or food co-op, and these are not only great places to get the freshest of in-season produce, but you can also talk with the farmers who produce these foods and learn about the methods they use. It is a plus to be able to support farmers who work so hard to provide healthy foods for the community and to help build connections which benefit everyone.

If you don’t have the time to visit a farmer’s market, you can often find some locally sourced produce at your grocery store. Many stores will even have it labeled as locally grown.

Another option is to invest in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Before harvesting time, you pay a lump sum to a local farm or group of regional farms. This gives you a “share,” which means that you receive weekly boxes of locally harvested and ultra-fresh produce. This arrangement is mutually beneficial since the farmer has improved cash flow to help with harvesting, and the share owner is guaranteed delicious and fresh produce from a known safe source.

A study from Johns Hopkins University and a recent one from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) found that only 11 percent of adults consumed the recommended daily servings of vegetables and fruit. But more than half exceeded their daily need for protein and grains and ate excessive amounts of sugar, saturated fats, and salt.

All of us need to improve on the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat daily to become healthier. Eating in-season produce can help us to achieve that goal.  Click here and enter your state in the drop-down at the top of the page to see what fruits and vegetables are in-season in your area.

 

Eat from All Five Food Groups Daily to Improve Your Health

It’s always impressive when your waiter or waitress presents you with a plate of food that looks too pretty to eat. Many chefs say “we eat first with our eyes (saying attributed to an ancient Roman gourmet).” Have you ever noticed that the more enticing dishes tend to be visually appealing due to the variety of foods and colors displayed?

Eat from All Five Food Groups Daily to Improve Your Health

It’s hard to get that same mouth-watering effect when you have just one thing on the plate. Likewise, the greater variety of food groups you consume, the better the chance you are getting  sufficient quantities of vitamins and minerals from your meals.

According to the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion(CNPP), an organization established in 1994 with the objective of educating and encouraging dietary guidance for all Americans, we should be following the MyPlate.gov model in order to make better food choices and eat healthfully.

The MyPlate model replaced the MyPyramid and the Food Guide Pyramid in 2011, and many people find it much easier to follow. Instead of a pyramid shape, the MyPlate image is designed to look like a place setting, with each of the five food groups displayed in the proper proportions on the plate. It is easy to understand and remember the right ratios of foods we should be eating when contemplating this visual tool.

The reason it is so important to eat from a variety of different foods is that each kind of food has different types and amounts of key vitamins and minerals. If you eat too much of one and not enough of another, you may find that you are lacking in some key nutrients, and over time, this may have a negative consequence for your health. In addition, choosing a variety of foods keeps your meals interesting so you won’t  become bored with your diet plan.

According to the MyPlate Plan, half of our plate should consist of vegetables and fruits, while the other half should be protein and grains. The portion given to veggies is a little bigger than that allotted to fruit, and the portion given to grains is slightly more than that for protein. On the top right of the image is a little circle as though for a drink. This is the dairy group and indicates the proportion of dairy we should have relative to all the other food groups. It is a slightly smaller area than that given to fruits.

The balanced diet presented in the MyPlate Plan is an ideal framework for healthy eating that is easy to remember and follow when creating meals at home or choosing what you want in a cafeteria or restaurant. Take a look at the MyPlate Plan visual tool.

The MyPlate image is not the only helpful tool provided by the CNPP to show you how much of each food group to eat; you can even get a personalized plan specific to your gender, height, weight, and activity level to help you ensure you are eating the right foods in the right quantities. Just go to: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlatePlan.

Healthy & Quick Breakfast Ideas

We recently shared information about how important breakfast is for maintaining good health and starting your day off in a great mood. Now that you know some of the benefits of not skipping that morning meal, instead of hopping in the car with nothing to eat, here are some simple solutions that will guarantee you have the time to enjoy breakfast even when you are in a hurry.

Healthy & Quick Breakfast Ideas

The key here is making something fast. You don’t have to sacrifice deliciousness or healthfulness. Below are four of our favorite superfast breakfast options:

Berries and Oats Muffin – in the Microwave!
1/4 cup quick oats
1 egg
Small handful of blueberries
2 Tbsp brown sugar or Stevia
1Tbsp soymilk or almond milk (optional-for more moist muffin)

Put the quick oats, handful of berries, egg, and a sprinkling of brown sugar into a coffee mug. Mix until well-combined, then microwave for 1 minute on high. Take a peek at 45 seconds to prevent it from overflowing, and keep cooking in 30-second increments until the muffin looks firm.

Five Minute Microwave Quiche

1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1 or 2 slices bacon or 1/4 cup bacon bits (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Using a coffee mug, add the egg, 1/3 cup shredded cheddar, 1/3 cup milk, and salt and pepper to taste. You can optionally add some bacon or bacon bits as well. Using a fork or miniature whisk, beat thoroughly to mix well. Cover the mug with a paper towel and microwave on high for 3 minutes or until fully cooked. You may want to add spinach to get an even greater nutritional punch. Just make sure the spinach has had as much liquid removed as possible before adding to the cup.

Peanut Butter Protein Balls

1/2 cup ground flax seeds
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons honey

These delicious little snacks are easy to make and their decadent flavor will make you feel like you are able to eat dessert for breakfast. The no-bake, super easy recipe is packed with fiber, healthy fats, and protein. With only five ingredients, this recipe means you have no more excuses not to eat breakfast!

Combine all ingredients in medium bowl. Stir until well combined. Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes to make them easier to roll. Roll into balls.
These may be stored in the fridge for up to a week if you can get them to last that long. Good luck with that!

Fifteen-minute Italian Baked Eggs 

With 5 minutes to prep and 10 minutes to bake, you can toss these babies in the oven and finish getting ready while they cook.

1 cup marinara sauce
4 large eggs
1/4 cup fat free or lowfat milk
1/4 cup shredded gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup basil, fresh or dried

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Lightly coat 2 10-ounce ramekins with nonstick spray or oil.
3. Pour marinara sauce into ramekins in even portions.
4. Add milk, both cheeses, and eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Bake until egg whites are cooked through and opaque, approximately 10 minutes.

 

Does Eating Breakfast Really Matter?

We’ve all been there in that morning rush when you are trying to get your lunch packed, make sure the kids have their lunches packed, and you’ve already spilled your coffee. It seems like everything in the universe is conspiring to make you late for work. You are tempted to skip breakfast, but your stomach is churning, and you know it really is the most important meal of the day— regardless of how cliché that may sound.

Does Eating Breakfast Really Matter?

Is it true? Is breakfast really that important? Well, according to dietitians, yes. It is! Not only does eating breakfast give your metabolism a kickstart—helping you burn calories all day long—but it helps your brain to focus, which is important whether you are heading to the office or heading to school.

Believe it or not, eating breakfast is also linked to maintaining a healthier weight. According to Christy C. Tangney, PhD, a clinical dietitian at Rush University Medical Center, “Studies have found that although people who skip breakfast eat slightly fewer calories during the day, they tend to have a higher body mass index, or BMI.”

Many studies have shown that eating breakfast is associated with having a better memory and concentration, a lower chance of developing diabetes, heart disease, having lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, and having good health in general.

It is difficult for experts to say whether breakfast is the cause of these healthy traits or whether people who eat breakfast just also have healthier lifestyles.

In addition to benefits for your health, eating breakfast can affect your emotional outlook as well, improving your mood in the mornings drastically. Skipping breakfast, or any meal for that matter, can lower your blood sugar which not only leaves you feeling weak and tired, but also lowers your mental acuity, and often puts you in a bad mood.

British researchers conducted a study (published in the 1999 journal, Physiological Behavior) in which 144 otherwise healthy adults fasted overnight and then were separated into several groups the next morning. One group ate nothing, one group had a moderate breakfast, and the third group only had coffee. Over the next several hours the groups were monitored.

  • The group having had nothing to eat performed the worst on memory tests and felt the most fatigue at noon, four hours after waking.
  • The group consuming coffee did not feel fatigue, but had lower scores on mental skills tests than those who ate breakfast.

Other studies have turned out similar results. Dr. Tangney also points out in regard to adolescents, “Of more concern is that an association has been found between skipping breakfast and other risky behaviors like smoking and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.” So, including that all-important meal in your family’s daily routine may be helping in more ways that you can imagine.

If you often have no time to prepare breakfast in the morning, try keeping some ideas on hand that you can use to prepare the night before a quick grab-and-go breakfast. Muffins or mini-quiches can be made the night before, or perhaps just some simple biscuits with bacon and cheese that you only need to reheat in the microwave before you leave. There are many options that are easy to prepare in advance that you can serve all week long without having to spend hours in the kitchen or make yourself late getting out the door in the mornings. Your morning rush will be a little less stressful if you can just grab it and go.

Sugary Sweet… Not Such a Treat?

From birthday parties to holiday feasts, nearly every joyous occasion we celebrate is accompanied by a host of sugary desserts that puts on pounds and leaves our blood sugar sky high. While there is a definite rapture in the taste of these decadent delights, it isn’t only the taste that makes it so hard to resist the chocolate lava cake or the key lime pie. Your brain actually gets a kick too.

Sugary Sweet... Not Such a Treat?

When you eat sugar, or even look at an enticing dessert, dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is part of the brain’s complicated reward system enabling us to anticipate and experience pleasure, floods into your mesolimbic pathway. We then experience a blissful sensation. The more often we reward our brains with sugar, the greater our dopamine response becomes. This is why people will experience “sugar cravings.” Much like an addiction, sugar is a difficult temptation to resist, especially when we are confronted with it in so many places. The real kicker is that sugar is included in so many foods you eat, you may not even realize when you’re eating it. Did you know that iodized salt contains a tiny quantity of sugar in the form of dextrose? Yep. You heard it right folks, there is sugar in your salt.

The reason it’s important not to consume too much sugar is the indisputable connection between sugar consumption and obesity. Obesity greatly increases the chance of developing type 2 diabetes. It has also been linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease. There has even been some speculation and provocative research by Rainer Klement and Ulrike Kammerer in Germany (1), about slowing cancer growth by restricting sugar in the diet of cancer patients.

Excessive sugar intake contributes not only to weight gain and its associated problems, but also to tooth decay. If you are able to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, you will probably also reduce your risk of developing many of these medical conditions.

So, how can you ski that sugary slope without landing face first in a dopamine-filled ditch? Well, the good news is that there are many healthy alternatives to sugar which are easy to find at almost any grocery store. Here are some natural alternatives:

1. Stevia is extracted from the South American plant known as Stevia Rebaudiana. It is a natural sweetener with zero calories. In human studies it has shown no connection to adverse health effects, and in fact has some health benefits.

2. Xylitol is extracted from the wood of birch trees and from corn, and exists naturally in many fruits and vegetables. A sugar alcohol, the taste is similar to that of sugar but it has 40% fewer calories with a total of 2.4 calories per gram. Like Stevia, xylitol does not share the harmful effects now attributed to sugar and also has some health benefits.

3. Erythritol, like xylitol, is a sugar alcohol with even fewer calories. It only has 0.24 calories per gram, which is 6% of the calories in sugar. Tasting even more like sugar than stevia or xylitol, many people find this an easy change to make. Your body can not break down erythritol and so it is simply excreted in your urine without having the negative impacts that sugar has.

4. Yacon Syrup is another sweetener derived from a South American plant, the yacon plant, also known as Smallanthus sonchifolius. This sweetener is a dark liquid bearing a similar consistency to molasses. The sugar molecules in yacon syrup can not be digested, and therefore the caloric impact it has on the body is about 1.3 calories per gram. This sweetener has also been shown to reduce the feeling of hunger by suppressing the hormone ghrelin, which may help you curb your eating. This syrup should not be used for cooking, because high temperatures break down its structure. It is fine for sweetening tea or coffee, oatmeal, and cold foods.

It is important to note that one side effect shared by all of these sugar substitutes, except for Stevia, is that in excess, they may cause some individuals to experience bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Also, Xylitol is extremely toxic to canines, and care should be taken to keep it away from dogs.

So, the next time you are staring down the dessert table at your cousin’s wedding, maybe you can check to see if any of the items were made with a natural sugar substitute. You might be able to enjoy the satisfaction of sweetness without the guilt or worry that comes with sugar.

(1) Klement, Rainer J and Ulrike Kämmerer. “Is there a role for carbohydrate restriction in the treatment and prevention of cancer?” Nutrition & metabolism vol. 8 75. 26 Oct. 2011, doi:10.1186/1743-7075-8-75

A Week of Healthy Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

Summer is over; the kids are back in school, and parents are back to the arduous task of packing lunches every day. Make your mornings easier, and keep kids satisfied with these simple lunch ideas for a week’s worth of healthy meals.

Each lunch packs protein, healthy carbs, and fresh fruits and vegetables, but you can mix and match ingredients based on your kids’ taste preferences.

Monday

Deli turkey and ham wrap

  • Use whole wheat or spinach wraps filled with deli turkey and ham and add garden veggie cream cheese.
  • Baby carrots and snap peas with light Ranch dressing
  • Popcorn

Tuesday

DIY chicken tacos

  • Use leftover grilled chicken from a past dinner, or slice pre-made Rotisserie chicken into small pieces
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Salsa
  • Small container of shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes
  • 2-3 small whole wheat tortillas

Wednesday

Hummus, and pita bread wedges

  • Grape tomatoes
  • Apple slices
  • Pretzel sticks

Thursday

Pizza Rollups

  • Easy, three-ingredient pizza rolls freeze well, and kids will love them served hot or cold. For recipe, visit https://www.whatlisacooks.com/blog/pizza-rolls.
  • Fresh berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries)
  • Celery with light Ranch dressing
  • 2 fig cookies

Friday

Yogurt Parfait

Pack in small Bento box (one-serving box) containers for your child to create their own parfait.

One cup plain or low-fat vanilla Greek yogurt

  •  ½ cup low-fat granola
  •  ½ cup Cheerios
  •  ¼ cup blueberries
  • ¼ cup sliced strawberries

Sliced cucumbers and cherry tomatoes

How Dirty Are the “Dirty Dozen”?

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables has many health benefits: it can protect against many chronic diseases, including heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes, and protect against certain cancers. But approximately three-quarters of Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables daily, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

With all of these wonderful health benefits, why are so many consumers avoiding eating  produce? Fear of pesticides is one reason.

Most consumers have heard of the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of fruits and vegetables that supposedly contain the highest levels of pesticide residue. The list was started by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in 2004, and the organization releases an updated “Dirty Dozen” list annually, urging consumers to purchase only the organic versions of those particular fruits and vegetables. But consumers who don’t have access to or can’t afford to buy organic produce report that they avoid buying produce at all.

Just how dirty are the “Dirty Dozen,” really? To put the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list in proper context, it’s important to understand that they don’t use the same strict methods for measuring risk that food scientists typically do. They tend to rely on alarmist and sensationalized reports that media outlets love. For example, EWG also annually releases the “Clean 15,” a list of conventional produce that doesn’t have detectable levels of pesticide residues, yet this list does not get the same media attention that the “Dirty Dozen” does. Additionally, a recent Forbes article points out that the EWG has strong ties to “big organic marketers.”

According to agdaily.com, recent USDA and FDA reports show that both organic and conventional food is safe. “According to the sampling data, 99 percent of residues on fruits and vegetables, when present at all, are well below safety levels set by the EPA. And an April 2018 article published on agdaily.com, stated that FDA sampling shows that 50 percent of the foods sampled had no detectable residues at all.

If buying organic is not in your budget, or it’s not easy to find in your area, you can rest easy knowing that conventional produce is perfectly fine. If you still have concerns, simply wash your produce under running water. According to the FDA, you can reduce and often eliminate residues, if they are present at all, on fresh fruits and vegetables simply by washing.

The bottom line is this: don’t believe everything you read about pesticides on produce. The benefits of eating more fresh fruits and vegetables far outweigh any minimal risk a minute amount of pesticide residue that might be on those strawberries or apples may pose.

 

 

 

 

Foods That Appear Good for You but Aren’t: Snack Food Edition

Most people truly want to eat more healthily. And most companies want to provide healthy foods to their customers. The problem, however, is that healthy foods tend to lack the salt, fat, sugar, and carbohydrates that people crave. So, even while people try to eat healthily, they soon tire of the high-fiber, low-fat foods that they should be eating, and reach for more appetizing alternatives. Hence the boom in snack food that makes at least some concessions to health. Supermarket shelves are filled with products that advertise that they contain healthy vegetables or high-protein grains. But how healthy are these foods, really? Here’s a breakdown of how some of the most popular “healthy” snacks stack up.

Veggie Chips/Straws

They’re veggies, right? That must mean they’re healthy! Well, that depends on the product. With just a few exceptions, many of the most common veggie snack products have similar nutrition profiles to potato chips, with primary ingredients of potato flour and potato starch. Many of these potato-heavy healthy snacks indeed have lower fat and calories than standard potato chips, but they don’t have any of the vitamins or nutrients that real vegetables provide. Veggie chips made from whole dehydrated vegetables are likely to have more of the good vitamins and nutrients, but they are also likely to have more fat and salt to make them more palatable. Bottom line? Read the label to find out what you’re really eating.

Quinoa Chips

Quinoa is a popular superfood because of its relatively high protein content, and people are drawn to quinoa chips for the same reason: they hope the protein will stave off hunger and help them eat less. Indeed, some quinoa chips have as much as nine grams of protein and as little as 12 grams of carbohydrates (compare to two grams of protein and 16 grams of carbohydrates in a serving of regular potato chips). Other quinoa chips, however, have as little as 1 gram of protein. If protein is your primary goal in a snack food, quinoa chips may be a good choice, but make sure to check the nutrition information before diving in.

Pita Chips

Pita chips have a good reputation; they’re often served with hummus (often a healthy snack choice), and they seem like they should be healthier than potato chips. However, most pita chips are made with processed white flour pita bread, which is high on empty carbohydrate calories and low on fiber, protein, and any healthy nutrients. Many pita chips are soaked in oil before baking, and then coated with salt—giving them a very unhealthy nutrition profile that’s high in carbs, sodium, and fat: a trifecta of bad nutrition. Not all pita chips fit this mold; look for whole grain chips with less than three grams of fat and more than two grams of protein.

 

Are Protein Shakes Right for You?

Shake it Up!

The advertisements and infomercials make it look so obvious; the thing you’ve been missing in your diet is protein, and all you need are these shakes to make everything in life a breeze. Tough day at work? Grab a shake. Going to the gym? Grab a shake. Feeling tired? Grab a shake (of course).

Do you need protein shakes?

The reality, naturally, is a little more nuanced. The claims of shake-makers are predicated on the idea that people do not get enough protein in their diets: an idea that most nutritionists reject. Mayo Clinic researchers note that despite the diet industry’s emphasis on protein, most Americans get at least double the protein they need.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 from the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, most adults should be getting 5½ ounce-equivalents of protein foods per day. The myplate.gov website contains a full table of ounce-equivalents for protein foods, but a basic list includes “1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds.” As we discuss frequently, USConnect full-service vending and Bistro To Go® micro markets offer many healthy choices for getting protein during the day, including eggs, yogurt, and grains.

That being noted, there are times when people do need a little extra protein, and for those times, protein shakes can be a healthy, convenient choice. Mayo Clinic notes that evidence supports the use of whey protein (the protein most commonly used in protein shakes) for the following uses:

  • To promote increased muscle mass as part of an exercise regime (results are mixed)
  • To help speed muscle recovery after a workout
  • To improve nutrition in malnourished individuals
  • To speed recovery time of wounds and burns
  • To combat infant skin allergies from milk- or soy-based formula

If you do decide that protein shakes are for you, here are some expert tips to consider:

  • Whey protein is milk-based, so if you’re vegan or lactose-intolerant, it is not a good choice.
  • However, whey protein is one of the faster-acting proteins. Experts recommend looking for raw or cold-processed to get the most nutrients.
  • Casein protein is slower-acting, so it is better for muscle recovery.
  • Read the ingredient list; avoid artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, and excessive amounts of sugar.
  • Caveat emptor: a study from the Clean Label Project found that many top-selling protein powders contain high levels of heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and arsenic, as well as BPA.