Category Archives: nutrition

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.

Are Taking Vitamins or Supplements Enough to Live Healthy?

To Supplement or Not to Supplement?

Feeling blue? Try some St. John’s Wort. Getting a cold? Pop some echinacea. Even cancer has proponents of natural supplements.

To Supplement or Not to Supplement?

Although exact numbers range from $11.7 billion to $36.7 billion, the size of the U.S. dietary supplement market is massive… and growing daily. Marketing dietary supplements is nothing new; the first snake-oil salesmen had plenty of customers among workers on the transcontinental railroad. But with internet ads and marketing on social media, the industry has exploded.

Supplements have their champions—those who think supplements can do anything from curing cancer to cleansing your colon—and their detractors—those who think supplements are useless at best and harmful at worst. As usual, the truth is somewhere in-between.

An important fact to understand about supplements is that although marketers often sell them as substitutes for medication, they are not subject to nearly the same scrutiny and testing as prescription or over-the-counter medicine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not need to approve dietary supplements or even the claims that marketers make for their efficacy. The FDA does not test dietary supplements, so when you read a supplement’s claim and its ingredients, you’re relying on the manufacturer’s “honor system.” However, the New York Attorney General conducted a study on four major retailers of dietary supplements and found that 79 percent of them did not even contain the herb or supplement advertised or that it contained contaminants.

With the caveat emptor warning, experts say that some dietary supplements can be helpful, as long as people recognize that they are supplements to a healthy diet and lifestyle, not a replacement. The Mayo Clinic suggests that certain groups of people—those over 50, those who don’t eat a balanced diet, and those who have special dietary needs—can benefit from supplements. It’s important to keep up-to-date on the research around supplements, like studies that show that some supplements may actually be harmful. One Mayo Clinic doctor notes, “Any product that’s strong enough to provide a potential benefit to the body can also be strong enough to cause harm.”

If you’re considering supplements, start by talking to your doctor about which she/he recommends and how they might interact with other medications. You can also do your own research by contacting the manufacturer and doing your research on the following websites:

 

 

Which Non-Fresh Foods Have the Most Nutrients?

Non-Fresh: Which is Best?

When Fresh Produce Is Hard to Find, Which Foods Have the Most Nutrients?

Non-Fresh: Which is Best?

The days may be getting longer, but unless you live well south of the 35th parallel, you’re still several months away from being able to access most fresh fruits and vegetables. Inquiring minds want to know: when fresh produce is not readily available, what’s the best way to get the half-your-plate per meal of fruits and veggies that the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy Promotion recommends? The answer, ironically, may be to stay away from the fresh produce aisle.

It turns out that as soon as produce is harvested, it starts to lose its nutrients. Modern food storage and transport methods often make fruit and vegetables look like they’re still fresh, when in fact, their bright colors and firm skin are the result of wax coating and cold storage. The produce itself may be as much as three months old, with the best of its nutrients long gone.

A study out of the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis, found that “Losses of nutrients during fresh storage may be more substantial than consumers realize. Depending on the commodity, freezing and canning processes may [better] preserve nutrient value.” This study and others prompted the Fruit & Veggies—More Matters® initiative (in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control) to recommend that “All Forms of Fruits and Vegetables Matter,” including frozen and canned.

It is the enzymes in fruit and vegetables that cause their nutrient loss, as well as the loss of color and flavor. To halt this process, the enzymes need to be “deactivated.” One way to do this is to blanch—quickly boil and then douse in ice water—and then freeze them. This is how most commercial frozen food companies package their vegetables, and since they do this process right after harvesting the food, most nutrients remain in the food. To help further maintain the integrity of the food, most frozen food companies quick-freeze their vegetables, which slows the rate of deterioration that can occur, even in the freezer.

Canned fruit and vegetables, too, often contain more nutrients than less-than-fresh fresh produce. Fruit & Veggies—More Matters® offers five key facts about canned produce:

  1. Canned food offers sound nutrition to help people achieve nutrient needs.
  2. Canned food offers comparable nutrition to fresh and frozen.
  3. You can enjoy canned food while watching sodium intake.
  4. Canned foods are minimally processed.
  5. Steel cans are among the safest forms of food packaging.

 

Breakfast Is for Champions

Which is better for losing weight: eating breakfast or skipping it? There is no definitive answer, but many nutritionists and weight loss experts agree that eating a nutritious breakfast is a crucial part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

The Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit medical organization whose weight-loss program is based on solid research and clinical studies. Part of the Mayo Clinic Diet is making it a habit to eat a healthy breakfast as often as possible, which helps people lose weight and keep it off by

  • Reducing hunger later in the day.
  • Helping to promote healthy choices throughout the day.
  • Providing more energy for physical activity.

According to Mayo Clinic staff, the building blocks to a healthy breakfast include these foods:

  • Whole grains
  • Lean protein
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Fruits and vegetables

With USConnect’s The Right Choice… for a Healthier You™ program, you can find nutritious breakfast choices like whole-grain oatmeal, nonfat yogurt, fresh produce, and even hard-boiled eggs. The Mayo Clinic’s research shows that people who regularly eat these types of breakfasts not only lose weight, but they also control their cholesterol and blood sugar, get more vitamins and minerals, and perform better at work.

If breakfast isn’t part of your usual morning routine, the Mayo Clinic has some recommendations to help you get into the healthy habit:

  1. Get into the habit by starting with something small and portable, then work your way up.
  2. Replace added sugar with the natural sweetness of fruit and spices like cinnamon.
  3. Prepare in advance and have healthy foods at-the-ready so you’re not adding to the morning rush.
  4. Don’t limit yourself to breakfast food; there’s no reason not to eat a turkey sandwich on whole wheat for breakfast.
  5. Make it portable so you can eat as you commute.
  6. Split your breakfast up into micro-meals if you don’t feel hungry first thing in the morning.
  7. Change slowly. As we discussed with setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, it’s easy to give up on a goal when you try to do too much at once. Start with a healthy breakfast once a week, and then move up from there.

Soup’s On! Welcome to Winter!

The 21st of December was the winter solstice: the shortest day of the year. In some parts of the country, darkness falls before 4:00 p.m., and the thermometer rarely reaches above freezing.

As we covered in Darker Days, it’s much harder to eat healthily and stay fit during the shortest days of the season. Our bodies respond to the colder temperatures and lack of sunlight by trying to hibernate, driving us to eat more “comfort food” and sleep away the winter.

The cold weather and need for comfort during the winter often make us reach for soup. It’s warm and comforting, and it can be a filling meal. However, many soups are loaded with the very unhealthy ingredients we manage to avoid during the rest of the year. Our soup roundup can help you make the best choices while still feeling warm, full, and comforted.

Soup Guidelines

  1. Beware of sodium and monosodium glutamate (MSG). In an attempt to reduce fat and calories, many canned and boxed soups load up on salt and MSG. As part of our The Right Choice…for a Healthier You™ program, USConnect’s registered dietician recommends that an entire meal should contain no more than 575 milligrams of sodium: less if you have high blood pressure. Too much salt can leave you feeling bloated and even affect your kidneys. MSG can trigger migraines, especially in people who are not used to it.
  2. Be sensible about fat and calories. Read the label of your soup (or pay attention to the ingredients). If a soup has 280 calories and 12 grams of fat, it’s not a healthy meal. Soups that aim to reduce sodium often do so by adding extra fat and calories. Look for options with no saturated or trans fats and a total fat count of two grams.
  3. Protein lasts longer; to keep you going throughout the day, your soup should have at least five grams of protein. If it doesn’t, try adding a half-sandwich, a piece of chicken, or hard-boiled egg.
  4. Fiber fills you up. Look for soups with lots of legumes, like beans and peas, to help you feel full and satisfied. Split pea soup, chili, and black bean soup are all good, stick-to-your-ribs choices for cold days.

Want to try to make your own? Start with our Bone Broth tips!

When Life Gives You Lemons… or Oranges, or Grapefruit… or Clementines

Your definitive guide to citrus

By December, summer fruits are a distant memory: except for those shipped from South America. For closer-to-home fruit, ‘tis the season for citrus. During the winter, citrus fruit is grown extensively in Florida and California, so it’s widely available across the United States for several months.

When Life Gives You Lemons

We recognize citrus for its tough, bitter outer rind, its soft white inner layer, and its delicious, juicy, sweet/sour inside. Most citrus is very high in vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants called flavonoids, so it’s an excellent, healthy snack. Here’s the inside scoop on our favorite winter fruit.

Pomelo (citrus maxima) is the largest commonly available citrus fruit. One of the four original (non-hybridized) citrus fruits, the pomelo looks like—and tastes like—a large, sweet grapefruit, but it’s a little less bitter.

Grapefruit (citrus paradisi) is an accidental hybrid of the pomelo and the orange. It is actually higher in sugar than many other citrus fruits, but its high citric acid and ascorbic acid content can make it taste sour. Because of its high acid content, grapefruit and grapefruit juice can interfere with many medications, so check your medicine bottles before enjoying.

Orange (citrus × sinensis) is one of the easiest-to-find fruits, not only in the winter, but all year long. Naval oranges, with their thick skins and sweet taste, are most common, but look further to find blood oranges, Valencia, and Cara Cara varieties; they each have a different flavor, texture, and juice. Try a taste-test!

Mandarin (citrus reticulata) is actually a form of orange. Mandarins are smaller than many oranges, and their skin is often looser, so they’re easier to peel. Common mandarin breeds are clementines, tangerines, and satsumas. Of these, clementines are the easiest to find. Often sold in large bags or boxes, they are seedless and easy to peel, making them lunchbox favorites for adults and children alike.

Kumquat is the smallest citrus fruit: about the size of an acorn. Its skin is so soft that the fruit can be eaten whole, either fresh or candied.

Got Milk… Or Non-Dairy Alternatives?

Milk! It’s seemingly the most basic of commodities: a straightforward product that has remained more or less unchanged for the past century.

Milk and non-dairy alternatives

However, milk is far from the simple drink you might remember from your childhood. For reasons ranging from dietary preference to medical necessity, many people choose non-dairy alternatives to milk. Let’s see how an eight-ounce glass of each stacks up:

Cow’s milk (1% fat). This is what most westerners think of when they think of milk. Cow’s milk is high in protein (8.2 grams) and calcium (31 percent of the recommended daily value) and relatively low in fat (2.4 grams), although it has a fairly high calorie count (102). It is an inexpensive commodity, but many people—approximately 65 percent worldwide—have trouble digesting the lactose that is an intrinsic part of milk’s make-up, making it inaccessible to them.

Unsweetened Almond Milk. A go-to for many vegans (people who eat no animal products at all), unsweetened almond milk is much lower in calories (30-50) than cow’s milk. However, it still has 2 to 2.5 grams of fat, and at only one gram of protein, it doesn’t come close to the muscle-building power of cow’s milk. Many almond milks are fortified with calcium and supply 30 to 45 percent of the recommended daily value (RDV) of this mineral. One other factor about almond milk: production is very hard on the environment, requiring over a gallon of water for each almond grown. That’s a lot of water to create a gallon of almond milk!

Unsweetened Coconut Milk. Many people prefer coconut milk for its higher fat content (4.5 to 5 grams), which gives it a creamier texture than many nut milks. It has 40 to 80 calories, but zero grams of protein, so you’ll have to look elsewhere to provide this crucial nutrient. Like almond milk, it’s usually fortified with calcium to supply 30 to 45 percent RDV. It’s a good option for people with nut allergies or those who don’t like the slightly nutty flavor of nut milks.

Low-Fat Plain Soy Milk. A good choice for vegans who want to improve their protein intake, soy milk contains 4 to 6 grams of protein (or even more) and 20 to 45 percent RDV of calcium. It has 1.5 to 2 grams of fat and in many ways has a similar nutritional profile to cow’s milk. With soy milk, as with other non-dairy milks, it’s crucial to look at the ingredients and nutritional information; many or most varieties have added sugar to improve taste. Another concern is that 94 percent of soybeans are genetically modified in the United States and will likely have absorbed glyphosate from the pesticides sprayed during growth. For this product, it might make sense to look for organic or non-GMO options.

All nutrition information is from Consumer Reports’ “Choosing the Right Milk for You.”