Category Archives: Trends

Pumpkin Spice: Trendy or Healthy?

It’s pumpkin spice season, and the craze has been in full effect since before Labor Day. This fall favorite flavoring can now be found in everything from coffee to Oreos, candles, and cleaning products. Whether you love it or loathe it, the pumpkin spice obsession is here to stay. The good news is that there are many surprising health benefits to pumpkin spice, but these are found in the spice’s ingredients and not the popular sugary, syrupy pumpkin spice lattes or limited edition baked goods lining the shelves at the supermarket.

Pumpkin Spice Blend
This warming blend of spices doesn’t actually contain any pumpkin; the traditional pumpkin spice blend includes ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice. These ingredients are all good for you if you limit the sugar that is added to most pumpkin spice drinks and baked goods.

  • Cinnamon
    Cinnamon is the super star ingredient of pumpkin spice. It’s rich in antioxidants,  which have been shown to protect cells, and it also contains anti-inflammatory  properties. There is some research which suggests that it may help improve blood glucose sensitivity and lower cholesterol. There is also ongoing research into how cinnamon may positively impact disease prevention and treatment in dementia, cancer, and HIV.
  • Nutmeg
    This yummy fall spice contains small amounts of fiber, numerous B vitamins, and  minerals. Like cinnamon, it also contains disease-fighting antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. Some research has shown that nutmeg has antibacterial effects against certain harmful strains of bacteria.
  • Ginger
    Ginger has long been used as a natural remedy to ward off nausea, but this spicy powder also contains important minerals like iron, potassium, and zinc. Ginger has also been used for centuries for medicinal purposes to relieve cold and flu symptoms and digestive problems and to reduce inflammation.
  • Allspice
    Allspice is native to several Caribbean islands, Mexico, and Central America and is made from a berry that is dried and ground into a fine brown powder.  Allspice contains several agents that together possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antifungal properties. It has also been used to relieve digestive distress.

Reaping the Benefits

There’s nothing like the warm, comforting aroma of pumpkin spice this time of year. It’s tempting to indulge in all things pumpkin spice, especially because limited edition pumpkin spice products are everywhere. But if you want to get the health benefits from the spice, you’ll have to limit the number of pumpkin spice lattes, bars, cookies, breads, and pies you consume. Many of these seasonal products contain large amounts of sugar and preservatives.

You can still enjoy pumpkin spice season without risking your health and your waistline by choosing all-natural products or better yet, making your own. Make the spice blend at home and add it to oatmeal, Greek yogurt, or homemade pumpkin bread. And you can still enjoy the occasional pumpkin spice latte, or make it healthier by requesting nonfat milk, no whipped cream, and fewer pumps of the pumpkin syrup.

Meal Kit Delivery Services: What Can You Expect?

Preparing balanced meals is a top goal for most of us, although we don’t always have the time, energy, or ingredients to make it a reality. And let’s face it, our own skill in the kitchen sometimes leaves us a little short, and the family starts begging for take-out alternatives.

If you are struggling to satisfy picky eaters, can’t find the time to get to the store and plan out healthy meals, or if you are facing specific eating restrictions among your family members, you might want to consider a meal-kit delivery service. These have become wildly popular because they are so convenient and offer great meal options. Catering not only to different cuisine preferences, but also to a variety of dietary restrictions, this could be your solution to those hectic nights when you really don’t have time to go to the grocery store and plan out dinner.

There are many different services available, but the plans are all similar. Just select which service you think would provide the types of meals best-suited to your family’s preferences, and then when you sign up, you choose how many meals you need per week. The services have some variability in cost, but they average out at about $9-$12 per meal. Many offer promo-codes, so before signing up, do some online searches to locate potential cost-saving coupons. It’s also a good idea to determine what time frame is needed when cancelling so that you will know in advance of taking any vacations or should you want to try a competitor for a while.

What Can You Expect?

You will receive high-quality, fresh foods in your kit, along with recipes and everything you will need to create your meals. You do need to have some basics on-hand, such as salt and pepper, cooking oil, and possibly eggs; all other ingredients are supplied in your kit. You do also need to have your own pots and pans, knives, and occasionally an item such as a blender, cheese grater, or mixer.

Tailored Options and Extras

Some meal-delivery services provide optional extras, such as the available wine-pairing offered by Blue Apron, or the select cuts of specialty meat which can be purchased as an add-on from Home Chef or Sun Basket. Want to enjoy a decadent dessert after that amazing dinner? PeachDish and Plated are two that offer a dessert option.

If you are trying to tailor your diet around specific restrictions such as gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, or the Paleo-diet, then you may be surprised to learn that choosing a meal-kit delivery system might be an easier way to stick to the plan than going it alone. The Purple Carrot offers exclusively vegan meals, while Sun Basket has vegetarian, Paleo, as well as gluten-free choices. While some services only have a few recipes to select from each week, others have a wide assortment, so you should shop around to determine which service will best meet your needs.

In addition, some services assume that the person cooking has experience in the kitchen and there is variability in how much instruction you receive. Some very helpful resources offered by BlueApron and HelloFresh are their apps and video tutorials. This can really be a great asset for those among us who don’t have a lot of cooking experience and may need a little added help.

Whatever you are looking for, you can find a meal-kit delivery service that fits the bill with just a little looking. Signing up online is easy and straightforward, and with most you can pause or cancel your subscription just as easily. Below are some links to popular meal-kit delivery sites:

 

 

Pumpkin Spice Season: Choosing the Best Options

It’s officially fall, or as it’s come to be known in recent years, pumpkin spice season!

pumpkin-spice

Pumpkin spice has taken over everything from food products to drinks to candles to cleaning supplies. When it comes to food and drinks, there are healthy pumpkin spice choices and some that are just laden with sugar or artificial ingredients, nothing more than seasonal gimmicks to get you to buy junk food.

You can enjoy your favorite seasonal spice and still maintain a healthy diet if you chose the right pumpkin spice foods. And if you cannot resist that Pumpkin Spice Latte, as long as it isn’t an everyday indulgence, you can still enjoy it in moderation and not completely derail your diet.

Learn which popular pumpkin spice products are good choices and which ones to limit to special treats or not at all.

Limit these pumpkin spice options, or avoid them altogether:

  1. Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte – At 380 calories for a 16 oz. with 14 grams of fat and a whopping 49 grams of sugar (even more for larger sizes), this popular coffee drink should remain an occasional treat and not an everyday habit this season.
  2. Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Donut – This dessert packs 19 grams of fat and 19 grams of sugar per donut, and who can eat just one?
  3. Nestle Coffee-Mate Pumpkin Spice Liquid Coffee Creamer – Think you can save money and calories by making your own version of a pumpkin spice latte? Think again. While this creamer claims to be free of trans fats, it contains partially hydrogenated oils, which are a source of trans fats.
  4. Clif Bar Spiced Pumpkin Pie Energy Bars – There are good protein bars and bad protein bars, and this one falls into the latter category. With only 9 grams of protein, it contains 23 grams of sugar, and will only give you a temporary energy boost before leaving you tired and sluggish.
  5. Chobani Flip Pumpkin Harvest Crisp – While this yogurt does contain probiotics and protein, it also comes in at 200 calories and 17 grams of sugar. This one qualifies more as a dessert than a healthy snack.

Say yes to these pumpkin spice products:

  1. Pumpkin Spice Cheerios – Like their original cereal, Pumpkin Spice Cheerios are low in calories and high in whole grains. A serving does contain 8 grams of sugar but is a better breakfast choice than a pumpkin spiced baked treat.
  2. Chobani Pumpkin Spice Blended Yogurt – Curb pumpkin spice sugary cravings with this Greek yogurt that’s packed with protein and live active cultures but still low in calories.
  3. Kashi TLC Pumpkin Spice Flax Crunchy Granola Bars – With whole pumpkin seeds and flax seeds, this treat can satisfy crunchy cravings while providing healthy nutrients. And one serving is two bars!
  4. Pumpkin Spice Quaker Instant Oatmeal – A fall favorite for mornings that’s convenient and easy to make, this oatmeal is low in calories, fat, and sodium.
  5. Yasso Pumpkin Cheesecake Bar – This frozen yogurt bar tastes like the real thing and with only 120 calories and 5 grams of protein, it makes a great substitute for sugary pumpkin spice desserts.

 

 

Do You Know Keto?

Would you be willing to swap a doughnut for several slices of bacon? How about a nice grilled cheese sandwich… without the bread? Would you consider replacing the cream in your coffee with clarified butter? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the keto diet might be right for you.

Keto is short for ketogenic, which refers to the way the program relies on a diet of drastically reduced carbohydrates and drastically increased fats. The basis of the keto diet is the fact that, usually, humans get their energy from glucose—blood sugar—because our bodies can quickly convert it into adenosine triphosphate (ATP): the chemical form of energy that our bodies can use. We raise our blood sugar—and thus our usable energy—by digesting carbohydrates from grains, fruits, and vegetables.

If we eat almost no carbs, however, the human body still finds a way to make energy through a process called ketogenesis. During ketogenesis, the body goes into a state of ketosis and begins to burn fat for energy instead of glucose. Thus, ironically, eating a high-fat diet actually makes the body burn more fat.

For all its newfound popularity in recent years, the ketogenic diet actually dates back to the early 20th century, when researchers found that a high-fat, low-carb diet helped reduce the occurrence of seizures in epileptic children. Other, more recent weight-loss diets have also advocated for deep cuts to carbohydrate consumption: but not this deep. People on the keto diet can eat only 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day for the entire duration of the program; or if they’re making it a lifestyle choice, for the rest of their lives. As a point of comparison, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that most Americans get almost half of their caloric intake from carbohydrates; this is usually closer to 300 grams per day.

The keto diet does result in weight loss—especially at first. For many participants, eating more fatty foods helps them feel full and satisfied, so they actually end up eating less food. However, as a practical matter, the keto diet is quite restrictive. The average apple contains 25 grams of carbohydrates. A half-cup of quinoa contains 20 grams. To get your body to go into ketosis means truly eliminating almost every carbohydrate from your diet, including the healthy ones. In their review of 40 different diets, the health experts of U.S. News and World Report ranked the keto diet as number 39.

The bottom line: the keto diet works better for some people than for others. It may be worth a try for short-term weight loss, but its long-term effects still need more research. Talk to a doctor before starting the keto diet, especially if you have a history of kidney problems or disordered eating.

Ingredient Du Jour: Probiotics

Have you had your probiotics today? That’s an increasingly common question, and with many probiotic products to choose from, it’s increasingly easy to answer “yes.”

probotics

But what are probiotics? The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines probiotics as “live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits,” with the two most common strains being Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Within each of these strains, many different types of bacteria can make up the specific probiotic product.

Probiotics (the term means “for life”) occur naturally in many foods: specifically, those that have been fermented with bacteria. Yogurt contains probiotics, as does kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut. With its recent rise in popularity, probiotics are also now available as a supplement or as an additive to many foods.

The Claims

Like every trendy food, probiotics’ champions—especially those that sell them—credit them with doing everything but slicing bread. Here are the “top ten probiotic benefits,” according to one naturopath:

  1. Improves digestive health
  2. Decreases antibiotic resistance
  3. May improve mental illness
  4. Boosts immunity and reduces inflammation
  5. Promotes healthy skin
  6. Protects from food allergies
  7. May treat serious diseases in infants
  8. Lowers blood pressure
  9. Treats diabetes
  10. May improve nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

The Science

Your gut naturally contains thousands of species of good bacteria that work together to keep your body functioning well. Ingesting more probiotics in food or supplements may or may not help to improve your digestive health or any other bodily function. The University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health indicates that the strongest evidence is for probiotics helping with intestinal distress, especially that associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or antibiotic use. Data is still limited in terms of verifying most of the other claims for probiotics’ usefulness. The NIH warns, “Although some probiotics have shown promise in research studies, strong scientific evidence to support specific uses of probiotics for most health conditions is lacking,” and “Some experts have cautioned that the rapid growth in marketing and use of probiotics may have outpaced scientific research for many of its proposed uses and benefits.”

If you are in good health, probiotics will not hurt your gut, and they may even help, but the jury is still out on that.

 

 

Coffee 201: How Much Do You Know About Coffee?

Last year, we covered the basics with Coffee 101. Now, let’s take a deeper dive into America’s favorite hot (or cold!) beverage.

How much do you know about coffee

Decaffeination

While some people can’t imagine drinking coffee without the caffeine, others just like the flavor and enjoy drinking it decaffeinated. And as this blog has covered, people who have trouble getting at least seven hours of sleep should avoid or reduce caffeine, especially within six hours of their bedtimes. According to experts, caffeine occurs naturally in coffee beans, and roasters remove it from green, unroasted coffee beans, either with solvents (like methylene chloride or ethyl acetate) or without. The solvent-free decaffeination method, also called the Swiss water method, takes longer but may maintain more of the bean’s original flavor. Note that even decaf coffee is not 100 percent caffeine-free; a study out of the University of Florida found that even coffees labeled as decaffeinated contained small amounts of caffeine.

Brew styles

  • The most common brewing method, both in offices and homes, is automatic drip. An automatic drip coffeemaker heats water to the boiling point and then slowly drips it over ground coffee beans. It is convenient, but it may make a weaker brew than some other methods.
  • For a stronger, more flavorful brew, try a French press. A French press requires a bit more manual labor: pouring boiling water into a pot of grounds, letting it brew, and then pressing the grounds down to leave only coffee. Because there’s no filter, the flavor is stronger (and some say better).
  • For the ultimate in convenience and customization, it’s hard to beat single-serve coffeemakers. First popularized by Keurig, single-serve coffee machines pour hot water through a pod—or “k-cup”—to create a variety of hot beverages, including coffee, tea, and cocoa. Coffee from single-serve machines tends to be weaker because it doesn’t steep or brew for very long. However, the flip side of the short brew time… is the short brew time; your coffee is ready in less than a minute, as opposed to the 10 minutes required for automatic and French press coffee. Single-serve machines are also a great choice for small offices where different team members have differing tastes in hot beverages; instead of brewing whole pots of coffee that may go to waste, single-serve machines allow everyone to brew his/her own drink to order.
  • For all the flavor without the bitterness, try cold brewing your coffee this summer. Like a slow-motion French press, cold brewing involves steeping ground coffee in cold water for 24 hours or more, then filtering out the grounds.

 

Thirsty for more? Check out USConnect’s full line of Route 66 custom-roasted coffees!

Whole30: Savior or Silly?

One of the decade’s most popular diets is the Whole30: a 30-day elimination diet that claims that cutting certain foods from your diet can help with energy levels, aches and pains, weight loss, skin issues, digestive ailments, and seasonal allergies. In short, it claims, “This will change your life.”

Whole30: Savior or Silly?

What can you eat on the Whole30 diet? For 30 days, “eat [only] moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats, and herbs, spices, and seasonings.” What can’t you eat? The Whole30 program is very restrictive. For 30 days, you must cut out all of the following:

  • Sugar, both real and fake. This includes honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, xylitol, etc.
  • Alcohol, including any used for cooking.
  • Grains: not only no wheat-based bread or crackers, but also no rice, barley, quinoa, spelt, chia, bulgur, and all those other healthy whole grains.
  • Legumes, including all beans, peas, peanuts, and soy, which sneaks into many commercially-available foods.
  • Dairy, including milk, cheese, and yogurt.
  • Carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites, which can occur naturally or be added to many foods.
  • Any baked goods or “treats,” even if they contain approved ingredients.

As you can read here, here, and here, views on Whole30 are extremely mixed. It is fairly similar to the paleo diet, which scientists have pretty thoroughly disproven. A panel of experts for U.S. News and World Report ranked Whole30 as #37 out of 40 diets, citing its overly restrictive rules and its lack of scientific support. One nutritionist fact-checked Whole30’s claims about the harmful effects of substances like MSG, carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites.  Using data from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organizations, and others, he found that most of Whole30’s statements on these substances are misleading, mostly false, or false.

Despite the lack of scientific support for most of its claims, Whole30’s many defenders swear that they’ve lost weight, that they feel better, and that the diet has helped them make healthy, long-term changes. There are few dietitians who would disagree that most people should cut down on their processed food intake, not to mention their sugars and carbs. The Whole30 can help you make some short-term changes; nothing in the diet is likely to hurt you, and it just might help.

It’s Fall, so Pumpkin Spice Everything!

Fall’s favorite flavor is back!

Pumpkin Spice

The first day of fall was last week; have you had your pumpkin spice today? Ever since Starbucks debuted its now-iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte drink in 2003, #pumpkinspice has started to trend on social media in August and continued to rise throughout the fall. Starbucks’ drink even has its own Twitter handle—@TheRealPSL—and a whopping 115 thousand followers.

Starbucks has done well with its Pumpkin Spice Latte; the store has sold over 200 million of the drinks in the past decade, with approximately $100 million in revenue just from Pumpkin Spice Lattes in 2015. Starbucks’ success has spurred countless copycats; it’s a rare coffee shop that doesn’t offer a pumpkin spice drink in the fall, and pumpkin spice-flavored coffee drinks and accoutrements are widely available at grocery stores in the fall.

Of course, the pumpkin spice trend has now spread far beyond coffee. Some pumpkin spice flavors seem like an obvious fit: baked goods, breakfast cereal, and even tea are popular pumpkin-spiced items. Other items like pretzels, wine, and kale chips don’t obviously lend themselves to pumpkin spice flavor. According to ratings service Nielsen, pumpkin-flavored items have brought in $414 million in the US between July 2016 and July 2017.

Why does pumpkin spice have such a strong hold on American culture? The answer may lie in the past. Pumpkins are native to North America and were a staple of colonial life. Some historians suggest that the current pumpkin spice craze represents a nostalgic yearning for an earlier, simpler agrarian life. The spices in pumpkin spice—nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves—are the spices of pumpkin pie, the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert.

Like many coffee drinks, Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes come with a hefty dose of sugar and fat: 12 grams and 14 grams respectively in a Grande with 2 percent milk and whipped cream. That’s more sugar that you’d find in a 12-ounce can of Coke, and about one-third  of your healthy fat intake for the day. Luckily, you can tone those numbers down by requesting skim milk and skipping the whipped cream. Or make your own with simple ingredients like pureed pumpkin, vanilla, and a jar of pumpkin pie spice. No matter what, you have plenty of pumpkin spice options to get you through the season.

Is Infused Water a Healthier Way to Sip?

For decades, it has been common practice for fancy restaurants to serve water with an elegant slice of lemon. Club soda and seltzer water are both usually served with a slice of lemon or lime. But these practices are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to putting produce in water. Read on to learn about the infused water trend: the pros and cons, the myths and truths, and even a few recipes for those who want to try it at home.

Is Infused Water  a Healthier Way to Sip?

Infused water is simply water (tap, filtered, or bottled) in which someone has soaked fruit, vegetables, or herbs. As with many fads, enthusiasts of infused water claim that it can do everything but bake bread. Some proponents claim that infused water can do these things:

  • Prevent disease
  • Aid weight loss
  • Boost metabolism
  • Improve digestion
  • Increase nutrient intake
  • Detoxify the body
  • Improve mood
  • Clear up complexion

While there may be some truth to these claims, the fact is that most of these benefits actually just come from drinking water! With the exception of increasing nutrient intake (which is unlikely, due to the small actual amount of nutrients that are in infused water), all of the claims in favor of infused water are just basic benefits of staying hydrated.

That being said, for people who don’t like the taste of plain water, or who have trouble remembering to drink their daily eight glasses of water, there’s nothing wrong with drinking infused water. And if it replaces sweet fruit juices or sodas, so much the better! Some infused waters are available in bottles, but it’s also easy to make your own. Simply place your chosen fruit, vegetables, or herbs in a glass or pitcher of water and put in the fridge. You can use a cheesecloth bag to easily remove the infusers after a few hours, or simply strain the water over a fine mesh colander. Here are some popular combinations:

  • Lemon and lavender
  • Berry blend
  • Blackberry and mint
  • Cucumber and cilantro
  • Apple and cinnamon
  • Pear and nutmeg
  • Orange and rosemary
  • Sweet peppers
  • Basil and ginger

Two words of caution: teeth and bacteria. In terms of dental care, the acids from citrus fruits can erode the enamel on your teeth, so be careful to swap citrus water for other flavors periodically. And as for bacteria, common sense dictates that leaving fruit water out for several days will lead to the growth of bacteria. Make sure to keep infused water in the refrigerator until you need it, and discard after a few days.

Diversity in the Workplace: What Foods Are “Kosher for Passover?”

Every spring, millions of Jews around the world celebrate Passover, the commemoration of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. Passover is an eight-day, home-based holiday, where families and friends gather to retell the story of the Jews’ slavery in Egypt and their escape to freedom. Observant Jews eat only “Kosher for Passover” foods for the full eight days of the holiday.

Diversity in the Workplace: What Foods Are “Kosher for Passover?”

So, what does “Kosher for Passover” mean? According to the story of Exodus, the Pharaoh allowed Jews to leave Egypt, but only if they departed right away. That meant that the women cooking bread for the journey couldn’t wait for the dough to rise; they had to bake it right away—leaving it unleavened. To remember this escape from bondage, observant Jews eat no chametz (leavened bread) for eight days.

According to Chabad.org, chametz  is “any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt that has come into contact with water and been allowed to ferment and ‘rise.’ In practice, just about anything made from these grains—other than Passover matzah, which is carefully controlled to avoid leavening—is to be considered chametz. This includes flour (even before it is mixed with water), cake, cookies, pasta, breads, and items that have chametz as an ingredient (like malt).” The most common non-chametz food item is matzah, a flat unleavened bread.

From a foodservice standpoint, an office that wants to support its observant Jews can start by making sure that nutritional information is readily available for all the food it provides. A simple ingredient check can let people know if a food product contains any chametz (similar to how nutritional information provides important choices for people with food allergies or people watching their salt, fat, or sugar intake). Note that chametz includes most pasta, cookies, crackers, and even beer!

Foodservice managers who want to go a step further and supply “Kosher for Passover” foods need to look for packaged foods that have been certified “Kosher for Passover” by a Rabbi who is trained in the intricacies of Kosher food preparation. Note that there is a difference between the designation for “Kosher” and “Kosher for Passover.” Kosher foods prohibit certain ingredients (pork, shellfish) and require a complete separation of dairy and meat products. “Kosher for Passover” foods, however, include those prohibitions in addition to the prohibition of chametz.

Being culturally sensitive to observant Jews doesn’t need to mean supplying fully “Kosher for Passover” meals and snacks. Many foods are naturally appropriate, especially produce, meat, and dairy products.

And remember, Passover is closely tied to the Christian holiday of Easter. It is thought that the Last Supper was actually a Passover Seder, and like Easter, Passover celebrates eternal themes of rebirth and renewal.