Tag Archives: food trends

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.

Thinking About a Detox Fast or Cleanse? Read This First.

Not so Fast

Thanksgiving is over, and it’s hard to avoid looking for an easy way to reverse the damage from several days of overeating. You might be especially tempted by drastic quick-fix solutions like cleanses, detoxes, and even fasts. These terms are not synonymous, but they all require eliminating almost all solid food from your diet and replacing it with liquids like juice, tea, or even just water. The programs are all fairly short-term, but they are very extreme.

Before you do a detox fast

The idea behind detoxes—clearing the body of poisons, or toxins—is ancient; from sweat lodges to bloodletting to enemas, many cultures have embraced the practice of flushing bad substances from the body. While the practice died out in many Western cultures throughout the 20th century, it has come back with a vengeance in the 21st. When looking online or through magazines for healthy ways to lose weight, it’s impossible to avoid advertisements for 24-hour juice cleanses or pills to detoxify your liver.

Many cleanses and detoxes focus on the liver, since the liver’s job is to purify your body of toxins. Toxins in our bodies come from both within our bodies and without, and include environmental chemicals as well as “lifestyle toxins” like nicotine and alcohol. The liver “turns potentially harmful chemicals into water-soluble chemicals that can be sweated or excreted from the body.” Many products also focus on the colon—through liquid and high-fiber diets, or even through “colon-cleansing” enemas. These cleanses basically make you spend a lot of time in the bathroom until there’s not much left in your digestive tract.

While many celebrities and “celebrity medical personalities” may endorse these extreme fad diets and purges, most scientists and doctors agree that they bring no long-term benefits, and may actually cause harm. The hepatology (liver) department at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine recommends against any products that claim to cleanse the liver, and they are not regulated by the FDA and may even lead to “drug-induced injury.” The Mayo Clinic warns against colon cleanses, noting that they can cause dehydration, bowel perforations, increase the risk of infection, as well as less serious side effects like cramping, nausea, and diarrhea. Above all, most doctors and nutrition specialists agree that any weight loss from a fast or cleanse will be short-lived and will be reversed as soon as you go back to eating normally.

So forget about the fast. Focus instead on healthy choices, like fresh foods with lots of fruit and vegetables. Your body is its own detox system, and if you let it do its job, all that turkey and stuffing bloat will be long gone by Christmas.

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.

The Healthy (and Not-So-Healthy) Summer Drinks – Smoothies!

Real Smooth, Smoothie

As summer heats up, many people reach for cool, refreshing fruit smoothies thinking they’re drinking something as healthy as pure fruit. And in some cases, this is true; some smoothies are, indeed, very good for you. Others, unfortunately, are not as beneficial. Here’s our guide to the best and worst options for drinkable fruit.

The Healthy (and Not-So-Healthy) Summer Drinks - Smoothies!

Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware)

At fast food restaurants and coffee shops across the country, menus offer fruit smoothies as a convenient, healthy alternative to other drink meals. However, a smoothie isn’t healthy just by virtue of being a smoothie. Convenient? Yes. Healthy? not so much. Many store- and restaurant-made smoothies actually contain more fat than a Big Mac and more sugar than four Snickers bars.

And the picture is not much prettier at the supermarket, where many choices contain little of the protein, fiber, and vitamins that should make smoothies a healthy option. In fact, Naked Juice, one of the leading supermarket juice and smoothie brands, has been in trouble more than once for falsely claiming the health benefits of its products. In 2013, Naked Juice’s parent company, PepsiCo, agreed to pay a $9 million settlement in a class action lawsuit. In 2016, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) again sued PepsiCo, alleging that its healthy-sounding drinks like “Kale Blazer” actually contain mainly high-sugar apple juice.

Convenient and Healthy Options

If you’re looking for a convenient, healthy way to drink your fruits and veggies, the news is not all bad. Many store-made and bottled juices are as healthy as they claim to be; the key is to always read the label so you know what you’re ingesting. A good smoothie should contain a significant amount of vitamins and fiber, and preferably protein to prevent hunger pains from hitting too soon. It should contain minimal sugar and very little fat. Check out some of the healthiest options here and here.

Best Option: Make Your Own

When it comes to smoothies, it’s all about the ingredients. You can create your own, mixing and matching fruits, vegetables, proteins, nuts, and seeds:

  • Acai
  • Almond milk
  • Apples
  • Avocado
  • Banana, peeled and frozen
  • Chia seeds
  • Coconut flakes
  • Coconut water
  • Frozen blueberries
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ground flax seeds
  • Ground ginger root
  • Ground turmeric
  • Hemp seeds
  • Honey
  • Kale leaves
  • Nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • Peanut butter
  • Protein powder
  • Raspberries
  • Raw cacao powder
  • Rolled oats
  • Spinach
  • Spirulina
  • Strawberries

Mean Protein: An EGG-cellent Choice

Easter has come and gone, but many of us are still finishing up the hard-boiled eggs that the Easter Bunny left. Given this season of rebirth and renewal, it’s a great time to check in on the incredible, edible egg.

Egg-cellent Nutrition

Eggs have been called “the perfect protein.” Going back to prehistoric times, most animal protein required finding, killing, and preparing meat, but gathering eggs just required foraging from inattentive fowl.

Today, a large chicken egg contains six grams of high-quality protein and high levels of iron, lutein, and choline. Eggs contain zero grams of carbohydrates and sugars, and although they do contain five grams of fat and 187 milligrams of cholesterol, multiple studies have found that there is no link between eating an egg a day and the risk of heart disease or stroke.

Types of Eggs

From a nutritional perspective, there is no difference between brown eggs, white eggs, free-range eggs, cage-free eggs, cruelty-free eggs, or any other kinds of hen eggs. The color of the egg depends on the breed of the hen, and while the size of the egg will have an impact on the nutrition content (e.g., a tiny quail’s egg will have less of everything than a giant duck’s egg), there is effectively no nutritional difference among different types of eggs.

Basic Eggs

  • Hard-boiled eggs are an easy, portable, protein-rich snack. Place eggs in a pot of cold water, and bring water to a boil. As soon as the water boils, remove pot from heat and let stand for 9-15 minutes, depending on the size of the egg and how “hard” you like it. Cooking eggs for less time results in slightly soft, bright orange yolks that can be spread on a cracker or bread. Cooking eggs longer will result in a paler yellow, almost greenish yolk with a crumbly texture. For best results, put eggs in cold water (to keep them from continuing to cook) and peel immediately. Fun fact: older eggs are easier to peel than fresher ones.
  • Soft-boiled eggs take much less time to prepare than hard-boiled eggs, but they’re not nearly as portable. For runny, soft-boiled eggs, cook as above, but remove eggs from water after 4-6 minutes. Soft-boiled eggs don’t need to be peeled; you can eat them right out of the shell with a spoon, or lop off the top of the egg and pour it over a salad of brightly colored vegetables. As discussed in our post on food pairings, the fat from the egg helps your body absorb the healthy carotenoids from the vegetables.
  • Scrambled eggs are not particularly interesting by themselves, but they lend themselves to countless variations and additions (to be explored in a future post). For basic scrambled eggs, crack eggs into a bowl and mix well with a whisk or fork until the white and yolk are well combined. Whisk in two tablespoons of milk per two eggs. Pour mixture into a hot nonstick pan (optional: heat butter or oil in the pan first), and using a rubber spatula, lift and fold the eggs until they form a pebbly consistency. Remove from heat immediately when they are cooked to your desired dryness, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Fried eggs are your better basic diner order. Put a teaspoon of oil or butter in the bottom of a hot, non-stick pan and break eggs carefully into the pan. With the heat on low, watch the yolk carefully as it changes from a dark, translucent orange to a light, opaque yellow. For sunny-side-up eggs, take eggs out of pan immediately. For over-easy, flip the eggs and cook for another 60 to 90 seconds. As fried eggs require butter or oil, they are a less healthy choice. However, try throwing a fried egg onto a bed of dark leafy greens—like spinach.

 

 

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.