Tag Archives: healthy choices

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.”

Not All Oils Are Created Equal

Canola or peanut oil? Grapeseed or sesame oil? Extra-virgin or regular olive oil? When it comes to cooking oils, the choices can seem endless and overwhelming. Have no fear; however, a few hints will help you make the best decisions when the time comes to start what is the difference in cooking oils?pouring the oil. To choose the right oil, start by asking the right questions.

What Kind of Fat Does It Have?

All oils contain fatty acids, but the different chemicals in different kinds of fats affect both your cooking and your health.

  • Trans fats (like shortening and stick margarine) contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. For optimal health, eliminate all trans fats from your diet.
  • Saturated fats (like butter and animal fat) are solid at room temperature. Saturated fats should make up under seven percent of your diet.
  • Polyunsaturated fats (like canola oil, sunflower oil, and walnut oil) are always liquid, even when refrigerated. Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated ones can improve cholesterol and heart health. The omega-3 oils in polyunsaturated fats are particularly important for raising HDL cholesterol.
  • Monounsaturated fats (like olive oil and peanut oil) are liquid at room temperature but become cloudy or semi-solid when refrigerated. Monounsaturated fats also improve cholesterol health, and extra-virgin olive oil—the result of the first pressing of the olives—contains antioxidants called polyphenols that can boost health.

What Is Its Smoke Point?

The smoke point is the temperature at which oil starts to burn and smoke, releasing harmful fumes and free radicals. For searing and browning food at a high heat, choose palm, sunflower, or avocado oil. For medium heat, like for baking or stir-frying, canola is versatile, but extra virgin olive oil provides the most health benefits. For light sautéing or sauces, walnut and sesame provide wonderful flavors. Some oils, like flaxseed or wheat germ, should only be used for dressings or drizzling on food.

How Important Is Flavor?

Vegetable and canola oil are great for baking because they have almost no flavor on their own, but that same quality also makes them pretty boring for dressings and sauces. Similarly, strongly-flavored oils like sesame, olive, or walnut can add wonderful dimensions to sauces and meals, but they would not taste good in your favorite brownie recipe.

The bottom line is that no matter what your needs are, there is an oil that fits the bill. Kept to a healthy level, oils can be a delicious and nutritious part of your diet.

Smart Snacking

When that mid-afternoon slump hits and you need a snack to get you through the rest of the work day, it’s tempting to head to the vending machine and grab a candy bar or chips. But there are healthy snack options at the vending machine that will satisfy that salt or sweet craving but won’t completely sabotage the hard work you’ve put in at the gym. Some snacks even have nutritional fiber and protein, and protein is your best bet for increasing your energy.

Here are 10 top picks when you need a pick-me-up:

1. Planters Sunflower Kernels
2. Baked! Lays Original
3. Sun Chips Original
4. Snyder’s of Hanover Mini Pretzels
5. Smartfood Reduced-Fat Popcorn
6. Peanut M&M’s
7. Fig NewtonsNature Valley Smart Snacking
8. Nature Valley Granola Bar, Oats & Honey
9. Planters Honey Roasted Peanuts
10. Quaker Chewy Low-Fat Granola Bar, Chocolate Chunk

Other smart options include 100 percent fruit snacks and even Rice Krispie treats. So don’t fear the vending machines, just make smart snacking choices!

Making Healthier Choices at Vending Machines

Vending machines and snack carts have their fair share of tempting snack foods, but you can make healthier choices even when you are in a hurry at work and must rely on these options for lunch or a snack to get you through that next meeting.

Here are some nutritional guidelines to follow when selecting an item from a vending machine or snack cart. Healthier choices will meet the following criteria for a single serving, so be sure to read all nutrition labels:


  • Contains less than 35 fat calories for every 100 calories of the food.
  • Contains 1 gram or less of saturated fat calories for every 100 calories of the food.
  • Contains 0 g of trans-fat.
  • Nuts are exempt from fat criteria as they are high in monounsaturated fat and are therefore a healthy choice.

Sugar/Artificial Sweeteners

  • Contains less than 15g of sugar per serving, excluding sugar from fruit.
  • Sugar-free choices are acceptable if they meet the fat criteria.


  • Snack items: Contain less than 480 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Entrée items: Contain less than 1000 mg of sodium per serving.


  • Item is a lean protein choice (fish, chicken, turkey, tofu, legumes, beans).
  • Must also meet the fat and sodium criteria.


  • Plain or spiced.
  • No candy-coated or yogurt-coated nuts/seeds.
  • Nuts are exempt from fat criteria as they are high in monounsaturated fat, as stated above.

Assorted nuts


  • Fresh, canned, or dried fruits without added sweeteners.
  • Fresh vegetables and salads. Dressings must meet fat and sugar criteria.
  • 100% fruit or vegetable juices without added sweeteners, and meet salt/sodium criteria.

Whole Grains/Legumes

  • Whole grain breads and cereals must meet sugar criteria.
  • Prepared legume products must meet fat, sugar, and sodium criteria.
  • Items with at least 2 g of dietary fiber per serving are preferred.

Milk/Dairy Products

  • Non-fat or 1% dairy products (including cheese).
  • Frozen dairy items must be made with non-fat or 1% milk or meet fat criteria.