Tag Archives: healthy diet

Part 1: Best Resolutions and Best of Intentions, but Losing a Little Steam?

Chances are pretty good that like over 40% of other Americans, with the dawn of 2019, you resolved to lose weight, spend less, learn more, or do something to better your life in some way. This list of resolutions is a nearly universal tradition of annual rebirth and revitalization. Sounds good, but how’s that working for you?

By now, for many of us, our gusto has turned to dust-o. When that alarm beeps at 5 am to remind us it’s time to go running, the bed feels a little warmer and more comfortable than it ever has before. Did you swear off chocolates but then, after realizing you just popped your third truffle into your mouth, decided that it’s too late to turn back and “to heck with those resolutions”? Just finish the box? No way! Come on, you can do this. Everyone is entitled to a mistake or two. Enjoy that truffle; don’t beat yourself up over it, but don’t feel the need to finish off the box. If you fall down, get up and keep going!

So, how do we go about maintaining the excitement and zeal to hold fast to our well- intentioned resolutions? Do many people really make it through to the end of the challenge and succeed, or do most of us just make the resolutions for fun and never really bother with it for very long? Sadly, about 80% of people fail in their resolve by the second week in February, according to U.S. News & World Report.

What is the reason for making our resolutions on New Year’s anyway? When did this whole idea start and why? As it turns out, ancient Babylonians and Romans seem to have started the tradition by making promises to their gods about trying to be better people by returning items they had borrowed and repaying people to whom they owed money. The early medieval knights vowed to remain chivalrous while Christians sought forgiveness through prayer and made resolutions about living more holy lives.

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions still has a place in current religious practice, not only remaining a practice among many Christians, but also during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which finds its faithful reflecting upon their actions over the previous year and seeking forgiveness for their sins.

The tradition is very much rooted in religious beliefs and has been sustained through the ages as humans forever aspire to be better than they are. It is a noble desire, and each year, there are always those who do find success in reaching their goals. Do not fool yourself into thinking that just because many people give up, it is an unworthy goal or a waste of time or effort. On the contrary, if you do it right from the very start, you’ve got this. And the cliché that anything worth having is worth fighting for, well, that is a life truth.

So, what does it take to keep the flame burning and not giving up on those promises we make to ourselves? We’ll dive into that in part 2 of this article!

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

Halloween Candy: Eat This, Not That!

If you’re like most parents, you can’t resist raiding your child’s trick-or-treat bag on Halloween night. Or maybe you’re not a parent but can’t fight the urge to eat those Fun-size candy bars you are giving out on Halloween.

Either way, all that Halloween candy can be really tempting. You can indulge and not completely derail your healthy eating habits by choosing your treats wisely and keeping portions to a minimum. In other words, don’t eat a whole bag of Fun-size Twix bars in one sitting! Leave most of the candy to the little ghosts and goblins after you satisfy your sweet tooth with one of these small treats.

Eat this: Fun-size Kit Kat bar
Not that: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup

While both candy bars are high in sugar and calories, that snack-size Kit Kat has 3 grams of fat and 7 grams of sugar compared to a Reese’s peanut butter cup that clocks in at 10.5 grams of fat and 6.5 grams of sugar. And who can eat just one?

Eat this: Dark Chocolate
Not that: Milk Chocolate

Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and has less sugar than regular milk chocolate candy bars. Keep portions small though and stick with fun-size options.

Eat this: Sweet Tarts
Not that: Skittles

If hard candy is your weakness, you’re better off choosing Sweet Tarts rather than Skittles candies. Sweet Tarts have 2.4 grams of sugar per min-bag while Skittles have a whopping 14.5 grams of sugar per mini-bag.

Eat this: Smarties
Not that: Fun-size chocolate bar

Smarties have only 5 grams of sugar and no fat, while most fun-size chocolate bars contain 7 grams of sugar or more, and 3 grams or more of fat per bar.

Eat this: Jelly Belly jelly beans
Not that: M&Ms

Jelly Bellies have only 35 calories per serving and no fat, but M&Ms (all varieties) are loaded with both fat and sugar.

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.

 

 

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

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.

 

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.”

Foods That Appear Good for You… But Aren’t: Part Two

At USConnect®, we want to help people reach their health goals. That’s why we offer so many fresh food options and our dietician-managed The Right Choice … for a Healthier You™ program. That’s also why we use this blog to dispel some health myths, like the idea that diet soda is healthy, or that anything with vegetables is good for you. This post is a follow-up to our last Foods that Appear Good for You… But Aren’t article, where we help you avoid some common “health food” traps.

Foods that appear to be healthy but aren't

Trick Food #1: Bottled Salad Dressing

Raw vegetables: healthy. Most bottled salad dressings: not so much. To make lettuce and other vegetables more palatable, most salad dressings rely on trans-fats, sugar, and artificial flavors. Further, prepared or restaurant salads are often drenched in the stuff, turning a potentially healthy meal into a nutritional disaster. One popular restaurant’s kale salad has 600 calories and a whopping 40 grams of sugar!

Trick Food #2: Margarine

For decades, marketers promoted margarine as a healthier option than butter because it contains less saturated fat, which some studies associated with higher risk of heart disease. More recent studies, however, suggest that trans fats, not saturated fats, are the culprit. Margarine is often laden with refined oils and trans fats, making it a less healthy option. Your best bet? Use butter sparingly, and don’t assume that margarine is a healthier option.

Trick Food #3: Instant Oatmeal

Oatmeal may seem like a hearty, healthy breakfast, and it certainly can be. The rule, as with most packaged foods, is to read the nutritional information carefully. A popular instant maple and brown sugar oatmeal package, for instance, contains 12 grams of sugars, but only three grams of fiber and four grams of protein. To really keep you going until lunch, a bowl of oatmeal should have at least four grams of fiber and five grams of protein. And since the American Heart Association recommends that men eat no more than 36 grams and women eat no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day, try to cut your breakfast sugar intake to below six grams.

 

 

 

HR Focus: Taste a Rainbow of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

June is National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month. What better time to taste a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables?

A rainbow of fruits and vegetables flavor!

June marks the start of the height of fresh produce season in the United States, so it’s no wonder that June is when we celebrate Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month. For human resource professionals, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other federal, state, and local organizations provide a bounty of materials to promote healthy produce in the workplace. These include the following:

With all the fresh choices available at USConnect’s Bistro to Go!™ micro markets, and with the nutritional recommendations from The Right Choice for a Healthier You™, HR professionals can build company-wide celebrations of National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month. For instance, employees could participate in a recipe contest, with a potluck lunch where everyone gets to try each other’s recipes. Or, employees can use the USDA’s SuperTracker to keep track of how many fruit and vegetables they eat, and self-report to see who can reach their nutrition goal first.

To really celebrate National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month, lead a group in creating a rainbow of produce:

  • Red: Apples, strawberries, raspberries, red peppers, tomatoes
  • Orange: Carrots, orange peppers, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes
  • Yellow: Pineapple, papaya, yellow pepper, squash
  • Green: Spinach, green beans, peas, broccoli
  • Blue: Blueberries
  • Purple: Beets, plums, purple sweet potatoes, eggplant

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.