Tag 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.

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!

How S.M.A.R.T. Are Your Goals?

If you’re like 41 percent of Americans, you made a New Year’s resolution this year. And if you’re like 21 percent of Americans, your New Year’s resolution had to do with losing weight or eating healthier. Unfortunately, if you’re like 91 percent of Americans, you will not be successful in fulfilling your resolution.

What are SMART goals?

While there are many factors that contribute to a person’s success or failure in achieving his or her goals, one way to improve the chances of success is to change the goals themselves. Someone whose goal is to lose 50 pounds or to only eat salads for every meal is likely to be disappointed by his/her results. If your goals are unrealistic, you’re unlikely to be able to achieve them.

How are your goals? Are they SMART? Use this acronym to do a reality-check on your resolutions:

Specific
Measurable
Achievable
Realistic
Time-bound

Although the idea of the SMART goal originated in business management in the early 1980s, it provides an excellent guide for nutrition and fitness resolutions. When you set your goals, ask yourself this question: are they SMART?

Specific: Instead of setting a general goal, such as, “I will eat more vegetables” or “I will eat more fiber,” be specific in what actions you will take: “I will eat five servings of vegetables a day” or “I will eat at least 25 grams of fiber a day.”

Measurable: Vague goals are easier to ignore. Make sure your goal is something you can measure and record your progress in accomplishing. If you want to get at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day, you can keep track of it, especially with fitness trackers.

Achievable: This is a big one for nutrition and fitness goals. If fresh food is not easily available at work, then it may be hard for you to eat vegetables three times a day. If you live in a very cold climate, it may not be feasible to walk outside every day, so you should find a way to exercise indoors.

Realistic: You need to know your own personality and how you react to challenges. Is it realistic for you to cut out sugar for 30 days, or is that something that will be too difficult? Would it be more realistic to cut down on sugar, like to 10 grams a day? Realistic goals are much easier to keep.

Time-bound: Set a time frame for your goal, like for the month of February or the first quarter of the year. Knowing that you have a start and end date will help you do what you need to do to meet your goal.

 

Is BPA-Free the Way to Be?

Look at any food packaging, especially in the foodservice industry, and you’re likely to see a lot of plastic. There are many good reasons for the prevalence of plastics; plastics carry bpa-freemuch less weight than aluminum or glass, and plastic packaging can prevent up to 1.7 pounds of food waste for each pound of plastics.

However, plastic packaging brings some significant chemical impacts.  Among these, some of the most troubling come from a class of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors which influence the endocrine system and alter hormonal functions. Cheap, lightweight, and shatterproof, Bisphenol A (BPA) used to be one of the most commonly used plastics for food packaging, appearing in everything from plastic pouches to water bottles to the linings of some canned food. Unfortunately, BPA is one of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals; in 2008, the National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction found that there is “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.”

The US Food and Drug Administration still classifies BPA as safe at its current human exposure level. Nonetheless, pressure from consumers and consumer protection groups has spurred food storage companies to drastically reduce their use of the chemical. This is particularly true for products aimed at infants and young children, like infant formula packaging, baby bottles, and toddler sippy cups, but even many general use products now carry the label “BPA-Free.” In the foodservice industry, both Rubbermaid and Cambro offer BPA-free options.

Unfortunately, just replacing BPA does not appear to have solved the problem of endocrine-disrupting chemicals leaching into food. Scientists currently focus on chemicals having estrogenic activity—activity that mimics, increases, or decreases the body’s naturally-occurring estrogen with synthetic hormones. So while eliminating BPA is a good start and can help raise employee awareness of the dangers of chemical contamination, it is not a panacea. Study after study shows that most plastic products leach estrogenic chemicals into the food and drinks we consume.

Some simple steps can further reduce risks, both for foodservice companies and the customers they serve. Keeping plastics away from heat—boiling water, microwaves, and sunlight—is crucial, as heat accelerates the leaching process. In foodservice kitchens, make sure to heat food only in glass or metal containers, and in office kitchens, offer alternatives for employees to heat their own food. Keep bottled water out of hot cars and sunlight, and educate employees about the potential dangers of keeping food or liquid in plastic for too long.  As always, knowledge is power!

 

 

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.

Update: Millennials’ Meals

“The Millennials are coming! The Millennials are coming!”

What are millennials eating in the office

This is the cry that has been reverberating around human resources departments for the past decade. Currently, the workforce is predominantly composed of three groups:

  • The Baby Boom Generation (born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Generation X (born between 1966 and 1980)
  • The Millennial Generation (born after 1980)

For the past several decades, Baby Boomers and Generation-Xers have dominated the workforce. But in 2015, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, Millennials surpassed both Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers in the workforce for the first time. This is a trend that will only increase as more Millennials enter the workforce and more Gen-Xers and Boomers leave it.

The implications of Millennials’ rise are significant and widespread, from healthcare to management to foodservice choices. This blog has already discussed Millennials’ preference for fresh foods, as well as some more general HR trends for Millennials. As USConnect keeps tabs on the most up-to-date trends among Millennials and other workers, we share them here. Some current trends include these:

  • Office and workplace design that allows for flexibility encourages collaboration. Break rooms, in particular, should reflect the fact that work is rarely a 9-to-5 endeavor and that employees may use these spaces for important “water-cooler” discussion that improves productivity.
  • Food perks. Some think that free food is less important than a collaborative environment or opportunity for improvement. Others, however, point to a study that found that 67 percent of Millennials would feel more valued at work if food perks were increased.
  • Social responsibility. Millennials value working at an organization that makes a positive difference in the world, and that value extends to the food brands they buy. A study by the National Marketing Institute found that Millennials are more likely to buy brands that are transparent about their sustainability and charitable giving, with 65 percent recognizing the Fair Trade Certified label.

 

 

What Exactly Is the New Superfood Teff?

Ingredient Du Jour: Teff

What Exactly is the New Superfood Teff?

Anyone who has ever tried Ethiopian food has likely eaten injera, the spongy sourdough flatbread that serves as a plate, utensil, and food at the same time. For millennia, people from Ethiopia and other eastern African countries have made this nutritious bread from teff, a tiny grain that has been gaining traction in the United States as the next big superfood.

Whether your family has been eating teff for generations, or you’re trying it for the first time, teff does seem to have significant health benefits, including these:

Teff is tiny—the size of a poppy seed. Its small size has been a boon to semi-nomadic eastern African farmers because a handful can sow a whole field. It can thrive in both droughts and flooded soils, and at elevations up to 3,000 meters. Its versatility and quick growing time (sprouting in 36 hours and ready to harvest in 12 weeks) have contributed to its outsized role in eastern African diets; in Ethiopia alone, it accounts for about 15 percent of all calories consumed.

In the United States, interest in teff has rocketed in recent years. However, until recently, Ethiopia has had a ban on exporting teff, so most of the teff that US consumers use comes from other places, including Idaho, India, and Australia. And many people are using teff in new and exciting ways:  in pancakes, as porridge, and when ground, as a replacement for wheat flour.

Ready to try teff? Check out these recipes, and look for it as an ingredient in items marked as The Right Choice … for a Healthier You™, USConnect’s nutritional guideline program.

Micro Markets: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know, but Were Afraid to Ask

Micro markets are all the rage in the vending industry. They take up an increasing share of vending revenue and are responsible for much of the vending industry’s success in 2019. But have you ever wondered what, exactly, a micro market is?

all about micro markets

Industry group Vending How describes a micro market as “a small, self-contained store in a location without an employee to monitor it.”  It’s comprised of freestanding storage, such as shelves, that hold a product and a checkout system installed nearby. Micro markets offer more choice than traditional vending machines, particularly in the realm of fresh food. However, unlike an actual convenience store, they don’t need to be staffed, and they have a much smaller footprint, making them very cost-efficient.

The National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) cautions that while it’s fine to emphasize the convenience of micro markets, operators should refrain from comparing them to convenience stores. Full-service convenience stores tend to offer a larger variety of choices, but they are often limited in terms of offering local choices. Micro markets can capitalize on their small size by buying from local and regional food producers.

As we’ve discussed, three of the biggest trends in foodservice are fresh, local, and convenient. Micro markets can respond to all three of these trends with more agility than any fast-food restaurant or convenience store. USConnect’s Bistro To Go!® micro markets and The Right Choice … for a Healthier You program combine convenience, freshness, and health all in one place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spice It Up!

Some like it hot, and food service providers are responding by turning up the spice. Across literally all food categories, peppers, spices, and hot sauces are showing up more and Spicy foods are literally exploding in popularitymore frequently. From spicy buffalo-flavored potato chips to sriracha-sauced burgers and chipotle beer, hot and spicy are the buzzwords of the flavor world.

What is driving this spice explosion? Several factors are combining to make spicy flavors more popular than ever. The biggest driver is probably demographics; market research firm Mintel found that a majority of Millennials (62 percent) consider themselves “adventurous eaters,” and three out of four Millennials want to experience more new flavors when eating out. And market intelligence firm IBISWorld calls sriracha sauce, a spicy combination of red chili and garlic, the “go-to condiment” for Millennials.

It’s not just Millennials who prefer spicier foods; 54 percent of all consumers enjoy hot or spicy foods, up from 48 percent just seven years ago. Another driver of this trend is the increased interest in different kinds of ethnic foods. Food court lo mein just doesn’t cut it for exotic food these days. Spice company McCormick documents greater interest in new spice blends like Shawarma spice (from Middle Eastern street food) and Japanese 7-spice (Shichimi Togarashi). Flavor company Kalsec notes that one out of four consumers is eating spicy food more often this year than last year. Kalsec also found that jalapenos are still the most popular pepper, but new peppers like arbol and japones chiles are gaining popularity.

There are some good health reasons to enjoy spicy food. For one, adding spice is a great way to add flavor without adding harmful salt to your diet. The capsaicin in hot peppers has been linked to speeding up people’s metabolism, which can help with weight loss. It can also dilate blood vessels, lowering blood pressure. As previously discussed on this blog, the curcumin in turmeric has strong anti-inflammatory properties. So spice it up! Your taste buds will eventually grow back, even if you try that crazy ghost pepper or “Carolina Reaper.”

Tips for Healthy Eating in Cold Weather

What are the best foods to eat in the winter?

Best foods to eat in the winter

As January turns to February, New Year’s resolutions fade into distant memories. The weather is cold and grey, and snow and ice make outdoor exercise unsafe or just unpalatable. Above all, our bodies crave comfort: fleece pajamas, wool sweaters, and comforting food. Carmen Honnef, USConnect’s own Registered Dietician and manager of our The Right Choice … for a Healthier You program, says: “Cold weather may tend to lead us towards comfort foods like pasta, pizza and casseroles. Enjoy these dishes by using whole grains, adding vegetables to casseroles, and limiting the saturated fat sources (like cheese and sausage) to half the amount or a lighter option.”

Cold weather drives us to food that’s hot, quick, and filling, like canned soup or fast food. We also tend to crave carbohydrates, an issue that isn’t purely psychological; the reduced sunlight in winter can lead to lower serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a naturally-occurring chemical that regulates moods and suppresses appetite. When our bodies need serotonin, what we feel is cravings for sweet or starchy carbohydrates.

Despite the fact that our bodies seem to want to fight our ability to eat healthily during the winter, there are some ways to get your body what it needs without sacrificing your diet. Read on for our dietician-certified tips for healthy eating in cold weather.

  • Replace simple carbohydrates with complex ones. Instead of saltines or cookies, go for whole grains like quinoa, farro, or barley. These foods can boost serotonin without causing sleepiness or carb-overload.
  • Get some sun. If the weather permits, get outside for at least 15 minutes a day. A brisk walk is good for both your body and your brain! Moving your desk to a sunny spot can also help.
  • Eat for immunity. Winter vegetables like squash and Brussels sprouts are packed with vitamins and anti-oxidants. They’re also more filling that some summer vegetables like asparagus or green beans.
  • Go for frozen. If you’re craving out-of-season fruits or vegetables, go for frozen instead of canned. The canning process can sacrifice many of the nutrients of fresh produce, while flash-frozen produce maintains its properties. Many canned vegetables and fruits also contain unneeded sugar or salt.
  • Add some warmth to your salad. Many people avoid salads in the winter because they want something warm to counteract the cold weather. But salads and warmth do not need to be enemies; try topping your salad with something warm to counteract the chill of cold greens. As we discuss in our post on food pairings, an egg on a salad of dark greens provides extra nutritional benefits, or try grilled chicken, lean steak, or shrimp.