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Monday, January 14, 2019

Get to Know the New Nutrition Facts Label

Grocery Market
You may or may not have noticed a change creeping onto your supermarket shelves.  During the past 2 years different looking nutrition labels have been showing up in your grocery store.  It has been 20 years since the nutrition labels on food products has been redesigned, so this is a very welcome change.  Most food producers have until January 1, 2020 to completely switch over to the new label, and smaller food producers have until January 1, 2021 to make the change.  

What is new and why do we care?  The changes better reflect current science and research regarding the American diet as well as current diet habits.  For example, you’ll not see Vitamin C and Vitamin A listed, but instead you’ll see Potassium and Vitamin D.  This is because research indicates that these nutrients are more commonly lacking in the American diet.  

Things that will jump out at you will be serving size and calories.  These are now in larger bolder fonts to make them easier to identify at a glance.  Serving sizes will reflect in many cases portions typically consumed.  For example, 20 oz. beverages will now be listed as one serving per container instead of two.   

One of my favorite changes is the addition of added sugars along with a percent daily value.  On the old label, total sugars didn’t tell the whole story.  For example, a cereal such as raisin bran may strike you as a very sugary cereal if you saw only the 10 grams of total sugars.  But with the new label, you’ll see that there are only 5 grams of added sugars.  The rest of the sugars are naturally occurring in the raisins.  The same goes for dairy foods that contain the naturally occurring sugar - lactase.  

One quick tip for using %DV: 5 is low, 20 is high. Keeping that in mind, you can easily make a comparison or judgement call on a food by comparing the %DV of nutrients that are of particular interest.  It makes choosing a lower sugar, higher fiber cereal easier, it makes choosing a lower sodium soup or canned product a bit simpler. 

So while you're waiting in line at the checkout, take a minute to get acquainted with the new Nutrition Facts Label and put this simple but efffective tool to work for you.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Smarter Snacking

When a snack attack takes us by surprise, we rarely take the time an effort to search out a healthful, balanced option, so the first key to smart snacking is to plan ahead.  Portability, produce, and low-prep time are just some of the things to keep in mind when choosing snacks for yourself and your family. Here are few other tips to consider that meet those three criteria.
Location, location, location. Think through your day and decide where to stock some handy snacks to help you avoid the same path to the drive-thru or vending machine.  Some dried fruit, nuts, jerky or dry cereal in your desk at work, in your car’s glove box, or in a pocket of your backpack should contain at least a few non perishable snack items.  
Know your audience.  Whether you have grade schoolers or teenagers bursting through the door around 3:00, chances are they will be famished.  And while cheese sticks, almonds and grapes sound like a picture perfect snack, your kids may have other ideas.  And regardless of how ideal the nutrition content of a snack may be, if it doesn’t go in their mouth, it is a moot point.  So look at the foods they currently eat, choose, or buy for themselves and find ways to up the nutrition.  One example is Cup Noodle – a common teen snack go-to now has a new veggie version with a full serving of veggies per container/serving.  They recently reformulated their recipe so that it now has sodium below 50% daily value, no artificial flavors and no added msg.  (#sponsored) When my kids started driving and bringing home their own snack food stashes, this is the kind of food they gravitated towards.  So gently nudging them towards a choice with more veggies is a move in the right directions that doesn't cause them to rebel against their well-intentioned dietitian mother.  Be realistic and take small steps toward better nutrition with your kiddos. 
Prep ahead Something as simple as popping some microwave popcorn while you brush your teeth and bagging it up, and grabbing a clementine or banana on your way out the door will help you hit the spot later in the day as you wait during carpool duty.  Involving your kids in creating their own trail mix, then pre-portioning it out makes a portable snack with very low prep time, and with the addition of dried fruits also hits the produce requirement.  Smart snacking rarely happens spontaneously, but with just a few minutes of planning and preparation, it takes you a lot closer to meeting your nutritional goals in a realistic way for the whole family.  

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Fall Flavor Crave

As the seasons shift and we anticipate cooler weather, our tastes and craving naturally shift as well.  Fall means comfort foods full of warm, rich, flavors unique to the season. The health benefits of eating seasonally include keeping produce intake high, fiber, vitamin A, C, Potassium and other nutrients and compounds that actually boost our immune system and reduce inflammation to keep us healthier this time of year.  Here are some ways to enjoy fall flavors while boosting nutrition at the same time:
Maple is a classic fall flavor and pairing it with some smoky and fall fruit flavors makes for a quick and fresh lunch or dinner go-to sandwich.  I love Eckrich ham fresh from the deli because it is a quality product that makes meal prep simple and quick so you can enjoy more time together as a family.  Spread some rustic bread with a maple mustard, added some Swiss cheese and then some sliced fresh pears and some spinach and deli ham.  It is a simple, yet satisfying way to work in some great nutrition while satisfying some fall flavor cravings.

A discussion on fall flavors wouldn’t be complete without pumpkin.  Caribbean pumpkin-ginger soup is a recipe that packs in all sorts of health benefits. Vitamin A and fiber are some of the obvious nutrients this fall comfort food offers but there are some heart health benefits as well.  September is Cholesterol awareness month so using Mazola corn oil in the recipe also adds some health benefits.  The Journal of Clinical Lipidology has published a study that found that corn oil like Mazola can help lower cholesterol more than extra virgin olive oil.  Another one of my fall flavor traditions is to make homemade fried apple fritters, and corn oil works perfectly for that as well.  

Add fall fruits in unexpected ways.  Kale, spinach and cabbage are in season right now, so consider tossing some cubed or sliced apples or pears into your salad.  And enjoy some anti-inflammatory health benefits by poaching or baking up some apples or pears with some cinnamon for the quintessential fall dessert.  

The take home message is that the more appealing our food is, the more likely we are to enjoy it and find satisfaction from the meal. That behavior increases the nutritional benefit as well as helps reduce stress hormones and promote wellbeing. So the good news is that enjoying seasonal flavors is actually the healthiest as well as the tastiest plan.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

An Apple A Day

Think that the old adage "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" is stuff and nonsense? Think again.  Here are just a few of the nutrition benefits of one of the most modest members of the produce department.
Apples are good sources of:
  •  fiber
  • vitamin C 
  • all sorts of phytonutrients.  
Eating apples on a regular basis helps lower cholesterol and subsequently risk of:
  • heart disease and stroke
  • lowers risk of certain cancers and type 2 diabetes
  • helps improve gut health 
  • helps with weight management.  

One of the main benefits of apples is also a reason they are passed over – they are so universally available that they are almost invisible.  So start seeing apples.  They are one of the most consistently available and inexpensive items in the produce department, to say nothing of being found at breakfast buffets and fruit bowls everywhere.  

But you may be a bit tired of the traditional plain apple, so here are some ways to fall in love again with nature’s unsung powerhouse:

Add apples to your oatmeal or as part of your parfait. Bring apples into the breakfast scene by slicing them onto your oatmeal (you can cook them with the oatmeal if you like a softer, cooked texture), or dice them and put them on your Greek yogurt parfait.  

Top your toast or English muffin with some nut butter and thin sliced apples, or even add it into your grilled cheese for a sophisticated flavor combination of savory, sweet and tart. 

Make an apple sandwich for lunch.  Spread a cross-sectional slice of apple with some peanut butter, sprinkle with some granola and put an apple slice on top.  

Pull out your apple-prep tools.  Chances are you have an apple slicer, corer or peeler somewhere in the back of a drawer or pantry.  And since a lot of the nutritional benefits are found in the peel, let your kiddos eat the apple “ribbons” as you run them through a peeler. 

No time or energy to bake an apple pie? Make a batch of baked apples in a crockpot or bake them in the oven and freeze them in individual portions for the perfect comforting snack or addition to breakfast on a cold morning.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Better Brown Bagging

Most people understand that packing a lunch saves time, money and your health and yet two thirds of the workforce still eats out at lunchtime.  Here’s a little food for thought to motivate your lunch-packing efforts.  

If you ate out every day for lunch and only spent $5/meal, that adds up to $1,250.  A more realistic estimate is spending $10/day including drinks, coffee, etc. and that adds up to $2,500.  If you could save more than half of that amount by packing your own lunch, you could start planning a fun vacation by the year’s end and would probably have dropped a few pounds in the process. 

Another consideration is time.  Think about not just how much time you spend going out to lunch, or waiting in the drive-thru, but how you are spending your lunch break. The extra 10-20 minutes it takes to go out for lunch, wait in lines and deal with traffic frustration could be much better spent on a relaxing walk, sharing some humor with a co-worker, or even using a mediation app on your phone.  Your blood-pressure would no doubt thank you.  

So what are some ideas to keep brown-bagging from becoming boring?
  • Vary textures.  Adding crunchy salad toppings can go a long way towards keeping you satisfied.  Maybe you need a little creaminess, so try a soft cheese.
  • Try breakfast for lunch.  Who says waffles are just for breakfast? Add in some seasonal fruit and maybe a yogurt and you’ve got breakfast for lunch.  
  • Mix up the protein.  It doesn’t have to be a ham and cheese sandwich everyday.  Consider packing some jerky to go along with some soup, or salad to provide a satisfying savory source of protein.  
  • Try grown-up spins on your childhood favorites.  Instead of PB&J, try a different nut or seed butter.  Spread some sunbutter on a tortilla, wrap around a banana and you’re set.  Or add some chili paste, chicken and basil for a thai wrap.  

When all it said and done, your wallet may fatten up, but chances are you won’t when you decide to become a brown-bag pro.  

Friday, August 3, 2018

Back to School, Back to Good Nutrition

When a school-schedule-routine-change hits, some healthy habits tend to fall through the cracks. Here are some tips for after school snacks, quick family dinners on school nights and packing power-lunches that will ensure you hit the ground healthy and running when that school bell rings.

The classroom as well as the playground can be hot this time of year and hydration becomes very important. Make sure both you and your kids aren't going to school without something to drink.  Water is always a great idea and there's Sportwaters and natural-ingredient sports drinks to help kiddos stay hydrated.  Choose what works best for your kid's personal preference and if possible, choose a larger bottle with a larger opening to make hydrating or refilling simple.

Another challenge with busy school schedules is avoiding the siren-song of the drive-thru on busy nights. One simple, cost-effective and quick solution is to think inside the can.  We talk a lot about the nutrition of fresh produce, but there is a lot of nutritional benefit to be found in canned foods.  Kids and adults who use six or more canned foods per week are more likely to have diets higher in 17 essential nutrients. Remember that fresh fruits and vegetables are harvested at the peak of ripeness and canned within only four hours, sealing in their nutrition and flavor – as opposed to the produce liquefying in your refrigerator drawer.  Recipes like a chicken burrito salad bowl comes together in a snap with ingredients you can always keep on hand in your pantry and definitely beats any drive-thru fare.

Reinvent old favorites.  If your child starts to complain about the lack of variety in his lunchbox but you both know they are too picky to try the adventurous lunch ideas you find online and on Pinterest, come up with ways to reinvent old favorites.  There’s nothing nutritionally inferior with a PB&J paired with some fruit and veggies - just  get creative with the presentation.  Go ahead and roll out the slice of bread, slather it up with heart-healthy nut or seed butter, whole-fruit jam and roll it up into cute little cylinders.  

Keep kiddos involved in the planning and packing of their lunches.  Not only should they have some say as to which fruit they are willing to eat, but are also their own portion expert.  Don’t overdo the portion sizes.  Sometimes a mountain of baby carrots looks too overwhelming to even try, but 5 baby carrots isn’t so threatening and is easily eaten.  Use the handful rule to keep portions age appropriate.  Remember that small kids with small hands only need small portions. Keeping it small keeps it from being overwhelming and tossed uneaten into the garbage can.  Food is only as nourishing as it is appealing, because if it doesn’t make into the mouth, it doesn’t provide any nutrition.   

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Orthorexia: When Healthy becomes Harmful

Orthorexia vs. Normal eating: orthorexia literally means “righteous eating” or an obsession with healthy eating.  Healthy eating or following a healthy eating plan is not the harmful part.  The harm comes when healthy becomes the all-consuming driving force.  Healthy is fine, but obsession isn’t.  There really is too much of a good thing, and that applies to healthy eating patterns. This pattern of obsessive healthy eating is a growing category of disordered eating that is fueled in part by social media.  So beware of what you consume not just from your plate, but from your phone as well. 
Eating behaviors fall on a continuum between apathy (don’t care about nutrition at all and make no effort to eat foods that make them feel healthful, vigorous and nourished) to orthorexic attitudes (everything must be the most nutritious food, and you only eat “good” or “healthy” foods).  Normal eating lies somewhere in between and allows for a healthful diet with “fun” foods as well.  Food rules shouldn’t be rigid or extreme, and people shouldn’t be judged for the way they eat.  
Answering yes to any of these questions indicate a tendency toward orthorexic attitudes and behaviors. 
1.   Do you ever wish you could just eat a food without worrying about its nutritional quality?
2.   Do you find it hard to eat food prepared with love by family or friends?
3.   Do you find yourself avoiding eating situations where you are not in control of the menu?
4.   Do you often label foods as good or bad (and yourself as good or bad depending on what you ate)?
5.   Do you feel in control when you stick your idea of the perfect diet?
6.   Do you find yourself having to follow more and more food rules instead of less?
7.   Do you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how someone else can possible eat a certain way?
Maintaining optimal nutrition requires balance, moderation and enjoyment so keeping healthy routines is great, just make sure they aren’t too rigid or restrictive.