Simple Substitutions: Baking Edition

    Everyone loves preparing and snacking on homemade treats– but they all seem to be so unhealthy, with too much sugar and too few nutrients! There are some simple substitutions that can be made in order to maintain the same delicious foods while reducing the calories, fat, or sugar. Now these switches certainly won’t make those cookies and pies healthy, but when you’re baking that occasional batch of cookies, every little bit helps!

Eggs → Egg Whites
    If your goal is to reduce fat or calorie intake, try switching out each egg for two egg whites (or a ¼ cup of egg substitute). Skipping the fat from the yolk and doubling the protein-rich egg whites can save 60 calories per substituted egg!

White Flour → Whole-wheat Flour
    Switching one cup of white flour for whole-wheat flour adds 10 grams of fiber to your cookies! Due to the coarser grains of whole-wheat flour, try a half-and-half mix and play around with the proportions to best fit the specific recipe. If you’re not a fan of whole grain flour, white whole-wheat flour (as opposed to the red wheat that is used in most flours) is lighter and finer– without sacrificing that extra punch of fiber– making the substitution almost undetectable.

Sugar → Agave Nectar
    Agave Nectar has a lower glycemic index value than sugar, meaning it won’t cause as large of a blood sugar spike. Also, due to its sweeter taste, it doesn’t require as much to create the same sweet flavor– use about 3/4ths of the volume of sugar that the recipe calls for.

Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment

Habits to Help Eat Less Without Feeling Like It

Use a smaller plate:
    Plate sizes have increased significantly in past years. The average dinner plate in the 1960’s was 8 inches in diameter, followed by 10” in the 80’s, and now today’s dinner plates are a whopping 12 inches! This increase is significant because of the many studies showing that people consume more when presented with a larger amount of food. Whether the subject was given a smaller dinner plate or a large restaurant-sized plate, they tended to consume 70% of the contents.

Make your own single-serving packs:
    It’s easy to sit down in front of the TV with a pack of cookies or chips, then mindlessly eat until they’re gone. Try separating out the correct portion sizes ahead of time so that you have an external stopping point, for the same psychological reason that you should use smaller plates. Preparing grab-and-go baggies with your favorite healthy snacks such as fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, or cheeses also make it more convenient to bring something to nibble on while you’re out of the house, preventing you from getting too hungry and making less healthy choices.

Get to know your favorite foods and dishes:
    Use a kitchen scale or measuring cups to put your most commonly used foods into its appropriate dish, so that you learn to “eyeball” it accurately. This will allow you to keep using the correct portion sizes without having to use the measuring tools every single time. For example, a serving size of ice cream is rarely the size of your bowl, so it helps to cut consumption when you’re able to quickly estimate how much you should really be eating without outside influences skewing your judgement.

Measure your food— don’t pour directly:
    Rather than pouring rice or chips from a bag to prepare them, scoop using the appropriate measuring cup to ensure that you don’t make more than necessary. When pouring oil, pour the oil into a teaspoon then onto the food, rather than onto the food directly. This expands on the previous estimation tip. Don’t trust your eyes– they’re bigger than your stomach!

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Eating the Rainbow

   One of the easiest ways to maintain a healthy diet is to stick to balance and moderation. Even within the realm of vegetables, there is a huge variety of nutrients– luckily, the colors can give a clue to what their benefits are, just by looking at them. Phytochemicals are compounds that occur naturally in plant foods, and work synergistically with vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy. These compounds tend to have distinct pigments, which make them easy to distinguish visually.

Red: Tomatoes, Strawberries, Red Peppers, Cherries, Watermelon
   The red pigment in these plants comes from lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that has been associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer and heart attacks.

Orange/Yellow: Cantaloupe, Carrots, Sweet Potato, Pumpkin, Mango
   Beta-carotene is the most common carotenoid, and can be converted to vitamin A in the body– a vitamin necessary for vision, immune function, as well as skin and bone health.

Green: Asparagus, Broccoli, Collards, Grapes, Green Beans
   Isothiocyanates are what color your food (as well as grass and trees) green. The phytochemical has been associated with a reduced risk of various cancers. Many green fruits and vegetables also contain a second phytochemical called lutein, which helps with eye health and protects against age-related macular degeneration.

Blue/Purple: Eggplant, Beets, Blueberries, Plums, Figs
   The blue and purple color comes primarily from anthocyanin, a phytochemical that’s said to be beneficial for your heart and blood pressure. Darker hues indicate a higher concentration of anthocyanin, and a nice rich color can tell you when the produce is ripe.

White: Ginger, Onion, Mushrooms, Yuca
   Flavonoids– the largest class of phytochemicals– are not actually white, but colorless. They are powerful antioxidants that help prevent free radicals, which can be harmful to cells and tissues, from forming. These colorless compounds are also found in tea, red wine, and dark chocolate.

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What do Those Nutrient Content Claims Mean?

   You’ve likely noticed that food packaging is often covered with statements advertising things like “Low-fat!”, “All Natural!”, or “High-fiber!”. But what exactly does that mean? What defines “low”, “high”, “rich in…”, or “good source of…”, etc? How are these claims substantiated? Luckily, each have very specific definitions enforced by the FDA, and most are pretty straight-forward– but there are a couple tricky ones out there.

Reduced vs. Low
   If you see two similar items on the shelf, with one labeled “reduced fat” and the other labeled “low fat”, is there a way of knowing which claim states that they have less fat than the other product? While these two adjectives sound similar, they actually have significantly different definitions. “Reduced” is fairly simple– it means that the food has at least 25% less fat (or calories, sugar, sodium, etc) than the “appropriate reference food”– basically the “classic” version of the product. However, the definition for “Low” depends on which nutrient it is referring to. The food must have less than 40 calories, less than 3g total fat, or less than 140mg sodium per serving. There is no “Low Sugar” definition approved by the FDA, so this label is not used. When it comes to descriptive labels like these, your best bet is to compare the food labels to help you make your choice.

   Multi Grains are simple a combination of multiple types of grain– usually oat, buckwheat, cracked wheat, and millet. The presence of multiple grains doesn’t necessarily have any health benefits, though some may enjoy the flavor. They’re often confused with whole grains– grains that still contain the bran layer on the outside of the grain, which provides significant health benefits through the extra fiber’s blood sugar stabilizing effect and its ability to keep one full for a longer period of time. While some multi grains may also be whole grains, they “Multigrain” claim doesn’t necessarily provide any information on the health of a food.

   Many assume that foods labelled “natural” are healthier, organic, or don’t contain certain artificial ingredients, pesticides, or GMOs. However, in the food labeling world, the claim “Natural” is essentially meaningless– the term has not been approved by the FDA and there are no official definition or regulation of its use. The FDA has not opposed to manufacturers using the claim, as long as there are not any synthetic ingredients in the particular product– but a lack of synthetic ingredients don’t necessarily make a food unhealthy. It could still contain pesticide-treated foods, high fructose corn syrup, GMOs, or simply have an exorbitant amount of fat or sugar. If you’d like more information about a particular food, it’s best to call the customer service phone number often found on food labels.

Here is the FDA’s chart of Nutrient Content Claims for those who would like to learn more:

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How to Read Food Labels Efficiently

    Food labels are important, because everybody should know what they’re eating. Unfortunately reading every word of every label is easier said than done, unless you want to reserve all day for your grocery shopping trip. For the average person, there are only a couple pieces of information that you need to glean from the labels:

Calorie count
By now, everyone knows to watch their calories. Calories are the energy that our body uses to function, but over consuming this energy causes your body to store the excess as fat. Luckily, the calorie count is one of the first lines on the nutrition label, easily drawing your eyes to it.

Serving sizes/servings per container
Serving sizes require a little more attention when reading food labels. If you check the number of calories in a packaged food– but not the number of servings in the container– you may find yourself eating two or more of these servings in one go! For example, the label on a 20oz. bottle of soda says “110 calories”– not too bad for a giant soda. But then if you look up at the Servings per Container line, it says there are 2.5 servings in one bottle, making it 275 calories.

Nutrients to maximize: fiber, vitamins, minerals
When you move further down the list, the label lists the major nutrients in the food. Fiber, vitamins (Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, etc) and minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, etc) are all important additions to one’s diet.

Nutrients to minimize: saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, sugars
Saturated and trans fats, sodium, and sugar can all cause health risks if eaten in excess. Fats and added sugar can contribute to obesity, while too much sodium has been shown to increase blood pressure. Many packaged or restaurant foods have higher amounts of these ingredients than one might expect, so it’s easy to overconsume.

Ingredient list: Split up multiple names for “hidden” sugar
At the bottom of the nutrition label, you’ll find the ingredient list. They are listed in order of quantity, so expect the first few ingredients to be included in large amounts, while there may only be traces of the last couple ingredients in your food. One important thing to look for is “hidden” sugar in the ingredient list. Sugar comes in many forms– high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, barley malt syrup, dehydrated cane juice, and malt syrup, just to name a few. A single food item can contain multiple forms, meaning that there is less of each one so they fall closer to the end of the ingredient list.

Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment

Tricks to Estimating Food Portions

    One would think that it would be easy to look at a food and determine how much is a reasonable portion to eat. Unfortunately, that perspective has skewed over the years; as of 2012, the average restaurant meal size and calories are four times larger than they were in 1950! When all restaurants serve huge portions, it’s easy to lose sight of what “normal” is, and how much we should be eating in a day. A recent study has even shown that people tend to underestimate how many calories they are eating by up to 30%! Luckily, there are a couple visual aids to make it easier to picture the correct serving sizes for common foods. Little tricks like these can help you estimate more accurately, and prevent unintentional overeating.

Proteins: 6 ounces per day
3 oz. meat = deck of cards
3 oz. fish = checkbook

Vegetables: 3 cups per day
1 cup vegetables = baseball

Fruit: 2 cups per day
1 cup = 1 “medium” fruit = baseball

Grains: 7 ounces per day (remember to make half of them whole-grains!)
1 ounce = 1 slice of bread, or ½ cup cooked rice or pasta

Dairy: 3 cups per day
1 cup milk = full scotch glass
1.5 oz. cheese = 9 volt battery
1 cup yogurt = baseball
½ cup ice cream = lightbulb

Fats: Less than 6 teaspoons per day
1 tbsp oil, butter, or salad dressing = poker chip

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Food to Go

    When you’re running around all day, it’s easy to get stuck away from home without access to healthy snacks when the hunger hits. To avoid having to resort to processed vending machine or convenience store food, try keeping a couple healthier options on hand– in your car, purse or backpack, desk, or wherever else you have access to! A couple minutes to grab food before leaving the house makes you much less susceptible to impulse-buying junk food later in the day when you’re out. Fruits and veggies tend to be the “go-to” healthy snacks, but there is plenty of variety in what can be made convenient and portable!

Fruits: Apples, oranges, and bananas are nature’s most convenient foods, as they don’t need packaging or preparation. You can also keep a small tupperware with more fragile fruits, such as grapes, strawberries, or cut up mixtures of fruit chunks. Also try throwing in some less traditional “fruit salad” fruits, such as papaya, guava, plums, peaches, or pineapples.

Veggies: If you have that same go-to tupperware container, you can store endless varieties of veggie sticks, such as carrots, celery, broccoli, or cauliflower. Try to mix it up a bit and add some less common vegetables to the mix– bell peppers, cucumber, radishes, baby pickles, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and green beans all make great veggie snacks! You can even chop up a big, colorful batch of veggies and have them ready to grab-and-go throughout the week to make having a delicious variety more convenient.

Nuts: They aren’t the lowest-calorie food, but are very filling and can be eaten in small quantities. Try a handful of almonds, peanuts, cashews, or pistachios for a quick pick me up that doesn’t require refrigeration and has a long shelf-life.

Unsweetened dried fruits: You can find a variety of dried fruits, ranging from chewy mango fruit leather, raisins, craisins, to crunchy apple or banana chips. They are a good fix if you’re craving something sweet– just be sure to check the nutrition label to make sure that the manufacturers didn’t add any additional sugar and eat in moderation as even the natural sugars in unsweetened dried fruit can add up quickly.

Eggs/dairy: Foods such as low-fat cheese sticks, or string cheese, hard boiled eggs, individual Greek yogurt or cottage cheese are great sources of protein.

Drinks: Now that we got the food covered, we can’t forget about drinks! It seems that most drinks that are easily available when you’re out on the go are sugary and high in calories– but sometimes you’re craving a healthy alternative to water. To keep your body hydrated and taste buds happy, try keeping a reusable water bottle on you at all times and using it for unsweetened iced tea or fruit-infused water to mix it up. There are “cold-brew” tea bags available that allow you to make iced tea right in your water bottle in minutes, skipping the boiling and icing processes. Try keeping a couple tea bags accessible, or make a large pitcher of iced tea to keep in your refrigerator so you can fill your bottle before leaving the house. If you have extra fruit laying around, throw a couple pieces into your cold water bottle to infuse the sweet flavor. Many flavored bottled waters are simple sugar and artificial sweeteners– however throwing a couple berries or lemon slices into your bottle costs only pennies, and comes without the extra sugar.

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The Importance of Greens on St. Patrick’s Day

    Everyone knows the importance of eating the rainbow (no, Skittles don’t count!) every day, but St. Patrick’s Day brings one particular color to mind. Dark green vegetables have more nutritional value per calorie than any other food group. They’re a significant source of vitamins A, C, E, K, and B, as well as the minerals calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. They have lots of fiber to keep you full, and almost no fat or carbs.

    Three-quarters of Americans don’t eat the recommended three servings of vegetables a day– which is a shame, as vegetables are one of the biggest building blocks to reaching one’s optimal health. They contain an array of antioxidants and phytochemicals, which can reduce inflammation, eliminate carcinogens, and main the integrity of your body’s DNA. Studies have shown that people with a larger vegetable intake have lower risks of stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, certain cancers, and kidney stones. They’ve even shown higher scores on cognitive tests– veggies are better than just “brain food”, they’re “everything food”!

    Now for St. Patrick’s Day dinner this year, try a nice big side dish of roasted green veggies– the crispy edges and a touch of salt come together to make these unstoppable. This is my lazy-night go-to recipe, as it only takes five minutes of prep and you can tweak it however you like! Brussel sprouts, asparagus, and broccoli are my favorite green veggies, but try mixing in some carrots and onions as well– or maybe add a new vegetable you’ve never tried before!

Crispy Roasted Vegetables
   1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
   2. Chop up whatever vegetables you’d like into bite-size pieces
  3. Spread on cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and coarse salt to taste
  4. Roast in the oven for 9-12 minutes– until you can stick a fork through the pieces easily
  5. Enjoy!

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National Nutrition Month

    The National Nutrition Month is an educational campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to focus on the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthy eating and physical activity habits. Of course, healthy eating and exercising habits are important year-round, but it’s nice to have a friendly reminder every spring to get us back on track. This month couldn’t come at a better time, as it’s immediately following all of the food-oriented winter holidays, and just in time to prepare for summer!

    Each National Nutrition Month has a fun theme to emphasize a specific facet of nutritional health– this year is “Bite Into a Healthy Lifestyle!,”, focussing on adopting habits such as consuming fewer calories (if necessary), making appropriate food choices, and engaging in daily physical activity in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of chronic disease, and promote overall health. Making small life improvements that are kept over a lifetime are better than jumping into huge commitments that are difficult to maintain and dropped within a couple weeks.

    We could go into specific changes that help to improve health in general, but we covered some of the most important ones last month with American Heart Month’s recommendations. To avoid being redundant, let’s go over how to develop your objectives themselves. Fitness and health are very individualized, and it’s important to set your own personal goals. This week, we’re going to give an overview of SMART goals– SMART is a commonly used acronym for characteristics that help to create your own reasonable, achievable objectives.

Avoid being vague in deciding exactly what your goal is.
Ex: “I want to improve my health” vs. “I will improve my health by losing weight to obtain a healthy BMI”

Establish concrete criteria to determine when your goal has been met.
Ex: “I want to lose weight” vs. “I will lose 40lbs”

The goal must be challenging, but still realistic.
Ex: “I will drink only water, and eat only lettuce until I lose 100lbs” vs. “I will stop drinking 2 liters of soda every day, and switch to water or unsweetened iced tea”

Make sure that any small, short-term goals will work together to help achieve your long-term goal.
Ex: “I want to change my lifestyle” vs. “I will cut out sugary drinks and take a one-mile walk 3 times a week”

Create a time frame. Multiple short-term goals are easier to stick to than a single long-term goal, as smaller objectives are less daunting.
Ex: “I want to lose 80lbs” vs. “I will lose 25lbs by July’s family vacation (followed by 50lbs by Thanksgiving, and reach the final goal of 80 by next March”

Happy National Nutrition Month!

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American Heart Month


    Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and is linked to 1 in 4 deaths. Luckily, heart disease can often be prevented or improved through healthy lifestyle changes and careful monitoring of one’s health with their doctor. American Heart Month was created by the American Heart Association to help raise awareness about heart disease and how to help prevent it at individual and community levels. Most of the recommendations can be adapted to fit into your individual lifestyle and provide a large health boost for a small amount of effort.

1. Maintain consistent wellness appointments with your doctor

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes/prediabetes are all factors that increase your risk of heart disease. Regular visits and testing (at the frequency recommended by your doctor) can help catch any changes early so that they can be corrected before developing into a larger problem. They will be able to advise any specific changes to help keep your body healthy, whether it’s through medication or lifestyle changes.

 2. Reduce stress levels

Increased stress over a long period of time can raise your blood pressure, douse your body in stress hormones, and even alter the way that your blood clots– all of which increase your risk. If you find that you are excessively stressful, think of ways to help you relax. Some people find that meditation works for them, or reading a book every night, yoga, breathing exercises, etc. Everyone’s different, and has different triggers and tactics– so if you haven’t already, take the time to get to know your body and its cues. 

3. Stop smoking– if you don’t already, don’t start

Many people associate smoking with lung disease, but about 20% of death from heart disease are directly related to cigarette smoking. The risk of heart problems increases proportionately to the amount of cigarettes you smoke, by increasing blood pressure and heart rate, as well as blood clots and damage to coronary artery linings. The risk from smoking isn’t limited to the smoker, however– it also increases the chances of respiratory conditions, cancer, and heart disease to everyone exposed to the second-hand smoke, especially children.

4. Make exercise a routine

Consistent exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body, as it fights against many of the risk factors of heart disease, as well as a variety of other ailments. It strengthens your heart (the most important muscle!), lowers blood pressure, helps to maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, and improves sleep, just to name a few. While no specific routine fits the needs of everyone, it’s generally advised to start by stretching, then do a combination of cardiovascular/aerobic exercise (which helps your heart most) and strength training (which help to build and tone muscles). The CDC recommends that adults need two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking (or an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging or running) weekly, as well as 2 days of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). While the recommendations may sound daunting, it’s quite manageable when spread throughout the week, and can be done in small increments such as a 10 minute walk during your lunch break.


    As you can see, there’s a wide variety of ways that one can lower their risk of heart problems in the future– even if it seems daunting to take on so much change in a short time, every little bit helps. Adopting one new habit at a time and making it part of your routine before picking up the next change increases the likelihood that the new, healthy practices won’t be dropped in the future.

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