Tag Archives: nutrition

Added Sugars and Nutrition Labels

How much sugar should we eat? Is high fructose corn syrup bad for me? What sweeteners should I use in my home? These are questions I frequently get asked. A dietitian friend of mine, Melanie Betz (@the.kidney.dietitian) did a great post on instagram recently about sugar.

First off. Sugar is sugar is sugar. I don’t care if it is white sugar, honey, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, or whatever other sugar you have seen. These are all sugar. They all are broken down into sugars that are used by our bodies. Having too much of ANY of these isn’t a good thing. There is no evidence in human studies to date that shows a strong difference between caloric sweeteners.

What about non-calorie sweeteners? People are often concerned about these. In moderate amounts, these are generally considered safe. However, it likely isn’t good to rely on these as a stop gap to solve your eating pattern issues. If you are eating too many sweet treats or drinks, just switching to a sugar free version will not fix the overriding problem. The overriding problem is you are consuming these foods that do not provide necessary nutrients. Switching from regular Coca-Cola to Diet Coke saves you 140 calories per can, yes. But did you gain any nutrition? No. Plus you’ve consumed lots of other additives that can have health effects – phosphorus on your bones and kidneys for example.

So how much sugar should you eat in a day. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugars to 10% or less of calories per day. For the generic 1800-2000 calorie diet, that translates to 45-50 grams of added sugar per day. For reference, one 12 oz can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar. The American Heart Association is even more strict. They recommend 100 calories per day of added sugar for women and 150 for men. That translates to 25 and 38 grams respectively.

But how do I look at added sugars? The Dietary Guidelines points out that what we are looking at is an overall eating pattern. MOST people consume too many added sugars in sweet beverages and desserts. However, not all sugar is evil. Sometimes it is added to make healthy things more palatable.

I think the classic example to look at is cereal. Here are pictures of 3 cereal labels I found in my cupboard. Let’s take a look and compare.

Cereal Comparison

So let’s look at the carbohydrate section.  Both Raisin Bran and Frosted Mini Wheats have more total carbs than Honey Nut Cheerios.  For total sugars, Raisin Bran has the most at 17 grams.  Until a few years ago, this is all a label would say, total sugar.  Why is Raisin Bran, which you think is healthy, so high in sugar you say?  Two reasons.  First, it has raisins (and bananas in this box), which NATURALLY has sugar in it.  Second, you do need some sugar to make the bran palatable for most people.

Now let’s look at the added sugars.  Raisin Bran is actually the lowest at 11 grams, compared to 12 grams in both of the others.  This is a classic example of why I’m so incredibly glad “added sugars” has been added to nutrition labels.

But wait?  Mini Wheats and Cheerios are the same in added sugars?  Let’s delve one step further then.  In this case I would go look at the fiber.  Mini Wheats’ 8 grams of fiber definitely beats out the 3 grams in Honey Nut Cheerios.  (Another place you could look would be protein, but that is a discussion for a different day).

I hope you found this helpful as you look at added sugars and nutrition labels!

Disclaimer:  I have no vested interest for or against any products mentioned in this post.  Similar comparisons could be made between any regular vs diet soft drink.  These three cereals happened to be in my cupboard that I purchased at the most recent sale at the grocery store.

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Go Red for Women

Today is National Wear Red Day, part of American Heart Month and the Go Red for Women Campaign. The purpose is to raise awareness of cardiac disease risk factors and prevention, especially in women. More women die from cardiovascular disease in the United States than all kinds of cancer combined. I think heart disease is thought of as a man’s disease, but it is a problem for women too.

The good news is that heart disease and it’s complications of heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke are largely preventable. Diet and exercise can help lower your risks.

Hopefully by now you know you should be limiting your saturated fat and sodium intakes. But what are practical ways to apply this in your diet. Here are a few tips:

1. Sub in healthier fats. Canola oil and olive oil are healthier choices than butter, shortening, and other solid fats. Use these fats when possible.

2. Try cutting the fat in half. You can often cut down the fat in recipes without changing the end result. I often use half the recommended amount of butter in cookies. If making a roux, half the amount of butter generally works as well. If something calls for a high fat sauce or dressing, cut the amount in half or serve it on the side.

3. Stop adding salt. Beyond removing the salt shaker from the table, stop adding salt in your cooking. So many ingredients in your food will already have sodium. If you are worried about the flavor, add a high sodium ingredient that adds flavor along with sodium. Cheese and soy sauce are two easy additions that bring salt and other flavors to the party. Even these should be limited. Remember, salt is an acquired or learned taste. You can lower your tolerance.

What are you doing to help your heart? What can you commit to change? Let me know in the comments!

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GMO’s – Good or Bad?

I recently listened to a very interesting podcast about bananas on Freakonomics. It highlighted how modern farming techniques have made producing bananas fairly inexpensive. Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the world. However, this plentiful fruit is at risk of extinction due to a fungus. This risk is partly due to our production efficiencies that make it so affordable.

The podcast highlighted something I hadn’t thought of before. You go to the grocery store. How many kinds of apples are there? Probably at least half a dozen. How many kinds of bananas? One. The whole world (for the most part) consumes one variety of banana. However, this variety is threatened by a fungus that could literally wipe out all the banana plantations. For THIS variety of banana.

Interestingly, some scientists have found a solution. They have successfully modified the DNA of some banana plants to be resistant to this fungus. The scientists have put one gene from a wild banana plant into the current banana plant used and found that it is immune. One gene. Brilliant, right? Except, this hasn’t taken on like wildfire because of the widespread concern over GMO’s in our food.

Now, I’m not telling you that you have to be for or against GMO’s. I think everyone is entitled to an EDUCATED opinion. But I would strongly encourage you to learn more about what we actually do and do not know about GMO’s related to our food supply.

It reminds me of a speech I heard from a food scientist years ago. He talked about how as healthcare professionals we (often) tell people to stay away from food additives. But then we complain about the cost of fresh foods and it being unavailable for all people. He pointed out you can’t have it both ways. The scientists came up with the additives to lower the cost of food and increase availability.

I just think it is important to understand both sides. You don’t want GMO bananas? That’s fine. But don’t complain when they are basically non existent or very expensive in a few years.

For the record, I don’t have a firm opinion on GMO’s. I think there is a lot of information out there, good and bad. And a lot we don’t know yet. I just post here to remind us that when we form one opinion, we have to accept the ramifications.

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Leftovers

I think I’ve waxed poetic about the beauty of leftovers before. But I feel like it bears repeating.

There are so many great things about leftovers.

1) Delicious lunches that take little time to put together. As you put food away after dinner, portion it into containers so it is ready to grab for lunch the next day.

2) A no brainer dinner. We have leftover night every Tuesday. My kids LOVE it because they feel in control of what they eat. They (with guidance and some rules) can choose whatever leftovers they want for dinner. I don’t have to plan it. I don’t have to cook again. I don’t have to clean up much. Wins all around. (This does mean we don’t eat any leftovers for lunch until AFTER Tuesday night though, so there is that trade off.)

My husband calls it the “best of” night. Here’s my plate at leftover night recently. It’s pretty random: lasagna, lo mein, pork chops, and mashed potatoes/turnips. But it was yummy!

Leftover night

3) Some food tastes better with time. The minestrone soup I love tastes WAY better as leftovers. Something about sitting makes the flavors better. Many people swear by assembling an entire lasagna then letting it refrigerate for a day or so before baking to improve the taste. (Real caveat: some foods DON’T improve with time or reheating. Seafood is a particular culprit I can think of in that category.)

4) Saves money. You are throwing out less food. You are buying less food (less stuff for lunches or dinners, depending on how you use them).

5) Simplifies other meals. Just this last week, I was grilling chicken for dinner one night. I saved one piece aside to make pizza later in the week. I always double up on soup or spaghetti sauce recipes and freeze the extra. Super simple meal in the future.

Like I said, I LOVE leftovers. However, there are some rules for being safe with leftovers.

1) All leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees F. This is easiest with soups or sauces – if it’s bubbling throughout, it’s good.

2) Food needs to be cooled quickly. Don’t stick a giant pot of soup in the fridge to cool down. Put it in smaller containers. If possible, don’t put the hot pan in the fridge. Transfer things to a new container that isn’t hot.

3) Wrap leftovers well. This will prevent bacteria in the air from getting in there.

4) Leftovers should only be kept for up to 4 days in the fridge, about 3-4 months in the freezer. The USDA does say frozen foods will last longer but will lose moisture and flavor after that amount of time.

5) Leftovers of leftovers? The USDA says it is safe to refreeze previously frozen leftovers IF you heated it to the appropriate temperature of 165 degrees F. I probably wouldn’t recommend this due to loss in quality of product.

Do you like leftovers or loathe them? Share in the comments!

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Meal Planning Tips

A common complaint I hear from many people is that meal planning is hard/time consuming/frustrating/boring, etc. I told someone I didn’t love meal planning either, and she seemed shocked. “Isn’t that what you do for a living?” It’s true that I did learn a lot about meal planning in school. In ways, that only makes it harder for me, since I can think of more “rules”.

While I don’t always love meal planning, I don’t hate it. Usually my problem is having the right ideas to fit my schedule and budget at the time. Here are some tips I try to follow to make meal planning easier.

1) Don’t try to plan too much at one time. For me, a week is plenty. I plan to grocery shop once a week. Produce doesn’t last much longer that anyway. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have more ideas than one week worth. I often have more ideas than days (or ideas that won’t fit my schedule for the week). File those away in your brain for the next time.

2) Have a set time you meal plan. Find a consistent day and time of day that works. I like to meal plan during breakfast or lunch. I’m a little hungry so I can think of foods that sound good. And I can multi-task doing it while I eat. This makes it feel like less of a time drain. Also, if you have a set time, it doesn’t feel like it is taking over your life.

3) Have a few “set” days. We have a leftover night every Tuesday. Breakfast for dinner is every Wednesday. I don’t have to think about two out of the seven days. Win! Maybe you do Taco Tuesdays or Meatless Mondays. Just having some parameters will speed things up.

4) Know your categories of foods. I like to have soup generally once a week. Then I know we’ll probably want Mexican and or Asian food. Fridays and Saturdays I like to have “weekend food” – pizza, sandwiches, burgers, faster foods to cook. Having those categories helps me know which types of foods I’m thinking about.

5) At the end, double check for repeats. This is a key step. I skipped it a couple weeks ago and ended up with 4 nights of chicken in a row. Whoops! This isn’t to say I might not repeat chicken in a week, but I try to space it out.

6) Look at food magazines and blogs in your free time. I know, I know. We don’t have free time. But instead of scrolling Facebook for the third time today, go check a couple food blogs you trust. Subscribe to a good food magazine for your lifestyle. I really like Cooking Light, but there are plenty of other great options. Just browsing these will file dinner ideas away in your brain. Seriously. Years later, I will suddenly remember a blog post I saw and wanted to try. If you use pinterest, actually USE it to help you plan your meals.

7) One idea to try, which may or may not work for you. Pick one blog or one cookbook or one magazine. Find all your meals from there. It is tricky, but it can save time flipping around endless places for ideas. When I’ve done this, I usually get about three recipes from the same place. My other two ideas are recipes I know and love.

8) Don’t try all new things. Keep some tried and true recipes in your line up each week. It is mentally exhausting to figure out a new recipe every night. Keep it real. Keep it simple.

Do you meal plan? I’d love to hear what you use to help in the comments!

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The Pegan Diet

I hear about the paleo diet fairly frequently still, but I recently heard about new variant of paleo – the pegan diet. The pegan diet is sort of a combination of paleo and vegan. At first, I thought that sounded impossible. The whole point of paleo is to eat meat, the whole point of vegan is to not. But this a unique diet that takes ASPECTS of each individual diet.

Followers of the pegan diet eat 75% of their food as fruits and vegetables. These should mostly be non-starchy and “low glycemic” fruits. All of this is to help balance your blood sugar levels.

The other 25% of the diet is made up for grass-fed, responsibly raised animal protein. Fish is especially encouraged. Healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, and omega-3s are also encouraged.

Both of these steps seem much less restrictive than the original diets to me, and mostly in line with a general healthy diet. The real kicker is eating less than ½ cup of gluten-free grains per meal and less than 1 cup of legumes(beans) per day.

The diet creators state that the benefits are reduced inflammation and better blood glucose control. There are no long term studies to prove any benefits of this diet.

Overall, I don’t see anything wrong with the diet itself. It would be difficult to follow and could be quite expensive – focusing on organic, responsibly raised foods, etc. Some sites point out dining out would be quite difficult which could be isolating to some. It does seem unnecessarily restrictive – if you aren’t allergic to dairy or gluten, there isn’t a NEED to avoid them. However, if you are diversifying your intakes, you could have a nutritionally adequate diet without them.

My final thought: compared to vegan or paleo, this is less restrictive and possibly easier to follow. But I don’t know that it is necessary for good health.

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New Year, new plans?

Hi everyone! I hope you are having a great start to your 2019. Mine is frigid cold, unfortunately. But otherwise, 2019 is starting good on my resolutions.

I’ve talked about resolutions on here A LOT before. I think they are great. I am still solidifying mine for the year. We traveled a bit for the holidays, so I’m starting some of mine today, the second. Some may start next week when my daughter goes back to school and life is in more of a routine. But it’s ok. Just pick any day and start.

Did you make any food or health related resolutions? This is my third year making the exact same resolution – only eat “treats” 2 days per week. The first year I didn’t do well. Last year, I did awesome until May then was pretty hit or miss (mostly miss) for the rest of the year. But that’s ok. I’m not perfect and never will be. But I can keep trying to be better. What are you trying to be better at in 2019?

One goal many people have is to meal plan better. Meal planning is GREAT for your budget, your daily stress level, and your health. You eat more healthful foods if you plan it out. However, planning can be a chore. I do it every week, so I know.

One solution many seek are either menu services or meal delivery services. I tried out Hello Fresh recently, so I thought I’d give a quick review here. (I previously reviewed Blue Apron here.) I am not sponsored by Hello Fresh. I used a discount coupon I got in the mail, but it was a generic coupon code. Hello Fresh doesn’t know I am reviewing them and did not give me anything to do so.

Hello Fresh Review

I was fairly impressed with the different recipe selections they had. It seemed a wide variety and food my kids would eat. When the box arrived, I felt like the ingredients were good quality for the price I paid. Of the recipes I got, I’m sharing today about the Cherry Balsamic Pork Chops with Garlic Herb Couscous and Roasted Broccoli.

And the food…

Hello Fresh Cherry Balsamic Pork Chops

was delicious! I was actually pretty impressed. I’m not always a huge fan of couscous, but this was really good.

Pros:
– The food was good. Close to restaurant quality. Not an average weeknight dinner for us.

– It was fast and easy to make. This recipe in particular was pretty quick and straightforward. I even felt like it worked well. Pork and I have a hard time, but I felt like it cooked in the amount of time it stated (I often find I need to cook pork much longer than suggested cooking times to reach appropriate temperatures).

– I could make this again. I liked that I know exactly how much of all the ingredients were included so I could easily make this on my own if I wanted. Blue Apron was not that way, which I found frustrating. I wouldn’t keep ordering the same thing from a service, so I like getting the recipe for myself.

Cons:
-Price. Hello Fresh is at least $7 per serving. I try to budget around $10 per DAY at my house. I’m not always successful. But more than half of that at dinner kills me.

-Serving sizes. I personally found the serving sizes a little odd. The pork chops and veggies were good sizes. The couscous was a little scarce for 4 servings at my house (and 2 of my servings are little kids). But that just may be my house. A relative of mine says she serves 6 people fine off of 4 serving boxes.

-What is it saving you? Meal box services always kind of confuse me. They provide 2-4 dinners per week. So…I still have to plan and grocery shop for all the other days and meals. To me it just doesn’t move the ball enough to be worth the money. If that doesn’t phase you, great! Go for it!

Hope you are having a great new year! Let me know in the comments your experiences with Hello Fresh and any resolutions you have for 2019!

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