Say Ta-Ta to Trans Fat

New research is always coming out telling us what we should and shouldn’t eat. From red meat giving us cancer to avocados making us skinny, the information we get about food can be confusing. One thing that hasn’t changed is the research regarding trans fat (the type of fat in partially hydrogenated oils). Trans fats are the worst of all the fats in our food and are strongly linked to causing cardiovascular disease.

Fortunately, just about one year ago, the FDA removed partially hydrogenated oils from the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list. That means, from that date, companies have three years to remove all trans fats from their products. Currently, trans fats can be found in products like margarines, fried food, non-dairy creamers, cookies, and crackers.

Until 2018 when trans fat is removed from our food, you should still be checking food labels and preventing consumption of trans fats. It is also important to make sure the ingredients do not include any partially hydrogenated oils. That’s because companies can legally label their product as having zero grams of trans fat as long as they have less than .5 grams per serving. Meaning, there can still be trans fat in a product even if the label says there is none.

Read more about the ban on trans fats here.

Read more about how different types of fat affect the body here.

Avocado Toast

Throughout middle and high school I was never much of a breakfast person, but over the past few years I have discovered how important breakfast really is. It took a while for me to get use to eating food so early in the morning, but it is nice to not be starving by the time lunch rolls around. Over the past year, oatmeal has always been my go-to breakfast, but in the spirit of trying new things (and after drooling over foodie Instagram posts), I decided I would give the avo-toast trend a try.

Want to make my favorite avocado toast breakfast sandwich?

  1. Toast a piece of whole grain bread (or use a piece of homemade spelt bread)
  2. Mash half of an avocado on the toasted bread
  3. Layer on some smoked salmon
  4. Top it off with a fried egg

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This sandwich combo may not be as fast or easy as oatmeal in the morning, but it definitely makes for a more complete meal. It has healthy fat (avocado), protein (smoked salmon/egg), and whole grains (bread) to keep you full and energized all morning.

What is your favorite avocado toast combination?

Homemade Bread

Since coming back to the United States after studying abroad, I have missed the bread-filled lunches I had with my host family. I tried buying bread at the grocery store but it just didn’t add up to the seed-filled bread I learned to love in Europe. Thankfully, a friend in Germany sent me a bread recipe to try and it was just what I was looking for! I also love this bread because all the seeds give it protein. Depending on what types of seeds you use, one slice can have over 6 grams of protein!

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The recipe is below, but here are some more helpful hints to make this delicious bread:

  • Be sure to pay close attention to the measurements. Since the recipe is from Europe, all measurements are in weight (grams) so you will need a small kitchen scale to make it.
  • As for the ingredients, I found everything I needed at Whole Foods. The trickiest one to find was the fresh yeast, but a Whole Foods employee knew exactly what I needed when I asked. It comes in a small cube in the refrigerator section.
  • As the recipe says, I used an electric mixer but you can also mix the ingredients with a spatula. Either way you mix it, the dough should be slightly thicker than cookie dough but still sticky and wet.
  • You can bake the dough as soon as you are done mixing. No need to wait for it to rise!

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Enjoy the bread fresh for 3 days or freeze some to eat later! I like mine with honey as a sweet snack, but it is also good for making sandwiches.

New Nutrition Facts Label

You know that nutrition facts panel you stare at on the side of your cereal box during breakfast? After over 20 years of staring at that exact same label, you will soon have a new label to look at. Just over a month ago, the FDA approved the design and information to be included on the new nutrition facts panel you find on all packaged food. It has been over two years in the making, and now, after input from many focus groups, doctors, and scientists, the FDA has finally made it official. While you probably won’t see the new label on packages for a while (it is required until July 2018), here is what it looks like compared to the current label.

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The greatest change to the label, in my opinion, is the addition of the “added sugars” line. Foods like dried fruit, dairy products (yogurt and milk), and honey all have natural sugars but often times have sugar added to them as well. This new line on the label will help consumers differentiate between what is natural and what is added when it comes to sugar.

What do you think about the new label?

Read more about the changes to the food label here.

Which Organic Produce Items Should I Buy?

Buying organic has become one of the major health and diet trends of the 21st century. Therefore, it is no surprise that sales of organic products in the US has jumped more than 30 billion dollars since 1997, and 51% of families are buying more organic products than they did a year ago (Organic Trade Association). While we all want to buy organic products for their health and environmental benefits, it can be tough for your bank account to keep up with all your organic purchases. Conveniently, The Environmental Working Group, an organization that aims to “empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment”, comes out with two lists each year that can help you choose which items to buy organic: The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen. These lists are based on a series of pesticide residue tests that the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts on nearly 7,000 produce items. The Dirty Dozen is a list of the twelve “dirtiest” produce items – meaning those found to have the most pesticide residues. And if you haven’t already guessed, The Clean Fifteen lists those produce items that were found to have the least pesticide residues. Here are the lists for 2016:

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So, if you are looking to incorporate some organic products into your weekly shopping list but don’t want to go 100% organic, it might be handy to bring these lists with you to the store. Buying the organic version of “The Dirty Dozen” products would be of greater health benefit than buying the organic version of “The Clean Fifteen” products.

How do you decide which items to buy organic?

Read more about The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen here: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

Just because I am a nutrition student doesn’t mean I…

Wow, I am officially a senior in college! I just took my last final exam yesterday and now it is crazy to believe I only have one more year of undergrad. After spending the past three years learning all about the body and food, I have discovered that there are many misconceptions about (aspiring) dietitians. I thought I would share some with you that you might find surprising.

Just because I am a nutrition student doesn’t mean I…

  1. …Judge the foods you eat. Countless times I have been to restaurants with family and friends and they always feel obligated to give an excuse for why they ordered a burger and fries. I can’t tell you the number of time I have heard, “I have eaten very healthy all week” or “I’m starting to eat healthy on Monday”. This may be a shock, but you don’t need to qualify your dinner order, and I promise I am not judging you. I like burgers and fries just as much as you do; it is human nature to crave high calorie foods. We all have to make choices when it comes to what we eat, but without knowing your health or lifestyle goals, it is not possible or fair for me to judge your personal choices.
  1. …Don’t eat unhealthy food. Again, I crave chocolate chip cookies just as much as anyone else, and I eat more than just grilled chicken and vegetables. Just because I am interested in nutrition doesn’t mean I am not allowed to have pizza or dessert. You probably know just as well as I do that cookies are not so healthy. Fortunately, I have also learned about the importance of moderation and that cookie should be saved for special occasions.
  1. …Just help people lose weight. Yes, as a nutrition student, I am taught the importance of a healthy, balanced diet to promote healthy weight, but as a dietitian, that is only a small slice of the job. Majority of dietitians work in hospitals doing anything from creating diet plans to prevent cancer proliferation to determining energy needs of a premature baby with a feeding tube. People often forget that dietetics do so much more than just help people lose weight.

Study Abroad Update

I know I haven’t done the best job of keeping you up to date on my adventures, but that’s because I’ve been busy with all my adventures:). As my grandma says (hi Grandma!), this semester should have been called “Travel Abroad” instead of “Study Abroad”. While my actually classes may not have been difficult at all, there is no doubt that spending time in 21 cities in 10 different countries has taught me so much about cultures around the world. I have learned more European history than I ever learned in a classroom, and I have been able to learn about health and food from a completely new perspective. This experience has inspired me to write my senior thesis about the difference in food processing and manufacturing between the United States and European Union and how the different practices effect our health.

As I spend my last three days in Copenhagen saying goodbye to some amazing friends, having final family dinners with my host family, and spending my last few Danish Kroner in souvenir shops, I know that I will always look back on these four months as one of the best times of my life.

BUT! While the semester may be over, I still have another two weeks of traveling before heading back home. One final trip through Morocco and Spain before I’m back for a busy summer of volunteering, studying for the GRE, and trying to remember how to be an American again.

Counting Calories

caloriesOur obsession with calories and calorie counting today can be blamed on Wilbur Atwater, the scientist that discovered what calories were. In the early 1900’s he found that all foods contained a certain amount of energy (now known as calories) and that same energy is used up when we partake in physical activity. While Atwater had a great scientific finding that has allowed us to understand how weight gain and loss works, the subsequent result of obsessive calorie counting isn’t always the best nor healthiest habit.

Should I be counting calories?

My short answer: no.
My long answer: maybe sometimes. Here’s why:
Calorie counting is tedious, time consuming, and unrealistic over the long term and therefore is not sustainable. It also takes the enjoyment of eating. If every plate becomes a math equation and entry into a food long, you are neither going to have a pleasant time eating nor a healthy relationship with food. On the other hand, I think one of the most important ways for people to sustain a healthy diet is to understand what is in the food they are eating. It can be a great tool to be able to look at a plate and eyeball about how many ounces of chicken you are having or about how many calories are in the side of stir-fried vegetables. It is also a good tool to be able to know about how big your portion sizes should be or how many snacks you should have to keep your daily calorie intake around 2,000. So, one of the best ways you can gain that knowledge and ability to guess-timate you calorie intake is to count calories- but just for a week or two.

If you are new to the calorie counting game, I would recommend keeping track of everything you eat each day (for a about a week) and adding up the calories at the end of the day (or you can use a fancy calorie tracker on your phone – My favorite app is MyFitnessPal). This will give you an idea of about how many calories you are eating on any particular day. If you are around 2,000 calories, great! Now you may want to focus on the types of foods you are eating (but I’ll leave that topic for another post). If you aren’t around 2,000 calories, you should revisit your log from the past week. Figure out if there are certain foods that are putting you over your calorie allowance, or maybe your portion sizes are unrealistic. This is where calorie counting is helpful; it allows you to figure out where “the bumps in the road” are. Once you have identified those “bumps”, try to make some changes, keep a food long for another week and see if you get closer to your calorie goal. Once you get a good feel of what “normal” portion sizes are and about how much you should eat per day, then I don’t recommend keeping track. Counting calories for too long can make you become obsessive over every little thing you put in your mouth. The goal is for you to be able to understand what fits into your daily “calorie budget” naturally in your daily life, not to be able to precisely know statistics about your food.

Not to burst your bubble, but…

The calories listed on food packages might not actually be true. Many recent studies (like this one) show that the actual number of calories in a food item is about 8% higher than what is stated on the package. Better yet, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) allows this as long as the actual values are not more than 20% greater than what is listed on the label. That means that a product label could list 250 calories but it could actually have 299 calories, and the FDA would say the label was acceptable! Same goes for all the other nutrients like fat, carbohydrates, and protein. This is all the more reason why counting calories is not the best idea!