Eggs: What do all the label claims mean?

$1 for 18 or $6 for a dozen? Standing in front of dozens of eggs (no pun intended) on the self at the grocery store makes for a very confusion decision. Free range or pasture raised? Cage free or Organic? – don’t worry, it confuses me too so I thought I would break down just a few of the many claims on egg packages to help you make a more educated decision the next time you pick up a carton.

  • Cage free means that the animals don’t live in cages

You are all probably thinking..”duh”. But just because the animals aren’t in cages doesn’t mean they aren’t packed in a barn, and most of the time they never step foot outside.

  • Free range means that animals have “access to the outdoors”.

While this “access to the outdoors” has to be government certified, there really aren’t any guidelines, criteria, or qualifications on the quality or size of the outdoor space. That means the area could be anything from a small cement square to a grassy field.

  • Pasture Raised usually means that animals spent the majority of their time in a large open grass field – think the classic image of chickens in a field.

While pasture raised sounds the best, it isn’t regulated by the government so technically some unethical farmer could slap “pasture raised” on their conventional eggs and wouldn’t get in trouble for it.

  • Organic requires that the chickens be raised in conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors.

This includes area to roam outdoors in fields, but the key word is “accommodate”. Yes, they may accommodate for natural habits, but that doesn’t always mean they actually have the ability to live naturally 24/7. On another note, “organic” eggs also come from chickens that are not treated with any antibiotics and they are fed all organic feed – all of which are tightly regulated by USDA.

This chart is a pretty good summary of all the different egg labels- but remember, while it shows that pasture raised is the best, that term isn’t regulated so anyone can use it willy-nilly. Do some research into the brands of eggs at the store to see how they actually treat their chickens.

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So you choose…what kind of eggs do you buy?

5 Tips for a Healthy Summer BBQ

Can you believe it is almost July?!? I sure can’t.

I hope your grill is hot and your tummy is grumbling for some barbecue because the 4th of July is right around the corner.

In lieu of this festive holiday typically filled with hotdogs and s’mores, I thought I would share some of my favorite tips and tricks for a healthy 4th of July (or any summer night) BBQ.

  1. Load up on veggies – If your cooking, grill a bunch of kebabs full colorful peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli. If you aren’t the one cooking, bring a big veggie tray with hummus or guac and fill your plate! Vegetables provide so many vital vitamins and minerals, plus they help fill you up without breaking the calorie bank.
  2. Cut the carbs in half – Yep, I’m talking about the (whole grain!) bun. This one is tricky if you are having a hot dog, but if you go for a hamburger, go open face so you only get half the bun’s carbs and calories. Or, if you are feeling super healthy, try two big pieces of lettuce for your bun.
  3. Water, water, water! – I know pop, lemonade, and iced tea are BBQ classics, but you can easily save 200+ calories by only drinking water. And an extra bonus – water will help keep you hydrated with all the extra salt you might be getting from that hot dog and side of potato chips.
  4. Choose fruit for dessert – ‘Tis the season of nice, juicy watermelons and delicious fruit salads. Take advantage of natures candy and munch on some nutrient filled grapes and berries instead of reaching for the bag of marshmallows.
  5. Get moving – Go for a walk and enjoy the weather after dinner, or play with the kids in the back yard. Planning an activity for after the meal can help prevent overeating (since nobody wants to run around on an overly full stomach). Exercise also helps your food digest better – not to mention you burn a few extra calories in the process.

Happy Grilling, Happy Summer, and Happy (early) 4th!

Back to the Beverage Basics

This week, I am going back to some basics. While I love writing about all the cool, new nutrition research I learn at work and at school, I sometimes forget that many people have a tough time making basic healthy choices – especially when it comes to what they are drinking.

In many of my rotations at the hospital, people overlook drinks as a source of nutrition. I have seen overweight patients who just can’t figure out why they aren’t losing weight while eating eggs for breakfast, a salad, for lunch, and grilled chicken for dinner. Guess what? These people also drink crazy chocolate-y, sugary Starbucks drinks, several glasses of orange juice per day, and bottle on bottles of pop/soda. I even had one patient who admitted to drinking over 2 liters of orange juice every day – that’s about 946 calories and 176 grams of sugar!! I know this is an extreme scenario, but it is so easy to lose sight of how easily those fluid calories can add up.

When I am working with patients who want to lose weight, my number one piece of advice is to switch to zero calorie beverages with no artificial sweeteners. Yes, diet coke is zero calories, but all the artificial sweeteners wreak havoc on your digestion and bacteria in your gut (more on this in a future post, but for now, avoid all artificial sweeteners).

So what type of beverages do I recommend?

Number 1 is always water! Hot, cold, with lemon, berries, or cucumbers…water is always the best option. I love mine ice cold with a wedge of lemon, of course!

If you aren’t a fan of water, try the unsweetened, flavored, sparking waters that are all over Instagram and Facebook, like LaCroix or Bubly. While these are all better options than pop or sugary drinks, I still encourage people to stick with fluids that aren’t sparkling. There is some newer research showing that all the carbonation can acid reflux and increase ghrelin levels (the hormone that makes you feel hungry).

You can also pick up a cup of coffee. No, not a double chocolate Frappuccino with umpteen pumps of flavor or even a cup with some Splenda…just a plain old cup of black coffee (maybe with a splash of milk). Two to three, 8 ounce cups of coffee per day has been found to decrease risk of many diseases and help you live longer. Unsweetened tea, hot or cold, is also a good option.

Ultimately, my top beverage recommendations are:
1. Water
2. Unsweetened tea
3. Black coffee
4. Zero-calorie flavored water
*1-2 glasses of milk each day (any variety) is also okay. There is lots of new and controversial research about milk, but I’ll save that topic for another day.

Stay away from:
1. Pop/Soda (diet and regular)
2. Juice (even the 100% natural kind)
3. Fancy, sugary coffee drink
4. Gatorade and other sports drinks (unless you are a competitive athlete)

I challenge you to cut out all fluid calories – that could add up to a few hundred calories per day or ½ pound per week!

 

Healthy and Fast Meals with (almost) No Cooking Required

I’m not going to lie, I have slacked off a little (or a lot!) when it comes to cooking this year. Between school, work, trying new workout classes ;), and trying to get a decent amount of sleep, cooking just hasn’t been a priority. But don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I’m having frozen meals or fast food – it just means my meals are a little more simple and don’t take much time to make.

Whether you are a student like me, a working professional, home taking care of kiddos, or have other responsibilities, time is always the number 1 excuse for not eating healthy, so today I thought I would share my tips and tricks for fast and easy, healthy meals.

1. Cook ahead of time – I typically only turn on my oven and stove one or two times a week. I’ll make some chicken, roast some veggies, brown some ground turkey, and cook some rice or quinoa. From start to finish, it usually takes me no more than an hour. I keep everything in separate containers in the fridge so it’s ready when I get home from a long day at work.

2. Build a meal – Now that you have all the food is cooked and ready to be eaten, all you have to do is put it together. Think of it like an assembly line…add some rice, chicken, broccoli, and sauce to a bowl, pop it in the microwave and voila, dinner is served.

3. Oh, wait – there is no step three 😉 It is so easy there are only two steps! See, no excuses!!

Here is a little cheat sheet for building a healthy meal:

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  • Tricks if you are really short on time:
    Choose canned tuna, buy a pre-baked chicken, or try canned beans which don’t require cooking for your protein sources
  • Use frozen veggies that you can steam in the microwave – no baking or chopping required.

Now that you have the “recipe” to build your own healthy meal, I thought I would share some of my favorites. Some might sound strange, but I promise they are tasty! Also, lots are vegetarian since I was experimenting with being a vegetarian for a month.

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No excuses now! What are your favorite meals to build?

Go Further with Food

Happy National Nutrition Month! March is National Nutrition Month and every year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics decides on a theme – this year it is “Go Further with Food” and they are focusing on reducing food waste.

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Now, some people think that I take my eco-friendliness a little too far (it takes me over a month to fill up 1 garbage bag), but over the past few years I have been trying to create as little waste as possible.

Did you know that food makes up more of our landfills than any other product (even more than plastic), and American’s throw out about one third of all food produced an purchased. Think about that…What is 33% of your last grocery bill? Now imagine throwing that chunk of change in the trash!!

So, in honor of this year’s National Nutrition Month theme, I thought I would share some of my favorite tips for reducing food waste:

  1. Plan– I know I have said this before, but planning before grocery shopping makes the world of a difference. You can figure out exactly what you have and what you need so you don’t end up with any extra (which means no food waste and no extra $$ spent).
  2. Freeze– Your freezer is your best friend when it comes to reducing food waste. Bread nearing its expiration date? Freeze it! Strawberries getting a little mushy? Freeze them! Leftovers from dinner that you don’t want right away? Freeze them! Get my drift? Even fresh herbs can be frozen in ice cube trays to be used for cooking later.
  3. Use all parts of a food – Keep you skins on potatoes and cucumbers and don’t even think about cutting off the broccoli stems. There is no reason to throw these veggie parts into the landfill. Not only are they edible, they also add tons of nutritious value.

I challenge you to reduce the amount of waste you create in the kitchen. These tips can help you reduce your food waste, but reducing waste from other sources is good too. Use rags instead of paper towel, stop buying paper plates/plastic silverware and use real dishes, and switch from plastic bags to reusable containers. Every little bit helps keep our planet greener, cleaner, and healthier.

Organic vs. Natural – What do they mean?

Walking up and down the grocery aisles, boxes and packages are covered with health claims and catchy words to suck you in, but they can get very confusing. Most people have a vague idea of what an organic apple is, but organic cookies…not as straight forward.

Here is a break down some of these catchy health words to help you understand what they all mean.

Organic

  • When it comes to produce, organic products are grown in soil that has no prohibited substances (including synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) for at least 3 years prior to harvest.
  • Organic meat and poultry have to meet 3 criteria – (1) they are raised in living conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors, (2) they are fed 100% organic feed, and (3) they cannot have any antibiotics or hormones administered to them.
  • As for processed, multi-ingredient foods, they can only be labeled organic if every ingredient is organic, there must be no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors, and no GMO ingredients are used.

Organic products are very highly regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The government goes out to farms, tests soil, evaluates feed, and examines animal living conditions to ensure they meet all of these specific criteria.

 

Natural

  • Right now, the term “natural” seen on food labels means absolutely nothing.

Yes, you read that right. There are no rules that regulate what items can use this term in their labels, which means technically anything from apples and cucumbers, to ding-dongs, and ho-hos are all “natural”. Pretty scary, huh? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working on some guidelines for what products can use the word natural, but right now, there is no regulation.

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Did you find any of this shocking? I know the “natural” one continues to blow my mind – especially because people tend to value natural products more than regular ones, and they usually cost more!

 

Want more info? These links might help!

https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means

https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm456090.htm

Will Power Points

When trying to make healthy lifestyle changes, surrounding yourself with a healthy environment can make the world of a difference. Keeping lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in the house and throwing away all the chips and cookies make it a whole lot easier to reach for something healthy. Seems logical right? I think most people have heard this before, but one of my preceptors made a great analogy that put this concept into a new perspective.

She explained, just like we all have bank accounts filled with dollars, we also have a bank account filled with “will power points”. These are the currency used to make healthy decisions when our environment makes it challenging – like choosing not to have a piece of bread from the bowl on the table while you’re waiting for your meal at a restaurant.

Just like we all have a limited amount of money in the bank, we all have a limited number of “will power points”, so, just like money, we have to spend them wisely. If you are putting yourself in unhealthy environments all of the time, those will power points are going to run out quickly and you are going to give in to unhealthy temptations. But, if you surrounded yourself with a healthy environment most of the time (healthy snacks in the house, choosing restaurants that have lighter or healthier meals, packing your lunch for work or school, etc.), you will still have a stash of will power points to use when you need them.

Just some food for thought…Happy Sunday!

Chocolate Covered Banana Pops

I feel like I have posted a lot of nutrition tips recently, so I thought I would switch it up and talk about one of my new favorite healthier treats.

My idea of fun last Saturday night was spending my sweet old time walking up and down the aisles of the grocery store. It is amazing what you can find when you aren’t in a hurry to grab all your usual items! My exciting find this week was Diana’s Banana Dark Chocolate Banana Babies.

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These delicious treats are simply a frozen half of a banana covered in dark chocolate on a stick. Even better…each one is only 130 calories and they only have three ingredients: banana, chocolate, and peanut oil (no crazy chemicals or preservatives)!

They also make little banana slices covered in chocolate, but I like the ones on the stick because you don’t really have to worry about the chocolate melting on your fingers. I have also seen tons of recipes on Pinterest to make your own chocolate covered banana treats. I have tried to make the slices before and it was a bit of a mess, but the pops would be a fun, healthier treat to make with kids. They can even decorate them with toppings like nuts and sprinkles!

Enjoy!

P.S. Remember, even though they are healthier and one of my new favorites doesn’t mean they should become your new breakfast or entitle you to the whole box. They still have a saturated fat and sugar, just a lot less than some of your traditional desserts.

Breakfast Cereal

Cereal: It is the “go-to” breakfast. Whether you pour a bowl at the table in the morning or dump some in a bag as you are running out the door, it is a pretty classic breakfast. In fact, grain-based breakfasts have been found to help people lose weight better than those who eat a traditional eggs, sausage, and toast breakfast.

Unfortunately, those grain-based cereals can be more like sugar-based cereal. Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, Coco Puffs, and Lucky Charms and even cereals like Kellogg’s Smart Start, Kashi, and Raisin Bran that are all marketed as “healthy” have heaps of sugar in them… sometimes more than a chocolate chip cookie!

I know that makes finding a healthy cereal very confusing, so here are my top 4 tips for choosing a healthy cereal to start your day with.

  1. It should have less than 10g of sugar per serving
  2. At least 3g of fiber per serving
  3. At least 5g of protein per serving
  4. The first ingredient should start with the word whole (ie. Whole wheat, whole grain, etc.)

If your cereal box doesn’t meet all 4 of these, put it back on the shelf and try another one of the other 500 cereals in the aisle. The one exception is protein. If your cereals falls a little short on protein, that is fine, but I would recommend having a side of eggs or low sugar Greek yogurt on the side.

I’ll also mention that portions are a big deal with cereal. The serving size is usually ¾ to 1 cup but we often dump 2-3x that in the bowl. Try measuring out your cereal for a few days. You might be shocked by how much you are actually eating.

Here is a list of some good cereal options:

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Meatless Monday

If you thought hospital cafeterias were full of healthy food options, you thought wrong. Unfortunately, even in the building where heart disease is being treated, it is also being served on a plate in the form of fried chicken, onion rings, French fries, pizza, and deli sandwiches. Since those are the main options, I resort to the salad bar daily for my lunch, filling my bowl with romaine, kale, tomatoes, peas, mushrooms, and chicken. But it is only now, after almost 12 weeks, that I realized the cafeteria does “Meatless Monday’s”. I just thought every now and then the salad bar was out of chicken, but I have now realized it happens to be every Monday…the same day they don’t serve chicken fingers or BBQ chicken pizza.

With research linking meat consumption to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity, at least the hospital is on the right track one day a week. Meatless Monday’s is a concept used to both reduce health risks, but also reduce our carbon footprint since there is so much water and fuel used in meat production.

After the Meatless Monday realization I had, I decided I would try something other than a salad this past Monday. In a cafeteria where most of the food looks slightly suspicious, my meatless lunch was actually delicious – stuffed sweet potato with a kale, quinoa, and cranberry salad and a quarter of a roasted acorn squash. It was also nice to switch things up and have something other than a salad.

I have never participated in Meatless Monday’s before, but I think I might try to continue Meatless Monday’s through dinner at home. It is great motivation to get creative in the kitchen, try something new, and get some health benefits.

Worried you won’t get enough protein by going meatless? No need to worry! 85% lean ground beef has 10.4 grams of protein per 100 calories and broccoli has 8.5g per 100 calories… Pretty close, huh? Plus broccoli is full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals that meat doesn’t really have. And of course, there’s always quinoa, tofu, lentils, yogurt, beans, and nuts which are all good sources of protein.

Sure, meats have lean protein, vitamin B12, and iron, but you don’t need to have it everyday to reap the benefits. Give Meatless Monday’s a try! If anything, it is a good excuse to fill your plate with extra veggies, which never hurts.

Up for a challenge? In doing some google-ing about Meatless Monday. I also found there is a campaign called #NoRedOctober encouraging people to cut meat for the entire month of October. I know October is almost over but you can try it any month. Think you could do it? It would be tough, but even a meatless day or week is better than nothing.