CSA All the Way

Hi there! It’s been a very busy summer, I feel like I blinked and it was over. For this summer, I decided to do something a little different from my typical weekly food shops and signed up for a CSA.

CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, you pay a lump sum at the beginning of the growing season to a farm, and in return, you get a “share” of their produce every week. After researching the different CSAs available in my area, I decided to go with a partial share from the Turtle Bay CSA. The vegetables are grown by Free Bird Farm in upstate New York (which also services other CSA’s throughout New York City). Every week from around mid-June to mid-November, the CSA has a vegetable pickup where they hand out the week’s vegetables. In return, you must volunteer at least once at a vegetable pickup to help things run smoothly. Additionally, if you want to pay a little extra, you can purchase an egg share, a butter share, a maple syrup/honey share, a poultry share, ground beef share, and/or a fruit share. Click here to learn more about what a CSA is, how it works, and where to find one near you in NYC.

You don’t have a say in what vegetables are given out each week, and a lot of what the farm produces depends on the weather and the rain conditions of the season. For instance, this summer has been dryer than previous summers, and therefore the vegetables we received this year were a lot different than last year’s produce. Additionally, the farmers of Free Bird Farm send out a weekly newsletter that share a little bit about life on the farm, the work that goes into growing a successful crop, a detailed list of what vegetables are being offered that week, and different recipes incorporating those vegetables.

The vegetables I’ve received so far have been varied and interesting, but we still have received a lot of the familiar vegetables that I’m used to eating. So far we’ve gotten a lot of garden tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, red potatoes, cabbages, and beets. Some of the weirder vegetables of this season include kohlrabi, fennel, japanese radishes, and tongue of fire shell beans. There has also been a lot of salad greens, red lettuces, and kale. I have been loving it so far, because the CSA has been getting me out of my comfort zone of buying the same vegetables over and over, and has been pushing me to discover new recipes that I typically wouldn’t try. Of course, when I have no idea what to do with a vegetable, which will occasionally happen, I can rely on cubing it and roasting it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and eat it as a side dish throughout the week, and that works just fine (usually my standard temperature and time for vegetable roasting is 350 degrees for 30 minutes – stirring the vegetables at the 15-minutes mark).

I also find that the fresh herbs and vegetables that I’m used to eating, like the tomatoes, carrots, and lettuce, taste so good and stay fresh for way longer. This may be likely due to the reduced transit time from the farm to my kitchen. Also, the vegetables you get are actually in season, and are therefore at the peak of freshness and their highest nutritional quality.

Some tips if you’re thinking about joining a CSA next season:

  • Start a Pinterest page that’s dedicated to the vegetables you get from the CSA to keep everything in one place. My CSA Pinterest board has been a lifesaver.
  • Save the greens of everything. Radish greens, turnip greens, and especially beet greens are delicious when sauteed with oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and onions, and although it may seem like too many greens when you pick up your vegetables, they usually cook way down. This is an easy way to reduce waste and to give your meals a big nutritional boost.
  • If you really don’t like something, you can swap it for something else at your pickup location. I try not to do this because I want to try everything, but if we get something that I know I just won’t eat and would prefer to have more of another vegetable, then I will swap it.
  • Kind of along the lines of the above point, if you don’t think you will like something, be open to trying it. I honestly did not think I liked kale or beets before this summer. Now, after researching different ways to cook them, I love them. I’ve made countless kale-based smoothies, beet chips, and beet hummus. I don’t even dream of swapping these super-foods out.
  • WASH EVERYTHING. INVEST IN A GOOD SALAD SPINNER. The farm does a pretty good job with hosing everything down before handing out the vegetables, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find the occasional critter or dirt in your pickup. Gross, yes, but remember these vegetables are fresh from the farm and it’s as natural as you can get.
  • Talk to other people when you’re at the pickup to get ideas for how they cook and eat their veggies.
  • Enjoy it! This CSA season has about a month left and I honestly am so sad. But I’m going to keep looking for the more out-of-the-box veggies at the supermarket over the winter.

If you want more of an idea for what type of vegetables, fruit and other food items that can come in a CSA, check out the Turtle Bay CSA website (link above in text). Also, check out my friend and fellow dietitian Rachel Greenspan’s amazing instagram. She belongs to a CSA that uses Free Bird Farm as well, and makes amazing and beautiful dishes. The link can be found here: wholegreens.

Caprese salad with lettuce greens, fresh basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella.
Easter Egg Radishes!
Easter egg radish, sweet potato, and kohlrabi, pre-veggie roast
Fresh corn veloute soup
Another crazy roast of kohlrabi, fennel, and golden beets.
Hi! Me volunteering at the veggie pickup – weighing out red potatoes and studying a kohlrabi – which honestly looks like an alien.
My first attempt at making spaghetti squash! Only got one of these things so far, wish we had more.
An example of the beet hummus I made for the Pretty Little Liars finale – felt the rich red color and “A” was appropriate. Recipe can be found on my Pinterest CSA board and it is AmAzing (see what I did there?).
An example of just taking all the greens and throwing it in a pan with some chicken, this dinner is basically a hodge-podge of all the different greens, purple cabbage, and easy.
Bacon and escarole soup. First time I ever had escarole, now a big fan (bacon does that with a lot of foods, doesn’t it?). 

Sugar Substitutes, what’s the deal?

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions from my patients, family, and friends about artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes. Many wonder if they’re good for you, if they’re bad for you, and what the risks and benefits are of consuming sweeteners other than sugar. To be perfectly honest with you, when a patient asks if artificial sweeteners are safe to consume, I really DON’T know the answer. I myself am a regular consumer of artificial sweeteners; I always end my coffee order with “Skim and two Splendas,” and this makes me feel as though I don’t really have a right to tell my patients to avoid them if I eat them every day, right? There is an assumption that artificial sweeteners like aspartame are carcinogenic, but then how are could they be so prevalent in the food supply? My intention with this blog post is not to sway your opinion on artificial sweeteners in any direction, only to present the information I found and what I would recommend if someone were to ask me my opinion in the future. I found this thorough overview article from The Mayo Clinic that breaks down the different types of sweeteners  out there, along with their risks and benefits. Here’s what they had to say.

Sugar substitute is a term that can cover any sweetener that can be used in place of sugar, such as:

  • Artificial sweeteners like Sweet n’ Low, Splenda, or Equal
  • Sugar alcohols like xylitol, mannitol, and xorbitol
  • Novel sweeteners like stevia extracts (Truvia)
  • Natural sweeteners like maple syrup, agave nectar, honey, and molasses.

Artificial sweeteners may be completely synthetic or can be derived from natural substances, however most of them have a much higher degree of sweetness than actual sugar. They are zero calories, because technically they’re not actually carbohydrates, and are widely used throughout the food supply, more specifically in diet products, like diet sodas and desserts.

  • The Good: Artificial sweeteners do not cause tooth decay and leave a sweet taste without the calories. Artificial sweeteners are also beneficial for people with diabetes, because they do not elevate blood sugar.
  • The Bad: Even though they’re zero calories, they may increase your cravings for more sweet things (the mechanism behind this is still unknown). Additionally, some artificial sweeteners leave a horrible aftertaste.
  • The Controversial: Some believe that artificial sweeteners, like saccharin and aspartame, are linked to cancer. But based on large amounts of both human and animal studies, artificial sweeteners are deemed Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS, by the FDA. In a study conducted by the National Cancer Institute, those who drank artificially sweetened beverages were not at an increased risk to develop blood cancers such as lymphomas, leukemia, or brain tumors when compared to those who abstained from artificially sweetened beverages. The FDA recommends that artificial sweeteners are safe when consumed in moderation, and have acceptable daily intakes for each type of sweetener:

Acceptable Daily Intake (ADIs) for Popular Artificial Sweeteners: are determined based on body weight. The following amount of tabletop sweetener packets that you would find in a coffee house is based on a 60kg, or 132 pound, person:

Aspartame (Equal or Nutrasweet): 75 packets/day

Saccharin (Sweet N’ Low): 45 packets/day

Steviol glycosides from Stevia plants (Truvia, Enliten): Conditionally safe (see the “Novel Sweeteners” section below), but generally 9 packets/day

Sucralose (Splenda): 23 packets/day

Sugar Alcohols are just as sweet, if not less so, than natural sugar, and are found in nature or can be manufactured in a lab. They are often utilized not only in processed foods, but in general household items like gum, toothpaste, and mouthwash.

  • The Good: Sugar alcohols are less processed by the body when compared to regular sugar, which can keep blood sugar levels low for diabetics.
  • The Bad: Sugar alcohols are real carbohydrates, so they contain calories and therefore may not be as effective for weight loss. However, they only contain only 2 calories/gram as opposed to the 4 calories/gram found in sugar. Also, when consumed in high amounts (anywhere between 10g and 50g), sugar alcohols can have an osmotic effect and pull water into the gut, causing diarrhea, bloating, and gas.

Novel Sweeteners: The FDA has approved the use of highly refined stevia (found in products like Coke Zero and in Truvia), however not whole leaf or crude stevia extracts, as the consumption of these forms of stevia plant may lead to kidney problems, and have yet to be deemed GRAS by the FDA.

Natural Sweeteners are often found in the home and are added to all different types of foods to enhance the sweetness.

  • The Good: natural sweeteners are chemically very similar to regular sugar, and they are both broken down to fructose and glucose in the body. If you’re not into chemicals and man-made foods products, then natural sweeteners are obviously a good choice for you.
  • The Bad: There’s really no health advantage to consuming a natural sweetener over regular sugar. People generally pick natural sweeteners because of taste. Since they’re nutritionally similar to real sugar, they contribute to tooth decay, elevated blood sugar, weight gain, and high blood cholesterol. It should also be noted that even some “natural” sweeteners aren’t completely natural, and may go through some sort of processing before hitting the shelves.

The bottom line: as dietitians say with most other foods, everything is good in moderation. Having a packet or two of an artificial sweetener in your coffee every morning will likely not increase your risk of developing cancer, diabetes, or hyperlipidemia. However, relying too heavily on “diet foods,” that contain other highly processed and unnatural ingredients may not be so good either. Additionally, you could be toeing the line between “enough” and “too much” without even realizing it, as artificial sweeteners can be found in a plethora of unexpected places like protein powders, yogurts, frozen yogurts, chewing gum, snack foods, salad dressings, etc. Focus on eating a generally balanced, healthy diet that consists of natural, whole foods, and you should be fine using a little bit of whatever type of sweetener you so desire. After all, what is life without a little sweetness?

Source: The Mayo Clinic

Source: FDA: Food Additives & Ingredient

Coffee Coffee Coffee

So recently, I finished binge watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. It brought me back to my days after middle school when I would come home, turn on ABC Family, and just watch for hours. I feel like rewatching it now has given me a much better appreciation of Lorelai and Rory, their fast-paced banter, their over-involved references to pop culture, and their strong mother-daughter bond. (Although *SPOILER ALERT,* I’ll admit I had to stop watching before Lorelai and Luke broke up and she went off to Europe and married Christopher. Ugh.).

Other than a newfound appreciation for the amazing writing (before the plot lines got a little too ridiculous, true fans you’ll know what I’m talking about), I also had a new appreciation for the Gilmore Girls’ love of coffee. I can now definitely relate as I start off almost every morning by brewing three cups of coffee in my mini Mr. Coffee coffeemaker. I feel like I’m sleepwalking without it, and I think it actually helps my productivity and focus at work. But watching Gilmore Girls in its (almost) entirety has made me question the risks and benefits of regular, coffee drinking. Are Lorelai and Rory, and myself for that matter, headed for a lifetime of heart problems and doom? The answers may actually surprise you.

The Good:

  • Coffee contains nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, niacin, choline, and vitamin E, that work as antioxidants and help your body carry out many energy-producing functions.
  • Consistent coffee intake increases insulin sensitivity, or reduces your risk for high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes.
  • Coffee helps protect against the development of Alzheimer’s Dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Consumption decreases the risks of colorectal cancer and liver cancer.
  • A study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found a lower incidence of depression in those who drank at least four cups of coffee compared to those who do not drink any coffee.
  • The caffeine in coffee can provide fuel that can be used in sports that require long-term energy, such as in cycling or running races.

The Bad:

  • More than five cups/day can lead to an increased risk of a heart attack or coronary heart disease.
  • More than five cups/day can also lead to an increase of cardiac arrhythmias or atrial fibrillation, both of which can lead to strokes.
  • Caffeine is a stimulant and can cause increased blood pressure after consumption.
  • Unfiltered coffee, like espresso or boiled coffee, is associated with an increased consumption of oily compounds, which can increase your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, and further contribute to heart disease. These effects were not found in filtered coffee consumption.
  • Excessive coffee intake may interfere with calcium, iron, and zinc absorption.

Interesting Facts:

  • Some people have an allergy to caffeine that causes them to experience nervousness, irritability, GI distress, anxiety, or tremors.
  • Coffee intake of greater than 3 cups/day while pregnant may increase the risk of miscarriage. If you’re pregnant and still need your morning fix, talk to your doctor about what’s safe to consume.
  • If ethics are important to you, look for coffee that states it’s “fair trade” on the label (same with chocolate). You can find out more about that here.
  • The world’s largest producer of the coffee bean is Brazil.
  • The largest coffee chain in the world is Starbucks, with over 20,000 stores worldwide.

My Conclusions:

  • If you’re already hooked on coffee, there’s no need to stop drinking it now! It has shown to have plenty of health benefits when consumed in moderation (3-4 cups/day). However, if you find that you consistently drink greater than 5 cups/day (about 40 oz), you may be at an increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. Also be mindful and try not to go overboard; avoid ordering coffee drinks with a lot of flavored syrups and whipped cream (like Frappucinos or Coolatas). These drinks contain a lot of calories from sugar and fat and therefore may cancel out all of the wonderful health benefits.

Hopefully Richard and Emily can refer the Gilmore Girls to a good cardiologist.

Don’t worry Rory, I’m only kidding.

And also you’re a fictional character.

Sources:

CookSmarts, A Review

So, I just completed a three-month run of this program called CookSmarts, a service that puts together weekly menus with recipes and grocery lists. I found out about it through a blog on MyFitnessPal and decided to sign up the day after Thanksgiving with a Black Friday special – 3 months worth of recipes and meal planning for only $12.60. Not too bad! In addition to weekly menus, recipes, and grocery lists, CookSmarts provides a large library of videos that teach you how to cut, chop, dice, and prepare different kinds of vegetables, fruits, and proteins. Not only that, but each week includes weekend prep directions for your recipes that will make assembling and putting together a meal on a weeknight that much quicker. Each recipe also comes with a vegetarian, gluten-free, or paleo modification. I wanted to try CookSmarts because I wanted to get in the habit of cooking more and eating out less. I accomplished this goal, and I actually learned a lot about food and cooking. I may be a dietitian, but that doesn’t mean I’m a stellar cook by any means. However through Cooksmarts, I learned how to pair different flavor profiles and learned what works well together. Examples: Miso, maple syrup, panko, and butter – delicious. Fish sauce, coconut milk, and thai curry paste – divine. Balsamic vinegar, bacon, Brussels sprouts, and brown sugar – there’s nothing better. I also learned cooking techniques that have made me a better home-chef in general, like the proper ratios of a vinaigrette, thickening sauces (which I learned about in college, but have rarely practiced since), how to build flavors by cutting in with acid, etc. etc. Where can I find the application for Chopped because I’m starting to sound super fancy.

Things I liked about CookSmarts:

  • The weekly recipes arrived the Thursday before, giving you enough time to plan and prepare your week ahead.
  • The recipes were super easy, none were too involved or took longer than an hour to make.
  • The recipes often incorporated ingredients I wouldn’t normally jump to use, and weren’t intimidating (like radishes, shallots, or parsnips), that now I like to cook with often.
  • A lot of the recipes in a week use similar ingredients, so your grocery lists aren’t too crazy.
  • It forced me to learn how to meal plan! Which is such an important tool in general healthy eating and weight loss.
  • It built up my pantry with ingredients that are found in a lot of different recipes, like balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, chicken stock, maple syrup, honey, dijon mustard, flour, brown sugar, Panko breadcrumbs, and various spices. Now whenever I look up a recipe in a cookbook or online, I usually have a majority of the ingredients because I have those standard pantry items that I just never believed I needed to have before.
  • There’s a very supportive community of fellow users on Facebook (it has its own Facebook group specifically for subscribers) where people ask questions and share meal ideas and pictures of their culinary creations.
  • A new feature that was added throughout my three months with CookSmarts was an “Add It” button to MyFitnessPal, which I use daily. You can modify the ingredients to what you used in the recipes and add it right to your food diary for the day.

Things I didn’t like:

  • While it was fun to work with new ingredients, some of them and their associated recipes were just too out there for me. There was one week that had an Indian dish, and while I like Indian food, I didn’t want to hunt down and buy a whole container of Harissa paste.
  • While the good recipes were really good, I found that the bad recipes were really bad. But, it should be noted that there were maybe 4-5 recipes that I considered bad throughout the entire three months. There was one recipe that consisted of cabbage and some type of chicken, and the whole plate was beige. And it tasted beige. And I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it. There was another crockpot recipe that was so acidic and soupy, I had to disappointingly scrap that as well.
  • The recipes include nutrition facts, and while a lot of the recipes were pretty healthy, I found that a good amount of them were super high in either fat or sodium, or both. A lot of the recipes called for multiple tablespoons of cooking oil (I usually set the limit at two tablespoons), which drove up the fat content, and there is a lot of salt being liberally added. While I don’t technically need to be watching my sodium intake (I don’t have high blood pressure), and typically like saltier foods, it was just too much. I would feel super thirsty for days after eating some meals, despite rarely adding extra salt while cooking (a frequent instruction in many recipes) and using low sodium versions of ingredients like chicken stock and soy sauce.

A sampling of some meals that I made:

1. Red Curry Shrimp Stir Fry with Cauliflower Rice (I always made this with brown rice instead of cauliflower rice. The brown rice seems to soak up the heavy sauce much better than cauliflower, and I honestly love rice with Thai).

2. Spice Roasted Fish Tacos

3. Kale Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables and Lentils (and goat cheese!)

4. Stir Fried Udon Noodles

At the end of the day, would I recommend CookSmarts? Absolutely. It lit a creative fire under my butt (and on my stovetop) and got me to try new things and learn new skills. I now have a lot more confidence in the kitchen and I learned a lot about myself, such as that I find a lot of comfort and serenity in chopping vegetables and putting together a meal from scratch. However, as I commence half marathon training, I don’t think I will be able to keep up with it, as now I have to devote more of my time on getting into shape for running 13.1 miles. But more on that to follow… In the meantime, I will definitely carry on with certain tricks that I’ve picked up, like meal planning and prepping ahead, and continue to make quick and easy dinners that I’ve archived.

If you want to check out CookSmarts and sign up, check out their website, and let me know what you think!

Calorie Bomb

So I recently came across this article by the New York Times, have you seen it? It takes a look at what 2,000 calories looks like at different restaurant chains. Two of my favorite vendors have made the list: Starbucks and Shake Shack. Oh Shake Shack. How I love you. But anyway.

What 2,000 Calories Looks Like

As my dad always said growing up, restaurants “steal your health and steal your wealth.” I definitely agree. On top of expecting to pay at least $10/person, if you’re ordering in from a restaurant or going out to eat, you really can’t say you know exactly what’s going into your food. Even if you get a salad, oftentimes the dressings are full of wacky ingredients that were probably never meant for human consumption. Not only that, but many many restaurants pour oil and butter into their dishes and onto their griddles, making its way onto your plate, causing the calories to add up.  Scary!!

Shack burger and cheesefries. Sometimes you just gotta indulge. Sorry. But not.
My meal: Shack burger and cheese fries. Sometimes you just have to indulge. Sorry. But not.

It’s pretty interesting to see what you can get for 2,000 calories at each restaurant chain. For some places like Subway, you can get a whole day’s worth of food, while at others (so sad, Shake Shack), you can blow it all in one meal. Some you can even chomp it all in one dish!!! I don’t know about you, but as I progressed through the article, I could feel my blood pressure rising! And then it nicely came back down when it showcased what you can make at home for 2,000 calories. Ah, nothing beats cooking at home.

Original picture can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/12/22/upshot/what-2000-calories-looks-like.html?_r=0&abt=0002&abg=0
Original picture can be found here.

So when you do decide to go out to eat, what can you do to make sure you avoid consuming a whole day’s worth of calories in one meal? These are the tips I follow below:

  1. Research before. A lot of large chains like Chipotle, Starbucks, and salad places have nutrition calculators where you can build the meal you want and it will tell you all of the nutrition information. A lot of sit down restaurants also have their entire menus available online, and their nutrition information either on their website and/or on MyFitnessPal. Plan what you want to eat before you go so you know exactly how it will fit into your meal plan.
  2. Watch your drinks. It’s so easy to drink your calories. When you go out to eat, an alcoholic beverage, a regular soda, or a sweetened iced tea can add hundreds of calories to your meal. If you’re going to have a glass of wine, beer, or a cocktail, stick with only one and avoid really sugary drinks. Even with non-alcoholic drinks, go with diet soda over regular, or just have plain water with lemon or lime. Oh, and those milkshakes they show for almost every restaurant in the New York Times article? Skip them!! They’re NEVER worth it. My gallbladder hurts just thinking about them.
  3. Know your vocabulary. Words on the menu like “crispy,” “battered,” “fried,” “smothered,” or “breaded,” likely indicate the dish has loads of oil and is likely super high in fat and calories. Instead, look for words like “grilled,” “fresh,” “roasted,” “poached,” or “broiled,” as these describe lower-calorie cooking methods. A more comprehensive list can be found here.
  4. Be conscious of portion sizes and extras. I know, I know. A lot of health professionals will tell you that when you order your food, ask for a to-go box and immediately put half of your meal inside of it and save it for later. If you’re anything like me, though, this trick NEVER works. I always end up eating the first half, and then digging into the portion that I intended to save for later! If this happens to you too, and you know you’re probably going to eat your entire dish, try to avoid snacking on chips and salsa, bread, or whatever pre-meal goodies they put on the table. Stick to one breadstick or a handful of chips so you don’t overdo it. During the main course, be mindful of what you’re eating, focus on the flavor, texture, and experience of every bite so you can be aware of how much you’re eating, and you can stop much more easily when you’re satisfied, which means more for later!
  5. Edit where you can. If you’re really looking into losing weight/watching your calories, you can edit your meal or swap for healthier options. Get the grilled vegetables instead of French fries on the side of your sandwich or steak. Get mustard instead of mayonnaise. Whole wheat instead of white (pasta, pizza, etc.). Scrambled egg whites instead of scrambled eggs. Trim off the visible fat. Take the top bun off of your hamburger or ask for a lettuce wrap. Ask for the dressing on the side, and dip your fork in it before scooping up your salad. If you eat out a lot, these tricks are probably more useful.

But seriously, if you’re going out to eat for a special occasion, or going to a special restaurant, don’t be afraid to indulge. If you do find yourself eating out multiple times/week, these tips may be more helpful to keep from weighing you down.

What do you think of the article? Did your favorite dish make the list? What are some other ways you navigate unhealthy restaurant calorie bombs?

The Best Diets in 2015

First and foremost, HAPPY NEW YEAR! New Years Day is one of my favorite days of the year because: 1) I feel like it’s one big culmination of all the joy, family, and friends of the holiday season; and 2) I love the idea of starting with a clean slate. The new year is an opportunity to reevaluate your life. It’s a time to look back on the past year and see how you’ve grown as a person, what changes you have made, and think about the direction you want to take yourself in the year to come.

I’m going to be cliche here and say it,  you have to admit that this is a good time to try out and adopt a healthier lifestyle. Be it new eating habits or new fitness routines, we have just come off of a holiday season full of celebrations, fancy dinners, sugary cocktails, and cookies galore. Why not take the month of January as an opportunity to start with a clean slate?

Which brings me to the point of this post. For the past 5 years, US News has been putting out rankings of the country’s most popular diets. And they have just published  The Best Diets of 2015. To quote US News, the diets are ranked as follows:

“A panel of nationally recognized experts in diet, nutrition, obesity, food psychology, diabetes and heart disease reviewed our profiles, added their own fact-finding and rated each diet in seven categories: how easy it is to follow, its ability to produce short-term and long-term weight loss, its nutritional completeness, its safety and its potential for preventing and managing diabetes and heart disease. We also asked the panelists to let us know about aspects of each diet they particularly liked or disliked and to weigh in with tidbits of advice that someone considering a particular diet should know.”

Here are just a few of my thoughts. This post may come off as biased, but these are my personal (and dare I say it, professional) opinions. You can find the full article here:

Best Diets 2015 – US News

The best diets overall, according to this article, are the DASH diet and TLC diets. As a registered dietitian working in a large city hospital, on two different cardiac units, I teach patients about both the DASH diet and TLC diet several times a day, every day. These diets discuss lowering sodium intake and trans fats and replacing them with more whole grains, healthy fats, and colorful fruits and vegetables. These diets really are amazing for everyone, not just people with heart issues, and can help you look better and feel better just by eliminating a lot of the processed foods that have infiltrated the typical American diet.

The best diets for weight loss are Weight Watchers and the Health Management Resources (HMR) diet. While I honestly have never even heard of the HMR diet, I must admit it does sound… interesting. I’m not the biggest fan of diets that include home food deliveries or shakes and meal replacement bars (like Jenny Craig or Medifest – both also made this list). I think a good weight loss diet shouldn’t have to incorporate a particular product made by a manufacturer to be successful. On the other hand, I think Weight Watchers is wonderful and I like that it incorporates real life techniques. I’ve done Weight Watchers myself in the past and found that it taught me how to prioritize healthier foods. It made me focus on eating foods like fruits and vegetables a habit that I still practice daily today.

I’m also really happy that the Volumetrics diet made this list again in 2015 (#6). Call me biased but I love this plan because it was created by Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutrition at Penn State, in a metabolic kitchen right next door to the research lab I worked in as an undergrad. BUT, Nittany pride aside, I do believe this diet has the research and the theory to back it up.

And finally, I have to say I’m kind of surprised that the Paleo diet came in last place for the second year in a row. Yes, I do think the Paleo diet is difficult to replicate in modern times, and I do love my legumes, whole grains, and cheese (which are alas, forbidden). But I think a lot of the key points behind it are pretty sound (focusing on lean meats and increasing fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds), and I definitely don’t think it’s worse than say, the Acid Alkaline diet and the Supercharged Hormone diet. I mean, really?

So, if you’re curious, take a moment to read this list and see if there’s anything out there you want to try in the new year. Some of these seem a little out there and whacky, which honestly makes me question the validity of this list, but there are a few good ones that may be worth your while.

Best of luck in achieving all your health and fitness goals that you have set for yourself this year, and Happy Eating!

Pass the Happy with ClassPass

Lately I’ve been living in a constant state of soreness, and I honestly find it amazing. Now that the weather is colder, it’s difficult to go outside and run. Interestingly, I’ve been taking (most of) my workouts indoors, and have been travelling all around the city with ClassPass. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned ClassPass before, but let me tell you a little bit more about it and why it is awesome.

ClassPass is basically a monthly gym membership, except there’s no central location, and it’s for people who love workout classes. I’ve belonged to several gyms in the past, and I found that I really only go for the classes. I need someone else to be constantly telling me what to do, challenge my body, and make my workouts interesting. I can’t just go to a gym and run aimlessly on an elliptical. Even if I do hop on a treadmill or elliptical machine, I always have to pick a pre-entered program that’s constantly switching up my speed or elevation.

But I digress. ClassPass partners with hundreds of boutique gyms and fitness studios throughout NYC (they’re quickly expanding to many other cities), and allows you to sign up for trendy, challenging, and fun classes for $99/month. I joined back in August and can honestly say it has changed my life for good. It’s addicting to scroll through the countless classes that are offered, and it’s always exciting to show up to a new studio or class without knowing what to expect. Several of my friends and coworkers are also on ClassPass, and it’s fun to catch up and bond by going to a class together. That being said, I was looking at my information on ClassPass and realized that I’m about to attend my 50TH CLASS!! I feel like I never stick with a fitness regimen for this long. The classes I take on ClassPass are so diverse that I feel as though my body, and my mind, just never get bored.

If you’re curious as to what type of classes they have to offer, a few my favorites include:

YOGA:

1. Om Factory

  • I take the aerial yoga class, just because it’s so different, and makes me feel like a graceful circus freak. Plus, the upper body strength needed to hold you up on that fabric is insane, and I’m honestly sore for days after this one.

2. Yoga Vida

  • This is just a really pretty studio (I’ve only been to the Union Square one), and their Vinyasa flow classes are held in a large lofty room.  They are usually heavily attended, but the atmosphere is friendly and I have yet to have a teacher who I didn’t immediately love.

3. Hot Yoga at New York Yoga

  • I really like how they offer the 60 minute class, because to be perfectly honest, I can’t stand to be in that room for more than an hour. I also landed my first headstand here without the wall, so this place holds a soft spot in my heart.

4. Exhale (Upper East Side Location)

  • This is technically a spa? I’m pretty sure, and while I haven’t actually gone here for any facials or massages, the locker rooms are to die for, and the yoga and barre classes aren’t too shabby either. I go here when I want to feel pampered and get relaxed.

SPINNING:

1. Flywheel

  • I really love any class offered by Flywheel. This place does not need an explanation and the dietitian in me loves that they offer free fruit (along with free spinning shoes, water bottles, and towels). I’m SO happy ClassPass gives me access to all their studios in the city.

2. Peloton Cycle

  • This place blows me away, it’s SO NICE. The 45 minute Live DJ Rides on Fridays are the absolute best way to kick off your weekend; they’re like a dance party that also happens to torch calories, win/win.

3. SWERVE Fitness

  • SWERVE is another gorgeous spin studio, but their classes are unique in that they split the room up into teams and are competition-focused, which pushes me to go harder.

MISCELLANEOUS:

1. Chaise Fitness

  • This class is an infusion of pilates, ballet, and I honestly don’t even know what else, with the utilization of an overhead bungee system. All I know is that it’s challenging and a constant arm workout, but it’s super fun and the classes fly by.

2. CityRow

  • CityRow offers group rowing classes where half the time is spent doing drills on a rowing machine, and the other half is on a mat working with weights. It reminds me of a spin class because they blast fun and motivating music, but it’s honestly much harder. I love.

3. Throwback Fitness

  • Throwback Fitness is just plain fun. They incorporate games that are reminiscent of recess in middle school, except are more challenging. You get a real sense of camaraderie in this studio and everyone seems to become friends by the end.

2. The Fhitting Room

  • Oh dear this studio is tough, so sign up with a friend or two. They offer high intensity interval training classes (HIIT), which are taught by 2 instructors. The dynamic between the instructors is fun and they usually give good individualized attention. This was probably the most challenging class I’ve taken to date, and I can’t wait to go back.

3. Uplift

  • This really adorable studio is for women only, and their Strength and HIIT classes are enjoyable. I always have an empowering workout when I go here.

CLASSES I REALLY WANT TO TRY:

These are just a sampling of my favorites and the classes that are next on my list to try. You can see how you just can’t get bored. These classes are also great opportunities for cross training if you’re a runner, and in my opinion, help to make me a more well-rounded athlete.

ClassPass is also available in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Philly, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and D.C. It’s really awesome how much it has expanded since I started taking classes. Also, their customer service is wonderful, and they always run great promotions. If you think you want to sign up, I highly recommend trying it for a couple of months. Even if you don’t think it’s for you, hopefully this list can lead you to a cool new workout that you do want to try. With ClassPass, I know for a fact that I have been brought out of my comfort zone and my little fitness shell, and I’m never going back to the boring elliptical.

OMFactory Union Square
But really what’s an elliptical?

Are you on ClassPass? Do you have a favorite class that didn’t make the list? If you’re not on ClassPass, do you have another fun workout place that you go to? Sound off in the comments!