New Food Trends, New Food Labels

The food labels you’ve come to know and recognize are getting a facelift. On May 20, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced changes and updates to the food labels required on all manufactured food and beverage products. This is the first significant change to the label since the early 1990’s, and all companies must incorporate the changes by July 2018. According to the FDA, the new label design more accurately reflects the way Americans eat today as opposed to how they did in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

A key change to the label, and probably the most noticeable change, is that the calories are written in a large, bold font. This is meant so that a person can quickly see how many calories are in a serving. Additionally, standard serving sizes have also been updated to better reflect the increasing serving sizes in America. For instance, a standard ½ cup serving of ice cream on food labels now has been increased to 2/3 cup (have you ever tried to eat only a ½ cup of ice cream? It’s impossible!). And, a standard 8oz serving of soda is now 12oz. Calories are listed per serving, and sometimes per package, depending on if a person is likely to consume an entire package of a food item at once (i.e., a large bottle of soda containing two servings instead of one, or a bigger bag of chips).

Another change is the addition of a line under “carbohydrates” that discloses the amount of added sugars. Personally, I think this is a great idea, as it can bring awareness to how much added sugars someone can actually be consuming throughout the day. Increased calorie intake from added sugars can contribute to the development of obesity, heart disease, and certain cancers, so this is a very positive change. I think it may also encourage food companies to reconfigure their manufacturing processes to decrease the amount of added sugars in their products, now that the amount of added sugar will be fully on display.

The last of the major changes to the new food label are the vitamins and minerals that are required to be listed. Currently, the amounts of vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron are standard. The new label will now require Vitamin D and potassium content, and does not require Vitamins A and C. The FDA reports that the reasoning behind this change is because in the early 1990’s, more people were lacking vitamins A and C in their diets, however deficiencies are not that common today. Research has shown that more people are not consuming enough Vitamin D and potassium, which can lead to the development of certain chronic diseases such as osteoporosis or cardiovascular disease, respectively.

Take a look at the comparison between the old label and the new label below. What do you think of the changes? Do you think it will improve the health of the American people?

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 5.47.48 PM

You can find a more detailed look and explanation of the new labels by the FDA here..

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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?

Cleanse with Caution

Welcome to December, where we find ourselves on the other side of Thanksgiving and it’s officially acceptable to get excited about the holiday season. People bring in holiday treats to the office on a daily basis “just because” and it’s easy to lose sight of health and fitness goals. Our healthy habits that we’ve spent all year incorporating into our daily lives tend to unravel away as we allow ourselves to indulge in party after party, and treat after treat. Many people turn into panic mode at this time of year as they see the numbers on the scale slowly begin to creep up. A quick fix that many people turn to is the juice cleanse. Juice cleanses are often marketed as a tool to jumpstart weight loss, promote health, and rid the body of all things evil (cough sugar cookies cough).

But are cleanses even that good for you? Are they even safe? Do they actually work? There’s a lot of information out there, and I looked at two different articles that promoted opposite sides of the juice cleanse. I think after reading both, the information is still just as jumbled.

The Real Reasons Juice Cleanses Can Get Your Health Back on Track

Summary Points:

  • This article was written by a doctor, so it’s probably a respectable resource.
  • Drinking juices allows the gut to rest and not work as hard, so phytonutrients can be absorbed more easily.
  • Cleanses rest the liver, which is often overloaded with toxins, so much so that it can’t keep up with how much junk we put into our body.
  • Cleanses do the thinking for us, we don’t have a choice in what to eat so it breaks the habit of making unhealthy choices.
  • Cleanses jumpstart weight loss by curbing the appetite and providing a naturally hypocaloric diet, so your body will “naturally start losing weight.”
  • Juicing ensures proper hydration, allowing metabolic and bodily functions to carry out more efficiently.

OK, OK, but what about the opposite side of juice cleansing. Why is it so polarizing and why do so many people advise against it?

4 Myths About Juice Cleansing

Summary Points:

  • Cleanses and juicing programs that last 3-5 days (the typical length) are expensive.
  • There’s no scientific evidence backing long-term health benefits claims made by juicing companies.
  • A healthy set of lungs and kidneys, as well as liver and GI tract are in a constant state of cleansing and detoxifying the body, so why do you need juice to do what your body already does naturally?
    • In regards to the “overtoxifying” point made in the previous article above, if your liver was not able to handle the overload of toxins you ingest, well, you would likely be dead by now.
  • The weight loss from juice cleanses is likely from water elimination, as the body burns through its glucose stores for energy, it pulls water out with it.
  • The lack of calories leads to irritability, shakiness, headaches, as well as constipation from a lack of fiber.
  • The “glow” many people experience from a cleanse may just be psychological.
  • The weight loss is unsustainable, rendering juice cleanses a “quick fix.”

So what’s the verdict? Both articles bring out excellent points, though on opposite sides of one another. I’m leaning clearly towards the second article, which also happens to be backed by a dietitian. I just simply don’t see how cleanses can really detoxify your body and jump start healthy weight loss.

From what I learned throughout graduate school and my dietetic internship, providing an inadequate amount of calories can put your body in starvation mode, encouraging it to hold on to as much fat as possible (your long-term energy storage) while expelling protein, causing you to lose muscle mass. Additionally, your liver and kidneys are natural detoxifying agents; providing them with easy-to digest juice is not going to lighten their workload any more. If anything an abundance of these nutrients is only going to be expelled in the urine (except for the fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K). Additionally, the juices eliminate the pulp and skins of the fruits, which contain all the fiber. The fiber slows down the absorption of the good nutrients and allows the GI tract more time to get all of those nutrients into the bloodstream. Fiber also slows down sugar absorption, so taking these juices that are naturally high in sugars while eliminating the fiber can lead to blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes. Not good. This may not be the case in juices that are made mainly of vegetables (with one or two fruits to flavor it, like lemon and an apple), but still, these mainly-veggie juices may lack adequate fiber.

My personal advice: If you find that you’re slipping off track during this time of year, don’t be so hard on yourself. Allow yourself the treats and holiday cookies, just don’t go overboard. Instead of eating 5 cookies in the office, try to only eat 2. Make sure the rest of the meals you eat throughout the day are in line with your personal health goals. If you want to keep your weight down, load up on healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins like you normally do. Continue to fit in exercise into your daily routine. When at a party, try to be mindful by savoring every flavor and don’t show up hungry, so you’re the one making the choices, not your grumbling stomach. If you still want to try a juice cleanse, that’s fine, just try to eat at least 1 meal per day that consists of healthy, real, non-pulverized fruits and vegetables with protein.

A cleanse is a simple fix. You’ve been doing so well all year, so why change what you’re doing now? Keep working at building up your healthy habits, because that is what’s going to give you the long-term benefits.

What are your thoughts on juice cleanses? Have you ever done one? What was your experience? Sound off in the comments!

And happy eating!!

The Fascinating World of Farmers’ Markets

This past week I took the day off and wandered down to the amazing Union Square Greenmarket – a large farmers’ market that offers seasonal and regional fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and baked goods from 140 vendors. This market is humongous and full of produce, and I love that I get to see what familiar foods are SUPPOSED to look like, as opposed to the uniformed, shiny, waxy looking produce that you see in supermarkets. The stuff you find at the farmers’ market is the real deal, truly dirt candy, that you can buy and eat in the way that nature intended. However, I’ll admit, the market is also brimming with foods that I have never seen before, and that I may not know what it is or how to eat it. That being said, it’s still really fun to go in and explore the different stalls and learn about different fruits and vegetables that I don’t get to see every day.

Look at that BUTTernut squash (I bought this at a farmers’ market almost a year ago and still find this hysterical)

So, the farmers’ market can be really great, and even though I love food and like to think I’m an adventurous eater, I tend to get very overwhelmed when I browse through the seemingly endless maze of stalls. These are my personal tips for navigating a large farmers’ market, and how to experience it in the best possible way:

1) Go in with a plan

If I go to the farmers’ market without a list, there is a 100% chance I will end up with a million things that I will never actually eat or cook, and will just sit in my refrigerator slowly rotting. Go in with a recipe or a shopping list and only buy a reasonable amount of each food (i.e. 1 bulb of garlic, 2 onions, 2 tomatoes, 1 carton of berries, 1 loaf of bread, etc. etc., etc.) so that it doesn’t spoil and you don’t waste your money. I find that the foods at the farmers’ market spoil a lot more quickly than they do when bought from the supermarket.

2) But don’t be afraid to browse

Farmers’ markets are a great way to kill some time. Look at the flowers, the weird looking plants, the freshly baked goods and jams, and wander the rows and rows of fresh produce. It’s visually pleasing and mentally relaxing.

3) Try something new

Don’t be afraid to try a vegetable, fruit, or herb that you’ve never tried before. I went with a coworker once and she bought kohlrabi – a vegetable that I have never heard of before and was too afraid to buy. We make many regrettable choices in life, and not buying that exotic kohlrabi is one of mine (am I a food geek? Yes, this last sentence absolutely proves that I am).

4) And stick to your staples.

I always buy the same produce at the grocery store: onions, carrots, celery, spinach, grape tomatoes, a few apples, bananas, and garlic. All of these are common staples at the farmers’ market, and are offered in different varieties and strains to help me switch up my daily flavors. Think orange and yellow tomatoes, different varieties of lettuce, colorful purple carrots, etc.  They’re also sold at a much cheaper price than at the supermarket. The food at the farmers’ market is likely better than organic foods and are a fraction of the price.

5) Touch everything (ew). 

Make sure what you’re buying is in good condition and ripe (or not yet ripe, depending on the food). Don’t be afraid to really feel what your food is supposed to feel like in its most natural state.

6) Wash everything (ok, good). 

I mean, just reread number 5. This one should be self-explanatory.

7) Talk to the vendors

There’s no better way to learn about about the food you eat than to talk to the source directly. Sometimes I feel that living in the middle of the city where takeout rules what’s for dinner and there’s not a tree in sight makes me feel detached from nature and wholesome foods. Interacting with who is tending to your food and getting to know more about where your food comes from gives you a deeper appreciation for what you’re eating, which in my opinion makes the whole cooking and eating experience all the richer.

So, this past weekend when I went to the market, I went in with a recipe in mind: this Butternut Squash Gruyere soup from one of my favorite food blogs: How Sweet Eats. I can’t even begin to tell you how rewarding it was to buy all of the ingredients (except for the butter, oil, spices, cheese, and chicken stock) from local farmers. I even think it made the soup taste more velvety, wholesome, and nourishing. So go online or to pinterest and find a recipe that looks good and go. OR, take one of your go-to dinner recipes and switch it up by buying the ingredients locally, see how the flavors change or if it makes you feel any differently!

To find a local farmers’ market near your area in the US, click here.

Check out the recipe for the soup HERE.

Note: I excluded the coconut milk to cut back the calories and used only about 2 oz of cheese as opposed to 6 oz because I honestly did not want to sit there and grate 6 oz of cheese (so time consuming!). The soup still came out absolutely wonderfully and the chickpeas on top added an awesome spicy crunch. This soup also tastes amazing when topped with walnuts and gorgonzola. Enjoy!!