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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Lindsey Hehman

Recent Posts by Lindsey Hehman:

How a Hoosier Went Vegan: A Dietitian’s Experience

GettyImages-1147252758A few years ago, I made it my New Year’s Resolution to completely cut out animal products from my diet. I had played around with a couple variations of diets for a few years in college while competing in a Division 1 rowing program—cutting out all red meat, processed meats, and chicken, and only eating fish. Essentially the only things left were the eggs, milk, and cheese. I had been hesitant because cheese was my absolute favorite thing to add to every meal. I dreamed about doing a cheese and wine tour of Europe one day—I was really in love with cheese.

Why and How I Did It

My motivation to go completely animal product–free stemmed from the obvious health benefits that I was learning about so quickly as I finished up my degree to become a dietitian. But it also was influenced heavily by my love for the planet (plant-based diets have an extremely low carbon footprint) and all animals (even the ones that most people consider to be food and not pets).

As you already know, the transition was very slow… over several years. I didn’t go from steak, cheesy potatoes, and a side of green beans with bacon to a full-on Buddha Bowl tofu smoothie overnight! I also researched and talked to fellow dietitians as I made the switch to make sure I was taking the appropriate steps to ensure a healthy transition as well (please don’t hesitate to reach out).

My Top Tips for Transitioning to a Plant-Based Diet

For those who are considering going plant-based, here are my tips that I’ve learned throughout the years.

Start with One Meal at a Time

Pick just one meal a day to make mostly plant-based—don’t worry about the rest of your meals and snacks yet. Instead of a fried egg and bacon breakfast sandwich, replace your bacon and egg with your favorite greens, caramelized onion, sautéed peppers, etc.

Make Your Favorite Meal Plant-based

Do you love spaghetti and meatballs and eat it multiple times a week or a couple of times a month? This is the meal to focus on! Spaghetti and the red sauce are fine as is. Now you just need to find a delicious “meatball” recipe that uses things like beans and lentils and spices and freeze some to save time for the next meal. Pizza can be delicious on its own without cheese, but you can consider adding dairy-free cheese.

Find Your Favorite Brand of Store-bought Dairy-free Cheese

My favorites… and I’ve tried them all!

  • VioLife Feta Cheese (delicious on a cheese board with apple slices)
  • SoDelicious Cheddar (good for pizzas)
  • Miyokos (Whole Foods carries wheels of this delicious brand)
  • TreeLine (small tubs of herbed cheeses that are delicious on crackers)
  • Daiya Pepper Jack cheese block

There are dozens more, and many folks try making their own cheese, but if you can find just one, this makes the transition 100 times easier.

Be Prepared for Restaurants

This might mean expanding your palate and trying new places. Indian, Thai, and Ethiopian are prime examples of cuisines that highlight plant foods over animal foods. But even our favorite fast-food chains have vegan options:

  • Chipotle offers sofritas (tofu).
  • Burger King and White Castle offer Impossible Meat Burgers (remember, moderation is still key).
  • Noble Roman’s offers vegan cheese on pizzas.

As “vegan” continues to be rather trendy, the options are endless. Don’t be afraid to create your own dish and ask for substitutions or leave things off the dish. The Happy Cow app lists vegan options all over the city.

Be Open-minded

Change is hard, especially when it comes to food. Food is something we have a strong connection to. We associate different meals with happiness, sadness, a certain holiday, or a family favorite that has been a go-to every Monday night. My family did our first entirely vegan Thanksgiving two years ago. Despite the fact that the entire immediate family had gone vegan a few years ago, many of our extended family members were not on board with this move. Expose friends, family, and new acquaintances to some of your new favorite dishes at various gatherings and you just might end up with another buddy to swap recipes with!

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition weight loss vegan dietitian plant-based

Staying on Track with Your Healthy Routine During Quarantine

GettyImages-1215666910Take these next few weeks or so and use them to your advantage. We know this is an extremely challenging time, and we want to make sure you feel like you are taken care of. Circumstances are tricky right now, so even if you adopt one new technique, consider that a win! Don’t expect yourself to “eat the rainbow” every day, feel like you fall asleep easily at night from a relaxing day working at home in your pajamas, or get in a 10-mile run each morning. While you shelter at home and stay healthy, keep these tips in mind.

Create balanced meals with shelf-stable products.

Use fresh produce first, and if you feel like you won’t finish your fresh produce before it spoils, freeze it. Try to make half of your plate produce such as spinach, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, or cauliflower. Add some protein like beans (canned or dried) or tofu, and quality carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, potatoes, or quinoa. Remember, beans and grains will get you all of the essential amino acids you need, so don’t shy away from trying shelf-stable beans in place of your usual fresh meat. (Here are some meatless meal staples to look for.)

Have a plan for your meals.

Think “first-in, first-out” and make sure to use your fresh produce and proteins first in order to prevent spoilage. Create a meal plan list for the week and utilize one meal’s leftovers to create the next night’s meal to avoid wasting food. For example, if you had plain white rice to add to a veggie-stir-fry on Monday, consider keeping some white rice on the side to make rice and bean burritos for dinner the next night!

Keep food fun!

Get the family together and have fun experimenting during the week to see who can come up with the most creative meals. It’s like an episode of “Chopped” in your kitchen! You never know what some instant mashed potato flakes mixed with some flour and spices could turn into—potato pancakes perhaps. And make sure to not only keep healthy snacks in the house like nuts, carrot sticks, or apples for nourishment, but some of your favorite comfort foods will go a long way in lifting everyone’s spirits. We have had a lot of fun making popcorn in a pan and homemade bread this week.

Line up activities to do.

Plan a play date for the kids via FaceTime or Zoom. Schedule a remote “girls’ night out” and chat in the basement while watching the same TV show. Don’t go more than a few days without checking in on your friends.

Try meditation and stress-reducing activities.

There are several apps on the market that aim to help you meditate and fall asleep at night. It’s worth a try just to download one and listen while you are in bed at night. Coloring, doing puzzles, going for walks, and virtual therapy sessions with a counselor are other ways to put your mind at ease.

Stay healthy, stay calm—we’ve got this!

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition stress attitude wellness meditation illness prevention meal planning quarantine covid-19

Vitamin C: How Much and Which Sources Are Best for Boosting Immunity?

GettyImages-993119894During cold and flu season, we try to do all we can to prevent illness or speed up how fast we recover from illness. One such strategy many employ is the use of Vitamin C for a natural remedy. Several products are marketed as immune system boosters because they contain large amounts of Vitamin C. Do these products really work? We set out to investigate!

What Vitamin C Can Do for You

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is not made by our bodies. We must take in this vitamin in our diet. It is needed for not only immune function but also for these uses:

  • Form collagen (skin, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels),
  • Repair and maintain bones and teeth
  • Heal wounds and form scar tissue
  • Aid in iron absorption

It can also help prevent cancer as an antioxidant by blocking damage that we are exposed to from air pollution, cigarettes, and UV rays from the sun.

Vitamin C deficiency is extremely rare today, but in the mid-1700s scurvy in sailors was very prevalent. Those at risk of low vitamin C intake are smokers, those with medical conditions that affect absorption (cancer cachexia), and individuals with little variety in their diets.

How Much Vitamin C Do You Need?

The recommended Dietary Allowance for men is 90 milligrams per day and 75 milligrams per day for women. Fruits and veggies are the best source of vitamin C—especially citrus fruits. It can be destroyed by heat, so cooking slightly reduces your intake. However, most of our best sources of vitamin C are consumed raw naturally, and we usually do not have to worry about this. To get a better idea of how to meet your daily requirement with food, here are the vitamin C contents of some common fruits and vegetables that are good sources:

  • Red bell pepper (½ cup, raw): 95mg
  • Orange, 1 medium: 70mg
  • Green bell pepper, ½ cup raw: 60mg
  • Broccoli, ½ cup cooked: 51mg
  • Cantaloupe, ½ cup: 29mg

In short, you can skip the megadoses of Vitamin C at the pharmacy.

Can Vitamin C Treat or Prevent the Common Cold?

In the 1970s, research was released that suggested Vitamin C could successfully treat or prevent the common cold. Several studies since then have been inconsistent and have resulted in some confusion and controversy. To date, the most compelling evidence comes from a 2007 study that showed preventative treatment in the general population did not affect cold duration or symptom severity. However, in the trials involving marathon runners, skiers, and soldiers exposed to extreme physical exercise or cold environments daily as well as the elderly and smokers, there could be somewhat of a beneficial effect. It was concluded that taking Vitamin C after the onset of illness did not appear to be beneficial. Furthermore, at doses above 400mg, Vitamin C is excreted in the urine. A daily dose in the 1000–2000mg range can cause upset stomach and diarrhea.

If you want the benefits of Vitamin C, it is best to consume the recommended Dietary Allowance daily, before the start of symptoms. Ideally, you will get Vitamin C from your food instead of a supplement; you will also get several other important nutrients in addition to your Vitamin C. Remember to make half of your plate fruits and veggies at every meal or blend up a quick smoothie for an easy on-the-go snack, slice up peppers and dip in hummus, or ask for extra veggies on that sandwich, pizza, or salad.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

 

Topics: nutrition healthy eating immunity vitamins supplements fruits and vegetables viruses Vitamin C

Getting Started with Meatless Monday: Vegan/Vegetarian Meal Staples

GettyImages-1136561497Mondays can be hard enough, getting back into the swing of things after a much-too-short weekend. The last thought on your mind is what to cook for dinner, right? You might go out to eat instead, pick up carryout, or eat a frozen pizza for the most painless dinner prep possible. However, what if you opt for something that is not only easy for you, but also healthy for you and the planet?

Meatless Monday is a global movement with this message: one day a week, cut the meat. The goal is to reduce meat consumption by 15% for personal health and the health of the planet. Did you know that over 40 countries participate in Meatless Monday? Check out these easy tips on how to get your Meatless Monday started!

Breakfast

Breakfast, known as the most important meal of the day, is one of the easiest times to make a meatless meal. I understand it can be hard to get out the door on time in the morning, especially if you are also trying to get kids and pets taken care of. Opt for a carbohydrate and a protein at breakfast to create a breakfast that satisfies you throughout the morning.

Meal Ideas

  • Oatmeal + nuts/nut butter + fruit
  • Whole-grain toast + peanut butter + banana slices
  • Yogurt (try Silk soy yogurt) + granola + nuts
  • Smoothies

Staples

Rolled oats, variety of fruit (apple, banana, frozen berries), nuts/nut butters, plant milk, yogurt variety (try a plant milk option!), whole-grain bread.

Lunch and Dinner

I’ve combined these two meals because, honestly, what’s easier than eating dinner leftovers for lunch? Just make sure to cook an extra batch the night before. If you’re not a fan of day-old food, I have a few fresh ideas as well!

Meal Ideas

  • Veggie wraps (hummus + spinach + bell peppers + tomato + avocado)
  • Tofu stir-fry (baked ½-inch cubes of extra-firm tofu + brown rice + assorted veggies)
  • Fajitas (peppers + onion + black beans + salsa)
  • PBJ (fresh fruit slices + peanut butter + side of carrot sticks and hummus)
  • Veggie chili (beans + assorted spices + cornbread)

Staples

Canned beans (black/garbanzo/kidney/pinto beans, etc.), hummus, whole-grain bread, variety of veggies (peppers, onion, tomato, carrots), fruit (apples, berries), extra-firm tofu.

Take Care of the Planet and Yourself

It’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking about switching up your usual routine, but I promise it will be so worth it! You might even find that you actually love chili without the meat or hardly notice it missing when you begin to experiment with the vast array of spices that plant-based cooking uses. Make your grocery list and stock your kitchen with these staples and you’ll be good to go! The year 2020 is all about addressing the needs of the planet as well as ourselves. A plant-based diet has never been easier to try!

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: lunch breakfast vegetarian vegan meals meal planning Meatless Monday dinner

Diversify Your Diet: Try Some Healthy New Ingredients

GettyImages-641965214Do you feel like you get stuck in a rut eating the same things from week to week? On one hand it makes life a lot easier, right? You don’t have to scour through recipes, find that one illusive ingredient on the top shelf in the last aisle you looked in, or put the effort into prepping a meal that claims “30-minute prep” but in fact took you two hours. I completely understand!

What if instead of a total diet makeover you just try a few small things—that might in fact add up to a more diverse diet? And it just might end up being healthier!

Flaxseed

Bob’s Red Mill sells whole flaxseed and ground flaxseed (called “meal”) at most stores—usually next to the baking items or in the cereal aisle by the oats. Flaxseed is so versatile. It’s full of healthy fats and fiber. It has a subtle taste that many won’t notice, especially in small amounts. Flaxseed is great for putting on top of oatmeal, adding to a fruit and yogurt parfait, and even substituting in a recipe as egg (flax egg)! Just make sure to grind the whole seeds as you use them to obtain the freshest healthy fats, or keep your flaxseed meal in the fridge because the fats do start to spoil at room temperature after a few months.

Bananas

Top your toast with something besides butter. Spread a thin layer of nut butter like peanut butter or almond butter on top of toast and add thin slices of banana. It’s a great way to get your protein and healthy, fiber-loaded carbohydrates every morning. Not willing to part with the usual breakfast? Freeze your ripe bananas and blend them with a little peanut butter, milk of your choice, and chocolate chips for a sweet treat similar to ice cream!

Applesauce

Keep unsweetened applesauce in the fridge for occasions where you are baking. Applesauce is a great substitute for oil or eggs. One tablespoon of applesauce is equivalent to one egg, and you can substitute equal amounts for the oil.

Tofu

Trying Meatless Mondays in the New Year? Substitute tofu for any of your go-to meats. But if the texture is an issue, here’s what you do: Grab an EXTRA FIRM block of tofu (usually found near produce), cut into small cubes about half an inch or less, spread on a baking sheet with parchment paper, and bake at 375 for 25–30 minutes or until the tofu is golden brown and crispy. You can then easily toss your tofu into your stir-fry or fajita pan, or toss it onto your salad and avoid that soggy, wet mess that tofu can easily turn into.

Chickpeas

This little legume, also known as a garbanzo bean, is protein-dense and nutrient-rich. Pick up a super-cheap can of these beans in the canned goods aisle and add them in for snacks and meals. Simply toss in a little bit of olive oil, season with a little salt and pepper, and bake in the oven on a baking sheet for 20–25 minutes at 375 until they are crispy. Toss on salads, mix in with quinoa, and top with your favorite sauce (we love a little citrus–olive oil mixture or even a soy-ginger dressing!), or eat them all by themselves.

Try just one of these new ideas this year—you might just find it becomes one of your go-to foods that you’ll grab on a quick weeknight trip through the grocery store.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating protein fiber whole foods whole grains fats

Turn Your Healthy Eating and Nutrition Resolutions into Habits

GettyImages-154906518How many of us are guilty of making a New Year’s resolution and then struggling to stick to it by the time February rolls around? Even with the best of intentions, most of us have trouble maintaining the changes that start off so strong on January 1st. Often these promises to ourselves are centered around our overall health and well-being.

As a dietitian, I see people’s January nutrition goals come and go. What is the reason for this? Practice makes perfect! Recent research has shown it can take anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit—66 days on average! We can’t just jump into a marathon and expect to win. We have to take small steps to get to where we want to be.

The Top Resolutions for 2020 Money and Healthy Habits

A survey of 2,011 U.S. adults (Ipsos, 2019) found that “manage finances better” and “eat healthier” come in at a tie for top resolutions heading into 2020—just in front of “be more active” and “lose weight.” Other resolutions scoring high included “improve mental well-being,” “improve social connections,” “learn a new skill,” and “be more eco-friendly.” Each of these resolutions comes across as somewhat daunting, right? Even as a dietitian, “eat healthier” is somewhat overwhelming to me! What exactly should you do to eat healthier and where do you start?

Let’s make 2020 a great year! Instead of biting off more than you can chew, resolve to tackle a few smaller goals that will help you achieve a bigger goal down the road. Pick just one or two smaller actions to take and solidify those habits before moving on to the next step.

Steps to Keeping Your Healthy Eating Resolution

I’ve put together a few ideas on how to help keep that healthy nutrition resolution going strong throughout the year—check them out below!

In 2020, I resolve to

  • Eat dinner at home three times a week.
  • Eat dessert twice a week—instead of every night!
  • Split entrees with a friend or family member when out to eat.
  • Find an alternative to my usual favorite Frappuccino.
  • Carry a reusable water bottle and drink 64 oz of water daily.
  • Eat a piece of fruit at every meal.
  • Opt for a glass of wine only on the weekends.
  • Bring healthy snacks to work.
  • Create a healthy grocery shopping list and stick to the list.
  • Cut out red meats and processed meats (bacon, lunch meats, sausage).
  • Create a support system—they often have good ideas on how to manage family gatherings, restaurants, new foods to try, etc.
  • Make each Monday a Meatless Monday!
  • Cut out added sugars.
  • Fuel up with a healthy snack before a workout and recover with a healthy snack.
  • Get an air fryer and make your own “chips” and “fries” at home.
  • Recruit a workout buddy.
  • When going out to eat at your favorite chain restaurant, look up the menu and nutrition facts before you go and decide what you’ll have before you arrive.
  • Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast.
  • Go to bed an hour earlier than you usually would.
  • Try a new food every week. Swap chickpea pasta for your normal pasta, try using olive oil in place of butter for cooking, or sample a plant-based milk in place of heavy cream in your coffee.
  • Recreate your plate and make veggies and fruits the main component of your meals—second helpings are a must!
  • Start the day with a healthy breakfast: opt for a little protein with a carbohydrate, like oatmeal with peanut butter.
  • Skip the soda!

Write down the one or two actions from this list that you would like to tackle. And keep in mind, if you start working on those actions on January 1, you will have to actively think about this on a daily basis before it becomes habit—remember, 66 days! Keep in mind that you may need even more time than the other person who picks the exact same goals to get into that healthier habit. Move at your own pace. If something isn’t working, ask for help. And persevere—when you slip up (we are all human), just hop right back into the swing of things. You’ve GOT THIS!

Happy Holidays!

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

 

 

Topics: nutrition healthy habits resolutions healthy eating

10 Simple Ways to Stay Healthy While Celebrating the Holidays

GettyImages-1056454610’Tis the season for swapping Christmas cookies, candy bowls, Hanukah dinners, holiday parties, and New Year’s Eve libations. We’ll take this month to refocus on a 10 simple ways to keep your body properly nourished and healthy this holiday season while keeping in mind that it is okay and certainly encouraged to partake in the 2019 holiday season festivities. New Year’s Resolutions are a great time to start new habits, but why not get a head start?

  1. Embrace seasonal foods. Your favorite strawberries may now be upwards of $5 for a small container, but December is a great time to try out pomegranate and pears. Root veggies, squash, and kale are also easy on the budget and packed with nutrients. (See some recipes here.)
  2. Fit in a body-weight workout. If you can’t make it to the gym, create a circuit at home, or take along some simple workout equipment for travel when visiting friends and family. Head out for an unofficial 5K run, run up and down your stairs, take the dog for a snowy walk, or take commercial breaks to a new level by doing squats and push-ups for the entire break. Alternatively, make a plan to carve out just 15–30 minutes per day to get in a walk around the neighborhood—no matter what the weather might bring!
  3. Start your day off right with breakfast. Front-load your nutrition at the beginning of the day—often the easiest meal to focus on and one that can stay consistently healthy. Oatmeal, yogurt with fruit and nuts, egg (or tofu) scramble, and smoothies are great “go-to” meals.
  4. Try the Plate Method. While you fill your plate with holiday favorites like green bean casserole or mashed potatoes (made with a generous portion of heavy cream and butter), make sure that half of your plate always has some type of vegetable on it. Try roasted carrots, sweet potatoes, asparagus, or green beans for easy sides.
  5. Observe bedtime. Try and stick to a normal sleep routine to give yourself energy to tackle your holiday parties, keep your focus on your health goals, and avoid snacking at 3 a.m.
  6. Have a game plan. What was your biggest obstacle the year before in sticking to your goals? Holiday parties? Make sure to take your own healthier sides. Are there Christmas cookies on the counter and you’re grabbing one every time you walk by? Make a small batch this year and plan to keep them out of sight. Also try portioning out ahead of time. Wrap up each cookie and label it with the day of the week you plan to eat it.
  7. Give healthy stocking stuffers. Give the gift of healthy eating—stuff kids’ stockings with items like clementines or Cuties, nuts, and popcorn instead of Reese’s Cups, M&M’s, or fun-size chocolate bars.
  8. Focus on the moments. Put down your phone at mealtimes and any “down time” you might have. Put together a puzzle, go for a relaxing walk, read a book, and make conversation at mealtimes.
  9. Stay hydrated. 8-12 cups of water/day is recommended. Carry a water bottle around with you—it’s easy to forget to hydrate during the cold months, but it’s crucial to helping control those cravings and to keep your body running in tip-top shape.
  10. Pick a habit. Pick one specific habit to choose and one to lose! Focus on a specific goal. Instead of the more general “lose 10 pounds,” focus on action steps to get there like “Work out every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 30 minutes at the gym” or “Plan to make at least HALF of lunch and dinner at every meal a type of vegetable.” Instead of cutting out sweets completely, make a plan that says, “ice cream happens on Friday nights only.” Or focus on physical activity habits, screen time habits, etc.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: winter fitness healthy eating holidays circuit workout Thanksgiving traveling christmas seasonal eating

Nutrition Label Reading 101: How to Read Your Food’s Package (Part 2)

GettyImages-165661895In part 1 of this blog, I showed you how to interpret the nutrition information on the front of your favorite packaged foods. Now let’s get into the back of the package!

Serving Size and Servings Per Container

This doesn’t necessarily tell you how much to eat, but all of the values on the label apply to this chosen serving size. You might be surprised to see that many items you thought were individually packaged really are telling you that two cookies are 160 calories. Let’s say you eat the entire package (it happens!). You can take the “servings per container” and multiply that by all of the listed values. If two cookies are the serving, but you actually ate the entire bag, just take your 10 servings and multiply it by 160 calories to calculate that 20 cookies would be 1,600 calories.

Calories

For anyone trying to lose weight, it helps to cut back on calorie content, especially calories from packaged foods because they are often empty calories: the food gives your body a lot of calories but provides very little nutrition.

% Daily Values

Unless you are sticking to a strict 2,000-calorie diet, these numbers might not be very helpful for you, so don’t look into these values too much. For instance, 5% DV of fat provides 5% of the total fat you want to eat on a 2,000-calorie diet. In some areas you may need more or less than the 2,000 calorie % Daily Value. Low is 5% or less—aim low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. High is 20% or more—aim high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Total Fat

Total fat sums up all of the following values. Type of fat is extremely important. Often, items that are “reduced fat” end up increasing your sodium and added sugar to make up for what fat would have brought to the table—taste and body. So don’t shy away from fat completely. Just be mindful that fat packs a punch in terms of calories, so you want to practice everything in moderation.

Saturated Fat

The American Heart Association recommends keeping saturated fat to less than 5–6% of your total caloric intake. This means that if you eat about 2,000 calories per day, you will want to keep saturated fat at 13g or less per day. In general, about 3g of saturated fat per serving is a good goal to aim for, but make sure to try and stick to no more than 13g per day. The majority of saturated fat comes from animal products such as beef, pork, poultry, butter, cream, and other dairy products.

Trans Fat

The goal is 0g of trans fat. Keep an eye out in the ingredient list for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. A trans fat ban is going into effect; however, the grace period means you may still have to watch for this harmful type of man-made fat. If a small enough amount exists, the serving size can be altered, and manufacturers may list trans fat as 0g even if there is a tiny amount of trans fat in the product.

Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated Fat

The “healthy fats!” These fats may not always be listed. There isn’t a big reason to limit them other than they can add a large amount of calories fairly quickly and contribute to weight gain. However, these healthy fats don’t raise cholesterol like the saturated and trans fats do. These fats are found in nuts, nut butters, olive oil, fish, and vegetable oils. We won’t put a limit on these healthy fats because, in general, the more the better because they help increase your good cholesterol (especially if you are replacing an unhealthy fat with a healthy fat—think olive oil for cooking instead of butter).

Cholesterol

The body is capable of making its very own cholesterol from dietary fat intake, so current nutrition recommendations do not emphasize limiting dietary cholesterol; rather, they talk about limiting saturated and trans fat (dietary cholesterol is seen as impacting body cholesterol levels less so than dietary fat does). However, because the science is always changing, try to keep cholesterol to no more than about 200–300 mg/day because any dietary cholesterol is ingested and taken in as simply cholesterol.

Sodium

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300mg of sodium per day. The American Heart Association recommends sticking to 1,500mg or less.

Total Carbohydrates

The sum of your starches, fiber, and sugar (added and natural) [see below]. Carbohydrates have somewhat of a bad reputation, but you ideally want most of your diet to stem from carbohydrates. So don’t shy away from these just because you might see a number you think is too high. Carbs provide your body with most of its energy needs, give your brain all of its energy supply, decrease chronic disease risk (fiber!), are key for digestive health (more fiber, yes!), and help with weight control (complex carbs!).

Dietary Fiber

Most experts agree that the average American should aim for a minimum of 25–30g of fiber per day. On average most of us come in at around 12g/day. See if you can get your 1–2 slices of bread to come in as close to 5g or more of fiber if possible!

Sugars

We aren’t sure if these are natural sugars (natural fruit sugars we don’t worry about!) or added (cane sugar), but we can sometimes deduce from the ingredients list whether most of the sugars are added or natural. If you see high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar/juice, honey, or maple syrup (there are many different names for added sugar!) near the top of the list, the sugar value is likely all added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that men keep daily added sugar intake to less than 36g (9 teaspoons) and that women aim for less than 25g (6 teaspoons) daily. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines are more lenient and recommend 48g or less daily for adults and 30–35g or less for children.

Added Sugars (optional)

Again, somewhere between 25-48g of added sugar daily or less is recommended (see above).

Protein

In general, the recommendation (dietary reference intake) is to consume about 0.36g of protein per pound of body weight daily. Anywhere from 10–30g of protein per meal is a good number to aim for. If you weigh 150 pounds, this means that you will want about 54g of protein daily (about 18g at each meal).

Vitamin D

600 IU or 15 mcg for most adults is recommended (aim for a higher %DV).

Calcium

1,000mg/day for most adults; women age 50+ 1,200mg/day.

Iron

Adult males and women over age 50 need 8mg per day. Women age 19–50 need 18mg. Pregnancy increases this need to 27mg daily.

Potassium

Aim for about 4,700mg of potassium per day (Dietary Guidelines for Americans).

Ingredients List

Pick items that have fewer ingredients—this usually means that they are less processed. Or bonus if the first three ingredients are whole foods. Ingredients are listed from highest weight to lowest weight. When it comes to crackers or bread, look for “WHOLE wheat” as opposed to “enriched flour” to pick breads that contain the entire grain. Whole grain, whole wheat, whole [other grain], brown rice, oats/oatmeal, or wheatberry means the grain is WHOLE. Wheat, semolina, durum wheat, and multigrain mean you might be missing some parts of the grain. Enriched flour, wheat flour, bran, and wheat germ mean there are no whole grains.

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It’s no wonder that we are so confused by labels—there is a lot of information to try and remember and process! The best way to avoid being misled is to avoid most processed foods. With most whole foods (apples, potatoes, oats, etc.), we can be certain that we are not getting too much or too little of any one nutrient. But even dietitians enjoy the convenience (and taste) of packaged foods every now and then, and we hope that the tips in this article help clear up some confusion for you.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition calories fiber whole foods carbs sodium sugar fat carbohydrates food labels

Nutrition Label Reading 101: How to Read Your Food’s Package (Part 1)

GettyImages-955049998Standing in the bread aisle, flipping over the seventh loaf of bread, scanning the fine print, asking yourself which brand is best… Giving up trying different bread after five minutes and just picking what we usually go for—we’ve all been there! I want to help clear up the confusion by offering some recommendations on what numbers to look for and the most important places to look on the label to decide what brand is healthiest, whether that be crackers, bread, peanut butter, granola bars—you name it!

Whole Foods Are Best When Practical

I do recommend, if possible, trying to avoid packaged foods because they generally are more processed or refined than alternative options. For instance, veggie “straws” may be a good option every so often or for packing a quick side option in a lunch. There are some really great packaged options like Larabars that are often less than 7 ingredients and provide a really easy and filling snack, too. But try to make the most of your meal and opt for the real deal: baby carrots, celery, slices of bell pepper, etc.

Being realistic, however, how many of us will actually make the effort to make fresh, homemade bread every day? Of course it’s easier to just pick up this staple at the store and put your time to even better use by going for a walk or spending more time with family and friends, right?

The Front Label

Let’s take a look at the front of the package. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama invited the Grocery Manufacturers Association to introduce Facts Up Front. This voluntary labeling system takes a few key components of the larger nutrition facts label on the back and makes it easier for people to take a quick glance and decipher what they need to.

The Facts Up Front Label displays PER SERVING how many calories and how much saturated fat, sodium, and sugar is in each serving. Some labels may have other nutrients listed such as fiber, calcium, and potassium. Everything that we will discuss about the back of the package (in part 2 of this blog) applies to the front—this just breaks down everything into an easy-to-find, “per-serving” layout!

Nutrition Definitions

There are also a few definitions that are clearly laid out by the FDA that you may see on the front of the package:

  • Low calorie: 40 calories or less per serving.
  • Low cholesterol: 20 milligrams or less of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
  • Reduced: At least 25 percent less of the specified nutrient or calories than the usual product.
  • Good source of: Provides at least 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value of a particular vitamin or nutrient per serving.
  • Calorie free: Less than five calories per serving.
  • Fat free/sugar free: Less than .5 grams of fat or sugar per serving.
  • Low sodium: 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.
  • High in: Provides 20 percent or more of the Daily Value of a specified nutrient per serving.

In part 2 of this blog, I’ll go into detail about the information on the back of the package.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition calories whole foods sodium sugar fat food labels

Is Butter Really Better for You?

GettyImages-1078201394There is good reason for confusion surrounding what might arguably be one of America’s favorite spreads, topping everything from toast to popcorn to potatoes. The butter-versus-margarine debate has been a hot topic for the last several decades and is still a slippery subject. We have begun to understand the possible dangers of our high saturated fat consumption to our health. However, at the same time we are told that margarines are “artificial,” while butter is the all-natural choice. Which do we choose?

So Tell Me: Is Butter Actually Healthy?

In short, no. Saturated fat (found in high concentrations in butter) has been shown to raise “bad” cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease. Saturated fat content may not be helpful in judging healthfulness of foods (coconut oil presents conflicting research), so we need to prioritize foods that we know improve health—and butter is not one of them.

We have enough evidence to know that high saturated fat content in foods definitely doesn’t help us—especially when we get it from the food sources that we do (a high intake of processed meats, cheese, and butter followed by too few fruits and veggies). The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that we aim to keep our saturated fat intake to less than 5–6% of our total calorie intake—meaning if you follow a 2,000-calorie diet, you should be consuming 13 grams or less of saturated fat daily. Foods higher in unsaturated fat lead to lower risk of heart disease, so placing most of our focus on these foods like nuts, avocados, fatty fish such as salmon, nuts/nut butters, and olive oil is extremely important.

Note: The saturated fat content in just 1 serving of butter (1 tablespoon) puts the saturated fat intake at 7 grams. The AHA recommends 13 grams or less on a 2,000 calorie diet.

What About Margarine/Vegetable Oil–based Spreads?

While these options may have less saturated fat and more unsaturated fat (making them slightly more “healthy”), they are still very high in calories and we need to be extremely mindful of how much we are using. Excessive energy consumption will lead to weight gain and chronic health conditions. However, replacement of saturated fat in butter with more unsaturated fat does lower your risk of heart disease.

Try using a little olive oil, canola oil, avocado, hummus, or nut butters in place of your usual butter. Check your ingredients list for “partially hydrogenated” oils on any butter alternatives that you are using. If you see anything that is partially hydrogenated, it means that it contains what is called trans fat—a definite avoid-at-all-costs ingredient. Most food manufacturers have transitioned all of their products away from trans fat.

Note: 1 tablespoon (Earth Balance Original Vegetable Oil Spread) has 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, and 7.5 grams of unsaturated fats.

Saturated fat is found not only in butter but also in meat, milk, yogurt, cheese, nuts, and vegetable oils. Each food has a unique nutrient profile that has a different effect on heart disease. The deeper issue, beyond news headlines and the ever-changing results of various studies, comes down to an obsession with nutrients instead of focusing on foods. We become convinced that we need more fish oil supplements, vitamin C, or collagen. When we try to decrease our “bad” fat/saturated fat intake, we need to make sure we are replacing that high-saturated-fat-content food with something healthy.

Your goal should be to focus on ways to minimize packaged foods and maximize whole foods. Currently, our diets are high in processed meats, sides of fries, loaves of white bread, cereal, chips, cookies, and crackers along with soda and a daily dessert, which has made the US one of the least healthy countries in the world with one of the leading rates of obesity. We do know that large amounts of plant-based foods such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, and nuts in the diet are beneficial despite the seemingly endless supply of perplexing research in other areas, and so the focus is to try and shift the plate toward an eating pattern that emphasizes these plant foods.

We fall back on the idea that more fruits and vegetables can only help us, and this is an area that even dietitians have to remind themselves to work on every single day. Butter is just an addition to a diet that is generally already very calorically dense and high in saturated fat—something we get too much of in our day-to-day diets. Does half of your plate consist of fruits and veggies at every meal? When we create variety in the diet, we minimize the risk of “doing it wrong.” We can be certain that if we are filling our bellies with exactly what Mother Nature provided us, we can avoid falling into an eating pattern that sets us up for an unhealthy life and be even closer to getting nutrition “right”—setting us up for a lifetime of good health and happiness.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating calories fat plant-based