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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

How to Pick the Right Protein Bar for Your Nutritional Needs

GettyImages-1015564600Protein bars make a great snack when you’re short on time or don’t have a big appetite. However, these days there are so many different protein bars available to choose from that picking the right one can be difficult. Some protein bars are relatively healthy; however, many are just fancy candy bars with a lot of sugar and saturated fat, and only a few grams of protein. When picking a protein bar, here are the top five nutrients to look for.

Total Calories

The number of calories, or amount of energy the bar provides, should depend on the purpose you want it to serve (snack, meal replacement, and so on) and the total number of grams of protein the bar contains. Typically, it is appropriate to choose a protein bar with between 150 and 250 calories.

Protein

The amount of protein is typically the first thing people look for when selecting a protein bar. However, how much is sufficient? As an in-between-meal snack, about 10 grams should suffice, whereas bars with more than 20 grams of protein per serving are great options for those who participate in heavy strength training.

As a rule of thumb, usually a bar that contains >25% of its total calories from protein is appropriate. For example, if a protein bar has 150 total calories and 10 grams of protein, about 26% of the calories in the bar come from protein (10 grams x 4 calories/gram = 40 calories/150 calories). However, a bar with 220 calories and just 12 grams of protein would only have about 21% of its total calories from protein.

Saturated Fat

Many protein bars have a high saturated fat content. The average American diet is already high in saturated fat, a nutrient that can increase your LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels and increase the risk of developing heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest consuming <10% of your daily calories from saturated fat, so you should follow similar guidelines when looking for a protein bar. For example, a protein bar that has 150 calories and 3 grams of saturated fat (9 calories/gram of saturated fat) has close to 20% of its calories from saturated fat, which does not follow the suggested guidelines. However, a bar with 200 calories and just 1.5 grams of saturated fat has only 6% of calories from saturated fat, and therefore would be a more appropriate choice.

Sugar

Added sugars are a source of calories, but provide hardly any nutrients. To avoid choosing a candy bar advertised as a protein bar, opt for one with less than 6–8 grams of added sugars. If “sugar,” “sucrose,” or “high-fructose corn syrup” is one of the main ingredients listed on the label (listed first after “ingredients”), it is likely that the bar will contain more sugar than recommended and you should avoid it.

Fiber

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that helps keep you fuller for longer and an important component of a protein bar if you’re utilizing it as a snack or meal replacement. A good suggestion to follow would be to choose a protein bar that has at least 3 grams of fiber. Use caution, however: some protein bars can contain high amounts of fiber, and if you don’t currently meet your fiber requirements, this could cause gastrointestinal discomfort (bloating, gas, and so on).

Protein bars can play a role in a healthy diet. Use these guidelines to make sure you’re picking the right bar for your nutritional needs.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Recker, MS, RD, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition snacks calories protein fiber carbs sugar fats nutrients

Five Nutrition-Focused New Year's Resolutions That Aren’t About Weight

GettyImages-1358382035While having a New Year’s Resolution to “lose more weight” isn’t a bad thing, it’s not easy. And depending on how much you want to lose and in what time frame, it’s not always realistic. To benefit your overall health without focusing on your weight, try setting (and sticking to) some of the following nutrition-related resolutions going into 2022.

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

About 80 percent of the US population doesn’t meet their fruit intake recommendations, while close to 90 percent do not meet their suggested vegetable intake (source: CDC). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage adults to consume around 2–2.5 cups of fruit per day and 2.5–3 cups of vegetables per day. Although this may be a lot for some, simply aiming to eat one additional fruit or vegetable each day is still beneficial.

Drink More Water

Water is essential for the body. It aids in digestion, regulates body temperature, cushions joints, and helps remove wastes from the body. Not drinking enough water increases the risk for dehydration, which can cause dizziness, confusion, fatigue, headaches and dry skin and mouth (source: CDC). A general rule of thumb is to consume at least 1 milliliter of water for every 1 calorie consumed. For example, if you consumed 2,200 calories per day, you would want to aim to consume 2,200ml, or 2.2 liters of water per day.

Consume Less Alcohol

Excess alcohol intake has both short- and long-term health consequences. In the short term, drinking too much can result in risky behaviors, injury, or violence. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of high blood pressure and heart disease, certain cancers, weakened immune system, learning and memory issues, and social problems. Most professional health organizations such as the CDC and WHO agree that men should limit alcohol intake to less than two drinks/day, while women should aim for less than one drink per day (source: CDC).

Decrease Sodium Intake

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest consuming less than 2,300mg of sodium per day to promote optimal health and reduce the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death for adults in the US. However, in the US, the average sodium intake for individuals older than 1 year of age is ~3,400mg/day. Strategies for reducing sodium intake include cooking at home more often, using herbs and spices to season foods rather than salt, and consuming fewer packaged/prepared foods.

Limit Saturated Fat Consumption

Like sodium, excess saturated fat consumption is linked to an increased risk for heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10% of daily calories, while the American Heart Association recommends even less, at less than 5–6% of daily calories from saturated fat per day. Saturated fat is found in most animal-based foods such as beef, poultry, pork, full-fat dairy products, and coconut and palm oils. To cut back on saturated fat, reduce your intake or eat smaller portions of the foods listed above and replace them with healthier options, such as fat-free or low-fat dairy and lean cuts of meat.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Recker, MS, RD, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition resolutions weight loss healthy eating hydration goals new year's sodium alcohol dietitian fruits and vegetables fats healthy living

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

Helpful Kitchen Gadgets for Balanced Eating

GettyImages-673500198When my husband and I got married and combined our kitchens, he was appalled at the amount of gadgets that filled my drawers and cabinets. I have always loved the single-use items such as the pineapple peeler and corer, the avocado slicer, the strawberry-top remover, the banana case keeper—and the list goes on and on and on!

If you are a minimalist and don’t want your drawers and cabinets overflowing with kitchen items, hopefully you can use this list of five helpful gadgets to help with balanced eating.

Pasta Portion Control Container

A serving of cooked pasta is ½ cup, but the average person eats around six servings at a time! This handy pasta portion cooker will help keep those pasta serving sizes in check. Use the basket to portion out 1–3 servings of your favorite smaller pasta noodle. Then place the basket in boiling water; when it is ready you just lift the basket out and the water will drain right into the pot! Then just add your favorite protein and sauce and enjoy. If you prefer skinnier noodles such as spaghetti or fettuccini, there is a hole on the basket to help measure the correct amount. Look for the pasta portion control container here.

Stainless Steel Vegetable Steamer

One product that I use almost nightly is the stainless steel veggie steamer. It is super easy to plop the steamer in a pan with a little water in the bottom. Fill it with your favorite veggie like broccoli, carrots, or cauliflower. Then cover with a lid and cook for around 10 minutes. Perfectly steamed veggies are the result with almost all of the nutrients intact since they aren’t submerged in water or cooked until they are mushy. You can purchase the vegetable steamer here.

Salad Dressing Shaker

One of the first foods you think of when trying to eat healthier is salad. However, you can make a bowl full of veggies very unhealthy if you top it with a high-fat processed salad dressing. If you have ever flipped over the bottle of salad dressing, a lot of ingredients are listed! To cut back on all of those additives, purchase this little salad dressing shaker to make your own. It comes in small and large depending on how much dressing you want to make and is easy to clean and use. Start with some heart-healthy olive oil and add your favorite spices to top your next salad. Purchase the salad dressing shaker here.

Collapsible Salad Bowl

Not having a plan for lunch can be a killer if you have to order in or go out each day. Instead, you could purchase this handy contraption to make bringing your own salads to work much more tasty. This space-saving bowl collapses for storage and has a tray on top for all sorts of toppings or sides. Toss a few whole-wheat crackers, veggies, diced chicken, tuna or egg, and your homemade salad dressing on top and you can have a balanced, high-fiber lunch without having to go out. A fork and spoon attach to the lid so you don’t have to go searching for one at the office. You can purchase the salad bowl here.

Olive Oil Sprayer

The benefits of a Mediterranean diet have been researched and proven. The base of that diet is using olive oil. However, even though olive oil is good for you, it is still very high in calories, so the key is to not overdo it. One way to help with this is to use an olive oil sprayer. This is another gadget that gets pulled out almost nightly at our house. Just spray your pan before adding your protein or veggie, or add a spritz to your cooked veggies when they are done. You can even spray your air-popped popcorn with it too! Just grab your favorite olive oil, fill the container, and spritz away! You can purchase a Misto here.

Hopefully one or all of these gadgets will find their way into your kitchen soon!

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating lunch cooking fats portion control salad

10 Foods That Will Keep You Satisfied with Fiber, Protein, and More

GettyImages-855098134Are you one of those people who are always hungry? Are you constantly thinking about your next meal or snack and what you’re going to eat? The issue could be that you aren’t choosing meals or snacks that fill you up and keep you satisfied. So the alternative is grazing constantly to get that full feeling.

Luckily there are lots of foods out there that are filling and will keep you satisfied longer. These foods are ones that are high in protein, fiber, or good-for-you fat. Here’s a list of 10 foods to choose when you want to stay fuller longer.

  • Nuts: Nuts have all three things that help keep you full: healthy fat, protein, and fiber. The key is to stick to a serving size because they are calorie dense. Measure out an ounce and enjoy all types of nuts at snack time or meals to keep you full.
  • Avocado: Loaded with good-for-you fat, these tasty treats are a nice addition to a sandwich or salad, or as a dip for veggies. Like nuts, they are very calorie dense, though, so a little goes a long way. Stick to a fourth of an avocado as a serving and enjoy the benefits of staying satisfied.
  • Eggs: Studies have found that protein keeps you more full than carbs. When you eat eggs versus a bagel for breakfast, the eggs win every time for post-meal satisfaction. Start your day with this complete protein; grab a hard-boiled egg for a snack or add it to your salad at lunch and enjoy staying fuller longer.
  • Popcorn: This tasty snack is high in fiber, which helps with the full factor. It also takes up a lot of volume, which means a serving size is pretty large (3 cups!) for a snack. So, if you like to reach for a larger snack, popcorn could be your new go-to item!
  • Berries: Loaded with fiber, these sweet and tasty fruits are an excellent way to increase your fullness factor. They can easily be added to breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack time. The cancer-fighting antioxidants are just an added bonus.
  • Cottage cheese: Dairy foods are high in protein, which is a plus for keeping you full. Cottage cheese is also a great way to vary your snack routine. Toss in some fruit, veggies, or nuts for some crunch, and every day can be a different experience.
  • Celery: If you have heard that celery is a negative-calorie food, you know this a great go-to item for filling you up and keeping you full. It’s low in calories and high in water and fiber content, both of which will help keep those hunger pangs away.
  • Greek yogurt: Another protein-packed goodie is Greek yogurt. Choose a 2% variety to add some fat to your snack or meal. The portion-controlled cup is also nice to help keep the serving size in check.
  • Beans: You get protein and fiber-filled goodness with all of your bean varieties! Toss them into soups, salads, and dips and enjoy the benefits of staying full longer.
  • Sugar-snap peas: Another high-fiber veggie that you can add to your routine is sugar-snap peas. They are crunchy and filling and super easy to prepare. Just wash and go!

Add some or all of these 10 foods to your daily routine and enjoy the benefits of keeping that growling stomach at bay!

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition weight loss snacks lunch protein fiber fruits and vegetables fats

Fad Diet Book Bestsellers for Weight Loss: Buy or Skip?

It seems like every couple of months a new book comes out about a new diet plan for weight loss and shoots to the top of the bestseller list. I decided to check and see what which fad diets are currently topping the list and give you the positives and negatives of them. Of the top eight books, three were related to Whole30 and four were based around the Ketogenic Diet.

GettyImages-855269290.jpgKetogenic Diet (Keto)

This diet plan cuts out all carbs except a very low 20 grams per day, and focuses on a high-fat diet. Doing this allows your body to enter ketosis, where it is breaking down dietary and stored body fat into ketones. The body will now focus on using fat for energy instead of sugar, which is what it normally uses. Protein intake is also lower than traditional low-carb diets to really focus on getting around 75% of your diet from fat.

Pros:

  • Scientifically since you aren’t consuming carbohydrates, your body has no other choice than to burn fat for energy, which results in fat loss.
  • Once you get through the initial stage of getting your body into ketosis, you are less likely to feel hungry, even on a low-calorie diet. This also comes from eating a high-fat diet that will have you consuming more calorie-dense foods.
  • You will reduce your insulin levels and inflammation.
  • Due to the small amount of foods you are allowed to eat, you will more than likely increase your intake of good-for-you fats from nuts, fish, and avocado.

Negatives:

  • It can be very challenging to follow such a strict diet that only allows 10% from carbohydrates and 15% from protein, which is not traditionally how we eat.
  • The first week as your body gets into ketosis can be very challenging with mood swings, hunger, tiredness, and headaches.
  • In order to get so much fat in the diet, most people end up eating a lot of foods high in animal fat or saturated fat.
  • Initial weight loss has been found with this diet, but long term it hasn’t been seen (which may be due to the challenge of sticking to the diet).
  • This diet is very low in fiber, which is needed to keep your heart healthy and keep you full.

Whole30

This diet plan eliminates all sugar (real and artificial), alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, baked goods, junk food and treats (even if they are made with approved ingredients); and no stepping on the scale or taking body measurements for 30 days. You are encouraged to eat real food, specifically meat, seafood, and eggs and lots of fruits and veggies with herbs and seasonings.

Pros:

  • Focuses on real food, so you don’t have to buy special foods and instead can buy everything you need at the grocery store.
  • Encourages healthy fats, lean protein, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Helps to eliminate processed and packaged foods and makes you focus on fresh foods.
  • Discourages replacing junk food with “healthier junk food” made with approved ingredients and encourages no junk food at all.

Negatives:

  • When you eliminate entire food groups such as grains and dairy, you are more likely to be at risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, specifically calcium, Vitamin D, and B Vitamins.
  • If you are choosing non-lean meats, you can be taking in high levels of saturated fat, which will affect your cholesterol.
  • Your fiber levels will decrease when eliminating all grains and legumes (beans).
  • A diet this strict is challenging to maintain long term and may cause rapid weight loss followed by weight gain, which is called yo-yo dieting and has been found to slow down the metabolism and makes losing weight in the future more challenging.
  • If you aren’t used to preparing all of your meals and snacks at home, this will add a lot of time to your typical routine.

If you want to try something new and popular, keep in mind that these diets might not be the best long-term solution due to their strict rules. Both options have some positive aspects about them that can be incorporated into your diet. It never hurts to try something new when the end result is to increase your overall health. Now it’s up to you if you want to spend the money to buy the books and read more!

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: weight loss protein fiber carbs whole30 ketogenic diet fad diets books fats