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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Eating Sustainably: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Food and Food Waste

GettyImages-183040731Did you know it is estimated that food loss and food waste account for more than 8 percent of total human-made greenhouse gas emissions, a leading driver of climate change? According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), it is estimated that 30–40 percent of the food supply (130 billion pounds of food) goes to waste each year. Additionally, the United Nations has claimed that if global food waste were able to represent its own country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, following China and the US. Fortunately, you can help cut back on your personal food waste by reducing, reusing, and recycling your leftovers. Here’s how.

Reduce

Reduce your meat consumption. Animal agriculture is a leading cause of deforestation. Additionally, in the US, livestock and their waste are the largest contributor of methane, a greenhouse gas that has a significantly larger impact on our planet than carbon dioxide.

You can also reduce your consumption of “exotic” or hard-to-find fruits and vegetables and choose those that are locally grown or in season. Check out what fruits and vegetables are currently in season in the USDA Seasonal Produce Guide.

  • You can also do things to reduce your food and food packaging waste.
  • Plan a list for the grocery store to avoid purchasing more food than you need.
  • Choose paper or cardboard packaging rather than plastic.
  • Opt for items available in bulk and limit single-use containers and packaging.
  • Purchase reusable sandwich or snack bags rather than single-use plastic bags.
  • Learn how to properly freeze foods, rather than throwing away leftovers or unused foods.

Reuse

Reuse leftover food. You can find some tips and tricks for reusing leftovers at the Move for Hunger website.

Use plastic water bottles more than just once. Or purchase an aluminum reusable water bottle to eliminate your plastic waste while keeping your drink cool.

Reuse shopping bags as trash can liners, animal waste bags, or fillers for shoes/purses to help them maintain their shape. Or you can purchase reusable shopping bags for your grocery trips to significantly cut back on your plastic waste.

Recycle

Recycle your food waste by composting. Turn your leftover fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, nutshells, newspaper, and more into soil for growing plants, perhaps even those that you can eat. Visit the US Environmental Protection Agency’s guide to Composting at Home.

Recycle paper and plastic products, when and where possible. If you’re not able to add something to the recycling bin, consider other ways you can utilize it.

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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: holidays fruits and vegetables food waste seasonal eating Earth Day recycling sustainability

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

How to Make Favorite Thanksgiving Foods Healthier

GettyImages-621721636Although the holidays are meant to be a time of joy, they can be stressful for some, especially when you’re trying to lose or maintain weight, or just be more conscious of your eating habits. The best way to avoid these health-related stressors during the holidays is to prepare for them.

Following are seven of the most commonly consumed Thanksgiving foods and some suggestions for how to make them a bit healthier. Just by incorporating two or three of these simple swaps, you can reduce your intake of some not-so-health-friendly nutrients (like saturated fat and sodium), while still enjoying the seasonal foods you love and look forward to year after year.

 

Turkey

Opt for light turkey meat over dark meat because light turkey meat tends to have fewer calories, less saturated fat, and more protein per ounce. Removing all or some of the skin prior to eating can also help reduce total caloric and fat intake.

3 ounces of light turkey meat contains:

  • Without skin: 125 calories, 1.8g fat, 0.5g saturated fat, and 25.6g protein
  • With skin: 150 calories, 3.8g fat, 1.1g saturated fat, and 26.3g protein

3 ounces of dark turkey meat contains:

  • Without skin: 150 calories, 5.1g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, and 23.6g protein
  • With skin: 175 calories, 8.5g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, and 23.2g protein

Stuffing

Replace the bagged or boxed stuffing with homemade, which is typically lower in sodium and other processed ingredients. Use whole-grain bread in place of white bread to increase fiber content.

Incorporate more vegetables (celery, onion, carrots, broccoli, corn, mushrooms) and herbs (thyme, sage) to increase the nutrient content and overall flavor of your stuffing without adding too many extra calories and salt.

Use a reduced-sodium broth in place of regular broth, which can have several hundred additional milligrams of sodium per serving.

Green Bean Casserole

Use fresh steamed green beans, rather than canned, to decrease sodium content. Or you can choose canned green beans with “no salt added.” Use reduced-sodium cream of mushroom soup and add real sautéed mushrooms for additional flavor and fiber. Try air-frying onions rather than buying packaged fried onions.

Cranberries

Use fresh cranberries in place of canned cranberries or cranberry sauce to help reduce added sugar and total caloric intake. If you must use canned cranberries, select those that are naturally sweetened without added sugars.

Potatoes

Use low-fat milk, plain Greek yogurt, or low-sodium chicken broth in place of cream, butter, or margarine. Use real potatoes with the skin intact to boost fiber content. Limit the amount of butter, salt and gravy added to mashed potatoes.

Instead of sweet-potato casserole, try roasted sweet potatoes with brown sugar, chopped nuts, and a little bit of butter available for topping.

Beverages

Limit alcohol and other calorie-containing beverages, such as soda and juice. If you do choose to consume alcohol, opt for lower-calorie drinks (seltzers, light beer, dry wines) and calorie-free mixers such as seltzer water or diet sodas. As always, be sure to consume in moderation; alcohol may make you more inclined to overeat.

Dessert

Opt for 100% pure pumpkin and reduce the amount used (or consumed) as filling to help cut back on calories. Skip the whipped cream, ice cream, and other toppings that may add additional calories.

If you’re given a choice, pumpkin pie tends to be lower in calories than pecan pie.

For many people, Thanksgiving may be the only time a year they get to enjoy pumpkin pie. If that’s the case for you, it’s perfectly acceptable to indulge; just be sure to practice portion control.

***

Don’t have any say over what you and your family are having for Thanksgiving this year? Check out these tips for a practical, healthy holiday. Additionally, be sure to stay active, practice moderation and portion control, and remember: Thanksgiving happens only once a year and is much more than the food we pile onto our plates.

For more great recipes from NIFS dietitian, Lindsey Recker, go to https://www.nifs.org/healthy-recipes-nifs.

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

Topics: healthy eating holidays Thanksgiving alcohol fruits and vegetables turkey

Does Cranberry Really Cure Urinary Tract Infections?

GettyImages-1193255058Cranberries and cranberry-derived products are commonly used as a remedy for urinary tract infections, especially among women. Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs), specifically A type (PAC-A). It is argued that this component of cranberries fights and prevents UTIs, just as an antibiotic would. However, there is much controversy on this topic.

Clinical Trials and Studies on Cranberry for UTIs

Freire Gde C. completed a large review of 24 studies totaling 4,473 participants. In the research, there was minimal evidence suggesting that cranberry products prevented UTIs. Within those studies, cranberry juice decreased the number of UTIs in women who had recurring UTIs; however, the studies that showed a significant efficacy were small trials. When studies grew in size, the difference between the placebo groups and the cranberry groups shrank.

Furthermore, a Stapleton AE et al study completed a randomized control trial of 176 participants, of whom 120 were taking cranberry juice and 56 were given the placebo over the course of 168 days. The adherence to instruction was similar between both groups (91.8% and 90.3%). However, cranberry juice did not significantly reduce UTIs.

The Maki KC et al study argues that cranberry juice intake does indeed lower the number of UTI episodes in women with a UTI history. In their RCT, 185 women were given 240-mL cranberry juice each day for 24 weeks, while 188 women were given the placebo. The cranberry group had 39 UTIs, while the placebo group had 67 UTIs. This makes the differences significant, meaning cranberry juice did indeed work.

So, why do some trials show significance while others do not? Occhipinti A et al1 suggests this is due to the lack of authentication of cranberry products used (some are not really cranberry-derived). Thus, the products used do not contain PACs-A, which are what scientists claim fight the UTI. In their study, they authenticated and measured the PCAs-A in the cranberry product given. They gave one group a cranberry product with 36 mg PACs-A two times daily and another group with the same number of participants a product with no PACs (placebo). After 7 days, a significant difference in colony forming unit/mL counts (via urine cultures) was found between the placebo and the PACs-A group. The PACs-A group had significantly fewer colonies. The argument here is that for cranberry products to work, the cranberry product must be carefully authenticated to ensure that it indeed contains PACs-A, which is a component typically lost in processing.

The argument here is that for cranberry products to work, the cranberry product must be carefully authenticated to ensure that it indeed contains PACs-A, which is a component typically lost in processing.

Drug Interactions, Additive Effects and Side Effects

Lexicomp, a drug database used by medical professionals, still advises people to monitor cranberry intake while taking warfarin; however, there is little research to suggest the two adversely interact. Since cranberry juice is acidic, it is important to avoid drinking it within 2 hours of taking erythromycin, a common antibiotic, because it will decrease metabolism of the drug.

Common side effects of cranberry are nausea, vomiting, tightness in the chest, itching, cough, swelling of the face or lips, seizures, GI upset, and loose stools.

The Clinical Bottom Line

There is little evidence that suggests cranberry products decrease UTIs, mainly because the PACs-A have been lost in the processing. Although people are welcome to use cranberry-derived products, I would warn about the GI upset that can occur with excessive use, the cost of cranberry tablets, lack of authentication of the products, and added sugar content in the juices. Because of the lack of evidence, I would not advise individuals to spend their money on cranberry tablets. I would also argue that the risks associated with added sugars in the juices outweigh the small chance of preventing a UTI. If you insist on using cranberry for UTIs, be sure that it contains the bioactive PACs-A.

Further Research Is Needed

Much of the research done to prove cranberry juices and products prevent UTIs fails to address the authentication of the products used, and whether they even contain the bioactive PACs-A. I think further research should include authentication of the products used. If they do that, they may see that cranberry can indeed reduce and treat UTIs.

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition supplements fruits and vegetables dietary supplements food as medicine infections cranberry home remedies juice

Busting Salad Myths: Eat a Well-Built Salad (If You Want To)

  • “I am going to eat a salad because I’m on a diet.”
  • “I am going to eat a salad to clean my pipes.”
  • “I am going to eat a salad because that’s the only way I know how to eat my veggies.”
  • “I am going to eat a salad because I hear that’s how I can be healthy.”

GettyImages-1176386162Come on. We've all heard this before—from friends, from coworkers, and possibly from our own mouths. I swear, salads are easily the most famous “diet food.” Why is that? Do we really have to eat salads to lose weight, clean out our “pipes,” or be healthy? In this blog I break down each of these claims and then talk about ways to improve your veggie game!

“I am going to eat a salad because I’m on a diet.”

This is usually said when someone is trying to lose weight or be “super healthy.” First, to lose weight, it is widely understood that we must burn more calories than we eat. Thus, we try to minimize our calories to lose the weight. Second, people think that if they eliminate all “processed foods,” they will automatically become healthy. The idea behind salads is that they’re “healthy,” “low-calorie,” and blah blah blah.

Guess what? Salads can quickly turn into a high-calorie snack or meal and become full of unhealthy saturated fats and sodium. For example, let’s look at the Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad from Wendy’s. Sounds healthy, right? They even market this salad as healthy. A full salad has 530 calories with 34 grams of fat, only 15 grams of carbs, 43 grams of protein, and 1060mg of sodium. First off, that’s not a big salad for all those calories—which will make maintaining a caloric deficit (for weight loss) difficult. Finding foods that can be eaten in large volumes for lower calories tends to help satiety during weight loss attempts. Also, 34 grams of fat is a lot for one meal. The RDA for a full day is 44–77 grams for someone eating 2,000 calories. Now look at the sodium: 1060 mg of sodium is close to half of the RDA for sodium. Yikes. Hey, at least the salad has protein. They got that part right.

In addition, health is not just about physical well-being. Salads, if built correctly, can most certainly offer physical benefits. But health includes mental and social well-being too. Think for a moment. Does the salad taste good? Am I satisfied? Can I keep this up forever? Am I happy with this? If the answer is “no,” consider a different approach. Any change you make should be one that is sustainable for life. In the midst of making these changes, you must evaluate your physical, mental, and social health at all times. How can you improve one part of well-being without sacrificing another? Finding that balance is the key to SUSTAINABLE, healthful lifestyle changes, which ultimately leads to lifelong results.

“I am going to eat a salad to clean my pipes.”

Fiber does wonderful things. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is found in oats, beans, peas, berries, apples, plums, and sweet potatoes—all of which can be found in salads. This type of fiber helps absorb water, which adds bulk to stools. There is also insoluble fiber, which helps to get things moving in the GI system, thus helping to relieve constipation. Insoluble fiber is typically found in whole grains, the skins of fruit, skins of beans, seeds, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, zucchini, and tomatoes. These foods are even more common in salads, which gives you a hint as to why having a bowel movement after eating salad is not uncommon.

Fruits and vegetables, particularly lettuce, have high water content. It’s no secret that water assists in the digestion process. In this case, fiber works best when it absorbs water. This makes your stool soft and bulky.

“I am going to eat a salad because that’s the only way I know how to eat my veggies.”

This is valid. Vegetables can be super boring. Finding new ways to enjoy veggies can be a challenge. However, there are ways to eat veggies without having to eat a salad. Raw veggies with dip, grilled, steamed, and roasted are all ways to have veggies. Do not skimp on the spices and seasonings, such as garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, Italian seasoning, and ginger. I promise that makes the veggies taste 100,000 times better.

“I am going to eat a salad because I hear that’s how I can be healthy.”

Read above. I think you got the point.

Bottom line: You do not need a salad to be healthy, lose weight, or clean your pipes. If you like salads, eat them! But be careful of the added fats that tend to sneak into salads. If you do not like salads, find another way to eat your vegetables. Roasted, steamed, raw, and grilled are all yummy ways to eat veggies. Check out my recipe page for more ways to cook veggies. Remember, it’s important to like and enjoy the foods you eat.

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition weight loss healthy eating digestion fiber fat fruits and vegetables salad

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

Pump Up the Produce Power in Winter Meals

GettyImages-485131020-1We’ve all been here before: When it seems the long, gray winter will never end and you make one more pot of hearty vegetable soup or another casserole; or when the lackluster tomatoes and almost pinkish-white strawberries just aren’t cutting it. It’s time to get creative!

As a Hoosier native myself, I long for the tastes of summer more often than not, especially this time of year. What are some ways to get more variety into your diet in late winter? Look no further: we’ve got some ideas to tide you over until you can get your hands on some summertime Indiana-grown treasures!

Breakfast

It’s smoothie time! Smoothies are fantastic because they are nutritional powerhouses, can disguise fruits and vegetables that you might be on the fence about, and never require a recipe. To keep it simple, use frozen-fruit mixtures and rinse out your blender as soon as you are done to avoid having to scrub off dried-on fruit fibers later.

A basic guide on where to start: Combine 1 cup of frozen fruit with about ¾ cup liquid (I personally love vanilla-flavored soy milk). Optional add-ins could include a handful of kale or spinach (what better way to hide those greens than a sweet smoothie?), a spoonful or two or chia seed or ground flaxseed, a little peanut butter or almond butter, rolled oats, or even a banana to add a little extra creaminess. Top with a drizzle of honey or a little granola.

Lunch

A light and citrusy dressing is a refreshing way to beat the winter blues! A favorite dressing in my house is this orange tahini dressing. It tastes delicious on any leafy green, so if you aren’t a fan of kale, just top your spinach or romaine lettuce with it instead. Whisk together the following ingredients in a bowl:

2–3 tablespoons orange juice (fresh-squeezed preferred)

2½ tablespoons tahini

2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons orange zest

Salt and pepper to taste

Massage dressing into kale and top with chopped apple, grapefruit (peeled and sliced), and pepitas or nuts of your choice (walnuts are my go-to).

Dinner

I’m not sure about you, but if something requires a recipe, there’s a big chance I might never get around to making a dish—we all have our reasons, right? Roasted cauliflower and chickpea tacos are one entrée that requires no real recipe to follow. Trust me, it would be really hard to mess this one up, even if you consider yourself a novice in the kitchen!

  1. Toss chickpeas (from a can!) and chopped cauliflower on a baking sheet with a little olive oil and a variety of spices like chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt.
  2. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees until chickpeas are crisp and cauliflower is tender (about 30 minutes).
  3. Take a corn tortilla and place cauliflower and chickpeas on top. Top with chopped cabbage, jalapeño (if you like spice!), avocado/guacamole, and cilantro. Drizzle with lime juice. Sour cream and cheese are optional.

This recipe will deliver that healthy and refreshing dinner entrée you’ve been longing for since Thanksgiving!

Eat in Season and Use Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Use these in-season veggies to avoid breaking the bank—broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, parsnips, kale, potatoes, sweet potato, butternut squash, and Brussels sprouts.
  • Use in-season citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, clementines, and tangerines.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are an absolute must! They are more nutrient-dense than their produce section counterparts because they are picked and frozen when they are at peak ripeness.

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

Topics: healthy eating lunch breakfast winter fruits and vegetables seasonal eating produce

The Carb Conundrum: Avoid Them for Weight Loss and Healthy Eating?

GettyImages-902999388In recent years, carbohydrates have seemingly been blamed for our health problems. Many of us now shun potatoes, rice, and even fruit in fear of the dreaded pounds that could come with eating carbohydrates. While many diets demonize carbohydrates, others preach the benefits of higher-carbohydrate diets. Through all of this confusion, I will try to set the record straight.

No single food or food group should be blamed for weight gain or credited with weight loss. Carbohydrates span a broad range of foods, from beans, fruits, and veggies to pizza, pasta, cookies, and French fries. While we hate to oversimplify the equation, weight gain does come down to calories in versus calories out. If we eat too much of anything—even fruits and veggies—we will gain weight. The caveat is that fruits and veggies are nearly impossible to eat too much of because they are rich in fiber and low in calories, while other foods can pack a calorie-dense punch in a very small serving.

How easy is it to eat an entire bag of Chex Mix while you might struggle to eat half a cup of carrots?

Carbohydrates and a Healthy Diet

Carbohydrate-rich foods form the foundation of a healthy diet. The National Academy of Sciences recommends people consume 45–65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates. In a 2,000-calorie diet, this is equivalent to 225–335 grams daily. Carbohydrates are crucial for energy production in the body for working muscles, fuel for proper mental function, supplying vitamins and minerals, as well as providing large amounts of fiber for decreasing risk of chronic disease like heart disease and cancer. Many foods contain carbohydrates: whole grains, fruits, starchy veggies, milk and dairy, pasta, beans, and refined/processed foods.

Should I Avoid Carbohydrates?

In recent years, many have found lower-carbohydrate, higher-protein diets to be beneficial in weight loss. However, the long-term effects of such a diet are not well studied. Many “low-carb” diets can lead to an increase in foods like red meats, processed meats, and saturated fat–containing foods like cheese, butter, and cream. Carbohydrate-rich foods provide numerous health benefits and you should not avoid them. Certain areas of the world called Blue Zones offer an interesting look into the benefits of a higher-carbohydrate diet. They have not only the highest rates of longevity but also very low rates of chronic disease. Blue Zone populations consume 95% of their calories from vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes and eat meat sparingly.

“Good” Versus “Bad” Carbohydrates

But it is important to think about the types of carbohydrates you are consuming. Unrefined carbohydrates are unprocessed, whole foods that are high in fiber (and many other nutrients) and digest more slowly. Unprocessed, whole-food carbohydrates help you feel fuller and get you through the day feeling less hungry. Processed carbohydrates lack fiber and may have added oils and sugar—they can leave you feeling low on energy as they are quickly digested and burned for fuel. Unprocessed carbs are key to long-term health and can help with weight control. They also guard against type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular problems. Try to limit most processed carbohydrates because they are low in nutrients and high in calories.

Unprocessed Carbohydrates

  • Oats
  • Brown rice
  • Fruit
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables

Processed Carbohydrates

  • Soda
  • Baked treats
  • Packaged sweets/snack foods
  • Fruit juice
  • Breakfast cereal
Did you now that in 1915 the average American consumed 17.5 pounds of added sugar in a year? As of 2011, the average American consumed over 150 pounds of sugar annually!

In summary, carbohydrates should be welcomed to not only help with weight management but also prevent disease. Make most of your carbohydrates whole, unprocessed foods for a balanced, healthy diet while enjoying the processed/refined carbohydrate foods in moderation. And if you’d like some help with figuring out what to eat, look into Nutrition Coaching at NIFS.

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

Topics: weight loss healthy eating calories endurance disease prevention fiber energy whole foods carbs fruits and vegetables carbohydrates longevity

Are You Eating Enough Fruits, Vegetables, and Other Whole Plant Foods?

GettyImages-1142790917“Aim to consume a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables.”

“Make half of your plate a fruit and vegetable.”

“Consume 5 to 6 servings of vegetables and fruits every day.”

This nutrition advice has been the standard from physicians, food and nutrition scientists, and even dietitians. However recent research is revealing that just as important as quantity may be the diversity of your diet. What fruits and vegetables do you pick up from the store on a weekly basis? Do you spend a significant amount of time in the produce section and fill your cart with plant foods? Or do you end up lingering for half an hour in the center aisles and packing your cart with processed food products?

The SAD Truth About the Standard American Diet

Check out these scary statistics… The standard American diet (termed the “SAD diet”) is often very high in animal protein, saturated fats, added sugar, and refined/processed foods. In fact, it is estimated that the average American consumes 32% of their calories from animal foods, 57% from processed foods, and only 11% from whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and nuts (Source: USDA). Three out of four Americans don’t eat a single piece of fruit in a given day, and nearly 9 out of 10 don’t reach the minimum recommended daily intake of vegetables (Source: National Cancer Institute)!

Promote Gut Health with Whole Plant Foods

To create a healthy gut microbiome (meaning the trillions of bacteria that live in your digestive tract), increase the variety of whole, plant foods in your diet. The American Gut Project found that individuals who ate 30 or more different types of plant foods every week had gut microbiomes that were more diverse than those who ate 10 or fewer types of plant foods every week. A healthful plant-based diet improves the health and diversity of your gut microbes and may help prevent conditions like obesity, heart disease, inflammation, and diabetes by turning the genes on and off that affect these conditions.

How to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

I often find myself picking out the same fruits and veggies every week, and this has made me stop and think about what’s in my shopping cart—if I bring it home, I will usually eat it! Freezing fruit and veggies is also a great way to make sure nothing goes to waste before it’s used. Below I offer some advice on how to add more plant foods into your weekly routine. I would also like to challenge you to see how many different fruits and vegetables you can eat this week—anything that is a whole plant food and that you eat a decent portion of counts. The goal is to not only increase plant foods in your diet, but also the diversity.

  • Aim to include a piece of fruit and one vegetable at every meal—including breakfast! Instead of a fried egg on a piece of bread, scramble the egg with spinach, mushrooms, or onions. For an even bigger impact, replace your egg with soy and make a tofu scramble.
  • Eat two meatless meals during the week. Replace your animal protein with beans or lentils, or try making your own veggie burger.
  • Make snack time a chance to shine. Skip the vending machine and bring carrot sticks with hummus, a piece of fruit, dehydrated fruit, or mixed nuts.
  • Try smoothies. Smoothies are a great way to disguise vegetables if you have trouble hitting your goals. Add spinach, kale, avocado, or celery to a smoothie. The strong flavor of the fruit hides most of the flavor of these greens and eliminates issues with texture many people face with avocado.
  • Ditch refined grain products like noodles, white bread, and white rice. Try spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles in place of spaghetti noodles, or try cauliflower “rice” in place of white rice. Instead of crackers or bread, use sliced cucumbers for crackers or Portobello mushrooms, peppers, apples, or lettuce for wraps/bread.

What I’m Eating

Here’s peek at my list of plant foods consumed over the course of three days. You’ll notice a lot of repetition, so by midweek I am still only at about 15 different types of plant foods. I have 15 more to go by the end of the week!

Sunday

  • Breakfast: Apple
  • Lunch: Lettuce, veggie sushi (asparagus, cucumber, avocado rolls)
  • Dinner: N/A (no veggies! Even dietitians sometimes eat just a bowl of cereal—oops!)

Monday

  • Breakfast: Rolled oats, banana, ground flax
  • Lunch: Roasted asparagus, grapes, avocado (on toast), roasted chickpeas
  • Dinner: Kale, red bell pepper, cherry tomato, carrots, roasted chickpeas (all combined as salad and topped with olive oil and lemon juice)

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Rolled oats, strawberries, ground flaxseed
  • Lunch: Apple, kale, red bell pepper, cherry tomato, carrots
  • Dinner: Roasted asparagus, grapes

Stay tuned for updates on the “30 Plant Foods Challenge” here at NIFS—can we find a member who eats more than 30 plant foods weekly? Do you think you can do it?

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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 gut health whole foods fruits and vegetables plant-based

Fresh Foods for Healthy Spring Meals

Brussel Sprouts_Cropped_1000x758The never-ending cold and dreary winter weather is coming to an end finally. After months of staying in and hibernating on chili, casseroles, soups, and stews, it’s time to break out the fresh and colorful foods! This is the perfect time of year to experiment with more fresh fruits and vegetables that are quick and easy and oh so good for you!

Here are some of my favorite recipes that I am excited about adding into the spring and summer rotation.

Brussels Sprouts Salad

FOR THE SALAD

4 dozen Brussels sprouts (trimmed and sliced thin)

8 oz center-cut bacon (cooked and coarsely chopped)

1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

FOR THE DRESSING

Juice of 1 lemon

¼ cup maple syrup

½ cup olive oil

1 small shallot (minced)

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a large bowl, toss together the Brussels sprouts, bacon, pecans, and grated Parmesan cheese.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, maple syrup, olive oil, shallot, and salt and pepper until thoroughly combined.
  3. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to ensure that all of the ingredients are evenly moistened.

The salad can be served immediately, or refrigerated for up to 4 hours before serving (if making further in advance, keep dressing separate until ready to serve).

Eggplant and Goat Cheese Bake

3 thin eggplants, sliced into ¼-inch-thick slices

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1–1½ cups medium tomatoes, chopped into 1-inch cubes

4 oz. goat cheese

1⁄3 cup basil, roughly chopped

½ cup olive oil for drizzling

  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
  2. In a 13 × 9 baking dish, layer the sliced eggplant, overlapping if necessary. Drizzle a little of the olive oil over the eggplant slices and gently toss them to coat.
  3. Scatter the garlic over the eggplant. Then place the tomatoes evenly over the eggplant.
  4. Crumble the goat cheese with a knife or your fingers and top the tomatoes. Then place the basil on top.
  5. Bake 35–40 minutes, or until the eggplant is softened and the cheese is slightly melted. Serve hot.

Farmers’ markets are opening soon, so take advantage of fresh and local produce to come up with your weekly meal plans! Challenge yourself each week to try a new fruit or vegetable and base a meal around that choice. Have fun!

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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: healthy eating recipes spring local eating fruits and vegetables