The Pros and Cons of Being a Vegetarian Fitness Enthusiast

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

Pros      

  1. Eating a plant-based diet provides a plethora of antioxidants such as Vitamin C and Vitamin A to fight free radicals caused by exercise (where free radicals are produced at a greater rate).
  2. You are forced to focus on your dark leafy greens like spinach and collard greens and high Vitamin C foods like peppers and oranges to absorb the non – heme iron found in plant foods.
  3. Pre training foods like bagels, yogurt and peanut butter are already a part of your daily intake.
  4. You’re at an even greater advantage to prevent heart disease by exercising and eating the healthy fats such as almonds, avocados and lean proteins like beans and fish.
  5. Your physical activity and plant based lifestyle are dually protective against diabetes. Vegan diets have been shown to lower one’s average 3 month blood glucose.

Cons:

  1. You must make extra effort to get your  8 essential amino acids needed for muscle and hormone synthesis by eating a variety of protein sources like beans, peanut butter, tofu and quinoa.
  2. You may need to take an omega 3 Fatty Acid supplement if you are not consuming deep sea fish. There are vegetarian marine algae forms of DHA available.
  3. Caution – place extra emphasis on eating complex carbohydrates such as whole-wheat pasta, barely, and millet.  Avoid grabbing easy and available processed stand – bys like chips, packaged cookies, and boxed macaroni and cheese.
  4. Don’t fall prey to quick soy proteins sources like veggie burgers, “unchicken” fingers and fake meat. These products are highly processed, high in sodium and artificial fillers. In addition, limit soy intake to whole soy foods like tofu, tempeh, miso and edamame.  Choose one soy food /day.
  5. Bring on the Vit. B12. Vit. B12 is generally not found in plant sources. Milk, Fortified breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast are vegetarian friendly form of this water-soluble vitamin needed for red blood cell synthesis.

How to Get Your Nanny to Follow Your Food Style

Guest Blog by Debra Johnson

Photo Credit: Ioannis Karydis via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Ioannis Karydis via Compfight cc

Many children have special dietary needs that are a result of either a specific lifestyle or a health condition. A child may have an allergy to a specific food, or a family may have chosen to live a vegetarian lifestyle. No matter the reasoning for a special diet, leaving a child with a new caregiver or nanny can be a challenging experience for a parent. It can cause the parent to worry about how well the nanny will follow the child’s diet plan. For this reason, the following ideas are offered to help you teach your nanny the importance of following your child’s food style when you leave your child in their care.
1. Create a contract – When hiring a nanny, it is always a good idea to write up a simple contract that details the hours that they will work as well as other necessary guidelines. For a child who has a special diet, this can be outlined in the contract as well so that everyone understands how important it is for the diet to be followed.

2. Post a menu – Until a new nanny becomes accustomed to the child’s diet, it can be helpful to create a menu of meals for the nanny to follow. This can be posted in a visible area of the kitchen or in a manual that you create for the nanny.

3. Make it convenient – If a child’s diet is complicated, it could become overwhelming for a nanny at first. Therefore, it is a good idea to prepare meals ahead of time that can be frozen and reheated. Additionally, stocking up on approved foods and snacks will help your nanny to include a variety of healthy options for your child.

4. Avoid eating out – Spending a day out can be an enjoyable way for your nanny to provide your child with new experiences. However, navigating the menu at a restaurant can be challenging for someone who has special dietary needs. For this reason, you may prefer to pack a lunch or provide a list of safe food options for days when your nanny takes your child out on a day trip.

5. Post emergency information – Parents should also be sure to leave emergency information with a nanny. This is especially true for children with allergies who may require special medications in the event that they have a reaction. Make sure that your nanny has access to emergency information so that she can act quickly if necessary.

When it comes to special accommodations, a qualified nanny will have no problem making sure that your child’s needs are met. However, it is important to provide support to your nanny by making sure  they understand your child’s health condition and have access to the proper food. By making an extra effort to ensure that your nanny is knowledgeable, you will be able to enjoy the peace that comes with knowing they will provide your child with the best of care.

 

About the Author:

This guest post is contributed by Debra Johnson, blogger and editor of Liveinnanny.com. She welcomes your comments at her email, jdebra84@gmail.com.

The Latest Diet Recommendations for Breast Cancer

The Latest Diet Recommendations for Breast Cancer
By Laura Cipullo and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team

 

Breast Cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women today. It is estimated that 1 in every 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, equaling a quarter of a million women being diagnosed each year. As many of you may know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  In effort to raise the awareness of our EALM readers, we wanted to highlight the importance of diet and lifestyle, on not only your overall health, but also in relation to breast cancer.

1-in-8 Breast Cancer infographic
Photo courtesy of www.nationalbreastcancer.org

The Role of Diet and Lifestyle:

In a recent article featuring Mary Flynn, registered dietitian and co-author of the book “The Pink Ribbon Diet,” she states, “because the majority of breast cancer cases don’t have a genetic link, you have to conclude that lifestyle factors, including diet, play a large role.” The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics takes a similar stance, stating that “while there is no certain way to prevent breast cancer, it has been found that leading a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk and boost your odds if you do get breast cancer.”

Risk Factors:

Highlighted below are the risk factors. However, we want to stress that if you find you fall under a few, or more than a few, of these categories it is important not to panic. If you are concerned, please talk with your doctor and follow the recommendations for when and how often to get mammograms. Here are risk factors provided by the Center for Disease Control:

  • Beginning your menstrual cycle before the age of 12
  • Starting menopause at a later than average age
  • Never giving birth
  • Not breastfeeding post-birth
  • Long-term use of hormone-replacement therapy
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Previous radiation therapy to the breast/chest area, especially at a young age
  • Being overweight, especially in women of the postmenopausal age

What About Insulin?

An article written by Franco Berrino, et al., states that elevated serum insulin levels are associated with an increased risk of recurrence in breast cancer patients1. The authors also found each of the following to be associated with breast cancer incidence: high plasma levels of glucose (>110 mg/100 mL), high levels of triglycerides (>150 mg/100 mL), low levels of HDL cholesterol (<50 mg/100 mL), large waist circumference (>88 cm), and hypertension (SBP > 130 mmHg or DBP >85 mmHg). The article also states that those with both metabolic syndrome and breast cancer have the worst prognosis.1 In addition, recent research has shown significant positive associations between obesity and higher death rates for a number of cancers, including breast cancer2.
 

In other research, omega 3 fats (alpha-linolenic acid, EPA, DHA) have been shown in animal studies to protect from cancer, while omega 6 fats (linoleic acid, arachidonic acid) have been found to be cancer-promoting fatty acids. Flax seed oil and DHA (most beneficial from an algae source) can both be used to increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids. DHA originating from a marine source was found to be the most efficient source. To learn more about fatty acids in your daily diet check out our blog post on Fatty Acids.2

breast cancer awareness ribbon

The Center for Disease Control’s and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ tips on how to help reduce your risk of breast cancer:

  • Get a minimum of 4 hours of exercise per week – aim for a minimum of 30 minutes most days of the week for optimal health. Some experts recommend yoga to breast cancer patients, as the practice of yoga can ease anxiety, depression, and stress.
  • Limit alcoholic beverages to 1 per day, or none at all
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight (a mid range), especially following menopause
  • Eat plenty of:
    • Dark, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, kale
    • Fruits: berries, cherries, citrus
    • Whole-grains: oats, barley, bulgur, whole-grain pastas, breads, cereals, crackers
    • Legumes: dried beans and peas, lentils, and soybeans
    • Researchers and medical professionals suggest that cancer survivors eat a variety of antioxidant-rich foods each day (since cancer survivors can be at an increased risk of developing new cancers).

Diet and Yoga and Decreasing Stress:

Regardless of whether you are an individual with breast cancer, in remission from breast cancer, or woman trying to reduce your risk, the message is to maintain an active life while consuming a largely plant based diet with a focus on consuming omega 3 fatty acids like salmon, trout and sardines.  Find ways to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables such as joining a community agriculture share. Be sure to try the many different forms of yoga for a form of movement and as way to decrease stress. To help manage insulin levels, focus on eating carbohydrates, proteins and fats at each meal and two of the three at snacks. This will slow the absorption of the carbohydrates thereby preventing a high blood sugar and insulin surge. Start with small goals and build upon them each week.

What’s your favorite recipe high in antioxidants? What is your favorite way to decreases stress? Do you have a favorite app that helps you achieve optimal wellness?

 

Breast Cancer Resources:

 

 

References:

1. Berrino, F., A. Villarini, M. De Petris, M. Raimondi, and P. Pasanisi. Adjuvant Diet to Improve Hormonal and Metabolic Factors Affecting Breast Cancer Prognosis. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1089.1 (2006): 110-18.
2.  Donaldson M.S.. Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet. Nutr. J. 2004; 3:19–25.

 

7 Tips to Build Healthy Habits

With the holidays quickly approaching, it may seem like a daunting thing to try to stick to your healthy eating habits.  Here are a few habits to try to stick to not only during the holidays but everyday.  These things can have a major impact on your health and wellness!

1. Stay hydrated!  We often forget about this one, but make sure you try to get at least 6 glasses of pure water a day.  If regular water seems boring try things such as sparkling water or adding fresh fruit and vegetable slices such as oranges, grapefruit, and cucumber to your water to add fresh flavor!

2. Don’t skip meals.  While many of us are on the go, it is important not to skip meals.  This will only slow down your metabolism and cause you to overeat at your next meal.  Keep things such as almonds and pumpkin seeds in your bag as they will provide that extra boost of protein to help satisfy hunger on the go.

3. Try eating a variety of foods so that you do not become bored with your meals.  One way to do this is to select a new fruit or vegetable at the market each week so that it not only allows you to explore a new food but also provides variety.

4. Try to get about 45 minutes of physical activity a day. Yoga is a great way to fit in exercise and wind down during the holiday craze. To enter for a chance to win a free yoga session in New York City’s Jivamukti Yoga Center, click here. While this may seem like a lot for your busy schedule, you can easily break it up into increments if needed, such as taking a 20 minute walk during lunch, taking the stairs instead of elevator, and getting off of the train one stop earlier than your usual stop.

5. Take time for yourself each day.  Whether it is 10 minutes or an hour, do something that helps you relax and is something you enjoy.  It could be taking a yoga class, writing in a journal, or simply reading a few pages in your new book.  This will help you become less stressed, especially during the holidays.

6. With tempting things in your house such as tortilla chips, cookies, nuts, and other snacks, one of the best things you can do is to buy serving size baggies and measure out the serving size into each individual bag.  This not only helps you avoid overeating, but it also helps you visual what an actual portion looks like.  It also makes it easy to grab when you are in a hurry or looking for a quick snack.

7. Set aside one afternoon during the week if you can to prepare most of your meals for the upcoming week.  You can make your stocks and broths, cook your meat, roast your veggies, etc. so that come the busy workweek, all you have to do is add in your fresh ingredients and seasonings.  This will save time during the week but still allow you to have those quality family meals.

Veggie Burgers: How They Stack Up

Are veggie burgers really meatless? Yes, it is exactly as the name suggests—no meat. Yet in the eyes of many meat lovers, comparing the taste and texture of veggie burgers just does not stack up to its meat counterpart. While some are made to mimic the taste, texture color and feel of meat burgers, veggie burgers aren’t just a meat substitute. Veggie burgers are available for those who may not like the taste of meat (but still want something hearty and healthy), have dietary restrictions, share different beliefs or simply just prefer the flavor and ingredients that make veggie burgers stand on its own.

Veggie Burgers

Gone are the days when veggie burgers were the lonesome, meatless option at a backyard barbecue. With the rise in vegetarianism and veganism in recent years, came an increase in consumer demand for more veggie burgers. In turn, the market for veggie burgers has also become widespread. They have successfully made their way on to fast-food menus like Burger King and McDonald’s and are even served by upscale restaurants.

For many vegetarians/vegans, people who are watching their intake of saturated fats or simply prefer the taste of it over a beef or turkey burger, veggie burgers can be a great option! However, if you have ever tried a veggie burger and are still eating veggie burgers today, odds are that you’ve probably tried many. There are dozens of varieties and flavors. Some are too dry or beany, too salty or contain fillers and tastes like cardboard. Then there are some that contain a long list of ingredients that you’ve never heard of before and probably can’t pronounce. On the other hand, there are those that contain less than 5 ingredients, contain wholesome ingredients like vegetables and grains like quinoa, which make it flavorful and savory. Let’s see how these meatless burgers stack up!

How These Veggie Burgers Stack Up

Veggie burgers can be quite delicious, and make for quick go-to lunches. But with so many options in the grocery aisles many are left to wonder, “Which brands are the best?” Not all patties are vegan or soy free. As some of the more familiar ones on the market are Amy’s Garden Burger, Boca, Morning Star, we thought we’d point out some of the ones that are lesser known and reason why we like them (in no particular order).

De Cantos

Vegan: Yes
Dairy, gluten and soy free
Fairly new to the market, these burgers deserve some spotlight.
Each burger contains 5 raw veggies and no fillers like wheat, gluten,
soy, dairy or added sugar. It is “meaty” in the sense that it is fulfilling,
but does not have a “meaty taste.” While the company delivers
locally in New Jersey, if you’re having trouble finding this product,
try looking at Whole Foods!

Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burgers

Vegan: Yes
Soy Free: No
Certified Kosher
Ingredients: Carrots, Onions, String Beans, Oat Bran, Soybeans,
Zucchini, Peas, Broccoli, Corn, Soy Flakes, Spinach, Expeller Pressed
Canola Oil, Red Peppers, Arrowroot, Corn Starch, Garlic, Corn Meal,
Salt, Parsley, Black PepperSome people prefer the taste and texture of “just vegetables” in their
veggie burgers. If that’s the case, then Dr. Praeger’s is just that. Only
downside is that it may be flimsy and may not hold up as well if you’re
throwing it in the microwave. To make sure the patty holds its shape,
it’s best prepared on a grill or flat pan.

Hilary’s Eat Well

Vegan: Yes
Gluten free, dairy free, soy free, corn free, yeast free, egg free,
and nut free.
Plus side: They’re packaged in biodegradable plastic pouches!
Ingredients: Water Millet Quinoa Expeller-Pressed Coconut Oil
Spinach Onion Garlic Psyllium Husk Powder Arrowroot Sweet
Potato Real Salt Apple Cider Vinegar Sunflower Seed OilThis burger is packed with great spices and tastes close to a fresh
veggie burger. For those who are big on texture and don’t like to
be left wondering “Is this a veggie burger??” Well this one holds
its shape and has a balanced texture, not too chewy or soft.

 

Sunshine’s Organic Quarter Pound Original Veggie Burger

Vegan: Yes
Soy Free: No
Gluten free
Ingredients: Organic cooked brown rice, organic ground raw
sunflower seeds, organic carrots, organic spices, sea saltThis burger is rich, savory and packs a slightly nutty flavor. If you
are a fan of sunflower seeds, this is the burger for you.

Are Veggie Burgers Better for You?

When dining out, be mindful that the nutrition content of a veggie burger may vary depending on its cooking process. While the veggie patty itself may be a healthy option, as with ordering any burger at a restaurant, any fixin’s like cheese, condiments, or a side of fries alongside the bun can sometimes stack up in terms of calories and fats.

Our Favorite Veggie Burger

What’s our favorite veggie burger? Ideally, it is the one we can make ourselves!  While making veggie burgers from scratch can call for a bit of time and preparation, if you make them in big batches, you can simply freeze them and voila! You’ve got veggie burgers on the ready, made with your favorite vegetables and grains… ingredients that you yourself know and can pronounce! With a little research, you can find tons of recipes on the Internet. Or, if you want to start with an easy but homemade classic, try Portobello mushrooms. With light marinade, they can be hearty and mouthwatering.

If you haven’t found your “perfect veggie burger” and making one from scratch doesn’t sound very appetizing, don’t give up just yet! With a little patience and perhaps a lot of tastings, it’s possible to find a veggie burger that is more flavorful and delectable (if not more) as its counterpart!

Sustainable Agriculture

You may have heard the word “sustainability” used quite often over the last few years, but what does it mean? Read on to learn what sustainable agriculture is, and how our everyday decisions can make a lasting impact on future generations.

What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is somewhat of an umbrella term used to group several food-related topics under one roof. Sustainable agriculture is a method of producing foods in such a way so that it is mindful of the ecosystem; including but not limited to environmentally friendly practices, health of humans and animals, economic profitability, respects animal welfare, and promotes social and economic equity through fair wages.

Sustainable vs. Industrial

With the many food labels scattered across grocery shelves, it becomes all the more important to understand what sustainable farming is, and what it is not. Since there isn’t a legal definition or rules, a farm’s way of practicing sustainable agriculture may vary.

As you now know, part of sustainable agriculture may include respecting animal welfare. Yet when food shopping, it can be easy to mistaken “cage-free” eggs to be sustainable. While the chicken may not have lived in cages, they may have been raised in overcrowded indoor farms. Today, most of our meat supply is produced on factory farms, otherwise known as Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). CAFOs are industrial facilities where animals are raised in confined areas for mass production. Since the animals are raised in tight quarters, they are often mutilated to adapt to the living conditions, i.e. often chickens are de-beaked. Caged animals are restricted from moving, confined for their entire lives until slaughter. Due to the large scale of animals living in an enclosed area, the result is poor and unsanitary conditions. The method in which factory farms dispose of animal waste also ends up in run off, contaminating our water system. Moreover, with factory farming and mass production came the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hormone use and development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria—the list goes on and on.

Sustainable agriculture is important because every action we take and every decision we make can protect the planet.

Sustainable Farms:

  • Recycle manure as fertilizer – this helps eliminate pollution in air and water systems and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers
  • Controlled use of antibiotics – animals are not given antibiotics on a daily basis but only when they are sick (animal products labeled organic are not labeled organic if they have been treated with antibiotics)
  • Animal welfare – animals are respected and treated humanely
  • Energy – they tend to save energy and decrease use of fossil fuels by using techniques like crop rotation to naturally enhance the soil
  • Food miles – sustainably grown foods are usually sold locally which not only cuts down on gas pollution, but the result is healthier and tastier food
  • Build Community – supporting local business help drive the local economy not only in terms of profits, but by providing jobs and building community rapport

These are just a few examples of how sustainable farming affects the planet. For more information on how sustainable farming compares to industrial farming, check out Sustainable Table.

Certified Organic, Not Certified Sustainable

Many people often confuse the terms “sustainable agriculture” with “organic farming.” Although both have to do with sensible food production methods, sustainable agriculture doesn’t always mean organic and organic farming doesn’t always mean sustainable practices!

A product labeled as organic means that the food was produced without the use of certain chemicals, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and genetically modified organisms. Organic meats, poultry, eggs and dairy products mean that it comes from farms where the animals were not raised with antibiotics or growth hormones.

While many farms that are certified-organic do not produce foods with certain chemicals, antibiotics, growth hormones, etc., the food may still be produced on an industrial farm setting. For example, some farms that produce organic dairy products still confine cows in CAFOs. For many large corporations that are certified-organic, it is through industrial farming that they are able to drive down consumer prices. Although they are able to meet minimum requirements that allow them to be USDA certified-organic, the farm may disregard animal welfare, denying animals space to carry out their natural behaviors (which can also result to poor health and unsanitary conditions!) Therefore, if you are looking to support sustainable agriculture, it is important to keep in mind that organic can — but doesn’t always mean sustainable.

On the other hand, some sustainable farms that are not certified-organic by the USDA do produce organic foods. In order for a product to be labeled “USDA certified-organic,” it must have gone through a national certification process, which requires both additional time and money. The additional fees can make it difficult for small farmers to receive organic-certification by the USDA. In turn, grassroot organizations like Oregon Tilth, California Certified Organic Farmers, Demeter Certified Biodynamic provide less costly organic-certification that either follow USDA organic standards guidelines or have their own strict production standards.

If you prefer organic foods and wish to support sustainable agriculture, the good news is that there are farms who do produce organic foods and practice sustainable agriculture. When in doubt, try buying directly from a local farmer. The best way to find out if your food is organic and sustainable is to ask! To find the closest sustainable farm near you, check out U.S. Department of Agriculture and LocalHarvest.

A Circle of Responsibility

While there are a myriad of reasons why one may practice sustainable agriculture, a big part of sustainability is being aware of how current practices can affect our food chain and how making a simple change, while small, is still a step towards a more sustainable future. Now that you know what sustainable agriculture is, here are some of the ways you can join the circle of responsibility:

Always Ask –
Whether you’re dining out or grocery shopping, you have the right to know how your food was produced. Let restaurants and stores know that you care about where your foods come from.

Buy Local
– As consumers, we help voice our opinion by a show of what we buy and who we choose to buy from. You don’t have to make a 360 degree change in order to make an impact.  Start by shopping at a farmer’s market to support your local farmers’ sustainable methods or by buying one or two foods that are organic.

Read
– Action is best backed by knowledge! Learn more and stay informed on the latest news and food policies. Visit Sustainable Table, CivilEats, or U.S. Department of Agriculture to learn more about the food system, issues and current events.

Get Involved –Tell your family and friends all you have learned about this exciting movement. Invite them to visit farmer’s market with you, to enjoy a sustainably cooked meal, or plan to have a “Meatless Monday.”

Think Before You Buy – Everything we purchase can leave a carbon footprint. Buying less than what you think you need means less waste.

A Desert Where Shopping Matters

From comparing grocery store prices to analyzing a product’s nutritional label, a weekend trip to the grocery store can turn into stressful and overwhelming task. Many of us want to eat healthier, but how can we shop for healthy foods while on a limited budget? Although price often plays a major role in influencing what we buy when we go food shopping, buying healthy foods doesn’t have to be expensive.

Many organizations are making an effort to tackle this nationwide issue by teaching nutrition education, but one organization’s unique efforts is City Harvest’s Shopping Matters, which takes place right in local grocery stores. And just like many other Americans, if money is what is keeping you from making healthy food purchases, I challenge you to think again. What if you could learn to stretch your budget, to buy and eat healthy foods? Read on to learn about the awesome efforts made by City Harvest, and the programs’ tips to get the most healthful bang for your buck.

What is Shopping Matters?

Shopping Matters is an initiative created by City Harvest in partnership with Share Our Strength. The two-hour grocery store tour is led by a qualified facilitator, who teaches the participants how to shop on a budget, read food labels, how to identify whole-grains and stretch your budget to create more than just one meal. After one hour, participants are presented with a $10 challenge to put what they’ve just learned into practice. Participants must follow specific guidelines, i.e. grain must be whole-grain bread or cereal, to buy at least one food from each food group totaling no more than $10. This part of the tour is particularly fun and exciting for the participants because it not only tests their knowledge but it offers motivation to try new foods like 2% milk rather than whole milk.

Another Kind of Desert

Can you imagine travelling 15 miles to buy a head of lettuce or some fresh fruit? Many of us are fortunate to be able to call Whole Foods or Trader Joes, our local market. With organic foods and fresh produce so readily available to us, it can be easy to forget that for many Americans, this is not the case. Imagine if the closest grocery store was too far to get to without transportation. An area where grocery stores are scarce or missing, this is called a food desert. Although there may be bodegas or take-out restaurants in the surrounding neighborhood, it would still be considered a food desert since many atimes only highly processed foods are offered. It is in these areas that poverty, obesity and health related diseases are at an all time high. City Harvest considers these factors and implements the Shopping Matters Tours in only specific neighborhoods. The tours currently take place in the following neighborhoods: 1) The South Bronx, 2) Stapleton, Staten Island 3). Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. By conducting the tours in the actual neighborhood markets like Key Foods, not only places the participants in a realistic environment, but makes the food culture relevant.

Build the Skills To Make Healthy Choices While On a Budget

A Shopping Matters Tour may not be taking place in your local market but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the tips City Harvest has to offer! Here’s the inside scoop on the skills you need to build to stretch your budget and make tasty, healthy meals for you and your family:

  • Buy Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables – Not only will your produce taste better, but during peak season fresh produce costs less.
  • Fresh, Frozen and Canned – People tend to think fresh produce is the “best” form. However, keep in mind that fresh produce often needs be used quickly and if not in season, can be expensive.  A more economical alternative is to buy frozen fruits and vegetables, which can cost less and is available year-round. If canned foods are on sale, they have a long shelf life and can be a good purchase. If opting to buy canned products, choose items without added sodium, low in fat, or 100% juice. If there is sodium in it, simply rinse off canned produce to reduce the sodium.  Surely every packaging has its pros and cons but by opening yourself up to fruits and vegetables in all their forms, in terms of prices, you’ll have more options to choose from.
  • Compare Prices – Use unit prices to find the best bang for your buck. The unit price shows ounce for ounce or pound by pound just how much you are paying for a particular item. For example, when comparing two bagged items of different sizes, it can help you identify just exactly which costs less.
  • Read Food Labels – Take a few seconds to check the serving size. If considering your family meals, this can be especially helpful in meal planning. Look at the calories, sodium and nutrients you will be getting from the product.
  • Read the Ingredients – Just because the bread is brown or says “multigrain” or even “100% wheat” doesn’t mean it is actually made with whole grain. Be a smart and saavy shopper and check for the first ingredient on the list. Some examples are: Whole wheat, bulgar, buckwheat, millet, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice
  • Organic vs. Non-Organic – Some items need not be purchased organic. If you wish to purchase organic, check out this Dirty Dozen list for a better understanding of what items are better off organic and which ones you can do without. If cost is a factor however, getting your fruits and vegetables should be at the top of the list, even if its not organic.
  • Cut coupons and checkout weekly specials

Substitutes for the Cheeselover

Pizzas, sandwiches, quesadillas, what do all of these foods have in common? That’s right—cheese! Let’s face it, who doesn’t love the rich, creamy mouthfeel and gooey texture of melted cheese?  As a popular accompaniment to many entrées and snacks, one might just consider cheese to be a staple food. Yet whether due to food allergies or other dietary reasons, some individuals may not eat cheese and would prefer a dairy-free alternative.

Who Would Want “Fake” Cheese?

Cheese substitutes are enjoyed by individuals who do not tolerate dairy products very well or who are following a dairy-free diet such as a vegan, vegetarian, or paleo diet. Fortunately, for those who just cannot fathom saying ‘good-bye’ to grilled cheese sandwiches and ‘hello’ to cheese-free pizzas, there are an abundance of dairy-free cheese substitutes on the market. Since cheese made from cow or goat milk are usually higher in saturated fat and cholesterol, cheese substitutes can be a healthier alternative.

Always Read The Label

With a rise in allergies to milk and soy products, the market for cheese substitutes has grown as well, providing us with dozens of options to choose from. Common cheese substitutes are made from soy, rice, tofu and almond based. There are a lot of cheese substitutes out there but to check if it is really dairy-free, check the ingredient list. Many soy cheeses contain casein, a protein derived from milk. Casein is what helps hold cheese together and gives it its texture. People who are lactose intolerant can usually tolerate casein. But for those with severe milk allergies or are strict vegans, I recommend finding a vegan cheese product that is almond-based or rice-based. However, when picking out a cheese substitute, one should avoid what they are allergic to, ie. those who are allergic to soy should avoid tofu-based cheeses and soy cheeses.

Not All Cheese Substitutes Are Created Equal

From color to flavor, people want and expect a cheese substitute to be almost identical to the melt, spread and cream of regular cheese. While cheese substitutes can be bland, some products are close to the real thing. But how to pick a cheese and what to look for?

  • Low sodium
  • Close-to-cheese taste
  • Ability to melt
  • Non-rubbery or plastic texture
  • Casein protein (depending on your preference)

If you need a little direction, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve narrowed it down to my top favorites:

Vegan Pick: Daiya 

As one of the most popular vegan cheese, Daiya is known for its ability to melt like real cheese. I have found it served in delicious restaurants dishes I have ordered too. It’s shredded style makes it perfect for making pizzas and sprinking over salads and pastas. It also comes in cheddar, mozzerella, and pepperjack.

Vegan Pick: Vegan Gourmet by Follow Your Heart

Winner of VegNews’ award for best vegan cheese in 2005, in my opinion it is one of the best vegan cheeses on the market. It may not melt as well as Daiya but the cheddar has a sharpness to it that makes it almost irresistible to eat by the slice.

Nutritional Yeast

The name may throw you off but this easy to sprinkle substitute is another rather popular option in the vegan community.  When sprinkled over pasta dishes, the nutty and cheesy flavor makes a quick Parmesan substitute. When added to liquids it can help thicken sauces for a creamier texture.

Soy-Based Pick: Veggie Slices Cheddar Flavor by Galaxy National Foods

Orange colored and individually wrapped, this soy-based cheese resembles Kraft singles. With a good melt and taste, this is a good substitute for making grilled cheese.

Cut The Cheese

Deservedly or not, non-dairy cheeses often get a bad rap for lacking taste, flavor and texture. But next time you try a cheese substitute, go in with an open-mind! Without comparing it to regular cheese, try to give it an un-biased taste test. Each brand has a different texture and flavor. Which holds better for sandwiches or which melts better on pizzas? You may end up trying many before you find the one you like!

Ultimately, cheese substitutes are just substitutes. There is never going to be a product that can replicate the authentic taste, texture, or melt of cheese, except cheese. Due to the health and dietary restrictions people have these days–and some unavoidable like food allergies–when one’s body simply won’t cooperate with dairy products cheese substitutes can make life a bit tastier, a little healthier, and a whole lot happier. After all, who doesn’t love cheese?

Turning Back the Hands of Time: The Paleo Diet

Diets come and diets go, but like an old pair of jeans out of style… if you wait long enough it’s sure to come back. With the Paleo movement sweeping across the nation, the ancient diet followed by early humans is making a comeback. The Paleo Diet, also called Stone Age or Caveman Diet, suggests following a meal plan with foods people were eating millions of years ago. Although there may be health benefits to following the Paleo diet such as possibly losing weight and avoiding hyperglycemia, like any meal plan with restrictions, knowing there is substantial data to support a claim is just as, if not more important. Ask yourself will people’s weight yo yo after “cheating” on their Hunter Gatherer Diet?

Principles of The Paleo Diet

To understand the theory of the Paleo diet, we must first turn back the hands of time. For millions of years, the human diet consisted of only meat, fish, poultry, and the leaves, roots, and fruits of plants. The Paleo diet (short for Paleolithic) is based on the claim that a healthy diet should consist of only the foods that can be hunted, fished and gathered during the Paleolithic era. The basics of the meal plan are that if the cavemen did not eat it, then you shouldn’t either. Proponents of the diet believe that evolution has led us to eat foods our bodies are not adapted to neither process nor digest. Fast-forward to modern day when conditions like obesity and Type 2 Diabetes are at an all time high. Advocates claim that since people in that era rarely had metabolic disturbances, one can now prevent chronic diseases, control blood sugar spikes and lead a healthier life following this diet.

What Can You Eat?

Swearing off refined sugar, dairy, legumes and grains?? To many, the Paleo diet may seem extremely restrictive.  You won’t find any refined sugars, added salt, processed foods and packaged snacks in this meal plan (I agree this can be healthy if whole grains, legumes and dairy were included). While the diet will differ slightly with personal modifications, the general Paleo plan consists of whole, unprocessed foods like lean meat, eggs, seafood, non-starchy vegetables — and some but not a ton of fruit, nuts and seeds. (Since it is encouraged to eat grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and eggs and fresh fruits and vegetables, keep in mind that following the Paleo diet can be rather expensive for the average person).

Some foods to avoid include the following: grains such as rice, refined carbohydrates like flour and cereals (no oat bran or Kashi), dairy, beans, peanuts, processed meats like hot dogs and chicken nuggets, soda, fruit juice, caffeine, alcohol.

Food for Thought

Although proponents of the diet claim that cavemen did not develop such chronic diseases, there is no evidence to support this claim. While the meal plan does restrict refined sugars and grains (both of which can contribute to obesity and Type 2 Diabetes if eaten in excess while following a sedentary lifestyle), it is important to remember that several diets are founded on the basis that one should include more fruits and veggies, whole and unprocessed foods. I believe it is Dr. Oz who puts patients on vegan diets to reverse diabetes and there are also many books recommending this as well. Keep in mind that the recommendation for a healthy diet also includes whole grains, dairy and legumes. Eliminating certain food groups, as suggested by the Paleo plan draws attention to potential nutrient deficiencies. For example, by avoiding dairy, individuals who follow a Paelo diet may develop osteoporosis if they lived long enough. That’s another question to ask. What was the average lifespan of a caveman? Did they ever get old enough to diagnose weak bones or did they die of malnutrition or by animal attack before osteoporosis set in? Oddly, while reading the meal plan for a Paleo diet, I see shrimp, chicken and beef. Did cave men and women really eat these three proteins in one day? I think it may be fair to say they ate beef one week and venison another. If they ate shrimp one week, they were probably spearing fish the next. Finally, did cave people know how to steam?? There are so many questions that make me think twice about this theory.

Lost In Translation

Don’t miss the message here. Less is more. Less processed, more healthy fats, less to eat and more movement. Any effort to eat foods directly sourced from our earth, to eat only lean free-range grass fed animals, and to cook your own meals is the way to go. Just don’t forget grains such as amaranth and barely, beans such as lentil and dairy such as delicious French Brie. These foods contain macro and micronutrients. I don’t think a French person would ever agree to this diet, yet people love to think the French are savvy with their food philosophy.  Also, I personally don’t think the Paleo diet is America’s answer to our health crisis, but if this concepts helps you to feel good and control your sugar, that is a step in the right direction.

The Cave versus Industry

In our society, we must recognize, diet is only half the battle. Industrialization has led us to lead a sedentary lifestyle.  Cave people were fit because they moved everyday for survival. We drive and tap our iPhones for success rather than survival. Cave people only ate what was available so that may have been no food or just berries for days. That kept them trim, but was it healthy? Today we have government subsidies for cheap food to prevent people from starving, and in return it has lead us to eat poor quality, processed food. In addition, our minds are brainwashed with marketing and ironically, it is cheaper to buy a super sized soda than that of a smaller soda (ounce for ounce). So if the Paleo helps you to be healthier, by all means be healthier. Just recognize that the restrictions in any diet are questionable and not necessarily supported by science or history. And remember, restrictions lead to binging, so be careful. Diets don’t work in isolation; rather lifestyle changes that are realistic and behaviorally based are the way go!

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids: The Scoop You Didn’t Know

Over the past few years, omega-3 fatty acids have received a lot of attention and promotion. Yet when you pick up your supplements at the local pharmacy or health food store, the label includes omega-3’s, omega-6’s omega-9’s and oh my mega confusion! What is the difference between these essential fatty acids and what is this talk about keeping a ratio? This blog will help demystify the omega-3 fatty acids versus omega-6 fatty acids confusion. Find out if you need to add omegas to your nutritional intake and which omega.

The Difference Between Omega-3 and Omega-6

Both omega-3 and omega-6 are termed ‘essential fatty acids’ (EFA), since our bodies cannot readily produce these, we must obtain them through foods or supplements.

While there are many types, the three most common omega-3 fatty acids are Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), and Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA). DHA and EPA are mainly found in cold-water fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines, while ALA is found in plant sources like canola oil, walnuts, flaxseed, and soybeans. Unlike DHA or EPA, which can be readily absorbed by our bodies, ALA from plant sources like seeds, nuts or vegetable oils are only partially converted (about ten percent) by our bodies into the beneficial forms EPA and then DHA. Studies have shown that the health benefits of EPA and DHA are greater than ALA. Therefore, the goal is to try to get Omega 3 FA’s in the form of DHA and EPA.

Unlike omega-3‘s, omega-6‘s consists of only one type of fatty acid, Linoleic Acid (LA), which is later converted into Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA). As opposed to omega-3‘s, getting omega-6‘s from the foods we eat daily, is rather simple. LA is commonly found in seed oils like corn, canola, sunflower and soy — ingredients found in many of the processed foods Americans typically consume in abundance. The better sources of omega-6’s include raw nuts, like pistachios and seeds like chia. Since Americans typically consume much more of the fatty acid omega-6, it is more important for one to focus on including omega-3 fatty acids in their diet or through their supplement. However, for an individual following a low processed food lifestyle such as a paleo, vegan or vegetarian diet, omega-6’s must be included. A great source of an omega-6 fatty acid is the seed known as chia.

Helpful Hint: Two tablespoons of chia seeds provide a 3:1 ratio of omega-3:omega-6 FA. With 3x more omega-3 than omega-6, adding chia seeds to a diet can help an individual reach optimal health by balancing out the ratio of fatty-acid intake in one’s daily nutrition.

Both Are Beneficial

Omega-3’s have been found to lower the risk factors for heart disease and cancer, as well as have anti-inflammatory properties (whereas some omega-6 can contribute to inflammation). This fatty acid is necessary for brain function, healthy development of nerves and eyesight. Omega-3’s have been linked to the prevention and treatment of several other conditions like arthritis, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, depression, diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and osteoporosis to name a few.

Omega-6’s provide a defense against and can aid in reducing symptoms in diabetic neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, allergies and high blood pressure. Studies also show that consuming 5-10 percent of energy from omega-6’s may help decrease the risk of CHD and cardiovascular disease.

Together, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids produce many of the health benefits described above. The catch? Eating them in the right amounts.

As In Most Things, Balance Is Key

In today’s society, the convenience of fast-food and heavily processed snacks makes for a not-so convenient way for us to maintain a balanced consumption of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Most processed foods contain a high amount of omega-6 and data shows that a Western diet may contain too much omega-6 fatty acids. If we recall, some omega-6’s may promote inflammatory properties but too much can result in inflammation. Recent research suggests that this imbalance may contribute to health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and more. One such study shows that while the dietary intake of omega-3:omega-6 ratio should range from 1:1-4 for optimal health, the evolutionary changes in the Western diet has led to an increase in consumption range of 1:10-20. To reach a healthier balance between the two, experts suggest that a lower ratio of omega-3/omega-6 fatty acids is more desirable for reducing the risk of many chronic diseases.

However, just as important as it is to consume a healthy ratio of the two, it is equally important especially for vegetarians and vegans, to consume enough essential fatty acids as to prevent deficiencies. Remember, as remarkable as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids exhibit in aiding our brain development, immune system function and blood pressure regulation, sources should be consumed in healthy moderation!

Take Home Message:
Aim for a dietary intake with a ratio of 1 omega-3 FA : 1-4 omega-6 FA.