Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer

It’s fall! And you know what that means: pumpkin season is among us! Pumpkin junkies unite as pumpkin flavored everything crowd grocery store shelves and fill people’s Pinterest boards. This time of year there seems to be nothing made without pumpkin! Today I would like to address perhaps the most beloved pumpkin treat of all: Pumpkin Spice coffee drinks and flavored coffee creamers. See, most traditional coffee creamers and specialty coffee drinks are made using all kinds of unwanted ingredients. Artificial flavors, artificial colors, refined sugars, preservatives and trans-fats are often added to these popular products and can wreak havoc on our health. What most people don’t realize, though, is just how simple it really is to forego these chemical concoctions and simply make your own.  Choosing to make your own coffee creamer at home allows you to not only skip all the artificial junk and unwanted additives in store bought creamers and specialty coffee drinks, but also gives you the health benefits of using nutrient dense, whole food ingredients!

Pumpkin is loaded with essential vitamins, minerals and fiber that provide us with a number of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting properties.

100% Pure Maple Syrup contains several essential nutrients and is packed with polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that benefit our health tremendously. (Keep in mind pure maple syrup is 66-67% sugar so it should be enjoyed in moderation.)

Pure Vanilla Extract contains about 200 different compounds, many of which have antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties.

Pumpkin Pie Spice is a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice- all of which act as potent antioxidants and offer a whole slew of proven medicinal benefits.

I have created a delicious coffee creamer recipe using all of these ingredients that will not only make your taste buds overflow with immense joy but will drastically up the antioxidant power of your morning coffee!

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Ingredients:

2 cups Half-and-Half

(to make this dairy-free or paleo-friendly, use unsweetened almond milk)

1/4 cup Pumpkin Puree

1/4 cup 100% Pure Maple Syrup

2 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice

1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract

Directions:

  1. Combine the first four ingredients in a small sauce pan and whisk together over low heat until simmering (don’t boil).
  2. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract.
  3. Allow to cool and store in a sealed container.
  4. Keep in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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This also makes an incredible gift for any fellow pumpkin lovers…so if we’re being honest: it makes a great gift for just about everyone!

*Expert tip: Whenever I cook with pumpkin, there always seems to be a random amount left over and it doesn’t last very long. Pumpkin can be frozen for later, otherwise, here are some simple and creative ways to use up what’s left.

Enjoy!

Eat Fat, It’s Good for You.

“Fat is not bad for you.

Fat is not bad for you.

Fat is NOT bad for you!”

This is what I chanted across our kitchen table to my mother this morning over breakfast as she presented me with a “healthy” cookbook she received containing all low-fat recipes. I’ve said it a million times before (and I’ll say it a million times again): Fat is NOT bad for you!!

In fact, we NEED to eat fat for optimal health and here’s why:

Eating fat helps improve metabolism, balance hormones, eliminate cravings, improve athletic performance, increase fat loss…yes, you read that correctly: increase fat LOSS, and improve muscle gain. Adequate fat intake is also required for reproductive health, optimal brain function, bone health, skin and eye health and immune function. Adequate fat intake is even linked to a decreased risk of depression, cancer and heart disease.

So if fat isn’t bad for us WHY on earth have we all been told to avoid it for so many years?

Allow me to explain…Many years ago, it was believed that eating fat (specifically saturated fat) led to weight gain and an increased risk of heart disease. This information was based on low-quality, flawed studies that since have been proven wrong- repeatedly! Nevertheless, low-fat guidelines were published and since 1977 we have been unable to escape this HORRIBLY INACCURATE diet craze. Fast forward to present day and there have been several massive, long-term and high-quality studies that have proven there is NO association between saturated fat and heart disease… that’s right, NONE! Not only is there is no evidence that eating fat increases the risk of heart disease there is also no evidence that avoiding fat reduces the risk!

If you’re detecting a slightly angry undertone here, it’s because I have one and here’s why:

My step-dad recently suffered a heart attack and during his hospital admission he was given instruction to follow a “heart-healthy” diet from yes, (and I say this reluctantly…) a fellow dietitian. I was infuriated by the misinformation that was provided (which is one of the many reasons I have removed myself from a career in healthcare). Years and years of high quality scientific studies have provided CONCLUSIVE evidence that dietary fat does NOT cause heart disease! In fact, fat improves some of the most important risk factors for heart disease! Yet, my step-dad was still advised to avoid some of the worlds healthiest and most nutrient-dense foods because of their fat content. Furthermore, he was instructed to replace these natural, nutritious foods with man-made, chemical laden alternatives. My blood began to boil as I looked over his “heart healthy” diet handout with him. Instead of natural protein sources like meat and eggs for breakfast he was instructed to eat a bowl of refined grains, sugar and chemicals… all of which by the way ARE associated with heart disease. This handout went on to recommend sugary soft drinks (again, associated with heart disease) in place of natural and nutrient dense whole milk. It also recommended using highly-refined and trans-fat containing vegetable oils (also linked to heart disease) instead of butter. One ill-advised “choose this, not that” item after another, and I slowly became enraged.

EAT FAT! Saturated fat never has been (and never will be) proven to cause heart disease. We have been wrongfully advised to avoid fat for decades based on an outdated theory that has been scientifically disproven over and over and over again. Not only does research prove fat causes ZERO harm to humans, it also links fat to several health benefits!  Some of my favorite (and healthiest) sources of fat are: avocado, cheese, nuts, natural nut butters, whole eggs, fatty fish, dark chocolate, responsible meat sources, chia seeds, full fat dairy, olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil. I enjoy these high-fat foods regularly.

**Just to clarify the fats I am referring to in this blog post are ALL naturally occurring fats found in the foods that have been put on this earth to nourish us. Both unsaturated AND saturated fats from animals, animal products and plants are beneficial for the average individual and cause no harm to our health. With that being said, there is one kind of fat that IS associated with an increased risk of heart disease and should be avoided at all costs. This fat is known as Trans Fat. Trans fats do not exist in nature. They are factory-made and present themselves in many processed foods including “heart healthy” vegetable and canola oils and ironically enough many “low-fat” foods. Read my blog post here to Get the Facts on Trans Fats and learn how to avoid them.

Please Comment below or contact me with any questions. Now go eat some fat and enjoy it!

If you are looking to follow a TRULY heart-healthy diet: Choose whole, natural, minimally-processed foods. Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (and a lot of them). Avoid foods with long ingredient lists or that contain ingredients you don’t recognize. Eat foods as close to their natural form as possible. Avoid refined grains, trans-fatssugar and other unwanted additives. Oh yeah, and EAT FAT!

Grains: Should You Be Eating Them?

Now, more than ever, grain consumption has become a huge controversy in the health community. Some say grains are a necessary component of a healthy, balanced diet, while others deem them harmful- even poisonous! So should we be eating grains or not? If so, which ones and how many? In this blog I will answer these questions with well-researched science based facts.

The Basics

Just like most other foods, not all grains are created equal. And as you have heard me say time and time again it is always better to eat whole foods than processed ones. The same goes for grains. Although, there are many kinds of grains, they fall into two main categories: whole and refined.

Whole Grains are grains in their natural state and contain 3 main parts: bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains have been processed to remove both the bran and the germ leaving just the endosperm behind. The bran and the germ of grains are nutrient dense, containing carbs, fats, proteins, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients; whereas the endosperm is made up of mainly carbs (in the form of starch)- and a small amount of protein. So generally speaking whole grains are nutrient dense and refined grains are nutrient poor.

Unfortunately, the majority of grains consumed in the U.S. come from the refined variety. Refined grains not only offer us next to nothing nutritionally, but they have also been linked to numerous diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Some examples of refined grains in the modern diet are tortillas, pitas, pastas, pretzels, crackers, snack foods, breakfast cereals, white rice, white breads, pancake and waffle mixes, pizzas, ready-made doughs, pastries, cakes, cookies and anything else that is made using all-purpose or enriched wheat flour.  I recommend that everyone reduce their consumption of these foods, if not eliminate them all together and seek out whole grain alternatives. Some examples of whole grains are barley, oats, rye, brown rice, wild rice, corn, quinoa, buckwheat, popcorn, bulgur, farro and whole wheat.

Now for a few more things you should know about grains…

Grains are NOT Essential

That’s right people, we don’t NEED grains. This may come to a surprise to many of you, considering grains make up the majority of many individuals’ diets. This may be due to the fact that for years grains were featured at the bottom of the food pyramid indicating they should be what we consume the most of. The truth is, even though whole grains contain several beneficial nutrients- there is not a single nutrient that grains offer that you cannot get from other foods (like fruits and vegetables), which means we don’t need to eat them. Research shows that both diets that include and exclude grains can be compatible with excellent health.

Should You Avoid Grains?

As with most things in nutrition, it depends entirely on the individual.  Generally speaking if you are a normal, healthy, active adult you can safely incorporate grains in your diet (as long as they are mainly whole grains). If you suffer from a serious autoimmune disease, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome or diabetes, you may want to or need to avoid grains (especially refined grains).  Some grains (especially wheat) can cause digestive distress in individuals who are sensitive to it. If you experience excessive bloating, gas or stomach upset after consuming grains you may want to avoid them. Many individuals are sensitive to wheat in particular due to a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, but are still able to safely consume other non-gluten-containing whole grains. Keep in mind that just because some individuals can not tolerate grains does not make grains “unhealthy”. Just like an individual allergic to strawberries doesn’t make strawberries unhealthy. The bottom line is that grains are okay for some people, and not for others. If you are concerned about grain consumption or are still unsure whether or not you should be eating grains, talk to a dietitian.

How Much Should You Eat?

Once again, this depends entirely on the individual.  Some individuals are better off not eating grains at all, while others have diets made up of 50% grains and are perfectly healthy. Next to sugar, which EVERYONE should avoid, grains are our biggest source of carbohydrates. Healthy, active individuals who do a lot of anaerobic work typically need and can tolerate a higher amount of carbohydrates, whereas people who are sedentary, overweight, diabetic or have other metabolic issues are typically better off following a low-carb or grain-free diet. Generally speaking, the average person does not need nearly as many carbohydrates or grains as mainstream nutrition recommends. My recommendation for the average adult is to focus on fruits and vegetables first, then protein and healthy fats, leaving grains as an optional accompaniment. Basically, grains can be a part of a healthy, well-balanced diet, but they should not be the focus of your diet.

Grains and Weight Loss

Can a grain-free diet help you lose weight? It depends. I know that’s not the answer you were hoping for, but something we need to realize is that the answers to our nutrition questions are rarely black and white- and that’s because each and every one of us is different.  What works for one person may not work for another. With that being said, eating fewer grains (and carbohydrates in general) has been proven to be one of the best ways to lose weight. Several studies have shown that individuals who follow a grain-free or low-carb diet experience weight loss, reduced belly fat and see a significant improvement in their health.

Take Away Message: Everyone should reduce or eliminate their consumption of refined grains. If you choose to eat grains, reach for whole grains or sprouted whole grains instead. If you like whole grains and feel good eating them then there is no reason to avoid them. If you don’t like grains or do not tolerate them for one reason or another, there is also nothing wrong with skipping them altogether. While we need fruits, vegetables and meats for certain essential nutrients, a diet doesn’t need to include grains to be healthy. If you’re someone who is looking to lose weight, have insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome or diabetes, following a grain-free diet could be beneficial to you. The bottom line is: grains are good for some people and not for others; health can exist with or without them. Figure out what works best for you and eat accordingly. If you’re still confused as to whether or not you should be eating grains or would like to know how to follow a grain-free diet, talk to a dietitian.

10 Tips for Eating Healthy When Dining Out

Eating out for just two meals a week can pack on 1 pound of body fat! Curious as to why? Studies show that the food we typically eat at a restaurant is nutritionally worse than the food we eat at home. In addition to the lousy nutritional quality of most restaurant meals, their distorted portions (as you can see in the photos below) cause us to eat a lot more than we would at home too!

So without even giving it a thought, research shows that people will eat healthier (and less) at home than they will at a restaurant. With that being said I don’t expect everyone to become hermit crabs and eat at home for every meal. But for the sake of your health I encourage you to limit how OFTEN you go out to eat- and when you do choose to dine out, consider these tips in order to make the healthiest choices possible:

1. READ THE MENU BEFORE YOU GO

Most Restaurants have their menus (as well as nutritional information) posted online. Research the menu before you go out to eat to look for healthy, low calorie options. If you can’t find any, choose a different restaurant.

2. SKIP THE BREAD BASKET

The average piece of bread is about 100 calories and each pat of butter will add another 36 calories to that. When you sit down hungry, it is very easy to consume an entire meal’s worth of calories before any food even hits the table. Limit yourself to one piece or skip the bread altogether. Try distracting yourself by drinking water or chewing gum while waiting for your food to arrive.

3. STICK TO LOW CALORIE DRINKS

Some beverages can contain more calories than an entire meal- with no nutritional value or satiety to offer for it! Avoid high calorie cocktails and sweetened beverages like sodas and lemonades. Stick to water, seltzer water with lemon or lime, unsweetened tea or coffee when dining out. If you’re reaching for alcohol, wine, light beer or mixed drinks made with seltzer water tend to be lower calorie options.

4. START WITH A SALAD

A standard side salad will provide you with one serving of vegetables. Its high fiber and water content will also help you feel satisfied sooner and therefore eat a smaller quantity of food and fewer calories overall.

5. SHARE YOUR MEAL OR SAVE SOME FOR LATER

Most restaurant portions are huge. It’s not uncommon for one meal at a restaurant to provide a full days worth of calories. Choose a small portion when possible. Otherwise share a meal with a friend or eat half and box the other half to take home for later.

6. SWAP SIDES

Choose a side salad, fresh fruit or steamed vegetables instead of fries, chips or onion rings to accompany your meal.

7. MAKE MODIFICATIONS

  • Ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side- then you can dip or skip and use less.
  • Replace regular salad dressings with olive oil and vinegar.
  • Add extra vegetables to an entree.
  • Ask for grilled chicken instead of breaded or fried.
  • Omit or go easy on high calorie ingredients like creamy sauces, gravies and cheese.
  • Order your dish “dry” without any added butter or oil – or ask them to go easy on it.
  • Ask for whole wheat bread for sandwiches.
  • Substitute bread or wraps with large leaf lettuce.
  • Order a burger “protein style” -with no bun.
  • Ask for less sugar in your cocktail.

8. PICK HEALTHY PREPARATION METHODS

The WAY foods are prepared says a lot about them nutritionally. When reading the menu, avoid words like deep fried, pan-fried, crispy, tempura, sautéed, au gratin, buttered, creamed and breaded as these tend to indicate high calorie preparation methods. Instead choose menu items described using words like steamed, grilled, broiled, baked, poached or roasted as these tend to be healthier.

9. EAT SLOWLY

Take your time and enjoy yourself. Eating slowly will help you enjoy your food more and prevent overeating.

10. SKIP DESSERT

Skipping dessert can shave off a tremendous amount of calories from your meal. If you’re someone who needs to finish a meal with something sweet, choose fruit or sorbet or share something small with a friend. You can also pack yourself a chocolate square or a small piece of candy from home to satisfy your sweet tooth after a meal.

Sugars and Sweeteners and Substitutes, Oh My!

Plain and simple, added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet. I think by now we all understand the serious risks that sugar consumption poses to our health. Okay, but in all seriousness: we can’t go through life without satisfying our sweet tooth! So what’s the alternative?

As awareness of sugar’s harmful effects increases, so does the marketing for other “healthy” sugars, sweeteners and substitutes. So can we keep the sweet without the sick? Does “healthy” sugar really exist? Are artificial sweeteners safe to use? Or is it all just a ploy contributing to more consumer confusion? Take off your blind folds people, because In this post I break down the most popular sugars, sweeteners and substitutes. Take a read and decide for yourselves:

Agave Nectar

The sweet nectar of a medicinal plant- harmless right? Although it is marketed as being natural and a healthier alternative to regular cane sugar, agave nectar is just as bad for you if not worse. Here’s why: agave nectar is made using a harsh manufacturing process that destroys all of the health promoting properties of the Agave plant. Agave is also about 85% fructose (regular sugar is about 50% fructose). Our bodies are only equipped to handle fructose in small amounts and an excess of fructose contributes to a whole slew of health problems including insulin resistance, belly fat accumulation, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. My recommendation is to avoid agave nectar as you would regular table sugar.

Coconut Sugar

The manufacturing method of coconut sugar is very natural. Coconut sugar even contains some fiber and a few nutrients. In addition, it only contains 35-45% fructose, which is slightly less than regular cane sugar. With all this being said, coconut sugar can be considered a better choice than cane sugar- just keep in mind that doesn’t make it “healthy”- it’s still sugar!

Honey

Similar to coconut sugar, honey is slightly less harmful than regular sugar. It’s entirely natural and even contains antioxidants and small amounts of vitamins and minerals, which is a plus. But it’s still sugar- so consume it in moderation.

Maple Syrup

Pure Maple syrup is 100% natural and contains a decent amount of minerals and antioxidants, but it is still very high in sugar. Maple syrup is a less harmful alternative to regular table sugar, but as will any sugar, don’t over-do it. (Keep in mind we’re talking about pure maple syrup here, not Mrs Butterworth’s)

Artificial Sweeteners

These include but are not limited to aspartame, neotame, sucralose and saccharin. You may know them better as Equal, Sweet ‘n Low and Splenda. What all of these have in common is that they are artificial- they are made from chemicals. The pros to these sweeteners is that they contain zero calories and they don’t have the harmful metabolic effects of sugar (which is why they are often recommended for diabetics). The use of them remains highly controversial though and they haven’t been proven to be entirely safe. The bottom line is they are chemicals, so I personally do not use or recommend them for the average individual.

Stevia

Stevia is the best of both worlds: it is 100% natural AND contains zero calories. Too good to be true? Nope! Current research confirms that stevia is perfectly safe and even has a number of health benefits. All of these things make stevia an excellent alternative to sugar and artificially made sweeteners. You can buy stevia in liquid or powder form and use it to sweeten anything from beverages to baked goods. Just look for a brand that has no unnatural additives. (*tip: different brands also tend to taste different so try to read reviews or get recommendations of ones that taste the best)

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol are the other natural sweeteners. They are lower in calories than regular sugar and have a few health benefits, but can’t quite hold a candle to stevia. When consumed in high doses they can also cause digestive problems so I usually don’t heavily promote them.

Take away message: Sugar is sugar. Your body digests all sugar the same way and doesn’t care whether it’s “natural”  or not. Some natural forms of sugar like honey, coconut sugar and maple syrup offer nutrients and antioxidants and are lower in fructose than regular cane sugar making them “less bad” options. You may benefit from replacing regular cane sugar in your diet with natural sugars like honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup, but ALL sugar should be consumed in moderation. Artificial sweeteners like Equal, Sweet ‘n Low and Splenda are zero calorie alternatives to sugar, but the question remains whether or not consuming these chemicals is entirely safe. I tend to stay away from them for that very reason. Sugar alcohols act as natural sweeteners and are lower in calories than regular sugar, but consuming to much of them can cause digestive issues. Stevia is a natural sweetener with no calories and is not only proven to be safe, but to have several health benefits as well. In conclusion, If you want to sweeten something, stevia is your best bet. Followed by natural sugars like honey, coconut sugar and maple syrup when used sparingly.

Salad Sabotage: The Truth About Salad Dressing

Most people hear the word salad and automatically think “healthy.” Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. In fact, more often than not, it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, salads have the potential to be one of the world’s healthiest and most well-balanced meals. A heaping pile of fresh fruits and veggies topped with lean protein, a little bit of dairy, and some healthy fat? This is what dietitians’ dreams are made of! How could you go possibly go wrong? The problem is, we’re smothering this should-be nutritious meal with unhealthy trans fats, sugar, chemicals and other harmful additives when we use store-bought salad dressing.

Most store bought salad dressings are made with highly refined oils that are full of harmful trans fats. As always, the truth lies in the ingredients so turn the bottle around and read. The following oils should be avoided: canola oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, grape seed oil & cottonseed oil. You may be wondering how an oil made from seeds and vegetables could be bad for you. The problem isn’t the seeds and vegetables themselves- its HOW the oils are derived from them. The process creates trans fats and they are extremely detrimental to your health.

Sugar is another popular ingredient in store bought salad dressings. Sugar can be disguised using about 60 different names on food labels so use the guidelines in my blog post Identifying Hidden Sugar to make sure you’re familiar with all of them.

Lastly, the components of salad dressings are not designed to be in a perfect emulsion nor should they be shelf stable for years. Nothing a solid dose of chemicals, preservatives, stabilizing agents and sweeteners can’t take care of!

Here are a few other harmful additives to avoid:

Disodium Guanylate

Disodium Inosinate

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Calcium Disodium EDTA

Gums

High Fructose Corn Syrup

Okay, I feel your frustration. But there’s good news!! I have been enjoying salads for years and haven’t purchased a single salad dressing! First of all there are several ways to dress your salad without using salad dressing at all. A few of my favorite alternatives are: guacamole, salsa, cottage cheese, hummus, olive oil & lemon and olive oil & vinegar. If you’re still not convinced to ditch your dressing, here are some simple, healthy recipes that may mimic a few of your bottled favorites:

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Honey Mustard

(6 servings, 24 calories per 2 Tbsp serving)

Ingredients:
½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 ½ Tbsp yellow OR dijon mustard
1 Tbsp honey

Directions:
1.Whisk ingredients together until well combined.

Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.

*Works well as a dressing, dip, or spread

Ranch (8 servings, 20-25 calories per 2 Tbsp serving)

Ingredients:
2/3 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
3 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp dill
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 clove garlic (or ½ tsp minced garlic)
¼-½ cup buttermilk
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Stir together all ingredients (except for buttermilk) in a bowl. Slowly add buttermilk until desired consistency is reached. For the best flavor, refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.

Ceasar (10 servings, 40 calories per 2 Tbsp serving)

Ingredients:
¾ cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
5 anchovies
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove
½ tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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Tzatziki

(8 servings, 15 calories per 2 Tbsp serving)

Ingredients:
¾ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt (I highly recommend using Fage it gives the perfect thick and creamy consistency)
1 clove garlic (or 1/2 tsp minced garlic)
½ baby cucumber (about 4”)
1 Tbsp dill

Directions:
1. Cut cucumber in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds using a spoon (no need to peel)
2. Add all ingredients to a food processor and mix until well combined and desired consistency is reached (I like mine chunky).
*Makes a great veggie dip or salad dressing. Leave out the cucumber and experiment with different herbs and spices for limitless creamy herb salad dressing options.

Balsamic Vinaigrette (6 servings, 120 calories per 2 Tbsp serving)

Ingredients:
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup white or regular balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed (or ½ tsp minced garlic)
½ tsp ground mustard
1 Tbsp Honey (*optional- if you like sweeter vinaigrettes)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Whisk ingredients together in a bowl.

Keep in Mind:
1. These salad dressings do not contain preservatives like bottled dressings from the store. They will last 1week in your refrigerator so only make what you plan to use.
2. There aren’t any chemicals or additives in these dressings keeping the ingredients in a perfect emulsion. It is normal for ingredients to separate, just shake or whisk well before using.

Happy Eating!

Multi Billion Dollar Supplement Industry: Is It Worth All the Hype?

As a dietitian, I am often asked for my opinion on using protein powders, shakes and other nutrition supplements so I’ve decided to share my response with everyone.

Nutrition supplements can be an excellent addition to a well-balanced diet and are sometimes necessary for individuals to meet specific nutrient needs. It almost sickens me though how heavily nutrition supplements are marketed- with promises of leaner bodies, longer hair and younger looking skin- it leaves the average health-conscious consumer feeling like they need to be taking x, y, and z supplements in order to be healthy. So, before you spend hundreds of dollars on supplements and choke a handful of pills down with your post-workout muscle milk, take a few minutes to evaluate whether or not you really need them. Here are a few things everyone should understand about nutrition supplements:

1. Supplements Are Designed to Supplement

Supplements are not meant to be your sole source of nutrients- food is. Supplements were designed to help close a nutritional gap and treat deficiencies. For example, someone who is lactose intolerant may need to take supplemental Calcium + Vitamin D and probiotics. Similarly, someone who is vegan may want to drink a daily protein shake and take Vitamin B12- to supplement what may be lacking in their diet. We should aim to meet our daily nutrient needs with food by eating a diet rich in nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, meat, seafood and dairy. When in-tolerances and allergies get in the way of your ability to do this, you should take a supplement to ensure you are giving your body what it needs.

*The majority of our population has inadequate intakes of essential vitamins and minerals and can benefit from taking a daily multivitamin.

2. You Can NOT “Make Up” For a Bad Diet with Supplements

The majority of your nutrition needs to come from whole foods. The reason for this is because whole, healthy foods contain tens of thousands of phytochemicals, proteins, fiber, and fats that work together as a whole. This concept simply cannot be replicated into a pill or supplement form. The bottom line is that a poor diet made up of processed foods, refined sugar and grains CANNOT be counteracted with supplements. There are no short cuts here…eat whole, natural, nutrient dense foods and supplement as needed.

3. Supplements Can Be Dangerous

Just like everything else we put into our bodies, we need to be careful when taking supplements. For starters, there are many nutrients that we can overdose on so make sure you are not taking more than the recommended amount of any supplement unless under the care of a licensed health care professional and instructed to do so. Secondly, there aren’t a lot of regulations when it comes to what goes into nutrition supplements. Many contain toxic ingredients, chemicals, dyes, fillers and other unwanted additives- you know, a lot of the same crap that shows up in our food supply. So do your research, read your labels and get your questions answered before purchasing a supplement. Symmetry Global is one company that I recommend for high-quality nutritional products backed by years of research, development and extensive laboratory testing. I have been using their products for years.

4. Protein Shouldn’t Taste Like a Double Fudge Brownie

If you hate meat, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, nuts and legumes and your favorite dessert-flavored protein shake is the ONLY way you’re going to get your protein in, then by all means drink it. What I want to bring to everyone’s attention (especially those of you who believe drinking a daily protein shake is going to make you “healthy”) is that many protein powders, shakes and bars on the market today are so full of sugar you might as well just eat a slice of cake. In addition to the sugar and extra calories often comes chemicals, dyes and other unwanted ingredients. Have you ever read the ingredient label on your protein supplement… let alone try to pronounce it? Bottom line is adding the dessert flavored protein products may be doing you more harm than good. With all that being said, there are protein products that I highly recommend and use. Both Tera’s Whey and The Naked Co. are companies that specialize in all natural, certified organic protein powders with no added sugar, chemicals or artificial ingredients. They contain few, pronounceable ingredients and taste delicious.

Take away message: Although you should aim to nourish your body with nutrients from whole foods, I understand that is not possible for everyone. I am a supporter of nutrition supplements, but it is important to remember that meeting nutrient needs with a supplement does not give you a free pass to eat potato chips and ice cream for dinner. You should not replace food with supplements. Rather, focus on meeting your nutrient needs with foods first and supplement your diet as needed. When choosing a supplement make sure you do your research and ask questions to ensure you are selecting a high quality one. If you are unsure whether or not you should be taking a supplement talk to registered dietitian.

Boost Your Health: Eat More like a Mediterranean

May is National Mediterranean Diet Month and what better way to celebrate than being fully immersed in the Mediterranean way of life? My husband and I will be doing just that as we spend the next 3 weeks traveling Italy and Greece. If you have ever visited any of the countries around the Mediterranean Sea then you know that the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. (If you haven’t, you can see for yourself in a few pictures I’ve included from our last trip to Greece). It’s hard to say what’s better- the bright blue waters, gorgeous sunny beaches and towering beach-side cliffs…or the FOOD! The food is so bright, fresh and flavorful; offering the best of both worlds- taste AND nutrition. What’s more? The Mediterranean diet is more than just great cuisine- mealtime is used to relax, talk and spend quality time with friends and family. Sounds like a great means to a healthy and happy lifestyle to me! Turns out, research agrees. Numerous studies have linked Mediterranean-style eating patterns to several health benefits.

Studies show that adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with weight loss, a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, a reduction in overall mortality- especially from heart disease and cancer and reduced rates of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Bottom line- there is a wealth of evidence that eating like a Mediterranean is beneficial for your health.

So what are the foods and flavors that make up this remarkable way of eating?

The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables are staples- as are whole grains, legumes and nuts. Residents of Greece average six or more servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables per day. The average American consumes between two and three servings, or less than half of that. (Yikes!) The grains consumed in this part of the world are typically whole, fresh, and minimally processed- free of trans-fats and artificial preservatives. They are also enjoyed plain or dipped in olive oil rather than spread with butter or margarine. This brings me to another key component of the Mediterranean diet, which is healthy fat- primarily from olive oil, but also olives, nuts, seeds and avocado. Fish and seafood are also eaten on a regular basis in the Mediterranean diet, whereas red meat is eaten sparingly and in small (aka recommended 3-4 ounce) portions. Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt, are consumed in moderate portions on a daily to weekly basis. Dessert is usually fruit and sweets are only eaten occasionally. Red wine is enjoyed in moderation (one glass for women, one to two for men), but water is the go-to drink. The preparation of foods in the Mediterranean diet is also important to address- almost nothing is processed, deep fried, or contains preservatives. For all of these reasons and more, other parts of the world are starting to take notice as research identifies the Mediterranean diet as one of the healthiest ways to eat.

Here are 10 tips to help you eat more like a Mediterranean:

  1. Load up on fruits and vegetables!! Aim to get at least 3 servings of each per day.
  2. Swap out butter, margarine and refined vegetable/seed oils for heart healthy extra virgin olive oil.
  3. DRINK WATER and enjoy red wine in moderation (optional).
  4. Choose fresh, whole grains that are minimally processed and free of preservatives.
  5. Make meat the garnish on your plate and not the centerpiece. Focus on vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts.
  6. Eat fish/seafood twice a week and consume red meat sparingly.
  7. Season foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.
  8. For dessert, eat fresh fruit.
  9. Enjoy dairy products like plain Greek yogurt and fresh cheeses- just don’t go overboard.
  10. Eat slowly and in good company- take the time to enjoy your food and surround yourself with friends and family (and when possible beautiful scenery). 

8 So-Called “Health” Foods That Aren’t Necessarily Healthy

If you haven’t figured out already, there is a lot of nutrition nonsense out there. Savvy marketing and false health claims are to blame for most of the confusion. Unfortunately there aren’t many regulations on the labeling and marketing of foods. Therefore, many consumers shop under the spell of food manufacturers who have found several ways of promoting their products as “healthy” which in many cases is absolutely not true. Here are 8 foods and beverages commonly believed to be healthy that may actually be harmful to your health:

1. Vitamin Water. The first 3 ingredients listed on a product make up the majority of what’s in it. Ingredients 2 and 3 (after water) on every flavor of this popular “health” drink are sugar…and sugar. If you’re drinking Vitamin water for the nutrition benefits, you may want to reconsider. You’re better off taking a multivitamin and drinking regular water. Better yet? Focus on getting these essential vitamins and minerals from real food.

2. Granola. Although granola does offer a decent amount of fiber and typically contains more protein than the average breakfast cereal, it’s often very high in sugar and calories. If you’re a granola lover read labels carefully to avoid loads of added sugar and stick with the recommended portion sizes (which are usually pretty small). Using a small amount of granola as a topping on fruit or yogurt is usually the best bet.

3. Sports Drinks. These are drinks fortified with electrolytes and marketed as an essential part of your post workout recovery. It is very important to re-hydrate after exercise and it is equally important to maintain normal electrolyte balance. But the body loses water a lot faster than electrolytes so drinking regular water is usually good enough for the average person.  Unless you’re someone with a very high sweat rate, are working out vigorously in extreme heat or suffer from frequent muscle cramps, it is usually unnecessary to replenish electrolytes during workouts lasting less than an hour. Sipping on a sports drink can actually offset your workout by providing unnecessary calories (usually from sugar) that you just worked so hard to burn off.

4. Salads. This is a tricky one. Salads can and should be insanely healthy offering fiber and essential nutrients found in vegetables and fruit. The problem lies in the toppings, dressings and other add-ons that can quickly pack on unnecessary sugar and calories. Carefully read labels of salad dressings as these are often high in sugar, chemicals and other unwanted additives- especially the fat-free ones! Make your own dressing at home or use oil and vinegar instead. Other healthy alternatives to traditional dressing are cottage cheese, fresh salsa or guacamole. Toppings you should avoid or use in small amounts are: cheese, bacon, croutons or crispy noodles, candied nuts and dried fruit. Aim for a variety of fruits and vegetables, add lean protein and some healthy fat- such as raw nuts, avocado or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

5. Smoothies. Although they may seem like a delicious way to get in recommended fruit servings, some smoothies can pack the same amount of calories and sugar as a milkshake. On top of it, studies show beverages are less filling than whole foods. If you’re a smoothie lover, make your own or look for those made with whole fruit and no added sugar.

6. Energy Bars. Although these popular snacks can provide protein and fiber, they are also typically highly processed and high in sugar and calories. As with everything, read your labels! More often than not you’re better off opting for real food. Equally convenient alternatives are a piece of fruit with nut butter, plain Greek yogurt topped with berries or raw nuts, string cheese, cottage cheese or veggie sticks with hummus.

7. Diet Soda. No calories and no sugar so it must be good for you right? Wrong! Diet sodas are loaded with harmful chemicals, dyes and artificial sweeteners. Studies show that drinking diet soda is associated with kidney problems, metabolic syndrome, weight gain, cell damage, tooth decay and reproductive issues (to name a few). Avoid it at all costs.

8. Low-fat Foods. Low fat almost inevitably means “high sugar.”  Many people still equate low fat in their food to lower fat on their body but this is simply not accurate. Eating fat does NOT make you fat! In fact, refined grains and sugars are more likely to cause weight gain. Low-fat foods are typically laden with sugar, artificial sweeteners and other unwanted additives that are harmful to our health. Low-fat dairy (milk, cottage cheese, yogurt) can be an exception to this, but always, always, ALWAYS read your labels to be sure!

Take away message: Things are not always as they seem. Food is no exception. Ignore the “health” claims made on the front of any food package. Instead, turn the package around and read the ingredients. Opt for products with short lists of easy-to-pronounce ingredients. Use the guidelines in my blog post Identifying Hidden Sugar to avoid added sugar as much as possible. If partially-hydrogenated oil- of any kind- shows up on your ingredient list, this means is contains trans fats- safely place the item back on the shelf and walk away. Your best bet is always to focus on eating fresh, whole, natural foods that don’t require a nutrition label at all.

An Everyday Task that is Harming Your Health

Sweat is associated with body odor and no one wants to smell right? Hence, applying deodorant or antiperspirant has become a non-negotiable part of every Americans daily hygiene regimen. In fact, I am willing to bet that most of you haven’t gone a day without wearing it since reaching puberty! Would you believe me if I told you I haven’t worn deodorant or antiperspirant in over 2 years? (And I don’t smell)! I made this change after learning about the harmful ingredients found in most deodorants and antiperspirants and the health risks associated with them.

First of all, it is important to know that sweating is a natural and very necessary bodily function. Sweat is the body’s way of cooling itself down and eliminating toxins and impurities. It’s also important to know that sweat glands aren’t only for excreting waste from our bodies, they are highly absorbent too! Thus, what we put ON our body, usually ends up IN our body. And possibly the most surprising fact that I’ll share with you about sweating? Sweat itself does NOT smell! Body odor is actually caused by festering bacteria on our skin. Regardless, body odor is a very real thing and the universal solution has been regular underarm application of an anti-stink stick most of us would refer to as deodorant or antiperspirant.

Although the words “deodorant” and “antiperspirant” are often used interchangeably, it is important to address the fact that there is a huge difference between the two. Deodorant is designed to deodorize- aka cover up the pungent smell that can often occur in underarm areas. Some also have anti-bacterial properties to fight off odor-causing bacteria in an attempt to prevent the smell from occurring in the first place. Antiperspirants, on the other hand are designed to clog, close or block underarm pores with aluminum in order to prevent sweat, or perspiration.  This effectively changes the function and physiology of the body, classifying antiperspirants as a drug. Most deodorants on the market today are antiperspirants. Either way, if you’re using traditional deodorant or antiperspirant, you are most likely lathering several toxic chemicals and harmful ingredients directly into one of the most absorbent parts of your body.

Aluminum and parabens found in most deodorants and antiperspirants may be a risk factor for the development of breast cancer. Another common ingredient- Propylene glycol- is a neurotoxin known to cause contact dermatitis, kidney damage, and liver damage.TEA, DEA, Triclosan, FD&C Colors and Talc are more popular ingredients that are known to have carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects and may disrupt critical hormone systems and cause allergic skin reactions.

The good news is that there are better ways to tackle offensive body odor! So let’s talk alternatives. Several plant oils and extracts contain their very own antibacterial powers and lovely fragrances so in theory you can make your own deodorant- and the internet is flooded with recipes. If you’re not feeling that ambitious, here are a few of my favorite natural products:

Primally Pure makes a natural deodorant from all organic ingredients safe enough to eat. It works really well and comes in 5 scents including lemongrass and lavender.

Mineral salt is another option. It’s typically sold in a rock form and is completely odorless, gentle and fights odor by naturally killing bacteria. Thai and Crystal are two popular brands. Both can be found online or at any health store.

Baking Soda and Baby Powder are other popular alternatives.

Keep in mind that adjusting to 100% natural deodorant may take some time. The more you use it the better it works. Allow your body a couple of weeks to adjust. (During which time you may need to wash more often). It’s also important to note that the foods you consume play a huge role in body odor too. Eating toxic foods may cause you to produce a sour or more pungent smell whereas eating clean, natural foods is more likely to produce minimal smell or a slightly sweet scent.

Take away message: A healthy lifestyle is multifaceted- we must pay attention to every aspect of our lives and make decisions in the best interest of our whole selves.