How to Eat Healthy on the Road

Our bags are packed and my husband and I are headed to Paris for the weekend! Preparing for a 4 hour drive in each direction, I took the liberty of packing some car snacks. In fact, food is usually the first -and last thing I think about when traveling…okay, always. All I ever think about is food. Staying on track when traveling is difficult to do 100% of the time and to be honest, I choose not to! But in anticipation of the fresh local pastries, salted caramel crepes and decadent European chocolates and macaroons I will find in Paris, I am choosing NOT to go off track for a fast food cheeseburger or a truck stop slurpee. Call me crazy, but I like to say I choose my indulgences wisely.  Here are a few tips that can help you do the same:

Pack Healthy Snacks

Your packing list shouldn’t just include your toothbrush, toiletries and an extra pair of underwear… Whether you’re catching a quick flight or planning a ten hour road trip, you should plan to pack healthy snacks. Options on the road are often limited to drive-thru windows and corner store gas stations, so take the extra time to pack something nutritious. Examples of healthy, on-the-road snacks are raw veggies and hummus, string cheese, fresh and dried fruit, yogurt, nuts, granola, and hard boiled eggs. Another one of my favorite snacks to pack, which you will see pictured above, are my 3 Ingredient Chocolate Almond Truffles. (*fun fact: I have never had a problem getting through airport security with a “sack lunch” and I have been known to eat all of the above during my flights*)

Choose Your Stops Wisely

When you’re on the road and deciding where to stop to replenish, choose wisely. If you stop for fast food, your options are limited to fast food. Instead, stop at a supermarket or grocery store that has a salad bar or whole, healthy food options.

Drink Water

Do not avoid drinking water in order to make fewer rest stops. Water is essential during travel to keep you hydrated. It will also help you avoid travel lag and junk-food cravings.

Coffee: Should You be Drinking It?

In this post I shed light on yet another controversial health topic: COFFEE. Coffee has been demonized for decades. Recent studies, however, are finding it may belong in the same category as healthy beverages like green tea. Therein the question lies- Should you be drinking it? My hope is to provide you with enough information about coffee to help you make an educated decision that is in your best interest.

First, let’s take a look at some benefits to drinking coffee…

Antioxidants

Coffee contains a small amount of several essential vitamins and minerals, which can add up over time, but where coffee really excels is in it’s high antioxidant content. Coffee is the number one source of antioxidants for the average American. I’m not saying coffee the best source of antioxidants, but it is the source the average person consuming a typical Western diet is most likely to get them from. (Which really just speaks poorly of our fruit and vegetable consumption!) Regardless, it’s high antioxidant content has linked coffee to a number of health benefits. Studies have shown that coffee drinkers have a significantly lower risk of developing depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 Diabetes, cirrhosis and liver cancer. Given that coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of many deadly diseases, some studies are even saying drinking coffee can help you live longer.

Caffeine

As you probably already know, caffeine is the active ingredient in coffee. Something you may not know is that this stimulant does more than just keep you awake. Caffeine has positive affects on brain function and metabolism too. Many controlled trials have shown that caffeine can improve memory, mood, energy levels, reaction time and overall cognitive function. Caffeine also boosts metabolism, improves athletic performance and is one of the very few natural substances that has been proven to increase fat burning.

Although these benefits may be enough to classify coffee as a true health tonic, it is important to discuss the negative aspects of coffee as well…

Caffeine

Even though I just got done discussing the many benefits of caffeine consumption, too much caffeine can be problematic. Unwanted side effects of caffeine consumption include jitteriness, anxiety, heart palpitations and difficulty sleeping. Caffeine is also an addictive substance. As you consume it regularly you can become tolerant to it. Caffeine can stop working the way it used to or a higher dose may be required to receive the same desired benefits. When regular consumers refrain from drinking coffee, they can experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches, drowsiness, and irritability.

Other Considerations

Certain people should avoid drinking coffee or severely limit their consumption. These include women who are pregnant or nursing and people with anxiety issues, high blood pressure or suffering from insomnia. And something EVERY coffee drinker needs to consider is how they’re drinking it. Believe it or not, the BIGGEST problem coffee poses lies in what we add to it. Store bought sweetened creamers are laden with sugar, chemicals and harmful trans fats. Similarly, some specialty drinks from our local coffee shop contain sugar and calories equivalent to eating a row of Oreos for breakfast! These are NOT healthy and will counteract any health benefit your coffee offered in the first place. If you are someone who can’t enjoy coffee unless it tastes like your favorite dessert, I urge you to try one of these alternatives: Drink your coffee black or switch to caffeinated tea, buy coffee that is already flavored, flavor your coffee with coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk or cream, add cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices and if you really can’t live without sweetened coffee creamer, there are coffee creamers on the market that are trans fat and chemical free. I know Nestle has a line called “natural bliss” because my mother-in-law uses it.

My Personal Opinion

If you’re a coffee drinker and enjoy it without any negative side effects, there is no reason to stop. For most people, the health benefits of drinking coffee seem to far outweigh the risks. If you are not a coffee drinker on the other hand, I don’t think this evidence is good enough reason to start. I personally do not like the idea of being dependent on something, so although I do drink coffee, I consume very little of it. I am fairly sensitive to caffeine so a few ounces of coffee in the morning is enough to energize me for the entire day. Seriously, one 20 ounce black coffee will last me an entire week. Coffee is addictive and extremely habit forming and for that reason some days I simply choose not to drink it. I only drink it if I feel I “need” it. If you drink coffee, I encourage you to find a system that works best for you. For healthy adults with no medical issues, consuming 300mg-400mg of caffeine (or two to three 8-ounce cups of coffee) each day is thought to be safe. I would encourage you not to exceed this safe limit. But, as always, my best advice to you is to listen to your body and determine a comfortable limit for you.

The Healing Power of Sleep

Sleep better, live better. It’s as simple as that.

Hundreds of studies have proven the importance of getting enough sleep, but how much is enough? It is recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Much more or much less than that can put your health at serious risk. For those of you who claim to be “too busy” for adequate sleep, I’m willing to bet there may be some television or computer screen time that can be sacrificed in order to squeeze in an extra hour or two of shut eye each night. The bottom line is that sleep is essential for every aspect of our health: mind, body and soul. It’s not something you want to skimp on and here’s why:

Healthy Mind

Quality sleep is vital for learning, memory, focus, attention and decision making. When we sleep our minds are able to process our day and make memories and connections during a process called consolidation. Adequate sleep also keeps us alert, thinking clearly and ready to seize the day!

Healthy Body

Our hormones, immune system and metabolism are all affected by sleep. Inadequate sleep suppresses our immune function making our bodies more vulnerable to infection. Getting enough sleep will help fight off colds, the flu and other illnesses. Sleep deprivation also causes an increase in inflammation in our bodies. Chronic inflammation is the cause of common aches and pains and has been linked to things such as heart attack, diabetes and stroke. Lastly, inadequate sleep affects metabolism. When we are sleep deprived certain hormones increase in our blood, which drive appetite and can lead to weight gain. Our bodies are much happier and perform more efficiently when they are well rested.

Healthy Soul

Adequate sleep can help reduce stress and support emotional stability. Getting enough sleep won’t guarantee a sunny disposition, but I think we all know that being overtired is when we’re most likely to be cranky. Insufficient sleep has also been shown to contribute to depression. Basically, you’re in an all around better mood when you get enough sleep.

To Buy Organic or Not? That is the Question.

To buy organic or not? This is a question on the mind of many health-conscious consumers today. Followed by, “Is it really ‘healthier’ to buy organic?” and “Is it worth the additional cost?” Let me start out by saying there is no ONE way to eat. Everyone’s story is a different one and I’m not here to tell you where to spend your money. I am simply here to provide you with high-quality information- what you do with it is entirely up to you. My hope is that this post can clear up some confusion regarding organic foods and help you make a decision that is in your best interest.

First of all let’s answer the question What is organic? According to the USDA, organic food is produced using sustainable agricultural production practices. Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the use of most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. Look for the USDA Organic seal pictured above to help identify organic products. When deciphering other “organic” claims on food packaging, use this simple guide:

So… Is organic healthier? Several studies have found that organic produce contains higher levels of certain nutrients and antioxidants than their non-organic counterparts. However, there isn’t enough research analyzing the nutrient quality of organic versus non-organic foods to deem one ‘healthier’ than the other. The main benefit of choosing organic produce is that it lowers your exposure to pesticides.

Should I be Concerned about Pesticides? Well, pesticides are toxic. They are specifically designed to kill living organisms like insects, plants and fungi that are considered “pests.” Because of their toxicity, many pesticides pose health risks to people as well. These risks have been scientifically proven and linked to problems like cancer, hormone disruption, brain and nervous system toxicity and skin, eye and lung irritation. What’s more? Pesticides can remain on foods even after being thoroughly washed and peeled.

The Good News: Each Year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases an annual list called the Dirty Dozen™. The Dirty Dozen™ is a list of fruits and vegetables that the USDA has found to have the highest amount of pesticide residue. It has been estimated that individuals can reduce their exposure to harmful pesticides by 80% if they only switch to buying organic when buying these 12 most contaminated foods. Whether or not the additional cost of buying organic is worth it is entirely up to you. My personal recommendation is to use the Dirty Dozen™ list as a shopping guide and to choose the organic versions of these items when available and choose a less-contaminated alternative when they are not.

2015 Dirty Dozen™ is as follows:

Apples (and apple products)

Peaches

Nectarines

Strawberries

Grapes

Celery

Spinach

Sweet Bell Peppers

Cucumbers

Cherry Tomatoes

Snap Peas (Imported)

Potatoes

Take away message: The message here is NOT to avoid the foods on the Dirty Dozen™ list. The message is simply to buy them organic, when possible, to reduce your risk of pesticide exposure. The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables far outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Eating conventionally grown produce is better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.  So organic or not, eat your fruits and vegetables! If you’re worried about pesticide exposure, the Dirty Dozen™ is a resource available to help you shop smarter. The EWG also releases a list called the Clean Fifteen™ which lists produce with the lowest amount of pesticide residue and therefore the safest to buy non-organic. These lists are published annually on www.ewg.org along with other healthy shopping guides. So, “To Buy Organic or Not”? Like I said, that is entirely up to you. My hope is that this post has helped you make an informed decision that you feel good about.