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.

Guiltless Chocolate PB “Ice Cream” Cups

Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Ice Cream are my three favorite ways to satisfy a sweet tooth. When I reach for items containing any of these at the supermarket I am always frustratingly disappointed at the ingredient list. Now, I’m not being unrealistic- I understand I am indulging in an occasional treat that will most likely be high in sugar and not offer much else nutritionally BUT is it really necessary that an endless number of chemical preservatives, artificial flavors and colors be added to it as well? Anyways, knowing full well the dangers of consuming such ingredients, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I came up with an all natural and MUCH healthier version of an American favorite: Reese’s Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cups. I have included a nutritional comparison at the bottom to show you just how big of a difference there is between the traditional version of this dessert and my homemade recipe.

Here’s how I made it…

Ingredients: (Makes 12-14 cups)

1 16 oz can Garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup natural peanut butter (creamy)

1/2 cup milk (I used organic cows milk, but almond milk, coconut milk or soy milk should work just as well)

6 pitted soft dates

1 Tbsp 100% pure maple syrup (may substitute with honey)

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Coarse sea salt to taste

Directions:

1. Add garbanzo beans, peanut butter, milk and dates to food processor. Mix until well combined and smooth (about 1-2 minutes).

2. Add chocolate chips & stir in by hand.

3. Place batter into lined muffin tin. Top each cup with a pinch of coarse sea salt. (don’t skip this step! It enhances the flavor tremendously)

4. Freeze for at least 2 hours.

5. Allow “ice cream” cup to soften at room temperature for 3-5 minutes before eating. Enjoy!

These are seriously SO delicious. I know it’s hard to believe that garbanzo beans can taste like smooth cold ice cream, but they do! And it’s not just my crazy dietitian taste buds that think so- this recipe is 100% husband approved (and he’s the KING of Reese’s peanut butter cups)!

Now for the good stuff: wonder how these Chocolate PB “Ice Cream” Cups compare to the real deal? Take a look at this nutritional break down (per serving):

                          Reese’s                                                VS.                                                  My Recipe

                        220 calories                                                                                                     120 calories

              16 g Fat (8 g Saturated Fat)                                                                         5.5 g Fat (2 g Saturated Fat)

                          0 g Fiber                                                                                                            3 g Fiber

                        16 g Sugar                                                                                                           8 g Sugar

                        2 g Protein                                                                                                           4 g Protein

                * 8 chemical additives                                                                                      * ZERO chemical additives

                   * 1 artificial color                                                                                              * ZERO artificial colors

There you have it! You do not have to sabotage your diet in order to satisfy a sweet tooth. I hope you all love these as much as I do. Let me know what you think 🙂

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.

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.

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.

5 Simple Things You Can Do to Improve Your Health

Contrary to what social norms may have you believe, a healthy lifestyle does not require growing your own food, shopping at expensive health stores, hiring personal trainers or spending hours in the kitchen! These are simply choices that some heath conscious individuals make. There are plenty of ways to be healthy that can fit into your personal life and meet your individual needs. Stop letting what others choose to do discourage or intimidate you. Being healthy looks different for everyone. With that being said, here are a few simple things just about anyone can do to improve their health:

1. Drink More Water: Your life depends on it. About 2/3 of our bodies are made up of water and every single one of our cells relies on water to function. Water increases metabolism, aides in digestion, prevents constipation, optimizes nutrient absorption, regulates body temperature, improves the immune system, helps flush out toxins, improves brain function, wards off illness and helps us look younger. Want to kick your water up a notch? Squeeze a slice of lemon or lime into it for added antioxidant benefits.

2. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are packed with water, fiber, essential vitamins and minerals. They also contain phytonutrients that help your body fight off illness and can prevent chronic disease and cancer. Try to eat at least 3 servings of each per day and aim for a variety of colors.

3. Go for a Walk. Our bodies were made to move. Regular physical activity is one of the most important things we can do for our health. Walking alone can help us control our body weight, prevent chronic disease and cancer, improve our mental health and mood, strengthen our muscles and bones and relieve stress.  Get up and move every day. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity 5 x per week. It may be easier for you to divide your daily active time into two or three segments of 10-15 minutes. Remember, being active doesn’t require a trip to the gym!! Go for a walk on your lunch break or alternate doing jumping jacks, burpees and mountain climbers during the commercial breaks of your favorite evening television show. Whatever you need to do to get your heart rate up, do it.

4. Drink Tea. Tea is a healthy beverage that is high in antioxidants and offers many health benefits (if you skip the cream and sugar). Brew your tea for at least 3 – 5 minutes to bring out beneficial polyphenols.

5. Smile More. Smiling releases endorphins which can improve our mood, decrease stress and temporarily relieve pain. Smiling can also lower our risk of illness and disease by improving immune function and lowering blood pressure.

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.

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.