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.

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.

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.