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!

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.

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.

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.

4 More Big Fat Nutrition Lies (Part Two)

Welcome to Part 2 of 5 Big Fat Nutrition Lies. Here’s to clearing up a few more common misconceptions in the world of nutrition:

Lie No. 6: Carbs Should be Your Biggest Source of Calories (and fat should be your smallest).

Fact: Extensive research has proven a low-fat, high-carb diet to be ineffective and potentially dangerous. If you remember back to the days of the food pyramid, grains found their home at the base of the pyramid, suggesting they should be our biggest source of calories. Fats hung out at the very tip of the pyramid, suggesting we should consume them sparingly. This outdated reference was finally revised by the USDA and the food pyramid has died a long overdue death. Unfortunately, confusion regarding this topic continues to linger.  Allow me to explain…Many years ago, it was believed that dietary fat led to weight gain and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This was based on low quality, flawed studies that since have been proven wrong- repeatedly! Regardless, the low-fat diet craze began and in addition to consuming less fat, it was recommended we eat more carbs (about 50-60% of our calorie intake!). Around the time this low-fat, high-carb diet was implemented, the health of our nation plummeted. The obesity epidemic began and disease rates sky rocketed. Decades and several massive studies later, this diet has been proven ineffective and even harmful to many individuals- specifically those with obesity, metabolic syndrome or diabetes.

Studies today consistently show that diets that are high in fat and low in carbs are much more effective for weight-loss and preventing disease. Stop fearing fat! The truth is we need fat to utilize essential fatty acids, support a healthy immune system, proper metabolic function, strong bones and muscles. Healthy, natural fats that are found in fish, animals, animal products, nuts and natural oils are very good for us and actually help protect against cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. So if you have been avoiding fat, stop! Enjoy it, it’s nutritious AND delicious! (The only fat that needs to be avoided is Trans Fat– it is not natural and very harmful to the human body.) *Also, please remember not all carbohydrates are “bad” and they are absolutely an essential part of our diet- they just don’t need to make up 50-60% of it. Focus on getting the majority of your carbs from fruits and vegetables.

Lie No. 7: Everyone Should be Eating Whole Grains.

Fact: Grains are not a necessary part of our diet and can actually be harmful to our metabolism. Whole grains have been all the rage lately and although they are more nutrient dense and less processed than refined grains, that doesn’t mean that they are appropriate for everyone.  If you are someone who does not enjoy eating grains or they are problematic for you, it’s perfectly fine to avoid them. Your health is not at risk because we don’t NEED to eat whole grains. Every beneficial nutrient (fiber, vitamins, minerals) found in whole grains can be found in several other foods. In fact, most fruits and vegetables are better sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals than the average whole grain. The most common grain in the United States’ diet is wheat, which contains gluten that a significant portion of our population may be sensitive to. Intolerant or not, gluten causes inflammation in the body, which can lead to a whole slew of chronic diseases. If you are a grain-lover, I challenge you to expand your horizon beyond wheat and incorporate a variety of grains like quinoa, barley, rye, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, farro, millet, Kamut and oats in your diet.

Lie No. 8: Vegetarian & Vegan Diets are the Healthiest

Fact: Vegetarians and Vegans Can Be Missing Key Nutrients for Health. Let me start out by saying that I completely respect individuals choosing to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet for moral or religious reasons. However, if you’re following one of these diets simply because you have heard it’s healthier, you may want to reconsider. Vegetarian and Vegan diets tend to be very high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat, which has been scientifically proven to be problematic for overall health promotion and disease prevention. Individuals following a vegetarian or vegan diet are also at a very high risk of developing a Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that helps support bone health, muscle mass, healthy hormonal levels and cognitive function. This nutrient is ONLY found in animal-based proteins so if you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, it should be supplemented. Vegetarians and vegans also tend to consume a diet rich in soy and soy products. Soy has been a very controversial topic, but what we do know is that it contains phytoestrogens and high levels have been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, Type 2 Diabetes, infertility, depression and several cancers. If possible, I recommend incorporating responsible animal products such as grass-fed meat, free-range poultry and fermented dairy to your diet. If not, at the very least take a Vitamin B12 supplement, focus on getting plenty of healthy fats and protein from vegetarian sources and consume soy in small amounts.

Lie No. 9: You Should Eat 5-6 Small Meals Per Day to “Keep Metabolism High”

Fact: Eating all the time doesn’t make you healthier or help your metabolism. It’s true that your metabolism increases slightly when you eat in order to digest the food, but it’s the total amount of food consumed in a day that determines the energy you use, NOT the number (or frequency) of meals. Several studies have put the small, frequent meals method to the test and found it ineffective. It’s also not natural for the human body to be continuously in the fed state. Fasting, or not eating for a while is natural and good for you. Your body uses this time to burn fat more efficiently and clean waste products out of our cells. People also tend to feel fuller with fewer, bigger meals than with smaller, frequent meals. Your digestive system prefers to move food in bulk too. To help curb in-between meal hunger, make sure you’re getting enough protein and fat at mealtime. They both increase satiety and will help keep you feeling full until your next meal.

Feel free to comment with any questions.