Learn to Eat Smart
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Decoding Food Labels
Hayley Weise | 04/17/2018
Reading food labels can sometimes feel like trying to understand a foreign language.
Reading food labels can sometimes feel like trying to understand a foreign language. It seems like every fad diet tells us to pay attention to a different nutrient one week, you're told to restrict calories and limit carbohydrates; and the next week, fat and sugar are off limits.
If you're struggling to understand food labels, you're not alone. These guidelines may help you the next time you're trying to decide between two snacks.
- Start with the serving size. Serving sizes are standardized to help you better compare foods. The serving size influences the number of calories and other nutrient amounts listed on the food label. Before having a snack, ask yourself, how many servings am I consuming?
- Consider the calories. Despite the heightened attention on calories, they are not the be-all and end-all of nutrition. Calories are units of energy, and your body needs energy to survive. In order to understand the caloric value of a food, you must first understand the serving size. This tool will help you understand exactly how much you should be eating based on your individual needs.
- Which nutrients to limit. The first nutrients listed on a food label are fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Too much of these nutrients can increase your risk of certain chronic diseases. Keep in mind that while you should limit the amount of these nutrients that you consume, they're still necessary for a healthy lifestyle. For example, avocados, nuts, and fatty fish are all sources of good fatt are better choices than pre-packaged snack foods.
- Which nutrients to get enough of. Other nutrients to pay attention to are fiber, calcium, iron, and Vitamins A and C. According to the FDA, eating enough of these nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some health conditions.
- Look at the carbohydrates. Carbs is often a buzzword when it comes to dieting. Low carb has become synonymous with healthy. However, that's not always the case. The key is to make sure that most of the carbohydrates you eat are good or complex carbohydrates like sweet potato, whole grain pasta, and beans as opposed to bad or simple carbohydrates like candies, pastries, and white rice or bread. Simple carbohydrates are higher in sugar and lower in fiber, and they contain little real value for your body.
- Sugar. Sugar can be naturally occurring (like in fruits) or added artificially (like in desserts or cereals). If you're watching your sugar intake, make sure that added sugars aren't listed as one of the first ingredients. Sugar can be disguised as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup.
- Anything else? Of course! Protein. Protein is found in meat, eggs, beans, and nuts. Foods that contain protein are known to keep you fuller longer, so if they're low in sugar and fat, they can be a great snack!
Above all, it's important to practice balance. Every nutrient is important to nourish your body and keep it working the way it's supposed to. Try these tips the next time you go to the grocery store! Don't be fooled by common phrases like all natural, or low carb, because now you have the tools to know better.
The Importance of Eating Smart
Use our Eat Smart blog to stay updated on healthy eating tips and trends.
Everyone knows that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is good for the body, and contributes to good health and wellbeing. Taking care of your body also means drinking water and beverages with few or no calories. A healthy diet can reduce your risk of developing:
- Heart Disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
- High Blood Pressure
- Bone Loss
Today, with busy schedules and on-the-go lifestyles, eating and drinking healthfully has become a challenge for many. The good news is that communities are making it easier for you to make healthy choices. This is evident in roadside stands and farmers' markets that accept SNAP, WIC, and Senior Vouchers (credit and debit too!), and farm share programs, where you buy a "share" of a local farmer's harvest.
Use our Eat Smart blog to stay updated on healthy eating tips and trends that you can use to make healthy changes to your diet. You may be inspired to visit a local farmers' market, join a farm share program, or even start your own garden!
5 Common Root Vegetables that are Good for You
Brandie Freeman | 02/05/2018
Winter provides an assortment of vegetables that are good for you and comforting and the same time.
Winter provides an assortment of vegetables that are good for you and comforting at the same time. Most of the vegetables on my top 5 list are root vegetables which means they grow underground allowing them to absorb more nutrients from the soil. All of the root vegetables listed below are in season during the fall and winter months, so they�۪re widely available in grocery stores and at farmers�۪ markets.
Use these 5 common root vegetables in planning your family meals, and yummy them up with some of these cooking tips. They are packed full of vitamins and nutrients and have many health benefits that will keep your family strong and healthy.
- Carrots. Raw carrots have become the ���go to� snack for many who try to eat healthy, but cooked carrots taste just as good. As
we�۪ve all heard our parents say, carrots are good for your eyes. They�۪re also good for your heart and digestive tract. Carrots are loaded with
vitamin A. They can be boring when served cooked and alone, but add them to a pot of beef stew, vegetable soup, or chicken noodle soup, and you�۪ve
jazzed up your warm and cozy meal.
- Rutabagas. These lovely vegetables are a staple for many older generations. They�۪re white and purple on the outside, with a wax
coating to protect the flesh during handling. Rutabagas are high in fiber and help with digestive health, and they contain vitamins C, B-6, magnesium,
potassium, and calcium. This root veggie is a real health booster. Rutabagas aren�۪t easy to peel and slice because they�۪re rather hard. I like
to roast them with potatoes or cube them and boil them in water with a little salt and pepper.
- Sweet Potatoes. Sweet potatoes are packed with potassium and vitamins A and C, fiber, and many other nutrients. They help improve
your digestive health, immune system, and control diabetes, among other benefits. Sweet potatoes are easy to cook. You can bake, mash, and roast
them. There are also some great recipes for sweet potato soup. My favorite is wrapping them in foil and baking them. When they�۪re done, cut them
open and season them with a little margarine and pumpkin pie spice. That�۪s a yummy treat!
- Turnips. Taste buds change as you get older, and that has has happened to me! Turnips don�۪t taste as bad as they did when I was
little. They�۪re versatile in that you can eat both the greens and the roots. Turnips are related to rutabagas and provide more nutritional value
than any other vegetable I�۪ve noticed through my research. They have a lot of vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals like K, A, E, B1, B3, B5,
B6, B2, folate, fiber, potassium, magnesium, etc. The list goes on and on! The health benefits of turnips range from digestive and heart health
to skin and anti-aging. Cooking turnips is fairly simple. The root can be boiled or roasted like potatoes and rutabagas. The leafy greens can be
used in salads or saut̩ed for a side dish.
- Cabbage. Cabbage comes in two colors ��� green and red. In the South, we often eat it in coleslaw. Cabbage is synonymous with the Irish, as it became a staple in the mid-1800�۪s. As the Irish found out, cabbage is good for you. It�۪s an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. By eating cabbage, your improving brain health, bone health, and blood pressure. I like cabbage because my mom cooked it often for our family. I simply chop it and saute it with a touch of water until it�۪s tender. I usually season my cabbage with a little salt and pepper. I�۪ve used cabbage in a tomato-based vegetable soup, and I�۪ve even seen recipes for roasted cabbage, so it seems to be a versatile vegetable.
- Carrots. Raw carrots have become the ���go to� snack for many who try to eat healthy, but cooked carrots taste just as good. As we�۪ve all heard our parents say, carrots are good for your eyes. They�۪re also good for your heart and digestive tract. Carrots are loaded with vitamin A. They can be boring when served cooked and alone, but add them to a pot of beef stew, vegetable soup, or chicken noodle soup, and you�۪ve jazzed up your warm and cozy meal.
Sport Drinks: An Unhealthy Choice
Lauren Wright | 01/26/2018
Many people think sports drink are a healthy replacement for water. Are they right or wrong?
Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are often marketed as healthy options, and they have grown increasingly popular with children in recent years. It�۪s not uncommon to see people reaching for sports drinks even when they�۪ve done no exercise.
So, how good or bad are sports drinks for you really?
Sports drinks are designed to replenish water, carbohydrates and sugars lost through vigorous exercise. Gatorade was first developed by scientists at the University of Florida to refuel football players who were practicing in heavy gear in the sun and humidity for hours a day. For them, sports drinks were necessary to prevent dehydration from the heat and intense exercise.
But, how many average Americans perform that kind of intense exercise on a regular basis?
Sports drinks are packed with sugar. For example, one 12oz serving of orange Gatorade contains 80 calories and 20 grams of sugar, and keep in mind the average bottle contains 2.5 servings. A single bottle of Gatorade contains 200 calories and 50 grams of sugar! The American Heart Association recommends that adult women limit their added sugar intake to 100 calories per day and adult men 150 calories per day. Downing one bottle of a sports drink will far exceed your recommended sugar for the day.
So, should you or your child be consuming sports drinks every day?
Probably not. A good rule of thumb for adults performing less than one hour of vigorous exercise should stick to rehydrating with water. As for kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend that children consume sports drinks at all.
So, the next time you're thirsty, rehydrate with water. H2O is calorie and sugar-free!
10 Tips for Saving Money at the Grocery Store Without Coupons
Ken Immer | 01/15/2018
Save money at the grocery checkout with these tips!
Grocery shopping can be a chore, and budgets can be tight. We have a tendency to reach for convenience foods which tend to actually cost more. These 10 tips can help you balance healthy options with a budget without having to clip coupons.
- Take advantage of your store€۪s loyalty program where you sign up to get big savings.
- Purchase items that are on sale or buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO). Many stores have a rotation of special offers on staple items such
as meats, paper products, cheese, drinks and produce. Figure out the rotation and stock up on items that freeze well or have longer shelf-lives.
- Let sale prices determine your menu if you like being spontaneous with your weekly meals, and buy only items that are on sale.
- Check out the discontinued table or rack near the cashier stations or the back of the store near the stockroom entrance.
They are often hidden, but you never know what you might find as they rotate through stock. These are the lowest prices in the store!
- Avoid buying foods that are already cut like shredded cheese or carrots). The whole versions are cheaper and do not spoil as
- Save money by not throwing away spoiled foods. Use the €€€bulk bins€۪ rather than packaged bags for items like fresh spinach,
mushrooms and salad greens. These items don€۪t store well and should only be purchased in amounts that you will use immediately.
- Reduce waste by buying frozen foods. Some frozen vegetables such as green beans, broccoli, peas and corn can be inexpensive in
bulk and stay fresh in the freezer, and they keep their nutritional quality.
- Try store brands. Generic brands are actually not so bad. Many name brands are the same exact products packed under store labels
with the same quality standards. If the packaging looks similar to your favorite brand, it€۪s a good possibility it€۪s manufactured by the national
- Consider purchasing fruits at different stages of ripeness. Avocados, tomatoes and bananas can be bought ripe and ready to eat or
not so ripe and have a day or two to be ready.
- Don't shop when you are hungry, and stick to your list!
- Take advantage of your store€۪s loyalty program where you sign up to get big savings.
4 Ways to Make Thanksgiving Healthier
Lauren Wright | 11/21/2017
Ready to enjoy a healthy and active Thanksgiving this year?
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and chances are you�۪re already planning your holiday meal or at least daydreaming about all the turkey and pie you�۪re about to eat! While this time of year is all about enjoying time with family and indulging in good food, it�۪s often tempting to over eat. We want to you to be able to enjoy this special holiday without overdoing it.
Here are four ways to help you enjoy your Thanksgiving while keeping active and healthy:
- Start your day off with exercise and work up an appetite.
Take a quick walk with your relatives or play football in the yard with the kids before you sit down for turkey. Being active as a family not only allows you to spend time together on this holiday but also allows you to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal You also end up balancing the extra calories with physical activity. Many communities have Turkey Trots on Thanksgiving morning. Check your local newspaper for listings.
- Make room for your favorite holiday treats.
Decide what your favorite Thanksgiving dishes are that you only enjoy this time of year. You should be sure to enjoy those dishes, but you can balance by cutting back on other foods you enjoy all year round. For example, my family only prepares my favorite apple-cranberry casserole on Thanksgiving, so I make sure to enjoy it while I can, but I skip the dinner rolls that I eat on a more regular basis.
- Make healthier substitutions.
Traditional Thanksgiving dishes tend to be high in fat, sugar, and sodium, but with a few tweaks, it�۪s easy to lighten up your favorite recipes. Pick a low-fat stock or gravy, and choose a low sodium stuffing. Swap plain yogurt in creamy dishes for sour cream. Sometimes in fruit pie or crumble fillings, you can reduce the amount of sugar slightly without greatly altering the flavor. And choose whole grains when possible! There are lots of light recipe ideas online these days.
- Rethink your drink.
Alcohol is often enjoyed with the Thanksgiving meal, but it�۪s easy to consume a lot of empty calories by drinking too much. Watch how much you drink or try mixing sparkling water with wine to make a lower calorie spritzer.
- Start your day off with exercise and work up an appetite.
3 Ways to Avoid Going Overboard at Thanksgiving
Coleman Tanner | 11/21/2017
Thanksgiving is a day to indulge... mindfully!
In just a few days, you'll face a challenge: cakes, pies, and creamy casseroles galore. It can be difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle during the holiday season, especially with so many tempting foods at our fingertips.
We have good news: Thanksgiving doesn't have to be a 24-hour smorgasbord. It is entirely possible to indulge on your favorite Thanksgiving treats without going overboard. Consider these tips to help you stick to a plan on Turkey Day.
- Don't indulge all day long. This may seem like a no-brainer, but people often disregard nutrition for the entire day on Thanksgiving. They either skip breakfast altogether and munch on appetizers all day long or enjoy a large, calorie-dense breakfast on top of what they'll be eating for dinner that evening. Instead, enjoy a hearty, healthy breakfast like scrambled eggs with some fruit and whole grain toast to tide you over until the big meal.
- Stay active. Fun runs are becoming increasingly popular on Thanksgiving Day! Round up the whole family and register for your local road race to get your hearts pumping. Races aren't your thing? That's okay! Walking a 5k is still a great way to get your blood pumping and spend time with your family during the holidays. Or, to make things even easier, pick teams and host a family football game in the yard while the turkey is cooking. There's nothing like a little friendly competition, right?
- Be mindful. If you constantly obsess over what you're eating, you won't enjoy your holiday to the fullest. Instead, make small changes to ensure that you're doing what's best for your mind and body. Try swapping out the creamy casseroles (like green bean) with fresh vegetables, go easy on the gravy, and eat the healthy foods on your plate before devouring the heavy, starchy foods so that you're not tempted to eat so much. Eat slowly so your body knows when it's full, and don't beat yourself up over a piece of pie! But instead of going back for seconds or thirds, treat yourself to one small piece.
Remember, one day of unhealthy eating doesn't make your entire lifestyle an unhealthy one, just like one day of healthy eating doesn't make your entire lifestyle a healthy one. Committing to a healthy lifestyle takes time, energy, and balance.
Like we teach children, once in a while foods like desserts are rightfully named: because they're okay sometimes. Thanksgiving is certainly one of those times. Enjoy the day with your family around the table and do something active as a group if you are able. If not? Resolve to try again tomorrow.
How to Tell When Produce is Ripe
Ken Immer | 11/18/2016
We can save money and time by using ripeness as a purchasing strategy.
When purchasing produce, the biggest question is often, “When is ______ ripe?”. A better question to ask is, “Should I buy it before it’s ripe or when it’s ripe?” Sometimes buying foods before they are ripe can be a good strategy, as long as you consider when you plan to eat it and how many days it will be stored before use. We end up wasting a lot of food because it ‘turns past its prime’ before we have a chance to eat it. We can save money and time by using ripeness as a purchasing strategy rather than just a countdown clock till you throw produce away.
Here are a few items that can be purchased at varying degrees of ripeness or being ready to eat:
- Ready to eat: When the skin is uniformly dark, and when squeezed gently it gives a bit but is not mushy. The small nub of a stem should still be attached but should come off easily with your finger.
- Timeline: Avocados start off green and very hard, but they do ripen quickly, usually within 3-4 days if purchased green. Once they are ready to eat, they can be refrigerated for 3-4 more days, whole and uncut.
- Storage: Do not refrigerate until ripe! Keep them in a countertop bowl away from sunlight. Storing in a paper bag can accelerate ripening.
- Ready to eat: Most people like to eat a banana when it is uniformly yellow, with minimal dark spots. However, they can be eaten until well spotted, as they get sweeter and softer the longer they sit.
- Timeline: Bananas, like avocados, start off green and very hard, but ripen at different rates depending on a number of factors. On average, a green banana will be ready to eat within 5-7 days. A ‘green tip’ banana which is, as it sounds, just green at the top near the stem, may take 1-2 days to become completely yellow.
- Storage: Bananas will ripen slowly in a refrigerator. However, the skin will darken more quickly than the flesh softens. Again, similar to avocados, they do well on the countertop away from the sun. Bananas are often bunched with a plastic wrapped around the stem ends, which extends their ripening time. Once removed, they ripen much more quickly.
- Ready to eat: Look for green husks that are not dried out with shiny silks. Peel back about 2 inches of the husk and make sure that the kernels are plump and tightly arranged.
- Timeline: Choose corn that is either in a refrigerated section or an especially cool part of the store. Any heat can cause it to rot very quickly. Otherwise, corn will keep 2-3 days after purchase as long as it’s kept in the husk.
- Storage: Store in the refrigerator, but really, corn is best eaten immediately.
- Ready to eat: Choose an eggplant that is firm and heavy for its size. Also look for vivid color and avoid all soft spots or bruises, as this indicates decaying flesh beneath the skin. Any indentation that does not spring back after gentle finger pressure means a past-ripe eggplant.
- Timeline: Eggplants are very perishable and have just 2-3 days after purchase before starting to decay and dry.
- Storage: Store in the refrigerator, and if purchased wrapped in plastic, remove immediately, as it keeps it from breathing and will go bad faster.
- Ready to eat: Mangoes can be purchased green, and are ready to eat when either uniformly yellow or with a red highlight. Some mangoes do retain a little bit of green when they are ripe as well, so you should also give them a little squeeze. Their sweet aroma is the best indicator since the coloring can be deceptive. Also, they should be slightly soft like an avocado, not hard like an apple when ripe.
- Timeline: Depending on the type of mango, it can take anywhere from 3 days to a week for them to fully ripen.
- Storage: Never refrigerate an unripe mango, as with other tropical fruits. However once ripe they can remain in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Melon (cantaloupe/honeydew)
- Ready to eat: Melons are a tricky bunch, as the coloring and firmness are not always reliable indicators. ‘Thumping’ is also not exactly a science. When you pick it up, it should be heavy for its size, and looking at the stem end of the fruit gives more reliable info. The stem end should be brown and not green, and should have a nice aroma. If the aroma is especially strong, however, it’s likely past its prime.
- Timeline: Again, not super reliable, but melons have a fairly long shelf-life, especially if they are picked green (green stem). They can take up to a week from purchase to completely ripen. Because of the challenges, purchasing them only ready to eat is recommended.
- Storage: Unripe melons ripen on the countertop, and stored for only a day or two in the crisper drawer where you have higher humidity
- Ready to eat: Pineapples are officially ready to eat as soon as they are picked, as they do not continue to officially ‘ripen’, but they do begin to soften and become juicier. Choosing a pineapple that is sweet and of good texture is the skill. Plucking a leaf is a good indication; it should come out easily and have a nice sweet aroma
- Timeline: Waiting to eat your pineapple only changes the texture of the fruit. Pineapples are highly perishable and will actually ferment at room temperature in a few days, so watch them closely and use within a day or two after purchase.
- Storage: The best way to store pineapple is to cut and refrigerate. But if you do refrigerate a whole pineapple, wrap it to keep it fresher longer.
- Tomato (not grape tomatoes)
- Ready to eat: Tomatoes are best eaten straight from the vine in your backyard when they are vibrant red (or yellow!), heavy, with a firm skin with just a tiny amount of give. However, store-bought tomatoes are picked green because they are highly perishable and damage easily when ripe. They will, however, turn red after picking, but never truly ‘ripen,’ which is why homegrown tomatoes are completely different from those purchased.
- Timeline: Tomatoes can take anywhere from 2 days to a week to be ready to eat after purchasing, depending on how green or hard they are at purchase. They will spoil very quickly once soft.
- Storage: Tomato texture changes dramatically when refrigerated, so they should always be kept at room temperature unless cut.
Because a lot of produce has ‘stages’ of when they are ready to eat, it really is best to think about when you want to consume them as to when you should buy them, and what stage they should be at when you do purchase them. For items like bananas and avocados that change quickly, it’s good to purchase multiple fruit in different stages (i.e. purchase 1 green and hard, 1 almost ripe, and 1 with 2-3 days of ripening left.) That way, you will always have a perfectly ripe banana or avocado on hand. A little bit of meal planning is required to make this work, but the strategy of just buying everything ‘green’ for later can backfire as EVERYTHING becomes ‘ready to eat’ at once! The best rule of thumb is to never over buy produce unless you just can’t make it to a store very often.