Learn to Eat Smart
Eating smart just got a lot easier! Find a wealth of information on ways to incorporate healthy options on the Eat Smart Blog. Know what you're looking for? Try the search term box to look for specific topics that meet your needs.
Decoding Food Labels
Hayley Weise,MBS, RD, LD, SNA | 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 fat” and 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 sautéed 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.
5 Things to Start & Stop Doing When Eating Healthy
Ken Immer | 01/24/2017
When we are trying to eating healthy, we can feel like we are in uncharted territory.
When we are trying to eating healthy, we can feel like we are in uncharted territory. The thing is, we tend to approach it from the wrong angle. We start cutting out a lot of our favorite foods and replacing them with unfamiliar and often expensive products. The focus tends to be on the ‘challenge’ of eating healthy which creates a ‘winners & losers’ type mentality, and this is a recipe for failure.
To break it down into something simpler, we’ve created a list of 5 things to start & stop when eating healthy that can help you develop a better strategy. If you’re starting a New Year’s healthy eating plan, try considering these five ideas, and it might transform the way you look at food, which is the path to long-term success!
- Seek out balance versus deprivation.
Instead of spending all of your time focused on totally removing the ‘bad’ foods from your diet, try identifying the ways you’re already doing some of the ‘right’ things, and do just a bit more of those things, like drinking more water or having an extra helping of your favorite vegetables. Totally removing foods that you love cold-turkey is hardly ever a successful strategy. Simply limiting some of these ‘bad’ foods can make a big difference with your health, and you don’t have to give them up completely. For instance, make a plan not to drink soda when you’re at work, but allow it when you’re at home or out. Small changes like that can be easy to stick with and can really add up over time; this is how you keep feeling balanced.
- Learn how to buy foods for ‘value’ versus just for the ‘cheapest price.’
Food can be one of our biggest expenses; there is no doubt about that. Reducing our grocery bill and eating out can seem like a great way to save money. However, there are ways of choosing foods that can help you meet both goals. The focus is not only on buying all the ‘healthier’ ingredients and products that are out there but also on creating a nice balance in your whole shopping cart. When finding a really great deal or super sale, think about using those savings to pay for another nutritious item that you usually think of as ‘expensive.’ Frozen fruits and vegetables can be cheaper and less wasteful than fresh, and they’re almost as nutritious! When comparing products, read the Nutrition Facts panel, and look at the ‘dietary fiber’ numbers. Choosing products where the percent daily value (%DV) is over 10% can help you avoid empty calories. Start grading prices on how much nutrition they offer, and you start to see what foods truly ARE expensive.
- Pay attention to all the ways that your body is getting healthier when you make better choices, and stop focusing solely on weight loss.
The number one thing that people say they want from a healthy eating plan is to lose weight, which is totally understandable and a great goal. Losing weight is associated with lower disease risk factors, and gives you a higher quality of life. Some of the physiological changes that happen to your body that we associate with losing weight, such as more energy, better skin, improved mood, and better sleep, are not just results FROM losing weight, but they can also start to show up BEFORE losing weight (and actually accelerate the weight loss you want!). When we have more energy, we’ll be more likely to move more and start exercising because it feels easier. When you start sleeping better, it gives you more energy but also helps you feel less stressed and anxious, which encourages weight loss. Studies show that increased stress and anxiety are associated with gaining weight and making losing that weight difficult. Looking for these indications that your body is getting healthy is a great way to stay motivated even when the numbers on the scale aren’t moving.
- Find out what foods work best for you, and don’t just follow fad diets or what other people are doing.
Your personal healthy eating plan is exactly that: very personal. Each person has different needs, and what can produce quick results for one person, may not work for another. Your needs also change as your body changes, so the diet you start today may not be the same diet you need after you drop 20 pounds and your doctor recommends that you stop taking your blood pressure medication. It does mean that learning about nutrition would be a good idea. You don’t have to become a nutritionist to be healthy, but knowing some basic facts about which foods contain specific nutrients that matter to you (i.e. if you know that you are anemic, knowing about foods high in iron is a good idea). Being aware of your personal state of health is also important. Having a blood test drawn to inspect the levels of most vital nutrition is simple. It narrows down your study into something manageable. Once you and your doctor discuss which foods are important to you, you can experiment and start to really customize your choices based on how they make you feel and their overall health results. You might be surprised to find some small, simple changes that produce big results!
- Take your healthy food journey one day at a time, and stop expecting immediate results.
It’s understandable that we are impatient when it comes to getting specific health results and outcomes, especially in our fast-paced culture these days. The truth is, however, that ‘quick fixes’ are rarely sustainable over the long-term. While getting quick results can be exciting in the moment, when we truly ask ourselves what we want, it’s that long-term solution. The good news is that there is a combination of quick results and long-term success that is available to you when you use the first four items in the list above as a guide. They can be seen as four simple steps towards creating a personal healthy eating plan- NOT a diet- that can last a lifetime. According to new research, your ability to follow a diet may be a larger predictor of your weight-loss success than the diet you choose. So, this is a pretty obvious conclusion that staying on your diet is the best “diet.” The nature or the method isn’t as important. So don’t deprive yourself, buy foods for value which includes considering both price and nutritional value, and find out what foods actually work for you which means paying attention to all the ways that your body responds to the foods that you are eating.
These five tips can serve as a guide to help you transform the way you see food, and make it so that you’ll never ‘diet’ again. This is what we truly call ‘lifestyle change’: a change that you can stick with, because a lot of consideration is given to your preferences and your choices, and is truly tailored to your needs.
- Seek out balance versus deprivation.
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.
How to Make Your Tailgate Healthy
Lauren Wright | 09/27/2016
Make tailgating fun, delicious, and healthy.
Fall is finally approaching and you know what that means- football season is here! In my opinion, the best part of watching football games is the food! Classic tailgating food is delicious but unfortunately it’s usually not very healthy. When you plan your football spread this year, try some of these healthier tailgate recipes.
Snacks & Sides:
- Light Buffalo Chicken Dip- Buffalo chicken and football are a classic pairing. This buffalo chicken dip uses a combination of low-fat cream cheese and plain Greek yogurt to lighten up this creamy classic. Dig in with carrot slices, celery spear, or whole grain chips.
- Seven Layer Dip- You can never have too many dips at a tailgate! This seven layer dip is packed with avocados for healthy fats, onions and tomatoes for nutrients, and Greek yogurt for half the fat.
- Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip- Have you noticed the trend here? Swap plain Greek yogurt for any sour cream and mayonnaise in creamy recipes for a light version of a dish. This time, use Greek yogurt and spices you probably already have on hand to whip up this ranch dip that’s perfect with veggie slices.
- Honey Mustard Broccoli Slaw- This light, honey mustard sauce will jazz up your standard slaw recipe. Plus broccoli has vitamin C, vitamin A, and calcium!
- Grilled Chicken Sausages- There are many brands of sausages made from chicken at the grocery store these days. Swapping your typical bratwurst for chicken sausage will cut back on the calories and saturated fat. Grill and top them with your favorite condiments and you won’t even tell the difference.
- Macaroni & Cheese with Squash- Butternut squash makes this macaroni and cheese extra creamy without the added fat. Who knew you could fit veggies into a classic like mac and cheese?
- Turkey Chili- Who doesn’t love a good bowl of chili while watching the game? This chili has the great flavor you expect but uses turkey to reduce the saturated fat.
- Black Bean Brownies- Swapping flour for black beans reduces the carbs and boosts the protein content of these brownies.
- Zucchini Applesauce Cookies- Without any added fats or oils, these cookies make it easy to enjoy a healthier dessert.
One final thing to keep in mind: alcohol contains many calories (7 calories per gram!) so it’s easy to down a lot of calories without even realizing it. Choosing a light beer or wine spritzer made with sparkling water can help you enjoy your tailgate experience while watching your diet.
Sugar: The good, the bad and the ugly
Charlton Goodwin | 09/06/2016
It's not just what's sitting in our baking cabinets!
Before delving into this post, I ask that you first excuse the following vent: So, I was at my parents’ house recently on a hot summer morning in the middle of June. *A familiar bell tune sings in the background.* The ice cream truck comes rolling down our street! If you lived on my street growing up, you would know that this occurrence was a rarity. So this was a spectacle to me. I raced to the door — not to run down the ice cream man in the street, but to simply watch as he slowly paraded down the road.
My inner adult was ashamed that I just raced to the door to watch the local ice cream man ride down the street. But my inner eater also got me thinking about the many summer treats and drinks we tend to consume during this season. We know the favorites: ice cream, ice pops, the delicious pies made from the abundance of fresh, in-season fruits. Plus, there are the cold, refreshing sweetened drinks such as lemonade, and if you’re in my neck of the woods, sweet tea — the sweet tea Truvy Jones so eloquently described as, “the house wine of the south,” in the timeless classic Steel Magnolias. The summer is a big time for sweets, and consequently, a big time for sugar.
I came to think about how evil the word “sugar” has become to us. It’s turned into this monster that we know we should avoid. It is true that sugar in excess amounts can be potentially dangerous to our health and well-being. But here are four things to know that can help you enjoy sugar at a moderate, safe and healthy level.
1. What is “Sugar” Exactly?
Sugar is the sweet type of “carbohydrate” that occurs naturally in unprocessed food. Carbohydrates are a big group of molecules that contain carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen (think CARB-O-HYDRate). Sugars are created by these three elements linked together in some form or another.
The smallest sugars are called monosaccharides (mono- means “one”), and you may have heard of them:
- Fructose, and
Think of each of these monosaccharides as a pearl on a necklace. Each pearl can stand alone as a single unit of sugar. Now take two of these pearls and bind them together on that necklace. These two pearls form the second type of sugar: the “disaccharides”.
Disaccharides are two monosaccharides linked together. The disaccharides are:
- Sucrose (glucose + fructose),
- Lactose (glucose + galactose), and
- Maltose (glucose + glucose).
Sucrose forms what we know as “table sugar.” It can be processed and refined into the white granular stuff that we sprinkle in our coffee, dump into our cakes and pies, and that serves so many other purposes besides these mentioned.
Monosaccharides and disaccharides are called “simple sugars” or “simple carbohydrates.” They are very small units, typically found in baked goods, and milk products. They are also found in fruits. But the naturally occurring simple sugars in whole fruits are accompanied by a host of fiber and other nutrients. When you begin to link these small, simple carbohydrates into longer, more complex chains, they become complex carbohydrates, or “polysaccharides.” They are bigger and take longer to break down than simple sugars. Complex carbohydrates are found in many vegetables and whole grains. These are all foods that are good for you because the sugar occurs naturally and generally isn’t added by food manufacturers!
2. Sugar Tends to Make You Hungry
Remember those simple sugars? Well, they have a way of playing tricks on us. When we over-consume our sweet treats, our bodies typically react in different ways, and one of those ways can ultimately lead us to more hunger even after we’ve eaten.
Because they are small, simple sugars break down very fast. When sugar is broken down, our blood sugar levels increase. An increase in blood sugar triggers our bodies to release insulin into our blood streams. Insulin is a hormone used to regulate our blood sugar level. Regularly functioning insulin does a great job of this, but when we over-consume sugar, our body’s ability to tell insulin when to stop working is weakened. Thus, our blood sugar level falls to a low level, and our bodies react by sensing hunger. In short, too much sugar triggers a quick rise in insulin which ultimately lowers our blood sugar, making us feel hungry even AFTER we’d just eaten (Harvard School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source).
So if you’re hungry, don’t reach for something overly sugary like a candy bar, because the chances are that the candy bar will only make you feel more hungry! Instead, choose a snack with more complex sugars to keep your blood sugar more even.
3. Avoid Quitting Cold Turkey
A fairly common occurrence when it comes to making any change in life is letting our zeal and enthusiasm become an enemy. It’s exciting when we make the decision to make a positive shift in the way we normally do things. This is much the same with food, and particularly added sugar. Often times, we become so excited about our decision to rid ourselves of sugary sweets that we think the best thing to do is quit them altogether.
When we jump into diet changes abruptly, we face a daunting task. It requires eliminating the foods that we love to eat while beginning to consume things that we may have never tried before. The American Psychological Association recommends making smaller, gradual changes. Instead of going cold turkey on added sugars, turn those two packs of sugar in your morning coffee into one. Or try cutting back on consuming soda or juice throughout the day by replacing those sweet beverages with water or seltzer. But remember, always consult your doctor before making any dramatic shift to your everyday diet.
4. Enjoy In Moderation
I would be remiss to end this on a sour note (did you catch the pun?). Sugar is not necessarily the evil villain. And thankfully so. I would hate to have to face the task of eliminating sweets, especially my personal favorite, PB&J. But moderation is always the key.
If you want to know how much added (vs naturally occurring) sugar you’re consuming, look at the ingredients list on the nutrition label. If sugar in any of its forms (e.g., corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, etc.) is listed near the top of the list, then it’s a good indicator that there’s a lot of it in the food. Thankfully by 2018, all packaged food items will have new nutrition facts labels that tell you how much added sugars are in the packaged foods that you buy. This is a great move by the FDA to help consumers become healthier shoppers and eaters.
Pleasantries all. Happy eating!
5 Healthy After School Snack Ideas
Lauren Wright | 08/22/2016
These healthy snack ideas are sure to please your child’s taste buds while fueling them for homework and play.
We’ve already talked about healthy recipes to pack in your child’s lunch box, so now it’s time to turn our attention to snack time. Kids are bound to be hungry when they get home from school and will need a snack to tide them over until dinner. Because children’s bodies grow so fast, they require a lot of nutrition packed into their daily calories, meaning there isn’t room for much junk food in their diets.
It’s important to offer snacks that provide whole grains, vitamins and minerals, fiber, and protein to fill your kids up after school and to prepare them for any extracurricular activities. It’s also important to try to cut back on the added sugar and sodium that are found in many processed snack foods.
These healthy snack ideas are sure to please your child’s taste buds while fueling them for homework and play.
- Frozen yogurt bites– Chop of your child’s favorite fruit and mix with a low-sugar yogurt. Spoon the mixture into an icecube tray and freeze. These bites are the perfect, popable treat that packs in fruit, protein, and calcium!
- Avocado toast– Avocados are a great source of healthy fats. Toast whole-wheat bread and top with sliced avocado. Sprinkle with salt, a bit of lime juice, and maybe some herbs like oregano or red pepper flakes and snack away!
- Frozen grapes– Another easy, frosty treat; freeze grapes for refreshing snacking.
- Open faced apple sandwiches– Thinly slice apples into rounds and carefully cut out the center. Top the discs with nut butter and a sprinkle of granola, honey, or cinnamon. With both protein and fiber, these sandwiches will satisfy even the hungriest snacker.
- Zucchini pizza bites– Instead of the frozen pizza rolls kids beg for at the grocery store, slice up a zucchini into thin rounds, brush with olive oil, and soften in the oven or toaster oven. Spoon a small amount of tomato sauce on top, sprinkle on low-fat mozzarella cheese, and a piece of turkey pepperoni. Pop them back in the oven until the cheese is melted. They barely take longer than the frozen pizza rolls to make, and kids will hardly notice they’re eating their vegetables!
Packed Lunch Ideas for Your Healthy Learner
Lauren Wright | 08/18/2016
Try these easy and healthy lunch recipes that your child won’t want to trade.
Summer has come to an end and it’s already time for kids to head back to school. You’ve probably already bought school supplies and picked out their first-day-of-school outfits, but have you given much thought to their lunches?
Buying lunch from the cafeteria is one option for your child’s lunch this year. The National School Lunch Program Standards regulate lunches served in cafeterias, and they require that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are served every day; only fat-free and low-fat milk are available; calorie limits are observed according to the child’s age; and sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats are limited to acceptable levels. Therefore, buying lunch in the cafeteria can be a great option for many families.
However, if you choose to pack your child’s lunch, it can be hard to get nutritious lunches packed as everyone rushes out the door in the morning, and it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, packing the same old things every day. No matter what you pack, aim for a mix of whole grains, dairy, protein, and fruits and veggies to keep your child well fueled and ready to learn throughout the day.
Try these easy and healthy lunch recipes that your child won’t want to trade.
- Sandwich skewers– Cut your child’s favorite sandwich ingredients into bite-sized pieces, push them onto a small skewer, and voila- you’ve transformed a boring turkey sandwich into a fun lunch! Mix and match your cheeses, meats, veggies, and breads for versatile lunch options.
- Hardboiled eggs- A peeled, hardboiled egg will transport well in your child’s lunch box and packs protein to keep him or her fueled up throughout the day.
- Peanut butter banana roll up– Smear one side of tortilla or wrap with peanut butter, place a banana to one edge and roll it up in the tortilla. Cut the roll up into bite-sized pieces. You can also try drizzling on some honey or sprinkling on granola, raisins, or cinnamon before rolling everything up.
- Freeze ahead PB&J- Save time in the morning by prepping sandwiches for the week on Sunday night. Make a whole stack of PB&Js on whole-wheat bread, wrap individual sandwiches in aluminum foil, and seal them all in a large plastic bag in the freezer. In the morning, simply grab one frozen sandwich and toss it in a lunchbox. By the time lunch rolls around, the sandwich will be thawed and perfectly soft and fresh. Prevent jelly from seeping into the bread by putting a thin layer of peanut butter on both pieces of bread to seal in the jelly.
- Popcorn trail mix– Store-bought trail mixes can be high in sugar and sodium, but it’s easy to make your own homemade version with a variety of ingredients. Mix lightly salted popcorn, nuts, and dried fruit together for a sweet and salty snack. It’s easy to change up the ingredients every week- switch up the type of nut or dried fruit, sometimes add pretzels or mini chocolate chips, etc. to keep your taste buds interested.
- Homemade Lunchables– Lunchables are always cool in the cafeteria, but they’re expensive and not that healthy. Instead, pack your child’s lunchbox with a stack of whole-wheat crackers, rolls of low-sodium sandwich meat, slices of cheese, and sliced fruits and veggies. Your kids will still have fun stacking their own lunch creations while you save money and keep it healthy. You can even prep several days’ worth of ingredients at the beginning of the week to save time on rushed mornings.
- Don’t forget a drink! Water, low-fat milk, and 100% fruit juice are good options for your child’s lunch. Children aged 4-8 need 2½ cups of dairy per day, and children aged 9-18 need 3 cups, so providing milk at lunch is a great way to fuel your child for the school day. You can send milk from home or you can have your child buy a carton of milk from the cafeteria every day. Juice can also be packed with lunch, but it’s important to choose wisely. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines count 1 cup of 100% fruit juice as 1 cup of fruit. However, many juices contain added sugars with artificial fruit flavorings, which don’t count towards daily fruit servings, so it’s important to carefully select only 100% fruit juice. The Guidelines also recommend that young children only consume 4-6oz of 100% fruit juice per day so it’s important not to over do it with juice.
- Try the recipe together first. Afraid your child won’t eat the things you pack? Try making the recipe first on the weekend or as an after-school snack and see if they like it before packing it in his or her lunch.
- Give your child options. Ask your son or daughter to choose what type of fruit or which sandwich meat they would like in their lunch to give them some control over what they’re eating.
- Don’t get frustrated. If you’re packing healthy options and they return home uneaten at first, don’t give up. Sometimes a child must try a food several times before he or she starts to like it. So even if the cucumber slices come home uneaten, don’t stop packing them. It’s important to keep exposing your child to healthy foods, and eventually, they’ll hopefully come around to eating them.
Show us what you’re packing for lunch! Tag us on Instagram @LetsGoSC or find us on Facebook!
3 tips for a happy, healthy vacation
Ken Immer | 08/10/2016
Maintain your healthy lifestyle, even when on vacation.
While summer is starting to wane, many of us are still getting ready to hit the road for a little vacation time, or maybe even just that last getaway weekend before school starts back. One of the biggest concerns for travelers is often how to maintain a healthy diet and keep feeling fit and well-fueled while on vacation.
A little bit of planning ahead can go a long way. You are already going to be in an unfamiliar place, but if you approach your trip as an opportunity to maintain your healthy lifestyle rather than a challenge, you will surely make the best of it. Here are some great tips to think about before you go:
- Since you’ll be out of your daily routine, make a little game out of looking for opportunities to try a new ‘healthy’ food that you can add to your daily meals when you get back home. If you leave thinking that your vacation will just be one big “temptation” then it probably will be.
- Do a little bit of research before leaving and identify places where you will be able to access some healthy options THAT YOU ALREADY ENJOY. This includes restaurants, grocery stores, or other specialty stores. Ask the resort what options they have available on their menus that are perhaps not listed on their brochure or website. Knowing what you are getting into ahead of time will help reduce the anxiety of having to figure it out while you are there. Don’t spend part of your vacation trying to figure out where the healthy options are. THAT is not fun or relaxing.
- Pack a bag of small apples (the kind you would put into a child’s lunchbox) in your suitcase, and keep one or two with you while you are out from the hotel. Eat one of the apples before a meal or before (over)indulging in a snack opportunity on the run. You’ll eat a little less and get the health benefits of eating several apples during your trip!
Remember, you are going on your trip to enjoy yourself; however, don’t let your vacation become an excuse to let all of your good habits fall to the wayside. We’ve all heard the phrase “everything in moderation”, but how do you actually DO that? Well, if you have been working hard to improve your diet and be more active, a vacation is a good opportunity to maintain the progress you have achieved so far. You don’t have to pressure yourself to eat or exercise exactly the way you would have if you had stayed at home, but just remember the idea of moderation to help you make decisions about what and when to eat.
Being on vacation does mean that you can have a few more calories here and there, but also think about your activity level. Walking is great exercise, and it is a great way to put your workout plan on “moderation” mode as well. Also, spend a little bit of your time reflecting on what is working in your healthy living plan while away from your daily grind, and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done! Whatever you do, make the decision that you will not stress yourself out over any choices that you make while on vacation.
Pre & Probiotics- Promoting Gut Health
Lauren Wright | 08/08/2016
Ever heard about the gut microbiome wondered why you should care about bacteria?
Ever heard about the gut microbiome in the news or seen yogurt commercials on TV and wondered why you should care about bacteria?
What is your microbiome?
According to a report from the American Society for Microbiology, the human microbiome contains bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the body, but most commonly we focus on the body’s bacteria. It’s estimated that the cells of your microbiome outnumber your body’s own cells 3:1. That means that there are about 100 trillion bacteria cells, averaging about 2.5 pounds, in your body! Having that many bacteria in your body may sound scary, but really those bacteria are crucial to our health.1
Many of the bacteria in our bodies are found in the large intestine, where they play important roles in our digestive processes. For example, there are some compounds in foods that our bodies alone cannot naturally break down and digest so we rely on the good bacteria in our guts to break them down for us.
Additionally, the good bacteria in our guts can help keep any bad bacteria we may encounter in check. Normally the good bacteria outnumber potential pathogens in our digestive tract and keep us from getting sick. However, if the good bacteria die off, as is common when taking antibiotics, the good bacteria can no longer fight off the bad, which can cause illness and intestinal discomfort.
Your gut microbiome can even play a role in weight management. One study examined the gut microbiome of female twins who were either lean or obese. The results showed that the lean participants tended to have more diverse gut microbiomes than the obese participants.2 Based on those results, another experiment found that injecting mice with different types of gut bacteria significantly impacted the mice’s ability to maintain and gain weight.3 This science is still very new and researchers are working to determine exactly how bacteria influence our weight, but it is clear that these tiny creatures are vital to our health.
What are pre and probiotics?
Because of all the good things our gut microbiota does for us, it’s important to keep it healthy! One way to do this is by incorporating both pre and probiotics into the diet.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that your gut microbiota love to feed on and therefore encourage the growth of the good bacteria in your digestive tract. Think of prebiotics as the food that feeds your gut’s bacteria; therefore if you want them to be healthy, you need to be sure to feed your gut microbiome the right foods.
Good sources of prebiotics are:
- Whole-wheat foods, such as whole-wheat bread, quinoa, oats, brown rice, etc.
Probiotics, on the other hand, are the good bacteria themselves. Many foods naturally contain these good, live bacteria, so by adding probiotic foods into your diet, you can help increase the colonies of the good guys keeping you healthy.
Good sources of probiotics are:
- Aged cheeses
So the next time you go to the grocery store, don’t just pick out foods for yourself—choose foods to feed your gut microbiome as well
Lauren Wright | 08/01/2016
Blueberries are one of summer’s super foods! Time to fill up while they’re in season!
Blueberries are one of summer’s super foods! Time to fill up while they’re in season!
Blueberries are naturally low calorie with just 80 calories per cup. They are also high in vitamin C, which is an antioxidant vitamin, and manganese, which aids the body in processing cholesterol and other nutrients. One serving of blueberries contains 25% of your daily vitamin C!
Blueberries are also a great source of dietary fiber. Fiber helps aid digestion and can help fight heart disease by regulating cholesterol. The fiber in blueberries can also make you feel full more quickly, and it takes longer to digest, meaning it can help curb hunger.¹
Many human and animal studies have researched the health benefits from blueberries. Findings suggest that blueberries may assist in fighting some cancers2,3, insulin resistance4, and inflammation5 while improving gut health6, eye health7, memory8, and bone health.9 Other studies have shown that anthocyanin, the pigment that gives blueberries their blue color, aids in staving off memory loss and fighting other signs of aging.10
When I think about eating blueberries, I immediately imagine blueberry pancakes. Here are some other ways to eat blueberries:
- On salad– Top off your favorite salad with a handful of blueberries for a sweet pop to your greens. Dress with a vinaigrette.
- Dried in trail mix– Make your own trail mix by combining pretzels, plain cheerios, nuts, and dried blueberries for a sweet and salty snack.
- As a sauce for grilled chicken– Boil blueberries until reduced to a thick sauce that makes the perfect sweet topping for summer grilled chicken. Check out this recipe!
- In yogurt and smoothies– Fresh blueberries are great mixed into low-fat yogurt, and frozen blueberries blend perfectly into smoothies for a breakfast kids will love.
- Pureed and frozen for popsicles– Blend fresh or frozen blueberries with a splash of milk, yogurt, or fruit juice; pour into popsicle molds; and freeze to make frozen treats for hot afternoons.