Tag: fast food

Granola Bars – Friend or Foe?

Granola Bars – Friend or Foe?

Ingredients like caramel, chocolate, and marshmallows may be must haves in candy, but these sugary, high fat ingredients have found a new place to hang out— It’s time to take a closer look at that granola bar wrapper.

Granola bars are a great on-the-go snack option for busy people, athletes, and lovers of the outdoors. The word granola may conjure up thoughts of healthy oats, grains, and nuts all nicely molded into an easy to eat bar. But snackers beware— the seemingly innocent bars may have a shiny wrapper bragging about being an excellent source of this or that, but what lies beneath may be an over-processed nutritional mess.

While brands like Quaker Oats and Nature Valley may be the kings of the granola bar supermarket isle, they typically rank low in the hierarchy of good nutrition. Containing as many as 25 ingredients, 12 grams of sugar, and sugar-filled ingredients— like a chocolate sheath— these babies can be almost as bad as eating a real candy bar (a Twix Bar has the same amount of calories and sugar).

Similar to candy or cookies, many of the bars have high fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to weight gain, and insulin resistance, hydrogenated oils, which can raise bad cholesterol,  and monosodium glutamate (MSG), which may increase feelings of hunger and is linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Grains and Nuts and Fruits, Oh My!

The number of granola bars on the market has exploded over the past few years, and with the focus shifting to healthier ingredients it’s easier than ever to choose a healthy— or at least healthier— option.

But reading the nutritional information is key to making the best choices, and the more recognizable the ingredients, the better. Many granola bars are fortified with vitamins and minerals, and while fortification is not a replacement for eating a well-balanced diet, it can help to make up for lacking  nutrients. Look for bars that are high in fiber (containing at least 5 of the 14 recommended grams per day), which will help keep that full feeling for longer, and may even help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol.

When looking for a healthy option, double check labels. Try to find bars that have less than 25% of the calories from sugar and 3 grams of fat or less.

While many pre-packaged granola bars can be nutritional land mines, choosing a simple granola bar packed with nutrients and fiber will be more satisfying than a bar loaded with fat and sugar. Ingredient lists full of easily identifiable choices—like oats, grains, fruits, and nut— is a good sign. And make sure that whole grain—not sugar—is the first ingredient listed.  Calories should come in at 100-175 for a single serving (which for many bars is around 30-40 grams—visualize two 9-volt batteries). When a bar has quality ingredients, it should easily pass the label test. And for the best hand-picked ingredients, homemade granola bars are an easy, cost effective way to go.

Grocery Store 101 – Healthy Eating Starts Here

Grocery Store 101 – Healthy Eating Starts Here

I have come to realize that I am a grocery store check-out line snob. I know, it sounds shallow, but when I am at the grocery store checking out, I always like to see what everyone else is buying and compare it to what I have in my cart. Of course I feel like I am the “winner” each time, because my cart is loaded with healthy, real food. Told you it was shallow.

I love going grocery shopping, and I take a lot of pride in buying healthy stuff. And, yes, when the mom in front of me or behind me has a bunch of “crap” in her cart, I feel superior (and shallow).

As moms, there are so many things that we feel we can’t control, but grocery shopping is one of those activities that we have complete control over. We get to choose exactly what we want to buy, exactly what we want our kids to be eating, which also carries a lot of responsibility.

Some months ago, I was having a lot of anxiety about all the junky snacks my kids were eating. I was 100% responsible for my anxiety, because I had started to buy little treats at the grocery store. As my kids were eating Popsicles for breakfast, I knew that I needed to regain control.

I threw out all the crap, and on the next grocery trip I only bought healthy options. Snacks consisted of fruits, cheese, and healthy cereal.

On that fateful shopping trip, as I stood at the check out line, I felt really proud of my choices. I think that is where the whole snob thing started, because I looked around at what others were buying and kind of felt sorry for them, and all the crap that they had in their carts.

When I got home from the store, the kids rushed over to the bags to see what kind of snacks I had bought. Much to their disappointment, they saw nothing snacky looking. But guess what? A few hours later, my daughter asked if she could have some grapes. My son snacked on some pieces of cheese without a single complaint.

It is time for you to become a grocery store checkout line snob. Here is my challenge to you. For the next month, every time you go grocery shopping follow the guidelines below. Compare what you are buying to the person in front of you, and make sure that you are the “winner”.

You and your family can’t eat crap if it is not there!

· First fill your cart by shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, where fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, and fish are usually located. Avoid the center aisles where junk foods lurk.

· Stay clear of most pre-packaged foods. Especially ones that have labels touting low fat, no trans fats, low carb, etc.

· Stay clear of foods with cartoons on the label that are targeted to children. If you don’t want your kids eating junk foods, don’t have them in the house.

· Avoiding foods that contain more than five ingredients, artificial ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.

· ALWAYS eat a healthy snack before you go grocery shopping. If you have a full stomach, you will not be tempted to buy junk.

Not Losing Weight? – Six Things to Consider

Not Losing Weight? – Six Things to Consider

Losing weight can be invigorating… and frustrating, maddening, overwhelming, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could choose a diet plan that would allow you to lose 2 pounds a week (or 5 pounds, or insert your number here ____) every week until you reached your goal?

But if you have ever been on a diet, you know that’s not how it works. Some weeks your effort reflects the number of pounds lost. Some weeks you work your butt of and lose nothing. Some weeks (all be it rare) you slack a little and lose a pound or two.

Calories IN vs. calories OUT is definitely important, but there are other things that creep into the equation.

Here are 6 things to keep an eye on to make sure your effort reflects your outcome.

Eating too few carbohydrates It’s true that we need to be careful when it comes to carbohydrate intake to maximize fat loss, but we still want to make sure we are getting enough carbs. Did you know that fat molecules will not enter the fat burning cycle unless they have a little glucose (carb) molecule to take them there. It’s easy to get excited when you reduce your carbs and instantly lose weight, but often this is more of a factor of storing less water than fat loss.

Eating the wrong type of carbohydrates You might be eating the right amount of carbohydrates, but the type of carbs you eat has a big effect on weight loss. There is a buzz around high glycemic index (GI) foods and low GI foods, and the reason is that the type of carbs you eat will directly affect your weight loss. To keep it simple, low GI foods are good, high GI foods are bad.

Good carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates that take the body longer to break down. These carbohydrates typically are high in fiber, which takes the body longer to break down and helps stabilize blood sugar levels. The best sources of good carbohydrates include fresh vegetables, fresh fruit,  grains and beans. All of these foods provide the body with energy, vitamins, fiber, minerals and phytonutrients. 

Bad carbohydrates are foods that are easily digestible and provide the body with limited nutrients and vitamins. Because these foods are so quickly digested, your body will experience a quick spike in energy followed by a crash. Examples of bad carbs include soft drinks, cakes, cookies, chips, white bread, white rice, alcohol.

Eating too little fiber When we are eating for weight loss and we restrict our carb intake, it also changes our intake of fiber. Fiber might be the single most important secret to weight loss, and it is an essential factor for maintaining health. It helps you feel fuller and therefore eat less. It also binds with acids in the body and helps carry out excess fat, and it speeds the transit time of the food we eat, keeping the intestines in good order.

Getting too little sleep When we are constantly sleep deprived the body secretes a hormone called ghrelin. Higher ghrelin levels have been shown to reduce energy, stimulate hunger and food intake, and promote retention of fat. Do you ever notice that some days you feel hungry all day, even though you are eating your regular diet. Think back to your sleep patterns, and you may realize that you haven’t gotten as much sleep lately.

Eating too little fat Low fat diets have been really popular, but too little fat may actually make it harder for us to lose weight. Essential fats (aka good fats) help burn fat by helping to transport oxygen, vitamins, nutrients, and hormones to the body’s tissues.

Good fats include foods like non-hydrogenated oils (olive, canola, sunflower, peanut, sesame), avocados, olives, raw nuts (almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews), fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines), and tofu.

Bad fats include things like commercially-baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough, packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips), margarine or vegetable shortening, any fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish), and candy bars. 

Drinking too little water Dehydration happens more than you think. If you want to have steady fat loss and high energy, it’s necessary to keep your body and liver hydrated every day. Our liver converts the fat soluble toxic chemicals (that we consume, breathe in, and absorb through our skin), into water soluble chemicals that are flushed out by the kidneys through urine. With limited water supply, the kidneys cannot completely flush out metabolic and foreign waste and weight loss can be more  difficult.

So if you start feeling diet frustration, take a minute to evaluate your carbs, fat, fiber, sleep, and water. A small tweak might make all the difference.

 

 

Healthy Snacks for Picky Eaters

Healthy Snacks for Picky Eaters

The last few months I have noticed a downhill spiral of eating habits in our house. Breakfasts and snacks became a free for all of low nutrient, high fat, high calorie foods. (Lunches are packed healthy, and dinners have become the only really healthy meal that the kids eat at home) I am guilty of buying too many snacky foods, which quickly has become the kid’s first choice. Now that our summer routine has set in, the snacks have become even more out of control.

Last week, I decided to throw out every snack food that was unhealthy and replace with healthy choices. No more otter pops, no more chocolate chip bars, no more Doritos, no more Skittles… But, I did tell the kids that they can have one day or two days a week where they can choose a treat.

So far, so good. The kids have not been complaining (okay, as much as I thought they would) about their snacks and food options. I am kind of surprised, as I thought for sure I would hear a lot of whining about nothing “good to eat”. The best part is that the kids are chowing on all the healthy stuff, and while they would never admit it, they like it.

Kids, especially younger ones, will eat mostly what’s available at home. That’s why it’s important to control the supply lines — the foods that you serve for meals and have on hand for snacks. Kids can’t eat what’s not there. Double bonus — you will not be tempted by your kid’s snacks.

I have super picky eaters, so here are some basic tips for healthy snacking that work for me. They are great for kids but also for parents:

1. Fruits and vegetables can be the first go-to snack choice. Make them a part of the daily routine, and aim to serve a fruit or vegetables at every meal. Make it easy for kids by keeping fruits and vegetables on hand and ready to eat. A fruit kabob is always way more fun than just eating fruit out of a bowl.

2. Other good snacks that my kids love include low-fat yogurt blended with fruit and some low fat milk to make a shake/smoothie,

3. Peanut butter and apples are a big hit at our house, along with whole-grain crackers and cheese, and even mini whole grain bagels and cream cheese.

3. Choose whole-grain cereals so kids get more fiber. Don’t be fooled by kids’ cereal marketing. Read the ingredients. We usually have Kashi or Kind cereal in the house. My kids don’t drink milk, so a bowl of dry cereal is a quick snack for us.

4. Chips and salsa. Yes, I got rid of the Doritos, but there are better choices of chips on the market like baked chips. My kids love salsa, so this is actually my attempt to help them expand their taste buds with something a little more ‘exotic’ like salsa. Also using carrots, celery, cucumber slices or other veggie faves for salsa dipping is strongly recommended.

5. Applesauce is always a winner. My kids love the squeezy applesauce, and even though it’s a bit more expensive, I always stock up when it’s on sale, since I know that is something they always seem to eat.

Cooking Healthy – Swaping the Good for the Bad

Cooking Healthy – Swaping the Good for the Bad

It was trendy in 2011, and it will continue to be a trendsetter in 2012 — Simple substitutions for healthier meals.

Cooking healthy meals is really not rocket science. But because of old habits or lack of experimenting, we often fall into a rut with cooking methods and staple dishes. And get this; our taste buds are wired a certain way, which can make it tough to go two days without craving the very foods we need to banish from our lives.

One key way to dropping inches and pounds lies in being able to control these cravings. I am not suggesting to ramp up your willpower, but use simple substitution. It’s a great way of ensuring that you feel fulfilled with an old family favorite, but you can be satisfied that you’re eating healthy.

There are so many ways to swap out the bad for the good, so to get the most comprehensive list that not only includes basic substitutions (like milk for cream), but it also has a ton of creative and surprising ideas from some of the smartest people I know when it comes to nutrition. Click here and substitute your way to a fit and healthy you.  Happy New Year!

 

The Potato – Is it Friend or Foe

The Potato – Is it Friend or Foe

The potato has become quite controversial. There are camps that say it is definitely a dangerfood, and then there are those that are campaigning to keep spuds in schools. I recently wrote an article for The Greatist, and this is where my research took me.

The potato may not win any beauty contests, but depending on how it’s dressed up, the potato can be a good source of vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, these starchy spuds can cause blood sugar to soar, some say even more than eating than pure sugar. Potatoes may be a good way to survive a famine, but their high glycemic load sends them to the danger zone.

The glycemic load refers to the effect a food has on blood sugar levels, as carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (simple sugar) and absorbed into the blood to fuel the body. Foods with a high glycemic load cause a fast absorption of sugars into the bloodstream, whereas a low glycemic load has a slower rate of absorption.

The carbohydrates in potatoes are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar. And this invasion of too much sugar sends the body into damage control mode, by releasing extra insulin from the pancreas to try and keep the sugar situation under control. Insulin is like the messenger telling the cells to take in the glucose, and as the pancreas takes the “better safe than sorry” approach, it usually sends out too much insulin. But wait, there’s more to the message. The cells need to know what to do with all the extra glucose, so the excess insulin signals fat cells to store it as fat.

Potatoes are not the sole winner of the high glycemic load contest. Many other carbohydrate foods share the title, and while carbohydrates give the body energy, when foods with a high glycemic load are eaten in excess, not only does the pancreas get a little tired of sending out all that extra insulin, the cells don’t respond like they used to.

So the pancreas has to send out even more insulin to get the cells to do their job and take in the extra glucose. It gets to be a vicious cycle of excess carbs leading to excess insulin, and finally the body starts resisting the insulin all together, which can lead to serious health conditions like type II diabetes, coronary disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer.

Potato fans may say that the spudly nutrients are well worth the spike in blood sugar. Potatoes are low in calories and sodium, a good source of potassium, which can help muscles function and lower blood pressure, iron which is important for blood oxygen, and copper which is key for nerve function and energy metabolism. And let’s not forget the peel which is rich in Vitamin C, important for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of the body.

It’s possible that the devil may be in the details like the oil, butter, and salt, not in the potato, as long as it is cooked and prepared in a healthy way. And with the many variety of potatoes, some will be have a lower glycemic load.

But potatoes become even more menacing when they are prepared in unhealthy ways, like fried, baked and loaded, or mashed and gravyed. Not only will a loaded baked potato or an order of fries wreak havoc on blood glucose, but each can have over 500 calories.

The saving grace for the potato may lie in the cooking methods, as it may reduce the glycemic load with boiling potatoes being at the top of the list, and it gets even better if they are left to cool or reheated later on.

So if the potato is going to remain part of the family, it may be time to boil the little spuds, and eat them as leftovers loaded with something like Greek yogurt, low fat cheese, or salsa— and skip the fries and gravy entirely

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