Tag Archives: Food News

How One Simple Vending Machine Tweak Could Prompt Healthier Choices

You’re at work, feeling a little hungry, low energy or just in the mood to take a break, so you stroll down to the vending machine in search of a snack. You feed some cash into the machine and choose something that catches your eye. A few minutes later, you’re sitting at your desk with an empty bag, greasy fingers and an unmistakable sense of regret. Why didn’t you choose something healthier?

 

Making snack decisions in a snap doesn’t always bring out the healthiest eater in us. To quantify this truism, researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago created a device that can be installed in vending machines that delays the dispensing of unhealthy snacks (candy and chips, for instance) for 25 seconds and but allows healthier snacks (nuts, popcorn) to be dispensed straightaway. A sign on the vending machine lets people know unhealthy snacks will take extra time to receive.

 

Guess what happened when the experimental machines were made available around campus? Yep, people began to choose healthier snacks.

 

“We saw a roughly 5 percent change in the proportion of healthy snacks” sales, Brad Appelhans, the associate professor of preventative medicine who led the project, told NPR.

 

It’s unclear whether people were inclined to pick healthier items to avoid the delay (and skirt the inconvenience) or because of it (more time to consider), but even those of us who don’t have access to the tricked-out vending machines can benefit from hitting the pause button when making our food choices, says Philadelphia-based registered dietitian Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RDN, CEDRD, CSSD, ACSM-HFS. Implementing a snack delay — just allowing ourselves a little extra time to consider our options and their potential effects on our well-being — may allow us to break unhealthy habits.

 

“A simple wait period that allows someone to reevaluate their decision internally could be very beneficial,” she says. Being mindful of the sodium content of foods or considering total fat and calorie content, she adds, may be especially important for those who have high blood pressure or are trying to lose weight.

 

Cohn also recommends planning snacks ahead as well. “Even if you change course throughout the day from your plan, simply having a plan will promote more thought of what one is choosing to eat,” Cohn says. “And when someone thinks about what they eat — from a health perspective — they tend to choose foods that are better for their body.”

 

So next time you’re craving that midday candy bar, try counting to 25 and think about how it will affect your body and how you will feel afterward. You may just find yourself opting for a handful of nuts or some fresh fruit instead.

 

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. Her work has appeared in publications including The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Glamour and Marie Claire, as well as Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.

A New Study Offers Yet Another Reason to Eat Avocados

If you needed another reason to dip your chip (or better yet, a crisp veggie) into a bowl of yummy guacamole, a new comprehensive research review has offered a good one.

 

The review, published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, evaluated the results of 129 studies to determine the effects of the avocados on various aspects of Metabolic syndrome, which is a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

 

The review concluded that the vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and certain phytochemicals (natural plant chemicals that help fight and prevent disease) in avocado may help combat blood pressure, diabetes and other components of Metabolic syndrome and provide a natural alternative to other forms of treatment.

 

“The pharmacologically active constituents” of avocado are not only “nutritionally valuable,” the authors write, but also “possess antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity in some studies.” They also help lower cholesterol and help prevent cardiovascular disease, and potentially even cancer. Everyday consumption is recommended.

 

“Avocados start with great taste, but they also serve up a bunch of vitamins, minerals, fiber and heart-healthy fats,” says Virginia-based registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes educator, and certified health and wellness coach Jill Weisenberger (who was not involved with the study review). “For example, they contain the blood pressure friendly mineral potassium and the B vitamin folate, which is important for DNA repair. Avocados are terrific for my patients with diabetes because they add so much flavor with just a little carbohydrate.”

 

Weisenberger, author of The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition, recommends replacing some of the saturated fats in your diet with heart-healthy unsaturated fats in order to improve cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of heart disease and potentially make the body more sensitive to insulin.

 

“Avocados can help with this,” she says, advising that people dice it onto salads for additional creaminess instead of sprinkling on cheese or mix it into mashed potatoes instead of butter. (Smashed avocado can be used to replace butter in a 1-to-1 ratio.)

 

“For most people, it’s a good idea to add a little bit to other foods or to swap a less nutrient-dense food out for the delicious, nutrient-dense avocado,” Weisenberger says.

 

So how much avocado should you eat? Because avocados, like nuts, are flavorful and satisfying, but rich in fat and calorie dense, moderation and mindful eating are key.

 

“A little bit can go a long way,” Weisenberger says. “A few slices to a third of an avocado is a reasonable amount for most people.”

 

Sound good. Now, who’s up for avocado toast?

 

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. Her work has appeared in publications including The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Glamour and Marie Claire, as well as Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Trend Alert: Riced Vegetables

Remember when “rice” was a just a noun? Nowadays it’s become a verb and an adjective to describe one of the hottest veggie trends around. These tiny chopped pieces of vegetables have found their ways into all kinds of recipes, and can offer a hefty dose of nutrients.

 

Riced revolution

What started out as a new-fangled way to use cauliflower has evolved into so much more. Cauliflower “rice” came on the scene as a popular grain free alternative to rice. Riced cauliflower can be used as a standalone side dish or as the star ingredient in traditional recipes like fried rice and baked casseroles. Using a vegetable-based option in place of grains lowers the calories and carbohydrate counts but this swap isn’t completely a nutrition win. If you compare one cup of cooked rice to the same portion of cooked cauliflower, rice contains more fiber, protein and magnesium but less vitamins K and C.

As with many food trends, the “riced” craze has continued to advance. Instead of just cauliflower, ricing other veggies like sweet potatoes, broccoli and carrots has begun to gain momentum. There is also more variety of flavored rice vegetables. Check ingredient lists as some are seasoned with flavorings that can up the sodium content.

 

Hot products

You can find fresh and frozen riced veggies of some sort at every grocery store. Trader Joe’s offers bags of fresh riced broccoli as well as both fresh and frozen riced cauliflower. Green Giant has a series of frozen riced products including blends of cauliflower and sweet potato and a medley of cauliflower, carrots, onions and peas. Boulder Canyon brand features a variety of plain and flavored items like Thai Curry Riced Carrot and Caramelized Onion Riced Sweet Potato.

 

DIY and ways to enjoy

Making your own riced veggies is surprisingly simple. Trim, chop and pulse in a food processor then cook with a quick steam or sauté. Flavor with fresh herbs, spiced, nuts, other chopped veggies, or a sprinkle of cheese.

 

Recipes to try:

Healthy Cauliflower Rice (pictured above)

Healthy Sicilian Cauliflower Rice

Cauliflower Fried Rice

Chicken Cauliflower Fried Rice

 

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Creative Ways To Use Dates

Growing up, I spent my summers in Israel, where dates were part of the daily diet. These days, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that this dried fruit has become mainstream in the States. I spoke with Colleen Sundlie, founder of The Date Lady, to ask for her tips for getting creative with this versatile, nutrient-packed fruit.

The History

This naturally dehydrated fruit goes back over 5,000 years, and is native to the Middle East. These babies require a hot, dry climate, and are grown in the Middle East, Africa, along with California and Arizona. You may be familiar with the Medjool variety, but there are numerous other varieties including Dayri, Halawy, Thoory, and Zahidi which may be found in specialty food markets.  Most varieties are about 1-2 inches long and have an oval shape with a single oblong seed inside. The skin is paper thin, while the flesh has a sweet taste.

Dates are green when unripe, and turn yellow, golden brown, black, or deep red when ripe. The sweet fruits are typically picked and ripened off the tree before drying. You can find pitted and un-pitted dates at the market.

The Nutrition Lowdown

One date contains 66 calories, 18 grams of carbs, 16 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of fiber. One date also contains small amounts of a multitude of good-for-you nutrients like B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Dates are free of fat and cholesterol.

Dates also contain powerful antioxidants, including anthocyanins, carotenoids, and polyphenols. Eating a diet high in antioxidants has been associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.  The soluble fiber found in dates can help lower the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science found that dates may also help maintain bowel health and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Getting Creative with Dates

So what have dates become so popular lately? “Dates are the perfect natural sweetener,” explains Sundlie. “They add deep complexity to the flavor profile, not to mention nutrition.” With the 2015 dietary guidelines capping added sugar at 10% of total calories, many folks are turning to natural sweeteners like dates to add flavor and depth to dishes. “People are just now really starting to catch on to the fact that dates have that deep, caramel complexity and amazing cooking and baking application opportunities. They are no longer getting confused with figs and prunes.”

The market has also gone beyond just dates. You can now find date syrup, date sugar, balsamic date vinegar, and chocolate date spread. All these products can help add sweetness to recipes using dates.

Here are a few ways you can get creative with dates in the kitchen:

  1. Bake them: Add chopped dates to loaves, cookies, and muffins.

Recipe to try: Healthy Oatmeal, Date, and Chocolate Chunk Cookies

  1. Stuff them: Stuff pitted dates with almonds or cream cheese for an easy appetizer

Recipe to try: Stuffed Sweet Dates

  1. Roll them: Pulse in the food processor and mix with nuts and coconut flakes, or chia seeds to make protein-packed balls or bites.

Recipe to try: Honey-Almond Date Balls

  1. Blend then: Instead of sweetener, add dates for natural sweetness in smoothies

Recipe to try: Banana-Coconut Pudding Smoothie

  1. Mix into dressing: Try Sundlie’s own recipe (below) for salad dressing using date syrup.

Salad Dressing in a Snap (pictured above)
Serves: 6

1/4 cup date syrup
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tarragon
1 teaspoon sumac

1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper

In a small bowl, whisk ingredients together and serve. Yield: ¾ cup.

Nutrition Information (per 2 tablespoon serving): Calories 121; Total Fat 9 grams; Saturated Fat 1 grams; Protein 0 grams; Total Carbohydrate 10 grams; Fiber 0 grams; Sugar: 0 grams; Cholesterol 0 milligrams; Sodium 7 milligrams

Recipe courtesy of Colleen Sundlie.

 

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

It’s Not Just You: Stress and Fat Are Linked

In times of stress, many of us turn for consolation to sugary, fatty, high-calorie foods. Macaroni and cheese? Meatloaf and mashed potatoes with extra butter? A massive hunk of buttercream-frosted cake? They don’t call them “comfort foods” for nothing.

“I often see unmanaged stress lead to overeating and binging with my clients,” says Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT, author of Nourish Your Namaste e-book and blogger at The Foodie Dietitian. “When we push away our basic needs for self-care — relaxation, spirituality, fun, sleep — we wind up feeling overexerted, depleted and stressed and turn to food as a way to fulfill an unmet need. Overeating because of stress often leads to more stress and anxiety and it becomes a vicious cycle.”

Given that, the results of a recent British study that found a link between long-term stress and obesity may not come as much of a surprise.

The study, conducted by researchers at University College London and published in the journal Obesity, looked at hair samples representing about two months of growth from more than 2,500 men and women age 54 and over participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to determine the levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, present in the hair. The researchers found that those with higher levels of cortisol, which plays a role in metabolism and fat storage, were more likely to be overweight or obese – to have a larger waist circumference, weigh more and have a higher body-mass index.

Although the study found only an association and not evidence of cause or consequence, the study is important in light of the dangers of excess abdominal fat, including heart disease, diabetes and early death, lead author Sarah Jackson, a research associate in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, maintains.

“I think the take-home message from our study is really to try and maintain awareness of healthy lifestyle habits during times of stress,” Jackson tells Healthy Eats. “When we’re stressed out we may find it more difficult to find the motivation to go for a run or resist unhealthy foods, and that’s when it is easier for weight to creep on.”

The study also underscores the need to find ways of curtailing stress or dealing with it in ways that don’t involve food, Jackson says.

Lydon agrees. She recommends that, when you feel compelled to binge or overeat in times of stress, that you pause and ask yourself the food you’re about to tuck into is really what you need. “Often times, taking a walk outside to connect with nature or taking a warm candlelit bath is enough to fulfill an unmet need and the craving subsides,” she says.

Because everyone is different, Lydon suggests making a list of non-food-related things that help you combat stress – and keeping them handy. “Things like yoga, deep breathing, meditation, going out with friends, coloring, venting to a loved one, or getting a hug can all release some stress,” she says.

And unlike that buttercreamy hunk of cake, a hug, while equally sweet, is calorie-free.

 

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.