Tag Archives: Healthy Tips

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.

The Dietary Perils of Being a Night Owl

Are you a morning person — awake early with the larks and sparrows — or a night person who stays up late with the owls? If you answered the latter, you may make less healthy dietary choices and be at a greater risk for obesity, a new study indicates.

Researchers in Finland who studied the behavior of 1,854 participants between the ages of 25 and 74 determined that, even though morning and night people tended to take in the same amount of calories, the timing of their intake and the kinds of foods they ate differed.

On weekday mornings, night people tended to eat less in general, but consumed more sugary foods than morning people. Meanwhile, in the evenings, late-night types tended to take in more calories overall and especially sugar, fat and saturated fats than morning people.

On weekends, the differences between early risers and late-night types were even more stark – with night people eating more calories overall as well as more sugar and fat. They also ate more frequently and at more irregular hours than morning people. (Hello, late-night snack attacks.)

“Postponed energy and macronutrient intake timing of evening types with unfavorable dietary patterns may put them at higher risk of obesity and metabolic disturbances in the future,” the authors of the study, published in the journal Obesity, concluded.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence indicating that the “timing of meals is very important for our health and all calories are not created equal,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, the owner of Nutrition Starring You, LLC, tells Healthy Eats.

“People who eat more in the earlier part of the day and less in the latter part lose more weight and have improved glucose, insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism compared with those who eat the same exact food but in the opposite order,” she says, citing a 2013 study conducted by researchers in Israel.

Skipping meals during the day, when our bodies are most active, and snacking unhealthily at night as we watch TV or surf the web, may affect the way calories are processed or stored. What’s more, we tend to make less healthy food choices at night – chips, ice cream and the like – which in turn may make us less hungry for nutrition-dense breakfast foods, like oatmeal, yogurt, eggs and fruit.

So what’s a night-owl to do? Harris-Pincus generally suggests her clients stop eating at least three or four hours before they hit the sack in order to curtail “mindless” nighttime snacking. Still, she allows, “Each person needs to make choices based on what works for their lifestyle.”

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.

4 Surprising Sleep Hacks You Haven’t Heard Before

File this under news you probably could’ve guessed: According to a January study in the Journal of Affective Disorders, the quality of your sleep determines whether or not you’re going to be in a positive or negative mood the next day. It’s not exactly surprising news, but it serves as a good reminder that getting a good night’s sleep is very important to your health. (And, according to The New York Times, a good night’s sleep is the new status symbol.) So while you know that avoiding caffeine and electronics before bedtime will help you catch some quality zzz’s, we asked a handful of sleep experts for their favorite — and most unexpected — sleeping tips:

Focus on staying awake
“I know it sounds counterintuitive,” says Dr. Sujay Kansagra, director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program and sleep health consultant for Mattress Firm, “but it actually works.” Dr. Kansagra says this technique known as paradoxical intent. “It lessens anxiety, giving your mind a chance to relax enough to fall asleep,” Kansagra says. Science backs this theory up: According to a 2005 study at the University of Glasgow, participants who focused on staying awake had an easier time falling — and staying — asleep than those who focused their efforts on trying to sleep.

Try magnesium spray
Magnesium is one of those vitamins that is known for its sleep-friendly properties. And while it can be found in foods such as nuts, seeds and even dark chocolate, you can also get your fix another way: Via a spray. Magnesium oil is said to be even stronger than when it’s found in food or pill forms. “It helps relax muscles and decrease cortisol levels,” says Martin-Rawls-Meehan, CEO and founder of sleep technology and mattress company Reverie. “A few sprays on the forehead and chest before going to bed really works,” he adds. And because magnesium naturally helps your muscles relax, the oil could also help with those suffering from restless legs syndrome—another cause of sleeplessness.

Separate your sheets
If you sleep with a partner then you know then you’ve probably had to deal a case of stolen covers in the middle of the night. Waking up sheetless can seriously disrupt your sleep, but Dr. Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute in North Carolina has a simple solution: Separate your sheets. “Avoid a fight over the blankets by using your own,” he says. “You can have one fitted sheet, but for each side of the bed use your own top sheet and blanket,” he adds. “Simply cover it with a duvet, and no one will see the difference.”

Pour a glass of tart cherry juice
According to Dr. Caroline Apovian, the Director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center, tart cherry juice is the perfect pre-bedtime drink. “It’s the world’s richest natural source of melatonin,” she says. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle, and in a recent study, participants who drank tart cherry juice (about 1 ounce of juice concentrate mixed with 7 ounces of water) saw an increase in their melatonin content as well as significant increases in time in bed, total sleep time and sleep efficiency.

 

Kevin Aeh is a New York City-based writer and editor. He has written for Time Out New York, Refinery29, New York Magazine’s Vulture blog, Furthermore from Equinox and more.

Untangling the Facts About Instant Ramen Noodles

We know that instant ramen noodles — that cheap college-student staple — probably don’t qualify as a health food, but exactly how bad for us are they?

A 2014 study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health found that women who ate instant ramen noodles at least twice a week were at a 68 percent higher risk for metabolic syndrome – a group of conditions including elevated blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar; obesity and other factors that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. So, you know, not good.

“Instant ramen is notoriously high in sodium,” explains Michelle Dudash, RDN, Cordon Bleu-certified chef and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families, noting that some brands contain 72 percent of the daily-recommended sodium limit per package.

The packaged noodles are also made with refined grain flour, fried in palm oil, and are hardly redeemed by the teensy bit of dehydrated vegetables they contain. Consequently, Dudash puts them squarely in the “unhealthy food” category. But, she adds, “one of the leading brands of instant ramen noodles offers a 35-percent-less sodium option, so that is a move in the right direction.”

While Dudash says it’s OK to eat instant ramen on the occasional camping trip or sick day, in general, it’s not something she suggests routinely chucking in your shopping cart at the grocery store. And in the rare instance that you do indulge, she suggests restricting consumption to only half the package, sticking to varieties that are lower in sodium, and boosting the “health” factor by adding your own ingredients, such as sautéed vegetables or a lean protein, such as chicken or edamame.

By and large, though, “You’re much better off buying a can of soup filled with vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein like beans or chicken,” Dudash says. “Or if you’re craving a bowl of Asian noodles, boil some brown rice noodles or buckwheat noodles, pour some reduced-sodium or homemade broth on top and add sautéed vegetables and edamame.”

Good to have our tangle of noodle knowledge set straight.

 

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.

Start a Garden and Harvest the Health Benefits

As the weather begins to warm (March, you’re still planning to go out like a lamb, right?) and the first signs of spring tentatively peep out of the ground, many of us take our cue to start rooting around for our garden tools.

If you are not yet a gardener, why not make this spring the season you try out your green thumb? Even if you live in a city and have no yard at your disposal, you may be able to give it a whirl by finding a small plot in a community garden or even stashing a box on your windowsill. The rewards may include far more than whatever you manage to grow.

Studies have shown that gardening has all sorts of health benefits, from boosting your mood and improving your diet, to helping you stay fit and trim. So Healthy Eats reached out to Sharon Palmer, RD, a plant-based food and nutrition expert and the author of The Plant-Powered Diet, Plant-Powered for Life and The Plant-Powered Blog, to find out more.

 

How is tending a garden beneficial for your overall health? 

Gardening is good for your overall health in many ways. First of all, it is a form of physical activity that contributes to your overall physical fitness levels. Secondly, it can boost mood-enhancing hormones. Studies show that gardening can increase the release of serotonin, which has an anti-depressant effect, while decreasing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Thirdly, it can increase your exposure to health-promoting vitamin D levels we obtain from the sun. And fourthly, studies show that when you garden, you increase your consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables.

 

What are some of the benefits in terms of weight maintenance?

When you increase your physical activity, you can better balance your energy input and output to promote a healthier weight. Plus, when you increase your consumption of healthy plant foods, such as fruits and vegetables, you can promote a healthier weight. Plant foods are rich in fiber and nutrients for a relatively small calorie level, meaning you can feel satisfied with fewer calories.

 

How do you suggest people new to gardening get started?

The most important thing to do is to just get started! The USDA has some helpful gardening guides. Look at specific gardening recommendations for your region. For example, I live in Southern California and I need to get my plants into my garden before it gets really hot, so in March I am planting my vegetables. I also have different growing seasons and plants that do really well in my area: Cool weather is lettuces and greens, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli; hot weather is peppers, eggplant, squash, corn, and tomatoes. You will learn a little bit more each year on what works the best. If you are new to gardening, first try a container garden — even a large pot. You can try vegetables starts rather than growing from seed if you are new to gardening. Try composting your leftover kitchen scraps as organic fertilizer. Harvest your vegetables when they are ripe for maximum nutritional benefits, and remember to use those nutrient-rich greens: broccoli and cauliflower leaves, turnip greens, beet greens.

 

What do you think is the most important thing for rookie gardeners to keep in mind?

People who grow vegetables eat more vegetables. And they enjoy them at their nutrient and flavor peak. In addition, gardening is the ultimate local food choice, reducing your carbon footprint. By gardening, you can fill your diet with a variety of whole plant foods — greens, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil, parsley, carrots, beets, cucumbers, squash and more. We know that a diet filled with these foods is linked with a lower risk of disease and obesity.

 

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.