Healthy Office Snacks

As a dietitian working in a hospital setting, I am constantly exposed to treats and sweets. Whether it’s the weekly Tuesday doughnuts brought by volunteers, or the cannolis and cake at a coworker’s baby shower, they are everywhere…just staring at me.

From what I have heard, this is the case for many people in their workplace. Despite not buying junk food or sweets, and eating healthy at home 98% of the time, temptations at the workplace always seem to get in the way. So what can we do about it? Plan ahead!

In an effort to avoid noming on sweets or afternoon trips to the cafeteria when I’m craving a snack or feeling extra hungry, I have started to keep a few simple, strategic items at my desk. Let me share:

  1. Tea bags or instant coffee: Hot tea or coffee is a terrific way to stave off cravings and maintain focus. One brand of instant coffee I particularly like is Four Sigmatic’s mushroom coffee (no, it doesn’t taste like mushrooms) as it has half the amount of caffeine, but it does wonders for focus without the jitters! I like to leave a reusable coffee cup at my desk so I always have one on hand.
  2. Prunes: Yes, I keep prunes at my desk. They are super filling and perfect when you are craving something sweet!
  3. Peanut or almond butter: When I am running late in the morning, I will grab a banana or apple to go. Having some type of nut butter at my desk makes it more convenient, and adding the healthy fats and protein will keep you full much longer than eating the fruit alone.
  4. Skinny Pop popcorn (or similar brand): This popcorn does not contain any artificial ingredients, is non-GMO, and high in fiber.
  5. Trail mix: Most store bough trail mix is high in added sugar, expensive, and may contain undesirable additives. For this reason, I have started to make my own by adding a variety of nuts, gogi berries (or some type of dried fruit containing no added sugar), a sprinkle of cacao powder, and perhaps a drizzle of honey — mix it together and vwa-la! I keep mine in a mason jar at my desk.
  6. 70% or Higher Dark Chocolate: For the days those doughnuts are staring at you.

What healthy snacks do you keep at your desk? Share below!

What is Intermittent Fasting? Key Components for Success

If you are interested in wellness or weight loss, you have probably heard the term “intermittent fasting” and like most health and diet crazes, have also most likely heard conflicting information about it.

So what exactly is intermittent fasting? Unlike specific diets that manipulate what you eat, intermittent fasting manipulates when  you eat. The most typical time people fast is from the time they eat their last bite of food in the evening until their first meal the next day. Unless you tend to wake up for a little midnight snack, you are already fasting! However, this pattern of eating prolongs the amount of time you go without eating to achieve a level of benefit.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

  • Improved blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity  –> reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Weight loss via increased metabolism and decreased caloric intake    
  • Reduces oxidative stress and inflammation –> reduced risk of disease overall
  • Improved memory and learning
  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Appetite control

According to a study from the National Institute on Aging:

Although all cells in the body require energy to survive and function properly, excessive calorie intake over long time periods can compromise cell function and promote disorders such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and cancers. Accordingly, dietary restriction (DR; either caloric restriction or intermittent fasting, with maintained vitamin and mineral intake) can extend lifespan and can increase disease resistance. Recent studies have shown that DR can have profound effects on brain functions and vulnerability to injury and disease.  DR can protect neurons against brain degeneration in animal models of Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases and stroke. Moreover, DR can stimulate the production of new neurons  from stem cells (neurogenesis) and can enhance synaptic plasticity, which may increase the ability of the brain to resist aging and restore function following injury.

How to Incorporate Intermittent Fasting

There are several ways to perform intermittent fasting so you can choose the method that would be most realistic with your lifestyle. Individuals have been shown to benefit from fasting windows lasting anywhere from 12-20 hours, though 14-16 hours seems to be ideal for most people.

For example:

  • If you stop eating at 8pm, start eating at 10am (14 hour fast, 10 hour eating window)
  • If you stop eating at 7pm, start eating at 11am (16 hour fast, 8 hour eating window)

Intermittent fasting has the ability to be very flexible based on individuals work schedule, eating habits, ability to control blood sugar, etc. Those that tend to be late night snackers may benefit from a later dinner, and starting their fast at their last bite of food to help avoid those late night trips to the pantry.

Safety

For generally healthy individuals, intermittent fasting is safe if done correctly. On the other hand, extended periods of food restriction is NOT recommend for diabetic individuals, those that tend to experience low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), breastfeeding moms, or moms-to-be.

Tips For Success

In order to have success with intermittent fasting, it is vital to have a plan on how to make it sustainable for YOU.

  1. Quality: Since you may now be eating slightly less or skipping a meal, it is even more important to eat healthy, nutrient dense foods. Fasting is not an excuse to eat pizza and ice cream during your eating window (sorry!) — this is not the purpose or goal. In order to experience the biological benefits, we must maintain healthy (and sustainable) habits.
  2. Quantity: It is important to make sure you still eat enough food and maintain your caloric requirements, especially if you are fairly active or exercise regularly. I recommend eating at least 2 meals plus a small snack if you are hungry.
  3. Be realistic: Start with a fasting time frame you know you can be successful with. For example, if you typically stop eating at 11pm and eat breakfast at 7am, start with extending the fast 1 hour each way until you feel comfortable extending it further.
  4. Use exercise to your advantage: Research has shown that exercise can enhance the benefits of intermittent fasting!

Example of Daily Routine With Fasting Exercise

I have personally noticed that exercising first thing in the morning while maintaining my fast can improve my physical performance (less sluggish) and increase my mental clarity and productivity throughout my workday. Here’s an example of what a typical day with a 13-hour fast could look like:

6am – exercise (only drink black coffee or water)

8am: eat breakfast

12pm- eat lunch

7pm: Finish eating dinner

Rest of evening: Drink water or unsweetened hot tea

In Conclusion…

Many of us have been conditioned to believe that we need to eat 3 meals per day plus snacks to maintain a healthy metabolism and blood sugar control. However, this can often lead to high blood sugar, excessive caloric intake and ultimately, weight gain.

Our bodies came with excellent feedback mechanisms to let us know when we are hungry. In additional to occasional intermittent fasting, a goal of mine has been to let my hunger guide my eating, rather than forcing myself to eat because it is a certain time of day. If I’m not hungry in the morning, I don’t eat.

If you are interested in experimenting with fasting, try out the Zero fasting app, which can make getting started easier and help you stick with a fast longer via the built in timer and Fast Journal.

Are you open to fasting? Have you already tried it, and if so, how was your experience? Let me know below!

Homemade Basil Pesto

Although the ingredients found in store-bought pesto tend to be fairly clean, nothing beats a homemade batch of the fresh stuff! I love being able to customize my pesto recipe as far as the types of nuts and seasonings I use. Basil is also an herb that is very easy to grow (even I haven’t killed mine) so I love making large batches when the basil is ready for harvest and freezing it for later use. This year we have multiple plants that have really flourished, so I have been using it in my salads, omelets and stir-frys as well.

Health Benefits of Basil

  1. It contains powerful antioxidants to fight free radical damage. Two particular antioxidants it contains, orientin and viceninare, help protect white blood cells responsible for immune function, as well as cellular structures where DNA is stored.
  2. Studies have demonstrated its ability to prevent and fight cancer by increasing antioxidant activity, positively changing gene expression, and inducing cancer cell death.
  3. It contains antibacterial properties effective against antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
  4. Has adaptogenic properties to help individuals adapt to stress
  5. Reduces inflammation

I have found that pesto is a fairly versatile food. I love it on Banza chickpea pasta, spaghetti squash, sautéed vegetables, or even on my eggs!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 packed cups fresh basil
  • ½ cup raw almonds (I sometimes use a combination of nuts, such as almonds + pine nuts, depending on what’s available)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 Tbs Romano cheese (optional)
  • Sea salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Add basil, garlic and cheese (if using) to a blender.
  2. Turn on blender and slowly add olive oil until it is your desired consistency.
  3. Add salt and any other additional items (ex. pepper, lemon squeeze) to taste.

*Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or freeze up to 9 months

Basil plant from my garden

Freezing Pesto

To freeze pesto, put a couple tablespoons in each compartment of an ice cube tray. When they are frozen, dump them into a larger container with a lid for easy storage in the freezer.

How do you like to use pesto? Share below!

Eating With the Seasons: 4 Reasons Why

It’s October and you’re picking apples and drinking hot apple cider, or August and you just visited your local blueberry patch. Many of us eat seasonally without even realizing its fantastic benefits! Seasonal eating is something that our ancestors did naturally but now can take a bit of effort due to the convenience of being able to buy almost any food year round at your local grocer.

Listed are some reasons why eating seasonally could not only benefit you, but also your community.

  1. More nutritious. Nutrient degradation starts immediately as produce is harvested! The farther the produce has to travel to reach its destination and the longer it sits on supermarket shelves, the more its nutrients become depleted. Much of the produce is harvested before ripe and then exposed to gas to ripen it after transport. Picking produce before it has fully matured results in a lower nutrient density.  According to biochemical researcher Donald R. Davis, the average fruit and vegetable sold in our supermarkets contain 5 to 40% less minerals than those 50 years ago. In fact, vegetables can lose 15 to 55% of vitamin C within a week. No wonder over 52% of Americans are deficient in magnesium, and 43% do not get enough vitamin A!
  2. You Save Moolah! The cost-savings of buying food from  your local farmers market boils down to a matter of supply and demand. When you buy in-season produce,  you are buying food at the height of its supply. When there is more available, prices go down. This may seem like common sense, but many don’t take advantage of this or plan their meals around what’s in season. Although eating healthy can be expensive, it doesn’t HAVE to be. This can save you a lot of money in the long run. 
  3. It supports your community. Buying straight from the farmer, whether it be via farmers market or CSA, cuts out the middle man so the farmer makes more money. City Fresh, a Cleveland Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), reports “We are consistently 20-40% cheaper than the grocery store, and unlike the typical grocery store, where only 5 to 15 cents of your dollar goes to the farmer who grew your produce, 81 cents of your City Fresh dollar goes directly to our farmers.”
  4. Increased nutrient variety. An added bonus of eating in season is a more nutritionally varied diet. Ever heard the phrase, eat the rainbow? Not only do different plant foods grow best in different seasons, but different colored foods contain different types of micronutrients. For example, the purple/blue hue of plants such as plums, blueberries and eggplant is primarily due to its anthocyanin content. This antioxidant is particularly beneficial for preventing blood clots and cancer. When you eat seasonally, you are exposed to a wider profile of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants at the peak of their nutrient density.

So whats in season?!

This user friendly Seasonal Food Guide makes finding what’s in season easy based on your location! Below, I have also provided a seasonal food guide for my Ohio followers.

Interested in finding a local farmer’s market or CSA in your area? LocalHarvest.org is one of my go-to resources for this!

Matcha Latte Recipe and Benefits

The gloomy weather over the past week has got me sipping all kinds of warming beverages, from hot water with lemon to an old favorite, matcha tea. In addition to its soothing taste, this beautiful green powder is a total powerhouse superfood. In fact, Japanese tea farmers have been growing it for over 1,000 years to obtain its health benefits! This type of tea is unusual in that the whole leaf is ground and consumed, as opposed to conventional green tea where the plant is simply seeped in water.

Health Benefits

  • METABOLISM BOOSTING. It contains a powerful antioxidant, EGCG, which is known to boost metabolism. One cup of matcha has 137 times the amount as a conventional cup of green tea.
  • ANTI-CANCER. One bowl of matcha contains as many antioxidants as 10 cups of green tea.
  • STRESS RELIEF. It is high in L-theanine, an amino acid helpful in reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.
  • DETOXIFYING. For several weeks before the matcha plant is harvested it is shaded from the sun. This forces the plant to compensate for the lack of light by producing extra chlorophyll, a potent detoxifying compound that binds to toxins in the blood.

In addition to these incredible benefits, I also love matcha because it gives me steady energy without the jitters and, when prepared such as below, it’s filling and will help satisfy sugar cravings!

Collagen Matcha Latte Recipe

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond or
    coconut milk
  • 1 scoop collagen (optional)
  • 1 tbsp coconut butter
  • 1 tsp matcha
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp honey

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Heat the water and milk together in a pot
  • Blend, sip, enjoy!

*To make an iced matcha latte, add a cup of ice instead of heating up the water and milk.

Have you tried matcha before? How was it prepared?

Food Intolerance VS Food Allergies

More families are being affected by food allergies and intolerances then ever. According to a study released in 2013 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased by ~50% between 1997 and 2011.  While most of us are aware of the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction, intolerances are a whole different animal. Understanding the difference and being able to identify potential symptoms of both food allergies and intolerances is essential for maintaining and optimizing health and quality of life.  

What Is a Food Allergy?

Food allergies occur when your immune system identifies a food as a foreign invader. Your immune system then reacts, or rather overreacts, by producing antibodies called imunoglobulin E (IgE) which travel to cells that then release chemicals to cause a reaction. This reaction typically happens immediately and can be as mild as inflammation (hives, for example) or as severe as anaphylactic shock.

The “Big 8” most common food allergies include milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. These account for 90% of all allergies.

Symptoms include:

  • hives, itchiness, swelling of skin
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • anaphylaxis (difficulty breathing, dizziness, loss of consciousness)

potential causes

  • Avoidance of allergens. Previous recommendations for the avoidance of allergens, particularly peanuts, during pregnancy, infancy and breastfeeding have been dispelled. New evidence supports early exposure to allergenic foods to reduce the risk. In fact, it’s predicted that following the LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut allergy) study protocol could prevent 40-60% of peanut allergies!
  • Vitamin D deficiency. Studies have suggested that infants with low vitamin D are at an increased risk for food allergies. Check out my post on vitamin D for more information on how to optimize your levels.
  • The Hygiene Hypothesis. This theory states that being too clean and lack of exposure to microbes and pathogens at an early age can increase susceptibility to allergies. Living on a farm, having a pet dog, playing in the dirt, childcare attendance, and having an older sibling may have a protective effect.
  • A history of eczema. This study demonstrated that 1 in 5 infants with eczema had an allergy by 12 months of age, compared to 1 in 25 infants without eczema. One of the primary reasons for this is due to the break in skin barrier, so maintaining skin integrity by preventing eczema is key. 

You can refer to this article on the Prevention of Food Allergies for a more in-depth review on causes and prevention strategies.

What Is a Food Intolerance?

Food intolerances are typically more difficult to diagnose than allergies because they present in so many different ways and can take up to 72 hours to occur after eating the offending food. Also unlike allergies, they don’t involve the immune system.

Symptoms may include:

  • bloating
  • asthma
  • digestive upset
  • headaches or migraines
  • arthritis
  • eczema
  • fatigue

Based on the above symptoms, you can see why it may be difficult to connect the dots between food and what you may be experiencing. Unlike IgE, which causes an immediate response, the immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody is related to delayed reactions. Food intolerances are typically caused by increasing levels of IgG in the body.

potential causes

  • enzymatic deficiencies (e.g. lactose intolerance due to lactase deficiency)
  • nutrient malabsorption  (e.g. fructose)
  • sensitivities to certain proteins or components of food such as histamine, gluten or FODMAPs (fermented carbohydrates, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols)
  • leaky gut (more on this to come!)

So What Do I Do?

If a food intolerance is suspected, an elimination diet is the most cost effective way to identify foods that may be causing issues. This type of diet removes foods that could be problematic, then reintroduces them one by one.

Receiving testing is also an option. Have your doctor test for suspected food allergies or take a test such as this one to identify IgG-mediated food intolerances.


11 Food Swaps For Better Health

Improving your nutrition starts by making simple changes, particularly with items you tend to use on a daily basis as these changes will have a more significant impact on your health. If you’re looking for inspiration to make heathy swaps, I’ve got 11 here for you!

  1. SWAP JIFF FOR A MORE NATURAL PEANUT BUTTER Peanut butter is one of those foods manufacturers tend sneak in unhealthy ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Instead, choose a nut butter with only one ingredient: the nut. Freshly ground is even better (and it tastes better)!
  2. SWAP MARGARINE FOR BUTTER OR GHEE This previously deemed “healthier option” has nothing healthy about it as it is a highly processed product made with low quality vegetable oils. It initially gained popularity as it is lower in saturated fat but we now know saturated fat is not as bad as it was made out to be. Try butter, ghee or even coconut oil instead. FUN FACT: The more yellow the butter the higher the nutrient content!
  3. SWAP BREAKFAST CEREAL FOR ROLLED OR STEEL CUT OATS Dessert for breakfast anyone? Breakfast cereals are typically loaded with sugar and lacking in fiber and protein, leading to spikes in blood sugar and sugar cravings later in the day. Plain oatmeal is a much healthier option as it is a whole grain and higher in fiber and protein, meaning it will help to stabilize blood sugar and keep you feeling full for longer. Add berries, cinnamon and a spoonful of peanut butter for some flavor.
  4. SWAP CANNED FOR FRESH FRUIT Although any fruit is better than none, canned fruit often contains added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and even artificial sweeteners (when in light syrup). BPA, a known hormone disrupter, from the cans can also leech into the syrup and fruit. Choose fresh fruit when possible. Frozen fruit is also a great option,  especially when a particular fruit is not in season.
  5. SWAP POP FOR KOMBUCHA It is nothing new that pop contains up to 40 grams of refined sugar, carcinogenic caramel coloring, and toxic artificial flavors. Swapping pop for kombucha is a great switch because it is similar in taste and fizziness but without the added sugar. Kombucha is also a healthful beverage plentiful in polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals that help boosts digestion and immunity.  It is also simple to make if you don’t want to spend $3-4 for it in the store.
  6. SWAP TABLE SALT FOR SEA SALT Salt is a vital mineral that I feel often has a bad reputation, most commonly due to its connection to elevated blood pressure and fluid retention. However, this is typically only and issue when consuming it in excess from process foods such as lunchmeat, fast food, canned soups, and potato chips. Table salt is a manmade product that highly refined and contains anti-caking agents. During the refining process the salt is heated to high temperatures, a process which removes any existing minerals and makes it behave differently in the body than other unrefined salts.  On the other hand, sea salt, especially Himalayan pink salt, is an unrefined product containing a wide profile of 50+ trace minerals! Its lower sodium profile and high mineral content allow it to be assimilated more easily by the body. FUN FACT: Its pink color comes from its iron content!
  7. SWAP ICEBERG FOR DARK LEAFY GREENS If your go-to lettuce is iceberg, it time to make an upgrade. While iceberg lettuce has a mild flavor and provides a satisfying crunchy texture, it provides very little nutrition. Try switching it up with spinach, arugula, kale or spring mix.
  8. SWAP SPORTS DRINKS FOR COCONUT WATER It is important to stay hydrated during exercise, especially as summer starts to approach. Unfortunately, some of the most popular go-to beverages marketed for this are loaded with refined sugar and are artificially flavored and colored. Products such as Gatorade and Powerade do help replace beneficial electrolytes that are lost through sweat, but coconut water is a much healthier alternative. It naturally contains electrolytes (potassium and sodium) providing all the same benefits as sports drinks without the artificial ingredients. It naturally contains sugar but you will want to look for brands that don’t contain added sugar.  
  9. SWAP WHITE OR WHEAT BREAD FOR 100% WHOLE GRAIN OR SPROUTED BREAD Sometimes there is nothing better than an egg sandwich or avocado toast. White and wheat bread is highly processed which removes the majority of the nutrients. Some micronutrients are fortified back into the bread but will be in a poorly digestible form. If you are looking to upgrade your bread, choose a high fiber, multigrain loaf or sourdough bread. Even better, choose a sprouted brand, such as Ezekiel bread. When wheat is sprouted, it makes the gluten more digestible and the nutrients more bioavailable, so you’re getting more bang for your buck!
  10. SWAP CANDY FOR DARK CHOCOLATE (75% COCOA OR HIGHER) Dark chocolate is lower in added sugar and high in polyphenols. Cacao has long been promoted for its cardiovascular and mood enhancement properties. Cacao may also help decrease inflammation and control appetite.
  11. SWAP WHITE PASTA FOR CHICKPEA OR LENTIL PASTA White pasta is void of nutrients and fiber while chickpea or lentil pasta varieties are high in fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates. This makes for a more balanced and filling meal. Lentil or chickpea pasta will also not cause spikes in blood sugar like regular white pasta will. Note: For those that are hesitant to try it, I have served it to multiple friends and family members – they all loved it and could barely taste a difference! 

What healthy swaps have you made recently to improve your health?