Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Eyes Opened at the Grocery Store

Our On the Way to Wellness Groups had a great time investigating nutrition at a local grocery store. And, many had an eye-opening education. 

We focused on the NuVal nutrition rating system used at Meijer and it was quite interesting that no one had even noticed these labels before. Look for the NuVal symbol right next to the price on the shelf tag at many grocery store chains across the country, including Hy-Vee, Big Y, Raley's, Giant, and some Krogers.

NuVal provides a simple rating of each food's nutritional content. Scores run from 1 to 100; the higher the number, the better it's nutrition. Over 30 nutrients and nutrient factors are considered in the equation, giving credits for good sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals such as calcium, while taking deductions for sugar, sodium and cholesterol. 

One challenge was to find foods at both ends of the nutritional spectrum. Krusteaz Crumb cake was a quick find, failing the nutrient test with a grade of 1. High sugar and refined white flour without enrichment left it offering the worst possible grade.

Foods that provided top scores of 100 were plentiful in the produce department, but rarer in the processed food aisles. One eagle-eyed person found canned no-salt added listed at 100. It's worth remembering that as long as no salt or sugar is added to canned or frozen vegetables and fruits, their nutritional score remained the same. When your favorite produce is out of season, you can always find alternatives that are just as healthy in the canned or frozen food aisles.

Those who used more pre-packaged dishes were shocked to see how low these processed foods scored. One way to improve the nutritional value of any of these is to add extra vegetables or plain whole grains to reduce the sodium per serving, and to increase the fiber, vitamins and minerals. For example, adding a cup of instant brown rice or barley to a box of Rice-a-Roni, or Zatarain's Red Beans and Rice would do the trick nicely.

To find the best nutrition bang for your buck
  1. Find NuVal score: the higher the better
  2. Ingredient list
    1. First 3 ingredients are most important 
    2. Sugar should be further down the list
    3. Avoid partially hydrogenated fats
    4. Fewer ingredients 
  3. Nutrition Data Label
    1. Sodium: 200 mg per serving or less is ideal
    2. Trans fats: 0
With a little effort, you can keep well stocked with foods that will provide your body with the nutrition it deserves.

Compare to these retailers 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Starve a Cold; Feed a Fever?

 David Castillo Dominici
Starve a fever and feed a cold. Or is it feed a cold and starve a fever? I never could remember that old adage. Either way, don't do it.

You work hard not to succumb to the latest barrage of cold, flu and other viral attacks. You got your flu shot early, take your vitamin, and wash your hands all the time. Even so, all of a sudden...Bam. You're down for the count. Happens to the best of us.

My daughter was home from college last weekend recovering from a week's battle with a virus. As she rested and gained strength back, we talked about what foods and drinks worked best to get her back on her feet.

Colds and flu often produce plenty of congestion. While no cure, drinking warm, soothing liquids can help ease stuffy heads. The few people who find dairy products increase their mucus production may want to avoid it for awhile.

Reach for good old chicken soup. It's not only recommended by moms and grandmas everywhere, but research has actually shown that chicken soup has a mild anti-inflammatory effect that may help to minimize symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. 

A sore throat can make swallowing any liquids difficult Sipping cold, icy drinks can provide a temporary numbing effect. Highly acidic juices like orange juice, that can irritate the throat, so try diluting citrus juices. Warm, not hot, decaffeinated tea with a bit of honey can bring some soothing comfort. 

When nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea hit, stop eating initially. As soon as your stomach calms, sip on clear beverages to avoid problems with dehydration. Reach for water, ice chips, popsicles, juice, lemon-lime soda, ginger ale, and jello. Sports drink such as Gatorade are great for adding back both fluids and electrolytes lost. When your stomach can handle liquids, begin adding back bland foods. Rice, toast with jam, bananas, and applesauce are good for starters. Aim to go back to your normal diet within 24 hours.

Double check your diet both as you get well and to ward off future illness. Foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein help rebuild your immune system and keep it strong.
Some research suggests that diets rich in vitamin C, B-6, B-12, folic acid, and zinc may improve immune system function. One recent study found that vitamin D supplements given to school age children significantly reduced flu outbreaks during flu season. Antioxidants and flavonoids seem to have a positive effect in boosting immune function. Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables instead of reaching for supplement which have not been shown to provide the same benefit.

Consuming enough protein is important for a strong immune system, but I'm not suggesting a 12 ounce ribeye. Instead, reach for lean meat, fish, poultry, legumes, eggs, nuts, seeds, and low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Another plus: most are also rich in B vitamins. 

All in all, keep washing your hands with soap and water, get plenty of sleep, and eat a well-balanced, colorful diet. So, why am I sneezing? I'm going with allergies for now...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Paczki Experiment

One gal I worked with today brought in a Paczki from a box that was brought in to her office. We mindfully evaluated it: looked at it, smelled it, touched and poked at it, and tasted it. Fascinating experience for us both. It absolutely tasted terrible and left a thick coating on the roof of the mouth. Kind of like eating Crisco.

I thought about this experience all afternoon, so I decided to buy a few Paczkis
 to do the same experiment in class tonight. I loved watching the facial expressions as they smelled and tasted it. NOT ONE person liked anything about the aroma or the taste. Surprise is an understatement.

Clearly anticipation and expectation were much greater than reality. I wonder how often that happens. Is it possible that we tend to eat something we consider "bad" so fast we don't even realize we don't like it? If so, how often does it happen?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Snacking at Night

There's confusion in the land of night-time snacking. First, we heard that eating at night causes the food just eaten to be stored as fat.  Then, we heard that it doesn't matter when we eat it, it's the total number of calories eaten throughout the day. This past summer, a study done on mice suggests that for some unknown reason, the food they provide mice before their bedtimes caused more weight gain than at other time. As we wait for more definitive research to guide us, consider your own eating habits at night.

Snacking at night is probably not terrible per se, unless you struggle with gastric reflux. But, those snacks can end up bringing in too many unhealthy calories and interfere with managing your weight. 

Think about what's urging you to eat: physical hunger, boredom, loneliness, emotions, a way unwind and relieve stress, or because food looked good on those commercials. If you are physically hungry, be sure to have a small, healthy snack. If not, what does your body or mind is really want? 

Here are some of my favorite suggestions I've gathered over the years to help you deal with snacking at night if it has a tendency to get out of control:

  1. End dinner with a cup of decaffeinated tea or coffee. I've found this very helpful for me to signal the end of the meal.
  2. Make a decision not to eat after dinner if that seems best for you. Stick by your decision.
  3. Plan one snack to enjoy at at particular time each night. Choose something you really like, being sure to make it an event. A carton of low fat yogurt, pudding, or a few whole grain crackers with a dab of peanut butter. If you've decided to have a sweet treat, add something healthy to go with it to calm the blood sugar surge. A cookie with non-fat milk or strawberries and a bit of really good dark chocolate. Be sure to sit down and eat mindfully; really enjoy that snack!
  4. Make a cup of decaffeinated tea, coffee, or non-fat cocoa in your favorite mug instead of reaching for a snack mid evening.  Savor it while you unwind for the day. I love pomegranate green tea or French vanilla decaf coffee, while my daughter goes for ginger tea.
  5. Pick up a hobby that keeps your fingers busy: knit, crochet, do a crossword puzzle, or play solitaire or a favorite game on your computer. Nothing like a mindless game of solitaire to unwind after a long day.
  6. Go to bed earlier. Enough sleep helps with handling stress and keeps those sleep hormones that can influence your appetite in line.
  7. Call a friend for a really good chat.
  8. Take a warm, relaxing bath.
  9. Delve into a really good book.
  10. Plan your meals for the following day.
How do you handle eating at night? Do you avoid it, plan it in, or just let it go? Be sure to share what's  worked for you!

Monday, February 4, 2013

All About the Souper Bowl

Yesterday was all about the Souper Bowl for me. While other people were focusing on getting all sorts of munchie foods ready to watch the Super Bowl games, I was thinking about soup. It's an annual event. Every year, I plan, shop for ingredients, and then supervise all the teens in our church as they prepare 150 servings of soup from scratch to serve the entire congregation---donations going to support local food banks.

It's exhausting every year, but I love every minute. Once they have their white aprons on, I emphasize food safety, telling them how important it is to wash hands, tie back their hair, and to don on plastic gloves whenever they touch food. I watch as they learn to chop onions, garlic, and veggies of all kinds. I cheer them on. 

Yesterday, the chefs came in at 8:30 in the morning, put on white aprons and jumped right into their assigned roles. A supply of swim googles came to the rescue when the onions brought on lots of tears. This year, I noticed how much more independent the older kids have become in their ability to measure, stir, and saute. These kids are really learning how to make healthy soups and they're having fun doing it. One of my top chefs told me that the Souper Bowl was his favorite event of the year. It doesn't get better than that!

And in the end, pots of White Chicken Chili and Minestrone were ready to serve. As the kids served up soup and loaves of delicious bread that had been donated by a local bread store, I listened for the soup reviews. Amazing, wonderful, delicious, so good...I think these kids did themselves proud.

Now, I can only hope that this joy of healthy cooking stays with them forever!