Simple Spinach Salad with Apples and Parmesan

Simple Spinach Salad

(pictured with a sweet potato and blue cheese frittata)

Simple Spinach Salad

Everyone has a go-to, simple salad that they love to throw together, and this one is brought to you courtesy of Ashley Higgs. Last month Ashley had some guests over for a pasta-making party, and she served this exquisite, unfussy salad on the side.

Since this is a simple dish, a high quality cheese goes a long way. In other words, this would not be the time to pull out the green shaker of grated parm (not that there ever is). Additionally, I highly recommend a good balsamic vinegar (made with grape must), rather than a cheap, imitation variety. At home, I paired this leafy masterpiece with a sweet potato and blue cheese frittata, but the mellow flavors of the salad compliment just about any dish.

Simple Spinach Salad

Simple Spinach Salad with Apples and Parmesan (Recipe by Ashley Higgs)

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 5 oz baby spinach
  • 2 green apples (I used Granny Smith), chopped
  • ¼ cup grated parmigiano reggiano
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Method: Combine all ingredients in a large serving bowl, and toss until mixed. Serves 4 as a generous side salad.

Nutrition per serving: 140 calories, 8g fat (2g saturated fat), 14g carbohyrates (3g fiber, 10g sugar), 3g protein, 110mg sodium, 68% Vitamin A, 24% Vitamin C, 10% Calcium, 6% Iron

– Kelly

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Apps I Love: Map My Run

Best Running App - Map My Run

The long awaited signs of spring (blossoming magnolia trees in Back Bay, sailboats on the Charles, pleasantly cool temps) ignite an uncharacteristic urge to lace up my Nikes and soak up the sunshine on a scenic jog. With the Boston marathon in town this week (yesterday, actually!), running seems to be contagious throughout the city, inspiring me to kick up my mileage and pace. With these goals in mind, I’ve been especially happy with a new app I just downloaded: Map My Run (the #1 running app).

Simply press start when you begin running (and stop when you finish), and the app will map your route, keep your time, and calculate your pace, along with a host of other features and statistics. It’s an excellent tool to monitor the progress of your workouts, especially if you’re training for a race. 

I’m fairly certain I’ve used a primitive, web-based edition of Map My Run a few years ago, slowly plotting my route on a computer to track my mileage, but this weekend was my first experience with the app, and I absolutely love it! In fact, I just might be inspired enough to make this running thing a habit. No promises, though ;)

– Kelly

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The Best TED Talks on Food Systems, Nutrition, and Public Health

Surely a sign of progress, there are now an abundance of TED talks that explore food, nutrition, and public health. Below are my very favorites — a collection of videos that I consider informative, important, and incredibly fascinating! If you have a favorite TED talk that’s not listed here, send me a link in the comments below.

PART I: PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTHY FOOD ENVIRONMENTS

How an Obese Town Lost a Million Pounds (Mick Cornett)

I just got back from OKC this week after visiting a college roommate, so this Midwestern town is fresh on my mind. Regardless of whether or not you’ve ever been to the Sooner state, you’ll definitely be inspired by this talk from current mayor Mick Cornett. Equal parts entertaining and inspiring, this story highlights how city planners and public health professionals can play an important role in fighting the obesity epidemic, and shows how important a walkable environment is in promoting health.

Teach Every Child about Food (Jamie Oliver)

Oliver has gained a well-deserved reputation as a tireless advocate for childhood obesity prevention. In this talk, Oliver explains just how important improving nutrition is to our children, and just how serious of a problem the American food environment has become. Our kids deserve better than this, and Oliver explains why.

How We Can Eat Our Landscapes (Pam Warhurst)

In this delightful and motivational story, Warhurst describes how a grassroots volunteer gardening movement is creating a supportive framework for the local food economy. Her talk celebrates the small actions of the community, and highlights the importance of edible landscapes.

PART II: WHY ORGANICS ARE IMPORTANT

From Fabels to Labels (Urvashi Rangan)

Identifying healthy products at the supermarket can be a challenge, especially when packages tout a variety of health claims and nutrition buzzwords. In this talk, Rangan explains which food claims and labels are more credible than others, and also makes an excellent case for supporting organics.

Why is Organic Food so *#@! Expensive? (Ali Partovi)

If the previous talk didn’t convince you of the importance of organic farming systems, this one surely will. Tech giant Partovi dispels a lot of myths surrounding organic food and industrial agriculture. This talk is a must for anyone that thinks that organic farming is expensive and inefficient, and that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world.

PART III: SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS AND FOOD POLICY

How I Fell in Love with a Fish (Dan Barber)

Sustainable food enthusiasts and seafood lovers alike will enjoy this engaging talk from Chef Dan Barber, which explores the sustainability of farmed fish. If you enjoyed Barber, be sure to check out his other TED talk about ethical foi gras. Or, if you’d like to learn more about sustainable seafood, be sure to check out this TED talk from chef and National Geographic Fellow Barton Seaver.

Turning the Farm Bill into a Food Bill (Ken Cook)

A new farm bill has passed since this 2011 talk first aired, but many of the points remain relevant. Cook explains how, despite the growing demand for responsibly produced food, government programs and legislation still favor industrial agriculture and the profits of a few food giants over family farms and public health.

Hungry for more? Check out the line-up from the TedxManhattan conferences (here are 2015 and 2014 to get you started) which are focused on “Changing the Way We Eat,” and are the sources of many of the videos above. The TED website also has a “What’s Wrong with What We Eat?” video playlist, a “Talks for Foodies” video playlist, and a “Plantastic!” video playlist. Additionally, Netflix offers a bundle of food related TED talks, in a collection called “Chew on This.”

– Kelly

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Butternut Squash and Peanut Soup with Chickpeas

Vegan Butternut Squash and Peanut Soup with Chickpeas

One-pot meals (like soups or stews) have long been favored recipes in my kitchen, but lately I’ve been experimenting with a global twist on this genre: peanut soups. This West African culinary tradition has yet to reach mainstream food culture in the US, but it’s only a matter of time. After all, Americans are always looking for a new delivery vehicle for jelly’s better half.

Hearty butternut squash soup serves as the perfect base for the classic, nutty spread, while the pureed chickpeas add a velvety texture, and a familiar, satisfying flavor (think hummus – another snack dip obsession). If you enjoyed my white bean soup, then you’ll love this creamy, earthy creation, inspired by a recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too cookbook.

 Vegan Butternut Squash and Peanut Soup with Chickpeas

Butternut Squash and Peanut Soup with Chickpeas

Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Spicy Peanut-Squash Soup

Serves 8 (serving size: about 1 1/3 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup dried chickpeas (or one 15 oz can)
  • 1 ½ pounds chopped butternut squash, fresh or frozen (I used frozen)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper (double if you prefer a spicier soup)
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water (add more if you prefer a thinner texture)
  • 1 cup natural peanut butter (no added oils or sugars)
  • Optional garnishes: fresh cilantro, green onions, roasted peanuts, lime wedges

Method:

  1. If using dried chickpeas, put them in a large bowl, cover with water, and let them soak overnight. Then, drain and rinse the chickpeas. Add the chickpeas to a pot of fresh water and bring to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and let simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours. When chickpeas are tender, remove from heat, drain, and rinse. If using canned chickpeas, drain and rinse the chickpeas.
  2. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and add the onions and garlic, stirring occasionally for one minute. Then add the butternut squash, salt, cumin, red pepper flakes, and pepper, and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the vegetable broth, water, and drained chickpeas and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and stir in the peanut butter. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
  5. Using an immersion or handheld blender, blend the soup into a pureed texture. If the soup seems too thick, feel free to add more water.
  6. Ladle about 1 1/3 cups of soup into serving bowls, and add garnishes (like peanuts, cilantro, lime wedges, and/or green onions), if using.

Vegan Butternut Squash and Peanut Soup with Chickpeas

Nutrition per serving: 320 calories, 19g fat (2g saturated fat), 31g carbohydrates (8g fiber, 6g sugar), 13g protein, 345mg sodium, 195% Vitamin A, 34% Vitamin C, 9% Calcium, 15% Iron

Nutrition analysis does not include optional garnishes

– Kelly

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Whole Milk vs. Skim Milk

A dear friend and college roommate informed me that her husband recently switched to whole milk because he read that it was healthier. Seeing as this runs contrary to decades of dietary advice, she asked for my opinion on the matter.

Emerging Research on Milk Fat

While saturated fat (the main type of fat in animal foods, including whole milk) is largely considered a dietary villain, emerging research is shedding new light on the dairy debate.

Skim vs Whole Milk

The article in question references a study in which whole milk drinkers were found to weigh less than skim milk drinkers, a surprise, considering a cup of whole milk has nearly double the calories (150 vs 80) of skim milk, due to an additional 8g of total fat (5g saturated fat). However, this is not the first instance of high calorie foods being associated with lower body weights. Nuts and seeds are high in calories, but also high in fiber and heart healthy unsaturated fats, meaning that they fill you up and provide lasting energy. The idea behind both of these paradoxes is that low fat diets are unsatisfying, and often urge us to overcompensate in calories elsewhere. But even though fat is a healthy, essential nutrient, not all fats are created equal.

A recent article from Tricia Ward cites “increasing evidence that dairy fats do not increase [Cardiovascular Disease] risk and may even lead to a better metabolic profile,” due to their unique odd-chain saturated fatty acids. Dairy fats are also shown to be less harmful than margarine, which is a highly processed solid fat made from hydrogenated oils, a manmade process that creates dangerous trans-fats. Additionally, some researchers find that when saturated fats are replaced with refined carbohydrates and added sugars, heart disease risk increases, making saturated fats appear to be a healthy choice.

For these reasons, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the nutrition school at Tufts University, finds it “absurd” that the school lunch program allows sweetened nonfat chocolate milk, but not whole milk. After all, cutting back on dairy fat means increasing other nutrients, which in the case of added sugar, is certainly a step in the wrong direction.

However, what fails to make headlines in the debate about dairy fat is that when saturated fat is replaced with unsaturated fat in the form of olive oil, sunflower oil, nuts, or avocados, heart disease risk actually decreases. So while butter and milkfat may be dubbed the lesser of two evils (when compared to added sugars), the goal of healthful eating should be to find foods that are proven to actually nourish you and prevent disease, rather than picking foods simply because they are “not as bad as” others. (To learn more about the saturated fat debate, see this blog post.)

Current Recommendations

Fat is an essential nutrient, and health experts generally agree that a low fat or no fat diet is not the answer to health. That being said, reputable nutrition organizations, including the Harvard School of Public Health, the American Heart Association, and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee all recommend switching from full fat dairy to reduced fat or nonfat dairy, in order to reduce the intake of saturated fats.

As Walter Willett and Frank Hu (of the Harvard School of Public Health) suggest in a recent Boston Globe article, dietary guidelines are (and always will be) a work in progress, based on a consensus of the latest scientific evidence. The emerging research described above (and in Tricia Ward’s article) offers fascinating new insights on the unique role of whole milk and dairy fat, but there is still not enough evidence (nor is there a scientific consensus) for nutrition experts to recommend making a switch to full fat dairy products.

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report, which was just released on February 19th, “Nutrient intake data, together with nutritional biomarker and health outcomes data indicate that sodium and saturated fat are overconsumed and may pose a public health concern.” The committee “recommend[s] consumption of low-fat and fat-free foods in the Dairy group to ensure intake of these key nutrients while minimizing intake of saturated fat.”

Similarly, these are the recommendations from the Harvard School of Public Health:

Limit your intake of saturated fats by cutting back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods. Try replacing red meat with beans, nuts, poultry, and fish whenever possible, and switching from whole milk and other full-fat dairy foods to lower fat versions, or just eating smaller amounts of full-fat dairy products, such as cheese. Don’t replace red meat with refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, potatoes, and the like).

According to NYU nutrition professor and public health expert Marion Nestle, “It isn’t necessary to get into as yet unanswerable questions of heart disease or cancer to decide what to do about dairy foods. The calories and saturated fat are reason enough to choose lower-fat options.”

If there is a general scientific consensus that animal fats should be minimized, then why might journalists suggest that whole milk and butter can keep us trim and healthy? The Harvard School of Public Health offers this explanation:

Many dairy products are high in saturated fats, and a high saturated fat intake is a risk factor for heart disease. And while it’s true that most dairy products are now available in fat-reduced or nonfat options, the saturated fat that’s removed from dairy products is inevitably consumed by someone, often in the form of premium ice cream, butter, or baked goods. Strangely, it’s often the same people who purchase these higher fat products who also purchase the low-fat dairy products, so it’s not clear that they’re making great strides in cutting back on their saturated fat consumption.

Skim Milk vs Whole MilkThe Organic Factor

Whether or not your milk is organic or from grass fed cows can also have a large impact on the nutrition composition of the milk, especially the makeup of the fats. Research shows that whole organic milk from grass-fed cows is a higher (by 62%) in omega-3 fatty acids than conventional whole milk. Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fat with several documented health benefits, which means that whole milk from organic, grass-fed dairy products may actually offer some modest health benefits not seen in nonfat dairy. (To learn more about why I choose organic dairy, see this blog post.)

The Bottom Line

The research surrounding odd-chain saturated fatty acids (the special kind found in dairy) is still new, so we don’t yet know just how much it differs from other animal fats with regards to health benefits and risks. However, what we do know is that Americans consume too many calories, and too much saturated fat and added sugars. We also know that replacing animal fat with fats from plant sources (like nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, sunflower oil, flax, etc.) has been shown to offer all of the health benefits of fat, without the health risks still linked to animal fats.

Food choices are, of course, largely personal. And because all foods offer a mix of different fats, saturated fats are impossible to avoid completely. I choose unsweetened, organic nonfat or reduced fat dairy products (except for flavorful, full fat cheese that I use as a garnish on salads and other dishes), and supplement my diet with an ample amount of fatty plant foods in the form of flaxseed, peanut butter, almonds, avocado, and olive oil. Do you eat dairy products? What kind of milk do you buy?

– Kelly

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My 4 Favorite Food Documentaries

Over ten years ago, Morgan Spurlock comically captured the dangers of eating too much fast food in his seminal 2004 documentary, Supersize Me. Since then, there has been no shortage of documentaries for those interested in learning more about nutrition and the food system. Overwhelmed by the number of food-centric films on the menu? See below for four of my favorites.

Food Inc. (available on Netflix)

Watch to Learn: Why To Pay Attention to Where Our Food Comes From

If you’re wondering why there’s such a fuss about farmers markets and organic, local food, this must-watch 2009 documentary clears things up. While those unfamiliar with the food movement may be ready to dismiss food system issues as frivolous, this film explores how the choices we make at the grocery store can affect not only our own health and well-being, but the well-being of all the people and animals throughout the food chain. (Note: If you enjoyed Food Inc., and would like to learn more about food justice and issues of farm labor inequality, then check out Food Chains, also available on Netflix.)

A Place at the Table (available on Netflix)

Watch to Learn: Why Hunger and Obesity are Two Sides of the Same Coin

While Food Inc is probably the most well-known food documentary, A Place at the Table is, in my opinion, the most important. This profound 2013 film explains how hunger and obesity are both symptoms of the same problem: poverty and food insecurity. (If you’d like to learn more about this issue, see the blog post I wrote after I first saw this film.)

Bite Size (available on Vimeo and Amazon Instant Video // $4.99 to rent)

Watch to Learn: How to Support Kids Struggling with Obesity

Although this new 2015 film doesn’t feature any of the big name narrators or interviews that similar food documentaries include, the message is actually pretty powerful. This documentary follows four obese children, each taking a different approach to get healthy (from team sports, to community groups, to a healthy boarding school). Regardless of the weight loss tactics, what really stood out was how important it is for kids to have someone (be it a parent, coach, or school counselor) advocating for them, and how much this support affects their health and success.

Fed Up (available on Amazon Instant Video // $3.99 to rent)

Watch to Learn: How the Industrial Food Industry is Contributing to Childhood Obesity

Focusing on added sugars’ contribution to childhood obesity, this 2013 documentary is somewhat of a cross between Food Inc. and Bite Size. The film explores why today’s food environment is often considered ‘obesogenic’ (full of obesity-inducing triggers and cues) and how our unhealthy, corporate-controlled food system negatively affects kids.

While the films listed above are my favorites in the genre, I have seen a number of other food documentaries (including Forks Over Knives, King Corn, The World According to Monsanto, Inside Chipotle, and Food Matters, among others). The next food film that I’m hoping to watch is Cafeteria Man, an inspiring documentary that chronicles a school lunch success story. What are your favorite food documentaries?

– Kelly

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Recipes on My Radar: Healthier Desserts

I may be a dietitian, but I, too, have an active sweet tooth that needs to be tamed on a regular (if not daily) basis. Rather than deprive myself of treats entirely, or settle onto the couch with a nightly pint of Ben and Jerry’s, I try to make dessert recipes that feature healthy ingredients, like whole grains, fruit, and nuts, and are naturally sweetened as much as possible. That way, sweets aren’t a total nutritional loss.

These first two cookie recipes I’m sharing have tahini, which is a creamy paste of ground up sesame seeds (you might know it as the other ingredient in hummus, besides chickpeas). Nut butters and seeds are used in desserts all the time (peanut butter and chocolate, anyone?) so I thought I would get a little more creative with my tahini and give some whole grain cookies a nutrition boost. That being said, I don’t bake often. So the last recipe I’m leaving you with is the dessert I end up making at least once per week (#guilty). Curious? Read on!

Almond Butter Tahini Blueberry cookies

Almond Butter Blueberry Cookies from Green Kitchen Stories // These cookies certainly aren’t “light” or “low cal,” but they are filled with wholesome ingredients like nut butter, whole grains, and fruit. I subbed whole wheat flour for the buckwheat flour in this recipe, but kept everything else the same. The combination of blueberries and maple is reminiscent of a blueberry pancake, making these vegan cookies the perfect morning snack. It is a rare treat to feel nourished, rather than lousy, after eating a cookie (or two…) but these definitely do the trick!

Whole Grain Tahini Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Whole Wheat Tahini Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Food Fanatic // These delightful chocolate chunk cookies aren’t quite as superfood-packed as the recipe above, but I highly recommend this creative, healthier take on my all-time favorite dessert. I subbed canola oil for vegetable oil, but followed the rest of this recipe to a T. If you’re looking for a way to sneak some whole grains into the cookie jar, then look no further!

Dark Chocolate Banana Oatmeal

Chocolate Banana Oatmeal (inspired by Chocolate Covered Katie) // There is no chocolate craving that this decadent porridge recipe can’t take care of. I know that not everyone is as oatmeal obsessed as I am, but this dish is a great gateway into the wonderful world of oats. When heated, the banana beautifully melts into the oatmeal, so all it takes is a good stir to get the sweetness to distribute evenly throughout (no other sweeteners are necessary). This recipe calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, but I use a HEAPING 2 tablespoons, in addition to some ground flaxseed and a generous splash of milk.

– Kelly

 

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My New Favorite Healthy Habit

I am happy to report that I’ve picked up a new healthy habit—one that’s been on my to-do list for quite some time now. For the past month or so, I’ve started brushing my teeth in the office bathroom after lunch.

3 Reasons to Brush Your Teeth After Lunch

This simple activity can have a surprisingly big impact on well-being. Here are three reasons why I’m smitten with the post-lunch brush:

  1. My mouth feels clean and minty. An obvious benefit, but enjoyable nonetheless! (This is particularly appreciated on days when I eat something garlicky or heavily spiced.)
  2. My teeth are healthier. All that extra brushing and flossing adds up – your dentist (and your gums) will thank you!
  3. I’m less prone to snacking. In the afternoon, when energy starts to wane, the vending machine / snack run / office cookies can be awfully tempting. But a fresh brush signals that meal time is over.

Really, the biggest obstacle to overcome was to actually bring a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss to work (yes–I floss in there, too). Once I had it in my desk, it’s been easy to motivate myself to get up from the computer after lunch and step into the restroom for a quick brush. Additionally, there’s a certain novelty associated with brushing at the office, so it doesn’t seem like quite the tiresome chore as it does at home (at least not yet).

Do you brush your teeth at work?

– Kelly

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Sneak Peek Inside an RD’s Pantry

Sneak Peek into an RD's pantry

There is a lot of mystique surrounding the dietitians pantry. Some assume that it’s only filled with neatly labeled jars of organic quinoa, heirloom beans, and chia seeds. Others suspect more of a Monica’s closet approach, envisioning a secret stash of Oreos and cheese puffs. Well, today I’m putting the questions to rest. Because above is a sneak peek inside my own pantry. (And no, it’s not staged!)

This isn’t where I keep all of my food (the refrigerator, freezer, and spice cabinet are also well stocked), but it should give you an idea of where I stand. Aside from a healthy variety of dried fruit, nuts, beans, and whole grains, one pantry aspect that I’m particularly proud of (and recommend to others) is the lack of processed snack foods. In fact, about the only thing that falls in that category is a box of whole wheat crackers (top right) that I once bought for a dinner party but never ended up opening.

Snack foods tend to disappear quickly because they often trigger mindless eating. In fact, despite the clean nutrition label, I purposely don’t buy KIND bars unless I have a hike, flight, road trip, or ski trip planned. They’re too good not to eat immediately, whether I’m hungry or not. When you keep good food in the house, you tend to eat good food. This means that my go-to dessert ends up being a bowl of oatmeal mixed with bananas and a generous heap of cocoa powder — and that’s only if I’m truly hungry enough to cook it up myself.

While contemplating the components of a healthy pantry (and by extension, a healthy refrigerator), I realized that a major plus for me is that I don’t keep ketchup in the house. Ketchup itself is no dietary villain (Reagan counted it as a vegetable, after all), but hear me out…

Ketchup pretty much only goes with junk food. We can pretend that we exclusively use it on oven-baked sweet potato fries and other lesser evils, but who are we kidding? It’s the frequent fast food take out routine that keeps the ketchup bottles running low. Ketchup is a French fry’s best friend, and it also pairs well with other artery-clogging, obesity-inducing foods, like cheeseburgers and chicken tenders. After all, you certainly would never dunk a salad in it.

When taking inventory of your pantry (or refrigerator), it helps to make note of your food patterns and which foods encourage healthy choices (or unhealthy choices). For me, that means watching out for ketchup, but for you, it might be something different (like barbecue sauce or chocolate syrup)!

Healthy choices often beget healthy choices. Foods like granola are already nutritious (albeit, often high calorie) options, but the pot sweetens when you pair this healthy whole grain snack with its equally healthy companions, Greek yogurt and fresh berries. Sure, granola packs a much bigger calorie punch than ketchup does, but which food do you picture as part of a healthy meal?

Similar comparisons can be made when you think of other high calorie, yet high nutrient foods, like extra virgin olive oil. In fact, I am reminded of a quote by Greek doctor and nutrition scientist Antonia Trichopoulou that my boss once shared with me:

“Olive oil makes the vegetables go down!”

What helps your vegetables go down? Do certain foods encourage you to make healthier choices when you keep them in the house? Share your secrets to a healthy pantry in the comments below.

– Kelly

P.S. For those wondering about my giant glass jar of rolled oats, I still have it! However, I keep it on the kitchen counter, rather than in the pantry.

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How to Determine Which Healthy Tools are Worth the Investment

If you want to train for a 5K, there’s an app for that. There’s also an app that shows you how many calories are in your favorite breakfast cereal, and one that can wake you up at the ideal point in your sleep cycle.

From apps, to personal trainers, to activity trackers, to nutrition counselors, there is no shortage of tools to help you live healthier. But among all of these choices, which ones are worth the money? And just as important, how do you determine which one is right for you?

Fitbit Fun

^^Counting steps with my FitBit

EXERCISE:

Follow along with me: On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your exercise regimen.

If you didn’t give yourself a 10 (I sure didn’t!), where do you have room to improve? What is stopping you from rating your exercise regimen as a 9 or 10? Finding where you have room to improve or where you need the most help will help you determine where your investment is best spent. Below are a few common barriers to exercise, as well as some tips and tools to help you overcome these barriers.

1. I don’t have time to exercise.

  • Build more activity into your daily routine. If you can’t bear to wake up any earlier for a pre-work run, or can’t seem to make room for a post-work gym session, then start making tweaks in your daily activities. Walk or bike whenever possible. Take the stairs, instead of the elevator. Make a habit of walking after meals. Also, look for pockets of time during your day to be active. When you step away from the desk for a lunchtime stroll (or even a lunchtime workout), you return with a renewed sense of energy and concentration.
  • Consider an activity tracker. Once you’ve started making small changes, such as taking the stairs rather than the elevator, or going on a walk around the block during the lunch hour, an activity tracker (such as a FitBit) can help you quantify these changes. Some companies are even seeing the value in these devices. When I worked at Boston College, employees formed walking teams and received Fitbits to compete for a number of prizes. Similarly, at Oscar, a tech-based NY and NJ health insurance company, employees are given a Misfit Flash activity tracker and can earn cash rewards when they meet their own personalized goals within the Oscar app.

2. I can’t motivate myself to exercise.

  • Sign up for a race. Rather than just exercising for the sake of exercising, signing up for a race (such as a 10K, a sprint triathlon, or an open water swim) will give you a specific goal to work towards. There are also apps and meetup groups that can help motivate you along the way.
  • Find a gym buddy. If you have trouble motivating yourself to go for a jog, convincing yourself to hit the gym is also going to be a struggle. But if you find a gym buddy that you can be accountable to, then a gym membership might actually pay off. If any of your friends or coworkers frequent a gym, consider joining them for classes or weight lifting sessions. Another tactic is to schedule regular activity dates with friends (such as yoga class, walking around the city, or going on a scenic jog), instead of (or perhaps in addition to) post work cocktails or weekend brunch. Additionally, some activity trackers (like the Fitbit) have challenges that allow you to compete against your friends to see who took the most steps or was the most active. Nothing like a little friendly competition to light the fire under you!
  • Join a team. Does your office have a basketball league? Do any of your college friends play softball or soccer? Joining a team is a great way to build accountability, since your teammates are counting on you to pull through. Teams also often meet for regular practices and games, meaning that you’ll have a workout automatically built in to your schedule.

3. I want to get more in shape, but I don’t know where to begin.

  • Start a race-training program. Having something specific to train for (such as a 5K) can help focus your efforts and make your desire to get in shape more quantifiable. It will also help get you in the habit of regular physical activity. From in-person meetup groups, to apps and online training regimens, there are a number of “couch to 5k” training programs to choose from.
  • Consider joining a gym with classes. Whether you opt for a yoga studio, a spinning studio, or a large gym with multiple options, classes are a great way to focus your exercise regimen. The instructors will lead you in the workout, which means that the hardest part is just showing up!
  • Enlist the help of a friend. We all have that friend that is incredibly in shape and enjoys touting the benefits of regular exercise. This is the person you need to share your desire to start working out with. They will likely have some great pointers and ideas for you, and may even invite you along to join them for a workout or two!

4. I’m fairly active, but I want to kick it up a notch.

  • Try a new activity. If you’re a regular runner, give swimming a try. If you’re a pro at spin class, mix it up with yoga. Finding a new activity to use different movements and muscle groups is a great way to challenge your body and get out of a workout rut.
  • Consider a personal trainer. If you find yourself going through the same motions at the gym each week, you might consider working with a trainer. A trainer will push you outside of your comfort zone, and challenge you to try new workouts that you might not have tried before.
  • Step it up with a race. Mastered the 5K? Give a 10K a shot. Enjoy running and biking casually? Challenge yourself to a sprint triathlon. Training for a race (especially a distance that is further than your normal route) is a great motivation to kick your training up a notch.

Lunch at Sweetgreen

^^ Quick healthy lunch at Sweetgreen

FOOD:

Follow along with me: On a scale of 1 to 10, rate how you feel about the healthfulness of your diet.

If you didn’t give yourself a 10, where do you have room to improve? What is stopping you from rating your diet as a 9 or 10? Again, finding where you have room to improve will help you determine where your investment is best spent. Below are a few common barriers to healthy eating, as well as some tips and tools to help you overcome these barriers.

1. Making healthy choices is too complicated.

  • Don’t get bogged down in the details. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (like fish and chicken), beans, and healthy fats (like olive oil, avocado, and nuts) are what you should be piling on your plate. Refined sweets (like candies, cupcakes, and ice cream), deep fried foods, soda, red meats, and ultra-processed junk food are what you should be cutting back on. The nutritional difference between kale and broccoli is nothing to lose sleep over. However, the difference between an apple and apple flavored fruit gummies is pretty significant. If you’re looking for guidance, David Katz’s book is a great place to start. Also, the Fooducate app is a wonderful tool to help you compare foods.

2. I don’t enjoy cooking or meal planning. I just want to grab something quick and easy.

  • Look for healthy shortcuts at the grocery store. Canned beans, dried fruit, frozen vegetables, and precut fruits and vegetables are all healthy shortcuts that make cooking (or meal prep) way easier. There are also a number of healthy meal delivery services that can make cooking easier.
  • Consider time saving appliances. Are smoothies your preferred way to get your greens in? Consider a high powered blender, such as a Vitamix (or the more budget-friendly, entry level Nutribullet). Blenders can be a great motivator to help you get more produce into your diet in one easy, drinkable snack. A slow cooker is another great investment if you prefer to spend your time away from the stove. Just fill it with veggies, beans, and spices in the morning, and come home to a healthy, simmering chili. You can find an abundance of slow cooker recipes in cookbooks or on the web (but you might have to comb through to find healthier, veggie-driven recipes).
  • When eating out, choose wisely. If you rely on take out for most of your meals, it helps to have a few go-to healthy menu items in mind–dishes that are loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Use the hot bar at your local Whole Foods to build a healthy meal with fish, veggies, and whole grains. Brave the line at Sweetgreen, (or a similar salad place like Chop’t). Burrito shops nearby (like Chipotle or Boloco)? Go for a whole grain bowl with beans, chicken, and a ton of veggies, but opt for guac instead of cheese and sour cream, and forgo the unnecessary tortilla.

3. I find myself snacking, even when I’m not hungry.

  • Try a diet tracking app. Logging a few meals with MyFitnessPal, Fooducate, or even the FitBit app is a great way to find patterns in your eating habits. Once patterns start to emerge, look for triggers, and ways to redirect those feelings. Do you always plop on the couch with a box of cereal when you get home? Get a glass of water instead, and try sitting somewhere else. These apps can also encourage positive eating habits, because you may be less likely to have that 10PM donut knowing that you have to record it.
  • Talk with a dietitian. A registered dietitian is a trained nutrition professional that will work with you to learn more about the root causes behind your eating choices, and create an individualized eating plan for you.
  • Read up on healthy eating. There are a number of books that offer practical tips for healthy eating. Some of my favorites include Disease Proof, by David Katz, Slim by Design, by Brian Wansink, French Kids Eat Everything, by Karen Le Billon, and Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Which tools do you use to stay healthy?

-Kelly

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