Can the Internet Really Supply You With Healthy Meals?

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You’ve probably heard about one or more of the new meal delivery services on the market. Popular services include Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh. If you’re not familiar with any meal delivery service providers, check out this in-depth review of the various choices currently available.

There’s no question having pre-portioned ingredients with recipes and directions delivered directly to your door is convenient. However, convenience comes with a price. Most of the meals cost between $9 and $13 per serving.

So, do these meals live up to the hype? Can the internet really supply you with healthy meals?

What is a “Healthy” Meal?

To review and compare the available options for getting healthy meals online, we’re going to use the following criteria (which are fit for the vast majority of healthy people). A healthy meal is one that:

  • Includes a lean protein, a high ratio of fruits and/or veggies, a whole grain, a serving of dairy and a healthy fat
  • Doesn’t include excess fat or added sugar
  • Is between 500 and 700 calories per serving (very active individuals and athletes may need more calories per meal)

Comparison

Blue Apron – Meal #1: Spaghetti Bolognese with Butter Lettuce Salad & Creamy Italian Dressing

Lean protein: No
Fruits and vegetables: Yes
Whole grain: No
Dairy: Yes
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 770
Saturated fat: 11 g
Trans fat: No

Blue Apron – Meal #2: Za’atar-Spiced Chicken with Pink Lemon Pan Sauce & Pearl Couscous

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Minimal
Whole grain: No
Dairy: No
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 750
Saturated fat: 9 g
Trans fat: No

The Results
Both of the meals from Blue Apron come in over the 700 calories per serving mark, though both are less than 800 calories. If you are eating a 2,000 calorie diet, though, that’s still almost 40 percent of your calories in one meal. These meals are also relatively high in saturated fats, clocking in at 11 g and 9 g per serving, which is more than half of the recommended allowance of 16 g per day on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Blue Apron includes video tutorials with each of their recipes to demonstrate proper cooking techniques. All of the video lessons are available on YouTube. If you have trouble accessing any of the videos, you might be getting blocked by a content filter on your internet connection. Using a virtual private network can help you bypass the content filter so that you can access the videos no matter where you’re preparing to cook.

Hello Fresh – Meal #1: Wasabi Lime Salmon over Soy-Simmered Rice with Baby Bok Choy

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Yes
Whole grain: Yes
Dairy: No
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 660
Saturated fat: 4.5 g
Trans fat: unknown

Hello Fresh – Meal #2: Dukkah-Crusted Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Sugar Snap Peas

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Yes
Whole grain: No
Dairy: Yes
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 510
Saturated fat: 4 g
Trans fat: unknown

The Results
In this review, Hello Fresh’s offerings both came in under 700 calories per serving and all of the meal options included a lean protein, a serving of vegetables and a healthy fat. Hello Fresh does not document the amount of trans fat in their recipes, so that information was not available for comparison. Also, at less than five grams per serving, both of their recipes also included a relatively low amount of saturated fat, at less than 5 grams per serving. If you want to try Hello Fresh’s recipes for yourself – they include them on their website (see Recipes at the top of the navigation screen).

Plated – Meal #1: Soy-Glazed Turkey Meatloaf with Coconut Rice and Greens

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Minimal
Whole grain: No
Dairy: No
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: Yes
Calories per serving: 840
Saturated fat: unknown
Trans fat: unknown

Plated – Meal #2: Cheesy Sweet Onion Panini with Truffle Fries

Lean protein: No
Fruits and vegetables: Minimal
Whole grain: No
Dairy: Yes
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 870
Saturated fat: unknown
Trans fat: unknown

The Results
Of the three services we reviewed, Plated fared the worst. Their meals were both over 800 calories per serving, and the site doesn’t offer information regarding trans or saturated fats for their recipes. Also, there was very little focus on healthy ingredients, such as whole grains and vegetables. While the meals looked delicious, they probably can’t be called healthy.

In this limited review, Blue Apron and Hello Fresh both fared well in their offerings of healthy options. Their meals were low in calories, relative to the other options, and included many of the other markers of health, such as lean proteins and a high ratio of vegetables.

Meal delivery services claim they can deliver all the ingredients, recipes and cooking instructions you need to create healthy meals in your home. A closer look, though, indicates you might need to supplement some of these meals with other ingredients so that they can give you all the nutrients you need.

This is where you come in. Everyone has a different diet and everyone’s body processes food differently. So while healthy meals are available through the internet, you need to do a little homework to make sure these services’ meal options live up to their promises and offer the kind of food that will support your lifestyle.
About the Author: Cassie is a fitness professional and writer. She loves helping people learn about health and fitness and teaching them how to make the healthiest choices for their body’s individual needs.

What You Need to Know about Pork

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If visions of mistreated animals injected with a continuous supply of hormones and antibiotics leave you feeling confused and terrified about your food choices—this post is for you. I’m cutting through many myths about how pork is produced, so you can rest assured you are making the right choices. For this post I interviewed Wanda Patsche, a pig farmer from Minnesota.

Aren’t big farms owned by big agriculture companies?
Wanda: Family farmers own 97% of pig farms. Some farms are big some are small.

What are the greatest misperceptions consumers have about pigs?
Wanda: Many people think modern farms are less humane compared to small farms; niche farms, pasture raised. Actually, the opposite is true. With modern farms barns are designed so you can handle the pigs better; pigs have a social hierarchy where they fight with each other. Modern farms are specifically created to easily control this fighting by having pigs in individual pens. This means less stress for the pigs, plus the buildings are temperature controlled with fresh air. Pigs are given clean water and clean feed. The barns are pressure washed and sanitized between groups of pigs (when pigs move out and prior to new pigs coming in). Plus, pig farmers work closely with their veterinarians. Farms that have more pigs mean the famers continually grind feed because they have more mouths to feed. Continually grinding feed means the pigs get fresh feed. Their diets are designed for health and growth.

What you need to know about porkIs hormone-free pork better?
Wanda: No pigs are given hormones. Farmers are not allowed to give pigs hormones. Therefore, any pork labeled “hormone-free” has been given this label to try and make customers think it is better than other pork. However, there is no difference, all pork is free from added hormones.

Are there any antibiotics in my pork?
Wanda: Antibiotic-free is another labeling term to try to persuade customers to choose chose a specific pork product. All meat is free of antibiotics. If a pig is given an antibiotic, all traces of the antibiotic must leave the body—called the withdrawal period—before the pig is sent to off for pork production.

What do you think is driving these perceptions?
Wanda: In the U.S., less than 2% of people are farmers. Many people don’t know farmers, and they are 2 – 4 generations removed from farmers. If you’ve never been to a farm or know people who farm it is easier to believe the myths that circulate on the internet.

Tell us a little more about advances in pork production and the safeguards in place to ensure pork is safe.
Wanda: Forty years ago, pigs were all outside. They had clean air but many hazards including sunburn and the greater likelihood of getting worms (and therefore the vets would have to treat them with medicine for worms). Now, with the introduction of indoor facilities and individual pins, pigs are less stressed which keeps them healthier. Stress = greater likelihood of sickness.

In addition, antibiotics are used less, and there is a comprehensive vaccination program in place to keep pigs healthy. On farms that do not use antibiotics to treat animals when sick, the animals must be pulled away from the other pigs to prevent the illness from spreading.

Animal scientists are currently conducting studies examining ways to keep animals healthy including the use of essential oils, probiotics, and enzymes. Healthier pigs mean even fewer antibiotics are used.

Antibiotics are the last resort and only used when necessary.

Pigs are grouped together based on age. This is helpful as immune system functioning differs by age. This is just another step to keep pigs as healthy as possible.

Aren’t farms more concerned about quantity vs. quality?
Wanda: No. Every day I wake up and think, “what can I do to ensure my pigs are as healthy as possible?” Pig farmers get more money for higher quality meat. So, every pig farmer has an added incentive to produce healthy, high quality pigs. Lower quality pork goes to a secondary market for ground pork, pepperoni and similar process products. Farmers get considerably less money for lower quality pork.

Are there any concerns that consumers should have about pork?
Wanda: The biggest concern for consumers is how pork is handled and cooked. According to the USDA pork should be cooked to 145°F internally. Ground pork should be cooked to 160°F. It can be pink in the middle as long as these internal temperatures are reached.

What are the best cuts of pork?
Wanda: pork is 16% leaner than it was 20 years ago due to the way animals are fed and genetics. Pork tenderloin is just as lean as chicken breast. An easy way to remember this: loin = lean.

This post was sponsored by USFRA, all views are mine and Wanda’s.

 

Get Cultured: Probiotics can Help You Lose Weight & Stay Healthy

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From Greek to Icelandic Skyr, yogurt is everywhere. Choose the right kind, one packed with probiotics and protein, and yogurt can help you trim your waistline while supporting overall health at the same time.

In this article, I’m covering:
• How gut bacteria influence your weight and health
• Probiotic-rich foods for health & healthy weight

Your Gut Bacteria Influence Your Weight & Health

There is an entire community of over one trillion microbes (bacteria) taking up valuable real estate in your gut. Some are good, some are bad and the rest are neutral. The good guys are key players for digestive and immune functioning (remember about 70% of your immune system is located in your gut). They have many other functions as well:
bacteria, probiotics and body weight

Research studies show lean and obese people have a different makeup of bacteria in their gut. In addition, lean individuals have a greater diversity of bacteria in their gut. Diversity is important –  think of bacteria like a team of people each one has a different job and they work better together than in isolation.

If an obese person loses weight their overall makeup of bacteria more closely resemble’s a lean person’s gut. Greater weight loss = even greater the changes in gut bacteria. Also, changing bacteria seems to influence weight, though scientists know less about the influence of altering gut bacteria and changing body weight. Lean mice transplanted with bacteria from obese mice experienced a 60% increase in body fat without changing their food intake (calories in) or physical activity (calories out). The authors of this study believe the change in gut bacteria resulted in an increased absorption of some carbohydrates, increase in the production of fat and increase in fat storage. Authors from another study, this one examining human twins, also found a connection between types of bacteria in the gut and body weight, particularly visceral fat – deep layers of fat that coat the organs and are tied to higher risk of certain chronic diseases such as heart disease. The authors of this study believe, like the study in mice, obese individuals may be absorbing more calories from the food they eat.

Probiotic-Rich Foods for Health & Healthy Weight

How did they swap out bacteria in studies? Poop transplants. This isn’t exactly something you should try at home. But there’s another, easier way to keep your gut healthy. Get cultured by picking up foods that contain healthy bacteria including yogurt (with live and active cultures), kefir (drinkable yogurt, it’s so good!), miso soup, homemade sauerkraut, and tempeh (made from soy, this has a nutty taste). There might be something special about yogurt – a meta-analysis (a study that combined the results of other studies) looked at dairy intake and weight changes over time. They found greater yogurt intake was associated with lower body weight. Plus the protein in Greek yogurt seems to help people feel full so they eat less at their next meal. Also, feed the bacteria by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, particularly onions, greens, beans, legumes, berries and bananas, to get enough prebiotics (food) to support their growth.

 

References
Benno Y. Mitsuoka T. Development of intestinal microflora in human and animals. Bifidobacteria Microflora 1986; 5:13-25.

Quigley EMM, Quera R. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth: Roles of Antibiotics, Prebiotics, and Probiotics. Gastroenterology 2006;130:S78-S90.

O’Hara AM, Shanahan F. The gut flora as a forgotten organ. EMBO Rep 2006;7:688-93.

Ramakrishna B. The normal bacterial flora of the human intestine and its regulation. J Clin Gastroenterology 2007;41:S2-S6.

Douglas LC, Sanders ME. Probiotics and prebiotics in dietetics practice. J Am Diet Assoc 2008;108:510-521.

Million M, Maraninchi M, Henry M et al. Obesity-associated gut microbiota is enriched in Lactobacillus reuteri and depleted in Bifidobacterium animalis and Methanobrevibacter smithii. Int J Obesity 2012;36:817-825.

Hempel S, Newberry SJ, Maher AR, Wang Z et al. Probiotics for the Prevention and Treatment of Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA 2012;307(18):1959-1969.

An Introduction to Probiotics. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. National Institutes of Health. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/probiotics/

Marik PE. Colonic flora, probiotics, obesity and diabetes. Front Endocrinol 2012;3:87.

Bäckhed F, Ding H, Wang T, Hooper LV, Koh GY, Nagy A, Semenkovich CF, Gordon JI. The gut microbiota as an environmental factor that regulates fat storage. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004;101:15718-23.

Ley RE, Turnbaugh PJ, Klein S, Gordon JI. Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature 2006;444(7122):1022-3.

Kalliomäki M, Collado MC, Salminen S, Isolauri E. Early differences in fecal microbiota composition in children may predict overweight. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87(3):534-8.

Yang YX, He M, Hu G, Wei J, Pages P, Yang XH, Bourdu-Naturel S. Effect of a fermented milk containing Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173010 on Chinese constipated women. World J Gastroenterol 2008;14(40):6237-43.

Yaeshima T et al. Effect of yogurt containing Bifidobacterium longum BB536 on the intestinal environment, fecal characteristics and defecation frequency: a comparison with standard yogurt. Bioscience Microflora 1997;16:73-77.

Hempel S et al. Probiotics for the Prevention and Treatment of Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea
A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA 2012;307;1959-1969.

Semova I, Carten JD, Stombaugh J et al. Microbiota Regulate Intestinal Absorption and Metabolism of Fatty Acids in the Zebrafish. Cell Host & Microbe 2012;12:277.

Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G, Schwedhelm C, Kalle-Uhlmann T, Missbach B, Knuppel S, Boeing H. Consumption of Dairy Products in Relation to Changes in Anthropometric Variables in Adult Populations: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies. PLoS One 2016; 11(6): e0157461.

Is Coffee Good for You?

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CoffeeDrinking coffee will leave you dehydrated and geeked out on caffeine. For several decades we’ve been warned about America’s favorite beverage. Yet these dire warnings were largely based on assumptions rather than actual science. A growing body of evidence suggests your morning Cup O’ Joe may be good for you! Here’s a look at the latest research.

What’s in a Coffee Bean?

Coffee beans are actually seeds from coffee cherries. They are picked, dried, and roasted turning them from green to those familiar aromatic brown beans we know and love. It’s ironic that a beverage made from seeds has gotten such a bad rap. Green coffee beans are naturally rich in antioxidants including chlorogenic acids, compounds that are readily absorbed in the human body, have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory actions and are associated with many health benefits including a reduction in cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Antioxidants protect plants from disease and pests. Some antioxidants also protect human cells from harm. Roasted coffee beans are loaded with antioxidants (contrary to popular belief, they are not destroyed during roasting) and scientists are slowly uncovering the metabolic fate of each type antioxidant as well as the potential health benefits associated with regular coffee intake.

Potential Health Benefits

A National Institutes of Health study published in 2012 found older adults who drank caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee were less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections. Those who drank over 3 cups per day had a 10% lower risk of death compared to those who did not drink coffee. Though this study only showed an association between coffee consumption and a decreased risk of death, it provided some reassurance to people who couldn’t seem to give up their favorite beverage. Studies published over the past three years lend strength to the relationship between regular coffee intake and a decreased risk of certain diseases.

Heart Health
A study published in the British Medical Journal’s publication Heart, examined diet and artery health in over 25,000 Korean men and women. Those who drank 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day were 19% less likely to have the first signs of atherosclerosis,  plaque buildup on artery walls, compared to those who were not coffee drinkers. Lower intakes were not associated with a reduction in plaque buildup. Drawbacks to this study: diet was examined at one point in time and study subjects were asked to recall their coffee intake over the previous year (people generally don’t recall their food / drink intake with great accuracy). Also, keep in mind this study showed an association between coffee intake and artery health, it doesn’t prove that coffee reduces plaque buildup on artery walls or that it can prevent cardiovascular disease. More research is needed to understand how coffee intake could potentially support heart health.

Cancer
A recently published study found individuals previously treated for stage III colon cancer who were regular coffee drinkers, consuming at least 4 cups of caffeinated coffee per day, had a 42% lower risk of recurrence of colon cancer and 33% lower risk of dying from the disease. This study found an association between coffee intake and decreased risk of colon cancer recurrence.

Research on coffee intake and risk of various cancers is mixed with some showing it is protective and others suggesting it may increase risk. Keep in mind there are many potential factors that impact cancer risk and risk of cancer recurrence with a sedentary lifestyle, high body fat and alcohol intake strongly associated with increased risk of certain types of cancer. Fruit and vegetable intake is associated with a decreased risk of some types of cancers. As for your Cup O’ Joe, time and more research, will tell us how America’s favorite beverage fits in the picture.

Should You Increase Your Coffee Intake?

All of these studies on regular coffee consumption include higher intakes. No benefits are noted for lower intakes – one to two cups per day. Keep in mind that some people should avoid or be cautious with caffeine intake including kids, teens, people with anxiety disorders, glaucoma, heartburn or cardiovascular disease. Also, pregnant women should avoid higher intakes of caffeine – more than 3 cups of coffee per day (regular sizes cups). Now about the caffeine – regular intake of moderate amounts of caffeine will not dehydrate you.

If you drink coffee in moderation, enjoy it! Don’t increase your intake based on these studies or start drinking if you aren’t a regular coffee consumer. Future research will tell us more about the many naturally occurring compounds in coffee, their actions in the body and the potential link between coffee and disease risk.

References
Heart 10.1136/heartjnl-2014-306663
New Eng J Med 2012;366:1891-1904.
J Nutr 2008;138(12):2309-15.
Mol Nutr Food Res 2005;49:274–84.
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Am J Epidemiol 2002;156:445–53.
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Pest Manag Sci 2003 Apr;59(4):459-64.
J Clin Oncol 2015 Aug 17. [Epub ahead of print]

 

 

Are You Getting the Nutrients You Need for Maximum Energy & Good Health?

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Take one quick peek at dietary survey data and you’ll find many Americans don’t consume enough vitamins and minerals through food alone. How does this impact your health? A nutrient deficiency could affect your energy levels, mood, ability to concentrate, structure of your skin, teeth, nails, bones and more. So, how can you be sure you are getting enough of the vitamins and minerals you need for optimal health? First, focus on consuming foods that are particularly rich in the nutrients many Americans fall short on. Secondly, consider taking a multivitamin to make up for any nutrient gaps. But first, here’s a look at the food groups:

To watch my Talk of Alabama TV segment on this topic, click here.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds contain a wide variety of nutrients including magnesium – which is necessary for a healthy metabolism, good energy and muscle strength – yet many people get very little magnesium in their diet. On average, most women get about ½ of the magnesium they need each day. Nuts & seeds also have zinc for immune system functioning, wound healing, muscle growth and repair and some nuts, like almonds, also contain calcium, which we need for strong bones. If you are worried about the calories in nuts and seeds, stick to the right portion size (about 1/4 cup for nuts) and keep in mind that research shows people who eat nuts regularly tend to weigh less than those who consume nuts infrequently.

A few of my favorites based on nutrient content (including magnesium): pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and Brazil nuts.

Grains

Grains provide approximately 43% of the fiber in an average American diet. Fiber aids digestion, helping prevent constipation and it adds bulk to your diet helping increase feelings of fullness, which makes it easier to control your weight. Whole and enriched grains also naturally contain a wide variety of important vitamins and minerals. For instance, grains provide about 2/3 of the folic acid in an average American diet. Folic acid makes healthy new cells. And, it is a nutrient of concern for women of childbearing age because inadequate folate (folic acid) intake during pregnancy increases one’s risk of having premature and low birth weight babies or babies with certain types of birth defects in the brain or spine. Here in the U.S., grains such as bread, cereal, flour, and pasta are enriched with folic acid (gluten free products might not be enriched).

Beans

Beans count as both a vegetable and protein-rich food. Not only are they packed with fiber but they also contain iron, magnesium and potassium. And diets higher in potassium may help lower blood pressure, especially if you consume too much sodium. Plus potassium supports muscle functioning and higher potassium diets may also decrease risk of kidney stones.

Here are 3 you should focus on based on nutrient content and versatility: black beans, lima beans and white beans.

Seafood

Seafood is another rich source of nutrients. For instance, oysters have more zinc than any other food and more iron than red meat (a 3 oz. serving provides almost half of the daily value for iron). Try canned oysters to save time and money. Canned sardines with the bones are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D – you need both of these for strong bones. But, chew those bones carefully! And, if you are concerned about mercury (and small children, pregnant and lactating women should consume only low mercury fish), check out this guide from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which categorizes fish based on mercury content.

While eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods is the best way to get vitamins and minerals, the reality is that most Americans don’t get enough through food alone, especially those on lower calorie diets or adults over the age of 50. So, consider a multivitamin. Multivitamins are a great solution to fill dietary gaps.

I partnered with Centrum and the Wheat Foods Council for this segment though I wrote the content of this post and the segment based on the latest scientific research.