Top 10 Flat Belly Foods

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Your abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen. A good training program develops the muscles in your midsection and the right diet helps banish bloating so you can see your abs. Here are the 10 flat belly foods you should add to your diet for a better looking (and better feeling) mid-section):Greek yogurt for belly fat

Greek Yogurt with Live and Active Cultures

Look for Greek yogurt with “live cultures (aka good bacteria)” or the “Live & Active Cultures” seal. The cultures are good bacteria that take up valuable real estate in your gut, helping your body digest food and decreasing gas and bloating. The amount of healthy, versus harmful, bacteria influences body weight and how much weight you can lose while following a lower calorie diet. Plus, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity found people who get their calcium from yogurt, as opposed to other foods, may lose more weight in their belly. Even more evidence to support yogurt consumption comes from a study showing dieters who ate five servings of dairy, such as Greek yogurt, daily lost more weight and abdominal fat than those who ate just three servings every day. A more recent review of the research found higher dairy intake was associated with lower risk of obesity in the midsection and yogurt seems to help keep weight in check.

2 Nuts

Though nuts are relatively high in calories for a small amount of food,  people don’t gain weight when they add nuts to their previously nut-free diet. A study in over 13,000 adults revealed nut eaters, those who ate at least ¼ ounce of nuts or peanuts (technically a legume) per day had smaller waists than adults who didn’t eat nuts. Additionally, tree nuts and peanuts contain a considerable amount of monounsaturated fat. Dieters who eat more foods containing monounsaturated fats may lose more belly fat than those who eat the same number of calories per day with less monounsaturated fat.

3 Asparagus

When examining dietary patterns, weight and waist circumference in close to eighty thousand people over a 10-year period, researchers found those who ate more vegetables every day had both a lower BMI and smaller waistline compared to adults who ate few vegetables. Asparagus contains prebiotic fiber, a type of fiber that is food for the good bacteria in your gut. Plus, asparagus is a natural mild diuretic making it the perfect food before hitting the beach or wearing a more formfitting outfit.

4 Avocados

Avocados contain a good amount of monounsaturated fat, not to mention nineteen vitamins and minerals. But, their monounsaturated fat is the ticket to a smaller waistline. In one study scientists gave obese adults with type 2 diabetes diets rich in saturated fat, monounsaturated fat or  carbohydrates. Those on the high carbohydrate diet ended up with fat redistributed to their stomachs while the monounsaturated fat rich diet prevented fat redistribution to the belly area. Plus, a look at dietary intake data from close to 18,000 adults found body weight, BMI and waist size were all significantly lower in avocado consumers versus those who didn’t include avocados in their diet.

5 Popcorn

Popcorn is a whole grain and when you pop it yourself on the stovetop (or in a brown paper bag in the microwave, just add good old fashioned popcorn kernels in a brown paper bag and fold the top) and top it with a little spray butter or spices for flavor, you’ll end up with a snack that takes a long time to eat and fills you up on relatively few calories. In addition, several studies show people who eat about three servings of whole grains per day weight less and have a smaller waistline compared to those who don’t.

6 Cold Pea Salad

Peas are naturally rich in resistant starch, a type of fiber that isn’t completely broken down or absorbed during digestion. Cooking and cooling peas to make a pea salad will significantly increase the amount of resistant starch they content. Rodent studies show resistant starch helps reduce stomach fat and increase hormones that tell the brain it’s time to stop eating.

7 Eggs

Choose eggs over cereal in the morning and you’ll tame hunger pangs for hours after breakfast, decreasing the likelihood of overeating later in the day. Make a meal containing at least 25 – 30 total grams of protein (the protein is in the white of the egg so this equates to 4 – 5 egg whites though you can choose any combination of whole eggs and egg whites as long as you consume at least 4 -5 of the whites) so you can cash in on the satiety-enhancing benefits of eggs. Added bonus: following a high protein diet for a short period of time can lead to significant reductions in belly fat.

8 Green Tea

The combination of caffeine and antioxidants in green tea may lead to small to moderate reductions in body fat and waist size. However, you need to consume quite a bit of it so get creative and cook with green tea by brewing it and using it to cook rice (it’s particularly good with jasmine rice), make stews, soups or stocks. You can also poach fruit green tea or use dried green tea leaves as part of a rub for meats, tofu or fish.

9 Barley

Barley is a cereal grain with a nutty taste and consistency that is a cross between pasta and rice. In a double-blinded trial (both the men and the researchers didn’t know which food they were getting), Japanese men were given rice or a mixture of rice with pearl barley. The group receiving the pearl barley and rice mixture lost a significant amount of visceral fat, the kind that covers your organs like a thick winter blanket and increases risk of heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes. Compared to the rice only group, the group who ate pearl barley decreased their waist size.

10 Blueberries

Blueberries are an excellent source of dietary fiber, which will not only help keep you full but also help keep your waistline in check. Plus they are a natural source of prebiotic fiber – the kind that the good bacteria in your gut munch on.

A flat belly is one of the most recognized signs of a fit body. Blast away abdominal fat with high-intensity cardio and build the underlying muscle by regularly switching up your training program. Also, incorporate a 30-minute abs classes to your routine. At least one study found you can spot reduce if you exercise the same muscle group for at least 30 minutes at a time. Keep in mind abs are made in the gym but revealed in the kitchen. Add the top 10 flat belly foods to your diet while cutting down on sugar alcohols (sorbitol, maltitol, and mannitol are the worst for causing gas and bloating), fizzy drinks and chewing gum (all of these can increase bloating at least temporarily) and you may fall in love with skinny jeans.

 

References
Clifton PM, Bastiaans K, Keogh JB. High protein diets decrease total and abdominal fat and improve CVD risk profile in overweight and obese men and women with elevated triacylglycerol. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2009;19(8):548-54.

O’Neil CE1, Keast DR, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL 3rd. Nut consumption is associated with decreased health risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome in U.S. adults: NHANES 1999-2004. J Am Coll Nutr 2011;30(6):502-10.

Kahn HS, Tatham LM, Rodriguez C, et al. Stable behaviors associated with adults’ 10-year change in the body mass index and likelihood of gain at waist. Am J Public Health 1997;87:747-54.

Ridaura VK, Faith JJ, Rey FE, Cheng J, Duncan AE et al. Gut microbiota from twins discordant for obesity modulate metabolism in mice. Science 2013;341:6150.

Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Mahowald MA, Magrini V et al. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature 2006;444:1027-1031.

Vidrine K, Ye J, Martin RJ, McCutcheon KL et al. Resistant starch from high amylose maize (HAM-RS2) and dietary butyrate reduce abdominal fat by a different apparent mechanism. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2014;22(2):344-8.

Bisanz JE, Reid G. Unraveling how probiotic yogurt works. Sci Transl Med 2011;3:106.

Dhurandhar NV, Geurts L, Atkinson RL et al. Harnessing the beneficial properties of adipogenic microbes for improving human health. Obesity Reviews 2013;19:721-735.

Delzenne NM, Neyrinck AM, Bäckhed F, Cani PD. Targeting gut microbiota in obesity: effects of prebiotics and probiotics. Nat Rev Endocrinol 2011;7(11):639-46.

Furet JP, Kong LC, Tap J et al. Differential adaptation of human gut microbiota to bariatric surgery-induced weight loss: links with metabolic and low-grade inflammation markers. Diabetes 2010;59:3049-3057.

Ley RE, Turnbaugh PJ, Klein S, Gordon JI. Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature 2006;444: 1022–1023.

Santacruz A, Marcos A, Warnberg J et al. Interplay Between Weight Loss and Gut Microbiota Composition in Overweight Adolescents. Obesity 2009;17:1906–1915.

Harland JI, Garton LE. Whole-grain intake as a marker of healthy body weight and adiposity. Public Health Nutr 2008;11(6):554-63.

Yadav BS, Sharma A, Yadav RB. Studies on effect of multiple heating/cooling cycles on the resistant starch formation in cereals, legumes and tubers. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2009;60 Suppl 4:258-72.

Keenan MJ, Zhou J, McCutcheon KL et al. Effects of resistant starch, a non-digestible fermentable fiber, on reducing body fat. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2006;14(9):1523-34.

Nagao T, Komine Y, Soga S et al. Ingestion of a tea rich in catechins leads to a reduction in body fat and malondialdehyde-modified LDL in men. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81(1):122-9.

Paniagua JA, Gallego de la Sacristana A, Romero I et al. Monounsaturated fat-rich diet prevents central body fat distribution and decreases postprandial adiponectin expression induced by a carbohydrate-rich diet in insulin-resistant subjects. Diabetes Care 2007;30(7):1717-23.

Fulgoni VL 3rd, Dreher M, Davenport AJ. Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Nutr J 2013;12:1.

Shimizu C, Kihara M, Aoe S et al. Effect of high beta-glucan barley on serum cholesterol concentrations and visceral fat area in Japanese men–a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 2008;63(1):21-5.

Du H, van der A DL, Boshuizen HC et al. Dietary fiber and subsequent changes in body weight and waist circumference in European men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91(2):329-36.

Peters EM, Anderson R, Nieman DC, et al. Vitamin C supplementation attenuates the increases in circulating cortisol, adrenaline and anti-inflammatory polypeptides following ultramarathon running. Int J Sports Med 2001;22(7):537-43.

 

Meal Planning Made Easy

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salmon with veggies

If you don’t have the luxury of eating in a cafeteria with a variety of options each day, it makes sense to plan your meals ahead of time. Doing so will save you time and money. If saving money doesn’t entice you, consider this: eating at home can help you lose weight. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found the average meal at 360 restaurant dinner meals examined contained 1,200 calories. If you choose to dine at an American, Italian or Chinese restaurant, that meal may cost you a whopping 1,495 calories. Don’t worry, I have no intention of having you replicate the instagram photos from fitness buffs who eat perfectly portioned bland-looking chicken, broccoli and brown rice twice a day, every day. Instead, I am an advocate for taste, variety, and better nutrition. Here are the 4 steps you should take to start planning better-for-you meals ahead of time:

1 – Take Inventory

Go through your cabinets, refrigerator and freezer at least once per month and throw out anything that is past it’s expiration date, freezer burned, molded, and stale or smells bad (smell your cooking oil too and if it doesn’t smell normal, toss it). Half-eaten anything that is more than a day old? Trash. This is also a great time to take inventory of what you have on hand.

2 – Stock Your Kitchen

After taking inventory, decide what you need (sticking to your grocery list will save you from impulse buys you don’t need after looking at your grocery store circular). Essential foods include shelf stable, refrigerator and frozen foods. I like the option of preparing a meal in 5 minutes or less. Frozen and canned items allow me to do this.

Shelf Stable:

  • Beans, lentils and legumes (tip: some lentils can be soaked for just 40 minutes and added to a wide variety of dishes from salads to spouse, stews and grain-based dishes)
  • Bread
  • Canned vegetables, beans, fish and chicken
  • Condiments including chicken, beef or vegetable broth, mustard, hot sauce and any other commonly used condiments
  • Cooking oil – get good quality cooking oil. Pay more for a brand you trust. Olive oil is the most adulterated food on the market so you do get what you pay for.
  • Nutrition bars
  • Nuts, nut butters and seeds (all can be refrigerated; opened nut butters should be refrigerated)
  • Popcorn, whole grain snacks
  • Protein powder
  • Rice, pasta, whole grains, cereals and other similar foods. Grab a few options that you can make in a just a few minutes including couscous. Also, vary your rice, pasta and whole grains – look for black, red or purple rice, bean pastas and more.
  • Soups (boxed, bagged or in cans)
  • Spices & seasonings (including salt and pepper). If you don’t use these regularly get dried spices or refrigerated spices in squeezable tubes.
  • Ziploc bags – these will come in very handy if you travel (always pack food and supplements to go)!

Fresh:

  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Eggs (consider egg substitutes for their shelf life)
  • Fresh vegetables and fruits
  • Fish, poultry, meat

Frozen:

  • Fish, poultry, meat
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables

3 – Menu Planning

There are a number of ways you can approach menu planning but one of the easiest ways is to center your meals around the protein rich foods you plan on eating. So for instance, if you choose chicken, lean ground beef and fish, you can center 7 meals on those three proteins. Or, if your week is hectic and you are very busy, you can plan meals around protein-rich foods that take just minutes to prepare such as canned tuna, eggs and rotisserie chicken.

After you pick your protein rich foods, decide on recipes or quick prep meals. You might want to do this by determining what perishable foods you have on hand and need to use. So, let’s say you have mushrooms in the refrigerator and chicken defrosting. If you don’t feel like eating chicken Marsala but you aren’t sure what else you can make with a little flavor, type these words in Google to get other meal ideas “chicken, mushrooms, recipe, quick, easy.” (Also check out Cookinglight.com’s “5 Ingredient Cookbook, Fresh Food Fast”)

After determining which meals you are eating each day of the week, write a shopping list by figuring out any extras you may need to buy and what staple foods you are out of. Be flexible with your list depending on the season and sale prices. Shopping in season often means you will not only get the best looking produce but you will save money too. So for instance, if your recipe calls for sweet potatoes but butternut squash is a steal – go for the squash.  When you make your shopping list, you can do it on an app, in the notes section on your phone, or the old fashioned way with pen and paper. I make mine in the order of the grocery store I am shopping in so I can cross items off one by one without having to scan the entire list to make sure I’m not forgetting something before I move onto the next section of the store.

If the weekly circular tempts you with sugary cereals, cookies and candies on sale, don’t pick it up. You won’t miss out on a bargain because you’ll figure out which healthy foods are on sale when you look for the items on your list – all stores flag these items for you.

Quick sample meal ideas:

  • Rotisserie chicken, 10 minute brown rice (or thawed and microwave brown rice from your freezer), frozen veggies
  • Rotisserie chicken wraps with hummus (spread the hummus on first) and any crunch veggies you desire (shopped carrots, cucumbers etc.)
  • Whole-wheat pasta, spaghetti sauce and frozen turkey meatballs with added veggies such as cooked (or steamed) mushrooms, squash, zucchini
  • Whole wheat pasta, canned tuna, light cream of mushroom soup (either made into a casserole and baked along with frozen peas, ½ cup milk and chopped onions at 400ºF for 20 minutes or you can heat up the soup and mix the ingredients together and eat it.
  • Canned tuna, light mayo, chopped celery and onions for a tuna sandwich.
  • Grilled salmon drizzled with lemon, asparagus and a sweet potato.

4 – Storing and Packing

You can freeze almost any food and reheat it easily. Even brown rice – just cook it, let it cool completely and portion it into zip-loc bags (make sure no air is in the bag) for later. Two important things to remember when freezing foods – freeze them in airtight containers and label them so you know what you made and when it was frozen. The longer you leave food in the freezer the greater the likelihood of texture and taste changes over time (sometimes resulting in freezer burn). Foods that freeze well include:

  • Breads
  • Canned foods (once out of the can of course)
  • Casseroles (keep in mind that mayonnaise and other cream sauces do not freeze well)
  • Egg whites (raw)
  • Grains, cooked
  • Granola (homemade or store bought)
  • Herbs, fresh
  • Nuts, seeds (these should not be kept opened on shelves for long periods of time as they can go rancid)
  • Cheese – some types freeze better than others
  • Fish, poultry, meat (raw meat and poultry freezes better than cooked meat and poultry because of moisture lost during cooking).
  • Fruit, though this must be completely dry and frozen in portions (unless you want it stuck together in big clumps). The texture may change so fresh fruit that is frozen may be best used when blended in shakes.
  • Sauces
  • Soups, stews, stock
  • Yogurt – if you want to eat it frozen. If it defrosts the consistency isn’t so great.

Thaw food in the refrigerator, a microwave or immersed in cold water only (in a leak proof plastic bag submerged in the water that should be changed every 30 minutes), not out on countertops or in kitchen sinks.

Recommended Freezer Storage Time (for quality only, frozen food is safe indefinitely if left frozen).

Food Months
Bacon and Sausage 1 – 2
Casseroles 2 – 3
Egg whites or egg substitutes 12
Frozen dinners 3 – 4
Ham, hotdogs, lunchmeats 1 – 2
Meat, uncooked roasts 4 – 12
Meat, uncooked steaks or chops 4 – 12
Meat, uncooked ground 3 – 4
Meat, cooked 2 – 3
Poultry, uncooked whole 12
Poultry, uncooked parts 9
Poultry, cooked 4
Soups and stews 2 – 3
Wild game, uncooked 8 – 12

See, that wasn’t so tough! Get started planning, preparing and cooking right away. If there are a limited number of dishes you feel comfortable cooking, check out quick and easy cookbooks or resources on line. Each time you try a new recipe you’ll expand your horizons and taste buds and also be able to prepare a wider variety of meals on the fly in the future.

References
USDA. Freezing and Food Safety. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/focus_on_freezing/

 

Snacks that Won’t Set You Back

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By: Gisselle Marie Rosa

Healthy grains and dried fruit

Have you had those days where your stomach feels like it is going to eat itself at any moment and you realize that it is only ten in the morning? Even after eating a good breakfast, having hunger pangs before lunchtime can be frustrating and really decrease concentration and productivity. That’s why many people turn to snacks – to tie them over until their next meal. According to recent studies, 97% of male and female participants over the age of 20 reported eating a snack1, with most individuals eating 2 to 3 snacks a day2. However, having a snack that is high in fat and sugar can make you feel sluggish and put you over your calorie budget for the day. So, before running to the vending machine and grabbing a candy bar, indulge in these healthy, tasty snacks that will fuel your body through your midmorning tasks:

  1. Nuts & Seeds

All nuts and seeds are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and healthy plant based compounds (including antioxidants) and therefore, you should mix and match your nuts and seeds so you get a diverse array of nutrients (since each nut/seed has different nutrients) and tastes. Here are a few of my favorites:

Almonds – These power-packed nuts are sure to fuel your work day with plenty of protein and heart-healthy fats. A one-ounce serving (about 23 raw almonds) will only set you back 164 calories and provide you with 6 grams of protein.

Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili
Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili

In Shell Pistachios – Preliminary behavioral studies suggest that you may consume fewer calories if you opt for in-shell pistachios versus those already shelled because it takes time to break them open and the shells are a visual reminder of what you’ve eaten. Wonderful Pistachios 100-calorie snack packs make a great on-the-go snack that conveniently helps control your portions.  Looking for flavor and maybe even something a little sweet and spicy? Try Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili*.

Preliminary behavioral studies suggest that you may consume fewer calories if you opt for in-shell pistachios versus those already shelled because it takes time to break them open and the shells are a visual reminder of what you’ve eaten. Wonderful Pistachios 100-calorie snack packs make a great on-the-go snack that conveniently helps control your portions.  Looking for flavor and maybe even something a little sweet and spicy? Try Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili – the secret is in the spices. Salt and pepper has just the right touch of spices to deliver a peppery bite.

If you are worried about the calories in nuts, fear not. Read more about how nuts can help you live longer and lose weight. 

  1. Ants on a Log

A childhood favorite, this snack not only brings out your favorite memories, it also gives you a great protein-packed snack to keep you satisfied ‘till lunchtime. Cut a small stalk of celery in half, then lengthwise to give you four halves of celery. Divide one tablespoon of peanut butter and one tablespoon of raisins into each of the celery halves. This tasty, fun snack stacks up to only 124 calories and 4 grams of protein!

  1. Turkey and Cheese Roll-Up

Looking for a more savory snack? Pack a 1-oz slice of deli turkey and a slice of your favorite low-fat cheese for a dose of 12 grams of protein to keep you full, 200 mg of calcium for bone health, and a measly 145 calories!

  1. Edamame

Ever heard of edamame? Don’t worry, it is just a fancy word for green soybeans. Steam ¾ cup of these shelled soybeans with a sprinkle of garlic powder for a tasty treat that only sets you back by about 140 calories. And don’t worry, with 13 grams protein and 6 grams of fiber, this snack will be sure to keep your belly happy!

5.  Hummus Dippers

Hummus is a food trend that is really sticking; it is a great, healthy snack that is inexpensive and flavorful. So, what exactly is it? Hummus is a Mediterranean dip made of ground chickpeas and spices. Try dipping your favorite vegetable in it, such as baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, or sliced bell pepper for a nutrient-dense snack. At about 100 calories, 2 tablespoons with a handful of your favorite dip-able veggies are a fresh way to keep you going. Also check out edamame hummus – it’s simply amazing (Trader Joe’s has one or make your own).

  1. Peanut Butter Toast

This rich, creamy snack will help quell your stomach and hold you over. Toast one 100% whole wheat slice of bread and top with 1 tablespoon of your favorite peanut butter for 160 calories, 8 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber.

  1. Popcorn

Popcorn is a fun, easy-to-eat snack that gives you more bang for your calorie “buck”. For a whole 3 ½ cups of plain popcorn, you’re getting 4 grams of fiber and only about 100 calories. Word of caution: try to avoid the buttery or sweet popcorn flavors as those have more calories and sodium in them!

  1. Strawberries and Cream

Want a change from a plain cup of strawberries? Dip some berries or 1 cup of your favorite fruit in ½ cup of low-fat or fat-free Cool Whip for a light and fresh 100-calorie snack. Or try mixing higher protein cream cheese with a little cheesecake flavored cream cheese and spread this on sliced strawberries or pipe it into hulled strawberries.

  1. Yogurt Parfait

Fuel up with this creamy treat that won’t weigh you down. Top ½ cup of fat-free vanilla yogurt with 2 tablespoons of your favorite low-fat granola and ½ cup of fresh blueberries (or ½ cup of your favorite fruit). This fun snack is nutrient-packed with 7 grams of protein, plenty of calcium for strong bones, and only 200 calories.

Cabot Snack Size. Because everything is better with cheddar!
Cabot Snack Size. Because everything is better with cheddar!

10. Cabot snack size*. Individually pre-wrapped cheeses can be kept out for hours and they are a great nutrition-rich (protein, calcium and more) snack to tie you over until your next meal. Find them at Wegmans, Costco and Acme.

* Clients

References

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2014. Snacks: Percentages of Selected Nutrients Contributed by Food and Beverages Consumed at Snack Occasions, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2011-2012.
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2014. Snacks: Distribution of Snack Occasions, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2011-2012.
  3. United States Department of Agriculture. Supertracker. Internet: https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/foodtracker.aspx (accessed 5 November 2014).

Junk Food in Disguise: Foods that Seem Healthy but Aren’t

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Foods that Seem Healthy But Aren’t

Some marketing teams are so good they can take what’s otherwise considered junk food, wrap it up nicely (with natural hues of green and tan on the package of course) and market it as something you should feel good about eating. Before you give yourself a pat on the back, check out these not-so-healthy “health foods” that I featured on WBAL NBC Baltimore, MD this morning.

1. Trail Mix. It’s so easy to believe that all trail mix is healthy. But, you’ll want to watch out for sugary candies, milk chocolate, dried fruit coated with added sugar or fake yogurt coating. Leave the candy for Trick-or-Treaters, and choose in-shell pistachios for your snacks instead of prepared trail mixes. Preliminary behavioral studies suggest that you may consume fewer calories if you opt for in-shell pistachios versus those already shelled because it takes time to break them open and the shells are a visual reminder of what you’ve eaten. Wonderful Pistachios 100-calorie snack packs make a great on-the-go snack that conveniently helps control your portions. If you still want trail mix, make your own with dried fruit that doesn’t contain any added sugar (dried plum bits, apricots or papaya for instance).

2.  Veggie Chips. If you flip over the package you’ll see that most veggie chips are really fried potato chips with added spinach powder, tomato powder or little bits of dried vegetables here and there. Unfortunately they don’t count as a serving of vegetables.

Better Alternatives: black bean chips made with real black beans, roasted chickpeas – you can    make these at home or buy them in a wide variety of flavors or kale chips. All of these options give you the crunchy and salty texture you may be craving.

3. Veggie Pasta. Like vegetable chips, veggie pasta often contains small amounts of powdered vegetables that do little more than turn the pasta a different color. If you want pasta that is actually made from vegetables, check out Explore Asian’s line of bean pastas. They are gluten free, vegan, organic and high in both fiber and protein (24 or more grams of protein per serving). I made black bean butternut squash for TV this morning as well as a homemade pesto for Explore Asian edamame pasta.

4. Light Olive Oil. Light (or extra light) olive oil isn’t lower in calories or fat. Instead, “light” refers to the flavor and color. Here’s what you should look for:

“Extra virgin” means the olives have been pressed to release the oil (anything labeled just “olive oil” means chemicals or other methods were used to release the oil from the olives; this oil is lower in both nutrition and flavor quality).

Dark glass containers. Heat and light can damage olive oil. Glass protects better than plastic and dark glass protects better than light glass. Your olive oil will not only taste better but also preserve the integrity of your oil (rancid oil isn’t good for your body).

A University of California Davis study found many brands of olive oil sold here in the US failed their test for sensory standards (possibly due, in part, to adulteration since olive oil is one of the most adulterated foods – lower quality oils are mixed in to increase the profit margin). Two brands that faired the best according to their study: California Olive Ranch and Lucini.

5. Turkey Bacon. Many brands of turkey bacon have almost the exact same nutrition profile as regular bacon in terms of calories, fat and sodium. So, choose this if you love turkey, not if you are looking for a leaner choice. If you want great tasting bacon that contains fewer calories, less fat and sodium, check out uncured Canadian turkey bacon.
Regardless of your choice – pork, turkey or some type of Canadian bacon, always look for uncured bacon. Consumption of cured meats can increase risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Why “Avoid Processed Foods” is Bad Advice

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Countless internet blogs preach about the dangers of processed food, how eating a diet with processed food will make you gain weight and your health will suffer. Yet anyone who writes this nonsense doesn’t understand the real definition of processed foods (and I bet large sums of money they eat many processed foods) and the benefits they provide.

A processed food is “any food other than a raw agricultural commodity (“food that is in its raw or natural state, including all fruits that are washed, colored, or otherwise treated in their unpeeled natural form prior to marketing”) and includes any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing, such as canning, cooking, freezing, dehydration, or milling (1, 2).” Fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, livestock – these are all agricultural commodities. And therefore, all of the following are processed foods: frozen broccoli, frozen chicken breast, dried beans, dried pumpkins seeds. Who in their right mind would dare say any of these foods are harmful or will make you pack on the pounds? Someone who has no clue what they are talking about. Not to mention there are many reasons why processed food are healthy:

Versatility

If you want to get a wide array of nutrients and healthy plant compounds (such as antioxidants) you should eat a wide variety of foods. If you take all processed foods out of your diet you’ll only eat what is in season and hasn’t been altered.

Value

Dried beans, oatmeal and rice are processed foods that are very affordable. All cost pennies per serving (about 15 cents for a serving of brown rice). Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are another great example of affordable foods that are picked at their peak of ripeness, preserving nutrition value and flavor. In addition, 100% juice is a bargain, thanks to food processing.

Concord Grapes
Concord Grapes
Welch's 100% Grape Juice made with Concord Grapes
Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made with Concord Grapes

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see a Concord grape farm – where they grow and   process the grapes into Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made from Concord Grapes. Nothing is wasted during this process. The Concord grapes are crushed – skin, seeds and all (so more of the grape is in the bottle) – and heated to release healthy polyphenols (plant based compounds) straight from the grape into the juice. In fact, 40 whole Concord grapes are in every 8 oz. serving of Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made from Concord Grapes. This is important because over a decade of research indicates that, thanks to the Concord grape, 100% grape juice made from these grapes helps support a healthy heart. Because the Concord grape harvest season is very short, lasting approximately 12 weeks, juice processing delivers the benefits of Concord grapes to us year round.

I consider all of these processed foods a good nutrition bargain. Plus, you may end up with less food waste, thanks to a longer shelf life, if you buy canned and frozen produce and poultry as well as 100% juice.

Convenience

In between long days and traveling, there are days I like meals that take me 5 minutes or less to throw together (not to mention if I’m hungry I want to eat asap). Frozen and canned foods allow me to do this. Steamed vegetables? They take about 7 minutes in my stovetop steamer. Canned? Less than 1 minute to open the can (because sometimes I don’t even heat them up). Frozen chicken breast? Perfect, I don’t have to go by the grocery store late at night if there is nothing in my fridge.

So the next time you hear someone say you should eat fewer processed foods, ask them to define “processed food.” And if you read it in a blog, move on to nutrition advice grounded in science.

Disclosure: I am an advisory board member of family-farmer owned Welch’s.

1) 21 U.S.C. United States Code, 2010 Edition, Title 21 – Food and Drugs. Chapter 9 – Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, Subchapter II – Definitions.

2) SEC. 201. [21 U.S.C. 321]. CHAPTER II—DEFINITIONS 1.