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It is difficult in our country to decipher what different food labels mean or what they can cause you to think about food in general. Health claims on food tend to offer you enormous benefits that are not necessarily backed by science, nor do they necessarily provide you with the benefit they claim to give.

Afer having analyzed labels in a variety of nutrition courses over time, I have created a list of these terms and labels and what they really mean – in hopes for you to reference them – whether they’re good, and informative, or…not that way. 😀


 

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GLUTEN FREE: a food is only allowed this label if it contains 10 parts per million or less of gluten. This is often certified through the Gluten Free Intolerance Organization (GFIO) which is regulated with the USDA’s labeling standards. This label helps those with Celiac’s Disease spot “safe” foods, and others who are avoiding gluten by choice the same. Does gluten free mean “healthy?” Foods labeled “gluten free” are not necessarily healthier or more nutrient dense. There are plenty of cakes, cookies, pastries, crackers, and other processed foods now certified gluten free, offering those with an allergy or sensitivity, or Celiac Disease an option to enjoy their favorite foods too without gluten that causes them problems. If you see this label, you can safely assume is that there is NO GLUTEN in the product.

 

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KOSHER: Probably the least known and recognized, Kosher foods are those that are deemed pure according to the Jewish law. Click here for all the standards for meat, fish, and other foods (koshercertification.org). This symbol above shows Americans that the food product is suitable to consume if one is observing dietary Kosher laws.

 

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NATURAL: there isn’t a specific label that is associated with this nutrition claim simply because the term itself is misleading and ambiguous. The Food and Drug Administration, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture do not provide federal regulation as to what constitutes a “natural food.” This claim is misleading, vague, and cannot promise any benefits. Some food will be labeled as “natural” with other promised claims such as “no MSG, no preservatives, and no hydrogenated oil” which can be helpful to some, but remember, read the label, and that this claim is not regulated.

 

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NON-GMO: a product with this label means that it does not contain any genetically modified organism (GMOs). The certification is based on the Non-GMO Project whose “commitment is to preserve and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO sources.” If a food contains this label, you can be assured that your food has not been genetically modified. Beyond this, non-GMO food may or may not have other significant health benefits.

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ORGANIC: This label is regulated by the United States of Agriculture as clearly observed by the label. For a food product to earn this label, it has to be produced by approved methods: “cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that fosters cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.” Similar to the “gluten free” claim, you can be assured that food with this label IS organic, but does that necessarily translate to “healthy?” No. There simply isn’t enough research to conclude that products labeled as organic provide more benefits than those that are not.

 

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VEGETARIAN: vegetarian products in the United States are not regulated by the FDA or USDA. Therefore, independent organizations in our country have pridefully labeled their food as such – promising the absence of meat or meat products in their food items. If you purchase something with the vegetarian label (often a green symbol with a plant on it), chances are, that company takes great pride in their product and ensuring their product does not contain meat. Does vegetarian mean “healthy”? Something labeled “vegetarian” simply means the product does not contain meat. Though a plant-based diet does have plenty of benefits, there are plenty of other factors to consider when determining if a vegetarian product is deemed, “healthy” such as if the product saturated fat, sugar content, whole grains, and processed ingredients.

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VEGAN: Similar to vegetarian, this label isn’t regulated by a government branch, but it is regulated by private companies such as Vegan.org which promise that there is zero amount of animal product in compliance with vegan standards. Does vegan mean “healthy?” Again, as mentioned previously about vegetarian products, eating a plant-based diet has benefits backed by research, however, did you know Oreos are technically vegan (though they might be cross-contacted with milk in some countries) ? Oreos are made from high fructose corn syrup, and other food additives; so overall, just because something like an Oreo is vegan doesn’t necessarily mean it is “healthy.”


As with anything, it is important to be a well-informed consumer by reading labels thoroughly, and understanding what they mean. I hope that by reading this, you are able to make more educated decisions about choosing foods when shopping and what you choose to purchase!

As always, thank you for reading!

xx,

M

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Wherever I go, whenever I travel, whenever there’s a new place in town, I cannot wait to try it. Tell me that being a “foodie” hasn’t influenced my decision to study nutrition as an undergrad! My point here, is that as much as I love cooking and creating new recipes, I equally enjoy eating out and trying new dishes as well as revisiting my old favorites.

Food is the center of culture: in many communities/ethnic groups, and consequently, offering food or sharing a meal together shows that one is welcome in that community. Going to eat is often a social outing simply shared around good food. With this social benefit of going out to eat together, the concept of eating out often gets a bad rap – this is due to our food culture in the U.S., not you!

Why, though? Portions are often out of control, dishes are loaded with excessive calories, and the meal can get expensive pretty quickly. Keep reading to learn how to eat out with more intention and to hack the food system while enjoying good food and company!

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blood orange mimosa with brunch? ok.

1. Drinks?

Soda and other speciality drinks can be more than three dollars per drink which are high in sugar and extra calories before your meal even begins. The easiest solution?

Order a water.

Free drink, free refills, no calories, and helps your stomach and body prepare for the meal you’re about to enjoy! What if everyone is ordering drink, drinks though? I suggest ordering one and drinking it slowly to enjoy it and not spend more than you had initially planned on.

 


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packed salad without dressing!

2.  Salad?

Though salads usually are thought of as “the healthier alternative,” as you’re getting greens and vegetables in, you’d be surprised to see that at some restaurants, salads can be higher in calories and saturated fat than some burgers. What? How? The dressing is usually the culprit. Solution?

Ask for the dressing on the side.

You are then able to control the amount you want to put on your own salad and you’ll probably find yourself leaving some dressing behind. Restaurants often give WAY more than the recommended serving size alots for.


3. Not enough nutrients for you?

IMG_0186Noodles & Co small spicy korean beef noodles with shrimp instead of beef and added broccoli 🙂

Many restaurants are accommodating and want to help make your meal the best way you’d enjoy it; it’ll bring you back in! After long tennis practices followed by weight lifting in college, my teammates and I would go to Noodles and Company to refuel. Now, not only does Noodles provide minimally processed fast food with fresh ingredients, they are one of the many restaurants happy to help customize your dish. After tennis practice, I would order a pasta dish (hello post-workout carbs), and in addition to whatever vegetables came with that dish, I would add broccoli and sauteed peppers for a few cents more. That way, you get even more vegetables and consequently, more nutrients, from your meal. Mac and cheese sounds really good? Spaghetti with meatballs? Chicken alfredo as a treat? Add some vegetables!

You will get to enjoy your favorite dish, but also enjoy the benefits of getting more nutrients in one meal. Yay!


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get dessert and share it 😉

4. Portion size too big?

If you go to other countries, and I’m thinking of European countries specifically, you’ll note that portions sizes are much smaller than that of ours in the US. This portion size isn’t your fault. But there are two different things you can do about it.

One: Share your dishes.

When you have someone to split your dish with, you’re eating half the calories, half the fat, half the grossly portioned size the restaurant often doses out. This alone will decrease your chances of overeating and getting a stomach ache, and you will likely not regret your decision to eat out. If you order dessert, too, ALWAYS share. 🙂 The other option is…

Two: Get a to-go box when you get your food and put half in the box.

Boom, two meals for one price and immediate portion control. This will prevent you from overeating from the start and give you another meal for the next day. Two meals for one price! What’s better than that!


5. Sides?

Sure, a big burger is a treat for many to have as a “cheat meal” but what usually accompanies that? French fries, onion rings, you get it. If you want to opt to get some nutritional benefit from a meal like this,

Request a different side dish.

Swap french fries for steamed broccoli, onion rings for grilled vegetables, a cornbread muffin for corn on the cob. Most restaurants offer a variety of sides that you can pick from, only it’s up to you to make the change! Check out the menu of Famous Dave’s sides for example.


6. What comes on that?

As mentioned with dressing (see #2), restaurants tend to smother and load things on their meals such as mayo, cream-based sauces, barbeque sauces, alfredo sauces, mustards, ketchup, butter, or other unwanted or unnecessary additives. The solution?

Ask what comes on the meal you’re about to order.

The clears up any confusion, alerts you to any potential allergens, and gives you a heads-up as to what you’ll be consuming. If any of the ingredients listed are not something you want, as if you can skip that item, like the salad, ask for it on the side, or request a healthier alternative. This way, you are eliminating unnecessary cals or fats or sugars, and YOU are controlling how much you put on your meal.

*Bonus tip, my brother’s tip is to skip mayo and add avocado. You get the creaminess you desire [on a sandwich] without the processing, fat, and calories, and you get healthy (monounsaturated) fat from a plant source – woo!


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adding salmon to my favorite sesame salad at the North Dakota Museum of Art Cafe

7.  Protein source?

Grilled or crispy? Chicken, steak or pork? Broiled or fried fish?

We’re often faced with a lot of options when it comes to choosing a protein source; especially at restaurants. Solution?

Choosing a lean, grilled or broiled protein source.

Choosing grilled chicken, black or pinto beans, roasted turkey, dishes with lentils or peanuts (legumes), or those with nuts such as almonds, pecans, or walnuts give you the leanest, and minimally processed protein sources. Avoid fried foods. Though they are better than nothing, they offer minimal nutritional benefits and pose potential health risks if consumed all too frequently.


8. What’s fresh?

Restaurants are often proud to disclose what they have on-hand. Some restaurants have partnerships with other local companies and will disclose where they get their honey, eggs, chicken, and produce from. If you’re looking for a healthier option when you go out to eat, eating at local, independently-owned restaurants are more than likely going to offer you higher quality ingredients and more flavor in your food.


Now, if you are enjoying a meal that’s a treat or going out is a treat for you, don’t feel guilty about your food choices. If you go to a specific restaurant a few times a year and go there specifically for their homemade baked mac & cheese with breadcrumbs (my weakness) and Moscow mules, don’t make food swaps. Enjoy your meal. What you can do is also get a water to drink with your favorite cocktail, and bring half of your mac & cheese home so you don’t eat too much, and you have more to eat later. Never follow a “diet” that deprives you from indulging every once in a while. Eating your favorite foods (though they might not fit into your every day “diet”) is good for the soul – trust me! As long as we aren’t eating this way all the time.

With that, I thank you for reading and I hope this helps when you choose to eat out at your favorite restaurants, trying new ones, and when you travel!

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xx,

M

 

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Anti-diet diets are among my favorite diets out there. Jennifer Adler, a Certified Nutritionist in the state of Washington, wrote the book Passionate Nutrition resonating with my perspective on nutrition practice:

FOOD IS MEDICINE.

Jennifer discusses her negative relationship with food throughout her life, describing her early life in poverty, surviving off of packaged foods and being truly hungry. Her story is a beautiful example of her passion, her own experience, and a career all coming together. I highly, highly recommend this read if you want to create a more positive relationship with food, feel better overall, and learn how food is quite literally, medicine.

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I personally enjoy reading books and research provided by nutritionists and dietitians to learn others’ perspectives and ideas in the regarding food, diet, and implementation. The most influential individuals in the field, to me, are the ones who live by their practices and share the love with others.

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Chapters include:

  1. My Story
  2. Your Story
  3. The 100-year-diet
  4. A Gut Feeling
  5. The Protein-Sugar Connection
  6. Weight Loss and Metabolism Miracle
  7. Food Miracles, Body Miracles
  8. What is Your Body Saying
  9. Three Ingredients for Natural Beauty
  10. Good Food, Good Sex

*a section of recipes concludes the book*

Find Passionate Nutrition here and purchase used for less $. 🙂

Happy reading,

xx,

M

 

D29CEEEA-FDED-4EAA-AB84-D0773FA89891.JPGTart and rich. Sweet and smooth. Everything you love about chocolate covered strawberries – in a glass. Fresh ingredients. Whole ingredients. No added sugar. Healthy fat, protein, and carbs. Need I say more?

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. frozen strawberries
  • 1/2 c. oats
  • 1 c. unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 splash PURE vanilla
  • 1 tbsp flax seeds (optional)
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds (optional)
  • 1 scoop protein powder of choice (optional)

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Blend until smooth!

You can serve this one as a smoothie as showed, however, it is equally good (if not better) as served as an ice cream replacement. Yep, in a bowl, with strawberries on top. What could be better after an ass-kicking workout?

I hope you enjoy this one as much as I do!

xx,

M

For the weeks you don’t meal prep – exactly how I came across creating this dish – this one will be ready in about 20 minutes and makes plenty for the remainder of the week. Dairy free, can be made gluten free, one of my favorite foods, and 2 green vegetables. All in one. It can’t get much better for a quick and easy meal!

Let me clarify something before we get started. Daiya Foods is a company that is proudly dairy free and offers *overall* pretty wholesome ingredients in their products, however, it is considered a processed food.

CHEEZE SAUCE INGREDIENT LIST:

Filtered Water, Tapioca Starch, Non-GMO Expeller Pressed: Canola and/or Safflower Oil, Coconut Oil, Sea Salt, Vegan Natural Flavours, Pea Protein Isolate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Cane Sugar, Lactic Acid (Vegan), Xanthan Gum, Yeast Extract, Titanium Dioxide (A Naturally Occurring Mineral), Annatto (Colour), Onion

(Daiya Foods). 

Sure, this food product is processed, meaning it isn’t entirely “clean” but I am clarifying, again, that this meal is intended to be a weeknight meal when you’re short on time – and you could be consuming things far worse than this cheeze sauce. 😀 if you have any questions regarding the ingredients, you can always send me a direct message or shoot me an email!

ANYWAY, let’s get started!


Ingredients:

  • 1 box pasta of choice – whole wheat, Banza, other gluten-free variations if desired
  • 1 pkg Daiya foods cheese sauce
  • 1 c. broccoli
  • 1 c. snap peas
  • 1 tsp garlic

Directions:

  1. boil water and add noodles once boiling.
  2. take two microwave-bowls and in the first, add broccoli, and in second bowl, add snap peas. Put about a tablespoon of water in each bowl. Microwave each of them (covered) to steam for about 3 minutes each.
  3. Drain pasta in a colander when al-dente.
  4. Add garlic to hot pan with a dash of olive oil and saute for about 5 minutes.
  5. Turn the burner off.
  6. Return pasta back to pot on burner that you have turned off (it’s still warm).
  7. Add pkg of Daiya foods cheeze of choice along with steamed vegetables.
  8. Add about a teaspoon of each of the following (or more if you prefer): garlic powder, black pepper, dried Italian herbs, Mrs. Dash, and nutritional yeast.
  9. Thoroughly combine and serve!
  10. enjoy!

This makes multiple servings so if you neglected to meal prep (as I did when I created this recipe), you’ll have more to go around for the rest of the week. 😀

Happy eating!

xx,

M

Healthy, happy, hearty breakfasts on-the-go are the best breakfasts in my humble, almost-nutritionist opinion. 😉 Starting the day off with whole grains helps your body keep a steady supply of energy throughout the morning, both eliminating that dreaded, nap-inducing sugar crash, and prevents a 10-am-lunchbox raid.

Let’s get started!


APPLE CINNAMON WHOLE GRAIN MUFFINS

*recipe is vegetarian and can be made dairy/gluten free*

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar/coconut sugar
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c. greek yogurt (or plant-based yogurt of choice)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 c. oats
  • 1 finely diced apple of choice

Directions:

  1. Combine first SIX ingredients (wet ingredients) in a mixing bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine next SIX ingredients (dry ingredients).
  3. Slowly add dry mixture into wet mixture, combining thoroughly.
  4. Fold in diced apple lastly.
  5. Scoop into muffin tins lined with muffin liners and bake for 20-25 minutes at 375
  6. Enjoy!

*serving suggestions: top with nut butter for an easy extra protein, or eat with a hard boiled egg and and half an avocado packed together for a complete breakfast on the go!

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Happy eating!

xx,

M

 

If you’re looking for nutrition FACTS, advice, and how to improve your diet and quality of life overall, read this one. It is written by Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH with the Harvard School of Public Health.

This book reiterated many of the concepts I have learned throughout my undergrad and showcases a number of studies with new information that might not be what you’d think! Dr. Willett goes through the timeline of the American “healthy” eating guides such as the original food pyramid from the 1990s, and what is challenging about following the current “MyPlate” guidelines.

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remember this one? SOURCE: http://www.healthy-eating-politics.com/usda-food-pyramid.html
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current US meal guidelines. SOURCE: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate

BY THE WAY: the book was updated in 2017 SO this is the latest information you’ll find regarding diet and nutrition.

This book gives you a breakdown of nutrition, and most importantly, gives you a variety of sources as to WHERE to get your protein, carbs, and vitamins!

Breakdown of Chapters:

  1. Healthy Eating Matters
  2. Of Pyramids, Plates, and Dietary Guidelines
  3. What Can You Believe About Diet?
  4. Healthy Weight
  5. Straight Talk About Fat
  6. Carbohydrates for Better and Worse
  7. Choose Healthier Sources of Protein
  8. Eat Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables
  9. You Are What You Drink
  10. Calcium: No Emergency
  11. Take a Multivitamin for Insurance
  12. The Planet’s Health Matters Too
  13. Putting It All Together
  14. Healthy Eating in Special Situations
  15. Shopping Tips, Recipes, and Menus

I was #blessed and found this book for a steal at a bookstore’s closing sale (overall, sad), but YOU can find this book right here for about $15 paperback. I strongly recommend this read to anyone who wants to learn more about evidence-based nutrition practice, and to anyone else who wants to learn the best things to put in their body.

Happy reading, and I hope you find yourself as fascinated as I am with overall diet and nutrition!

xx,

M