Healthier Halloween

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It’s that time of year when the costumes come out, the spider webs go up, the horror movies run constantly on TV and candy inundates our lives. Well let’s be honest, Halloween candy has been in the grocery stores for at least two months, but next Friday children everywhere will don their creative get-ups and go trick-or-treating. I always loved Halloween as a child. Who doesn’t like an excuse to get dressed up and ask for free candy? Now that I am older and know the affect of consuming copious amounts of sugar (see last week’s post for more info on this), I wonder if there is a way for Halloween to be healthier. Is it possible to have healthier options that are just as yummy that our trick-or-treaters will still enjoy? As an eternal optimist, I’d certainly like to think so.

We all know that most of the candy options we see on the store shelves are loaded with corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and artificial flavors and colors in addition to processed sugars. So what options do we have? We can’t just cut candy out of our lives and pretend it doesn’t exist. From personal experience, that normally leads to unhealthy habits and unwanted cravings. So the key here is finding healthier alternatives to help us slowly wean our young ones off of the really bad stuff.

To help you in your hunt for healthier options I introduce GoodGuide. GoodGuide is a company that provides reliable information on the health, environmental, and social impacts of consumer products. It has put together a comprehensive rating guide of candy based on nutritional value, environmental scores and social scores, the second two of which are comprised of product-level and company-level scores (see their ratings and more on their methodology here). The guide also discusses certifications to keep an eye out for such as Fair Trade and organic and key issues surrounding cocoa production such as child and slave labor, fair pricing, ecological impacts and health.

Here are the products that came out on top:

  1. Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates Peanut Butter Cups
  2. Equal Exchange Organic Dark Chocolate Minis (55% cacao)
  3. Equal Exchange Organic Milk Chocolate Minis
  4. YummyEarth Organic Gummy Bears
  5. Endangered Species Organic Milk Chocolate Bug Bites

There are also candy alternatives that are popular such as Clif Bar minis, Luna Bars, Snickers Marathon energy bars, raisins and fruit bars.

If you still aren’t convinced, keep ingredients in mind as you shop and skip products made of solely sugar and artificial coloring (gummy bears, candy corn) and opt instead for products with natural ingredients like chocolate and nuts/nut butters (Peanut M&Ms, Reese’s). These will provide protein and satisfy you more.

I truly believe that there is a way to enjoy our traditions in a healthier way. Hopefully this information has been helpful and you can find candy options that work best for you and your family. Happy shopping and many wishes for a fun, healthier Halloween!

Peace, love and the occasional piece of dark chocolate,

The Yogi~Foodie

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Toxic Sugar

Sugar is one of the main reasons behind the obesity and disease epidemic we are experiencing in our society today. This includes sugar in processed foods and beverages, artificial sweeteners in soft drinks and that we pour into our coffee, and sugar in all of those baked goods we love to eat. Sugar is addictive. It is toxic. And it is poisoning our bodies. I hope to prove this to you in today’s post and in many future posts I will write on this topic. Can you tell I am slightly passionate about this?

I came to this realization about the negative effects of sugar a few years ago and since then have been trying to completely cut it from my diet for good. But it’s tough because it is everywhere. I have gone off the wagon many a time. Once I see it my mind takes over and I completely forget about all of the negative effects it has on me. When I take a bite my body goes into a dopamine-fueled sugar high that lasts a few minutes and then the bad stuff kicks in. Sugar gives me a pounding headache, makes me feel foggy and lethargic, makes me sleepy and unproductive at work, makes me cranky and bitchy (towards myself and others), makes me shaky, produces mood swings, and makes my digestive system go haywire. My body is so sensitive to it that even a few bites can send me into an unhealthy spiral. Have you experienced any of these symptoms yourself?

So, why does sugar do this to me? Why has it become such an issue in our society? A fantastic article was published in National Geographic in 2013 discussing this. As it is a long one (as most wonderful National Geographic articles are), this post will provide the main takeaways. If you’d like to read it all yourself, check it out here.

Sucrose, or table sugar, is made up of equal amounts glucose and fructose. Fructose is the kind of sugar you find naturally in fruit and is also what gives sugar its sweetness. While your cells msugar-falling-on-donut-615etabolize glucose, fructose is processed primarily in the liver. If you eat too many simple sugars, which are quickly digested (soft drinks, candy), your liver breaks down the fructose and produces fats called triglycerides. A lot of these triglycerides are pushed into the blood. Over time blood pressure increases and cells become progressively more resistant to insulin. The pancreas responds by producing even more insulin to try to make up for this resistance. Eventually a condition known as metabolic syndrome kicks in, which is normally characterized by obesity. If not addressed, Type 2 Diabetes will develop.

Today, as much as a third of the adult American population could meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome set by the National Institutes of Health. The average American consumes 77 pounds of sugar annually, which amounts to about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Companies commonly use sugar to replace taste in products stripped of fat, such as fat-free baked goods, which are commonly loaded with the stuff.

So why do we crave sugar?  Let’s take a trip back to caveman times, where sugar was extremely rare and only found in naturally growing fruit. Due to its scarcity, our bodies became efficient processors of fructose, storing it all as fat to help the body survive during the lean winter months. Also, our bodies didn’t develop the normal “I am full, stop eating” switch. So when we came across that rare berry bush, we would stuff ourselves silly and store it all as fat for the winter (think of squirrel stuffing acorns in mouth). Additionally, sugar provided the body with instant energy to survive in the wild. During those times, only the early humans that could process sugar in these ways survived.

Our bodies haven’t changed too much since those times and we still process fructose in the same way, as fat. And we still can eat loads and loads of it and our bodies will not tell us that we are full. Not very good news considering how abundant it is in our society today. Research has also shown that sugar stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain as heroine and cocaine. YIKES! And we don’t classify this as a drug?!

This blog post was inspired by my most recent off-the-wagon sugar consumption experience. Which was yesterday. I woke up this morning on a mission to discover how I can cut the white stuff for good. How I can take all of this information I know about sugar and its effect on my body and bring about personal transformation. So here I introduce my Sugar Series, which will be future blog posts specifically discussing the topic of sugar and my journey to cutting it out for good. I hope you will join me on this ride and maybe along the way you will choose to quit it with me as well.

Here’s to a sugar-free adventure!

The Yogi~Foodie

Deconstructing Food Labels

Organic. Non-GMO. Grass-fed. Cage-free. Natural. Ever wonder what all of these labels mean? There are a lot out there! Well, its time to bring an end to the grocery store confusion. I strongly believe that, as consumers, we should know what is going into the food that we eat and where we are putting our dollars. Below I’ve created a handy dandy guide that you can use to figure out what type of food products to buy that work best for you, your health and your lifestyle.

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  1. Antibiotic-free means that an animal was not given any antibiotics during its lifetime. For poultry, hogs and other livestock, this means that there are no antibiotics in their feed. For cattle, this means they are not injected with any antibiotics.
  2. Fair trade means that farmers and workers received a fair wage and worked in acceptable living conditions while growing and packaging the product you are purchasing. This is typically in developing countries. One common place I always see this label is with coffee.
  3. Cage-free means that birds (poultry) have been raised without cages. It does not specify whether the birds were raised indoors or outdoors nor whether or not they were raised in crowded conditions. Only pasture-raised (#13 below) means that they were raised outdoors.
  4. Free-range is very similar to cage-free in that it applies to egg and poultry production only. It means that the birds are allowed access to the outdoors, but not necessarily that they spent the majority of their time outdoors. It does not mean cruelty-free or antibiotic-free. Free-range is not verified by a third party inspector and USDA regulations do not specify the amount, duration, or quality of outdoor access provided to these animals.
  5. GMO-free, Non-GMO means that the product is not a genetically modified organism. Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals that have been altered at the gene level. This means that the product has been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants/animals. Common GMO products are those containing soy, corn or their derivatives (soy protein isolates, corn starch, high fructose corn syrup). Health risks of consuming GMO foods have not been clearly identified.
  6. Grain-fed means that the animal was raised on a grain diet. If you see the label “100% vegetarian diet”, this means that the animal was given feed that contains no animal by-products. Yep, you heard that right, factory raised animals are fed animal by-products.
  7. Grass-fed animals eat their natural diet, grass, rather than grains. This was the diet these animals ate for years and years before industrialized farming came to be. Grass-fed animals are typically more lean and lower in fat and calories. They are not fed any grain, animal by-products (!), synthetic hormones or antibiotics. But this doesn’t mean they ate grass their entire lives. Some are grain-finished, which means they are fed grain right before slaughter. Make sure to look for grass-fed and grass-finished on your label if you are concerned about this. Also keep in mind that USDA grass-fed stipulations do not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones or pesticides.
  8. Healthy is kind of a broad claim, but means that the product is low in saturated fat and has limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium. It must also contain a least 10% of vitamins A or C, iron, calcium, protein or fiber. Better than unhealthy though, right?
  9. Heritage is a cool one. It means that the livestock or crop is a rare and endangered breed. These breeds are the traditional livestock that were raised by farmers way back when before industrialized farming and agriculture brought about a drastic reduction in breed variety. They are prized for their rich taste and higher fat content. There are no laws governing production standards, but true heritage farmers follow sustainable production methods required by organic farmers. Ever heard of heirloom tomatoes? Bingo 🙂
  10. Hormone-free is a term that has been prohibited by the USDA. By law, hogs and poultry cannot be given hormones, but the USDA does allow the use of a number of hormones on beef. Animals raised without added growth hormones can be labeled as “no hormones administered” or “no added hormones”.
  11. Natural is a standard that only applies to meat and poultry. It means that the product has only undergone minimal processing and does not contain any artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or ingredients. It does not necessarily mean that the product is sustainable, organic, cruelty-free or free of hormones or antibiotics.
  12. Non-irradiated means food that has not been exposed to radiation. Come again? You’re telling me some of our food is exposed to radiation? Yep. This commonly occurs to kill disease-causing bacteria and reduce the incidence of food borne illness. No testing has been done to determine whether this is bad for us. Still, call me skeptical…
  13. Pasture-raised means that animals were allowed to mill about on their own in the fields and eat grasses and other plants all day long. In this method, the animals are raised in a more humane way and can carry out their natural behaviors.  Just picture content cows grazing in a fenced in pasture and happy pigs rolling around in the mud…
  14. Organic is a term that requires farms and products to meet a number of standards set by the USDA – 1) farms must abstain from application of prohibited materials (fertilizers, pesticides) for 3 years prior to certification and must main this practice; 2) use of GMOs and irradiation is prohibited; 3) farms must use positive soil building, conservation, manure management and crop rotation practices; 4) livestock must be provided with access to pastures; 5) no antibiotics or hormones can be used; 6) all feed given to animals must be 100% organic; 7) contamination must be avoided during processing; and 8) farms must keep records of all operations. When you see a product with the USDA organic seal, this means that 95-100% of its ingredients are certified organic. Organic products are also free of trans fats or any hydrogenated products. The USDA does not inspect organic products imported from foreign countries when they come into the country and hires third parties to do inspections of these foreign farms.
  15. RBGH-free, RBST-free refers or types of hormones given to cattle, specifically recombinant bovine growth hormone (RBGH) and recombinant bovine somatotropin (RBST). These are genetically engineered hormones injected into cows to increase milk production. They are banned in the European Union, Canada, and other countries. Organic products are free of these hormones.

This may be a ton of information to take in at once, but I think the bottom line is to know where you food comes from. Read the label of the meat you buy at your local grocery, read the sign in the produce section about where your broccoli is from, and talk to your local farmer when you hit up the farmers’ market to learn about his/her farming practices. When you are more involved in this process, you will be more aware of the food you put into your body and its affect on your life and health.

Peace, love and veggies,

The Yogi~Foodie

Workplace Wellness

I wrote this post for my company’s blog back in July. As it applies to so many of us, I thought it would be helpful to share here as well. After all, we do spend the majority of our lives at work. Why not feel good and enjoy it while we’re at it?

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Have you ever found yourself reaching for that extra cup of coffee to help you make a deadline or mentally kicking yourself for not getting enough sleep the night before? Although sleep deprivation is commonly known to negatively impact workplace productivity, many people don’t think about the affect of diet and exercise. Recent studies have shown that inadequate nourishment can cut productivity by up to 20%. What we put into our bodies impacts mental clarity, energy and stamina. If you think about it, what would an athlete eat to stay at the top of his game? Most likely he is not eating fast food or processed food. Getting the right amount of nutrients and protein, limiting saturated fats and drinking enough water can go a long ways towards improving productivity and overall wellness.

Iron deficiencies are associated with sluggishness and lack of coordination, while saturated fats have been found to hinder brain function. Foods with the highest iron content are actually not meat products, but vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and collard and mustard greens. A 1% decrease in hydration levels can lead to a 20% decrease in productivity. Protein from healthy sources such as low-fat dairy, fish, lean meat and beans maintains a feeling of fullness for longer following a meal and can make you more alert and attentive.

Also how often you eat can impact productivity levels. Eating at regular intervals maintains appropriate blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar, which results from going too long without eating, shortens attention span and slows the speed at which you process information. Getting a quick, sugary fix from processed foods or sugary drinks is counterproductive and will cause your blood sugar levels to dramatically spike and plummet soon thereafter, leaving you back at square one and probably craving something that you know isn’t good for you.

So what can you do each day to improve your productivity levels? Start small and focus on improving one item in your daily routine, such as going to bed a little earlier a few days a week or drinking a large glass of water each morning when you wake up. Set reminders in your calendar to get up and move during the workday to help increase blood flow. Take the long route to the bathroom or walk to a colleague’s desk instead of calling them to chat. Keep healthy snacks with you to stave off cravings for unhealthy, sugary items. Some examples include apples with peanut butter, nuts, yogurt, or raw vegetables and hummus. Smaller, less drastic changes here and there will be easier to stick to and build into your regular routine. Even these small changes in diet and lifestyle can go a long ways to increasing workplace productivity and overall health. What healthy habits can you start today to improve your daily life at work?

Peace, love and lots of veggies

The Yogi~Foodie