Happy New Year: Crafting a Realistic Resolution

The time-honored tradition of making a New Year’s resolution comes with the best of intentions, whatever they may be (to be a bit healthier, live in the moment, finally use that gym membership)- but how many resolutions have you successfully seen through to the following year? You might make it to that 6am spin class for the first few weeks of January and maybe even through spring, but more likely, there’s a good chance that the ‘New Year, New You’ charm has worn off by Valentine’s Day.

You’re not alone- and you’re not to blame! Resolutions are a wonderful way to dedicate yourself to self improvement, but they tend to also be hopelessly vague. It’s a worthwhile goal to ‘Eat Healthier,’ but what defines ‘healthy?’ You can aim to “Work out more,” but how much more? Are you going by time, intensity, pounds shed? The solution lies in a classic goal-setting acronym S.M.A.R.T. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound. 

  • Specific: Specific goals have more direction and tell you exactly what actions to do to achieve your goal. Think of your classic resolution as the overall gist of what you’d like to achieve, and to make it more specific, define HOW you will reach it. Want to ‘eat healthier?’ Decide if that means eating more vegetables, eating less fast-food, minimizing refined sugars, or any other specific definition that will help you know if you’re eating healthier or not.
  • Measurable: Now that your goal is more specific, you need to find a way to measure your success. This means avoiding the magic “more” (work out more, study more, sleep more) and instead adding a defined target goal. If want to eat more vegetables, aim to eat a certain number of servings of vegetables per day. If you’re trying to work out more, decide to go to the gym three times per week. These concrete numbers will help you keep better track of your progress by giving you a reference point. 
  • Attainable: This is a big one: only set goals you can realistically achieve! If you are a devout dessert lover who eats ice cream every night, you likely won’t last long if you resolve to replace all ice cream with fresh fruit; it’s a lovely thought, but a bit too ambitious, and you’ll likely fall back into your old habits quickly. Instead, resolve to only indulge on weekend nights or to switch out your Ben & Jerry’s for a low-fat frozen yogurt bar. This makes your resolutions slightly less exciting because the stakes seem lower, but you’re more likely to stick to “cutting back” than you are to “cutting out.” This will lead to sustainable behavior change so you can turn your resolution into your new norm.
  • Relevant: This tends to be a shoe-in for most resolutions (though it’s helpful when assessing if a goal you’ve set in other aspects of your life is misguided).  Here’s the key question: Will the specific goal you’re setting help you achieve the overall desired outcome? If the answer is yes, then you’ve set a goal that aligns with your overall vision of health (relevant!). If the answer is no, then your focus may have shifted throughout the process, so center your attention back on what it is you really hope to achieve.
  • Time-Bound: Goals that are Time-bound will keep you on track by setting mini deadlines for yourself. There is no right or wrong timeline for a goal– it is entirely up to your current habits and your desired outcomes. You might resolve to start eating at least one vegetable per day, one vegetable serving per meal, one new vegetable each week… They’re all worthwhile goals with a timing-specific limit (per day, per meal, each week). Defining this aspect of frequency will help you be consistent, keep track of your actions, and know whether or not you’re hitting your target.

Before midnight strikes on New Year’s Eve, try to craft a S.M.A.R.T. resolution that will last you throughout 2018! Wishing you all a happy, healthy, wonderful New Year!

Cutting Calories to Cut Cancer Risk

Many people try to lose weight to feel a bit better, move more easily, and maybe fit into that smaller pair of pants– but did you know that extra weight is also tied to about 20% of all cancers?

Because it’s difficult to control lifestyle factors at a major level, most studies linking weight to cancer are Observational in nature– meaning that we can look at what is happening in a population without actually controlling any variables. This data can be less reliable but, when many studies are viewed as a group, can indicate strong relationships. A study from The British Medical Journal evaluated over 200 observational studies and found a link between obesity, waist circumference, and weight gain and several cancers, with the strongest evidence linking obesity to esophageal, pancreatic, liver/gallbladder, colorectal, and kidney cancers — all related to the GI tract– as well as bone marrow and endometrial cancers. 

The mechanism underlying the causation is unknown, though National Cancer Institute believes that a few key factors may contribute to the relationship:

  • Inflammation: Obesity is generally accompanied by chronic inflammation, which is repeatedly linked to cellular dysfunction and cancer development.
  • Hormones: Fat cells tend to excrete more estrogen than other cells, which may increase risks of hormone-sensitive cancers like breast or ovarian.
  • Insulin: High body weight generally leads to higher insulin levels in the body, which may increase risk of colon, cancer, and endometrial cancers.

According to the American Cancer Society, the best advice for a cancer-free life is to stay lean without being underweight, meaning that a BMI between 18.5 and 25 (which is considered ‘normal’) is a good reference range. Even losing a small percentage of body weight can help lower health-related risks.


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Food Label Health Claims Decoded

The FDA recently approved a qualified health claim linking macadamia nuts to heart health, allowing food packaging to state:

“Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces per day of macadamia nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and not resulting in increased intake of saturated fat or calories may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. See nutrition information for fat [and calorie] content.”

My first reaction was, to be honest, excitement; I love macadamia nuts and am happy to hear that they may help protect my heart.

My second instinct, however, was to pause and wonder how other consumers may react to this. While I support nuts as a source of healthy fats and a major part of my diet, I do know that there is a lot of confusion surrounding food labels and the health claims asserted on packaging. Does this mean we should eat macadamia nuts every day? Will this treat heart disease? How much evidence is there behind this?

Luckily, labels are highly regulated, and a claim like this can be easily decoded with a bit of background.

The FDA allows the food industry to use health claims — statements which relate a certain ingredient to a health condition– when there is adequate scientific evidence supporting the relationship.  Different claims may highlight levels of nutrients (‘good source of vitamin A’) with approval, or they can tie a relationship between a nutrient and the functioning of the body (like ‘calcium builds strong bones’), though the FDA does not evaluate these claims and the label must reflect that. Companies cannot say that a nutrient is meant to diagnose, treat, or a cure a disease.

The gold-standard for claims are the Authorized ones, where there is such an abundance of evidence that the FDA supports the usage of these statements with confidence. There are only a handful of these claims (the list is found here), but some of the major ones include: Calcium/vitamin D and osteoporosis, saturated fat/cholesterol and heart disease, fruits/vegetables and cancer, and sodium and hypertension.

The list of ‘qualified’ claims is far longer– these are the statements that are supported by some body of research but not quite enough to be taken as undeniable fact. The FDA allows companies to use the statements but also requires a qualifying statement saying that, while there is evidence, it is not not enough to meet the rigorous standards of the FDA’s authorized claims.

For more on Qualified Health Claims, visit the FDA’s dedicated site: https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm2006877.htm


My Egg Obsession

Scrambled, poached, over easy, hard boiled, tossed into salads, floating in ramen… eggs can be added to any meal!

The myth that eggs cause high cholesterol has been debunked (your body makes more cholesterol from saturated fats, but the 200mg cholesterol in an egg won’t cause a corresponding spike in blood lipids), and the benefits of eggs are clear:

  • Protein! Eggs are one of the few non-meat items that provide all of the amino acids you need in your diet, and though the egg whites are known for this protein-punch, egg yolks also provide the nutrient.
  • Choline- this important nutrient is needed for brain health and neural development.
  • Lutein- a type of carotenoid that protects eye health

My egg splurge: eggs on a BLT with avocado, atop seven grain toast

Let Them Drink Coffee

Coffee drinkers, rejoice! A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine linked coffee consumption with longer lifespan, confirming what we coffee-lovers had always known to be true: those beans are magic.

The study followed more than 185,000 adults for up to 20 years and found that coffee drinkers were less likely die than their non-caffeinated counterparts, and these findings held true for several ethnic subgroups (white, Latino, Japanese American, and African American).  Those who drank one cup per day were 12% less likely to have died during the study period, while those who drank more were actually 18% less likely- indicating that the coffee may have strong protective health effects.

A similar study also published this month examined this possible connection in over 520,000 Europeans. The researchers also found that participants who drank the most coffee were 7-12% less likely to die during the study, as well as decreased risk of death specifically from circulatory diseases and stroke among the women in the study (though there was also a connection between coffee consumption and ovarian cancer mortality).

The overall verdict: Whether it’s the caffeine, the polyphenols, or the sheer joy that comes from sipping your favorite brew, it appears that enjoying your daily coffee may help add a few more years to your life.

Healthy Baking Swaps

I love to bake, though when I first started experimenting in the kitchen, my recipes originally fell into two distinct categories:

  1. Delicious and decadent desserts that I bring to parties, holidays, or gatherings not made up of nutrition buffs
  2. Healthy, whole grain, low/natural sugar, lower-fat recipes that most my family kindly refers to as ‘cardboard’

I’ve since done more research on how to improve the nutrition of a recipe without sacrificing flavor, consistency, or appearance. Here are some stellar tips that I find particularly helpful from the experts at King Arthur Flour:

  1. Understand what will change if you cut sugar! 
    Sugar helps give baked goods the signature brown crust with a good crunch, so lowering the sugar will make a lighter product with a fluffier, more cake-like texture rather than crispy.  King Arthur’s has done some fun experiments showing that a recipe suffers if you cut the sugar by more than 50% (http://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2017/03/15/reduce-sugar-in-cookies-and-bars/) Hint: Natural sweeteners have just as many grams of sugar, though they may have trace amounts of other benefits and are generally less processed.
  2. Adding bran? Add more water!
    If you’re adding bran to a recipe for increased omega-3’s and the signature nutty taste, be aware that your product will likely small and dense unless you also adjust the water and add a bit more flour for rising.
  3. For high-quality whole grains, combine your flours.
    While some people do love a 100% whole grain bread (I know I do!), others like the fluffiness of a white bread. This same principle goes for cookies, cakes, etc- some whole grains may add flavor, but too many will make your product denser and will change it drastically from its original shape. Try using half all purpose flour and half whole wheat or other flour alternative for the best of both worlds.

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Protein of the Day: Octopus!

I went out to dinner last night and ordered one of my favorite things: an octopus salad. If you’re new to octopus and feeling squeamish at the idea, don’t judge it till you’ve tried it!

3 ounces are packed with 25g of protein but only 140 calories, and it’s a solid source of iron (8mg per serving, which is almost half of your daily requirements) and other essential minerals like potassium and zinc.

Because it is rich in flavor, it tends to be paired with sweet and sour flavors like fruit, tomatoes, olives, or cheeses like feta. Next time you see it on a menu, give it a try!

Summer Munchin

Enjoying the fruits of the season… very literally! Berries are full of anthocyanins, colorful pigments that are not only beautiful but also potent antioxidants. They help protect your cells from the oxidative damage that can contribute to disease risk, which lowers your risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Any deep red or purple produce tends to be a good source, so take advantage of the fresh summer fruit!

  •  Add berries to yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Mix them into your pancake mix
  • Swap jelly for sliced berries on peanut butter sandwiches
  • Toss them into a salads with a tart cheese or dressing to balance out the sweetness (try goat cheese or feta with a balsamic drizzle!