Worried about holiday eating? Try this AARP quiz

The end-of-year holidays are tumbling at us now, one after the other. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, they all mean lots of eating, and difficulty staying on a low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar diet.

Worried you have no tools to eat healthy this time of year? Try this AARP quiz to see what you know and don’t know about healthy holiday eating.

It’s eight questions and they’re harder than you think. I only got three right, and I write about eating all the time!

One tip — I try to start holiday meals with a large salad option for everyone, the one pictured here was my Thanksgiving salad. Happy Holidays!

What’s healthy? New rules are coming from the FDA to help answer that question

The Food and Drug Administration has new rules proposed for labeling foods healthy, rules that go to salt, fat and sugar content. These rules will allow foods to put labels on the front instead of the back of their packaging and to call themselves “healthy” if they meet the new criteria, reports the Washington Post.

A comparison of old and newly proposed nutrition panels on food labels.A comparison of old and newly proposed nutrition panels on food labels.A comparison of old and newly proposed nutrition panels on food labels.
Expect to see nutrition claims on the front of packaging under new FDA guidelines.

“Under the proposal, manufacturers can label their products “healthy” if they contain a meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (such as fruit, vegetable or dairy) recommended by the dietary guidelines. They must also adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. For example, a cereal would need to contain three-quarters of an ounce of whole grains and no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 grams of added sugars per serving for a food manufacturer to use the word “healthy” on the label.” the Post reports.

It’s good to see salt content getting more attention, maybe now we’ll start to see some meaningful reductions in salt content for processed foods.

Sadly in recent years, even food and what is healthy have become political footballs. The Obama administration was strongly behind improving school lunch menus and encouraging children especially to develop healthier diets. The Trump administration abandoned those efforts. The Biden administration seems to again be addressing America’s obesity epidemic and poor eating habits. Hopefully, that will continue even if Republicans regain control of Congress in the upcoming mid-term elections.

Do you know what 2,000 calories look like? I’m guessing no, so read on

Everyone has likely seen it somewhere, either on a food label or on a restaurant nutrition page — portions and everything else to do with our daily nutritional intake are calculated on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. But I doubt most people realize just how few calories that is compared to what average Americans eat every day.

The FoodNetwork.com meal plan involves a lot of food in bowls, not sure why. Photo by Polina Tankilevitch:

So here’s a great piece to read from FoodNework.com, What Does 2,000 Calories Look Like? Use it as a companion piece to something I wrote, Picturing 1,500 calories a day; it’s not much. Generally, women are advised to eat 1,500 calories a day while men get 2,000.

The FoodNetwork.com piece has menus that will put you at the 2,000-calorie mark, whether you eat meat or not, which is handy if you cook for a family with members on different diets.

There’s a lot on these menus I wouldn’t touch, but hopefully you’ll find some items you like and can add to your recipe list.

Pandemic food casualty: Costco food-court salads are off the menu

I sat down at a Costco food court this week, something I haven’t done since before the pandemic when Costco foolishly eliminated chocolate frozen yogurt from its menu.

Looking at the new ordering touch screens, I realized another of my old Costco mainstay items is also gone now — food-court salads.

The wall says it all — no more salads at Costco, only junk food now.

This picture I took of the menu wall says it all — Costco has nothing even remotely low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar on its menu anymore.

For years, my regular Thursday meal there would be a salad, without the massively fat-filled dressing, and a chocolate frozen yogurt. Both are gone.

I dropped my more expensive Costco executive membership back when the chocolate yogurt disappeared. Now I’m really glad I did that then. I have no reason to eat at Costco food courts. For the stop I made recenty, I only bought a diet Pepsi for the road.

It will be interesting to see if Costco comes back with a simpler salad like McDonald’s did. Its salad joins its sheet cake, the ill-conceived asai it had replaced frozen yogurt with, and its holdout vanilla frozen yogurt as pandemic food casualties at Costco.

As the pandemic winds down, it’s becoming tougher than ever to find healthy, or at least not unhealthy, fast foods.

Trying to kick sugar — here’s one no-sugar diet plan

I’ve written many times that of salt, fat and sugar, sugar is by far the hardest for me to give up. I tried a no-sugar challenge in 2020 but the pandemic and its concurrent stress wiped out that plan. So I’m always interested when I see pieces like EatingWell.com’s No-Sugar Diet Plan.

MY half slice of Junior's chocolate mousse cheesecake, Mmmmmmm.
My love of such things as cheesecake make it difficult for me to kick sugar.

The plan includes a week of do-it-yourself meals and is based on consuming 1,200 calories a day, so obviously for women rather than men who should consume around 2,000 calories daily.

Some of the items mentioned, like peanut butter energy balls, I would never eat because of my aversion to nuts. But some of the dinner main dishes, like Mediterranean ravioli with artichokes & olives, sound worth trying.

I’d suggest giving the menu plan a look and picking and choosing what you like.

Healthy fast food alternatives — not exactly but better than some choices

Lists of healthy, or at least the least unhealthy, offerings at fast-food restaurants seem to pop up every year. That’s because those places are ubiquitous. If you’re out and about, it’s hard to avoid them. Plus, if you’re on a restricted diet like I am, every once and a whole you want to feel normal again by eating where the masses eat.

My new tiny oil and vinegar bottles for eating out.
My tiny oil and vinegar bottles for eating out.

This year’s list comes from Good Housekeeping, The 35 Healthiest Fast Food Orders You Can Get at Every Chain. A lot of salads make the list, beware of salt in those and in dressings though. I usually carry my own oil and vinegar in small plastic bottles to avoid salt-laden dressings.

It’s fun to see the classic White Castle slider on this list. “You don’t have to feel bad about enjoying a couple Original Sliders from White Castle — it scores better on the “healthy” scale than even the chicken or fish sliders. But here’s a surprise: if you’re looking for a vegetarian option, go with the Veggie Slider over the Impossible Slider to consume less overall calories and fat,” the article states. It doesn’t;t say anything about having six sliders at a meal as I sometimes do.

Oh well, happy eating.

Healthy Emmie sees good eating habits coming as we emerge from the pandemic

It’s always fun to speak with someone who is passionate about food. Online nutritionist Healthy Emmie certainly fits in that category. We recently spoke about her expectations for American eating habits post-pandemic, as well as about her philosophy of healthy eating.

“This pandemic is changing everything, it’s making people look twice at taking health into their own hands, ” says Emmie, who began her healthy eating quest at age 19.

Healthy Emmie

Now 26, Emmie, a vegan, offers a program called the Slim on Starch Weight Loss Program. She developed her eating philosophy as she helped her parents become healthier. Seeing it work on them, she now promotes it to the world.

She believes in whole-food, plant-based eating and includes starchy items like potatoes and white rice — which some nutritionists shun — in her diet.

Her theory — eating only greens (as I did after my first heart surgery) will leave you hungry and likely send you back to unhealthy eating habits. Including healthy starches can fill you up and keep you plant-based.

“Starch is to satiety as water is to thirst,” she says.

You can download her sample one-day eating plan from her website by clicking here. Scroll to the bottom of the page to get it.

Plant-based, whole-food eating for her doesn’t include all the imitation meat products coming to market in recent days. I agree, so many of those are high in salt and fat, they really are no better for you than real meat.

I’ve written in the past that I’m not ready to go completely plant-based (my daughter has, she’s leading the family on that front). But I see world eating habits moving in that direction, especially among Millennials and Gen Zers.

As the Pandemic has progressed, Emmie has seen two types of people — those who used the pandemic early on to get a better grip on their health; and those who binged, gained pandemic pounds, and now need to address being heavier than they want or should be. Her business doubled during the Pandemic, says Emmie, who in based in Boston.

“No matter what has happened during the Pandemic, it’s never too late to get started with a healthy diet, start today,” she advises.

I couldn’t agree more.

Pandemic Snacking: Crispy Broccoli at Trader Joe’s

Any list about healthy snacks always gets my attention because normally those words — healthy and snack — are a conflict in terms. Anything you want to snack, i.e. binge, on generally is not healthy because it contains high amounts of salt, fat or sugar, or perhaps all three.

That’s why a recent list of so-called healthy snacks at Trader Joe’s caught my attention with one list, crispy broccoli florets. I eat a lot of broccoli, but had never thought of it as a snack, or as crispy for that matter. So I bought a bag and gave them a try.

The result was mixed. Salt-wise, they’re ok with only 15 mg a bag. Fat content seems high at 20 grams, about half what I’m supposed to have every day on my heart-healthy diet. And there’s 5 grams of transfat, again about half what I can have.

Taste-wise, they taste like broccoli, but having that cold and crisped up somehow just didn’t seem right. The taste of them actually became less palatable the more I had. So I guess that would preclude binging on them.

So my search for healthy snacks goes on, sans broccoli.

Eating more fried foods during the pandemic? Stop, please

If you’ve taken some comfort in this pandemic by eating more fried foods, it’s time to stop now before you do some real damage to yourself. Even a small portion of fried foods can increase risk of heart disease, study says, is the headline on a recent CNN report.

“People who ate the most fried food per week had a 28% higher risk of major cardiovascular events, a 22% greater risk of coronary heart disease and a 37% heightened risk of heart failure, according to the study published Monday in the journal Heart,” CNN reports.

The news gets grimmer:

Splurge on the garlic fries at Safeco Field. They were a garlic-lover's dream.
Walk away from those fries, says a new study on heart health

“Each additional weekly serving of 114 grams or 4 ounces (½ cup) of fried foods increased the risk for heart attack and stroke by 3%, heart disease by 2% and heart failure by 12%,” according to results of the study. AS a point of reference, there are 117 grams in a medium McDonald’s french fry order. So eating that every week adds a 3% chance of heart attack or stroke.

As good as they are, put down the french fries. You want to live to see the end of this pandemic don’t you?

Smart Sugar Swaps? Not for me

I’m approaching the end of one month without any sugary snacks, cakes, candy — in short I’m eating nothing that I enjoy. This was a challenge from my wife as she realized we’d been going a bit overboard with such treats during our Covid quarantine.

I’m now four days from the end of the challenge. I’ve lost six pounds and am constantly hungry. So I was intrigued by this headline, 5 Smart Swaps to Make the Next Time You’re Craving Sugar.

Counting the hours until I can have one of these again.

Sadly, the swaps left me disappointed, and still craving sugar. Here they are (or you can click on this link to read the full story).

  • Sugar sweetened beverages: Instead of soda or sports drinks, make unsweetened fruit teas (hot or iced), sip sparkling water, or add fresh fruit or herbs to still or bubbly H20 for flavor.
  • Desserts and sweet snacks: Make fruit dessert, whether that’s combining dates with cocoa powder to make a truffle; dipping fresh berries in dark chocolate; making DIY ice cream with frozen bananas; grilling up fresh peaches or plums in summer; or enjoying cooked apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
  • Sweetened coffee and tea: Add flavor by stirring in vanilla, cinnamon, coconut collagen, or cocoa powder.
  • Candy and sugary toppings (like syrup or jam): Use mashed fruit for syrup, DIY your own chia jam, or rely on unsweetened dried fruit like mango to satisfy your need for sweet.
  • Cereals and breakfast bars: Whip up a batch of overnight oats, make your own no-sugar granola, or prep grab-and-go options like protein pancakes so you always have something on hand.

That’s the best they have? I think I’ll wait for my sugar binge day February 1.

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