Archive for March, 2012

Healthy Snacks for Kids (Adults, too!)

Are you in a snack rut?  Here are some ideas that are both healthy and delicious.

  • Dole frozen fruit.  Whether a banana, mango, or mixed berries.  Frozen fruit tastes like candy.
  • Frozen banana pop. Peel a banana, slice it in half, insert a Popsicle stick, freeze.  Be amazed.
  • Earthbound Farm Organic Apple slices.  No extra ingredients besides apples; only ascorbic acid and calcium carbonate – which are safe preservatives there to prevent the browning reaction
  • Earthbound Dippin’ Doubles Apples & Peanut Butter.  With the above apple slices comes a tablespoon serving of peanut butter (ingredients: Organic Dry Roasted Peanuts)
  • 1 mini Larabar. The mini larabars are only 100 calories, and are made with dried fruit and nuts.
  • Peaches & cottage cheese.  ½ cup of 1% milk cottage cheese with 1 sliced peach is delicious and nutritious!
  • Sliced cucumbers & peppers with swiss cheese. This “cocktail party” food is easy and healthy.
  • Edamame (soybeans) low or no-sodium.  Edamame is a complete snack: filled with protein, some starch and fiber.
  • Pop corn (hold the toppings).  Without the butter and salt, popcorn is a low-calorie whole grain snack that is high in fiber
  • Whole grain pretzels (can add almond butter).  To stay in a snack-calorie range, put six medium pretzel sticks into a bag – has 3+ grams of fiber.
  • Home-made trail mixes.  Choose your favorite nuts, seeds, dried fruits and shake it all together.

We Eat with Our Eyes

Google uses subtle cues, which they call “nudges,” to help employees eat healthier.  One example they found to affect change was adding a simple message in their cafeteria: “people with bigger dishes are inclined to eat more.”  Here, we also believe in letting the environment take on the hard work for you.  Some Next Jump behavioral cues that we include in all offices are the following:

  • At dinner we place salad at the start of the buffet-line: people fill their plate up with whatever they see first.
  • The best and healthiest snacks in our snack bins are at the top and mid-level where it is easiest to grab.  The worst are at the bottom.  The cups are no more than 3-4 oz to limit portion size.  The color coding tells people when to “Go, Slow, Whoa!”
  • We offer healthy drinks and place the water cooler near the fridges for easy grab n go.

These behavioral techniques were studied by Dr. Brian Wansink, a nutrition and behavioral expert who studies why people continue to partake in specific behaviors, regardless of whether or not they know the consequences.  Read on to learn more about Wansink’s other findings.

Some Brian Wansink favorites…

  • The shape of a glass will predict how much you drink (tall skinny ones – drink less; short fat ones – drink more).
  • The proximity of a specific food to your desk determines how much you may eat of it
  • People experience a “ripple effect” – when they are successful at just ONE healthy habit, that success will trickle into partaking in other healthy habits.  Example, just exercising alone can actually help people eat better.
  • Smells will affect how people perceive the taste of their foods (putting cat food near filet mignon, people were less prone to eat)
  • Labels will affect how people perceive the taste of their foods (stating that there was soy protein vs protein in a bar, people were less inclined to eat the bar)

Below shows how we strategically place the healthier foods mid and eye-level, for fast grabbings.


Who are you inviting to the plate party – saturated fat and sugar or fiber?

You might have heard me say this (a million times) already, but you need to eat more fruits and veggies.  There are too many reasons not to – fruits and veggies boost immunity, prevent disease, protect against cancers, help maintain a healthy weight and keep you feeling energized…   Look at your plate: ¼ of the plate should be protein (not all of it); the other ¼ should have some form of carbohydrate (grains, beans, starchy veggie like potatoes or corn).  Half of your plate should be comprised of fruits and/or vegetables.  If it’s breakfast, try adding more fruit and less starch to your bowl of cereal in the morning.  If it’s dinner, aim to pile on the cooked veggies and/or create a big side salad for yourself.  Bottom line, think about who’s invited to your plate party?  ½ of the guest list should be fruits and vegetables. 

Jessica’s Healthy Baking Recipes (are the bomb)

Recipe: Easy Breakfast Parfait (A Marissa Favorite)

Yogurt parfaits are nutritious — when prepared the right way.  Add a few deleterious ingredients and you may have yourself a parfaux (the corny humor comes with the article).  My yogurt parfaits at Next Jump are made with Greek yogurt — which has no added sugar (refer to my previous post about the harms of added sugar in your diet).  It is also made with sprinklings of flaxseed meal (an omega-3 fatty acid) and wheat germ (a grain that is high in fiber, vitamin B and E).  Topped with mixed berries and 1 serving of my favorite granola (Bear Naked Peak Protein) and we have us a parfabulous!  Follow these simple steps to make your parfait:

(1) Mix yogurt, wheat germ, flaxseed meal and yogurt together

(2) Put ¼ cup water into the mixture for an extra creamy texture

(3) Top off with fresh mixed berries and serve

Visit the Full Engagement Center for a print-out of the instructions with pictures.


SuperTracker: USDA-Launches Online Food-Tracking Tool

Have you ever tried recording everything you ate or drank for one whole day?  It’s challenging (especially when an app or website is impossible to navigate).  Make way for SuperTracker!  This is a free, online nutrition and fitness tool (surprisingly developed by the government), which can be found at  Why you should check out SuperTracker:

  1. Awesome UI – visually appealing and intuitive!
  2. An above-average foods database
  3. Powerful goals section called, “My Coach Center,” helps target appropriate areas of concern
  4. Measures progress with an in-depth analysis of nutrients, complete with status reports
  5. Builds exportable reports – helpful when redesigns inhibit stored data to be transferred
  6. Builds personalized and sustainable meal plans (that aren’t limiting)

Read more about SuperTracker at the Full Engagement Center.

For the record, I have not found many useful online food trackers –at the health professional or user-level.  Most have usually missed crucial elements, such as an undersized foods database or an inability to effectively track progress.

SuperTracker is a break-through in the nutrition field.  It allows a user to practice healthy eating and adopt new behaviors, while  keeping the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans in mind.  It also incorporates actionable takeaways with easy visual cues.

Some weaknesses: the foods database, although above average, can be more powerful.  For example, finding brand-names are hard to come by – in finding specific food items, the user needs to be creative (e.g., Greek yogurt versus Fage).

The exercise tracker needs some more work, as well.  While above-average, the exercise tracker will eventually need to incorporate a customizable workout section and/or add variety to the database.

All in all, for a governmental website, SuperTracker is not shabby!

Say No to Trans-fat

Trans-fat impairs cholesterol metabolism and is linked to heart disease.  Formed by turning a smooth vegetable oil into a solid fat, the rigidity of a trans-fat is what makes pie crusts flake or cakes crumble.  The rigid nature also helps products stay on the shelf for a longer period of time.  Besides cakes and pies, common sources also include cookies, peanut butter (think Jif and Skippy), crackers, potato chips, margarines and shortenings, fried fast food, French fries, some frozen pre-made foods, and donuts.  It is easy to detect when a product has trans-fat.  Look at the product’s list of ingredients for a “partially hydrogenated oil” or “vegetable shortening.”   Beware, even if the nutrition facts panel states zero grams, a product is still allowed to contain trans-fat if there is 0.5 grams of less per serving.  Alas, no one eats one serving of chips, Skippy peanut butter or French fries, so the person is bound to consume more than 0.5 grams of trans-fat when eating these foods.  The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) goal for trans-fat intake is to consume zero grams per day, or as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.  In comparison, the average daily trans-fat intake for Americans is 5.8 grams per day!  If you are a biochemistry-dork like me, read more about the structure of trans-fat at the full engagement center.

Major food sources with trans-fats from USDA’s facts on fats

Introducing trans-fats

The structure of a trans-fat reveals why it affects our health so negatively.  Every cell in our body had a thin fat layer that acts as a container for all of the cellular contents.  The fat layer around these cells is called the lipid bilayer membrane.  The lipid bilayer consists of two types of fatty acids found in nature:

  1. Unsaturated fatty acids (plant fats)
  2. Saturated fatty acids (animal fats)

At room temperature, unsaturated fatty acids are liquid while saturated fatty acids are solid.  The lipid bilayer functions optimally when it has a liquid-like consistency, coming from unsaturated fatty acids.  Some of the lipid bilayer needs some saturated fatty acids to keep it intact.

As mentioned above, a trans-fat (i.e., trans-fatty acid) is a man-made fat whose goal is to keep fats rock solid.  The trans-fat has no place in the lipid bilayer since it packs molecules together, versus allowing fluids to move in and out.

What this means nutritionally…

To make sure cells remain healthy and intact, we must have the right balance of unsaturated and saturated fats in the diet.  We want to eat lots of unsaturated fatty acids (olive oil, canola oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and fish) some saturated fatty acids (butter, cheese, meats) and little to no trans-fatty acids (cakes, cookies, pies and the like).  An easy way to look at this is by thinking of a stop light and what the colors mean:

  • GO: Unsaturated Fats
  • SLOW: Saturated Fats
  • WHOA!: Trans Fats

What this means structurally…

And now, the fun stuff.

Fats are all made up of these long chains of carbons (they sort of look like this: C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C).  To attach the carbons together, the body makes bonds (depicted in my example above as hyphens between the C’s).  Those bonds can either be single bonds (C-C) or double bonds (C=C).

  • SATURATED (C-C-C-C): When carbon chains are connected by single bonds only, it is considered saturated (animal products: butter, cheese, meat).
  • MONO-UNSATURATED (C=C-C-C):  When carbon chains are connected by one double bond, but the rest are single bonds, it’s considered monounsaturated (plant products: olive oil, canola oil, avocado).
  • POLY-UNSATURATED (C=C-C=C): When there is more than one double bond in the carbon chain, it’s considered polyunsaturated (animals and plants: omega-6 & omega-3 fatty acids, found in flaxseeds, walnuts and fatty fish).

Trans-fat configuration

Double bonds reduce the number of hydrogens per carbon, causing the hydrogens to shift to one side.  With less hydrogens, the fat is “unsaturated” with hydrogens – making the fat liquid at room temperature (think: awesome for the bilipid membrane).  But…

What happens to this type of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acid under high pressures and temperatures is that the liquid vegetable oil becomes rock hard, mimicking the texture of saturated fats.  This is called partial hydrogenation.

Why did we decide to make trans-fats?

Saturated and unsaturated fats are more prone to becoming rancid when left for a long time at room temperature, which is why trans-fats were developed.  As well, vegetable oil is a lot cheaper than lard, butter, beef tallow – as a result, cheaper products that last for long periods of time could be manufactured to the public.

The technology of trans-fats allowed for food products to remain on the shelf for longer periods of time, since they’d be less likely to spoil.  It’s only recently (within the last 20 years) that trans-fat has been reevaluated and linked to terrible health effects.