Can Sweeteners Be Part Of A Healthy Diet?

Sugars; clockwise from top left: White refined, unrefined, brown, unprocessed cane

Sugars; clockwise from top left: White refined, unrefined, brown, unprocessed cane

Anyone who’s ever thought about what constitutes a healthy diet probably assumes it doesn’t include sugar. What about natural sweeteners, such as maple syrup, honey, and agave? Or stevia?  Is there a healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth? While the type of sweetener you choose to eat is important, even more crucial is the amount you eat. Here’s why too much sugar of any type in your diet can be harmful to your health.

One argument against sweeteners is simply that our bodies did not evolve to handle large amounts of concentrated sugars. Traditionally, the only sweet food we ate was fruit. The sugars in fruit are conveniently packaged with fiber, which slows the absorption of the sugar so that it doesn’t overwhelm our systems. Foods with added sugar (and refined carbohydrates that readily turn into sugar in our bodies) are so abundant these days — and, let’s face it, they taste really good — that most of us eat too much. But our bodies haven’t caught up to this new way of eating. For some, the extra load on the pancreas, the organ that controls blood sugar and fat storage, is enough to cause it to literally wear out, leading to insulin resistance and diabetes. In addition to having negative effects on your blood sugar, eating excess sugar can depress your immune system and promote chronic inflammation.

We also now know that carbohydrate intake from added sugars and refined carbohydrates is a more important contributor to heart disease than fat and cholesterol. Add that to the brain fog and energy highs and lows that can result from eating sugary foods, and we have good reason to be wary of added sweeteners.

What about artificial sweeteners? After all, they have zero calories and don’t raise your blood sugar. Well, there’s reason to be wary of these as well. Firstly, they’re artificial. If you’re following a whole-foods diet, these chemicals have no place. Secondly, new research is uncovering the darker side of artificial sweeteners. A recent study demonstrated that artificial sweeteners can negatively affect gut bacteria and cause glucose intolerance, the condition that precedes diabetes.

So what’s the bottom line? Does all this doom and gloom about sweeteners mean we have to give up our favorite desserts and snacks? No, I don’t think so. Sweets can still be a part of a healthy diet… in moderation, of course.

But moderation can be difficult when it comes to sweets. If you’re someone who finds it hard to get through a day without a sugary coffee drink, an afternoon candy bar, or dessert after dinner (or all three!), you might want to experiment with cutting back. I’ll talk about some ways to approach that challenge in a future blog post.

Sometimes awareness is enough to bring about a change for the better. Start by simply paying attention to the sources of added sugars in your daily diet. Refined white sugar or artificial sweeteners can be replaced with maple syrup, honey (especially from a local source), stevia, and agave. Zing Bars are sweetened with a small amount of agave – here is more about that.

We want to know – how do you make sweeteners a part of your healthy diet?


Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.

Health and Fitness Apps: Which One Is Best For You?

Young Woman Exercising on an Exercise Bike

Is your phone full of useless apps you’ve used once or twice? With over 43,000 health apps on the market (1), we’ve all tried our share of apps that over-promised and under-delivered.

The popularity of wearable trackers and health and fitness apps is growing at a rapid rate; consumers are offered a dizzying array of choices. So how do you find reliable apps that can actually help you achieve your goals? Start by asking these two questions:

1. What’s My Goal?

Are you sedentary and looking to start a walking program? Are you already active and training for a race? Or do you want to lose that extra 30 pounds once and for all? There are plenty of flashy apps that offer a lot of bells and whistles, but that doesn’t mean they’re more effective.

My best advice is this — keep it simple. Apps that offer too many features can be overwhelming and may distract you from the behaviors that really make a difference for lasting success. If your goal is weight loss, for example, choose a user-friendly app that allows you to keep a meal diary, track your workouts, and connect for social support. My favorite is Lose It! — this app has a huge nutrition database, a simple meal diary, a basic fitness tracker, and a friends feature. For running, I like RunKeeper — because usually all I need is my total time, pace, and distance, and the occasional workout idea. For meditation, I love Meditation Buddy — I set my time, choose a sound (like rain, beach, thunder, etc.), press play, and close my eyes.

2. Does Data Motivate Me?

Self-monitoring is a well-researched technique for successful behavior change. Some people love tracking weight or workout data; seeing the numbers move up, down, or hold steady can be very motivating; others hate it or just aren’t interested.  If data is your thing, you can get a device that syncs to an app with your workout stats like steps, distance, speed, heart rate, and more. I’ve been wearing a Fitbit for 3 years, and I love it — knowing where I stand with my daily steps really does get me up and moving on otherwise sedentary days.

I’ve also worked with clients who were obsessed with their fitness and weight loss data; they became distressed if they didn’t track one day or didn’t have access to the app — and paid more attention to the data than to their own feelings of energy, fatigue, hunger, and fullness. This is an example of data use that isn’t helpful — and isn’t sustainable.

If data isn’t your thing, look for an instructional app that guides you through workouts or offers health advice from a reputable source instead of tracking your every move.

App Appeal

The concept of having a personal trainer or meal diary in your pocket is what makes apps so enticing. But concepts don’t always translate well into practical, everyday use and lasting behavior change. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and what works for you. What health or fitness app is your fave, and why? We’d love to hear about it.


  1. Reynolds, A, Critically Evaluating Health Apps, ACSM’s Certified News, Volume 24, Issue 3, 2014


Beth Shepard thumbnail_2014Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.


How To Fuel Up For A Fantastic Workout

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

It’s 6 a.m. — time to pound out a run before work, but you haven’t eaten since that small bowl of cereal and milk at 8 p.m. A big breakfast won’t sit well, but you’re hungry. What should you do?

A lot of active people wonder what — if anything — they should eat before exercising. Many of them aren’t getting the nutrients they need for optimal performance and well-being.

Thankfully, the science of sports nutrition has a lot to say about pre-exercise fueling. Here are a few nuggets of truth to help you feel your best while getting the most out of every workout:

Exercising on an empty stomach doesn’t burn more fat. It turns out that you burn about the same amount of fat whether you eat first or not; but if you’re not adequately fueled, you won’t have the energy to work out as hard so you’ll gain less fitness and burn fewer calories. Plus, you could even lose muscle. In a nutshell, working out hungry is counterproductive on several levels.

Eating right every day is the best way to fuel for fitness. A diet rich in complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, along with lean protein sources and mono-and polyunsaturated fats is the foundation for your best fitness and sports performance. No matter what your pre-race or pre-workout meal consists of, you won’t perform optimally if the rest of your diet is full of junk food or lacking major nutrients.

Activity and timing matters. Longer or higher-intensity workouts require more fuel than shorter or lower-intensity workouts; and the more time before exercise, the more you can eat. For example, if your long-distance run is 3-4 hours from now, you can generally eat a normal meal, but make it heavier on carbs and lighter on fats to help ensure adequate digestion before you hit the pavement. If your workout is coming up sooner and will be less than 60-90 minutes, your meal should consist mainly of carbs for easy digestion. If you’re rolling out of bed and will be out the door in 10 minutes, choose a small, easily digestible snack like these:

  • A cup of applesauce and a slice of toast with jam
  • A leftover slice of thick-crust veggie pizza, light on cheese
  • A Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Zing Bar with a small banana
  • A raisin-bran muffin with a cup of orange juice
  • A blueberry-banana low-fat yogurt smoothie

Depending on individual differences, you may need to eat more or less than the examples shown. The general guideline is to eat or drink 2 calories of carbs per pound of body weight within 5-60 minutes before exercising (1). To convert carbohydrate calories to grams, divide carbohydrate calories by four. Example: for a 140 pound person, this means shoot for 70 grams of carbohydrates (140 x 2 = 280 carb calories. 280 divided by 4 = 70 grams of carbs). 

Streamlining your pre-workout fuel routine will give you the energy you need to achieve the level of performance you’re aiming for. Need help designing a meal plan that works for you? Meet with a registered dietitian specializing in sports nutrition.

We’re curious — what are your favorite go-to pre-workout or pre-competition snacks? Please share.

  1. ACSM, ADA, and Dietitians of Canada, 2009 – cited in Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 5th edition, 2014.

Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.

What Does A Busy Dietitian Eat? 7 Whole Foods Meal-Planning Tips


Creative Commons image Green Smoothie by Wild Tofu/Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0

As a busy dietitian with a full-time job and a few side gigs (like this blogpost!), it’s not always easy to maintain a whole foods diet. If I don’t plan ahead, I’m tempted to fall back on potentially less healthful and always more expensive meal options like coffee shop pastries or convenience foods. While I’m an enthusiastic proponent of giving in to indulgences occasionally, I find that planning ahead helps enormously to keep me on track. Here are some of my methods for guaranteeing that I’ll have something delicious and nourishing to eat throughout the week.

Plan & Prep on the Weekend. I take some time on the weekends to think ahead and decide what I’m going to need for the week. As you’ll see in the following tips, I also do a lot of prep for my breakfasts, lunches and snacks to save myself time in the morning when I’m getting ready for work.

Make it Last. I always make one or two dishes a week that will give me leftovers. I find that the best dish for this purpose is often a soup or stew, but making extra of almost any dish will work. If you don’t like leftovers (a common complaint from my clients), make something that tastes even better the next day like a spaghetti sauce or casserole. Or change the food completely so it doesn’t seem like leftovers, like serving leftover roast chicken shredded on top of a salad.

Make Breakfast Ahead. Breakfast is probably the hardest meal to focus on with a busy day ahead, so I make mine on the weekend. Oatmeal can be cooked in large batches, then reheated with a little milk or water. Try some of these topping options to keep it exciting from day to day. Hard-boiled eggs can also be cooked ahead (steaming is my new favorite method) and served with a piece of fruit and a whole grain muffin. Homemade breakfast bars can be made with whole foods (try some of these recipes), or keep some Zing bars on hand. Lastly, don’t rule out nontraditional breakfast foods. Have dinner leftovers for breakfast!

Salads are Easy and Versatile. On the weekend, I chop up a few heads of romaine lettuce and keep them stored in the fridge in a plastic bag with a paper towel, which keeps the lettuce crisp. To build my salad, I add more fresh or cooked vegetables and a protein, such as cooked beans, leftover chicken, canned tuna, chopped hard-boiled egg, or nuts/seeds. With my homemade balsamic vinaigrette on the side (recipe below), it’s a portable and well-rounded meal.

Think Outside the Box. Keep your mind open to odd food combinations. My lunch the other day was a hard-boiled egg, some peanut-butter filled pretzels, and a salad made with leftover steamed snap peas, steamed beet and cucumber chopped up and dressed with balsamic dressing. Try for a ratio of 25% protein, 50% vegetables (can include some fruit), and 25% whole grains, and include a source of healthy fat.

Whole Foods Smoothies. My favorite smoothie is made with ¾ cup plain whole milk kefir, a small banana, ¼ avocado, ¾ cup frozen fruit and a tablespoon of chia seeds. The variations for whole foods smoothies are endless. You can also add greens, nuts or nut butters, or yogurt. Always add a source of protein and fat to avoid blood sugar highs and lows.

Keep Frozen Fruits and Vegetables Handy. Research has shown that frozen fruits and vegetables are often higher in nutrients than fresh produce (unless it comes from your own garden). And they’re mighty convenient since they don’t go bad and you can use only what you need.

Do you have a meal-planning strategy that keeps you on track during your hectic workweek? We’d love to hear from you!


Carol’s Balsamic Vinaigrette

The recipe below makes about 3 cups of dressing. It sounds like a lot of salt, but since a serving size is only 1-2 tablespoons of dressing, the end result is perfectly seasoned.

1 cup balsamic vinegar

A splash of red wine vinegar (optional)

1-2 tablespoons salt (may need up to 3 tablespoons if using kosher salt)

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil

Combine the vinegars in a small bowl. Add enough salt to the vinegar so it tastes too salty (make sure the salt has completely dissolved before tasting). Add minced garlic to the mixture and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes.

Pour vinegar mixture into a blender. Add the mustard. Set the blender on high and drizzle in the olive oil slowly. After adding about ¼ cup of olive oil, add olive oil more quickly. Continue to add olive oil until dressing has thickened to desired consistency. Dressing can also be whisked by hand in a large bowl.

Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.

5 Fun Ways To Get A Move On This Summer

Photo By HuttyMcphoo, via Wikimedia Commons

I gutted it out on my run today; I deserve this extra scoop of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream.” Sound familiar? Using exercise as a license to indulge — or to eat with abandon — is very common. And, yes — I do it too, sometimes.

After a hard, sweaty workout, it feels natural to reach for a treat — or, as researchers call them, “hedonic snacks.” We want to reward ourselves for big efforts, whether it’s cracking open a cold beer or enjoying some chocolate-y goodness. We’ve earned it, right?

Maybe… I mean, all work and no play is no way to live. But if your goal is weight loss or maintenance, excessive post-exercise snacking — or choosing less nutritious snacks — could frustrate your efforts. A trio of recent studies sheds light on how to turn things around.

  • Subjects were told to complete a 1-mile walk; for fun, or to listen to music and rate the quality of it along the way. Those who completed the walk framed as “fun” ate less dessert than the other subjects.
  • Researchers sent another group of subjects out on a walk, described as sightseeing to one group, or with a task to complete. As a reward, they were given small bags to fill with as many M&Ms as they wanted. Guess who took more candy? The subjects whose walk was framed as a task.
  • Finally, runners completing a marathon relay were asked to rate their levels of enjoyment during the race. Those who had more fun chose a healthier post-race snack compared to those who rated the race as unpleasant.

Researchers concluded that when we think of exercise as… exercise instead of something fun, we tend to feel a need to reward ourselves with a pleasurable snack. But if we actually enjoy being active, we’re far less inclined to reach for the treats — or we eat less of them.

You already know that simply getting to do your favorite things is rewarding.  That’s the key — finding a handful of sports or fitness activities that are just plain fun for you. Here’s a short list of my summer faves:

Double Nut Brownie will be your new guilt-free chocolate treat

Choose a Zing bar for a nutritious snack!

  1. Day hiking. Nothing beats getting out into the mountains, soaking up the glorious greens and blues, and climbing past waterfalls, alpine meadows, and other soul-stirring scenery.
  2. Kayaking. Paddling along just on top of the water makes me feel like a low-flying bird.
  3. Water activities. Indoors or outdoors, getting wet brings out the kid in me — even during a hard-core lap-swim.
  4. Dancing. Whether I’m busting a move to Beyoncé in my kitchen, or doing the foxtrot with my husband, getting my groove on NEVER feels like exercise to me.
  5. Trail walking. My family loves to go down to the local trail for leisurely after-dinner walks. Hanging out together in a natural setting, visiting, and spotting blue herons and bald eagles is a fun way to enjoy beautiful summer evenings.

What types of sports or fitness activities you enjoy most, and what do you love about them? We’d love to hear from you.


Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.

Go Nuts for Good Health

Photo courtesy of Steffen Zahn

Nuts make a regular appearance here on the Zing blog… and for good reason. We’ve written about how eating nuts can potentially increase your life span and decrease inflammation. Research from five different large studies shows that eating nuts regularly can dramatically cut your risk of having a heart attack. Newer research is pointing to a positive effect on blood sugar that may help to prevent the development of Type II diabetes.

Nuts are a complex food, rich in protein, fiber, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E and trace minerals, and a whole host of phytonutrients (or plant compounds) — this combination of nutrients explains in part the many health benefits of eating nuts. 

  • Protein, fat and fiber digest slowly, ensuring that you feel full for longer and preventing blood sugar peaks and valleys.
  • The fats in nuts are about 62% monounsaturated, the type of fat that supports healthy cholesterol levels. Nuts also contain plant sterols, which also help lower your cholesterol. Many nuts, especially walnuts, contain omega 3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and good for your brain.
  • Fiber supports bowel health, feeds your gut bacteria, and lowers cholesterol.
  • Vitamins (vitamin E, folate, niacin, vitamin B6) and minerals (selenium, magnesium, calcium, potassium) support healthy cell function and may also have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory or anti-carcinogenic properties.

 Here are some nutty ideas for including more nuts in your diet:

  • Zing bars are made with a nut butter base, ensuring a satisfying dose of protein, heart-healthy fats and fiber. They make a tasty and portable hunger-busting snack.
  • Top oatmeal or yogurt with chopped walnuts or pistachios.
  • Put some crunch in a salad by adding slivered almonds.
  • Use cashews in a smoothie in place of protein powder (when blended, cashews become creamy). The protein and fat from the cashews will balance out the carbs from the fruit.
  • Blended cashews can also be added to soups to make a vegetarian “cream” soup. Here’s one recipe to try: Sweet Potato, Corn and Kale Chowder.
  • Keep a small container of your favorite nuts, or mixture of nuts, in a desk drawer to get you through a long afternoon at work.



  • Nuts for Nuts?
  • Eating Nuts May Help Pause Path to Type 2 Diabetes. Medscape. May 30, 2014
  • Nuts and health outcomes: new epidemiologic evidence. Am J Clin Nutr. May 2009; 89(5), 1643S-1648S.
  • Health Benefits of Nut Consumption. Nutrients. Jul 2010; 2(7): 652–682.
Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.

Summer Travel Plans? Remember To Pack Some Healthy Snacks!

Photo by Nicholas from Pennsylvania, USA (Environs), via Wikimedia Commons

Summer has arrived, and chances are you’re heading out of town for some fun and relaxation. Vacations are a great time to get away from it all, but that doesn’t mean you have to take a break from all of your healthy habits! Whether you’re sightseeing, shopping, or lying on the beach or poolside, going on a road trip or flying to your destination, you want to keep your energy level up so you can optimize your fun time. Bringing along some water and a few easy, healthy snacks will keep you hydrated and help you maintain steady blood sugar levels, keeping you off of the blood sugar roller coaster and feeling good. So when you’re packing your bags, include some food! Here are a few ideas:

  1. Zing Bars. Easy to toss in your carry-on, backpack, or purse, just unwrap and enjoy when hunger strikes. You know you’ll be getting a perfect balance of slow-digesting carbs, protein, and healthy fats to keep you going. Gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, or vegan? We’ve got you covered. Have you tried the Dark Chocolate Sunflower Mint or Coconut Cashew Crisp? Yum!
  2. Trail Mix. Of course you can buy trail mix, but making your own mix is fun and easy, especially if your grocery store has a good bulk food section. Read the ingredients listed on the bulk bins, and choose raw nuts and seeds, and unsweetened dried fruit (or sweetened with fruit juice) without additives like vegetable oil and sulfur dioxide.
  3. Toasted coconut flakes. Look for a product with just ‘coconut’ in the ingredients. A delicious snack on its own, and also a great addition to your homemade trail mix!
  4. Nut Butter and dried figs. When hunger strikes, you’ll be happy to grab some dried figs and a squeeze pack of almond or peanut butter from your snack bag. A delicious, satisfying combination.
  5. Jerky. A very portable source of protein. Look for jerky made from grass-fed or pastured animals that is minimally processed, without added preservatives or MSG. Or, you can make your own – here’s a recipe that uses ground beef, a cheaper alternative to other cuts of beef.
  6. Roasted Chick Peas. A portable source of vegetarian protein; roasting chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) is easy and delicious. Here are 15 Ways To Flavor Roasted Chickpeas.

 If you can bring a small cooler with you on your trip, consider:

  • Roll-ups. Such a versatile snack (or mini-meal), and easy to eat on the go. For the wrapper, use a whole-wheat or gluten-free tortilla, collard greens, or quality deli meat slices (cut thicker). Spread some hummus or pesto on the wrapper, add your favorite fillings (i.e. avocado, shredded carrot, zucchini, radishes, apples, spinach, cheese, black or pinto beans, etc.) and roll up.
  • Cut-up carrots, cucumber, bell peppers, celery, snap peas, and cherry tomatoes
  • Slices of watermelon and cantaloupe
  • Cheese and whole grain crackers

What are some of your favorite easy travel snacks? We’d love to hear your ideas!


Above photo attribution: By Nicholas from Pennsylvania, USA (Environs) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Erin Hugus, MS, CN has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health. She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.




How To Make Fats A Part Of Your Healthy Diet


Zing Bars contain heart-healthy fats from nut butter.

The latest research on dietary fat suggests that saturated fat may not be at the root of heart disease after all. Dietary cholesterol is being examined more closely as well. While most people would be happy to jump on the butter, lard, bacon and steak bandwagon, experts are still arguing about which fats are good and which are bad, and how much of each kind we should be eating every day. Given the necessarily slow pace of good research, we probably won’t have the definitive answer to that question for quite some time. Unfortunately, this leaves most of us a little confused about how to make fats a part of a healthy diet.

Here’s what we currently know about the different types of dietary fats:

Trans Fatty Acids (aka Trans Fats)

Found in many commercial baked goods and fried foods, trans fats are one fat that experts universally agree are bad for humans. Trans fats raise your LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and lower your beneficial HDL cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease. To identify foods that contain trans fats, read the label and look for “partially hydrogenated” oils. Even if the front of the package or the nutrition label says, “No trans fats,” the product may still contain small amounts, so read the ingredient list and don’t buy foods containing partially hydrogenated oils.

Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs)

These are a little trickier because some PUFAs are better than others. This group includes both omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-6 fatty acids are mostly found in vegetable and seed oils such as soybean, corn and safflower oils. These oils are widely used in restaurant food, especially fast food, and in packaged foods. Vegetable oils have the veneer of good health because they’re made from plants; however, these oils are usually highly refined, and a recent study showed that even though they lowered the harmful LDL cholesterol, they actually increased the risk of heart disease. This may be because these fatty acids lower healthy HDL cholesterol along with the LDL. Omega-6’s are also pro-inflammatory, contributing to chronic disease and accelerated aging. Avoid polyunsaturated oils as much as possible, and get omega-6’s only from whole foods sources such as nuts and seeds (since we do need some omega-6s in our diets).

On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids are known to be anti-inflammatory, and they raise HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL and triglycerides, all good news for heart health. Omega 3s are famously found in fish, but also can be found in plant foods such as flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds. Grass-fed meats and poultry, as well as eggs and dairy from grass-fed cows, are also known to be higher in omega-3s than their feedlot counterparts. Eat at least one source of omega-3s per day.

Monounsaturated Fats (MUFAs)

Monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy, lowering lethal LDL and raising healthy HDL. These fats are found in a variety of both plant and animal foods, with olives, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds the best plant-based sources. Make monounsaturated fats the main source of fat in your diet to support good health and longevity.

Saturated Fat

For the past 30 years or so, the advice has been to reduce the amount of saturated fat in our diets to avoid heart disease. This latest study and other recent articles suggest saturated fat may not be so bad, and it could be that refined carbohydrates from flour and sugar are of more concern than saturated fats when it comes to heart health. Saturated fats are found in animal sources such as chicken, beef, lamb, pork, eggs and dairy, but are also found in coconut oil and palm oil.


Many people will be surprised to hear that cholesterol from food accounts for only about 15% of the cholesterol circulating in the blood. The cholesterol in the blood is mostly produced by the liver, and is used to make hormones and vitamin D. Keeping serum cholesterol in a healthy range is important for heart health, but the best dietary approach to doing that is to cut back on refined carbohydrates from sugar and flour, and avoid trans fats and PUFAs to lower LDL and raise HDL.

So how do you optimize the balance of fats in your diet?

  1. Avoid trans fats altogether.
  2. Avoid highly refined vegetable oils such as soybean, safflower, and corn.
  3. Focus on quality sources of saturated fat, such as from grass-fed cows, pastured chickens and organic, virgin coconut oil. Minimize saturated fat from conventionally-raised animals.
  4. Eat olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts and seeds for their monounsaturated fats and omega-6 fats.
  5. Include sources of omega-3 fats such as fatty fish, walnuts, and flax seeds in your diet daily.

The Mediterranean diet, a diet rich in monounsaturated fats from olive oil and nuts, is still thought to be the hands-down best diet for disease prevention. This diet focuses on whole (unprocessed) foods, and is high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, protein mainly from poultry, fish, beans and nuts, and whole grains. It’s also very low in sugary foods, as well as foods that can be converted by the body into sugar, such as refined carbohydrates from pasta, bread, pastries (and other foods made from refined flour).

Additional resources:

Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.

5 Ways To Spring Clean Your Healthy Lifestyle

Do longer days and flowers in bloom inspire you to do some spring cleaning? With a new season, many people feel an urge to press the reset button — and clean, reorganize, and get things back on track. It’s easy to let healthy habits slide during the dark days of winter. Spring is the perfect time to shine a light on day-to-day routines, clear out the clutter, and freshen up your healthy lifestyle.

Sit Less, Move More

The verdict is in on too much sitting — and it isn’t pretty. Even if you get the recommended amount of cardio and strength training, you’re still at increased risk for a variety of unpleasant conditions if you sit too much.

Here’s the good news — breaking up extended periods of sitting by walking to the copier or restroom, or standing up makes a big difference. Program an alert into your calendar, or download a timer app — like UltraTimer —and schedule brief movement breaks throughout the day. At home, watch a movie over several days instead of all at once, or take several breaks to walk or run through the house, step outside, or pound out a few pushups.

Purge Your Pantry

Set yourself up for healthful spring eating by getting rid of less-nutritious fare lurking in your fridge and cupboards. Out with chips, sugary treats, and other energy-draining, stress-boosting, highly-processed foods. In with fruits and veggies — fresh, frozen or canned. When you need a little snack to stave off hunger before bed, you’re less likely to reach for the junk if it’s not around. Re-discover how satisfying a serving of unsweetened applesauce or a handful of sugar snap peas can be.

Get More Zzzzs

According to Dr. Mike Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic, “Sleep is the most underrated health habit.” It can make or break your health, quality of life, and even job performance. So if you’re doing too much daytime yawning, improve your sleep hygiene. If that doesn’t help, talk to your healthcare provider to rule out — or treat — any sleep disorders. Getting enough sleep can make a world of difference between feeling frazzled and being your energetic best.

Schedule Preventive Care

Take 15 minutes to schedule routine visits for the year. Not sure what you need? Call your medical or dental clinic and ask. Getting these visits on your calendar gets you one step closer to getting the care you need to protect the quality of life you enjoy.

Enjoy a Hobby

Do you lose track of time when you’re fishing — or gardening, or restoring antique furniture? If you’ve put your favorite pastimes on the back burner, dive in again. Or, if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, give it a whirl. Spending time on things you want to do — unrelated to work— is vitally important for relaxation, stress reduction, and creativity. Playing the piano and sewing leave me exhausted… and refreshed at the same time; these activities require so much concentration that my brain gets a break from the constant chatter of my everyday thought stream.

Are you seasonally inspired to streamline your healthy lifestyle? We’d love to hear what you’re doing to breathe new energy into your health habits.

Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.


4 Common Misconceptions About Gluten

We are already halfway through Celiac Disease Awareness Month! The past decade or so has seen quite an upswing in awareness of celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, and certainly more and more people are choosing to eat a GF diet for reasons other than a diagnosis of CD – perhaps they feel better when they cut out gluten, maybe they heard that going GF can help with weight loss, or they are doing it to support a family member who is GF. Despite the popularity of the GF diet – or maybe because of the popularity – certain misconceptions about gluten are pretty common. Here are 4 things you may have heard about gluten that aren’t necessarily true:

  1.  If it’s gluten-free, it’s healthy. According to a 2012 consumer survey by Packaged Facts, 18% of adults are buying or consuming packaged foods that are labeled GF and the number one reason given for doing so is the belief that GF products are generally healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts. But many GF packaged foods contain just as much sugar, refined flour (such as rice flour), unhealthy fats, and other fillers. Check the ingredient lists on GF packaged foods before you buy. Focus on foods that are naturally GF, such as fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and GF whole grains such as quinoa. Zing bars are a great example of a healthy on-the-go GF option with a nice balance of protein, healthy fat, and fiber.
  2. Cutting out gluten will automatically help you lose weight. As with any diet, weight loss depends mainly on the amount of calories consumed. Consuming too much of the foods that naturally contain gluten can lead to weight gain, but this is also true of GF foods – eating large portions of wheat pasta will have the same effect on weight gain as eating large portions of GF brown rice pasta. In general – GF or not – eating a diet with a good balance of protein, healthy fats, and fiber that is low in (or free from) sugar and refined carbs is your best bet for weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight.
  3. Rice and potatoes contain gluten. This really comes down to the question, “What exactly is gluten?”  Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro), barley, rye, and triticale. Rice and potatoes are naturally gluten-free foods.
  4.  My diet is 100% gluten-free. Many people think they are eating a completely GF diet because they’ve cut out wheat bread, pasta, and crackers. But often they haven’t thought of additional less-obvious sources of gluten such as soy sauce and other condiments, additives and hidden ingredients in packaged foods and in certain prescription medications, and a big issue – cross-contamination. Cross-contamination happens in restaurants and food manufacturers without dedicated GF facilities and procedures, and is also common in home kitchens. Oats do not naturally contain gluten, but are often contaminated with gluten during processing, so buy certified GF oats. This can also be the case with millet and buckwheat groats. 

Making sense of the sometimes conflicting information about gluten can be overwhelming, and most definitely can make the transition to a GF lifestyle even more of a challenge. A nutritionist or healthcare practitioner who is knowledgeable about the GF diet can help guide you through the transition and help to ensure you’re getting optimal nutrients through a balanced GF diet. Here are a few helpful resources from the web:

  1. National Foundation for Celiac Awareness – getting started and information about certified GF product testing
  2. Gluten Intolerance Group Educational Bulletins
  3. Nourishing Meals blog – Delicious allergen-free, whole food recipes

Have you read or heard something about gluten that is conflicting or confusing? We want to know!

Erin Hugus, MS, CN has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health. She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.