5 Ways To Combat Seasonal Allergy Symptoms With Food

Spring has arrived! As invigorating as it is to see the world bursting into bloom, for some of us spring fever and hay fever go hand in hand. But allergy medications can be counterproductive, drying out the mucus membranes, working against the body’s desire to flush away the allergens, and causing unwanted side effects like drowsiness. This year, try these dietary approaches to managing environmental allergies.  

1. Limit foods that contain histamines.  When you experience allergy symptoms — runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes — you are reacting to histamines, which are released in your body in response to allergens. This is why people take anti-histamines to control allergies. Some foods naturally contain histamines, so limiting these foods during peak allergy times could help keep symptoms at a minimum. Some of the worst offenders are alcohol, aged cheeses, fermented foods, and processed meats. 

2. Get enough omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids in foods like salmon, sardines, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are anti-inflammatory and can help quench some of the inflammation triggered by seasonal allergies. To get enough omega-3s, eat salmon or other omega-3 rich fish three times a week, or take a daily fish oil supplement. Chia seeds are an economical vegetarian alternative to fish, and add protein and crunch to smoothies, hot cereals, salads or baked goods. Try this recipe for chia seed pudding. 

3. Eat foods that contain quercetin.  Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that blocks the release of histamines. It can be found in citrus fruits, garlic, parsley, apples, broccoli, tea, and dark berries (blackberries, blueberries). For the best chance against seasonal allergies, eat quercetin-rich foods year-round. 

4. Load up on antioxidant-rich foods.  Antioxidants from fruits and vegetables are a triple threat to seasonal allergies: they boost the immune system, protect cells against damage, and have anti-inflammatory properties that can help control reactions to allergens. Vitamin C, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, citrus fruits, red and green bell peppers and strawberries, has anti-histamine properties in addition to being a powerful antioxidant. Throughout the year, but especially during allergy season, make sure to eat your five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day. 

5. Spice it up!  In addition to adding loads of flavor to meals, spicy foods like onions, garlic, horseradish, chili peppers, and ginger are your allies in the battle against allergies. These foods are anti-inflammatory, calming the body’s overreaction to allergens. Some of these foods also help thin the mucus to alleviate nasal and sinus congestion.  

One more thing: blowing your nose and sneezing a lot can be dehydrating, so drink more fluids than usual when you’re having an allergy attack. If you have a juicer, try this immune booster shot. Warm liquids like the infusion below can soothe the throat and ease sinus congestion.  

Soothing Lemon Ginger Infusion

Ingredients:

  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • large knob of ginger (about 1 ½ inches long)
  • Honey to taste
  • Optional: Pinch of cayenne pepper

Directions:

  1. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil.
  2. Add several slices of ginger (I use 4-5 slices) to the water.
  3. Simmer 10-20 minutes. The ginger flavor will be stronger and spicier the longer you cook it.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Add lemon juice. Sweeten with honey to taste and add a dash of cayenne pepper if you like.

Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 4-5 days. Reheat gently but do not boil as this will “kill off” some of the vitamin C.

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.

 

 

Stressed Out? Try Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

photo credit: Alan Cleaver

So many people — clients, co-workers, family, friends —say they’re under too much stress. Are you?

According to the APA’s 2013 Stress in America survey, 42% of adults say their stress has increased over the past 5 years. Managing stress is vital to well-being, and a critical part of any behavior change attempt. I’ve seen many people stumble in weight-loss, physical activity, or tobacco cessation attempts during times of high stress. I coach my clients to try a variety of techniques to reduce stress, and develop personal tool kits to keep stress at manageable levels.

Last year, I added a new tool to my own kit.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has been around for ages, but in my opinion, it always sounded a little nebulous. Meditation, yoga, breathing, — all good; just a little too sandals-and-candles for me.

But research about the health benefits of MBSR became very compelling — reduced blood pressure, inflammation, and chronic pain; decreased anxiety and depression; the list goes on.

And then both my kids became teenagers. So, last spring I immersed myself in an 8-week MBSR class at a local hospital, hoping to reduce my own stress — and to share new insights with my clients.

Each class opened and closed with a seated meditation, during which Dr. W. — a neurologist — guided us through breathing and body awareness, soothing thoughts, and brief poetry selections. He assured us that getting distracted is normal — and to simply return to the breath whenever that happened. We learned a body scan, basic yoga poses, and walking meditations, and were instructed to see what we liked best — and build a personal meditation practice of 45-60 minutes a day by the end of the course.

 

photo credit: Steve Hardy

Dr. W. taught us that the mind is like a river full of thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness is like standing on the riverbank and observing the thoughts and emotions as they float by instead of getting carried away with them; choosing which ones to respond to instead of reacting to everything we think and feel. We learned about how the body, thoughts, and emotions all influence each other. Mindful awareness of these processes enabled us to intentionally respond to them in ways that reduced stress.

Each week, we were assigned daily meditation homework. Halfway through the course, my family noticed I was in a better mood and more calm. They became oddly cooperative in granting me as much undisturbed meditation practice as I needed. My classmates reported big reductions in blood pressure, anger, family conflict, and need for pain medications.

For me, self-compassion has been my biggest reward. Like many, I can be pretty hard on myself — expecting too much and being too quick to judge and criticize. Practicing MBSR has helped me to treat myself — and others — with more kindness and acceptance, and that works wonders for my stress level and sense of well-being.

I wholeheartedly endorse MBSR as a way to cope with stress and enhance your quality of life. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s definitely worth exploring. I’m not meditating every day — but I’m working on it. And that’s OK.

I learned more from my class than I can share in a blog post, but I encourage you to learn more on your own. If you’re already practicing MBSR, we’d love to hear what it’s doing for you.

May you feel joy; may you be at peace; may you be well.

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. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard

Why Eating Breakfast Is A Good Idea

Photo courtesy of Pen Waggener

How much truth is there to the saying, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? The most commonly held belief about breakfast is that it can promote weight loss by preventing overeating later in the day. Recently, however, research is questioning this assumption and showing that eating breakfast may not be the key to losing weight, after all. But even though the jury’s still out on breakfast and weight loss, other studies show that eating breakfast regularly can enhance alertness and concentration, stabilize blood sugar throughout the day, and improve your heart health.

The most common reason I hear from people who don’t eat breakfast is, “I’m just not hungry.” Let’s look at why that might be true. The first meal of the day is literally the meal that “breaks” your overnight fast. While you sleep, your body uses less energy than when you’re awake and active. To get you started again in the morning, your adrenal glands produce the hormone cortisol, which signals the body to wake up by stimulating the release of glucose (sugar) to give you an energy boost. Initially, this may also be suppressing your natural hunger.

While this is a handy way of getting going in the morning, here’s why you don’t want to rely on cortisol to keep you fueled throughout the morning. Cortisol is a hormone that is usually released in response to stress. Without some nourishment first thing in the morning to provide fresh fuel for your body and to signal cortisol levels to drop again, cortisol and glucose continue to be released into the blood. Continuous high levels of cortisol in the body mimic stressful conditions and can cause elevated blood pressure and increased abdominal fat, among other things. Over prolonged periods, this can contribute to weight gain, obesity and even the development of diabetes and heart disease.

So how do you put together a quick, balanced breakfast that will sustain you throughout your busy morning without weighing you down?

  • A good breakfast should have protein as the star, with a side of fiber-rich carbs from fresh fruit, vegetables and/or whole grains. This formula works whether you are an omnivore, a vegetarian, a paleo diet follower, gluten-free, lactose intolerant, and so on. Good protein sources are yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, or meat. Protein (and fat, which usually comes along with your protein) takes longer to digest, so it keeps you feeling satisfied for longer.
  • Avoid refined, sugary breakfast options like sweetened cereals, pastries and sweet coffee drinks because these will cause blood sugar spikes and dips that will leave you feeling tired and irritable. More importantly, these foods don’t give you any real nutrition, so they also leave you hankering for more. The combination of tiredness, irritability and hunger inevitably leads to poor food choices later on in the day.

Try these tasty breakfast ideas:

  • Quesadilla made with whole wheat or corn tortilla, cheddar cheese and thinly sliced apples
  • Turkey roll-up with hummus and sliced red peppers
  • Scrambled eggs on sautéed greens (spinach, kale or chard)
  • Smoothie made from whole foods (4 ounces plain kefir, ½ banana, 1 cup frozen berries, ¼ avocado, 1 tablespoon chia seeds)

If breakfast is not already part of your morning routine, getting into the habit may be tough at first. Start with small portions and build up to regular-size portions. Or stick with a small but balanced breakfast and make sure you have a small but balanced snack mid-morning.

Remember that some of the benefits of a healthy breakfast can be lost if you are eating on the run, no matter what you are eating, because being relaxed is important for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. Take a few extra minutes in the morning to prepare and enjoy a healthy breakfast, and you’ll soon feel the benefits.

 

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.

Get Fit At Any Age To Reap Big Rewards

photo courtesy of www.cienpies.net

Have you ever wondered: What’s the point of getting fit at my age? I’ve been sedentary for years…would regular exercise really make that much of a difference in my health now? Is it worth the effort?

Thankfully, more research is confirming the payoffs of exercise at any age.  Even if you’re 55+ and starting from scratch, making exercise a part of your routine offers a wealth of physical, mental, and quality of life benefits both now and in the years to come. In fact, a large study of British men and women found that in terms of healthy aging, those who began exercising in mid-life fared nearly as well as those who had been physically active all along. Wow.

Another exciting study links just 6 months of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise training, 3 times a week with significantly increased brain volume in previously sedentary older adults. These results suggest a loss of brain volume — and, consequently, function — may be related more to a decrease in physical activity with age rather than age itself. Becoming and staying active not only protects and preserves the brain, but can restore it as well.

Get Moving

Are you ready to enhance your well-being and start aging well? Follow these steps for starting or re-starting an exercise program:

  1. Get cleared. Visit your health care provider to talk about your fitness plan. Specifically ask which types of exercise to avoid, if any — and if there are any specific safety precautions you should follow.
  2. Choose cardio. There are many good reasons to do strength training, but both of the studies mentioned here focused on the benefits of cardiovascular exercise — large group, rhythmic activities like walking, running, biking, swimming, elliptical, rowing, and some group fitness formats like water, cycling, step, and vigorous dance workouts.
  3. Start slow. Start with what you can comfortably manage, and gradually work towards an initial goal of 30 minutes, 5 times a week. Increase your total time or mileage by no more than 10% per week.
  4. Pace yourself. Move at a moderate (brisk) pace that allows you to talk comfortably — around 11-13 on the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale. As your fitness level increases, you’ll be able to handle higher intensities.
  5. Enjoy. Boost your odds of sticking with it by finding activities you enjoy; better yet, make it social. A brisk walk with a co-worker at lunchtime or an after-dinner bike ride with your spouse or partner makes the time fly by — and gives you an extra measure of accountability and support.

Studies like these are the reason I’m an unrelenting advocate for exercise at any age  — just ask my parents. The science also pushes my husband and I to run or walk even when we don’t feel like it — first, because exercise gives us the energy and good health to enjoy life now, and secondly, because we want to enjoy a good quality of life in retirement. Staying healthy via exercise is something we have control over, so it’s a high priority.

Are you on track to enjoy the health-related quality of life you aspire to —now… and in your later years? If not, make a commitment to regular exercise today. Yes, it will make a huge difference. And, yes — it’s definitely worth the effort.

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. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard

Staying Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

Photo credit Arlington County

Cold and flu season is in full swing, and hopefully you’ve managed to avoid getting sick. A quick internet search brings up plenty of tips for preventing and treating the common cold.  So what is the best remedy for fighting a cold?  According to Dr. Orli R. Etingin, founder and medical director of the Iris Cantor Women’s Health Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, the best remedy is effective prevention:

The viruses that usually cause the common cold are spread by touching virus-laden skin or surfaces or by inhaling airborne drops of mucus.

“Current theory is that the cold is more common in winter months because there is less ventilation of common spaces, allowing for increased spread of infection,” Dr. Etingin said. “Holiday airplane travel is an almost certain way to increase one’s risk of a cold.”

If prevention fails, she said, symptoms can be treated. Congestion, low-grade fever and nasal discharge resulting from inflammation of the respiratory tract are most effectively addressed with rest and 60 to 80 ounces of fluids a day.

In addition to getting plenty of rest and drinking fluids, here are a few more common-sense tips for staying well and relieving symptoms:

  • Wash your hands.  Knowing the cold virus is spread by touching infected skin or surfaces, it makes sense that frequent hand washing is an effective preventive measure.  Keeping hands away from your nose and eyes can help too.
  • Use warm steam to ease congestion.  Steam from a humidifier or a hot shower helps keep mucus membranes moist.  You can also add very hot water to a large bowl, place a towel over your head, and carefully inhale the steam to relieve congestion and sinus pressure.
  • Use a neti pot to help flush mucus from your nasal cavity.
  • Boost your immune system by finding ways to alleviate stress and eating foods that help fight inflammation.  Cook with immune-boosting foods such as ginger and garlic.  Supplementing with certain botanicals such as astragalus, Echinacea, Siberian ginseng, and Elder flower can also be helpful.

How do you stay well during cold and flu season?  What’s your best remedy?  Let us know!

3 Signs Your New Diet Plan Won’t Stick

Photo credit Alan Cleaver

There’s something about January 1st that makes people ignore safe and sane nutrition advice in a desperate attempt to finally lose those extra pounds. But for most people, the “new year, new you” diet and exercise wave comes crashing down pretty quickly.

It’s not for lack of effort, or because their motivation isn’t genuine; it’s usually because they’ve fallen prey to marketing schemes and are going about it all wrong. If your goal is sustainable weight loss for good health, make sure your strategy is on target. Here’s how to tell if your diet plan is taking you down the wrong path:

  1. It doesn’t allow for flexibility. If you’re following a rigid meal plan that doesn’t bend with your preferences or circumstances, it’s only a matter of time before you kiss the whole thing goodbye. We all need a certain level of autonomy in our work and personal lives; what if you don’t feel like eating a scoop of cottage cheese and half a pear for breakfast? What if you just ran 4 miles and are hungry for a whole-grain English muffin with raspberry jam, scrambled eggs, and a banana? Following a cookie-cutter diet plan that doesn’t take your needs, preferences, and activity level into account is setting yourself up for frustration and failure.
  2. It completely eliminates an entire food group. You’ve seen them— diets that promise amazing results, but insist on no white foods. Or no grains. Or no fruits. These are big red flags — because for normal functioning and good health, the human body requires a balanced, colorful diet that includes a variety of choices from all food groups; you can’t completely cut out a food group without robbing your body of important macro and micronutrients needed for health and well-being.
  3. It forces you to eat meals from a box. Diets based on pre-packaged meal plans are designed to do one thing — make money. Helping you lose weight and keep it off? Not so much. Boxed meals contain processed foods; even those advertised as “lite” can contain excessive amounts of sodium and fat — and may be dismally low in fiber — but because the portion is small, it may be low in calories.  Eating packaged meals doesn’t help you learn to choose or prepare healthful meals, and doesn’t help you learn to eat appropriate portions; it simply teaches you to eat what’s in the box.

The sheer number of diet plans on the market is alarming, because most people could benefit from simply getting back to basics — exercising regularly, honoring body signals of hunger vs. fullness, learning to cook healthful meals, and coping with stress and emotions in positive ways that don’t involve food.

To achieve and maintain your weight goal, your best bet is to meet with a registered dietitian for a personalized plan you can live with. If you prefer to pursue weight loss on your own, choose wisely — and be on the alert for red flags.

 

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. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard

3 Factors That Can Make or Break Your Fitness Routine

Photo credit: Benjamin J DeLong

Ask anyone who’s worked out regularly for years, and they’ll tell you it takes effort, planning, and flexibility to make exercise a lifelong habit. Paying attention to key factors that influence your motivation to exercise is also essential.

Whether you’re a fitness newbie, an exercise enthusiast, or a competitive athlete, set yourself up for long-term success by considering these three questions:

Where do you exercise?

Being physically active in the presence of nature — near a forest or park, or alongside a lake or river — offers mood-boosting, stress-reducing benefits beyond those experienced with indoor exercise. And here’s the bonus – undergoing green exercise also makes you more likely to work out again. Don’t get me wrong; indoor exercise still offer tons of well-being perks; but I encourage you to work some outdoor walking, biking, hiking, and other activities into your weekly mix. And if you use home exercise equipment, place it in a cheerful part of your home, preferably next to a window; not in a dark, cluttered basement. Please.

Who do you exercise with?

Do you like to sweat it out on your own, or do you prefer working out with a friend or family member? If your dedication wavers with the weather, exercising with a partner or two offers distinct advantages. The power of social support is proven; hanging out with others who make physical activity a top priority reinforces your own commitment. The camaraderie and fun of a shared experience as you work towards your goals strengthens friendships as well as resolve. But if your fitness buddy is a complainer, slacker, or saboteur, her negative attitude could sway you to start skipping workouts. Tune in to how you feel when you’re around her; does she lift you up, or bring you down? If need be, find a new exercise partner.

How do you think about exercise?

Focusing on far-off, intangible benefits like preventing heart disease or cancer just isn’t that motivating for most people. One study found messages touting more immediate behavior-change benefits are far more inspiring. So zero in on the mood-enhancing, energy-elevating, stress-reducing benefits of a good workout. Creating a cost-benefit table is another way to shift your attitude towards exercise; list what you stand to gain from regular exercise (physically, emotionally, quality of life, etc.) and compare with what it will cost (time, effort, discomfort, money, etc). You could also list the pros and cons of remaining sedentary — what will it cost you, short-term and long-term, to do nothing?

As you become more active, train your brain to normalize your exercise habit. Think of it not as something extra that you’re adding into your too-busy schedule; but rather as just something you do now, like eating lunch or washing your face. By carefully cultivating your fitness routine — and your thoughts — to fuel a positive outlook on exercise, you’ll create your own success story.

What’s one thing you’ve done to foster a positive attitude towards exercise… and make it more likely you’ll do it?

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. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard

Healthy Halloween Treats

Maple Sunflower Butter Candies from Alissa at Nourishing Meals. Photo: Alissa Segersten

Maple Sunflower Butter Candies from Alissa at Nourishing Meals. Photo: Alissa Segersten

I simply can’t believe it’s almost Halloween once again. Weren’t we all just playing in the sprinklers but a few weeks ago? Now the leaves are crunching under my feet, the blackberries here in the Pacific Northwest are all gone, and the skies are a chilly, brilliant sapphire blue. It’s the time of year when I can enjoy going out for long walks or bike rides in the cold and look forward to coming home to a mug of something hot alongside a little something sweet.

In the spirit of Halloween, let’s get some ideas for healthy sweets perfect for sharing at your next costume party, or simply alongside that welcoming mug of spiced tea. Halloween doesn’t have to mean cheap processed stuff (and chocolate that isn’t even real chocolate!) when you have incredible options like these. I’ve chosen a few recipes from favorite bloggers that fulfill the requirements for treats that are all natural, healthy and most importantly – sweetly delicious!

I can’t get enough of talented Sarah Britton from My New Roots. Her recipes are inspired: Her flavor combinations leave you wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The next time you lament the dairy-free dessert options at your local market, check out her recipe for Apple Spice Sorbet made with coconut milk, apples, spices, maple syrup and coconut oil. It’s an elegant fall recipe, and I’m tempted to substitute the apples for chunked pumpkin.

If you’ve been reading the Zing blog for any length of time, you’d know that we’re big fans of nutritionists and authors Tom and Alicia over at Nourishing Meals. Alicia’s recipe for Halloween Maple Sunbutter Bites is the antidote to those other chewy rolled candies. With only three ingredients, they are simple to make and are great for parties and trick-or-treaters.

The recipe-sharing site Food52 is always tempting me with new ways to make traditional recipes even better. This is a take on crisped rice treats, but with a little hippie thrown in. Hippie Crispy Treats might need to make an appearance at this year’s office party.

Peanut butter and chocolate are favorites here at Zing (go figure, two of our flavors feature that combo!) Elana’s pantry gives us a chocolate peanut butter fix in candy form with her all-natural Nut Butter Cups.

On the chocolate and peanut butter theme, fellow Dietitian Lindsay at the Lean Green Bean blog adds heart-healthy avocado to this classic combination. Check out her flour-free Peanut Butter Avocado Cookies using just oats, avocado, peanut butter, dark chocolate and natural sweeteners.

The Spunky Coconut is a whiz at gluten and dairy-free baking. These Halloween Cookies are perfect for the kids. While you’re at it, get inspired with her Cherry and Chocolate Halloween Candies.

It just wouldn’t be Halloween without roasting pumpkin seeds. They are full of heart-healthy fats and high in zinc. Here’s a simple recipe from The Kitchn where you can add any spices you have on hand.

How are you making your Halloween a little healthier and tastier this year?

Christine Weiss MS, RD, CDE is a dietitian and Bastyr University graduate who counsels people dealing with food allergies, diabetes and digestive issues. She enjoys working with Zing Bars to raise awareness about healthy living through online media. 

What’s in a Nutritionist’s Pantry?

Has your pantry been collecting dust? As summer turns to fall, our attention turns from the sunny immediacy of fresh summer produce to the cool darkness of the winter pantry. It’s the perfect time to turn your cupboard from a storage area for long forgotten and outdated foods to a health reservoir for inspiring meals. Take a peek inside my pantry and get excited about cooking this fall!

Beans and Legumes

Whether they are canned or dried, bean and legumes are an important staple in a balanced diet.  They are an excellent protein source and are also high in soluble fiber and iron. Whether you are a home cook or you are looking for meals on the fly, beans are simple and satisfying. Some of my favorites include black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, Great Northern beans, and lentils of all colors and sizes!

Whole Grains

Alongside beans and legumes, whole grains offer many important nutrients. They are especially rich in B vitamins, which play a large role in metabolism. Grains also offer a great source of insoluble fiber, a fiber that helps bulk stool and clean the colon. In combination with a bean or legume, grains form a complete protein. Most importantly they are versatile, being utilized in both sweet and savory dishes. Delicious gluten-free grains include gluten-free oats, quinoa, millet, corn, buckwheat, amaranth, and brown and wild rice. Some tasty grains that are not gluten free include wheat berries, bulgur, spelt berries, and farro.

Nuts and Seeds 

A nutritionist pantry would not be complete without a whole host of different nuts and seeds. These small and delicious fruits of nature are powerhouses of nutrition, stocked full of healthy fats, protein, fiber, and minerals. However, because raw nuts are full of unsaturated fats, they can easily become rancid. Rancid oils can increase inflammation in the body, which underlies many disease states. However, by storing your nuts in an airtight container in the refrigerator you can not only increase their shelf life but also maintain their quality.  My go-to stash includes almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, flaxseeds, hempseeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and last but not least pumpkin seeds.

Flours and Sweeteners

Whether you are gluten-free or not, there are many wonderful flours to stock in your pantry. Because whole flours are simply ground up grains, they too can be susceptible to rancidity if exposed to light, air, or heat. Therefore it is important to keep your lesser-used flours in the freezer, or if used more often in an airtight bag, container, or jar in your pantry. Some of my favorite gluten-free flours include brown rice flour, ground almond meal, garbanzo flour, sorghum flour, and a simple gluten-free mix. Some more common whole-grain gluten flours include whole-wheat flour, spelt flour, and rye flour.

As for sweeteners, I love to have organic maple syrup, agave nectar, raw local honey, coconut sugar, coconut nectar, brown rice syrup and medjool dates on hand. Each has their own unique flavor and baking capabilities.

Quick Snacks

Besides nuts and seeds, quick easy snacks that incorporate a balance of hearty grains, protein, and fat usually are the best. A great example would be a Zing Bar! Dried fruit such as unsweetened mangos, dates, or raisins are also great to have on hand. Whole grain organic corn chips and rice cakes topped with cheese or peanut butter are quick and easy for snacks. Seaweeds, which are rich in trace minerals, can also be incorporated as part of a healthy snack. These cucumber sesame seaweed snacks are easy and delicious.

Who’s inspired to wipe those dusty shelves clean and start your fall cooking and baking?

All photos by Selva Wohlgemuth

Zing intern Selva Wohlgemuth is working on her Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. She is an avid cook and blogger, and you can find out about her latest culinary adventures and see more of her food photography at Poppies and Papayas.

5 Common Food Myths Debunked

Diet fads come and go. One day you’re following the grapefruit diet, the next you’re cutting out fruit altogether for your zero-carb miracle plan. There’s so much information in the media about what is healthy and what isn’t – what to believe? To make matters worse, nutrition is a young and evolving science with new research coming out every week if not every day.  As health professionals we are always trying to put this research into context and correct old misconceptions. Here are a few of the common food myths that we see frequently, myths that we wish would just go away (along with those commercial prepackaged strawberry-flavored diet shakes!).

1. Low fat is best

Are you still picking up every box and bag at the grocery store with a “fat free” or “low fat” label? Well, put them right back down because the low-fat trend of the 90’s is finally (and thankfully) over. Diets moderate to higher in fat were once blamed for heart disease and obesity, but now we know that monounsaturated and omega-3 fats prevent heart disease and extend your life. Just because gram-for-gram fat has twice the amount of calories as protein or carbs doesn’t mean it will make you gain weight. Meals and snacks with fat help with satiety, allowing you to eat just what your body needs and can help prevent overeating. Focus on sources of heart-healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil and fatty fish.

Slice of brown bread

2. Carbs are bad for you

Carbohydrates are fuel for the brain, muscles and every cell in your body. Ultra low-carb diets may work to shed pounds in the short-term, but in the long term they aren’t necessarily healthy or realistic. Instead of “low carb” why not focus on “slow carb”. Instead of eating refined foods that spike blood sugar which create the crave and crash cycle, focus on low-glycemic foods with their nutrients intact.  Legumes, root veggies, fruits, and whole grains are great daily sources of “slow carb” which are high in fiber and antioxidants and help you feel satisfied.

Multiseed crispbread

3. Fiber is boring

We associate fiber with, um, bathroom habits. But did you know that there’s more to fiber than just keeping things moving? Fiber slows stomach emptying which helps satiety and slows glucose absorption into the bloodstream (preventing blood sugar spikes). Fiber also feeds our gut bacteria which then go on to nourish the cells in our digestive tract with their by-products. Healthy gut bacteria also means healthy digestion and a healthy immune system. The bacteria in your colon help modulate the immune response, preventing an overactive immune system and thus controlling inflammation.

eggs

4. Eggs raise cholesterol

The cholesterol you eat doesn’t turn directly into cholesterol in your bloodstream. Eggs have been a victim in the “low cholesterol“ myth as they are high in cholesterol, coming in at around 200mg per egg. Studies have shown that eating eggs daily does not raise your risk for heart disease (read more here). Studies have also shown that what has a greater impact on your blood cholesterol levels is the type and amount of fat that you eat. Saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol while diets high in monounsaturated fats and omega-3’s will help lower your LDL. Those products labeled “cholesterol-free”? Not so much.

5. Lose weight by cutting out snacks

Provided you’re snacking on healthy foods, snacking between meals is a great way to even out blood sugar and prevent overeating at the next meal. Now, if your issue is that you’re eating unhealthy, unbalanced snacks that are high in calories, this could actually contribute to weight gain. I like to recommend small, frequent meals that are balanced in protein, fat and “slow” carbohydrate. Here are a few ideas.

photo credit: Michaelaw (crispbread)

Christine Weiss MS, RD, CDE is a dietitian and Bastyr University graduate who counsels people dealing with food allergies, diabetes and digestive issues.  She enjoys working with Zing Bars to raise awareness about healthy living through online media.