Thursday, December 18, 2014

Nourishing Tools: The ShopWell App

We’re starting a new series on the blog called Nourishing Tools, where we share the tools and gadgets we find that can help you to make the best decisions for your health.  First up: the free ShopWell website and mobile app.

Here on the blog, we’ve talked a lot about how to decipher food labels, to help you learn how to read the ingredient list and understand marketing claims to make the best decisions for your health goals.  It’s not easy!  Even as dietitians, we can sometimes be stumped, especially if we’re in a hurry and without time to study every detail.

That’s where technology can really help.  We’ve fallen in love with the ShopWell mobile app, which helps take the guesswork out of your grocery shopping.  When you download the app to your mobile device, you enter your gender, age and information about your health goals.  For example, I don’t have any specific health conditions (like high cholesterol or diabetes), but I am interested in digestive health and getting enough fiber in my diet.  So, I selected those health and diet goals. 

The app also lets you select the foods and additives you want to minimize in your diet (for example, added sugars, artificial sweeteners, trans fats and color additives) and food allergies and intolerances.  While the list of intolerances is not exhaustive, I was impressed that it listed honey.  As someone who is sensitive to FODMAPS, I avoid honey and it’s often a hidden ingredient in foods (and not a highly recognized food intolerance). 

Once you have your food and health goals entered, you’re ready to start using the app.  When you’re shopping at the grocery store, just scan the foods on your list and app will tell you whether or not it’s a match for your goals and why.  One of the things we like about the app is that it doesn’t just tell you why it matches your goals, but why it’s good for you overall.  For example, I’m looking for foods that are higher in fiber, but it will also tell me if the food is an excellent source of iron or Vitamin C. 

We like that the nutrition score generated by ShopWell is science-based.  The score from each food is generated with your preferences and information from United States Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines, the Institute of Medicine recommendations for nutrient intake daily, and a panel of registered dietitians and experts. 

When you’re at the grocery store, you can scan and add foods to a shopping list, so it makes shopping easier.  You can also browse from their database of foods to find foods that meet your health goals.  For example, I can find the brands and types of breads made without honey and add those to my shopping list.

The only drawbacks we find to the ShopWell app are that the list of food intolerances is not exhaustive (although it does have a fairly long list) and that not all foods are available in the database.  The company told us it is currently working on adding more foods from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to the database, so that should be improving soon.

We love any tool that makes it easier for you (and us!) to make healthy choices.  Here’s what we like about the ShopWell app:
  • It’s free and easy to use.
  • It’s customizable to health goals, food goals and food intolerances and allergies.  We LOVE this aspect of the program.  There are so many hidden additives in foods and this takes the guesswork out of it. 
  • It makes it easy to make shopping list that help you get through the grocery store more quickly and with less stress.
  • Lastly, we love that this is not a diet program.  You’re not counting calories or trying to achieve weight goals.  It’s helping you to make healthy food choices to nourish your body in a balanced way, which we can totally get behind. 
We hope you find this review helpful! Please let us know, what tools do you use to make healthy choices?  We’d love to check them out!

Disclaimer:  We were paid by ShopWell to review their app, but as always, all of our opinions are our own.  We only work with brands and products we believe in

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

11 Food Words Worth Using

A little while ago, this article, 21 Words & Phrases That We Should Probably All Quit Using was brought to our attention. It sparked a pretty funny online conversation about which words belong on the “do not use “ list (we think it's safe to say that “nom” just has to go) and which words we still defend.

Here’s our list of 11 food words we feel are worth using.

1.     Delicious. We know, it can sound somewhat repetitive, but food so often is …delicious. We love the word. And if food writer, Ruth Reichl says it's okay, we believe her.

2.     Rejuvenating. We wish more and more people would use this word and start to view food this way. Food is meant to help you feel beautiful, fight disease, and to be rejuvenating.

3.     Yum. This word is instinctive. How can you not use it to describe your favorite slice of pizza, a juicy peach, or a perfectly poached egg?  Okay, so Ruth Reichl doesn't like “yummy”, but we're going to keep “yum.” Sometimes, it just feels right.

4.     Energizing. We love that food has the ability to make us feel on top of our game, and that’s why we love this word.

5.     Nourishing. We had to. This is the best.

6.     Wholesome. This word feels like a hug. And since a simpler, less complicated, more wholesome way of eating is becoming more mainstream again (woo hoo!), this word is timely, too.

7.     Real. Because life is too precious to spend time with fake people or to eat fake cheese.

8.     Foodie. This word has single-handedly united food lovers from home cooks to registered dietitians to people who just like to eat! We love any word that brings the community of food lovers together.

9.     Lovely. It’s how we describe a pretty slice of wedding cake or a good glass of wine. Lovely is so…well, lovely.

10.  Fantastic. Although fantastic isn't necessarily a food word per se, there is no way you can say this word in a food related sentence without smiling. "This sandwich is fantastic!" (insert smile here)

11.  Balanced. In a world that constantly over glorifies the ideas of busy, excess and other extremes, this is a nice reminder of what we should really strive for.

What words do you think belong on this list? We love to know!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Hydrate the Healthy Way

Your body is comprised of roughly 60 percent water, which has many essential tasks, including cushioning your joints and organs, transporting essential nutrients, maintaining internal temperature and electrolyte balance, and eliminating waste.

During hot days, water is even more important. Your body can withstand intense heat conditions, as well as vigorous activity, because water can effectively cool down your system through sweating. Given such an essential role, your daily beverage choices have a major impact on health.

Healthy beverage choices

Supermarket shelves are filled with dozens of beverage choices, from vitamin waters and sports drinks to juices, teas, wine and soda.

Here's our best advice on which beverages best quench your body's thirst:

1. Water. Turn to this inexpensive, calorie-free drink most of the time. Skip water bottles, however, which contribute to both greenhouse gas emissions and bulging landfills. Instead, rely on a home water infiltration system to create the best water straight from your tap.

2. Sports drinks. Rather than reaching for a post workout sports drink enhanced with electrolytes and sugar, you're probably best off with plain water. "For most people who exercise casually and have a good diet, this type of fluid replacement is not needed, as all electrolytes will be replaced via meals," says hydration expert, Robert W. Kenefick, Ph.D., Research Physiologist with the Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division for the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. However, for those working daily in heat or engaging in intense aerobic activity for long durations, electrolyte-enhanced beverages may be helpful for hydration.

3. Coffee and tea. Both non-caffeinated and caffeinated coffee and tea beverages can contribute to hydration, without a diuretic effect, says Kenefick. Moderate intakes of coffee or tea have been linked with a variety of health benefits, from cancer protection to enhanced mental performance. Additionally, tea has been linked to heart health, weight loss and even bone protection. Keep in mind that high intakes of caffeine can lead to side effects in some people, such as anxiety, irritability, insomnia, uneven or rapid heart rate and stomach upset.

4. Alcohol. Even alcohol contributes to your daily fluid needs. "But, there is a caveat," says Kenefick. "Concentrations of 12 to 14 percent alcohol, such as liquor and wine, do contribute to dehydration by increasing urine output. Fluids with lower alcohol concentrations, such as beer, tend to not have that effect." Moderation (up to one drink per day for women and two drinks for men) is the key to health when it comes to alcohol. One drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol.

5. Sweetened beverages. Research indicates that sugar-sweetened beverages, including sodas and artificially flavored "fruit" drinks--rich in calories through readily absorbable sugars--may contribute to chronic diseases. While these beverages may help to meet your hydration needs, it's best to limit them.

6. Zero-calorie sodas. Artificially sweetened beverages are under scrutiny for their role in increasing the risk for obesity and other risk factors, such as stroke and heart attack. It's a good idea to limit this drink, which provides no nutritional benefits.

7. High fluid foods. Approximately 80 percent of total water comes from beverages and 20 percent comes from food, according to the Institute of Medicine. Some foods, such as fruits and vegetables, contain high amounts of water. Research from the University of Kentucky indicates that red tomatoes, radishes, strawberries, and cantaloupe, for example, consist of 94, 95, 92 and 90 percent water, respectively.

Fight dehydration.

If your fluid intake is inadequate and you develop dehydration, it can lead to cardiovascular strain, compromised physical and mental performance, and even heat stroke. "Studies consistently show that dehydration results in mood changes, including anger, confusion, fatigue and vigor," adds Kenefick.

Yet, dehydration is a common occurrence, even among healthy individuals. Older adults, particularly those over age 71, are at even higher risk for dehydration, according to data on fluid intake from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This could be due to multiple reasons, including changes in body water composition, alterations in thirst perception, impaired kidney function, and even reduced appetite and the subsequent reduced food intake.

It seems that the body's thirst mechanism is not the most reliable, especially during exercise. According to Kenefick, by the time the brain registers thirst during exercise, you may already be dehydrated. And as exercise continues, it can be difficult to achieve adequate rehydration.

This article was written by McKenzie for the August, 2014 issue of Environmental Nutrition.

Friday, December 12, 2014

(Holly)berry Mince Pies

I recently went out for dinner with my good friend, Holly.

Holly and her family are British. And they're the sweetest.

During dinner, we started talking holiday traditions. Every year, around this time, Holly and her family bake mince pies.

Berry Mince Pies: a fruit-frilled treat, perfect for the holidays!

Berry Mince Pies: a fruit-frilled treat, perfect for the holidays!

Holly tells me that the British take their Christmas fruit desserts very seriously. So much so, they even made a holiday especially for them: Stir Up Sunday.  It’s the Sunday before Advent where the family gets together to “stir up” their Christmas cakes, Christmas puddings, and mince pie fillings, "but they're all pretty much just variations of fruit cake," says Holly. 

I think it’s a holiday we should adopt in North America.

Berry Mince Pies: a fruit-frilled treat, perfect for the holidays!

The trouble is, though, if you’re not a fan of fruit cake, you’re in a bit a dilemma. And with so many other delicious, fruit-filled holiday treats to turn your attention and tastebuds toward, it presents some steep competition. That’s why we created the aptly named, Hollyberry Mince Pies – because we think they’ll get your attention.

Berry Mince Pies: a fruit-frilled treat, perfect for the holidays!

We started with frozen raspberries, and then added chopped dates for the sweet stickiness – without the added sugar.  Want to make it extra divine? Add a sneaky splash of brandy.

Berry Mince Pies: a fruit-frilled treat, perfect for the holidays!

The best part about this recipe is you can add what you have. Don’t have pear? Use apple. No dates? Sub raisins. Want to add almonds instead of pecans? Go nuts!  The partner in crime to this amazing raspberry filling is Holly’s homemade flakey shortbread pie pastry. But for a quick fix, store bought pie crust pastry works great too.

Berry Mince Pies: a fruit-frilled treat, perfect for the holidays!

The result is a recipe that, we've decided, can impress the strictest mince pie critic of them all: Holly’s dad.

(Holly)berry Mince Pies

Berry Mince Pies: a fruit-frilled treat, sweetened naturally with raspberries & dates


¾ cup frozen raspberries 
½ cup finely chopped dates
½ cup finely chopped pear
½ cup finely chopped nuts (your choice!)
½ orange – juiced
1 tablepsoon butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
shake of nutmeg and cardamom
splash of brandy (optional)
batch/packet pie crust (recipe follows)
egg wash
powdered sugar for dusting

  1. Mix all ingredients (except brandy) into a heavy based saucepan over medium heat.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes - stirring occasionally as not to burn the bottom. Remove from heat to allow to cool and add your sneaky splash of brandy, if using.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease mince pie tins or muffin tins.
  3. Roll out pastry and using 2 different size round cookie cutters, or glasses, cut 12 x 3” circles and 12 x 2” circles (the larger one will be the bottom and the smaller one the top – you can also use a star/snowflake shape cookie cutter for the top)
  4. Line the mince pie/muffin tin with the larger circles of pastry. Fill each with about 1 tablespoon of raspberry filling and top with smaller circle or pastry shape. Cut small steam vents, brush lightly with egg wash, and bake for about 16 minutes or until golden.

Pie Crust: Let us introduce to a buttery crust perfect for any holiday treat.

1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
sprinkle of salt
ice water

  1. Mix flour, sugar and salt in large bowl.
  2. Cut in cold butter until flour resembles course breadcrumbs.
  3. Add just enough water to bring into a ball. 
  4. Allow to rest in fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Handle lightly and roll out on floured surface.

Enjoy, preferably with those you love. Happy holly-days!