nutrition news

Why We Make Bad (Diet) Choices When We're Tired

Anyone else notice the (serious) connection between a bad night sleep and poor dietary choices? Simply put, lack of sleep = deep exhaustion = give me junk food = can't stop eating. I know you know what I'm talking about. 

I feel that many of us are so focused on eating healthy and making good dietary choices, that we forget just how important it is to get enough shuteye. In reality, sleep is a major factor in the health equation and may even dictate what we crave, when we eat, and how much we eat. I decided to bring in the sleep experts from the Tuck Sleep Foundation - a community dedicated to improving sleep hygiene, health, and wellness - to give us a bit more info about the sleep-hunger connection. Here's what they have to say: 

Why We Crave Junk Food When We're Sleep Deprived

Sleep deprivation can increase cravings for junk food and binges. It's how you end up in a drive-thru lane late at night, or crave donuts in the morning after a long night.

When you don't get enough sleep, it's especially tempting to binge on junk food. Your impulse control is weakened, and production of the hormones that control feelings of hunger and satiation are altered.

When you're sleep deprived, it's tough to get through everyday life, much less stick to good nutrition habits. But with better sleep, you can adopt a more healthy lifestyle and support yourself as you eat well.

What Sleep Deprivation Does to Hunger Hormones

Sleep deprivation alters the production of hormones that affect hunger and satiation. This can trick your hunger cues and make you feel as if you need to eat more even when you're full.

When you're well rested, your hunger hormones are well regulated and effectively tell your body when you're full, when you should eat, and when you should stop eating. But when you don't get enough sleep, production of these hormones is not regulated properly, and can send cues that encourage overeating and poor food choices.

Ghrelin is the hunger hormone. It's responsible for telling your brain when you're hungry and should eat.

Leptin is the satiety hormone. This hormone tells your brain when you're full and should stop eating.

When you're sleep deprived, production of ghrelin and leptin is unbalanced, with a decrease in leptin production and an increase in ghrelin production. That means your hormones are sending signals to your brain that you are more hungry and less full, which can make you eat more than you should -- maybe even hungry and tired enough to eat junk food you know it's best to avoid.

Sleep and Self Control

While your hormones are sending confusing signals to your brain, your self control is weakened, making it difficult for you to resist junk food cravings when you're sleep deprived.

Sleep deprivation reduces your self control, influencing junk food cravings and poor nutritional choices. And you're less likely to feel energized enough to exercise, so you may not work off extra calories, either.

People who are sleep deprived often struggle with self control, and are more likely to:

  • Eat bigger portions

  • Give into cravings for foods rich in fats and carbohydrates

  • Snack late at night

  • Consume more calories overall

  • Drink less water

  • Consume more carbohydrates and high carb snacks

How to Sleep and Eat Well

When you sleep well, you're better prepared to make good nutritional choices. Your hunger hormones are appropriately regulated so you get the right cues when you're hungry or full, and your self control is stronger, so you're more able to resist the temptation of junk food cravings.

You can improve the quality and quantity of your sleep to support good eating habits with these tips:

  • Make sleep a priority. You probably have a lot of demands on your time, making it tempting to sleep less and do more. But sleep is the most important thing you can do at night, because it prepares you for a better tomorrow. Plan your schedule so that you have at least eight hours to rest each night, as the average adult needs seven to seven and a half hours of sleep, plus time to fall asleep and wake up.

  • Create a healthy sleep environment. It's not just the quantity, but quality, of sleep that matters. Eight hours of tossing and turning isn't restful enough to support healthy habits. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable place to sleep, keeping it dark, cool, and quiet. Choose a mattress that fits your needs for comfort and support.

  • Maintain healthy sleep habits. Good sleep habits can improve the quality of your sleep as well. Create a regular bedtime schedule, and follow a consistent bedtime routine that will help you feel sleepy and fall asleep more quickly when it's your usual time to go to bed. Take care to avoid habits that can interfere with healthy sleep, such as consuming caffeine or alcohol late at night, eating a heavy meal before bed, or exercising in the hours just before you go to sleep.

  • Don't stress about missteps. If you struggle to sleep well for a few nights here and there, don't be discouraged. One night isn't enough to make you completely fall off the wagon of healthy sleep. Focus on maintaining healthy sleep habits overall and staying as consistent as possible, even if you slip up now and then.

Discussing Dairy & Why I Love Muuna

Dairy. Adjective. 1. Containing or made from milk.

In my opinion that definition should read “most controversial class of foods EVER.” While some people live by the motto “cheese on everything,” others wince at the very sound of the word. So let’s take the opportunity to scratch the surface of dairy controversy…

Let’s cut to it: Is dairy really the devil?

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The answer is NO! In fact, dairy products can be super nutritious! Milk is high in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, B vitamins, potassium, and phosphorus. Calcium and phosphorus are vital for bone health, and dairy happens to be one of the best sources of them. Dairy can really be a great low-calorie, high protein meal or snack. But of course, as anything else, you have to be wise about the dairy products you choose to consume.

One of my all-time favorite dairy products (if you haven’t already caught on) is Muuna cottage cheese. I love this brand especially because 1) their products are DELICIOUSLY creamy, without being high in fat and 2) I trust the ingredients. I always keep a container of their plain cottage cheese in my fridge so I can easily spread over a whole grain toast or fiber crackers and top it with drizzled honey or homemade fruit compote. I’ll also use it as a healthy ingredient for a larger meal, like my cottage mac & cheese.

I especially love their individual cottage cheese cups available in eight creamy flavors. At 5.3 ounces they are perfect for portion control and they’re an easy snack for when you’re on-the-go. Yes, I said on-the-go! Throw it into your bag with a spoon, and it enjoy it on your way to work, when you get to work, or wherever your destination may be! The individual cups come in several different fresh fruit-on-the-bottom flavors, so I don’t have to worry about topping it with homemade compote. I’m especially excited about their new Vanilla, Raspberry, and Black Cherry flavors!

Let’s take a closer look at the Muuna nutrition label

Each individual cup has between 15 and 19 grams of protein, which is super important! Protein helps us actually feel full when we eat meals or snacks. Each 5.3 oz cup has only 9 grams of sugar (less than your average Greek yogurt!) and 130 calories or less. Yes, that includes the fruit flavors too! Oh, and Muuna uses ZERO artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners. Basically, all you need to know is that it’s totally Tovita-approved.

What about lactose intolerance?

As we get older, many of us lose that lactase enzyme that normally breaks down lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk. If you are one of those people who can’t digest dairy, you do have to be careful with the foods you choose to fuel your body. As with any food allergy or intolerance, if you have it, you have to honor it. The good news is that certain dairy products like cottage cheese or hard cheeses (parmesan, swiss) have less lactose than milk or creamier cheeses, meaning many people who are typically lactose intolerant can still enjoy these products.

My advice?

If cottage cheese is your thing, I’ve just introduced you to your new favorite brand (you’re welcome). If you’re skeptical, give it a try. It might be best to start with a familiar flavor like vanilla, or a sweeter fruit flavor that you already love.

Some of my favorite ways to eat it are:

  • With oatmeal, for protein and flavor

  • With sliced apples and cinnamon, for a filling snack

  • On top of whole grain crackers

  • Plain! It tastes delicious on its own and has enough protein to stand alone




 

Why I Don't Count Calories

Note: I originally wrote this piece for mindbodygreen (click here to see article).

When clients see me for weight loss, one of the most common questions they ask is "how many calories should I be eating each day?" My response is always the same: "You're not going to count calories." I'm often met with a confused expression, which subsequently leads to the "why?" conversation. Well, for those of you who are curious why a dietitian - whose job is often to help people reach their goal weights - doesn't count calories, read on! 

Let's begin by defining a calorie. A calorie is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. Sounds complicated, right? What you should take away is that we use this measurement to determine the amount of energy that a given food provides.  

Let me give you some context here. One serving of Twizzlers (4 pieces) is 160 calories. One serving of almonds (~23 almonds) is 163 calories. It's fair to say they are comparable in calories, meaning they provide the same amount of energy. So, if a serving of Twizzlers has the same amount of calories as a serving of almonds, why don't we all have diets filled with Twizzlers, gummy bears, and sour patch kids!? 

The answer: NOT ALL CALORIES ARE CREATED EQUAL! Calorie discrimination? Totally... and I'm cool with it. 

Technically we all could choose the candy and even lose weight doing so, after all, a calorie is a calorie, right? But 160 calories from Twizzlers is very different than 160 calories from almonds. Let's take a closer look at where these calories come from. A serving of almonds contains 6 grams of protein, about 1 gram of sugar, lot's of healthy fats, and 3.5 grams of fiber. Not to mention it's high in vitamin E and magnesium. A serving of Twizzlers contains only 1 gram of protein, 19 grams of sugar (yikes),  and 0 grams of fiber. Oh, and can't forget those lovely food dyes and artificial ingredients. So, yes, while they both provide the same amount of calories, which do you think is the better choice?  

I tell my clients to evaluate their meals by asking "what can this food do for my body?" After all, we only get one body and each meal is an opportunity for us to nourish it. There's no insurance policy on irreparable damage done to our insides (well, that's not entirely true these days, but who wants to deal with that!?). While the gummy candies may look, smell, and taste appealing, they don't provide the nutrition that our bodies need to properly function. 

So what does all of this have to do with counting calories? Sometimes healthy foods, like nuts and seeds for instance, are high in calories and may deter a "dieter" from eating them, despite their incredible nutrient profiles. Here's the thing: it's OKAY to eat high calorie foods, even if you're watching your weight! One of the keys to successful and sustainable weight loss is eating the right combinations of nutrients that keep you satiated for a period of time. If you snack on a serving of Twizzlers versus almonds, I can guarantee that you'll be hungry again shortly after. This means you'll end up eating 160 calories of candy PLUS calories from another snack. If you snack on the almonds, the combination of protein, fiber, and fat will keep you fuller for longer while providing great nutrition. See what I mean? 

Lastly, constantly counting calories can lead to unhealthy and obsessive habits. Despite the fact that math isn't my strong suit, meticulously counting and adding and subtracting at each meal sounds like a pain! When you attach a number to every morsel of food you put into your body, how can you possibly enjoy it!? 

Rather than calorie counting, I support eating a diet filled with as many whole, real, and natural foods possible. We all have our diet downfalls or food weaknesses (hellloooo chocolate), and that's okay because we're human! As long as you maintain a diet that's highest in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, your waistline will inherently reap the results. 

 

It's Good To Be Gluten-Free... ?

If I could have a dollar for every time someone tries to justify eating junk food with “but it’s gluten-free,” I’d be one lucky lady. These days it seems like “gluten-free” is the universal get-out-of-jail-free card.  You simply attach “gluten-free” to a food label or a recipe and instantly all other elements are abandoned (hello! remember calories and sugar!?) and it’s the most instagrammable “health” food. Well guys, I hate to break it to you but double chocolate fudge caramel gluten-free cookies are still double chocolate fudge caramel cookies! They just don’t contain gluten. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Now that’s good news if you’re allergic to gluten and you’re craving a cookie. But if you’re not…?

I’m going to take this opportunity to dispel the misconception that “gluten-free” translates to “healthy.”

Let’s start from square one. What is gluten anyway?

Gluten is a protein commonly found in foods containing wheat, rye, and barley. It provides many starch products with shape, texture, and elasticity. So, there you have it. Gluten is not some people-eating-cancer-causing bacterium that’s destroying humanity one bagel at a time. It’s just a protein, and it’s been the foundation of the Western diet since the start of civilization.

So why does gluten get such a bad rep?

Celiac disease (CD), widely known as a gluten allergy, is an autoimmune condition that occurs in response to gluten consumption and can ultimately destroy the small intestine if not properly handled. This is a very real condition and should be taken seriously – by those who test positively for the allergy. A blood test is used to screen for CD and an intestinal biopsy will ultimately diagnose CD. The only treatment is strict, lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet. For some people, the allergy is so severe that using a utensil that had previously come in contact with gluten can cause painful GI symptoms for days.

In the early 1990’s CD was under-diagnosed. Now, the National Institutes of Health estimates that 1% of the population suffer from CD. This is largely why gluten has made headline news so often in the last decade.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) seems to be the condition that has people most confused. People with NCGS test negative for CD; however, they experience painful GI symptoms when they eat gluten-containing foods, similar to those of people who have CD. Furthermore, many people find that their symptoms subside when gluten is removed from their diets.

Where do you fall into the mix?

If you have been diagnosed with CD, you know where you stand: GF4L (gluten-free for life). No two ways about it!

If you fall into the “I feel my best self without gluten” category, you’re also going to try your best to avoid all products wheat, rye, and barley. Don’t be afraid to be a label detective. Ask how foods are prepared when you order at restaurants. Ask about additives in medications. Ask, ask, ask!

Whether you have CD, sensitivity, or want to try out the gluten-free diet for kicks, you should still understand that gluten-free does not mean healthy. In fact, it can mean quite the opposite. Gluten-free food alternatives must often compensate for taste and texture with increased amounts of other ingredients, so it’s not uncommon to see lots of sugar or fat in these foods. Furthermore, they’re often lower in various vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

If you’re going gluten-free in hopes to lose a few pounds, I recommend you reconsider your plan. Sorry. And sorry for not sugar coating it either. Again, gluten-free just means sans gluten. It does not mean “good for you.” To put things in perspective, let’s look at some other gluten free foods:

  • Cape cod potato chips
  • Doritos toasted corn tortilla chips
  • Ruffles original potato chips

Would you eat any of the above foods if you’re watching your waistline? Probably not! So, when you’re indulging in those gluten-free chocolate fudge ice cream sandwiches, enjoy every last bite, but understand that you’re INDULGING, and not eating a healthy snack. “Gluten-free” is not justification for eating dessert! Eat dessert because you’re human and you’re allowed to treat yourself. 100 percent of the time I prefer when a client admits “I was craving a cookie, so I had one!” versus “It was gluten-free so I had one.” See the difference!?

To wrap things up, here are my takeaways:

  •  If you have CD, you’re always gluten-free.
  • If you have NCGS, be gluten-free as much as you can.
  • If you’re none of the above, don’t use gluten-free as an excuse to eat unhealthy. It’s not. And now you know better.
  • Treat yourselves to dessert sometimes, gluten-free or not! You’re all hard working employees, employers, moms, dads, husbands, wives, girlfriends or boyfriends, or whatever you are – and you deserve it!

 

 

My Feelings On Bars

I'm going to give it to you straight: I believe that bars are really a last resort option. You’ve entirely run out of snacks, you’re stuck in a 4 hour meeting, airplane food grosses you out, or eating on the subway makes you feel awkward. See what I’m saying? We live in a world where real, whole, and natural foods are generally ubiquitous. If you have the opportunity to design your meals and snacks, why settle for often processed ingredients, loads of fat, or excess sugar?

.... But I also understand that the aforementioned situations really do happen. If you’ve ever been stuck in a meeting or taken a really long flight or have been caught in some “emergency” situation that prevents you from eating real food, bars can be the most convenient option. So I’m going to help you make the best decision you possibly can for the next time your boss holds you hostage in a meeting.

In my opinion, there is no single most important factor to consider when you read the nutrition label of a bar. You should take everything into account and weigh the pros and cons. Calories, fat, sugar, ingredients, additives, etc., all are important. You also have to determine what’s a deal breaker for you personally. Someone who is trying to gain weight is going to be less concerned with calories than someone who is trying to lose weight.

Personally, I won’t opt for a bar with more than 250 calories. I prefer it has closer to 200, but 250 is where I tap out. That’s because I don’t view a bar as a meal or a meal replacement, but rather as a snack to hold me over for a few hours until I can have my next meal. Most people don’t mentally register bars as meals, so they end up eating real meals shortly after, in addition to the bar. This is an easy way to mindlessly pack in the calories.

I like to see bars have at least 8-10 grams of protein. Protein combined with fiber and fat helps to keep us full, so it’s important that there’s a decent amount of protein. Oh - and I will only eat a bar made with vegan protein. I’m by no means a vegan, but I do try to stay away from protein isolates. Look for protein from sources like peas, hemp, brown rice, nuts, and seeds.... Or any vegetable.

Sugar can be a deal breaker. I really don’t like to see more than 10-12 grams of sugar in my bars. Sometimes bars contain 15, 20, or even 25 grams of sugar. If I wanted to eat that much sugar, I’d eat a candy bar! I don’t really care whether the sugar comes from the most organic agave syrup from the most exotic island or not… sugar is sugar people! Some people are sensitive to sugar alcohols, which are common ingredients in bars. They’re often used instead of or in addition to sugar. While I happen to not be sensitive, if you’re inclined to suffer from gastrointestinal issues, you’re going to want to watch for ingredients like “xylitol,” “mannitol,” and “sorbitol,” as those are sugar alcohols that frequent the nutrition labels of bars.

It’s important to read the ingredients carefully. Is the first ingredient some kind of syrup? Is the second ingredient cane sugar? A little tip: ingredients are listed in the order in which they’re most prevalent in a given food product. If syrup is the first ingredient, it is also the primary ingredient in that bar. While the last ingredients are the least prevalent, I still never want to see artificial food dyes or lakes. If your bar is going to be colored, it should be from natural sources, like beets, turmeric, or other spices.

The macronutrient that I haven’t touched on thus far is fat. That’s because I have yet to find a bar that is low in fat. Often bars contain ingredients like nuts and seeds, which are naturally high in fat, so that adds up. For example, if I'm going to eat a bar loaded with almonds or peanuts, I would be confused if the bar was in fact low in fat. It's important to know what you're signing up for. 

By now you’re probably thinking, “well what bar can I eat when I’m in a bind,” right? One brand of bars that seems to do a good job of keeping all of these components in check in SHANTI BARs. Their Spirulina bar has 220 calories, 9 grams of (vegan) protein, 11 grams of sugar, and 6 grams of fiber (bonus!).

Still, more often than not, I find myself having to sacrifice one of these macronutrients (protein, fats, or carbohydrates) for another. For instance, if the ingredients look clean, it may come with a price of 15 grams of sugar. Or, perhaps it’s low(er) in sugar, but instead contains loads of protein isolates. (note: if anyone knows of a bar that doesn't require nutrient sacfrifices, I'm totally open to trying it!!) Quite frankly, I’d prefer to not have to sacrifice anything! Society tends to make us a feel like snack foods should be packaged and store bought, but that’s simply not the case!

The moral of the story is that you should always opt for real, whole food, like an apple and nut butter, or a small lentil soup, or half of a turkey sandwich on multi-grain bread. Bars should be your plan B, not your daily afternoon snack. And when bars are your plan B, be a label detective!

 

How To Navigate The Holidays AND Still Have Fun

The holidays are one of our FAVORITE times of the year! Between the decorated trees, the holiday music on every single radio station (cough: Mariah Carey), the nightly holiday movie reruns, and of course our family gatherings, it's safe to say that the holidays really boost our spirits... BUT the holidays also tend to be synonymous with lots of food, cookies, hot cocoa, eggnog, and other unhealthy seasonal finger foods. And of course there's always that uncle you rarely see who guilt trips you into eating his 5,000 calorie bread pudding. While you shouldn't sit on the sidelines and pout as everyone else partakes in the fun, you can use some of our tips so you won't feel like your 2016 diet regimen will completely go to waste. 

  1. Eat Before You Go! Yes, we're telling you to eat before you eat. If you walk into a holiday party completely ravenous, you're more likely to eat the first thing see, regardless of whether it's healthy. For all you know, that could be the bacon-wrapped pigs-in-a-blanket! Probably not how you anticipated kicking off the holidays. Now, this doesn't mean you should come to the party without an appetite! Snack on something small to curb your hunger so you're able to make conscious decisions about what you want to eat. We're talking an apple and some nut butter, or two hard boiled eggs. Keep it simple! 
  2. Make Your Plate & Walk Away! We cannot stress enough the perils of lingering at the buffet table!!!! The longer you linger, the more likely you are to keep adding as you eat. The mac n' cheese doesn't magically continue to appear on your plate - you keep refilling it! Make your plate and sit down somewhere away from the buffet table. Once you eat, allow yourself some time between your firsts and your seconds (we know seconds are inevitable). 
  3. Decide Your Dessert. Telling you to abstain from all dessert would be downright cruel. SO, we're telling you scope out the dessert deal before you dive in. If you've had your eye on the pecan pie all night, allow yourself a small piece. But don't combine the pie with the cookies with the cake with the ice cream. Decide what you're going to try ahead of time, because the "a little bite of everything," bit is rarely successful. 
  4. About The Alcohol: If you don't drink during the Holidays, power to you! If you do, keep reading. This probably isn't new information, so we're gently reminding you to AVOID THE EGGNOG (and all cousins of the eggnog! If it's sweet and sugary and heavy - red flag!). It's never a good idea to drink your calories, especially when you are already eating a ton! However, we do understand that the standard vodka-soda with lime just may not be what you have in mind, so we have a solution. Belvoir Fruit Farms makes some delicious holiday mixers with all organic ingredients, so we propose adding some to your vodka-soda! Now, these mixers still do have sugar, so we add about 1/4 cup to our drinks for a boost of delicousness! The organic elderflower and ginger beer are two personal favorites. 
  5. Catch Up! The holidays aren't only about eating and drinking (right!?). Rather than focusing on the array of food, focus on catching up with family and friends. There has to be someone you haven't seen in a while, so find out what he or she has been up to! When you're occupied, you're less likely to be anxious about the food around you, so chat it up! 

Tovita Tips: Overcoming Sugar Cravings

sugar

Are you the type of person who craves something sweet at the end of each meal? Chocolate? Cookies? Candy? If this sounds all too familiar, take comfort in the fact that you are certainly not alone. But don't get too comfortable... 

Sugar cravings are not to be scoffed at! In fact, they are a very real phenomenon for many people. Not to mention your nightly ice cream habit could be keeping your at arms length from reaching your nutrition goals. In the spirit of bathing suit season, we've decided to share a few tips on how to reduce the frequency of succumbing to your sweet tooth. 

1. Are you eating enough during the day? Sometimes hunger is suppressed when we are stressed at work and hits us later at night when we're finally relaxed. While not feeling hungry during the day may seem like a good thing, our bodies try to compensate later for the calorie deficit by seeking a quick energy fix, unfortunately in the form of simple sugar. Our first tip is to eat regularly throughout the day: 3 meals and 1-2 portioned snacks that all combine protein and fiber!

2. Are you aware of your danger zones? Do you find yourself with a box of cookies while you are watching TV? Is your danger zone that time between getting home from work and dinner? Or are you a post-dinner snacker? We recommend keeping a food journal for at least one week to start noticing your habits and patterns. When you realize your triggers, you can intervene. 

3. Do you have healthy alternatives? Once you know your pitfalls, you can start creating solutions. Maybe it's brushing your teeth after dinner to prevent yourself from creeping back into the kitchen, or maybe it's making a bowl of fresh berries or natural popcorn while you watch TV. Perhaps it's taking a walk before dinner to keep you from grazing, or making a relaxing cup of tea when you start to feel the urge. Know yourself and what will actually satisfy your cravings. Are you someone that goes for quality or quantity when it comes to snacking? If you just like to munch, have low calorie alternatives like Skinny Pop Popcorn. If you simply need a bite of something rich and delicious, go for the foods that are portion controlled (hint: think individually wrapped). 

4. Do you choose empowered indulgences? We are all about indulging in your favorite foods once in a while, but we want them to be empowered indulgences rather than mindless grazing or binges. We allow clients "discretionary" foods each week for a good reason. Save these indulgences for times that its worth it. Skip the stale cookies at the office and save it for your favorite dessert when you're going out for dinner. Keep your indulgences to small portions that you can feel great about, rather than succumbing to the vicious cycle of guilt, skimping on meals the next day, and overdoing it all over again.

There you have it, our tips for overcoming sugar cravings. Remember, sugar cravings don't go away overnight. Breaking a habit takes patience, time, and motivation. If you need some extra reinforcement, that's where we come in! Email us to learn more about our package options and services to keep you in check :)

Spotlight On: Spirulina

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Today we are introducing spirulina. Now, unless you're like us and you opt to browse the aisles of health food stores for fun, you may have never heard of it. We'd like to change that, because this is one weird green powder that we are really into. 

What is it?

Spirulina is a natural blue-green algae that is extremely nutrient rich. While we wish we could sugar coat it (we really do), you can find spirulina in powder or capsule form, as it tastes exactly how you might imagine - like pond scum! Because of this, if you chose to try the powder form, the best way to do so is by adding it to a smoothie to dilute the taste. Are you excited to try it yet? 

Sounds gross. Why should I be eating this algae?

  • It contains 65% protein, including all essential amino acids
  • The same compound that gives it it's blue-green color is a potent antioxidant that can fight harmful free radicals 
  • It is high in omega-3's and is one of the few foods that contains GLA, an essential fatty acid known for it's anti-inflammatory properties
  • Spirulina is most famously known for its high chlorophyll content. Chlorophyll has several benefits: it can bind to toxins in the body and inhibit them from being absorbed, promotes healing in the body, and may even suppress hunger and cravings
  • It offers a bioavailable form of iron, which is a great option for vegans and vegetarians looking for new ways to add protein to their diets 
  • It provides B vitamins, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc 
  • It may aid in fat burning during exercise
  • There is evidence that it may help lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and have anti-cancer properties
  • Basically: there are tons of good reasons to label spirulina a superfood 

Ok fine, I'll try it. How do I use it?

Try our Spirulina Smoothie! You'll reap the benefits without suffering the taste

Ingredients (serves 1):

spirulina smoothie
  • 1/2 frozen banana (add a cup of ice if banana isn't frozen)
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1-2 cups spinach
  • 1 cup almond milk 
  • 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon spirulina
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Option: 1 teaspoon chia seeds

Blend until smooth and creamy and enjoy! 

Tovita Tip: Make sure to refrigerate your spirulina powder!

For more info on spirulina, check out this extensive overview by Well-Being Secrets!

Stay In Season This Spring

spring vegetables

We made it! Spring is finally here and those comfort food cravings are starting to subside. One of the best parts about Spring are the light and crisp fruits and vegetables that come into season. Today we are sharing some of our favorite Spring produce and of course, a delicious Spring salad recipe that incorporates all of them.

1. Artichokes: Artichokes contain a biologically active chemical called cynarin which stimulates the gallbladder to produce and release bile. Bile helps us to digest fats and absorb the vitamins from our food. Bile also helps to remove toxins, protecting our livers. 

2. Arugula: You may have been enjoying arugula salads year round, but Spring is its time to shine. Arugula, along with all cruciferous vegetables contain a compound called sulforaphane which can inhibit an enzyme known to be involved in the growth of cancer cells. Arugula is also high in vitamin K which is important for bone health and improves the absorption of calcium. 

3. Asparagus: Although asparagus doesn't have the sexiest rep due to the smell it causes in urine, it has a wealth of other health benefits that make us look past that detail. Along with being loaded with fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, and E, asparagus also may boost our cognitive functioning. Asparagus contains folate (like other leafy greens) which works with B12 (found in meat) to prevent against cognitive impairment. Note: the body's ability to absorb folate declines after age 50 so it's important for those over 50 to eat their greens!

4. Apricots: Apricots are one of our favorite salad additions because of their boost of color and sweetness. These little guys are rich in catechins, a particular class of flavonoid phytonutrients that have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. They are also rich in carotenoids and xanthophylls (tongue twisted yet?) which are nutrients that protect our eyesight. While dried apricots are great for sweetness, we recommend the real deal to avoid a sugar overload in your salad. 

5. Fennel: Fennel is high in vitamin C which helps with iron absorption to prevent anemia and also boosts the production of collagen to keep our skin looking young and plump. It also is a great source of potassium, an electrolyte that can lower blood pressure. 

Now let's put all these Spring fruits and veggies to work. 

Spring Salad Recipe: (serves 2-4)

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Ingredients:

  • 5 cups arugula
  • 1 small bunch asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into thirds on the diagonal 
  • 1 cup artichoke hearts, quartered (can buy canned or frozen)
  • 3 apricots, sliced into quarters
  • 1 small fennel bulb, sliced
  • Shaved pecorino (optional)

Dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1.  Wash, slice and prepare all of the ingredients
  2. Saute the asparagus in 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium-low until tender. Sprinkle salt to taste. Slice spears into thirds
  3. Saute or grill the fennel to release a sweeter flavor, or opt to toss it in raw
  4. Whisk together dressing ingredients in a small bowl
  5. Mix all ingredients into a bowl and lightly toss the dressing. Option to garnish with pecorino cheese and serve!

April Fools! Nutrition Myths Debunked

These days, the tremendous amount of nutrition information you can find surfing the web can be overwhelming. From juice cleansing to the raw food diet to the grapefruit diet, understanding how to maintain a healthy diet can be downright confusing. We figured there is no better time to set the record straight than on April Fools Day!

Today we are going to debunk one of the latest two-part health myths: firstly, that a meal must be fully digested before you can send more food down; secondly, that it is dangerous to eat fruit when you haven’t fully digested a meal because it rots and ferments in your digestive tract.

We’ll begin with some Biology 101, so follow closely.

Digestion begins the moment food enters your mouth and ends the moment it exits your body, past your colon. So, let’s map it: Your food travels from your mouth, to your stomach, to your small intestine, large intestine and finally, let’s just say, it exits.

This entire process generally takes between six and 10 hours. Think of your stomach as an acidic blender. The cells in your stomach secrete hydrochloric acid in response to the presence of food, which helps to break down anything you’ve swallowed. It churns this mixture until it succumbs to the consistency of a liquid-paste. From there, it slowly moves into the small intestine, where actual absorption begins to take place.

Now you might be starting to put the pieces together. Typically, you probably get hungry every three to four hours. If you had to wait for digestion to complete before you could eat another morsel of food, you could be waiting up to 10 hours until your next meal. So no, you should not wait until digestion of a previous meal is complete before you send your next meal down.

In conjunction with the above myth, you may have heard that eating fruit after a meal causes the fruit to rot and ferment in your stomach.

Again, the pH of your stomach is very low, meaning it is a strongly acidic environment. One of the reasons your stomach is so acidic is to prevent bacteria from proliferating and making you sick.

Fermentation takes place when bacteria are present, and your stomach contains very little bacteria. Once fruit enters your stomach, it is broken down by enzymes, regardless of any other foods that may be simultaneously present. Generally, the more macronutrients you consume in a given meal (ie. proteins, fats, or carbohydrates), the longer it takes to digest in the stomach, which is totally fine!

In fact, combining nutrients in a given meal will help keep you satisfied for longer. Have you ever noticed that if you eat an apple alone, you’re hungry again after an hour or so? On the contrary, if you were to eat an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter, you would stay fuller for much longer. This is simply because the protein, fat and carbohydrates from the apple and peanut butter combined take longer to digest.

The bottom line is, no matter when you eat fruit, it will ultimately be digested, the same way any other food is; there is no “correct” order to eat it in.

As for fermentation, the only place fruit or any food can ferment is in the colon, which is a bacterial haven. Just remember, this is not a bad thing! (Hello, probiotics!) So, yes, you may resume eating fruit with or in-between meals, as you prefer. And no, please don’t wait until you have completely digested your breakfast before you sit down for lunch.

But, if you do, be nice and give your coworkers a heads up, so they don’t take your hangry attitude personally.


 

Spotlight On: Eggs

Easter is right around the corner, which means pastel blue, pink, and yellow eggs are showcasing in storefronts all around us. While we do recommend to limit the amount of chocolate eggs you enjoy, we've decided to use this holiday as an opportunity to shed some light on the health benefits of our favorite household staple, the egg. 

scrambled eggs

Do eggs raise cholesterol? How many eggs are too many? Are egg whites better than whole eggs? Are the brown ones healthier than the white ones? We get these questions all of the time, so we decided to give you the 411:

  •  Eggs are a source of total nutrition. 1 egg is about 70 calories and offers 6 grams of protein
  • Every single B vitamin is found in eggs
  •  Eggs contain every amino acid, making it a complete, high quality protein source
  • Eggs are one of the few good food sources of vitamin D
  •  Egg yolks are high in choline (1 egg provides about 35% of daily need), which is important for maintaining energy levels and a healthy metabolism. Choline is especially important during pregnancy as it contributes to brain and memory development
  • Egg whites contain a protein called avidin which binds to biotin making it absorbable in the body. Biotin helps the body convert fat into usable energy and is also linked with improving hair and nail strength.

Eggs became controversial when research from the 1980's revealed that egg yolks raised LDL and total cholesterol. More recent research, however, did not find any positive correlation between egg yolk consumption and cholesterol. Researchers found the the ratio of fats (omega 6: omega 3) in the diet had a much larger role in cholesterol levels than the amount of cholesterol consumed. The research is still mixed, but if you do have high cholesterol, we recommend limiting egg yolk consumption to 5-6 per week to be safe.

Eggs are a dieter's best friend. One study compared a group of dieters who had an egg-based breakfast to dieters who consumed a starch based breakfast and those who had no breakfast. At the end of the trial, the dieters with an eggy breakfast lost the most weight and body fat overall. Who's having an omelet tomorrow morning??

Time to get crackin! If making eggs at home, we recommend either using 2 whole eggs, or 1 whole egg and 2 egg whites in an omelet or scramble. This way, you get the benefits of the egg yolk but reduce the calories and fat content. Don't be afraid to ask for this next time you're out for brunch! As far as brown vs white, we don't discriminate. This may be surprising, but the color of the egg depends on the color of the chicken. Unlike the case with breads and grains, brown doesn't mean healthier! We choose organic, cage-free eggs. If from a local farm, even better. How to incorporate eggs in your day? Easy.

omelet
  • Pack 2 hardboiled eggs as a protein-packed afternoon snack, or as the protein for your salad
  • Try our omelet muffins, the perfect on-the-go breakfast or snack.
  • Add a fried egg to your next veggie stir-fry or cauliflower fried "rice"
  • Make an omelet or scramble with 1 egg, 2 egg whites, assortment of veggies, few slices of avocado, and fresh herbs and spices.
  • Add a fried egg to your avo toast

Have an eggsellent day! (Had to)

 

Which foods fight the winter blues?

winter blues

Winter blues are a very real phenomenon. The shorter days and lack of sunlight do in fact affect our energy levels, motivation to socialize, appetite, and food cravings. While there is no solitary cause of seasonal depression, we do know that there are foods that can help us keep our moods, appetites, and energy in check.

Below are a few of our favorite foods that help prevent us from hibernating in our pajamas and ordering takeout all winter long!

spinach

Spinach: Spinach and leafy greens contain folic acid, a crucial player in the formation of serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that affects our mood and appetite. When levels of serotonin are higher, we feel generally happier and are more in control of our food cravings. Cooked spinach is also a great source of iron and vitamin C. Iron deficiency is common among women and can cause feelings of weakness and fatigue. We definitely don't need any added lethargy while it's hard enough to leave our beds during the winter!

pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds: These guys contain an amino acid called tryptophan, made famous by the Thanksgiving turkey coma. Tryptophan, along with the high content of magnesium in pumpkin seeds, help our bodies to relax and better cope with stress. Tryptophan is also a precursor to serotonin. Another benefit making these a great snack is that pumpkin seeds contain about 13 grams of protein per serving to help keep you full and energized.

brazil nuts

Brazil Nuts: We are all about Brazil nuts because they are jam packed with nutrients. They are known for their high level of selenium. Selenium has a major role in regulating our thyroid gland where essential hormones are produced and distributed. These hormones are responsible for keeping our mood, appetite, and metabolism in check. We all can use these during the winter! These are also great for avoiding that dry winter skin because of their healthy fat and antioxidant content. Brazil nuts contain an antioxidant called glutathione which helps remove free radicals from the skin that can cause wrinkles. Because Brazil nuts are so energy and nutrient packed, you really only need 3-5 per day to get the benefits. 

Dark Chocolate: Yep, dark chocolate does actually make you happy. The cacao in chocolate boosts the production of endorphins, those "feel good" chemicals in the brain that we also get from exercise. Fun fact: dark chocolate contains phynyltethylmanin, a compound that creates a similar brain wave to the feeling of being in love. So basically there's no reason for a boyfriend, right?

dark chocolate

The flavanoids in dark chocolate increase blood flow to your brain to help boost memory and attention span. Sorry, but we are not giving the green light to have a Snickers bar every night. These benefits come from dark chocolate, preferably with 65% cacao or higher. Because chocolate contains high amounts of sugar, keep your portion sizes in check, 1-2 squares per day max. Note: If you are not a chocolate lover, no need to add it to your diet. Exercise will do the trick when it comes to boosting endorphins during the dark winter days. 

 

How to Avoid the Super Bowl Super Size

If you're anything like us, the Super Bowl is all about the commercials, an excuse to party on a Sunday, and the half time show. But Super Bowl Sunday all too often leads to a miserable Monday. Remember last year? That headache from one too many beers, that stomach ache from a chicken wing overdose... oh, and that spread of questionable chips and dips. 

Believe it or not, there are ways to avoid the Monday food hangover. We are all about partaking in the festivities, but let's focus on making bets, catching up with friends, and most importantly, Beyonce.  

The first step, like with any holiday or festivity that revolves around food, is to set yourself up for success. Number one rule? Do not go in starving! Have a healthy and filling breakfast and lunch so you have a clear head to browse the options and make a plate in a sensible, conscious manner. If you are ravenous walking into the Super Bowl party, you will start piling your plate with the first thing you see - healthy or not. Fill half of your plate with vegetable based options, leaving room for small portions of those foods you just have to try. 

Vegetable based options at the super bowl?? That's where the responsible you comes in. If you are going to a friend's to watch the game, don't assume he or she shares your health goals. Offer to bring a salad, guacamole or hummus with crudités, or our light and filling white bean dip (see recipe below). Beans are high in fiber and protein, the two main components to keeping you satiated and satisfied. 

After you make your plate and mix a drink, sit down and socialize! That's what you're there for, right? 

White Bean Dip with Crudités (yields about 1 3/4 cups)

Ingredients:

white bean dip
  • 2/3 cup low fat cottage cheese
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 12 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 15.5 oz cannellini or white beans, rinsed and drained
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Pinch of paprika (smoked or sweet)
  • Chopped chives to garnish
  • Whole grain pita bread, sliced bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers, and celery to dip

Directions:

  1. Combine the first five ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour
  2. Transfer to serving bowl and drizzle olive oil, sprinkle paprika , and garnish with chives

Have any go-to healthy party recipes? Be sure to share with us!

 

#TovitaNoFilter: Week Three

Here we go, week three. Time to get serious with healthy fats, colorful veggies, herbs and spices. Don't forget to share your skin loving meals using #TovitaNoFilter. 

healthy fats

1.    Get friendly with fats. We’re talking avocado, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. These healthy fats reduce inflammation and strengthen cell membranes for softer, younger looking skin. The high omega-3 content in fatty fishes like salmon help to prevent clogged pores, fine line formation and wrinkles. Fish also contains the mineral selenium, which helps to prevent sunburn and maintain an even skin tone. If you like to nosh on almonds or sunflower seeds, your skin will thank you. The vitamin E in sunflower seeds and almonds slows down aging of skin cells and can aid in diminishing scar tissue.

sweet potato

2.    Boost the beta carotene. This is the antioxidant that gives the orange, red, and yellow pigment to vegetables - AKA load up on the carrots, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers. For an extra boost of fiber, leave the skin on your sweet potato. We recommend baked sweet potatoes with a teaspoon of coconut oil and a dash of cinnamon!

spices

3.    Spice it up. Quit lathering your meat and vegetables in sugary or salty marinades and sauces that cause dehydration and puffiness! Instead, play around with different herbs and spices to create unique flavors that are inherently low in calories. Though you may need a breath mint after, garlic contains high amounts of cysteine, an amino acid that can help stimulate hair follicles to grow stronger, thicker hair. Chili, paprika, cayenne and jalapeño add a kick to your meal while providing vitamins A and C, which prevent the breakdown of collagen. Research also shows that these spices may help to increase your metabolism! Lastly, turmeric is a nutritional powerhouse. It has powerful anti-inflammatory benefits due to its high component of curcumin. Try our recipe for turmeric popcorn

To give your skin some extra love during the dry winter, try our Tovita Glow Salad:

  • 4 cups spinach or kale
  • 4 oz baked salmon (baked with slices of lemon, rosemary and thyme)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped bell peppers
  • ½ cup raw cucumber slices
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • Dress with 2 tablespoons avocado dressing (recipe below)

Enjoy ½ baked sweet potato with a dash of cinnamon on the side!

Avocado Dressing (makes ~1 cup)

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 avocado, peeled pitted, and chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Blend until smooth and creamy and keep refrigerated.

 

 

 

#TovitaNoFilter: Week Two

We're back for week two of #TovitaNoFilter to share our second round of tips for natural beauty from the inside out. Today we’re talking green tea and colorful fruit. Not only are they beauty foods, but they’re also immune boosting (helloooo cold season).

1. Hydrate with green tea or matcha tea. Green tea is a powerful antioxidant that helps scavenge otherwise harmful free radicals roaming around your body. Green tea helps to protect your skin from sun damage by working alongside your SPF to disable free radicals, while the SPF blocks UV rays.

One component of green tea, a catechin called "5-alpha-reductase" can even help with hair loss by inhibiting the effect of a hormone that induces hair loss. Green tea is now a popular component of natural skincare products as it is found to inhibit enzymes that contribute to degradation of skin.

Matcha is a type of green tea leaf that is concentrated into a powder so that you reap 100% of the benefits, rather than just what is steeped through the tea bag. We highly recommend PANATEA matcha powders to make at home, as many of the matcha powders sold in coffee shops are loaded with added sugars!

sugar

2. Skip the sweets with added sugar. Here’s a quick science lesson. When sugar enters your bloodstream, it attaches to proteins to form new molecules called advanced glycation end products (appropriately known as AGE’s). As these accumulate, they damage the proteins surrounding them. Some of the most vulnerable to AGE’s are the proteins collagen and elastin, which keep your skin elastic and young looking. When damaged, skin loses its ability to bounce back, it often leads to unwanted wrinkles. You might want to think twice before you break into that candy cabinet. 

AGE’s also damage antioxidants (yes, the one's you've received from all of the fruits and veggies you've been nourishing your body with) leaving you more susceptible to sun damage. Stick to fruit’s natural sweetness and be cautious of hidden sugars in processed foods.

Tovita tip: One of our favorite naturally sweet desserts are popsicles by EatPops. Though these pops serve as sweet treats, they’re essentially simply frozen juices. No sugar added, no preservatives, no catch.

3. Speaking of fruit, make it your goal to consume at least  two servings of colorful fruit per day. Tropical fruits contain vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant and helps your body produce collagen.

Fun fact? An enzyme in papaya called papain can help reduce skin blemishes and remove dead skin cells when used topically. Papaya DIY face mask anyone?

Stay tuned, we have more natural beauty tips coming your way! Remember to share your natural beauty routines or makeup-free glowing faces using #TovitaNoFilter

 

 

Tovita Talks: Avocados (Up on WeWoreWhat Lifestyle Section!)

Avocados have managed to hold their place at the top of the trendiest foods list for quite some time now. They have finagled their way into every recipe, from the traditional salad, to the over-instagrammed avocado toast (guilty), to even that morning smoothie. There’s a good reason these fruits have remained the talk of the culinary town, and it’s not just because they’re Danielle’s favorite food. Today we’re going to discuss the ins and the outs of the avocado, because if you’re already on the avo-bandwagon, you should know why.

  Click here  for the abridged version of this article on  WeWoreWhat  Lifestyle section! 

Click here for the abridged version of this article on WeWoreWhat Lifestyle section! 

You may have heard that these guys are a good source of healthy fats. But what does that really mean? It means they’re made up of predominantly monounsaturated fats, which have heart-healthy properties like the ability to improve LDL-cholesterol levels (the bad kind) and reduce oxidative stress. What’s even more unique is that some of the types of fats that make up the avocado (we won’t bore you with the names) have anti-inflammatory properties. In the past fats have gotten a bad rep because of the common misconception that all fats are pro-inflammatory. While this is true for certain types, like those found in fried or processed foods, it is quite the opposite in the case of the avocado.

Another fun fact is that the healthy fats found in avocados help to increase the absorption of carotenoids - a class of antioxidants often found in orange and yellow colored produce, ie. sweet potatoes, carrots, peppers, etc. So there’s your justification for topping your salads with avocado. You’re welcome.

Just because we’ve belabored the point that avocados are a good source of healthy fats doesn’t give you the green light eat them all day long. The average avocado has about 30 grams of fat, meaning no matter how you slice it, we’re talking lots of calories. Even though it’s tempting to add it on.. literally everything.. be mindful of how much you are eating in a sitting. We recommend keeping it to ¼ of an avocado.

There are still more benefits this fruit has to offer. They’re a good source of most B vitamins,  vitamins K, C, E, fiber, potassium, and copper. Not to mention they provide a ton of phytonutrients, which contribute to their antioxidant properties. Remember, antioxidants act as our bodies “clean up crew” by scavenging dangerous free radicals that can otherwise lead to deleterious health effects. No thanks!

They call the avocado “nature’s butter” for good reason. Whether you’re using it as a spread for the classic avocado toast or you’re eating on the side with your omelet, you can’t go wrong. If you’re looking for a fun new way to incorporate avocados at your next brunch party, we’ve got you covered with the “taco bar method.” On whole grain bread or wheat crackers, serve a platter of plain, blank, avocado toasts. Then, as a taco bar would offer, set up bowls of different toppings and let your guests make their own avo-toasts. Topping ideas include: feta cheese, sliced hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, red pepper flakes, hot sauce, tomatoes, mangos, black beans, or any vegetables. Your guests will have fun creating different combinations, and who knows, you may discover the next big avo-hit!