Is it Healthy to Replace a Meal with a Shake?

Is it Healthy to Replace a Meal with a Shake?

Question:

Hello, I have breakfast (almond milk, walnuts, pecans, almonds, banana and oats) and dinner (salad of tomato, onion, potatoes, pepper, cilantro, rice puffs). Can I replace my everyday lunch with meal replacement shakes? I work out in the gym 3 times a week and run twice a week. I have been in good shape but can’t get a 6-pack. I would like to get there in 3 months before my vacation. Thanks in advance for your help. 

-Dean

Answer:

You certainly can replace your lunch with a meal replacement shake, although I don’t know if that would help you with your goal. Dinner already sounds super light and you’ve not described your current lunch so it’s hard to tell what’s missing from your day. The items you described are all plant-based so I’ll stick with like foods in recommending quinoa, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, berries, flax & chia seeds, spinach, lentils, and green tea for your mid-day meal. It’s best to chew your calories, allowing your digestive system to do its job over time, thus allowing a slower uptake of energy than from a shake. 

Be sure your workouts include lots of ab-defining exercises as highlighted elsewhere on our Living Healthy Blog. 

Resources: 

  1. Brazier, Brendan. “Best Foods for Building Abs, Six-Packs.” Men’s Journal, 5 Apr. 2018,
    www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/best-foods-for-building-your-abs-20130910/green-tea/.
  2. Willitts, Chris. “Build Muscle with Whole Food, Plant Based Diet.” Muscle and Fitness,
    www.muscleandfitness.com/nutrition/gain-mass/build-muscle-whole-food-plant-based-diet.
  3. Says:, Moonlit. “Vegan Foods That Can Help Give You Great Abs in No Time!” One Green Planet, 31 Mar. 2015,
    www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/vegan-foods-that-help-give-you-great-abs-in-no-time/%C2%A0.
  4. Willitts, Chris. “How to Get Abs Fast – Just Eat These 10 Fat-Burning Plant Foods.” Vegetarian Bodybuilding, 18 Sept. 2017,
    www.vegetarianbodybuilding.com/how-to-get-abs-fast/%C2%A0.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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What Dark Chocolate and Almonds Can Do for Your Health

What Dark Chocolate and Almonds Can Do for Your Health

November 7th was National Bittersweet Chocolate and Almonds Day! With this tasty treat still on everyone’s mind, let’s talk about what has been learned about the benefits of this bittersweet indulgence. Perhaps because researchers just wanted to prove that chocolate can be healthy, the work has been done to study its nutrients and their effects on the body.  

By now, you may already know some of what they have unearthed. First and foremost, that bittersweet chocolate, that is at least 65% cacao, wins the nutrition battle over milk chocolate. In case you haven’t heard, or if you’d like to know more, allow us to give you a few reasons why you should add some dark chocolate (and almonds) to your snack drawer. 

Dark Chocolate and Almonds are Both Loaded with Antioxidants

Antioxidant and Free Radical Diagram

Antioxidants and Free Radicals

Antioxidants are those agents that help shield your body from free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that can cause cells to lose their ability to function normally.1

Essentially, free radicals hang out in your body with only one electron. Electrons like to be in pairs, so these free radicals seek out healthy atoms in your body to steal one of their electrons. When those healthy atoms lose an electron to a free radical, this causes damage to it.

Antioxidants help by giving free radicals the electron they need so they don’t steal it from other cells. 

A study comparing cocoa powder and dark chocolate with super-fruit powders and juices found that the former had the same, or significantly larger, amounts of antioxidants and flavanols!2

The article explains that cacao powder successfully competes with or outperforms the antioxidant power of blueberry, cranberry, and pomegranate powders.2 It’s pretty nice to know that cacao seeds qualify as a super food! 

 

Antioxidants and Flavanols

We should back up a bit here, however, because you might be wondering what flavanols are and why you need them. 

Flavanols are interesting because, according to a chocolate-making company called Ombar, they are actually very mildly toxic! This toxicity, however, prompts your body to produce more of its own antioxidants.3 This might be why chocolate is able to pack such a healthful punch. Not only does it contain antioxidants, it also stimulates your body’s natural production. 

As for almonds, eating them with the skin will get you more antioxidants than eating almonds without the skin.4 You can enjoy them roasted or raw, but the key is in that outer protective layer. Next time you reach for a bar of dark chocolate, choose one that contains unskinned almonds. 

 

Dark Chocolate and Almonds Can Both Benefit Your Blood 

They Can Lower Your Blood Pressure:

The flavanols in dark chocolate are partly responsible for the lowering of your blood pressure,2 while magnesium is behind this benefit in almonds.5 Fortunately, almonds contain 20% of your recommended daily intake of magnesium.5 

They Can Lower Blood Sugar:

In dark chocolate, the antioxidants may help your body use its insulin more efficiently, and as a result, this can help lower your blood sugar.6 In almonds, magnesium comes back to play another role. It happens to help control your blood sugar by increasing your insulin sensitivity.5  

They Can Help Prevent Blood Clots:

A study on cocoa’s effects on platelet activation and function concluded that cocoa had “an Aspirin-like effect” on blood.7 Almonds, which are naturally high in Vitamin E, have a blood-thinning effect for this reason.8 

Dark Chocolate and Almonds Can Improve Your Brain Function 

Strokes and Dementia

A study was conducted to measure the brain’s responses to cognitive tasks after eating flavanol-rich cocoa. The most notable conclusion drawn from this study was that the cocoa significantly increased blood flow to gray matter in the brain.9 The study suggests that this means cocoa flavanols have the potential to aid in the treatment of strokes and dementia.9 

Memory Problems and Neuro-Degenerative Diseases

Almonds, on the other hand, can help protect the brain from age-related memory problems and neurodegenerative diseases.10 This is because they contain nutrients like tocopherol, folate, mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids, and polyphenols. In separate studies, these nutrients have “shown promise as possible dietary supplements to prevent or delay the onset of age-associated cognitive dysfunction.”10 

 

While technically these neurological effects have been observed by researchers, it’s still wise to take this information with a grain of salt. There is not enough information to prove that eating dark chocolate or almonds will improve your brain function by statistically significant numbers.  

We think this information just goes to show that what your body needs can be found in an assortment of natural foods and ingredients, whereas highly processed foods strip most of those benefits away.  

How Much is Healthy for You? 

Dark Chocolate

We’d like to say, after learning the many benefits, that we can eat as much dark chocolate and almonds as we’d like. Unfortunately, we’re too aware of the truth in the statement that “it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.”  

Looking closer at what we’ve shared with you so far, you may notice that all the benefits of dark chocolate lie in the cocoa powder. The other ingredients in your chocolate bar, like sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, do more harm than good in large amounts.  

The recommended portion of dark chocolate that allows you to reap the benefits and avoid too much of those other ingredients, is about an ounce and a half per day.11 That’s about half or 1/3 of a standard chocolate bar. 

Almonds

As for almonds, the recommended portion is about one ounce, or 23 kernels.12 Because almonds are high in calories, fat, and fiber, eating too many can lead to weight gain as well as gastrointestinal problems from the excess of fiber. So, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water if you’re planning on having more than a small handful.  

For more healthy snacking ideas, read our Super Snacking Guide. Or, listen to our podcast on How to Read a Nutrition Label to prepare yourself for your next grocery trip. To access our monthly blog post highlights, subscribe to our newsletter today! 

Sources:

  1. Liou, Stephanie. “About Free Radical Damage.” HOPES Huntington’s Disease Information, 11 Oct. 2015, hopes.stanford.edu/about-free-radical-damage/.
  2. Crozier, Stephen J, et al. “Cacao Seeds Are a ‘Super Fruit’: A Comparative Analysis of Various Fruit Powders and Products.” BMC Chemistry, BioMed Central, 7 Feb. 2011, bmcchem.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1752-153X-5-5. 
  3. Ombar. “Flavanols in Cacao – What Are They and What Do They Do?” Ombar, 2017, www.ombar.co.uk/blogs/news/flavanols-in-cacao-what-are-they-and-what-do-they-do. 
  4. Garrido, I, et al. “Polyphenols and Antioxidant Properties of Almond Skins: Influence of Industrial Processing.” Journal of Food Science, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18298714. 
  5. Leech, Joe. “9 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Almonds.” Healthline, 6 Sept. 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-proven-benefits-of-almonds. \
  6. Doheny, Kathleen. “Pick Dark Chocolate for Health Benefits.” WebMD, WebMD, 24 Apr. 2012, www.webmd.com/diet/news/20120424/pick-dark-chocolate-health-benefits#1. 
  7. Rein, Dietrich, et al. “Cocoa Inhibits Platelet Activation and Function.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 July 2000, academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/72/1/30/4729373. 
  8. Doucette, Chrystal. “Almonds As a Blood Thinner.” Healthfully, 15 Oct. 2019, healthfully.com/485795-almonds-as-a-blood-thinner.html. 
  9. Francis, S T, et al. “The Effect of Flavanol-Rich Cocoa on the FMRI Response to a Cognitive Task in Healthy Young People.” Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16794461. 
  10. Batool, Zehra, et al. “Repeated Administration of Almonds Increases Brain Acetylcholine Levels and Enhances Memory Function in Healthy Rats While Attenuates Memory Deficits in Animal Model of Amnesia.” Brain Research Bulletin, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26548495. 
  11. DeNoon, Daniel J. “A Dark Chocolate a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diet/news/20040601/dark-chocolate-day-keeps-doctor-away#1. 
  12. Wolf, Nicki. “Side Effects of Eating Too Many Almonds.” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 8 Feb. 2019, www.livestrong.com/article/468243-side-effects-of-eating-a-lot-of-almonds/. 

Homemade Salad Dressings 101

Homemade Salad Dressings 101

Growing up, I looked forward to making our own Italian dressing with a packet of zesty herb mix, oil and vinegar and shaking it up in a plastic-lidded glass cruet from Good Seasons. Easy enough for a kindergartener to do! Now, I still prefer the taste of my own dressings to the store-bought ones, either refrigerated or on the shelf. 

Fresh is also healthier, not to mention cheaper. No chemical preservatives, artificial colors or flavors, excessive sodium or sugar. Make your own salad dressing so tasty, you’ll want to take it everywhere! …okay, so maybe just to restaurants and potlucks. Still, a custom dressing that only has in it what you want sounds good enough for every salad venue. 

Creating your own basic blend takes little time and effort, even for beginners. Moving on to crafting more unique flavored dressings means following established recipes rather than trial-and-error. Here, we give you the rundown of what it takes to make a simple vinaigrette, with two additional dressing styles, plus tips for the best results. 

Base Ingredients 

oil – extra virgin olive, avocado, flaxseed, grapeseed, safflower, soybean, etc. (coconut oil solidifies) 

acid – vinegar (apple cider, red wine, white wine, balsamic, etc.) or lemon juice 

sweet – agave syrup or honey 

savory – garlic, onion, mustard or Worcestershire 

spice – salt & pepper  

Optional Ingredientssesame oil, lime, orange juice, ginger, dried herbs (basil, dill, tarragon), buttermilk, grated Parmesan cheese, horseradish, avocado, cilantro, parsley, and so much more 

Equipment needed: measuring cup, measuring spoons, bowl, whisk, wide-mouth cruet, or sealed jar/bottle. Optional ingredients may require knife & cutting board or food processor. 

Time needed: Just 5 minutes for a basic recipe with dried herbs, 10-15 minutes for those with 10+ ingredients or fresh herbs to chop. 

Awesome 8-ingredient DIY Dressings

Staple Vinaigrette best with spinach, arugula, or mesclun 

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 

1/4 cup red wine vinegar 

1 tablespoon lemon juice 

1 tablespoon agave syrup  

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil 

1 teaspoon minced garlic 

pinch of salt & pepper, to taste 

  • Whisk together in bowl 
  • Suggested additions: tarragon; lemon-thyme

Creamy Ranchbest with iceberg, romaine or radicchio lettuce

1/3 cup buttermilk 

1/2 cup nonfat sour cream or plain yogurt 

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar 

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley 

1 teaspoon dried dill weed 

1 teaspoon onion powder  

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 

pinch of salt & cracked pepper, to taste 

  • Whisk together in bowl 
  • Suggested additions: dried chives; Worcestershire 

Vegan Green Goddess best with leaf lettuce, endive or kale; also good on bowl meals 

1 avocado 

3 tablespoonsextra virgin olive oil 

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 

1/4 cup water 

3/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves 

1/2 cup chopped green onion 

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 

2 garlic cloves 

  • Blend all in food processor 
  • Suggested additions: lime & cilantro together; cayenne pepper

1 cup of dressing yields about eight 2-tablespoon servings. 

For peak flavor, allow blends to sit at least 30 minutes for ingredients to meld. 

Keep refrigerated in airtight container for up to 5 days. 

Do’s and Don’ts 

Don’t: Counteract tartness by adding more agave syrup or honey – it’s extra sugar. 

Don’t: Overseason your dressing without tasting it first, as that could ruin the finished product. 

Don’t: Pre-dress your leafy salad more than ½ hour before you’ll serve it or the oil (& vinegar) may wilt the delicate tender greens.  

Don’t: Store mixed vinaigrette at room temperature as the oils can turn rancid over time.  

Do: Enhance your salad with natural sweetness from cranberries, mandarin slices or strawberries.  

Do: Add salt (up to 1/4 tsp.) and pepper (up to 1/8 tsp.) bit by bit until desired flavor is reached.  

Do: Consider adding an emulsifier (like prepared mustard, honey, or tomato paste) to vinaigrettes, which helps keep  oil from directly coating leaves. 

Do: Refrigerate any unused dressing (all kinds) and allow to come to room temperature, then shake up before reuse. 

Your Guide to Mindful Eating

Your Guide to Mindful Eating

Today is World Food Day! With over 2,000,000 farms across the U.S., we produce, export, and consume a lot of food! In 2015, about 48.5 billion pounds of red meat was produced. In 2014, grain production came out to approximately 442.4 million metric tons. 

With all this production comes a lot of waste; 62.5 million tons of wasted food each year, to be more specific. We’re not even considering the waste that comes from actual production, from packaging, and from transporting all this food. 

As an individual, you can easily and effectively help reduce food waste. Here are some ways that you can make a positive impact. 

Reduce Wasted Food 

01.

It can be hard to remember when you made that casserole in the back of your fridge. Create your own labels so you remember when you cooked and to avoid throwing good food out prematurely. 

02.

Create your own labels for store-bought foods as well, particularly if the expiration date is already difficult to see. This is also a great idea if you tend to store certain foods without the packaging it came in. 

03.

Make your grocery shopping trips smaller and more frequent instead of buying large quantities of food less frequently. If you must buy something in bulk, split it up into smaller containers that you can freeze for later use. 

04.

Eat before you shop. We’ve all fallen victim to the hungry shopping-spree that ended with a shopping cart full of items we never intended to buy. Even a light snack before you hit the store can help you make more conscious decisions. 

05.

Try to commit to cooking more at home. If you like to meal prep and you make a big batch of food, freeze some of it so you don’t get tired of eating the same thing. This should keep it from sitting around in your fridge too long. 

06.

Instead of throwing away leftovers, re-purpose them to make an entirely different meal. This article from Taste of Home can give you some ideas on how to make leftovers shine.

07.

To help ward off spoilage, wrap fruits and veggies in a paper towel or toss a napkin into the storage container. This absorbs moisture which will help keep produce fresher longer. If you’re worried about wasting trees, try tree-free products or use regular kitchen towels. 

08.

Don’t toss it just yet! The “Best By” or “Use By” date just means your food will taste the best and be the freshest up to a certain date. It doesn’t necessarily mean it will be spoiled once that date has passed! The USDA explains that “with [the] exception of infant formula…if the date passes during home storage, a product should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly until the time spoilage is evident.”1 

Make Ecologically Sustainable Choices 

01.

Try your best to minimize trash. You may live in a state that has banned single-use grocery bags, but if you don’t, consider reusable grocery bags for your next shopping trip. You can go a step further and bring reusable bags or lightweight containers for buying produce and bulk beans, rice, nuts, etc.

02.

Buy sustainably sourced seafood and choose varieties that are more abundant. For example, choose Mackerel, Tilapia, Catfish, Mussels, Clams, or Oysters over less abundant species like Tropical Prawns, Swordfish, Atlantic Salmon, or Shark. 2

03.

Eat less meat or commit to buying from local sources. Buying local reduces the carbon footprint caused by packaging, shipping, and other transportation. This also goes for fruits and veggies. If you can, stick only to what’s in-season. 

04.

Try composting! Believe it or not, food takes a long time to decompose in a landfill. This is because there is actually very little dirt, oxygen, and very few of the microorganisms that help with decomposition.3 Composting at home is great for the health of your soil and will help you grow your own produce.

05.

If you haven’t invested in a reusable water bottle, this is a great move for your health and for the environment. It’s a reminder to keep hydrated and a way to keep unnecessary plastic out of landfills. You can do the same with straws and cutlery and replace plastic with some reusable and portable alternatives.

For more food and nutrition topics, check out the Meal Prepping 101 Guide or this Super Snacking Guide. To access our monthly blog post highlights, subscribe to our newsletter today! 

Sources:

  1. “FSIS.” Food Product Dating, United States Department of Agriculture, www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating.
  2. Charles, Alba. “How to Know If Fish Is Sustainable.” Onehowto.com, 2017, food.onehowto.com/article/how-to-know-if-fish-is-sustainable-10516.html.
  3. Talk, Earth. “Do Biodegradable Items Degrade in Landfills?” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 4 Jan. 2019, www.thoughtco.com/do-biodegradable-items-really-break-down-1204144.

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Right

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Right

We’ve all heard the outburst I’m not hungry!when a healthy meal is placed in front of an obviously low-fueled child. [And why, oh why, does this particularly happen after ordering an expensive dish or preparing a labor-intensive meal followed by said child eating half a loaf of bread?] Children certainly can be poor eaters, no doubt. With patience and creativity, parents can turn that into “Peas please, Mom!”

It all starts in infancy when the innate taste preference for sweet flavor (bitter foods were toxic in human history) is met with a bounty of fruity baby food; followed by edible treats from Grandma’s kitchen making their way into toddler hands. No wonder getting little ones to eat decent solid food can be challenging. It’s said that it may take 15 times of introducing a new food item before a child will eat it!  

If your kiddo seems to eat the same thing day in and out, you may not need to worry. Food jags are generally okay lasting anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Continue to offer nutritious choices and a child will eventually eat when they are hungry enough. Remember, feeding your child is about nourishment. If you engage in a battle of the wills, your child’s attitude toward food in general may lean toward the negative and his or her long-term nutrition may lose out. 

Broccoli Battles and Other Vegetable Nightmares 

Let’s talk about the elephant in the kitchen – vegetables. Children are known for eschewing them from their plates and failing to consume the recommended number of servings (see highlight/box below). Only a handful of veggies satisfy children’s preference for sweet, namely: carrot, corn, sweet potato/yam, tomato and acorn squash. We could write an entire blog just addressing ways to get your kid to eat more vegetables, but here we’ll name a few.  

It may be the look. Who said they had to be served in leafy salad or in a naked cooked pile on the plate? Make it fun and appealing! Shred or spiralize vegetables to serve as a topping for sandwiches, burgers, pasta and more. Combine diced vegetables as ‘confetti’ with rice, quinoa or couscous.

Texture aversions present an opportunity to find ways of preparing foods in another manner with an acceptable mouthfeel. Slimy hot okra might be replaced by breaded okra bites. Stringy or leafy vegetables may be pureed into smoothies, soups or sauces. Freeze dried or lightly fried vegetable chips work well in lunch boxes.

Don’t forget about between meal eating. Snacks are necessary for continued energy and offer a valuable time for additional nutrients, especially for small bellies that can only get so much at mealtime. Serve beet-blended pink hummus with crackers or pita bread.

Increasing Interest in Healthy Foods

Involve Kids in Food Prep 

To increase interest in food, try to get kids involved in cooking or at least preparing a few meals here and there. Children are more likely to try the fruits of their labor than if food is just presented to them. A fouryearold can scoop and stir, a six year old can pour and peel, an eight year old can measure and assemble, while a ten year old can cut and become more confident in advanced tasks. Children like to feed themselves, so finger-friendly foods assure independence at mealtime. To help promote a desire to eat, make sure kids aren’t full of empty calorie foods before meals — keep sweets and treats at a minimum. 

Model Smart Food Choices 

Older children often make their own food decisions about what to buy from the school cafeteria or buy from vending machines and drive-through. There’s a reason why teens are stereotyped for their greasy fast food choices, soda and pizza consumption. In a way, adolescents are exerting their freedom from rules and parental control.

On the flip side, too much attention and focus on healthfulness of food can lead to dieting and an unhealthful preoccupation with nutrition among teenagers. Set clear expectations on how spending cash is to be used. It’s best to be a good role model, following habits and behaviors that demonstrate healthy choices, starting early when children are young. 

At any stage of childhood, parents should consult with a healthcare professional if their child’s growth is no longer on trend for them individually. For specific eating behaviors and nutritional concerns, look for a Registered Dietitian who is a boardcertified specialist in pediatric nutrition, designated by the CSP credential. 

Recommended daily vegetable servings*

Children  2-3 years old 1 cup
Children 4-8 years old   1-1.5 cups 
Girls  9-13 years old 2 cups 
Boys    9-13 years old 2.5 cups
Girls  14-18 years old 2.5 cups 
Boys  14-18 years old 3 cups 

Cup vegetable equivalents (1 cup = 1 baseball or fist of an average adult)

1 cup Tomato and other vegetable juices
1 cup Broccoli, Carrots, Green beans and other cooked chopped vegetables
1 cup Pumpkin and other winter squash
1 cup Peas, Corn and other starchy vegetables
1 cup Celery, Peppers, Cucumber and other raw crunchy vegetables
cups Spinach and other raw leafy greens

*Reference: Daily Vegetable Table. USDA. www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables July 18, 2019.Accessed 9.6.2019 

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