Wellness Blog

Each month, I.L. Creations' registered dietitians create our Wellness Newsletter discussing a different nutrition or wellness topic. You may subscribe to this at the registered dietitian's table during your cafe's monthly wellness visit or by clicking the link below to our Home page.  Here on the blog, we continue the conversation by posting relevant, entertaining, and useful food and nutrition information. 

Please look through our previous posts below to see what topics you may have missed. If you would like to see a topic in the future, let us know!

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Check out the Recipes page to see recipes from previous newsletters, registered dietitian cafe visits, and our registered dietitian's family favorites.

Table of Contents

Sugar Substitutes: Are they safe?

posted Dec 6, 2017, 6:40 AM by Tracy Ducker

Sugar substitutes are one of the most widely tested food additive. But are they safe? We’ll discuss some of the concerns along with some of the benefits. Sugar substitutes are any sweetener used instead of table sugar.  There are many types of sugar substitutes including artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, novel sweeteners and natural sweeteners. Each have pros and cons and a variety of uses.

Artificial sweeteners – are synthetic and made from naturally occurring substances or chemicals. They are calorie free and many times sweeter than table sugar, so only a little is needed. They are mainly used in the diet beverage industry, and to sweeten foods and drinks at home.

Pros: Calorie free which may help in weight loss, don’t typically rise blood sugar because they aren’t carbohydrates (check with your doctor or  dietitian before using artificial sweeteners if you have diabetes)

Cons: A study from the 1970’s involving saccharin showed it caused cancer in rats, and a warning label was required. Since then studies have shown no links to cancer in humans and the warning            label was removed. Some artificial sweeteners leave an aftertaste.

           Examples: Sucralose (Splenda), Aspartame (Nutrasweet), Saccharin (Sweet n Low).

Natural Sweeteners – are promoted as being healthier than table sugar and other sugar substitutes however these often are processed and refined. Typically they are used at home as a sweetener, and also used in processed foods.

Pros: Generally safe, some studies have shown that honey has antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

        Cons: Can cause cavities, contain calories and carbohydrates so those with diabetes need to plan accordingly.

Examples: honey, agave nectar, molasses, fruit juice, maple syrup

Sugar Alcohols-  are commonly found in processed foods like chocolate, frozen desserts, candy and baked goods. They are about the same sweetness as table sugar and can occur naturally in some fruits and vegetables but are also manufactured.

       Pros: typically less sweet than sugar and therefore less calories (unless you use more to achieve the same taste. Don’t contribute to tooth decay and have less effect on blood sugars because             They aren’t absorbed completely.

       Cons: can cause diarrhea, gas and bloating in higher amounts

       Examples: Xylitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol

Novel Sweeteners - are relatively new to the market and are combinations of a variety of sweeteners. They typically contain some carbohydrate.

Pros: many are low in calories

     Cons: not tightly regulated- one stevia compound may be 100% stevia but         

another may not.

Examples: Stevia, Tagatos and Trehalose

So, are they safe? The FDA regulates artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols and novel sweeteners and studies have shown that in small reasonable amounts they are safe. However, just because they are ‘natural’ or calorie free doesn’t mean you can eat the entire bag of sugar free cookies. Many of the foods containing these products contain empty calories, with little or no nutritional value and are highly processed.

If you are looking to cut back on your sugar intake, try choosing smaller portions, look for lower sugar alternatives like graham crackers instead of chocolate chip cookies, or plain yogurt with fruit.

For more information on sugar substitutes click here.





Finding the Hidden Sugar in the Ingredients

posted Nov 21, 2017, 7:44 AM by Evangelina DiSpirito

Excess sugar consumption is linked to many chronic health conditions, ranging from diabetes to hormonal imbalances, and linked to the acceleration of brain cell destruction in Alzheimer's disease.  While sugar in our food is not the only culprit for developing diabetes, it does trigger the release of the hormone (insulin) that regulates blood glucose (sugar) levels.   Understanding how to find sugar on a food label is important for individuals who have intolerances or sensitivities to specific types of sugar.  For example, lactose is a naturally occurring milk sugar that can cause gastrointestinal discomfort to those who have lactose intolerance.  High fructose corn syrup, a liquid sweetener, is added to sodas and many processed foods, has been linked to the development of diabetes in those individuals who are at risk. 

To help you find the hidden sugar in your food, take a closer look at the fine print on the food label listed under “ingredients”.    The clues are in the suffix or ending part of a word.    The following are just a few key terms to help you identify the sugar in your food.   

1.       “Ose”:  Ose is a suffix indicating carbohydrate.  On a food label, under  “ingredients”, look for keywords that end in “ose”.   Commonly used added sugars that use the “ose” suffix are dextrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose.  

2.       “Syrup”:  Syrup is a concentrated solution of sugar in water.  On a food label, look for words ending with syrup.  Commonly used syrups are agave syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup,  and high fructose corn syrup.   

3.       “Juices”:  A fluid which can be naturally occurring or mixed.   Look for ingredients that have added the word “juice”.  Commonly used juices, are apple juice, grape juice, and pineapple juice. 

4.       “Honey ”:  Flower nectar stored in the honeycomb by bees.   The flower nectar breaks down into simple sugars and is harvested to make honey.   Honey has the same reaction in the body as table sugar. 

With time and practice, you will be able to quickly find the “hidden sugars” in many foods.  It’s important to note that the ingredients are listed in the order of highest-quantity to lowest-quantity in a particular food.     

For more questions on this topic or to have our Registered Dietitians present more on this topic to your department, please contact nutrition@ilcreations.com .


Is Sugar the Enemy: Sugar and Your Health

posted Nov 6, 2017, 9:26 AM by Tracy Ducker

Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap in last few years. But, all carbs are not created equal. Carbohydrates can be categorized into simple carbs (sugar) and complex carbs (whole grains, fruits and vegetables).  In fact our bodies need complex carbs, for optimal brain function and for energy especially during exercise. It is the simple carbs, ie. sugar that we need to be concerned about.

Some foods, like fruit, contain sugar naturally, other foods like cakes, cookies and sodas contain added sugars. It is these added sugars we need to watch out for. According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Americans should consume no more that 10% of total calories from added sugars per day (about 12-15 teaspoons/day). Many Americans consume up to 25% of their total calories from added sugars and this can have a profound affect on their health.

Let’s take a look at some of the harmful effects excessive sugar has our bodies and our health.

Diabetes -  It has long been thought that consuming sugar can cause type 2 diabetes, but recent studies have found that eating recommended amounts of sugar as part of a healthy diet does not increase your risk. However, studies have shown that consuming high sugar beverages does increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. 

Heart disease - There aren’t many dietary studies linking sugar intake to cardiovascular death but there have been associations between high sugar intake (20% of calories or 30 teaspoons/day) and an increase triglycerides and decrease in HDL levels (good cholesterol). Both of these can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. One study showed that compared to those who consumed 8% of calories from sugar; those consuming 17-21% of calories from sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. So, while more studies need to be done, excessive sugar intake does seem to have a negative on the cardiovascular system.

Tooth decay- We all have bacteria is our mouths and this bacteria thrive on sugar. The more sugar you eat the more the bacteria multiply and this excess bacteria then can cause tooth decay.

Inadequate diet - Foods high in sugar can replace more nutritious foods in the diet. Sugar has no vitamins or minerals, it is ‘empty calories’ and because high sugar foods taste good there is the tendency to overeat these types of foods, which can lead to weight gain.

So, should we limit added sugars? Yes, too much of any nutrient isn’t good, but we don’t need to eliminate it totally. Sugar plays a role in baking and flavoring foods, so in small amounts it is not too bad.  The American Heart Association has stricter guidelines, which is recommended for better health. Most women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons/day or 100 calories and most men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons/day or 150 calories. So, take a look at the amount of added sugar you are consuming and if it is too much, try making some changes. Check out myplate.gov to calculate how much sugar you are consuming and for healthy eating tips. Our next blog will focus on reducing sugar intake.

Vegetarian Dining Out

posted Oct 30, 2017, 12:04 PM by Tracy Ducker   [ updated Oct 30, 2017, 12:15 PM ]

Finding meatless meals when eating away from home can be challenging. But, more and more restaurants are offering vegetarian and vegan options or will alter a menu item so it is vegetarian or vegan. However, there are still things you need to look out for. For example, is the food cooked with butter or chicken or beef stock.

With a few tips you can eat away from home without much worry.

Restaurants: Many restaurants now label their vegetarian and vegan items with a leaf or a ‘v’ or have a separate section on their menu. You can always ask, if you aren’t sure. Most restaurant staff are well versed in meeting customers’ various dietary needs. If something looks good but isn’t vegetarian ask the kitchen to make the necessary substitution or deletions. One thing to be aware of is the deep fryer frying oil, this oil is typically used for all deep fried foods. If you don’t mind that chicken nuggets are fried in the same oil as your fried zucchini sticks then you’re fine, but if you do, you may want to stay away from deep fried foods.

Dinner Parties: It can be challenging when eating at someone else’s house if they aren’t vegetarians or vegans. Call the host ahead of time and inform him/her of the foods you don’t eat, or offer to bring a dish to share.

Fast Food: There are less options here, but most fast food joints have salads and some even have vegetable based sandwiches. Be aware of the frying oil as mentioned above.

Ethnic Restaurants: Ethnic cuisines tend to be vegetarian and vegan friendly. Italian, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines offer an abundance of choices. For example, falafel, pasta marinara, minestrone soup, lentil soup, hummus, Greek spanakopita to name a few. There are also many choices at Asian restaurants, be sure to check if they use oyster or fish sauce (which is common). India and other South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal use an abundance of vegetables, beans and rice as main entree dishes. If you do not consume dairy, request that your food be prepared with vegetable oil instead of cream or ghee. Let’s not forget our neighbor, Mexico. Many Mexican dishes are vegetarian or can be made vegetarian, you can’t go wrong with rice and beans. Just check that the rice isn’t made with chicken stock and if you don’t eat dairy foods order dishes without cheese and sour cream.

Our cafeterias always offer a variety of vegetarian and/or vegan dishes. We also have some great recipes on our website.

There are also restaurant apps that can identify vegetarian/vegan friendly restaurants near you. Try Happy Cow at https://www.happycow.net/. Bon Appetite!

To Meat or Not to Meat

posted Oct 20, 2017, 1:50 PM by Tracy Ducker   [ updated Oct 31, 2017, 6:21 AM ]

More and more Americans are switching to meatless meals, in fact according The Vegetarian Resource Group in a 2016 poll, about 7.5 million Americans are either vegetarian or vegan. In our last blog we talked about the difference between vegetarianism and veganism and this week we will discuss the benefits of eating more meatless meals. Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet is a personal choice, but even if you incorporate more meatless meals each week you can still reap many of the benefits.

There have been many studies on the health benefits of not eating meat.

+ Heart Health- one study showed that vegetarians/vegans were 25% less likely to die from heart disease. Some adults with heart disease have actually reversed some of the damage to the heart and blood vessels by switching to a vegan diet. Their blood pressure and cholesterol levels decreased and some were even able to stop taking medication.

+ Cancer – Many of the studies have been inconsistent with cancer risk between vegetarians and non-vegetarians with the exception of colon cancer. Those who avoid red meat have less carcinogenic substances in their colon, therefore reducing their risk of colon cancer. It is well known that eating a lot of fruits and vegetables decreases cancer risk and being vegetarian or vegan makes it a lot easier to eat the recommended amount of fruits and veggies.

+ Type 2 diabetes – Eating a vegetarian diet along with exercise can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes. The high fiber and low fat foods help those with diabetes better control their blood sugars.

+ Leaner- most vegetarians and vegans are leaner than their meat eating counterparts.

Those who do not eat meat need to plan their meals to ensure adequate nutrients, especially vitamin B12, iron and calcium (for vegans). Many plant based foods contain calcium, like dark green leafy vegetables, fortified non dairy milk beverages, and fortified orange juice. Iron rich foods include dark green vegetables, whole grains, and beans. For B12, a supplement is recommended as plant based foods do not contain a bioavailable source, although some cereals are fortified it usually isn’t enough to meet the recommended amount. So with a little planning you can make healthy and tasty vegetarian or vegan meals the whole family will love. Check out some of our great vegetarian and vegan recipes on our recipe page. For additional information on meal planning check out Forks Over Knives.


Vegetarian or Vegan?

posted Oct 6, 2017, 1:54 PM by Tracy Ducker   [ updated Oct 31, 2017, 5:55 AM ]

October is Vegetarian Awareness Month and with more and more people choosing a vegetarian or vegan way of eating, it is worth discussing what each entails.

Many people group veganism under vegetarianism as a sub category. However it is different from vegetarian diets. Those following a vegan diet consume no animal meat, animal products or use anything tested on animals (makeup, skin care products) or anything make from an animal (leather clothes). Their diets consist of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Vegetarians on the other hand may consume anything ranging from dairy, eggs, fish and some meat. There are categories that describe each of these types of vegetarian diets. These are a few of the more common ones.

·         Lacto-ovo vegetarians – do not eat animals or animal by-products (any food that involves slaughtering the animal, like chicken broth) but do eat eggs and dairy foods.

·         Lacto vegetarians – Do not eat animals or any animal by-products, or eggs, but do consume dairy foods

·         Ovo vegetarians – Do not eat animals or any animal by-products, or dairy, but do consume eggs.

·         Flexitarians – Eat dairy, eggs and fish and poultry occasionally, but no beef or pork.

·         Pescatarians – Eat dairy, eggs and fish, but no poultry, beef or pork or any of these animal by-products

There are many options to choose from so why not give it go and try for Meatless Mondays. It is really up to you and these categories don’t mean you need to label yourself as one or another but decide what you are willing to eat and willing to cut out or cut back on. We have some great vegetarian and vegan recipes on our website that the whole family is sure to love.

For more information on vegetarian and vegan diets click here.

Making Time for Family Meals

posted Sep 22, 2017, 1:51 PM by Tracy Ducker

In our last blog we talked about the benefits of family meals and this week we will talk about how to make family meals happen. Obviously, the biggest hurdle for most families is time. With working parents and kid’s sports and activities, preparing dinner and finding the time everyone is home is difficult. But not impossible, with a little planning and some quick, healthy, and tasty recipes you and your family can eat together most nights.

During the weekend (or whenever you have some extra time) plan your meals for the week, I have included some recipe links to help you get started. Then make your grocery list this will help eliminate any weeknight last minute shopping, saving you time. Have your kids help you in kitchen so dinner won’t take as long and you can spend some extra time together. If you can, prepare some meals ahead of time on the weekend and freeze for later in the week. Even if the entire family can’t sit down together all of the time, try to plan so everyone has someone to eat with each night.

So, make a commitment to eat just one more meal together as family each week.

Here are some family friendly recipes that are easy to make.

Mini Bow Ties with Bacon and Peas: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/mini-bow-ties-bacon-peas

Linguine with Easy Meat Sauce:  http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/linguine-easy-meat-sauce

Chicken Fingers and Green Beans with Tahini Sauce:  http://www.cookinglight.com/recipes/chicken-fingers-green-beans-tahini-sauce

Farmer's Market Vegetarian Quesadillas:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/165783/farmers-market-vegetarian-quesadillas/?internalSource=staff%20pick&referringId=17204&referringContentType=recipe%20hub&clickId=cardslot%207

Broiled Tilapia Parmesan: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/50644/broiled-tilapia-parmesan/?internalSource=staff%20pick&referringId=16065&referringContentType=recipe%20hub&clickId=cardslot%203

For more information on family meals check out FMI.

Family Meals: Are they really that important?

posted Sep 11, 2017, 9:56 AM by Tracy Ducker

We live such busy lives, that finding time to sit down and eat together is challenging. But, research has shown that eating together as a family has lifelong benefits. In fact, children who are part of regular family meals are less likely to use drugs and alcohol at an early age and they benefit from:

·       Better grades

·       Improved nutrition

·       Stronger family relationships

·       Higher self-esteem

Family meals do not have to be a big affair, make time for everyone to eat a quick breakfast together, enlist in everyone's help for dinner (from helping in food prep to setting the table.) When everyone pitches in, meals are prepared quicker. Try making some meals ahead of time so you can heat and serve during the week. Be sure all electronics (phones, t.v., etc.) are off so everyone can focus on the conversation. For conversation starters click here. We all want what is best for our children and having family dinners where everyone can share in the conversation is a great way to find out what your children are doing in and out of school. For more on the importance of Family Meals visit  here.

Vegetables and Kids: They Can Go Together

posted Aug 28, 2017, 11:49 AM by Tracy Ducker

Are french fries the only vegetable your child will eat? You’re not alone, vegetables tend to be a least favorite food for kids. So what’s a parent to do? You can always sneak the veggies into other foods, which is also a good way for everyone to get more vegetables. But your child isn’t actually learning to like vegetables. It is important for kids to learn to like and eat a variety of foods, including vegetables, but it takes time. Children need to be offered foods they don’t like up to 15 times or more, according to some experts, before they will accept it. Even then, sometimes they will eat it one day but the next time not even touch it. It’s what kids do. The best way to help kids learn to like vegetables and other foods is to not force it. As parents our job is to prepare and provide the food and the child’s job is decide whether or not eat it. The more times they see it on their plate, the more likely they are to try it.

Here are a few tips on getting your kids to eat more vegetables; offer a very small portion, try preparing it different ways (cooked, raw, in a sauce), and let them help pick vegetables out at the supermarket and help prepare it. Studies have shown that the more involved children are with the foods they eat the more likely they are to try new foods. So go ahead and make pumpkin pancakes or add vegetables to spaghetti sauce, just let them help you so they know how to make delicious foods that are healthy.

For more information check out Ellen Satter’s website at http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/htf/howchildrenlearntolikenewfood.php

Kid Friendly Kitchen Tasks

posted Aug 18, 2017, 12:35 PM by Tracy Ducker   [ updated Aug 28, 2017, 9:21 AM ]

Did you know kids can be great helpers in the kitchen? Studies have shown that when kids help you in the kitchen they are more likely to try new foods. Children like to touch and feel things so letting them ‘play’ with food may actually help them eat better. There are many age appropriate tasks that children can do in the kitchen. So grab your aprons.


2 year olds can:

·         Wipe tables

·         Tear lettuce or greens

·         Place things in the trash

·         Snap green beans

·         Rinse vegetables or fruits

·         Make ‘faces’ out of fruit and vegetable pieces

·         Help turn the pages of cookbook

3 year olds can:

·         Do everything a 2 year old can, plus

·         Add ingredients

·         Talk about cooking

·         Scoop or mash potatoes

·         Stir batter

·         Knead and shape dough

·         Help assemble pizza

·         Name and count foods

·         Squeeze citrus fruits

 4 year olds can:

·         Do everything a 3 year old can, plus

·         Peel eggs and some fruits

·         Set the table

·         Crack eggs

·         Help measure dry ingredients

·         Help make sandwiches and tossed salads

 5 year olds can:

·         Do everything a 4 year old can, plus

·         Measure liquids

·         Cut soft fruit with a dull knife

·         Use and egg beater


For more information go to choosemyplate.gov

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