Buffalo News Refresh – March 2017

by: Holly R. Layer

Say no to added sugar in April and feel better

In order to celebrate National Nutrition Month and ‘Put Our Best Fork Forward,’ this year’s theme, I challenge each and every one of you to GIVE UP ADDED SUGAR.

Seriously, I do. For the—how convenient—thirty days in April. And to keep it interesting, my husband, Andrew, and I will join you. I do realize this means no Easter candy; I sympathize, as I adore Starburst Jellybeans and will miss them. Instead, why not get creative with your Easter Basket this year—the hubby has been known to stuff books, workout gear and healthy snacks in mine!

Added sugars are the additional sugar found in sweetened items, like cookies, cakes, yogurts and even bread and salad dressings. This includes many condiments, like ketchup, and artificial sweeteners, such as Stevia. Giving added sugars the boot—and focusing on whole foods—is the quickest way to weight loss and decreasing your risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Perhaps the biggest benefit of omitting added sugars is decreasing your dependence on added sugars after those 30 days are up.

As a dietitian, I’m always cautious of the various fad diets out there, especially those that omit food groups or promise incredible results. I’ve participated in various ‘eating styles’ over the years, sometimes to test them out for myself, other times because I wanted a challenge or to clean up my own diet. I felt like crap avoiding wheat for Wheat Belly, had a blast trying new recipes with Andrew on a ’21-Day Paleo Challenge’ and felt my absolute best doing a couple Whole30s.   I can say, without a doubt, that my healthiest eating style is to focus on fruits and vegetables and protein sources, while limiting grains and dairy products.

Enter my own ‘No Added-Sugar Challenge.’ A quick Google search will yield multiple hits for ‘no sugar challenges,’ many of them 30 days in duration and with varying rules, some are legitimately ‘sanctioned’ and require participants to pay a fee, while others are simply someone’s rules for anyone to attempt. What I like about these ‘challenges’ is that they’re short yet sustainable, generate excitement and motivation and are goal-oriented. I encourage you to come up with a (non-food) reward for completing the challenge, like a new yoga mat.

I’ll keep it simple with just ONE rule: NO ADDED SUGAR/SWEETENER. (*With one caveat, below.)

Here are some helpful hints and clarification:

  1. Thirty days: It’s long enough to break bad habits, form new ones and see results. You may lose weight and/or inches off various parts of your body, as well as other changes, such as better sleep, increased energy, etc.
  2. Other names for sugar: Sugar is sugar is sugar. This includes agave nectar, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, coconut sugar, molasses, etc. If it serves to sweeten the item—even if it’s natural—it’s out. This also includes artificial sweeteners, like sucralose, saccharin, aspartame, xylitol, acesulfame K and monk fruit.
  3. Read those labels: You’ll be shocked at how many items have added sugar that aren’t sweet, like salsas, spaghetti sauce and salad dressings. Be wary of all the sneaky names for sugar, some of which are mentioned above. If it has sugar, don’t even bring it into the house. If you already own it and aren’t getting rid of it, keep it out of sight for those 30 days.
  4. Whole Grains: Bread often has added sugars. Choose unsweetened loaves, like Ezekiel Bread and 100% whole grain items. Jellies and jams contain sugar, so they’re out—try spreading peanut or almond butter on toast instead.
  5. Dairy: Plain yogurt is OK; fruit-on-the-bottom is not. Milk and cheese are allowed as well.
  6. Meat and Eggs: No sugar here! But, bacon, deli meats and sausages tend to have added sugars, so read those labels.
  7. Produce: Natural sugars are OK, so eat as many fruits and veggies as you can. White (and sweet) potatoes are allowed; so don’t shy away from an old standby. Frozen canned and fresh are all allowed, as long as the fruit isn’t sweetened.
  8. ‘Junk’ food: If it comes in a box or bag with bright colors and you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients, it’s out. First, it probably has sugar. Second, it shouldn’t be in your diet, anyway. Exceptions include healthy, no-added sugar snacks, like freeze-dried fruit or compliant beef jerky.
  9. Fried food: Avoid fried foods, not because of sugar, but because they’re not good food you. As we’re in Lent, it might be sacrilege to ask you to give up your fish fry, so I won’t. I’ll simply strongly encourage you to choose the broiled option with baked potato, instead.
  10. Eating Out: Ask questions, order wisely and skip dessert or have fresh fruit.

Lastly, let these 30 days address any sugar cravings you have. I’m going to borrow a guideline from the Whole30 here. Using an allowed item to feed your sweet tooth IS NOT ALLOWED. Don’t trade your afternoon candy bar for a Larabar (allowed, made with fruit and nuts). Instead, first evaluate whether you’re hungry or not. If so, eat a snack low in natural sugar (like a few almonds or veggies and hummus) and consider eating a bigger lunch the next day to quell that mid-afternoon hunger pang. If not, distract yourself and the craving will go away.

*Coffee: Most—it not all—of the challenges online are 100% no added sugar. I get it—that’s why it’s a challenge. However, I’m going to allow you to put a little sugar (as in, ONE teaspoon or less—none of those uber-sweetened ‘coffee’ drinks) in your coffee for a couple reasons. First, some of you won’t participate if you have to give up your morning coffee, and I want EVERYONE. Second, I want this to be a sustainable eating style beyond the thirty days. I’ve done Whole30s and choked down black coffee, finally switched to tea, only to go right back to the coffee with sugar on Day 31. I’m not here to disrupt your morning coffee routine; I’m here to get you to re-think what you’re eating every day, all day.

What happens when you finish successfully? First, you’ll have accomplished something amazing with lasting results—congratulations! Second, you’ll probably be down a few pounds and feeling pretty good—hold onto those wins! Third, take a hard look at what—if anything—you want to reintroduce into your diet. You’ll probably have missed some sweets and it’s OK to enjoy treats in moderation; if you didn’t miss it, don’t bother!

Feel free to email me and let me know if you’re taking on the No Added-Sugar Challenge. Be sure to check out my recipe for no-added-sugar banana bread here. 


Buffalo News Refresh – Super Bowl Snack Ideas

Just before the big game, the editor of Refresh contacted me and asked if I could contribute to his print spread of healthier game time foods.

See his article with my healthy advice on how to eat well during the big game and recipes ideas here:

A healthy Super Bowl strategy to make you happier come Monday

Recipe Ideas:

Super Bowl recipes that won’t leave you frowning on the scale come Monday

Buffalo News Refresh – January 2017

Already off that resolution? Maybe a better WNY eating plan can help

By: Holly R. Layer

If you’re like most people, your New Year’s resolutions are becoming things of the past. Perhaps your gym routine was a bit too ambitious, or you realized you really DO hate kale.   Before you grab a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and resign yourself to staying at your ‘winter weight’ for another year, hear me out. First of all, it’s never too late to get back on track (it’s still January!), and second, you don’t have to eat kale. I promise.

One of the main reasons all those New Year’s resolutions fail is because of poor planning. In last month’s column, I encouraged readers to start thinking about healthy changes they could make in the New Year, such as joining a gym or meeting with a dietitian.

This month, I want to take you on a ‘virtual tour’ of the grocery store. Deciding to ‘eat healthier’ in the New Year is a great idea, but what exactly does ‘healthy’ mean, and how will that change your current shopping routine?

Healthy is Widely Defined

That’s an understatement. For some people, Paleo is the only way to go; for others, it’s Vegan. Still others avoid ‘anything white’ and some people rely on smoothies and juices. The truth is, ‘healthy’ can encompass many different eating patterns, but there are some basic guidelines to follow:

  1. Avoid added sugars. They’re lurking in just about everything these days, from bacon to yogurt and dried fruit. Try to limit added sugars where you can by buying unsweetened applesauce, plain yogurt and cereals with fewer than 8 grams of sugar.
  2. Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables. Ideally, half your plate at each meal (including breakfast!) should be produce, and yes, you CAN eat veggies for breakfast. Replace high-calorie snacks like cookies or crackers with fruits and vegetables to lose weight.
  3. Get Enough Protein. (And Fat!) Most adults should get approximately 15-20 grams of protein per meal and 30 minutes after strenuous physical activity. Good examples of about that much protein are three eggs, three ounces chicken or one cup Greek yogurt. Healthy fat is important too, find it in nuts, avocadoes, coconut and olive oils. Protein and fat help us feel fuller, longer.
  4. Don’t Drink Your Calories. Soda, juice, coffee drinks and alcohol are loaded with empty calories. Here are my subs: seltzer for soda, fruit itself or low-sodium vegetable juice for fruit juice, regular coffee with a little cream and sugar for those fru-fru coffee drinks and limit alcoholic drinks.

At the Grocery Store

common suggestion is to ‘shop the perimeter’ of the store, which inadvertently leaves out many healthy ‘staple’ items, such as canned beans, grains and whole-grain baking ingredients. My advice is to frontload your cart with as much fresh produce as you’ll eat in a week, protein sources (meat, eggs) and then ‘sprinkle in’ some dairy, grains and legumes to round out your meals.

  1. If you’re still eating iceberg lettuce, now’s the time to quit. Spinach packs a big nutritional punch, so use it for salads and include a few handfuls into smoothies. I load up on bell peppers, carrots, citrus (in winter), sweet potatoes, avocadoes and bananas each time I shop, and then add a couple ‘extras,’ such as papaya or fennel based on what looks good.
  2. Canned beans (all kinds!) are excellent items to keep in your pantry to throw into soups and salads or to make chili. Choose plain oatmeal (sold in the large silo containers) so you can add less sugar, or—better yet—a mashed banana for sweetness. Rice, quinoa and other grains are smart choices as a side dish. Dried fruit (go easy—it’s high in natural and sometimes added sugars) and nuts make good snacks.
  3. Choose free-range chicken and grass-fed beef when possible. Avoid processed meats (hot dogs, deli meats) or look for nitrate-free varieties. If items are on sale, it’s a great idea to stock up and freeze for later.
  4. Here is where your label-reading skills come in handy. For every 8 ounces of plain Greek yogurt, 8 of those grams of sugar are NATURAL, as in, they came from the milk. Any more sugar is from the fruit and sugar that’s been added for flavor. I like Nancy’s and Siggi’s brands of yogurt as they tend to have the least amount of added sugars. Dairy can be a good source of protein, but it’s often over-consumed and a source of sugar; consider limiting it in your diet.
  5. Thankfully, frozen produce has come a long way. I keep bags of frozen fruit for smoothies and love the stir-fry mix available in most stores. Be diligent label-reading here, too, as many boxed meals have a lot of added sugar or are high in sodium. Frozen veggies are an easy way to quickly pack your lunches for the week—cook enough meat for the week, portion into microwavable containers and add a cup of frozen veggies, top with your favorite sauce or dressing and re-heat at work.

The East Aurora Cooperative Market is working with local dietitians (myself included!) and plans to offer RD-led tours of the store as early as next month. Additionally, private-practice dietitians often take clients on grocery store tours; contact a local RD today if you’d like help finding healthier options at your local store.

Holly R. Layer is a registered dietitian and a freelance writer. She works as a clinical dietitian at DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda and teaches fitness classes at the Southtowns Family Branch YMCA. She lives in East Aurora with her husband, Andrew, a village native. She blogs at thehealthypineapple.com and her work appears monthly in the online version of Refresh. Send her nutrition-related questions at refresh@buffnews.com