Nutrition

Hydrogenated Oils: What Are They and How to Avoid Them

Hydrogenated Oil

Food companies began use hydrogenated oil to help increase shelf life and save costs. Hydrogenation is a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat (e.g. olive or peanut oil) is turned into a solid fat by adding hydrogen. During this processing, a type of fat called trans fat is made.

While small amounts of trans fats are found naturally in some foods, most trans fats in the diet come from these processed hydrogenated fats.

Partially hydrogenated oils can affect heart health because they increase “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol. On the other hand, a fully hydrogenated oil contains very little trans fat, mostly saturated fat, and doesn’t carry the same health risks as trans fat.

Still, food manufacturers continue to use partially hydrogenated oils to save money, extend shelf life, add texture and increase stability.

5 Easy + Healthy After-School Snacks

5 Easy and Healthy After-School Snacks

The hours between the end of school and dinner can be tough for healthy eating. Pizza, Chipotle and subway are all easy after-school options that are loaded with calories and processed carbohydrates. Below are VarCity’s favorite quick and healthy after-school snacks.

1. Hard-Boiled Eggs

Eggs are one of the healthiest and most weight loss-friendly foods you can eat.

They contain protein, vitamin K2 and B12, to name a few.

Although their high cholesterol content gave them a bad reputation for years, new studies show that eggs don't have any effect on your risk of heart disease.

Two large, hard-boiled eggs contain about 140 calories and 13 grams of protein.

2. Turkey Roll-Ups

Turkey roll-ups are delicious and nutritious.

Turkey contains high-quality protein, which helps you feel satisfied, preserves muscle mass and burns more calories during digestion than fat or carbs.

3. Healthy Beef Jerky or Beef Sticks

Beef jerky or beef sticks make great high-protein, portable snacks. But make sure you choose the right type.

Some jerkies are loaded with sugar and preservatives. Beef sticks generally don't contain sugar, but many aren't made from high-quality meat and may contain other questionable ingredients.

Look for jerky and beef sticks made from grass-fed beef and salt, with as few ingredients as possible. Grass-fed beef contains more healthy omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef.

Most beef jerkies and sticks contain about 7 grams of protein per ounce (28 grams).

4. A Piece of Fruit

Healthy snacks don't need to be complicated. Just a single piece of fruit can be incredibly satisfying.

Examples of fruit that are portable and can be eaten with almost no preparation include bananas, apples, pears, grapes, grapefruit and oranges.

5. Mixed Nuts

Nuts are an ideal nutritious snack.

They've been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and may help prevent certain cancers, depression and other diseases.

Despite being relatively high in fat, they are very filling. Several studies suggest that eating nuts in moderation can help you lose weight.

Nuts contain the perfect balance of healthy fat, protein and fiber. They contain about 180 calories in a 1 oz (28 grams) serving, on average.

They also taste great and don't require refrigeration, so they're perfect for carrying with you when away from home.

Keep an Eye out for Added Sugars: Part II

Added Sugar

While there are times that it’s clear that we’re consuming added sugar, such as the teaspoon of sugar in your bowl of cereal, there are numerous other ways added makes its way into our diet.

For example, starting off your day with something like low-fat yogurt, fruit juice, cereal, or a granola bar may sound like a smart choice, but these healthy sounding foods can pack loads of hidden sugars. A 6-ounce container of Dannon All Natural Plain Lowfat Yogurt contains 12 grams of sugar while an 8-ounce glass of Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice contains 22 grams of sugar.

Below are a few names to look out for on your nutrition label when trying to avoid a diet loaded with added sugar.

Other Names for Added Sugar

Think Twice Before that Morning Juice

Sugar Juice

Starting your morning with fruit juice is often perceived as a healthy way to start  your day.  That's understandable, given that it is natural and has the word "fruit" in it.

However, what many people fail to realize is that fruit juice is also loaded with sugar.  In fact, fruit juice contains just as much sugar and calories as a sugary soft drink... and sometimes even more.

Even if juice is labelled as "100% pure" and "not from concentrate”,  after being squeezed from the fruit -- the juice is usually stored in massive oxygen-depleted holding tanks for up to a year before it is packaged.

The main problem with this method is that it tends to remove most of the flavor, so the manufacturers need to add so-called "flavor packs" to the juice, to bring back the flavor that was lost during processing.

So even if you're buying the highest quality juices at the supermarket, they're still far from their original state.  Some of the lowest quality ones don't even resemble fresh-squeezed fruit juice at all...they are basically just fruit-flavored sugar water.

BOTTOM LINE:
Fruit juice isn't always what it seems, even the higher quality types have gone through processing methods that remove the flavor, making it necessary to add "flavor packs” (whatever those are!) to bring them back to their original state.

What is a Microbiome and Why Is It Important?

The human body carries trillions of bacteria, viruses, and other tiny microbes.  Think of your body as a living/breathing rain forest.  Scientists call these resident bugs and all of their genes the “human microbiome.”

Some of these microbes can be harmful, but most have lived and evolved with humans for thousands of years.  They help train our immune systems to attack only foreign invaders, not our own joints and organs, and they pull essential nutrients out of the food we eat.

Today, people in the Western world have far fewer kinds of these helpful bacteria than their cousins in developing countries and that might be connected to rising rates of autoimmune diseases, such as asthma, and metabolic ones, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.  

Throughout our lives, we help shape our own microbiomes — plus they adapt to changes in our environment. For example, the foods you eat, how you sleep, the amount of bacteria you’re exposed to on a daily basis and the level of stress you live with all help establish the state of your microbiota.

Microbiome
Microbiome

Ten Nutrition Tips That We (Almost) All Agree With: Part 5

When Is the Royal Wedding

Between the Pinterest boards full of protein diets, the endless weight loss tips we see online and the countless low-carb diet foods we see in the grocery store, it’s getting more difficult to determine what we should and shouldn’t be eating.  VarCity HQ did a little leg work for you and scoured the internet for the common themes we saw from nutritionists throughout the internet. 

Below is VarCity’s top 10 list of nutrition rules that almost all experts agree with: 

9. "Diets" Don't Work — a Lifestyle Change Is Necessary

"Diets" are ineffective. That is a fact.

They may provide short-term results, but as soon as the diet ends and you start eating junk food again, you will gain the weight back. And then some.  This is called yo-yo dieting and is extremely common.

Most people who lose a lot of weight on a diet end up gaining it back whenever they "stop" the diet.  For this reason, the only thing that can give you actual long-term results is to adopt a lifestyle change.

SUMMARY
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the only way to ensure long-term weight loss and a lifetime of improved health.

10. Unprocessed Food Is Healthiest

Processed food is generally not as healthy as whole food.

As the food system has become more industrialized, the health of the population has deteriorated.  During food processing, many of the beneficial nutrients in the food are removed.

Not only do food producers remove healthy nutrients like fiber, but they also add other potentially harmful ingredients like added sugar and trans fats.  Additionally, processed foods are loaded with all sorts of artificial chemicals, some of which have a questionable safety profile.

SUMMARY
Basically, processed foods have less of the good stuff and a lot more of the bad stuff.  The most important thing you can do to ensure optimal health is to eat real food. If it looks like it was made in a factory, don't eat it!

Ten Nutrition Tips That We (Almost) All Agree With: Part 4

When is the royal wedding

Between the Pinterest boards full of protein diets, the endless weight loss tips we see online and the countless low-carb diet foods we see in the grocery store, it’s getting more difficult to determine what we should and shouldn’t be eating.  VarCity HQ did a little leg work for you and scoured the internet for the common themes we saw from nutritionists throughout the internet. 

Below is VarCity’s Part 4 of our top 10 list of nutrition rules that almost all experts agree with: 

7. Refined Carbohydrates Are Bad for You

There are a lot of differing opinions about carbs and fat.  Some think fat is the root of all evil, while others believe carbs are the key players in obesity and other chronic diseases.

But what pretty much everyone agrees on is that refined carbohydrates are not as healthy as unrefined carbohydrates.

Unrefined carbs are basically whole foods that are rich in carbs. These include whole-grain cereals, beans, vegetables and fruits. Refined carbs, on the other hand, are sugar and refined flour.

Whole foods contain numerous beneficial nutrients and antioxidants.  However, when high-carb foods such as grains are processed, the most nutritious parts are stripped off. What is left are massive amounts of easily digestible starch.

Those who base their diets on refined carbs may be lacking in fiber and many other healthy nutrients. As a result, they are at an increased risk of chronic disease.  Eating refined carbs will also cause rapid spikes in blood sugar. While high blood sugar levels are unhealthy for all people, they are a much greater concern in people with diabetes.

It is clear that whole grains and unrefined carbohydrates are a lot healthier than their refined, processed counterparts.

SUMMARY
Refined carbohydrates like processed grains are unhealthy. They are lacking in nutrients and eating them may lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin, which can cause all sorts of problems down the line.

8. Supplements Can Never Fully Replace Real Foods

"Nutritionism" is the idea that foods are nothing more than the sum of their individual nutrients.  But it’s also a trap that many nutrition enthusiasts tend to fall into.

Nuts, for example, aren't just shells loaded with polyunsaturated fat. In the same way, fruits aren't just watery bags of sugar.  These are real foods with a massive variety of trace nutrients.

The vitamins and minerals, the ones you can also get from a cheap multivitamin, are just a small part of the total amount of nutrients in foods.  Therefore, supplements cannot match the variety of nutrients you get from real foods.

However, many supplements can be beneficial, especially those that contain nutrients that are generally lacking in the diet, like vitamin D.  But no amount of supplements will ever make up for a bad diet. Not a chance.

SUMMARY
It is much more important to eat real, nutritious foods than to count on supplements to provide the nutrients you need.

Ten Nutrition Tips That We (Almost) All Agree With: Part 2

Nutrition Diet Protein Carbohydrates

Between the Pinterest boards full of protein diets, the endless weight loss tips we see online and the countless low-carb diet foods we see in the grocery store, it’s getting more difficult to determine what we should and shouldn’t be eating.  VarCity HQ did a little leg work for you and scoured the internet for the common themes we saw from nutritionists throughout the internet. 

Below is VarCity’s Part 2 of our top 10 list of nutrition rules that almost all experts agree with: 

3. There Is No Perfect Diet for Everyone

People are all unique. Subtle differences in genetics, body type, physical activity and environment can affect which type of diet you should follow.

Some people do best on a low-carb diet, while others are better off on a vegetarian high-carb diet.  The fact is, what works for one person may not work for the next.  To figure out what you should do, a little experimentation may be needed.

Try a few different things until you find something that you enjoy and think you can stick to. Different strokes for different folks!

SUMMARY
The best diet for you is the one that works for you and you can stick to in the long term.

4. Artificial Trans Fats Are Very Unhealthy

Trans fats are formed as a side product when vegetable oils are hydrogenated.  Food producers often use hydrogenation to harden vegetable oils for use in products such as margarine.

A high intake of trans fats is associated with various chronic diseases, such as abdominal obesity, inflammation and heart disease, to a name a few.

We HIGHLY recommend you avoid trans fats!

SUMMARY
Trans fats form in chemically processed oils and are linked to all sorts of chronic diseases. You should avoid them like the plague.

Ten Nutrition Tips That We (Almost) All Agree With: Part 1

Fitness Protein Low Carb

Between the Pinterest boards full of protein diets, the endless weight loss tips we see online and the countless low-carb diet foods we see in the grocery store, it’s getting more difficult to determine what we should and shouldn’t be eating.  VarCity HQ did a little leg work for you and scoured the internet for the common themes we saw from nutritionists throughout the internet. 

Below is VarCity’s Part 1 of our top 10 list of nutrition rules that almost all experts agree with: 

1. Added Sugar Is a Disaster

To improve the taste of processed foods, producers often add sugar to them. This type of sugar is known as added sugar (e.g. sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup).

It is definitely true that added sugar contains empty calories. There are no nutrients in it, other than sugar. As a result, basing your diet on products high in added sugar may contribute to nutrient deficiencies.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other risks associated with excessive sugar intake that are now reaching mainstream attention.

Added sugar is being implicated as a leading cause of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

This is because fructose is metabolized strictly by the liver. High intake has been linked with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, elevated triglycerides, abdominal obesity and high cholesterol over time.

However, the role of fructose in disease is controversial and scientists do not fully understand how it works.

SUMMARY
Added sugar provides empty calories and is believed to be a leading cause of diseases that kill millions of people each year.

2. Omega-3 Fats Are Crucial and Most People Don't Get Enough

Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important for the proper functioning of the human body.  Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid derived from animals, makes up about 10–20% of the total fat content in the brain.

A low intake of omega-3 is associated with a lower IQ, depression, various mental disorders, heart disease and many other serious diseases.

There are three main types of omega-3 fats: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

ALA comes mostly from plant oils, while the best sources of EPA and DHA are fatty fish proteins, fish oils and certain algal oils. Other good sources of EPA and DHA are grass-fed meat and omega-3 enriched or pastured eggs.

The plant form, ALA, needs to be transformed into DHA or EPA to function correctly in the human body. However, this conversion process is inefficient in humans.  Therefore, it is best to eat plenty of protein rich foods high in DHA and EPA.

SUMMARY
A large part of the population is not getting enough omega-3 fats from their diet. Avoiding a deficiency in these essential fatty acids may help prevent many diseases.

Five Easy Ways to Drink More Water Throughout the Day

Drink More Water

We all know we need water to be healthy; however, remembering to drink it isn't always easy.  How you drink water can be just as important as how much water you drink, so gradually drinking water throughout the day is important too, especially as the temperatures start to rise.

Below are VarCity’s top 5 ways to drink water consistently throughout the day.

1.  Get a bigger bottle.  I used to keep a little 12-ounce bottle of water on my desk, and I would drink it all, but then I would never get around to refilling it. Now, I keep a large 1 liter bottle on my desk with a goal to drink all of it by the time the work day is over. I like it because it's a little goal I can set each day and easily see my progress as the hours go by.

2.  Set an alarm.  If you get so focused that you forget that bottle is on your desk, you may want to try setting an alarm on your phone or computer to go off every couple of hours or so to remind you to take a few swigs of water. I like to use this time to stand up and stretch, too!

3.  Drink a glass before each meal.  If it's just not convenient for you to drink water throughout the day, try setting a goal to drink at least one cup of water before each meal.  Not only does this help you to stay hydrated, studies show that drinking a glass of water before a meal can help you feel full faster!

4.  Track what you drink.  A small glass here and there in your busy day may have you unsure about how much water you consumed at the end of the day. So try tracking your fluid intake just like you would when you record meals and snacks in a food journal.

5.  Don’t live on water alone.  You can meet up to 20% of your daily fluid needs by consuming fluid-rich foods such as fruits and veggies, which are 80-90% water!

And remember, if you are working out regularly, especially in the heat, you will need more fluids.  For every pound lost during a workout (due to sweating), consume an additional 16 ounces of fluid.