5 Benefits of Blueberries

Whether you’re looking for quick information or want something to impress your friends at dinner, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!

Blueberries – they’re known as a Superfood due to their high nutritional benefits. We know they’re good for us, but what’s going on in those tiny berries? We’re here to tell you!

5. Help Strengthen Bones

Blueberries contain a ton of micronutrients, including iron, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and more. Almost every micronutrient found in a blueberry is also found in our bones!

A study done on polyphenol intake from berries – including blueberries – on bone aging showed that polyphenols from berries had a positive effect on bone mass, leading to a decrease in the potential risk of age-related bone loss.

So, whether you suffer from low bone density or just want to make sure you can keep up with your kids and grandkids down the road, blueberries may be a great, natural source of polyphenol!

4. Low in Calories, High in Fiber

The million-dollar question – what snacks can I eat that are low in calories? Blueberries!

Blueberries are 85% water, and a cup of blueberries is only 84 calories. Now, we know that sometimes we need a little bit more to fuel our bodies and get through the day. BUT, the best thing about this low-calorie snack is that they are high in fiber – around 4 grams per cup!

We need fiber to keep us full throughout the day, which is another reason why blueberries are a great choice for your mid-afternoon snack…or at any time of the day!

3. Lower Cholesterol

We hear about cholesterol all the time, and most of us only know that Cheerios lower it because of the commercial. But blueberries are also a good choice if you want to lower your cholesterol!

A study conducted on both healthy people and those with existing metabolic problems examined if the polyphenols in blueberries had positive effects on lowering cardiovascular risk. They found that eating this fruit, among others, led to significant improvements in LDL “bad” cholesterol oxidation. Oxidative stress means there’s an excess of free radicals, which can damage cells. By preventing this in LDL “bad” cholesterol, it lowers one’s risk of heart disease.

Protect your cholesterol not with Cheerios, but with heart-healthy blueberries!

2. Anti-Inflammatory

Blueberries are an anti-inflammatory because they contain flavonoids, which can mean a lot of different (but good) things.

First, it means that blueberries can help boost our immune system. It’s important to note that we need some inflammation to protect ourselves from injury and infection. However, too much is not a good thing. Blueberries allow our bodies to fight against infection by lowering the excess inflammation that leads to poor blood circulation and other negative consequences.

Second, it means blueberries lower our risk of diet-related illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. When our bodies consume a lot of fat, our arteries run the risk of becoming inflamed, which inhibits good blood circulation. We need good blood circulation, especially to our brain and heart. Because blueberries are anti-inflammatory, they protect us against the diseases that come from a bad diet.

Third, it means blueberries are good for our brains! The same flavonoids that are anti-inflammatory are also needed for healthy brain function. In the brain, flavonoids help strengthen neuron connections, promoting healthy communication.

If you are at risk of developing a diet-related illness or Alzheimer’s, adding blueberries to your diet is one way to help protect yourself!

1. Antioxidants

Everything we’ve talked about above all comes down to the fact that blueberries are indeed an Antioxidant Superfood!

We learned above that free radicals can be potentially harmful to our bodies, leading to oxidative stress and an increase in LDL “bad” cholesterol. But, in a study done by Ronald Prior, they measured the plasma antioxidant capacity (AOC) of volunteers to see if foods with rich antioxidant properties were able to lower the level of free radicals in the body.

They found that when volunteers consumed a half-cup of berries, including blueberries, there was a distinct climb in AOC. There have been a few studies in animals that show the consumption of antioxidants can lower the amount of free radicals in the bodies, but less have been done on humans.

5G’s Revolution: Will Ag be Ready?

Cropduster airplanes are a familiar sight in the skies over farms worldwide — spreading fertilizers, surveying crops, and keeping an eye on cattle herds. But, as drones and other unmanned aerial systems have grown in popularity, innovative companies have begun finding new uses for these “eyes in the sky.”

One example is SlantRange, a company based in San Diego that is working to improve agricultural efficiency and productivity by flying drones over farms and using remote sensing and analytics to provide on-demand crop performance data and real-time insights. Agriculture producers are using its platform to better target their precision ag efforts, doing everything from measuring stress conditions across fields, determining plant sizes, surveying infestations, and more.

It’s a powerful tool, but it’s facing one significant challenge: connectivity.

“At a bare minimum, we’re using imagery that can distinguish individual leaves in the field,” explains SlantRange CEO and co-founder Michael Ritter. “To do that, we’re talking about a resolution on the order of a centimeter or smaller, and that translates into several gigabytes of raw data per acre.”

Many farms, especially those in remote agricultural regions with poor internet service, just aren’t yet ready to handle this type of network load. To date, SlantRange has used mobile computing solutions – effectively setting up a local network in a truck and parking it near the field while its drone works to support the connection – but there is a better solution on the horizon that could throw open the doors to advanced new applications for agriculture: 5G.

With this next-generation technology, the company hopes to make “digital farming” a reality, implementing state-of-the-art cost and time-saving solutions, like:

  • Cameras capable of up to 5x the resolution of today’s hardware
  • Sensors that gather spectral band information to isolate key markers of plant health
  • Imagery that adapts to sunlight and weather conditions to ensure accurate prescription management and forecasting

All these benefits will make farming much more efficient. Less chemical applications, better crop knowledge, more efficient water usage, better crop breeding information.

What is 5G?

There has been a lot of talk around 5G in the news lately, but little discussion of the actual definition. Right now, your voice, the photos you share, and all data that leaves your computer travels through the atmosphere. It is all in one piece when it leaves your phone and computer – but then travels in a disarray of atoms through the air. It must come together in a readable or listable form at the receiving end.

The best way to explain this technology is to think of Legos. Legos, you say? Yes. Visualize 4G as a simple Lego airplane. It leaves intact, the parts fly through the air separately, and then must be put together right before it lands. Now take a table-sized Lego spaceship. 5G will allow this complex structure to leave, disassemble, fly through the air, and come together much faster than the airplane. The real value of 5G is that massive amounts of data will be transmitted through the air and at faster speeds.

At the most basic level, 5G is the fifth-generation mobile network that debuted in 2019, replacing the 4G networks that provide data connectivity to most current smartphones and mobile devices. Its big selling point is capacity and speed. 5G will extend high-speed mobile service into new areas, effectively bringing full, uninterrupted internet experiences to every customer – regardless of the rural destination. Farmers will be able to have instant access to all the crop, soil, and weather information on their fields.

Think of 5G like Wi-Fi, but instead of being tethered to your home or office, it’s available everywhere – all the time.

5G is expected to positively affect all industries, but may have a greater impact on the food industry, in particular. Logistics can finally go digital, supply chain tracking can be fully realized, energy companies will have better insights into the grid, and much more. 

5G on the farm

5G will be especially groundbreaking on the farm. “5G technology will allow farmers to cultivate their crops in a more ecologically responsible manner,” says Ryan Douglas, a cultivation consultant who works with cannabis companies. Access to this type of connectivity will greatly improve producers’ ability to track inventory, which is of particular concern for cannabis companies that need to keep up with regulatory tracking demands.”

But regulatory tracking is just the beginning. Douglas continues, “Drones equipped with 5G technology can be used to monitor large outdoor crops for nutrient deficiencies, pest infestations, and disease outbreaks. Problem areas can then be spot-treated, instead of applying fertilizer or pesticides to the entire crop.”

It will also enable 24/7 drone monitoring of fields, allowing farmers to pinpoint the exact moment to harvest based on supply chain needs and adjust fertilizer and irrigation needs on a plant-by-plant basis to maximize yields. Real-time soil analysis can help producers decide where and when to plant to ensure the best possible crop for their current and expected conditions, while autonomous tractors can manage the harvest themselves, circling the fields while the farmer sleeps based on data being gathered and analyzed by remote sensors.

Implementation in the Field

While the agriculture industry has been slow to adopt other new technologies, 5G is coming along at a good time, after many farmers have adopted farm management software, 4G sensors, and other new tools. They’ve seen the power of these platforms; the expanded bandwidth of 5G will only make them better.

Dr. Kuang-Ching Wang, a professor of engineering at Clemson University who was involved in the development of the first-generation Internet, explains, “we have been working closely with agriculture to push a vision of the future of food production, all the way from building smart farms, to connecting them through these new networking technologies, to all the other systems technologies that will be built on top of these network capabilities. Our goal is to make agricultural production much more efficient and also to integrate artificial intelligence into this whole picture.”

5G can bring a lot of promising applications to life, he says, by focusing on data-enabled systems to help make agriculture more efficient. For example, when developing smart farms, it’s one thing to invest in farm robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT). But, how do you deploy massive numbers of sensors into your environment and then consume the data that they collect right there? Not in an office somewhere, but right in the field. You need a powerful remote connection to make that happen.

It’s the same with automated agriculture. The technology exists to gather sensor data and manage automated harvesting systems, but it will take 5G coverage to get those robots all talking to each other and the farmer.

A number of startups are working to solve this problem, and legacy brands like John Deere are on board, as well, partnering last year with Verizon to expand the 5G use cases for agriculture. This built on John Deere’s 2017 acquisition of Blue River, an artificial intelligence company that is now developing new machine learning, deep learning, and robotics tools for the company’s farm equipment.

Challenges remain

There’s a lot of promise here, but another problem exists: 5G is just part of the puzzle. To get these new ag applications off the ground, the underlying fiber optic networks will have to be extended out to rural areas, as well. In addition, all the sensors that capture the data will have to be upgraded to handle the speed and data capacity.

“It’s a whole ecosystem that has to be transformed,” says Dr. Wang. “But the promising note is that we do see these efforts happening, not just driven by the 5G industry but rather by this new global awareness of the data-driven future of agriculture.

Getting the fiber to the farms is difficult, but there are some projects underway to make it happen.”

This includes the National Science Foundations’ Broadband 2021 effort to boost broadband infrastructure, as well as the $400 million the organization committed in 2016 in support of the White House’s Advanced Wireless Research Initiative, which continues to fund new wireless technologies and applications to support widespread adoption and more robust networks for commercial use. And in December 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture made $550 million in funding available to deploy high-speed broadband internet infrastructure in rural areas across the country. Just this month, the Federal Communications Commission voted to offer $16 billion in subsidies for rural broadband buildouts this year as part of its Rural Digital Opportunities Fund.

“There is a clear consensus that, for us, the next challenge is really not about just pushing a faster network or cooler applications in the cities,” Dr. Wang says, “but rather how you bring together complete broadband capabilities, including the rural communities.”

But is 5G Safe?

Further challenges exist within the field of personal safety.  Because the emerging 5G technology is essentially packed with higher levels of energy radiation than 4G, the major fear is the potentially adverse health effects on humans and animals.

The most pressing question that scientific and health organizations, like the World Health Organization, are currently exploring is finding out if the type of radiation emitted by 5G is safe non-ionizing waves, like radio waves and infrared, or harmful ionizing waves, like x-rays and gamma rays. Current studies on 5G’s radiation type are not clear cut.

Even if 5G emits non-ionizing radiation, we still have to consider how much more radiation we’ll be exposed to. The Environmental Health Trust believes that currently, “5G will require the buildout of literally hundreds of thousands of new wireless antennas in neighborhoods, cities and towns.” However, according to Dr. Steve Novella, a professor at Yale, and editor of Science Based Medicine, the amount of radiation we are talking about is a frequency less than light. “You go out in the sun, and you’re bathed in electromagnetic radiation that’s far greater than these 5G cell towers.”

Roasted Broccoli

Looking for something YUM for dinner, a side dish to elevate your entrée, or healthfully satisfy your sweet tooth? Check out our list of tried and true recipes  – you won’t be disappointed 😉

Want some free D2D stuff? Post a photo of your creation on instagram or twitter!

Homemade Pizza

Looking for something YUM for dinner, a side dish to elevate your entrée, or healthfully satisfy your sweet tooth? Check out our list of tried and true recipes  – you won’t be disappointed 😉

Want some free D2D stuff? Post a photo of your creation on instagram or twitter!


5 Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid


Whether you’re looking for quick information, or want something to impress your friends at dinner, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!

We all love to spend time outdoors during the summer, which is why it’s always a good idea to have sunscreen on hand and ready to go. However, did you know that there are ingredients used in some sunscreens that may be more harmful than they are beneficial? We’re here to tell you which ones to avoid!

5. Homosalate

Homosalate is a chemical used in sunscreen in order to help the body absorb it. This is due to the fact that avobenzone, the main ingredient in sunscreen, can’t protect our skin on its own.

Some negative effects that studies have found is that, since homosalate is absorbed into the skin, overuse can cause it to become toxic because our bodies can’t get rid of it faster than it accumulates. Homosalate has also been shown in some studies to negatively impact reproductive hormones in both men and women.

Many added chemicals in sunscreens are seen as endocrine disruptors, however, sunscreen advocates say this only happens when it is excessively used.

4. Octinoxate

Octinoxate is a chemical that is commonly used in sunscreen. Although we do not know the exact effects this ingredient could have, it’s been shown to have some harmful effects.

Octinoxate was created in the 1950s as a way to protect skin from UV rays. It comes in many different names, such as octyl methoxycinnamate, escalol, and neo heliopan. The FDA placed a restriction on the amount of octinoxate that’s allowed, which is a 7.5% at max.

Probably the most harmful effect that octinoxate has been seen to have is on reproductive organs. This includes causing a lower sperm count and changing the size of the uterus. It’s also been found to be an endocrine disruptor, which means that it can disrupt hormones and threaten a fetus in a pregnant woman or a newborn baby.

It’s good to note that these studies have mainly been conducted on animals. Effects could be different on humans, however, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

3. Octocrylene

Octocrylene is most beneficial when used with other UV-ray protectants.

Studies have been conducted to see if octocrylene is an endocrine disruptor, like octinoxate. Researchers have found that, if the concentration of octocrylene does not exceed 10%, it should not cause any harmful effects in humans. However, it is still a photosensitizer, which means that it increases free radical production in our skin, which could increase our risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

The real concern with octocrylene is associated with our aquatic life. In fish and other aquatic life, octocrylene can cause problems with development, damage to DNA, and negative effects on the reproductive system. Higher than normal amounts of octocrylene have even been found in seafood that we consume.

2. Avobenzone

Avobenzone is the main active ingredient in sunscreens, however, it’s broken down in the sun in about 30 minutes, making its effectiveness seem questionable.

Avobenzone wouldn’t be able to protect us as well if it weren’t for the added chemicals we’ve listed in this article. These chemicals put together create the UV-ray skin protectant we want and need. However, it’s hard to believe that overuse of any chemicals on our bodies is a good thing.

The Journal of the American Medical Association found in their study that avobenzone, along with other chemicals in sunscreens, absorbs in the body through the skin. However, they said more research is needed to make any conclusions and that people should continue to use sunscreen.

Other studies have shown that avobenzone could turn toxic when it comes in contact with chlorine, but no conclusions have been made.

1. Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone is another commonly used ingredient in many sunscreens, and it is the one most investigated by the FDA for having potential negative side effects in humans.

In their fourth national report, the CDC found that 97% of people they tested had oxybenzone in their urine. It’s been found in some studies that oxybenzone can cause contact and photocontact allergic reactions, meaning an allergic reaction upon contact to skin and also when exposed to the sun, hormone disruptions, and has also been linked to Hirschsprung’s disease, which is a disease in the colon.

Other problems are with oxybenzone in water. It is not easily removed from the water, even by normal wastewater treatment plants. It’s also been linked to coral reef bleaching, and has even been banned in Hawaii, along with octoinxate, for causing hormone disruption, coral bleaching, and coral death.

For more information on sunscreen and healthy sunlight exposure, read our article here.

Demanding Health: A Federal Call to Action

The blunt warning contained within a recent research report from Tufts University’s Federal Nutrition Research Advisory Group on the rising health issues among Americans today is simple: we need change! The advisory group recommends a more coordinated approach among the diet and health-related agencies on Capitol Hill. The paper, “Strengthening national nutrition research: rationale and options for a new coordinated federal research effort and authority”, was published in July’s issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Finding ways to better coordinate and direct research could help us make improved lifestyle choices to combat heart disease and other diet-related threats to human health. It’s time to take the necessary steps to not just manage our health, but dramatically improve our government’s efforts to provide the information and advice we need to make the smart dietary decisions best for our entire family. And it all begins in Washington, D.C.

The Problem

Over 10 different federal agencies in the U.S. are researching health and nutrition while trying to identify ways to make Americans healthier by decreasing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease – ultimately lowering death rates. The problem is not a lack of research, but a lack of collaboration among all agencies.

Numerous U.S. federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control, National Institute of Health (NIH), Food & Drug Administration, Agency for International Development, Veterans Affairs, NASA, Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Health & Human Services, Department of Defense, and the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality, unanimously agree: we Americans need to improve our health…and quickly.

But what is being done?

There’s no governing unit at the federal level that oversees what research is being done and how to most efficiently come up with solutions for consumers to understand and put in place while grocery shopping. What’s mind-boggling is that these agencies have conducted similar studies without coordinating their efforts to just do one comprehensive study, showcasing an ineffectiveness in resources, time management, and tax dollars.

Because of these inefficiencies, Americans are more perplexed about their health and nutrition than ever. What should I be eating? And how much? Additionally, there are so many terms and trendy diets popping up, it is hard to know which are nutritionally sound. Low-fat vs. whole fat, paleo vs. keto, intermittent fasting, even coconut oil and celery juice – all of these diets create controversy about optimal health. Even though awareness is increasing about sugars and unhealthy fats, the switch to healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits has not been made.

COVID only amplified these existing issues. One researcher of the study, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, explained it as:

“COVID was a fast pandemic that made the slow pandemic of poor nutrition and diet-related illnesses come to life.”

COVID also accelerated many underlying nutritional problems that the “slow pandemic” was causing. This includes complications from major diet-related illnesses (obesity, hypertension, diabetes, etc.) when paired with COVID.

Results of the Study

 The white paper outlines the four most important issues that prevent us from being healthy:

  • How do diet-related health issues affect our economy, our health, our national security, and sustainability?
  • How do cross-governmental organizations that compile research coordinate and share their information?
  • What are the opportunities for nutrition-related discoveries in fundamental, clinical, public health, food and agricultural, and transnational scientific research?
  • What are the best practices to strategically coordinate federal nutrition research going forward?

Through their study, researchers found that more Americans are sick than healthy due to diet-related illnesses. When our nation’s health is this poor, it causes many other problems, including:

  • Issues with productivity
  • Increase in health-care costs
  • Health disparities among race and gender
  • Government budget issues
  • Economic competitiveness
  • Lack of military readiness

Real change can only occur with coordination and with consolidated goals around nutrition research, budget planning, and federal investment. But it starts with us: there needs to be a greater say from the consumer as to what we need, and really what we should demand from our government.

The paper relayed that, over the last 50 years, federal healthcare spending has risen from 5% of the budget to a current level of 28%, with 85% of the spend going towards diet-related chronic diseases. In the same time frame, U.S. business spending on healthcare has increased from $79 billion to $1.2 TRILLION.

Imagine how effective those funds could be if they were redirected toward preventing diseases instead of treating them.

Researchers found that we need more funding toward health and nutrition research than there is today. The USDA and the NIH are the largest funders of federal nutrition research. However, there is still not enough funding to support the myriad ways of how and what we eat affecting our overall health.

Research in nutrition is critical…and complicated. An example provided by the paper is the molecular basis of nutritional needs based on your age and lifestyle. Or what foods are critical in the first 1,000 days of life to prevent diseases later in life. And investigating which foods help prevent food allergies.

Tufts’ Conclusions

Researchers pulled no punches in citing the federal government’s role in creating such a crisis. Finding that greater consensus is needed on matters of diet and obesity, with coordination as a key first step in what will admittedly be a very tough process.

Real change will only take place with greater coordination between agencies, and with management that aspires to dramatically improve American lives. This includes:

  • One leadership at the federal level with a national director
  • Advancement of federal investment and funding
  • Continuing agency autonomy, but with a coordinated and harmonized system implemented from above and budget split between agencies

Executing these recommendations into a unified approach would make it far easier to do such things as identify national dietary goals, establish research needs and priorities, recommend optimal use of financial and resources, deliver a consistent message to consumers, implement educational programs into schools and universities, and so much more.

Getting the Message Across

As reasonable as the messages within the research may seem, the idea of greater coordination on this important public health issue nonetheless faces a long road to action by Washington.

Changing how Washington shares power and responsibility is a difficult task, even amid clear and present needs. That task grows even tougher when it faces enormous competition for time and energy from an administration and a Congress already overwhelmed by COVID and other pressing national issues. Politicians aren’t very likely to see this as a priority – unless we tell them otherwise.

How do we create that political pressure? What does it take to make the messages within the Tufts paper more than an academic exercise? And what can we do to bring about the changes needed to begin a process of coordination and cooperation that will lead to structural improvements?

We may not spark a revolution on making a coordinated approach to diet and health a national priority…but together we can begin an evolution.  

It begins with the consumer. Calls and letters to elected officials are one traditional avenue of action. But in today’s digital age, social media has become a powerful tool for building coalitions of concerned citizens – politicians call them voters – that drive action.

Share your questions about health and nutrition with others. Describe the challenges you face in finding the relevant, credible information you need to make smart decisions about what to feed your family. Point to examples of food products, package labels, and other examples of companies that do a good job of addressing your concerns and questions. Share all that and more on whatever social media you use – and make sure you add your elected national officials to your distribution lists.

If nothing else, share them with Dirt-to-Dinner, and we’ll collect and report on them on your behalf. This is about your health and your family’s well-being, not just a Washington Beltway tussle among faceless bureaucrats. 

Do you have thoughts of your own on this matter? Email us at info@dirt-to-dinner.com.

5 Healthy Proteins to Throw on the Grill

Whether you’re looking for quick information or want something to impress your friends for dinner, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!

Summer is for grilling! We’re getting ready for our big BBQ and planning what we want to serve our friends and families. We want it to be healthy, but also delicious. Which is why we’re here to give you 5 of the healthiest proteins to throw on the grill!

5. Pork Loin 

Bet you never thought we’d say this one, right? Pork is notorious for being unhealthy, mostly because it’s used to make processed meats, such as bacon and breakfast sausage. However, leans proteins like pork tenderloins and pork chops are actually some of the healthier cuts of meat.

A serving of pork tenderloin has under 150 calories. For a 3.5 ounce serving, it also contains only 3.5 grams of fat, but around 25 grams of protein, making it an easy and healthy way to get your protein intake. Similar to other lean meats, pork loin contains many B vitamins, as well as selenium and zinc.

Grilling a nice piece of pork loin will save you on fat and calories. We recommend preparing it with a fruit marinade, either peaches or citrus fruits. Just make sure you always practice proper grilling safety steps to make sure your food is safe to eat!

4. Black Bean Veggie Burgers

Ok, yes, we’re getting very specific with this one. Many of us have different dietary needs – lactose intolerance, vegetarian, etc. – however, one thing that we all have in common is that we need to get our fiber, our protein, and our veggie intake. Luckily, this “burger” has all 3!

Black bean veggie burgers, especially when homemade, is a superfood, full of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. One of these burgers usually contains around 198 calories, 3 grams of fat, and around 11 grams of protein.

Black beans were named one of the healthiest beans and legumes in 2017. Each serving contains 15 grams of fiber, and they are a great source of folate, manganese, and iron. Black beans have also been shown to help regulate blood sugar, improve digestion by acting as a prebiotic, and even help fight weight loss and chronic diseases because of their high fiber content.

Now, we are not saying to replace all red meat with vegetable substitutes in your diet. However, if you’re looking for something new to shake things up, black bean veggie burgers are a tasty and healthy option. And here is one of our favorite recipes.

3. Lean Beef

Coincidentally, our next healthiest protein to grill is lean beef. Like we said above, we do not recommend replacing all red meat with non-meat substitutes, simply because red meat contains a lot of vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional components that cannot be found naturally in alternative proteins.

Lean beef can come in a variety of options, including sirloin and tenderloin steaks, flank steak, and the leaner brisket, and, of course, burgers. 95% lean ground beef is the healthiest option when it comes to burgers. A 3.5 ounce patty has around 170 calories, 6.5 grams of fat, and 26 grams of protein. Beef burgers are also a natural source of iron, vitamin B12, and zinc.

Americans have been said to eat too much red meat, however, substituting non-meat foods may not be the healthiest solution. One reason is because foods like Beyond and Impossible burgers have A LOT of added ingredients to make it taste and have the consistency of real meat. These ingredients include potato protein, soy protein concentrate, and pea protein isolate.

However, beef doesn’t just have to be consumed as burgers. Steaks on the grill are delicious, and you can also use steaks in foods like kabobs. This will ensure you’re also getting your veggie intake! It’s good to note that when it comes to beef, both grain-fed and grass-fed will deliver the same nutrients to your body. And here’s a trick for you to remember: to tell if your beef is lean, just look for the words “loin” and “round” on the label.

2. Chicken

You knew it was coming. White-meat chicken is one of the leanest meats you can eat, and on the grill, it just gets even better.

Chicken is known for being a great source of lean protein. Just 3 ounces of chicken contains anywhere from 17-24 grams of protein with only about 3.5 grams of fat – just make sure you’re eating skinless chicken. Chicken with the skin still on is around 40 more calories than skinless and has 8 grams of fat.

Chicken also has many vitamins and minerals, especially B vitamins. One B vitamin – choline – accelerates the body’s creation of acetylcholine, which is important for brain cell functioning. Eating chicken can also help with memory, muscle control, and other brain and nervous system functions.

But chicken doesn’t have to be plain and boring on the grill! You can mix it up any way you want. One of our favorite ways is an Endicott, NY classic called Chicken Spiedies, which are small marinated chicken pieces that you eat on a slice of bread (usually Italian). See more about them here.

1. Fish

Fish is not only great cooked on the grill, but it’s also extremely good for us! Whether it’s a white fish like tilapia and cod, or salmon, you’ll know you’re getting a ton of vitamins and minerals from these foods.

Similarly to chicken, 3 ounces of fish has around 20-25 grams of protein. However, they differ in their fat contents. White fish has a lower fat content, whereas fish like salmon is full of healthy, omega-3 fatty acids, which are super important for our bodies.

We need omega-3s to decrease inflammation and increase blood circulation. And, since 60% of the brain is fat, we need omega-3s to help build brain and nerve cells.

Are We Eating Away our Covid Fears?

As you read this post, are you snacking on something? If so, you’re not alone. Because of Covid, we are spending about 10 more hours each day at home, which means we’re closer than ever to our kitchens. Making thing worse is that we’re feeling more vulnerable and stressed than in pre-Covid times. And many of us now regularly seek alternative methods of food shopping, causing a spike in at-home grocery delivery and shelf-stable food purchases. This has ultimately shifted how frequently we are eating and what our food choices look like.

A full-fledged snack attack

With shelf-stability and comfort-eating a priority for most consumers right now, snack foods are tempting options. However, this innate draw toward comfort foods is being fueled by convenience, emotion, and nostalgia, and at the cost of choosing nutrient-rich foods and their inarguable health considerations.

According to Statista, the snack food industry has been bustling lately. Even more surprising is the sales growth from Q1 of this year, with mac & cheese sales increasing by over 175%, lasagne & pizza sales up 125%, ramen 117%, and baking mixes up over 150% with the accompanying frosting at 125%. Furthermore, coffee cakes, blueberry muffins, donuts, and cookies were all in the top 10 growth items between January 20th and March 21st, according to Nielsen AOD.

Of Nielsen Data’s Top 10 Food and Beverages for the first quarter of the year, beer makes it into the top three growth items, with soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, cheese, and cereal making it onto the list with sales trending upwards month over month at an increasing rate.

Why are we trending this way? Emotion & availability.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the world is likely to enter its worst recession since the 1930s. In the U.S., as of July 24, approximately 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past five weeks. This social and political climate is unsettling, stressful, and has spurred insecurities both financially and emotionally.

There is no wonder our snacking habits are changing – the world is changing. This situation has reminded us of the intense connection our emotions have with food. Food, especially comfort food, can provide a sense of security, familiarity, and nostalgia – things that we can all agree would be nice to have a bit of right now. But at what cost?

Food companies have identified this emotional insecurity and are working to profit from it — both in-store and online. Online grocery delivery has, for the most part, served us well in the past few months — allowing us to cut down on trips to the store and remain socially distant. However, now the snack food market has joined the at-home-delivery bandwagon, making your favorite snacks now available for in-home delivery at the click of a button.

Why is this an issue and grocery delivery is not? Aside from the clear difference in nutritional value between essential foods and these salty, sugary treats, is the alarming fact that you can now just order your chips and donuts from your sofa.

According to the Consumer Trust Insights Council, the purchasing of snack foods, by and large, is a last-minute or spontaneous addition to most of our grocery carts.

This is manipulated by clever marketing with product placement and enticing labels, often begging us at the last minute to toss that bag of chips into our carts, even though it’s never on the top of the grocery list.

With the online snack delivery trend increasing, consumers are now planning out their snacking, spending $5 to $100 per month for these subscriptions, and making sure that these comfort foods are delivered to their doors and fully stocked in their pantries.

Risks with increased snacking

While it is part of human nature to want to soothe our stress and decrease our anxieties, our snacking habits demand a watchful eye. With our recommended daily intake of less than 25 grams of added sugar and 13 grams of saturated fats per day (based on a 2,000 calorie diet), we need to be mindful of our consumption.

When you consider that one 8oz bag of chips contains 80 grams of  fats, and a small chocolate bar contains over 35 grams of sugar, mindless eating can put you over the limit all too easily.

Consumers whose diets have shifted to include more of these prepackaged foods high in fat, sugar, and salt are risking their metabolic health. Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the Dean of the Freidman School of Nutrition, Science, and Policy at Tufts University, cited through his research, a recent national report that as of March 2020, poor diet is now the leading cause of poor health in the U.S., and has caused more than half a million deaths per year.

Dr. Mozaffarian goes on to explain that poor metabolic health, caused by diets high in saturated fats and added sugars, as well as high caloric intake, is the cause of immunity-impairing factors tin millions of Americans, including metabolic syndrome. The characteristics of metabolic syndrome include excess fat around the middle, hypertension, high blood sugar, and a poor cholesterol profile.

These types of symptoms suppress the immune system and ultimately lead to cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity-related cancers that have left many people nutritionally deficient and thus immuno-compromised, putting them at a greater risk of contracting and combating Covid.

The statistics are terrifying — of the U.S. population age 18 and up, only 12% of Americans are without high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or pre-diabetes.

For those under the age of 65, these exact illnesses are the biggest risk factors associated with having a fatal reaction to Covid.

For the health and well-being of our families and our country, the time to take action is now…

Taking back control

So how can we rein in our anxieties right now without stressing ourselves out more? First, we must acknowledge our emotions. Penn Medical explains that identifying the fact that you are stressed and working to channel those feelings into an activity is a much more productive way of managing anxieties. They go on to suggest that healthy eating is more difficult without a routine. Plan your meals, and eat them at a designated spot in the house. This will help to make eating purposeful and not mindless, which can cause spontaneous overeating.

U.C. Davis Health echoes these sentiments but goes on to highlight the importance of understanding hunger cues. This helps avoid what they call “autopilot” snacking. If you are sad, anxious, mad, or bored, it is natural for your body to release cortisol, which signals the need to eat. Try to recognize your physical need for food – if you don’t feel hungry, don’t let your emotions trick you into thinking that you are. And reach for a glass of water instead.

When you want a snack to hold you over between meals, try snacking on fruit and adding a scoop of peanut butter for protein on the side, or having crackers with cheese and meat. Even veggies dipped in hummus or Greek yogurt are all healthy, filling, and yummy options.

University Hospitals also points to the need now more than ever to focus our nutrition on fortifying our immune system. It is not just about not snacking, but about making our meals meaningful and immunity enhancing. One way to help our decision-making is to make sure our healthy options are the first thing we see in the refrigerator or pantry. Research suggests that we are 30% more likely to choose the items that we see first – so keep a bowl of fruits cut up in the front of the fridge, or consider putting your fruits & veggies in a bowl on the counter.

The Mayo Clinic also recommends tracking your food. This serves to not only keep us “eating mindfully” and accountable for our calories, but also aid in identifying changes or lapses in our healthy eating habits.

But what all this research doesn’t say is that change is hard. So, during this time as we try to find a new normal, it’s important to not be too hard on ourselves…this is a difficult time for us all. If you slip, no big deal – we all do it.

But the important thing is to think long-term, as this situation will pass. And try to save those treats to make new memories with your friends and family, like making socially-distant s’mores with a backyard bonfire or having a popsicle on a hot day. We all have to treat ourselves and enjoy these special moments.

Cortisol: Our Body’s Stress Response

Our mundane tasks throughout the day have all of a sudden become fraught with stress. It used to be fun to pick up groceries, get a package in the mail, see a friend or go shopping.  Now our anxiety rises: did we touch anything? Has anyone sneezed recently? Were they wearing a mask? Should I take a shower when I get home? Did I clean the mail well enough? What about the package my son touched? Did he wash his hands? Are my family members not in my household okay? The list seems to grow and grow. And each worry brings on stress, and stress brings – you guessed it – cortisol.

What is cortisol, exactly?

Cortisol, often called “the stress hormone,” is released by our adrenal glands, which are located right above our kidneys. Although its nickname may infer that it’s a negative hormone, cortisol is not always bad. It functions to control your fear, motivation, and mood. It also triggers our “fight or flight” response or as a signal to when your brain should be on high alert — a function that serves to protect us. Cortisol also helps manage how our body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, regulates inflammation and blood sugar levels, as well as controls our wake and sleep cycles.

Cortisol is activated when there is an outside threat or stressor. Once the threat is gone, your body will naturally lower your cortisol levels and assume regular processes and activities. Or at least we hope that is what occurs.

But what happens if regulation doesn’t occur and cortisol levels remain high? Sometimes, when cortisol is activated too frequently for too long, it can create a long-term stress response that perpetually disrupts bodily functions and puts you at risk for many other health problems.

To illustrate cortisol’s benefits, let’s consider a parallel to inflammation. Anyone who has broken a bone or sprained an ankle knows that feeling when our bodies immediately become inflamed or swollen around the affected area. This occurs as a protective mechanism, or otherwise known as acute inflammation to protect the area and signal to the body that something is wrong and to be on high alert.

Similarly, the body releases cortisol during a stressful situation to help the body handle an issue in the short term. For instance, if a spider drops down onto your shoulder, your body signals your heart to beat faster, and you quickly shoo it off of you. Once the bone has healed, the swelling goes down – once the spider is gone, the cortisol levels decrease and your heart rate slows back to a normal pace.

Alternatively, chronic inflammation, or inflammation that lasts for too long like heart disease, and obesity, can be harmful. Cortisol works the same way! When the levels of your stress hormone do not regulate, and don’t decrease after a stressful event has occurred, they remain too high.  And if this happens for too long, it can be damaging and stressful on the body.

But you are not a victim to cortisol.

While it is challenging to regulate during stressful periods or when anxiety rises, you can take charge of your body by how you fortify it. Eating the right foods can help protect you from hypercortisolism (too much cortisol) and the negative effects that it brings, while mitigating potential long-term damage.

How does Cortisol work?

While the adrenal gland releases cortisol, it first “talks” to the pituitary gland. This is a tiny, pea-sized gland located at the base of your brain that reacts to your bodies’ actions. It will send signals to the adrenal gland to release more or less cortisol, based on what you are experiencing at the time.

Once the pituitary gland signals the adrenal gland to release cortisol, your cells get to work! There are cortisol receptors in almost all of our body’s cells, but each cell will use the hormone differently. For example, have you ever had a stomachache right before a public speaking engagement or that cold sweat feeling when you see that huge spider? This visceral feeling is called a “gut reaction” for a reason. Ingrid Kohlstadt, President and Founder of Ingredients, Inc., Associate at Johns Hopkins University, and Former Medical Officer and Commissioner at the FDA, explains:

“Have you ever heard of the term, ‘gut-reaction’? That’s referring to the feeling of raised cortisol levels in the gut. However, the ‘reaction’ portion of that phrase is indicating the inability of the body to regulate its basic digestive and bowel functions because it is overcome with the stress-hormone cortisol, which has taken your body’s attention elsewhere.”

Health problems from raised cortisol levels

For over a decade, studies have shown that moderately high cortisol levels can cause health issues. High blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis are all chronic health symptoms that can be a result of cortisol levels being too high. Furthermore, hypercortisolism can increase ones’ appetite via a hormone called ghrelin. This can cause you to seek comfort foods, like sugary, salty and fatty foods that trick your body into thinking it will help calm you. But instead, your metabolism slows, fat storage begins to occur, and eventually you gain weight.

Chronic tiredness and lethargy are also side effects of hypercortisolism. Your body is unable to regulate its sleep-wake patterns due to the hormone disruption. Lack of sleep can cause impaired brain function and memory.

Chronically high cortisol levels also have a direct effect on our gut microbiome. When digestive and endocrine processes are disrupted, so is our microbiota. Furthermore, cortisol and insulin have an inverse relationship – when there is more cortisol, there is less insulin, which means too much cortisol for too long can negatively impact your blood sugar levels.

All of these things contribute to a weakened immune system, and greater risk of infection – something that a lot of us cannot afford to have right now in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

But what do we do? We cannot just tell our bodies to stop secreting cortisol. In the same way, we cannot tell our hearts to beat slower when giving a speech, or not to perspire when a large spider crawls on our arm.

What we can control are the foods we put in our bodies and how we fortify our system to support the glands regulating our stress hormones.

How to aid cortisol regulation

A combination of sleep, exercise, and diet all play a role in regulating hormonal patterns, including cortisol. These are luckily all things that we can consciously control. Specifically, our nutrition plays a lead role in supporting or hindering our triggers for cortisol release.

Things to limit:

Sugar. Sugar intake is a primary trigger for cortisol release. Excessive sugar intake can cause an increase in cortisol secretions and alter the bodies’ ability to properly respond to stress. This inhibits the body from reacting “normally” to stress. According to one animal study, sugar acts in the periphery to negatively-activate the metabolic-brain feedback pathway:

“In rodents, drinking sucrose beverages were shown to inhibit stress-induced CRF mRNA and peptide expression in the brain. These inhibitory effects of sugar on CRF and HPA reactivity may be linked to sugar-induced increases in central opioidergic activity. Sugar consumption promotes elevated opioidergic tone in the brain, and opioids inhibit synthesis and release of CRF and stress-induced HPA reactivity.”

In other words: sugar inhibits the brain from receiving cortisol, and expressly it properly.

Caffeine. Studies have shown that caffeine consumption can stimulate cortisol secretions, as well. With this increase of cortisol secretions, correlated to caffeine intake, your body can begin to develop a tolerance for cortisol response. It can inhibit the absorption of iron which is a key mineral in the synthesis of hormones in the body. Furthermore, caffeine can ultimately recreate stress conditions in the body. As put by Precision Nutrition:

“Caffeine impacts whether certain chemicals are available; how receptive our brains are to them; and whether we’re even making those chemicals in the first place.”

Try to keep your caffeine intake to under four cups a day, to avoid any negative effects.

Alcohol. Much like the ghrelin hormone that can trick our bodies into thinking that foods high in fat and sugars will decrease the stress effects of cortisol, alcohol plays tricks in our bodies, too. Many people seek alcohol as a way to relax or blow off steam. However, chronic alcohol consumption can actually increase cortisol production, and thus is counterproductive in the relaxation process.

It is recommended that women attempt to keep consumption to 1 drink a day and up to 2 drinks per day for men. So don’t feel like you have to give up that end of the day glass of chardonnay — just enjoy in moderation!

Things to regularly consume:

Fruits! Blueberries, kiwis, oranges, pears, and bananas have been shown to reduce cortisol levels, especially in athletes. You can use these as a way to self-regulate. Because these are high in vitamin C, research has shown that these may help slow the production of cortisol.

Omega-3s! Fatty acids, especially DHA and EPA from fish oils, have been shown to counteract inflammatory stress effects.  Not to mention, fermented foods containing fatty acids, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, all offer probiotics and prebiotics that help offset any gut microbial disruptions caused by cortisol increases. Other prebiotic rich foods include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, apples, and bananas. These prebiotic foods provide fuel for your probiotic bacteria.

“Cortisol is real and present during stressful times as these. The foods we eat can change how our bodies react to raised levels of cortisol. Chronically raised levels of cortisol can damage your gut microbiome. Consider fiber as a way to offset negative effects of cortisol on the microbiome. Not to mention Americans are only getting about 10% of the fiber they need daily, so any increase would be beneficial.”

– Ingrid Kohlstadt, President and Founder of Ingredients, Inc.

Good carbs! As mentioned earlier, cortisol and insulin have an inverse relationship. When cortisol is high, insulin is low. Carbs, however, prompt our brain to secrete more of a hormone called serotonin, which is often stunted by high levels of cortisol. Complex carbohydrates like oatmeal, beans, whole grains, starchy veggies, and lentils, can support and stabilize blood sugar levels that can be lowered by the presence of cortisol.

Beans and barley! Beans are doubly helpful! They are complex carbohydrates and aid in blood sugar regulation, but they also contain phosphatidylserine. This is located in the cell membrane and helps to counteract cortisol. White beans and barley are two of the best options.

Avocados! Who doesn’t like avocados? In addition to being delicious, avocados, like tomatoes and leafy greens, are high in potassium. Potassium helps to keep our blood pressure in check. This is great for when cortisol causes increased heart rate due to hormone spikes.

Spinach & cruciferous vegetables! Rich in magnesium, spinach and broccoli are known to help our bodies regulate the production of cortisol. Microgreens, or immature greens, are also known to have high concentrations of various beneficial nutrients and tend to be denser in vitamin C than their mature counterparts.

Nuts! Almonds, cashews and pistachios contain selenium, which is a mineral that can help elevate mood. While it may not have a direct effect on cortisol it can help combat the effects of too much cortisol. It helps to strengthen your immune system in times of stress, when the body may be depleted or weakened.

Dark chocolate! Naturally-occurring antioxidants in dark chocolate can aid in decreasing inflammation and slow the production of the cortisol hormone. The result of one study indicated that about 40 grams per day of dark chocolate can help, so don’t feel bad about having a piece or two! Just aim for a dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, like 85% or higher, for best results and lower added sugar.