How to Choose the Healthiest Peanut Butter

Hi everyone and Happy Friday!

Today we are going to talk about a very important topic: How to pick out the healthiest peanut butter on the market. Sounds easy right? Nuts are considered healthy fats, so it would make sense to think that any brand of peanut butter would be healthy.

But not so fast! While nuts do provide heart healthy fats, manufacturing and processing of nuts often includes adding in unwanted ingredients. Let’s take a look:

Here are examples of peanut butter companies doing it right. You will see that the only ingredient is what you came for: nuts!

TJ's PB peanut butter ingredients

This brand contains salt, which I will often get, adding a nominal amount to your daily intake:

Wegmans PB

Now here is where things start to get a little crazy…

Giant Brand

First there is added sugars and oils, and notice the word “hydrogenated”. This is an important word to look for. What this means is that manufacturers have added hydrogen atoms to unsaturated (healthy) fats to turn them into saturated or trans (unhealthy) fats. In this example, hydrogen atoms were added to the cottonseed and rapeseed oils to turn them into a saturated fat.

You may be asking yourself why would they do this? Great question! You will notice near the bottom of the container that it says “no refrigeration required.” While this may seem like a great perk, the reason this is possible is because of the hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenation increases stability and shelf life, making it appealing to consumers, but the risks associated outweigh the benefits. While shelf life has increased, nutrients have decreased and intake of saturated and trans fats have possibly increased.

PB Co Pumpkin

This example is of a new pumpkin peanut butter product that I found. While hydrogenated ingredients are not included, palm fruit oil is added. Palm oil is a saturated fat that helps increase shelf life in peanut butters, which is why you will again see that this product does not require refrigeration.

So where can you find peanut butter that only includes nuts? The following options are all natural, providing the heart healthy qualities of nuts that we came for in the first place. Try one of these out and taste the natural flavor of peanut butter. You won’t miss the extra ingredients!

Wegmans Natural Peanut Butter

Trader Joes Peanut Butter

Smuckers Natural Peanut Butter

Another simple option for eating healthy peanut butter? Make your own!

PB

This literally consisted of dumping a jar of dry roasted peanuts into my blender and blending it. I have a vitamix, which is built for crushing peanuts, but a food processor should have the same effect. Get creative and add different ingredients for a customized version of your favorite PB.

Feel free to apply this information to any nut butters you enjoy, whether it be almond or sunflower. Remember that less is more!

My New Favorite Cookbook

When was the last time you used a cookbook? For me, although I have tons of them lining my shelves, I have more recently been depending on the ease of online recipes. Have you seen my Pinterest lately?!

I was starting to wonder why my cookbooks were sitting there gathering dust. Was it me? Had I become one of those people that relies solely on the internet for everything? It’s possible that sadly the answer was becoming yes.

Luckily something happened. For Christmas last year I received a cookbook that I had seen in the book store and openly gawked over. I realized when I got it that it was the first time in a while that I had sat down and looked through every recipe and tabbed different items I wanted to make, excited to try everything.

The Skinnytaste Cookbook- Light on Calories, Big on Flavor(Source)

Behold the Skinnytaste Cookbook. Now, I know many of you have tried her recipes before and perhaps this book is old news. But to those who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Every person’s dream (especially dietitians!) is to find healthy foods that taste just as good as the original, and she has found the way to do it. From poultry, to fish, steak and desserts, there is something for everyone and the recipes do not disappoint.

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Though my online recipe days are far from over, it has been nice to sit down with my cookbook, flip through the pages, and then get different ingredients all over it while I’m cooking (better that than my computer!).

While there are many tasty and healthy recipes available on-line, this cookbook was created with a Dietitian to ensure that the healthiest ingredients are being used and that nutrition information is accurate, which unfortunately isn’t always the case with online information.

coconut chicken

I wanted to share this book with you all since I will often recommend it to my clients regardless of their health and wellness goals. The recipes are easy, delicious and healthy which is a winning combo. Let me know if you’ve tried her recipes before or if you end up buying the book. If you want to try out a delicious recipe before making the commitment of buying the book you can head over to her blog and test something out! Enjoy!

Chobani Flips & Winner of Activite Pop Activewear

The winner of the Silver Withings Activite Pop is Kelly!

Withings Silver

Congrats! Message me with your address and you’ll receive a brand new Activity Tracker at your door. I hope you like it 🙂

If you missed my last post about this awesome product, check it out.

Another new product I’ve been trying out lately and enjoying for dessert are Chobani Flips.

Chobani Flip

While a bit decadent for my taste as a snack, this has made a great dessert option when I’m craving something sweet that won’t completely break the calorie bank. Tis the season for pumpkin, so this has been a favorite lately, but they have a few other flavors including Salted Caramel Crunch, Almond Coco Loco, Nutty for Nana and more. I like to alternate between this and homemade banana soft serv.

What dessert alternatives do you enjoy??

I leave you with a few pictures from this past weekend exploring the DC area. A little cloudy but still fun!

Gravelly Point near Reagan Airport:

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Deleplane, Virginia

Barrel Oak

Have a great hump day and rest of your week!

Activite Pop Activewear Review and Giveaway

Hello everyone! I hope you all had a great summer and are enjoying this beautiful first day of Fall. The city is active this week with the Pope’s visit and things have been better than ever!

First, I changed jobs and am now working full time as a Lecturer at American University. I am back at my old stomping grounds as a grad student and am loving every minute of it.

AU

I also took on a position at Capital Center for Psychotherapy & Wellness, a wellness group in Downtown DC that offers psychotherapy, acupuncture, massage therapy and nutrition (me!). It is a great team there and I have enjoyed working with everyone and counseling people in a beautiful & relaxing office space.

cap center

cap center 2

In other recent news, an old friend from High School reached out regarding her company’s newest tech gadgets for health and wellness. The company, Withings, offers tech-savvy health gear to help keep you on track such as scales, activity trackers, blood pressure monitors and more.

activity tracker

withings

Not only is the gear helpful for maintaining your health, but you look cool doing it. Their activite pop that I am using looks like a regular watch, but offers so much more. It tracks steps, sleep and heart rate while also acting as an alarm clock and time. Now you can get away with wearing a tracking device while staying professional at your day job.

withings watch

activite

One lucky reader will get a chance to win their own silver activite tracker. Just leave a comment by midnight on Friday September 25th and the winner will be chosen by random. Good luck!

Allison Marco Nutrition Consulting

Hi all! Things have been quiet on the blog front these past few months as I have been prepping for something very exciting.logo

I am so happy to announce the launch of my business, Allison Marco Nutrition Consulting. I am now seeing clients face-to-face in the DC Metro Area and offering Skype and phone sessions for clients nation-wide. This has been a dream of mine for years and I am thrilled to finally be able to make it a reality!

I am currently offering one-on-one nutrition counseling, nutrition presentations, worksite wellness, lunch and learns, grocery store tours and more. Over the past few years I have worked with a range of clients with a variety of health needs and am looking forward to sharing my knowledge with you all. Feel free to contact me to set up an appointment or to learn more about the services that I offer!

For more information visit my website at www.allisonmarco.com. Also follow me on twitter @AllisonMarco or like my Facebook Page to stay up to date with everything health and nutrition-related!

A huge thank you to Emilie Udell & Frank Tepper for their amazing graphic design, website and photography services. I couldn’t have done it without you both!

Acai Bowls

A few months ago I went to Ocean City, MD as a new-ish annual trip to get some beach and sun! If you’ve ever been to the Ocean City boardwalk you will know it’s not one of the healthiest spots. Think boardwalk fries, frozen drinks, ice cream, fried oreos- you name it. So think of my excitement when I discovered a little spot of heaven called A Latte Enjoy. Originally we went for the coffee, but ended up staying for an amazing blend of delicious fruit known as the Hippie Bowl. IMG_8816This bad boy was the Dragon Hippie Bowl made with blended dragon fruit, banana and berries and layered with granola, coconut and heaven. Yes please! I was so happy with the find that we went back each morning and I made a mental note to make it at home.

A long time ago I made an Acai bowl and posted about it.

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Do you know I haven’t made one since? I couldn’t believe it either! I have been on such a smoothie kick that Acai bowls were a thing of the past, but it was time to bring it back. To make an Acai bowl all you need are the following:

  • Acai Packs
  • Fresh or frozen banana
  • Fresh or frozen berries (optional)
  • Splash of milk of choice

I made my most recent one after a run so I also added a small amount of protein powder to balance it out.

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DSCN1805IMG_9514This was so refreshing! Always hits the spot. What’s great about these bowls are that you can add any ingredients or toppings that you please. Blend in flax seed, chia seed, frozen fruits and more. Top with coconut, granola, nuts, seeds, almond butter-anything goes! For a step-by-step tutorial and lots of delicious flavor combinations check out this post on How-to Make Acai Bowls. Enjoy!

Things I’m Loving Now

Can you believe how this summer has flown? It seems like just yesterday school was letting out for summer and here we are back in September. August had some great times and I am looking forward to squeezing in the last bit of beach and sun that I can before the summer ends.

This month I tried out some new products and recipes and couldn’t get enough! Some of my favorite products from the past few weeks are below.

 

1.  Chickpea Lentil Quinoa Stew

 

(Source)

 Although this would make a great winter soup, I couldn’t wait to make it after I saw it! Don’t let the super healthy ingredient list scare you, with the Indian spices and fresh ingredients, this soup was a definite win. Served with either naan or fresh rolls, this soup made a great dinner and a good meal to pack for lunch too. I will definitely be making this again!

2. Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Bars

 

(Source)

 Simple, healthy and affordable granola bars can be hard to find sometimes. As much as I love some of the brands out there, it’s sometimes nice to have a home-made alternative. These bars are great because they take minutes to make, taste awesome and keep you feeling satisfied. Highly recommended for snacks or breakfast on the go.

3. Brooks Ravenna 5

(Source)

These Brooks have changed my life! I bought my first pair of Brooks running sneakers a few years back and loved them. Since then they have been my go-to purchase for running. They are stable and lightweight and I haven’t experienced any injuries since I started using them. And the bold, fun colors are a plus!

4. Fresh Ginger

I used fresh ginger in the soup mentioned above and experimented with it in other ways, including putting it in my smoothies! My favorite combo was a kale, ginger, banana, mango, flax, protein powder & soy milk smoothie.

Ginger is high in vitamins and nutrients and has been found to help with inflammation and aiding in digestion. A little goes a long way with ginger, so start with small amounts if you add it to soups or smoothies.

5. Cava

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I just wrote a post on Cava products so I won’t bombard you with more Cava talk, but their food is SO good. I have been eating it for days.

6. Chobani Indulgent

Looking for a dessert that won’t weigh you down? Chobani has come out with an indulgent line that includes dessert-like yogurts made with whole milk. I enjoy these because they are small portions but satisfy that sweet tooth with a more nutrient dense option than other desserts. There are a few flavors and I’m hoping to try them all out soon! My first purchase was the Banana and Dark Chocolate and it didn’t disappoint.

Cooking with Cava

One thing that DC doesn’t lack is amazingly fresh and healthy foods. One of my favorites in the area is Cava, a DC area restaurant that makes healthy and tasty Greek food that you can purchase locally. Mediterranean food is one of my favorites and Cava hits the spot. Inspired by their flavors, I used their spreads to amp up some of my favorite dishes.

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If I could describe Cava foods in one word I would say flavorful. These products are full of delicious taste and spice and it is easy to get creative with them. So let’s get cookin’!

First up on the menu: Baked Kale “Chips” with Tzatziki Sauce.

Normal Kale chips are delicious, but it doesn’t get much better than dunking them in Tzatziki sauce. To make these, I just rinsed the kale, broke off large pieces and put them on a cookie sheet. I drizzled them with olive oil, garlic and pepper and baked at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Then enjoyed with tzatziki!

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Soo good.

Next up was the main course. Inspired by this dish, I decided to make harissa and feta stuffed chicken breast. Cava’s Crazy Feta is spicy and the harissa is even spicier. Bring it on!

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To make the chicken I took 3/4 cup of the crazy feta and mixed it with 1/3 cup of the harissa. I stuffed 4 chicken breasts with the mixture and cooked at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. Easy as that!

To round out the meal, I used their tabbouleh to make stuffed grape leaves. Grape leaves are new territory for me but I was up for the challenge.

DSC_6194DSC_6199DSC_6201I used a few videos and tutorials to blanch and stuff the grape leaves just right. I need a bit more practice but was happy with the result.

After stuffing the grape leaves it was time to eat. Final product:

DSC_6204This meal was spicy, but adding Tzatziki on the side cooled it down while adding delicious flavor. We had it for dinner and rated the meal a 10 out of 10. It was fresh, tasty and easy to put together. Plus these products were born in the DC area and I am always a fan of local eating.

For your own Cava products, they are available in retail locations from DC up to Connecticut. I would definitely recommend trying them out for some awesome Greek products. Great for recipes, party dips or healthy snacking!

 

Things I’m Loving Now

Does anyone else feel like July flew by?? I can’t get over how fast this summer is going and know a lot of people are feeling the same. It was a great month filled with fun and adventure! I also have been loving a few food and nutrition-related things this month. In no particular order these are my top picks for July:

 

1. Keep Calm and Bake On Spatula

I got this perfect spatula as a gift from Frank’s mom (she knows me well!). I love using it and think it adds a little extra love to my baking :). For a similar version click the link above.

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2. Vega Sport Protein Powder

A big perk of having a friend that works at a grocery store is getting samples of amazing goodies! This is one of the latest and greatest, a plant-based protein powder. I personally believe you can get enough protein through foods such as meat, dairy, beans, etc. so I add protein powders to smoothies in small amounts for texture and flavor and a little extra nutrition.

vega sport

 

3. Navita Naturals Cacao Powder

Another sample from ma friend, this Cacao powder is chocolate in its most natural form – no sugar or fat added. Just raw powder and antioxidants! This has been my new go-to for Banana Soft Serve and the flavor is intense (in a good way). Use this and frozen bananas for smoothies and it would be a great alternative to a chocolate “milkshake.”

cacao powder

cacao powder 1

4. Summer berries!

Summer is one of my favorite seasons because of the abundance of in-season berries! Sure, you can get strawberries and blueberries  at any time, but in the summer they are fresh and local and full of flavor. I can’t get enough.

blubes

 

5. Smoothies

Smoothies are a year-round favorite of mine, but I had to include them anyway. They are even better in July because they are the best way to refresh and cool down in this weather. My go-to is the green smoothie, but I try to get creative by using different fruits and vegetables. I drink them for breakfast or a post workout snack/meal. They are the best.

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6. PB2

For the flavor of Peanut Butter without the extra calories this is a great alternative! PB2 is powdered peanut butter stripped of the oil to make it much lower in calories and fat. I still love my peanut butter and definitely recommend it,  but sometimes I’d rather just have the taste of peanut butter in things such as smoothies and sauces. I got this bottle at Giant and am going through it quickly!

PB2

 

7. Grain and Protein Bowls

I don’t know what it is, but I am on a bowl kick lately! At work and home I love getting creative with  different add-ins to make a nutritious grain, veggie and protein bowl. The one below features brown rice, crock pot chicken, beans and avocado. At work I’ve been making meal bowls with quinoa, beans, chicken and veggies. How do you make a perfect meal bowl? It’s easy. Just pick a few choices from the following lists, layer and enjoy!

Grains: Quinoa, brown rice, millet, couscous

Protein: chicken, tofu, beans, cheese, egg

Veggies: kale, broccoli, spinach, carrots, butternut squash, zucchini/squash

Toppings: avocado, hummus, cilantro, seeds, nuts, salsa, greek yogurt

These are just suggestions, but anything goes!

 

rice bowl

8. Athleta

For a long time my exercise clothes included old t-shirts and shorts and I longed for something cuter! Behold my new clothes from Athleta. I got a gift card for my birthday and was able to splurge a little on something new. Click here for the shirt and here for the shorts. Both are lightweight and feel great (and on sale)! I also shop at Gap Fit for workout gear that is both cute and a little more affordable.

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9. At-Home Yoga Workouts

With a month full of travel, I was worried that if I joined a yoga studio I wouldn’t be able to make the most of it. I decided to turn to at-home yoga videos and am so glad I did! I definitely believe in starting your practice at a studio but once you are more comfortable with it, home videos are a good option once in a while. This was a perfect way to fit in yoga workouts that could be either short or long depending on my schedule. I tried out a few and enjoyed the one below by Katie Levans the best. It is a great workout and just what I was looking for!

45-Minute Power Yoga Flow with Katie levans

Hope you enjoy some of these July favorites! Have a great rest of the week!

5 Ways to Ease into Healthy Living

Healthy living doesn’t mean all or nothing. It doesn’t mean depriving yourself or completely cutting out food groups. It means finding a balance, eating to nourish your body and treating yourself well. If you are used to yo-yo dieting or going the all or nothing route, start small and ease into balanced living. Small changes can make a huge difference in your overall health and don’t require strict plans or deprivation.

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1. Sleep More

Try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep can help you more than you think. It regulates your hunger and fullness hormones, making it easier to eat normal amounts of food and helping you make healthier choices.

2. Exercise

Doing something is better than nothing, and the benefits can be life-saving! Try to get in some form of aerobic exercise at least 3-4x per week for 30 minutes. Whether it’s power walking, using the elliptical, running, swimming, dancing–just get that heart rate up.

3. Eat a Balance of Nutrients at Each Meal and Snack

Even if in the beginning you don’t change much in your diet, try to at least get a balance of protein, carbs and some fat at each meal and snack. This will provide essential nutrients and help you to feel satisfied each time you eat. Try to use the plate method and make half of your plate vegetables and fruit, 1/4 plate lean meat and 1/4 plate whole grains. For every snack make sure you have something with fiber and protein to keep you feeling full.

myplate

4. Listen to your body

Your body will tell you what food it needs and how much. Try to focus on how foods make you feel. Does a cheeseburger make you feel energized or sluggish? Does pizza make you feel light or weighed down? When you eat, do you feel stuffed or just right? If you eat the foods that your body needs and eat until satisfied instead of full, you will get to a healthy weight for your body without depriving yourself.

5. Reduce Stress

Not only is it important to take care of your body, but it is equally as important to take care of your mind as well. Both mind and body are connected when it comes to healthy living and it is important to reduce stress and find healthy ways to manage it. Each person is unique in what might help them. For some it is yoga and exercise, for others meditation, for others it might be talking on the phone or reading a good book. Use this list to help you identify different ways to help clear your head and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

These steps are the base of a healthy lifestyle and can help you feel better long-term. Notice how these tips are maintainable and life-long to help you lead a happier, healthier life.