Balancing Hormones

The phrase “balance your hormones” is trending right now, but which hormones are people referring to? I must acknowledge that this popular go-to phrase may be used for a few reasons:

  1. People aren’t familiar with different hormones and their functions, and that’s okay!
  2. Some cases may very well be referring to most of their hormones.

I felt compelled to write this piece because I had to clear the air and pronounce that not all hormones are interconnected and not all hormones need to be balanced! You may have low or elevated levels of one hormone, while another is within the normal range. However, left untreated, an imbalance of one hormone can very well impair other endocrine glands (organs that secrete hormones).

Let’s backtrack to what hormones are. Hormones are chemical messengers that deliver job duties to other parts of the body to carry out. For example, the hormone ghrelin signals hunger and when we need to eat, while leptin is the satiety hormone that tells us when we’re full. Yep. Not all hormones are related to our reproductive system or make us crazy!

So, I’m wondering if we need to change the dialogue from uber general and switch it up. If you’re stressed, maybe recognize that cortisol is the hormone you need to balance. If you have PCOS and acne, perhaps androgens are the culprit. If you don’t know, once again, that’s okay! That’s what medical professionals went to school for, but definitely consult with a professional (whether that’s a gastroenterologist, a functional medical doctor, a Registered Dietitian, etc. They can actually measure your hormones through a blood or urine sample and educate you on what hormones need some TLC.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think I’m being hypercritical of the phrase, or do you also think we need to adjust our verbiage when saying we need to balance our hormones?

🌵Nemi “Cactus” Holisticks 🌵

🌵Nemi “Cactus” Holisticks 🌵

Regina Trillo. She is the woman so brilliantly responsible for the creation of Nemi “Cactus” Holisticks. You heard that right- cactus sticks for snacks! 🌵😋 And boy are they DELICIOUS + NUTRITIOUS! 🙌🏼

I discovered Nemi at my local boutique grocer that carries local and artisanal foods and beverages. I absolutely love exploring there. Intrigued by the packaging, I picked up a snack-size bag of Nemi earlier this spring, and I read “plant-powered crunch snack made from cactus and amaranth”. I was SOLD on the spot. I am a sucker for trying new foods, and I had never had cactus before!

It was love at first bite of the Spirulina + Lime flavored bag. I have tried every flavor since, and I’ve seen her business grow in popularity over the last few months. She just received an award that “recognized [her] as a business helping to build a more equitable society” AND she is Chicago-based! Win win win win win, imo.

On a scale of 1-10 with explanations, here’s what I rated each category of this product.

Texture: 10/10

If you like crunchy snacks (I’m not sure who doesn’t), you will LOVE the audible *crunch* you get from these snack sticks! They are the perfect balance between having resistance and that easy to bite factor. No one wants a snack that makes you worry about your teeth now. Plus, the exterior is coated in amaranth and other healthy and sustainable-sourced ingredients, which gives it a bit of grainy texture. Swoon!

 

Flavor: Depends on the flavor we’re talking about…but the average was a 9!

Spirulina + Lime: 9/10

Smoky Chipotle: 10/10

Churro- Date and Cinnamon: 7/10

Chili + Turmeric: 8/10

Hokay! So obviously my favorite lava flavor is the Smoky Chipotle. It’s what’s pictured on the cover photo and pairs PERFECTLY with the sriracha tahini sauce. Honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing about the flavor profile.

The Spirulina + Lime is right up my alley too, not just with those ingredients, but the pop of citrus in your mouth with every bite! Wowsa! I knocked off a point because I wanted to taste a touch more of the spirulina. Although, i can see how that would be difficult to incorporate without messing with the other ingredients.

Churro- Date and Cinnamon- Not my cup of tea. I was accustomed to the savory delivery of the first two, so I didn’t expect nor welcome a sweet cactus stick. I could taste the attempt of a churro flavor, but it just didn’t do it for me. It was too sweet and didn’t really meld well with the crunchiness and nature of the dehydrated cactus sticks. When I think of churros, I think warm and soft with a slight crust of an outside, so I wouldn’t get this flavor again.

Chili + Turmeric was pretty good too. I wish it was as strong as the chipotle kick and you could detect a little more of the turmeric without that being overpowering. Once again, could be difficult to find this balance.

 

Nutrition Profile: 9/10

Calories: 150 kcal / bag- amazing for a small + quick snack! I do wish the bag was just a bit bigger though. I want more cactus goodness!

Fat: 3.5g/bag– No sat fat and comes from the chia seeds + flaxseed oil. Great sources of healthy fats!

Carbs: 20g/bag –Amazing!

Protein: 6g/bag –Can you say macro boner?

Fiber: 4g/bag – How can this nutrition profile for a crunchy snack get any better?

Added sugars: fricken zilch!

*Plus, 2mg iron + 57.1mg potassium 🙂

Here’s a screenshot of the baseline ingredients:

Screen Shot 2020-07-31 at 3.41.05 PM

Ingredients vary depending on the flavor, but I admire Nemi’s transparency with real and sustainably-sourced whole food ingredients. Nopal, the type of cactus used, is actually regarded for lowering blood sugar, healing wounds, and reducing cholesterol by Medical News Today, so the health benefits are pretty great!

Cost: 9/10

You can buy a 6-pack of these snack bags on their site for $24.00, so it’s roughly $4/bag. It’s a little pricey for a quick snack, BUT, you get what you pay for in this case. The ingredients are stellar and you’ll be supporting a female-owned, Latina, Chicago-based company friends!

 

Overall Score: 9/10!

 

I cannot recommend Nemi Holisticks enough. The founder, Regina, is a doll and is a strong, Latina looking to promote cultural health food. She is the embodiment of #womensupportingwomen and truly cares and engages with her customers. And can I please stress the deliciousness of these unique-as-hell cactus sticks?! Order them NOW! You won’t be disappointed- promise. 😉

Quinn’s Popcorn

Quinn’s Popcorn

It’s Friday, and that means movie night and popcorn! JP and I always like using Fridays to wind down from the week and feel refreshed for the weekend adventures ahead.

I have very fond memories of my grandma making stovetop popcorn in this old copper pot. She used raw kernels and olive oil to pop the kernels, and then added parmesean and sea salt. OMG, it was divine chomping on that watching Tales of the Crypt lol. Anyone my age remember that terrifying show? Anyways…

I can still taste the flavor of her popcorn. You know, the way you have taste memories of how your mom or grandma makes their recipe. It never turns out the same if anyone else makes it, even following the recipe to a T. I haven’t attempted making it her way, for this reason and because I just never thought to try it or buy popcorn kernels! Now I just might.

This is how I decided to try Quinns popcorn though. They’re a snack company that is dedicated to providing real foods that are non-GMO and are wrapped up in chemical-free packaging. Did you know that most traditional microwave poppcorn bags contain cancer-causing chemicals?! Ugh, yes.

I have written a review on their popcorn product, specifically their Aged Parmesan Rosemary. It is the only popcorn I will buy that is prepackaged because their bags do not contain carcinogens and their popcorn additives are not fake and processed crap!

On a scale of 1-10 with explanations, here’s what I rated each category.

Texture: 9/10

I mean, the mouthfeel is that of popcorn- light and slightly crunchy- the perfect consistency for a snack or light meal (insert: Olivia Pope vibes with red wine). I wish the popcorn itself was a little….what’s the word…sturdier…to pack more of a crunch. Does that make sense? Like I feel that movie theatre popcorn (while I don’t love the gallons of butter and fake additives) is durable with each popped kernel. For that reason, texture receives a 9/10.

 

Flavor: 8.5/10

Think popcorn. aged parmesan. rosemary. and salt- YUMMMM! Simple ingredients with nothing you can’t pronounce. I am obsessed with a hint of cheese and herbs in my meals, and salt always elevates those flavors. I usually add freshly grated Parmesan on top too, because the flavor is a bit stronger. I deducted a point from flavor for this reason, because while their cheese is non-GMO and from a cow that has not been treated with antibiotics nor hormones, it’s not as strong as fresh parm. Of course, I couldn’t expect it to be without being refrigerated. I also wish there was a touch more salt, so I knocked off another half point for that, but adding a dash of sea salt is an easy fix. 😉 Overall, it’s tasty!

 

Nutrition Profile: 10/10

Calories: 510 kcal / bag (170 kcals / serving with 3 servings in each bag)

Fat: 6g/bag– factoring in the sunflower oil it comes with, so to be expected

Carbs: 51g/bag – as expected

Protein: 12g/bag – better than expected for popcorn!

Fiber: 9g/bag – woohoo! Get that fiber! Goal is usually 25g;day for women, 38g/day for men

Added sugars: 0g – yusssss honey!

*Plus, vitamin A 2%, vitamin C and iron 4% of your daily value🙂

Here’s a screenshot of the ingredients:

Screen Shot 2020-07-24 at 4.44.41 PM

I am LOVING how short this ingredient list is! And please note that not all sunflower oils are made equal. While I typically prefer olive oil, high oleic sunflower oil contains more monounsaturated fats than polyunsaturated fats- more of the type of fat we want in our diet and that olive oil also consists of! I gave the nutrition profile a 10/10 because it’s macros and micros are pretty impressive compared to other popcorn brands.

Click here to check out all of where Quinn’s Snacks ingredients are sourced from. As you’ll see when exploring, they offer many flavors of popcorn and GF sorghum pretzels too! I can’t wait to try those…

 

Cost: 9.5/10

You can buy a 3-pack of this popcorn on Amazon for $13.17 rn, so it’s roughly $4/box with 2 bags in each. I’ve seen popcorn for cheaper, but I think paying an extra buck or two is worth the company being so transparent with where they source their quality ingredients from.

 

Overall Score: 9/10!

 

All in all, I would highly recommend checking out Quinn’s Snacks! They care about the packaging they use because they care about their consumers! They want to provide a safe, healthy and delicious snack that still represents classic foods we’re familiar with. I always purchase my Quinn’s popcorn at Target, but you can also find them on Amazon and use their store finder to find a retailer that carries them near you.

Happy snacking!

Perfect Bar: Lemon Poppy Seed

Perfect Bar: Lemon Poppy Seed

Hello, hello! Here are a few updates on my end…

  1. I officially start my dietetic internship TOMORROW! Eeeek!!! I had my orientation this past Monday and Tuesday, so I already accrued 40 hours between that and numerous projects we were assigned. Only 960 more hours to go, then I will sit for (and hopefully pass) the RD exam in Feb/March, and THEN I will be a Registered Dietitian!
  2. I have decided to incorporate product reviews in my rotation of posts because I absolutely adore some health food brands that I would love to support and promote. Plus, I won’t have the time to be developing new recipes to share all of the time (aside from the ones I’m cookin’ up for my cookbook!). Take ‘um or leave ‘um, but I hope some of you find these informative and useful.

Here it is- my first product review!

Perfect Bar Lemon Poppy Seed

I must disclose that I have been a Perfect Bar fan for YEARS now. I truly believe in their genuine approach to delivering whole foods in a convenient way. Plus, their bars are just dreamy, and if you remotely like nut butters of any sort, then you’re bound to love their nut butter-based bars that taste like solid peanut/almond/cashew butter gold!

So, you may see that I’m already biased, but hear me out…this new limited edition bar is fireeeeeeee. On a scale of 1-10 with explanations, here’s what I rate it each category.

Texture: 9/10

The consistency is soft (but still holds form), smooth, and creamy- pretty much your ideal protein bar. However, I deducted 1 point because there is an ever so light coating of oil that keeps its consistency intact.

 

Flavor: 10/10

I am not a pushover when it comes to taste. In fact, I’m kind of picky and particular about what’s in my food and how the flavors play off one another. I have not given a perfect score to this perfect bar without much contemplation. The lemon zing is just enough- not overpowering and refreshing- and the poppy seeds balance it out just right! Now, the cashew butter (and peanut butter) used as the base are very complimentary to the lemon and poppy seeds because they aren’t too overwhelming with flavor either. It’s a party in your mouth and had me reminiscing over drinking lemonade as a kid in the summer.

 

Nutrition Profile: 7.5/10

Calories: 310 (great for a snack or light breakfast/dessert/additive to any of the above!)

Fat: 19g (24%) – fairly high, but still okay depending on your nutrition goals

Carbs: 25g (9%) – as expected

Protein: 12g – decent

Fiber: 2 g – meh

Added sugars: 10g – a little higher than I would like, but hey, what doesn’t kill ya 😉

*1 bar also provides 140mg calcium and 380 mg potassium 🙂

Here’s a screenshot of the ingredients:

Screen Shot 2020-07-19 at 6.09.45 PM

I am amenable to all of these ingredients, but I’m not crazy about the addition of sunflower oil and sesame oil, but hey aren’t deal breakers. 😉 I gave the nutrition profile a 7.5, with 1 point off for high fat content and added sugars, plus a half point for the oils.

 

Cost: 10/10

I paid $32.00 for a variety pack of 12 bars- half lemon poppy seed, half cherry pie. That equates to $2.67/bar. That’s pretty good, considering the ingredients that are in each bar. Plus, I received 15% off my first purchase with Perfect Bar and the shipping was FREE! By the way, Perfect Bars are usually $1.99 at Trader Joes.

 

Overall Score: 9/10!

 

At the end of the day, I would recommend Perfect Bars to anyone looking for a filling, delicious, flavor-packed snack or quick on-the-go brekky. Their Lemon Poppy Seed addition was the ideal summer drop to lighten the mood and days ahead. Plus, they’re nutritious. Check um out at perfectsnacks.com . You can also find them at Traders, Whole Foods, Starbucks, and many other convenient and grocery stores! Enjoy!

Racial Disparities & Hunger

Racial Disparities & Hunger

These last couple of weeks have been heavy. They were filled with grief and anger, uncertainty and dismay, but there was also a glimmer of hope for true and lasting change. In fact, change has already taken place or been initiated thanks to everyone who stood up to racial injustice in protest. Those who were uneducated or in the dark took a step back and listened. Melanated voices were amplified, and the symbiotic relationships of teacher and student, friend and ally, were established and strengthened. I personally had a difficult time finding my place in the fight for social justice. I did listen, learn, and will strive to continue educating myself on how to bring about true change and equality in this crazy world we live in. I hope that speaking up and writing this article now is a beginning point for my small contribution.

It is well-known that minorities are disproportionately affected by poverty and hunger, specifically African Americans, Blacks, Latinos, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Of course, all ethnicities have outliers and exceptions, but a large portion of food insecurity is seen within these minority communities. I learned more about this topic during my nutrition education and when researching food insecurity on college campuses. My peers and I noticed a troubling and common theme- there are apparent risk factors regarding hunger as a college student -being a minority, first-generation student, and coming from a low-income household. Instead of being rewarded for pursuing higher education, these at-risk populations are directly plagued with chronic hunger. But how can race be a predetermining factor for food insecurity and hunger?

According to the USDA, 22.5% of African American households and 18.5% of Hispanic households are food insecure, both of which are higher than the national average of 12.3%.

Racial inequality has been discussed very openly recently. As a result, the mass population is learning that socioeconomic status, education level, healthcare access, and one’s neighborhood can greatly impact a person (and their family’s) health- all of which minorities have had a more difficult time acquiring higher levels of. If a student comes from a low-income family who doesn’t qualify for government assistance, he or she may be left with the decision of paying for books or feeding him or herself. NO ONE should have to choose between education and a full stomach. Why are individuals even being presented with this choice to make?

Our system is broken.

If you’re ever searching for a documentary on food insecurity, I suggest you check out A Place at the Table, featuring Jeff Bridges. It is available for rent or purchase on Amazon, YouTube, or iTunes. The food doc tells the stories of different families in America and how they struggle to keep food on the table. Each family is of a different race, and while they are all heartbreaking, the journey that stood out to me was of a young black, single mother who struggled to feed herself and her two children. She was unemployed at first and receiving government assistance, but here’s the part that most people don’t see- she eventually got hired at a food alliance to help others who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. When she obtained the job,  her government assistance was immediately revoked,. With no savings, she struggled even more to keep her head afloat and feed her children, even with a job. So why would she hustle and work to only struggle MORE than when she wasn’t working and on food assistance? Our system is broken and needs to be fixed.

I saw this quote earlier- “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect”. So is saying “the system is broken” incorrect since the system was never whole and fully functioning to begin with? Leave your thoughts below.

“1 out of 2 children in the United States, at some point, will be on food assistance”. 

This statement alone is startling. How can 1 out of 2 children be hungry when everyone around us seems fine? For one, hunger does not discriminate. Hunger doesn’t care what race you are, what education level you have, or where you live. Who does care to discriminate against you is the government, who dictates who can afford food through mass production of obesity-causing processed foods offered at a cheaper price compared to organic foods that are unaffordable and inaccessible to many. We must collectively stand up to our government officials and petition for change. We must educate ourselves, each other, plant and grow gardens together, support local farmer’s markets and farms, and get back to our “roots” of real food and health.

And if that’s not bad enough…

As The Alliance to End Hunger points out, “Schools with 90% white students spend $733 more per student than schools with 90% or more students of color.” This is data and statistical evidence that discrimination is effecting children of color in schools. It breaks my heart, and I can’t even fathom how the allocation of funds isn’t equally distributed to feed all children, especially children in need. If children aren’t fed properly, they cannot effectively think, learn and retain information in school. Our brains need sufficient food and nutrients to function optimally! Heck, many of these kids have trouble staying awake in class. This has to change.

Government programs, such as the SBP (School Breakfast Program) and SLP (School Lunch Program), have been in place since the late 60s. Fun Fact: The SBP was first organized and founded by members of the Black Panthers! It was so successful that the two-year pilot program kept being extended and still exists today. So why is food insecurity and hunger on the rise in America with these programs in place?

While charity and government assistance programs help, they are only a temporary fix instead of a solution. The underlying problem is that the cost of healthy food is too steep and inaccessible while processed foods that cause chronic disease are cheap and readily available. See the chart below.

What can we do?

How can we advocate for minority populations who are food insecure when our system sets them up to fail? The best I and other food justice fighters can do is educate ourselves, write our local, state, and federal government officials, and petition to change these laws that favor mega corporations and revenue streams over human health and food equity. When I speak of food equity, I am referring to everyone having access to an assortment of affordable and nutritious food. This is food security. Food insecurity is the opposite- NOT having easy access to affordable and nutritious foods. Many low-income areas are considered food deserts because they don’t have grocers that carry fresh produce. This is a major problem. Food and health is a BASIC HUMAN NEED AND RIGHT! This will have to be a whole other blog post because I am also very passionate about food deserts and the need to eradicate them in this country.

Other ways to help.

Please feel free to contribute to this ongoing discussion of racial disparities and food injustice. I am very passionate about the topic and am open to your thoughts.