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Shop Smart by Reading Labels

Breaking Down Food Labels

While you’re shopping, understanding the nutrition labels on food can help you make smart choices for your family. We can help you make the most of them.

New Food Label for a New Era

In May, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a new Nutrition Facts label with some important improvements:

What's Different?
Image via the FDA

When you see them side by side, you can see that the new label calls out the actual serving size and calories per serving much bigger. At the store, this can quickly help you see how good for you something is in terms of calories, and how much bang for your buck you’re getting in what you buy.

New vs Old Label
Image via the FDA

It also calls out added sugars, which are sugars (like sugar, honey, or corn syrup) that are added to packaged food. Fresh fruit has natural sugars, so juices don’t list the sugar that’s naturally occurring from the fruit as added sugar.

And now it calls out the exact amount of nutrients, like vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium.

The FDA’s new labels have also changed serving sizes to better show how much people actually eat of certain foods:

New Serving Sizes
Image via the FDA

While a half a cup of ice cream used to be the recommended serving size, most people are scooping out closer to a cup, so the FDA wanted to make sure you know how many calories you’re actually eating in that bowl of ice cream.

Making the Most of Food Labels

1. Serving Size

Serving SizeWhen you pick something up at the store, start with the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label.

It will tell you the total number of servings in the package, and the new serving size, which better shows how much of it you actually eat.

These serving sizes are standard, so it’s easier for you to compare the calories and nutrients in similar foods to find the healthiest brand for you. Serving sizes also come in measurements you know, like cups, followed by grams.

2. Calories

CaloriesNext, look at the number of calories per serving. Calories are a measure of how much energy you’ll get from food.

Many people eat more calories than they need to, so keeping track of how many you eat can help you with your weight. Most people should eat around 2,000 calories per day.

When you’re looking at the calories, if you’re eating around 2,000 calories a day, then 40 calories is low for a serving, 100 calories is in the middle, and 400 or more calories is high. In fact, you should shoot for whole meals to be around 400 calories.

3. Nutrients to Limit

The nutrients listed first are Nutrients to Limitones that most Americans get plenty or too much of.

Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, or sugar can raise your risk of certain diseases, like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

The bold headlines are most helpful for you when you’re shopping, so you can quickly see how much of these is in something, while the subheads, like saturated and trans fat, can help you focus on a nutrient you’re interested in.

The percentages along the side tell you how much of your 2,000 calorie diet this food takes up. So in this image, the total fat in this food takes up 10% of all the fat you should eat in a whole day.

Dietary fiber and protein that are mixed into this list are good for you and important to keep an eye on. Fiber can help you better process food and reduce the risk of heart disease, and protein can help you stay full longer and is important if you’re trying to build muscle.

4. Nutrients You Need

Important NutrientsThe bottom section of nutrients are ones that many don’t get enough of, so they’ve been highlighted to help you buy foods rich in them.

These are nutrients that can help you improve your health and help lower the risk of some diseases. For example, calcium and vitamin D can help you build strong bones and lower your risk of getting osteoporosis later in life, and potassium can help lower your blood pressure.

5. Footnote

Label FootnoteThe footnote is more simple in the new design, too. It just reminds you that the percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

Now that you know what the different sections of the Nutrition Facts label are telling you, it will be easy to look for food with good calorie counts, limited salt, fat, and sugar, and plenty of healthy nutrients, like calcium.

Up Next:

Why shop organic? Our Organic 101 guide makes it easy!

Make sense of expiration dates while you’re shopping to make the most of your groceries.

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Vaccines for a Healthy Grandchild

Long View: 3 Things Grandparents Should Know About Vaccines

There are few things more exciting in this world than the arrival of a grandchild. The anticipation to see if the baby has your son’s eyes, the enjoyment of picking out all of those adorable baby clothes, and those precious weekends at grandmas!

New grandparents should also remember the importance of protecting their grandchild from preventable illnesses by understanding vaccines. Vaccines are not just important for the newborn, but also for you.

  1. Vaccines Are Safe and Effective

The medical community is in agreement that vaccines are safe, effective, and do not cause serious harm to children. Vaccines are the single most important method to prevent diseases like polio, whooping cough, and the measles. Vaccines go through rigorous testing, and children are far more likely to be harmed by illnesses, like whooping cough and the flu, than by the vaccine itself. The World Health Organization has a useful website debunking myths about vaccines.

  1. Whooping Cough’s On the Rise

Do you think whooping cough is an extinct illness from your childhood? Sadly, because people haven’t been vaccinating their kids, illnesses that were once very rare thanks to high vaccination rates are now reappearing. Whooping cough (pertussis) is one illness that is especially dangerous to newborns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2014, there were 32,971 reported cases of whooping cough, a 15% increase compared to 2013!

  1. Time for a Booster?

You may be thinking, “Wait! I was already vaccinated against whooping cough when I was a child.” But the CDC recommends you get a Tdap shot, the vaccine that protects against whooping cough, every 10 years or if you’re 65 or older and in close contact with infants. Don’t forget about your annual flu shot either.

Dr. John Beck, Health Alliance vice president and senior medical director, puts the importance of vaccines into perspective. “Most adults were vaccinated as children against pertussis, but protection wears off over time. Babies are able to catch pertussis from family members, including grandparents, who may not know they have it. Grandparents should consider getting a Tdap booster after discussion with their physician,” he said.

Don’t forget to take steps to protect the health of you and your grandbaby. Making precious memories with your new grandchild will be more enjoyable with that peace of mind.

Chris Maxeiner is a community liaison with Health Alliance. His background is in the fields of healthcare and government programs. His favorite superhero is Batman, and he is an avid Chicago sports fan (Bears, Bulls, and White Sox).

Give Back Christmas Wishes

Give Back for the Holidays

This week, we’re helping you find ways to give back this holiday season.

Donate a homemade scarf to the Orphan Foundation of America’s Red Scarf Project and give foster teens in college a way to stay warm.

Donate a Red Scarf

 

Toys for Tots collects new, unwrapped, or your homemade toys to give to kids in need. Find a drop-off center.

Donate new, gently used, or homemade coats to those who need them with the Warm Coats & Warm Hearts Coat Drive.

Giving Warmth

 

Send a thoughtful holiday card to American service members, veterans, and their families with the American Red Cross’s Holiday Mail for Heroes program.

Reaching Out for the Holidays

 

Fill a shoe box with handmade or bought gifts to send a personalized present to a child in need through Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child program.

Give a Personalized Gift

 

Donate your old cell phone to Cell Phones for Soldiers and give the gift of communication to our troops and their families.

Give Your Old Phone

 

Give the gift of a good holiday meal to a family that might otherwise go without through a food bank near you.

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National Psoriasis Awareness Month

National Psoriasis Awareness Month

August is National Psoriasis Awareness Month, and 7.5 million people are living with it now, and 30% will develop psoriatic arthritis.

And 59% of people with psoriasis report it’s a problem in their everyday life. Learn more.

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Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes red, scaly patches on the skin, and 52% of those who have it aren’t satisfied with treatment.

Psoriasis on elbow. Medical treatment

 

33% of those suffering from psoriasis report social interactions are hurt by their disease.

Businessman applying sun screen

 

72% of psoriasis sufferers are overweight or obese, which increases their risk of having it on top of other chronic conditions.

Psoriasis is more common than you know. Pop icon Cyndi Lauper started talking about her own psoriasis in July. You’re not alone.

Volksstimme Fotos Ausgabe SAW

 

Are you newly diagnosed? The National Psoriasis Foundation has a psoriasis One-on-One to help you talk to someone who understands.

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Looking to learn more about psoriasis treatment, research, or to get involved? The National Psoriasis Foundation’s Free Health Webcasts can help.

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Vegetarian Entrees

My Healthy Journey: Finding Vegetarian Alternatives

I love a good steak as much as the next meat-eater, but changing to a healthier diet has also meant eating more vegetables than meat. Sometimes, that also means it’s a great idea to try eating vegetarian meals.

Rally has a challenge for just this, called Meatless Days. They ask you to “Skip meat for a day and explore tasty vegetarian protein sources such as tofu, beans, lentils, quinoa, and nuts. It’s good for you, easier on the budget, and eco-friendly too.”

When I went on vacation to Nashville, I’d tried eggplant for the first time. We’d gotten a free appetizer that was eggplant marinated in tomato sauce and other goodness. It was incredibly delicious.

Ever since, I’ve been wanting to learn to cook eggplant myself. This week, inspired by the eggplant recipes I ran on social media earlier in the month, and trying an official meatless day, I made Eggplant Parmesan for the first time.

As I’ve mentioned before, when I cook, I rarely follow recipes or measure things out. But, since I’ve never made this before, I did use this recipe for reference, however I made much less since I was dining for one.

I started by slicing my eggplant into thick slices, about a 1/4 of an inch. Then, I laid them out on a rack and salted them well and left them for 2 hours, to draw the excess water out.

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Once I’d dried off my eggplant, I set up three different bowls to bread the eggplant, one flour, one beaten eggs, and one breadcrumbs and parmesan. Dredge each piece in flour first, then dip in the eggs, then carefully coat in breadcrumb mixture.

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Lay the breaded eggplant out on a foil-covered cookie sheet in a single layer. Drizzle the tops of each piece lightly with olive oil and bake at 425°F for 15-20 minutes. After 8-10 minutes, flip all the pieces over so both sides get golden brown.

 

While the eggplant is cooking, make spaghetti following the directions on the box. (I used whole wheat organic spaghetti.)

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While these are both cooking, you can also start making your favorite tomato sauce recipe. Or if you’re like me and it’s a busy weeknight, you can use a jar of sauce.

I heated up just over half a jar of my favorite store-bought sauce on the stove. I added a dash of garlic powder, salt and pepper, a teaspoon of sugar, and 2 handfuls of sliced grape tomatoes. I let this stew together on the stovetop for 15-20 minutes, to begin to break down the fresh tomatoes.

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If you’re going to use fresh mozzarella, slice or grate it now. I chose to use store-bought, low-fat mozzarella which was already shredded, both to save time and calories.

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Pull your eggplant out of the oven and lower your oven temperature to 350°F. Spread a little bit of your tomato sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish. Layer your eggplant slices on top of it. Top with more of your tomato sauce and your mozzarella and more parmesan.

If you’re making it for one, I used the rest of my tomato sauce and only made one layer. If you’re making a big batch, you will add more than one layer of eggplant, and so you should portion out your sauce and cheese accordingly. Bake for another 10-20 minutes until everything is warm, melted, and bubbly.

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Serve on top of your spaghetti. (I topped mine with a little extra pepper.)

I can honestly say this meal lived up to how delicious it looks. It is rich and so tasty, and packs a big serving of vegetables. Chicken parmesan has long been a family favorite, and I can honestly say that this is just as satisfying.

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Making healthy changes, like meatless days, doesn’t have to be a sacrifice! It just takes a little searching for a good recipe and being willing to try new things.

And you can make using Rally and tracking your goals even easier with their app, so you can check in anytime, anywhere.

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Fresh Fiddlehead Ferns at Your Farmers Market

Making the Most of a Farmers Market

There are lots of reasons to get out to your local farmers market, but going to a farmers market for the first time is very different than going to the supermarket. We can help make sure it goes smoothly with these tips from a farmers market veteran:

1. Prepare.

  • Illinois has a Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program that gives you a free booklet of checks that you can use at local markets. Check it out on the Illinois Department on Aging’s site for details and participating counties and markets .
  • Many vendors only take cash (and some take SNAP and WIC benefits). Some booths only take small bills, 20s and smaller.
  • Many vendors don’t offer bags, so it’s a good idea to bring a few cloth ones you can use.
  • Most markets don’t allow dogs, so leave them at home.
  • Have an idea of what is in stock at that time of year, so you know what to expect. Use this map to find out what’s in season where you live.

2. Check the info booth first. If your market has an info booth, check there before you start shopping. The people working can let you know if there are any special things going on that day, like cooking demos.

Certain markets, like the new Champaign Farmers’ Market downtown, have special deals for SNAP users, so it’s always good to check with the info booth. At their market, they will double up to $20 of benefits per person while funds last when you bring your Link card to the market booth!

3. Go early or go late. If you go early, you will have first pick of the freshest and largest selection. If you go late, some farmers will offer discounts to clear out their stock before heading home.

4. Take a lap. Unless you know your market really well, don’t just buy the first things you see. By walking a lap through the market first, you can get the lay of the land, compare prices and selection, and taste samples.

5. Talk to the farmers. The farmers can answer questions about how the food was grown and harvested, talk about why their produce is or is not organic, offer recipes, give info about something you’ve never tasted, or recommend their favorites.

6. Be mindful. It’s considered rude to squeeze stone fruits, like peaches, plums, or tomatoes, because it can bruise them. And it’s considered rude to open husks of corn before buying them, which can actually make them less sweet. Also, look for whole produce, meaning veggies like carrots and beets with their green tops still whole. These will stay fresh longer, and you can make things like pesto sauces with the greens.

7. Take a risk. Sometimes you find things that are new, different, or even strange at the farmer’s market. This is the perfect opportunity to try something new because the farmers can usually give you advice on how best to use it.

8. Bring a friend or the family. Grocery shopping, unlike the farmers market, can feel like a chore. Take people with you to talk and walk with outside, and the farmer’s market instantly becomes a more fun activity. And you can always save money and split certain produce.

9. Keep it simple. When you’re cooking your food at home, go for simple recipes. Because you bought such fresh produce, you should let it shine. Put fresh wild strawberries over a salad or in a breakfast parfait instead of baking them into a cake. If you’re worried you won’t be able to use all of something you bought you can always freeze it and use the rest later. Use this guide from the FDA to make sure you’re storing and washing produce correctly.

10. Find the right market. Many areas have more than one farmers market within driving distance. If you can, test them all. Large farmer’s markets have a lot of energy, selection, and sometimes even dining options, but smaller markets often have good deals. Find the one that works best for you.

Find farmer’s markets near you. Learn more about which ones take SNAP and WIC, or check out this list of all the farmer’s markets that take Illinois Link Benefits.

Up Next:

Do you really understand what you’re getting when you buy organic? We break it down in Organic 101.

And make sure you’re cleaning your fresh fruits and veggies the right way to keep your family safe.

Health Alliance On-Call for You

Like New Nurse Line, This Director is Always On-Call

Jane Elliott lives and breathes Health Alliance. She has for years.

“My work is my hobby. We have so many great things going on. Leading efforts to help members doesn’t feel like work to me,” said Jane, Quality & Medical Management director.

Jane also loves our new 24-hour Anytime Nurse Line. Beginning July 1, all Health Alliance members can call 1-855-802-4612 to get help:

• Deciding if they need to see a doctor right away or set up a visit
• Coping with diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and more
• Finding health care resources

Jane also played a key role in enhancing our wellness benefit. But, she and her team want members to know that if they go in for a wellness visit, they could still get a bill. Adding non-wellness needs into this appointment could result in costs.

”Your doctor might ask, ‘Do you have other things you’d like to talk about?'” she said. “This may lead to topics  that aren’t part of the free wellness benefit.”

To make sure your visit is covered as part of the free wellness benefit, Jane says be clear with your doctor about this appointment up front.

“Tell your doctor you want to focus on your wellness needs. If non-wellness needs come up that aren’t urgent, you can set up a follow-up visit,” she said.

Jane also knows wellness means a healthy work-life balance, even if  the lines blur when she works outside standard work  hours.

“I’m very family-focused, and I feel Health Alliance and our members are part of my extended family,” she said.