Archive | HEALTH AND WELLNESS

A Tale of Two Countries: Americans Are Enjoying Fast Food More Than Ever

Even in the age of organic-everything and green living, fast food is becoming more popular. A new study explains why some Americans are sticking with super-sized portions and greasy fries despite the abundance of natural food choices.

Healthy eating in the United States has been a growing source of contention for decades. Our glorious country has come to be known for larger-than-life portions, fried food, and lack of exercise.

As much as we don’t want to admit to eating the ice cream, burgers, and fries that our country has become famous for, it seems like we do it all the time. After all, 90% of U.S. homes regularly eat dessert and the typical American eats a burger 4.3 times per month.

So with this in mind, it is important to be conscious of the negative health effects that come with eating these foods. And, no, we’re not saying that it is a bad idea to have a burger and an ice cream cone once in a while! Rather, it is all about making healthy choices.

However, many households are losing the battle against junk food, and today fast food is becoming more popular with more Americans than ever before. According to a new survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), Americans are changing their preferences on both where and what they eat — and not always for the better.

For the first time in the survey’s history, fast food restaurants were rated higher than sit down establishments when it comes to customer satisfaction. These restaurants, dubbed full service restaurants in the survey, saw a 3.7% decrease in overall satisfaction, dropping from 81 to 78. Fast food, on the other hand, stayed the same at 79 points (each scale is out of 100). The cheap prices at fast food restaurants is definitely a factor here, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Despite the stereotype, nutrition experts say that middle-class Americans are actually more likely to eat fast food than low-income Americans.

The ACSI’s managing director David VanAmburg explains to NBC that there are plenty of reasons why full service restaurants are suffering, including expensive prices, lack of variety, and lower grocery store prices, which encourage shoppers to cook more at home. He also mentions that even though prices are rising in restaurants, the service, meal, beverage selection, and overall experience doesn’t necessarily match the increased price.

Not only that, but fast food chains are stepping their game up and giving customers exactly what they want, while offering a different dynamic than what we have become accustomed to.

“The fast food category is not just about traditional burger chains anymore,” VanAmburg says. “It’s now about a number of newer, more dynamic, more diverse types of fast casual choices that really stress innovation and the quality of the food they’re serving. And the pricing is very competitive compared to full-service restaurants.”

The 5,000 consumers surveyed for the report chose Chick-fil-A as the winner in the fast food category. Papa John’s and Panera Bread tied for second place, Subway came in third, followed by Arby’s, Chiplote Mexican Grill, Dunkin’ Donuts, and KFC. All the fast food restaurants grew in customer satisfaction, while the sit downs lost points dramatically.

Cracker Barrel came out on top for the sit-down restaurants, followed by Texas Roadhouse, Olive Garden, Applebees, Ruby Tuesday, and Chili’s in descending order.

With these trends in mind, VanAmburg explains that the American ideal of the traditional hamburger chain is changing. He explains, “We’ve seen burger chains languishing near the bottom of the ratings for a number of years now, but the gap is becoming greater between them and places like Panera Bread and even an alternative in the fast food category, like KFC.”

So while more Americans are concerned about eating healthy, the country clearly still deserves its reputation as a Fast Food Nation.

Why A Green Kitchen Remodel Is Worth the Investment

For many parents and homeowners, remodeling is a dreaded subject. It is something to be avoided and decried as too expensive, too time-consuming, and too difficult while the kids are still young. In fact, that aversion to change is likely why 47% of Americans haven’t updated their home decor in the last five years, with 9% having neglected it for more than a decade!

But remodeling is the best way to make your home feel more like an extension of who you and your family are. And it is the best way to increase the value of your home should you ever want to sell. That’s why many parents decide, reluctantly, to take remodeling one step at a time.

Among the more popular starting remodeling projects is the kitchen remodel. People remodel their kitchen for a number of different reasons: some want a more open floor plan, others want to improve the efficiency of their kitchen, and some just get tired of the ugly wallpaper that came with the house. For many people, the fact that even a minor kitchen remodel, done right, has an average return on investment of 82.7%.

But if you are in the market for kitchen remodeling, consider opting for greener options when selecting your design components. Not only will you have the satisfaction of leaving a smaller footprint on the planet, but it might even help to increase your home’s resale value.

According to Realtor.com, 61% of homebuyers in 2017 will be below the age of 35. As millennials continue to represent more and more of the housing market, they will bring with them their own tastes and desires, such as sustainable offerings. In fact, nearly 75% of millennials are willing to pay higher prices for sustainable products, more than any other generation.

Items such as sustainable kitchen cabinets, flooring, and countertops can make your kitchen look stunning and reduce the environmental effect of your remodeling project significantly. But even if you spend all your free time watching HGTV — all six minutes of it between tucking your child in bed and falling asleep on the couch — it can be hard to know what exactly is or is not sustainable.

We’ve put together a few quick tips to help you pick the right, sustainable materials for your kitchen remodel.

Kitchen Cabinets
Cabinets are a great place to start your search, considering the majority of cabinets are made from wood. Make sure that your wood is either reclaimed or can be certified as sustainably harvested. Also be certain that they use formaldehyde-free glues.

Countertops
For countertops, look for materials that are recycled or at least made of sustainable materials. Some of the coolest options on the market are made of recycled glass and cement before being finished to look like limestone. You can also find a number of interesting counters made from wood reclaimed from old barns and other buildings.

Floors
While linoleum often gets a bad rep, it is a great option for environmentally friendly floors. Made from biodegradable materials, this durable flooring comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Cork is also a popular option, and it is made from wood that is carefully monitored to maintain available supplies.

There is more to consider, of course, such as energy-efficient appliances and the smaller touches like efficient LED lighting. But if you can find sustainable options for these three components, then you are already ahead of the curve.

Pediatricians Warn: Reduce the Juice For Young Children

For American kids aged two to 18, nearly half of the fruit they consume is in juice form. Now, pediatricians are urging parents to drastically cut back on the amount of juice in their children’s diets — and that children under one year old should have no juice at all.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a statement that spells it out in black and white: “Fruit juice offers no nutritional advantage over whole fruit.” While that juice box might contain vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and antioxidants, the same can be said for whole fruit. But the real fruit also has fiber, which can help to maintain blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as a healthy weight.

Too much juice consumption — especially at bedtime — can also lead to early tooth decay. The American Academy of Pediatrist Dentists recommends that children see a dentist before their first birthday. But now, pediatricians also say that kids should never consume juice before that time.

In the past, the AAP has made this recommendation for children under six months of age. During that time, the Academy says, nothing other than breast milk or formula should be consumed. Substituting juice for milk or formula can actually be harmful, as it keeps infants from getting the fat, protein, and nutrients they need.

But the Academy has expanded that initial recommendation to include the entire first year of life. While pureed and mashed foods are standard during this period, experts recommend that the only liquids babies should consume at this stage are breast milk, formula, or water.

The Academy also recommends that parents restrict juice consumption for children ages one to six. Because fruit juice and fruity drinks taste good, kids are more likely to consume too much. They’re often more convenient, so parents may rely on them to keep toddlers happy and occupied. But experts want parents to give their children whole fruits — which are fairly conveniently packaged already — instead of relying on sugary juices. And if they do give their kids juice, the amount should be limited to four to six ounces per day, depending on the child’s age.

Co-author of the new guidelines, Dr. Melvin B. Heyman, noted in a statement, “Parents may perceive fruit juice as healthy, but it is not a good substitute for fresh fruit and just packs in more sugar and calories. Small amounts in moderation are fine for older kids, but are absolutely unnecessary for children under one.”

Parents also need to be careful about reading the label when buying their juice at the store. They should make certain the juices they purchase are pasteurized, lest a child be exposed to E. coli or Salmonella. And they should also double-check to make sure the product is actually 100% juice. If it says “fruit drink,” “fruit beverage,” or “fruit cocktail” on the bottom, it’s not 100% juice.

“One hundred percent fresh or reconstituted fruit juice can be a healthy part of the diet of children older than one year when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet,” the recommendations say. “Fruit drinks, however, are not nutritionally equivalent to fruit juice.”

While these drinks may seem like healthy options, parents should not be fooled. As the Academy has said, “Fruit juice has no essential role in healthy, balanced diets of children.”

If your kids crave a flavor in their water, adding fresh berries, citrus, or cucumber is a much better option. They’ll get the benefit of the flavor and can eat the fruit after the water’s gone. But for parents who believe orange juice is a better alternative to soda, this report might require them to change their thinking.

4 Reasons to Eat Seasonally and Locally This Summer

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If you shop at the farmer’s market, are a local CSA member, or frequent the “local” section of your grocery store’s produce aisle, you are well aware that fruits and vegetables come into and out of season. Depending on the climate where you live, you may have a wide variety of fruits and veggies to choose from year round, or you may notice that summer is truly a more abundant season for produce. Wherever you live, eating seasonally has its benefits. If you’re not already doing so, here are four reasons to eat seasonally.

#1: Fresher, More Nutritious Produce
Produce that doesn’t have to travel long distances to get to you will be fresher when you purchase it because it’s been harvested more recently. Also, since seasonal fruits and veggies are harvested when they’re ripe and grown outside, in their natural environment, they’ll contain far more nutrients and flavor than produce that’s grown in greenhouses or prematurely harvested and required to ripen off the parent plant.

#2: Supporting the Local Economy
Farmers harvest and sell what’s abundantly in season. By purchasing seasonal, local food, you’re supporting local farmers and therefore your local economy (you’re supporting yourself in many ways, when you think about it!).  By supporting local farmers you’re not only helping people but also encouraging sustainable, green farming practices because local farmers will plant and grow only what is suited to the soil and climate where they live.

#3: It’s Cheaper
Fruits and vegetables that are in season are more abundant and therefore end up being cheaper than foods that aren’t in season. Buying foods out of season means paying a higher price to cover the transportation of the food and growing fruits and veggies in artificial conditions.

#4: It’s Eco-Friendly
Buying produce that doesn’t require transportation means that less gas is being consumed and less exhaust is being emitted. Additionally, fruits and vegetables that have to travel long distances (like strawberries traveling from Mexico to Wisconsin in January) require far more chemical-ridden sprays and treatments in order to stay fresh long enough to make it to the grocery store. By becoming a member of your local CSA or buying at the farmer’s market, you’re buying directly from a local farm where transportation and preservation time is minimal—many times you’ll purchase produce that was harvested the same day as you pick it up.

As you can see, eating seasonally and locally has some amazing benefits! I love sampling seasonal fruits and veggies when I travel because chances are I’m visiting a state or country with a different climate, ecosystem, and sometimes season—there’s so much variety to be experienced!

YOUR TURN: What’s your favorite local, seasonal recipe for summer or fall?

Eco-Friendly Ways to Successfully Cool Your Home

NOTE FROM SWEET GREENS: Thank you supporting the companies that keep Sweet Greens in business.
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While you might enjoy staying cool and comfortable in your home during the warmer months of the year, you may also be concerned about cooling your home in a way that’s sustainable and friendly for the environment. Explore a few tips for making your cooling experience eco-friendly and just as effective as traditional methods.

Invest in Quality Insulation and Sealing

Some of the best and most effective cooling methods don’t even involve your air conditioner. Take out some time to have a professional technician who specializes in air conditioning repairs inspect your current insulation to see if it’s doing its job and whether you need to consider investing in an upgrade. Different types of insulation and sealing include thermal envelopes and heat shields.

Boost Your Home’s Ventilation

Making sure air can easily flow through your home is also essential to keeping cool and overall energy efficiency. Specifically, you’ll want to keep your home’s windows, shades and doors closed up until it’s cool out, otherwise, you’ll only have hot air blowing through your home’s interior. Additionally, bear in mind that ceiling fans cool people, not rooms, which means you should only have your fans on when someone is in the room. On a related note, when your fans are on, they should spin counter-clockwise to draw hot air up into the ceiling.

Close Your Shades and Blinds

No matter how great the inside of your home looks while drenched in sunlight, it comes at the cost of heating up your interior, which means your air conditioner is working harder than necessary. To help combat feeling as if you’re living in a sauna, close up your blinds and shades against direct sunlight and the heat waves that comes with it. If you’re someone who thrives on sunshine, you can leave your blinds and shades partially closed to direct sunlight.

Cook at Night or in the Early Morning

Operating your oven or stove during the day cranks up the heat in your home, which makes your air conditioner crank up its efforts to keep your home at the same temperature. Rather than feel as if you’re making a sacrifice by not using the oven, you can instead start eating more raw vegetables and fruits, which your body is sure to thank you for. Opt for fruits like watermelon that contain a lot of water to help you keep cool.

Lower Your Overall Cooling Load

Ways to make the most of passive cooling include:

  • Add or upgrade the sealing around your home’s windows and doors.

  • Use low-E glazing to your windows.

  • Make sure you have proper and sufficient insulation in your attic.

  • Invest in a whole-house fan, which can decrease your use of your air conditioner as well as your overall energy consumption.

  • Consider installing a radiant barrier in your attic ducts.

These methods are sure to pay off in the long run.

Sleep With a Buckwheat Pillow

If you’re like most people, you probably like sleeping in a cool room. Blankets and sheets are comfortable while sleeping, but they can raise your body temperature. Rather than crank up the air conditioner, invest in a buckwheat pillow, which is naturally cooler than standard pillows and won’t keep you tossing and turning during the night, which impacts the overall quality of your sleep.

Turn Up Your Unit Temperature

You can still remain comfortable even if your unit is set at a higher temperature. For every degree you set your unit above 72 degrees, you can save anywhere from one to three percent energy. Try it and see if you notice a difference in your comfort levels.

With the right information, you can do your part to save the environment through more efficient cooling methods. Put these tips to good use and see what a difference they make and how good it feels to practice sustainability.

4 Eco-Friendly Spring Activities for Teens

As inquisitive as kids can be, they will drill you with dozens of questions on a daily basis to understand your every decision, every move, and every choice you make. And if they are growing up in an eco-friendly family, they will slowly adopt and comprehend the benefits of such a balanced lifestyle, when explained properly.

However, teens are a whole different story – many of them are rebellious by nature and they are eager to be different from everyone and not follow the herd. As a mom of two little nestlings, I’m striving towards instilling an eco-friendly mindset into my kids throughout their adolescent years with the help of these simple activities, but even if you’re a newbie in the green world and wish to pass this wisdom onto your teen kids, these could be true life-savers!

#1: Contribute to cleanliness
I’ve noticed that our little rascals are eager to help around the house, especially when we make things interesting with some music and healthy snacks. Suddenly, cleaning up the room and washing the dishes no longer feel like chores, but like fun family time! Kids have also been asking me where I spend my Saturday mornings, and when I explained that I go to clean the local riverside with a few other people, they actually yelled: “Mommy, we want to come, too!”

Since modern societies still have much to learn in order to build this awareness as a norm, you have a chance to encourage your teenagers to take part in causes that matter to them and that will allow them to make a difference and thus, be different. You don’t have to chaperone them, but treat them as responsible adults and support them in their search for the right local activities to keep your community clean.

#2: Green exercise and transportation
Our little nestlings can spend hours playing in the garden, helping their dad make a birdhouse or playing with our pooch, but teens yearn for independent activities that will reflect their core beliefs and every choice they make is a statement. My husband and I have been using eco-friendly Gitane ebikes to work out and ride across town, and our kids have noticed that these bikes are different from the majority of those they see on the streets.

It’s natural that teens have increased self-awareness about their looks and their values, and supporting their efforts to be fit, healthy and confident with the help of an eco-friendly method will help them stand out in the crowd even more. Plus, they will reap the rewards of a healthy lifestyle and start early with maintaining their green habits.

#3: Green fashion
If our little girl already knows she adores green tees and absolutely despises yellow skirts, then I can only imagine the level of detailed commitment a teenager is willing to invest in their wardrobe. What they wear is yet another form of authentic self-expression, and they wouldn’t be caught dead in something they find ordinary or conformist.

And what better way to appeal to their inner rebel than by introducing them to an eco-friendly line created by none other than a teenage girl? Maya Penn is a young entrepreneur with tremendous ambitions to create sustainable, fashionable clothes. Although not many youngsters will be eager to make their own line of clothes, you can encourage them to design their new spring outfits by using sustainable materials and thus support the local economy.

#4: Everyday choices
If my kids are proud of me for hosting lectures on eco-friendly choices in our community, and the global teenage population prides themselves on individuals such as Ann Makosinski and her energy-efficient inventions, then your adolescent kids certainly do not lack sources of inspiration in this day and age.

Not only can you help them stay informed and learn about their peers who are literally changing the world, but you can also lead by example in your own home without imposing your beliefs. Small deeds such as shopping in your local market for locally grown goods, or more involved ones such as organizing green food drives for the homeless, hosting seminars and volunteering are more than enough to inspire your kids to make a difference and have fun during spring.

6 Tips to Help You Grow Your Own Organic Veggie Garden

NOTE FROM SWEET GREENS: Thank you supporting the companies that keep Sweet Greens in business.

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Have you ever tried to grow your own vegetables?

If not, you’re missing out. Eating vegetables is part of a healthy diet and can greatly cut down your risk of diseases and illnesses. Organic veggies, grown in your own garden, reveal just how bland, both in color and flavor, grocery store veggies are. Not to mention the huge markup that supermarkets put on organic foods. If you are simply buying your vegetables at the store, eating organic can be extremely expensive!

You may also be concerned about the wasteful ways that supermarket produce is grown and the pesticides used to get them to grow and thrive. With this knowledge, more and more people are making an effort to grow their own vegetables and live an eco-friendly lifestyle. Having your own garden is an excellent way to preserve the planet, while also helping keep your household costs to a minimum.

If you like the idea of growing your own veggies organically, but you don’t know where to begin, here are 6 simple tips to get you started:

#1: Soil Preparation
Many new gardens wonder, “What’s my first step?” The best place to begin with your garden is preparing your soil. Although some plants may thrive in poor soil conditions, others will offer a more bountiful yield with soil that contains organic matter. Utilizing important nutrients such as fertilizer and mushroom compost can give your soil a boost.

You can also have your soil tested by a landscape professional to ensure it is prime for planting. Simply take a sample of your soil, bring it to the professional, and the nursery can test the organic particles in it. If it is less than ideal, they will give you advice on how to improve the quality of your soil so your organic garden and thrive and flourish.

#2: Choose Regional Vegetation
Before buying seeds for your garden, you want to determine the type of vegetables that are sure to thrive, based on your region. Important things to take into consideration include our local growing zones, rainfall, and sunlight quantities. The internet has a wealth of information that can help guide you to find the plants that best reflect your region. You can also take a look at the directions on the back of the seed packets or planting stakes.

Another thing to consider is the weather in the later stages of the growing season. Some regions may experience frost at earlier times of the season than others. Unless you are making ice wine, frozen produce isn’t what you want in your garden. Before you begin to plant, ensure that your veggies will be safe from the cold by determining the latest point you should harvest them.

#3: Plant a Garden that Attracts Pollinators
Your garden needs the help of Mother Nature to grow. You can encourage pollinators such as bees, pollen wasps, butterflies, flower beetles, and moths to visit your organic beds by planting flowers near your crops.

Nature is a delicate balance, and today, it seems like that balance is upset. You constantly hear horror stories on the news about how essential pollinators, such as bees, are dying off in massive numbers. This is called Colony Collapse Disorder. Nobody knows why this is happening, although there have been many theories (Cell phones, pesticides, etc.) These kinds of stories can make us feel helpless, like there is nothing we can do for the planet. By planting flowers with pollen that support bees around your produce, you will be helping them thrive, along with your garden. Clover can be an excellent choice for this.

#4: Make Your Own Compost
Like we mentioned above with preparing your soil, natural compounds are necessary to help your garden flourish. Without them, any growth will be stunted. You can make your own organic compost pile using grass clippings, leaves, coffee grounds, egg shells, and other household waste. Find a place in your backyard to house your compost pile. If you prefer not to have the pile out in the open, you can invest in a number of different containers that will help the organic material breakdown. As you tend to your vegetables, add the compost material as needed around the plants base. If you find that you don’t have enough compost, you can also purchase organic mulch to help your soil retain its moisture throughout the season.

#5: Purchase Product from Reputable Resources
If you’re going to all of the trouble of growing your own garden, you want to make sure that all of the produce is organic and natural. When you’re ready to purchase seeds or plants, you need to ensure the company you are buying from is certified organic. This means both the seeds and starter plants have been manufactured without the use of chemicals, pesticides, or GMOs. Check your local home improvement stores or nurseries for their certified organic offerings. You may also want to check your regions farmers markets for organic starters and seeds.

The internet can also be a great place to find fantastic quality organic seeds. Just make sure you do your research on the company first to confirm that they are certified organic and have quality plants.

#6: Eliminate Pests Naturally
Creating a successful vegetable garden takes a lot of hard work. Unfortunately, before you can reap what you’ve sown, pests such as aphids, ants, beetles, deer, and rabbits may decide to prematurely sample your bounty. Turns out that they like organic produce too. While you want to turn these vegetable thieves away, you also want to avoid using chemicals or poisons that will hurt both them and Mother Nature (and you too, while they’re at it).

To prevent your garden from being devoured by these uninvited guests, you can eliminate hazardous insects and pests naturally. Marigolds, soap sprays, garlic, and natural oils can help provide your yard with relief from the vermin. Research your region to find the most likely pests that will attack your garden and prepare for them well ahead of time.

Starting your own organic garden may sound challenging, but can be well worth the effort. Eating nutrient rich foods has a host of benefits. Simple things such as cutting out sugar and consuming broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, zucchini, and green beans will help preserve brain function and reduce risks of diseases such as dementia, diabetes, and cancer. If you don’t have a green thumb and have never worked in the yard, growing your own may seem to be more of a nuisance than purchasing your organic produce at the local market. But with the right plan, soil, and organic seeds, you can grow veggies that are eco-friendly, healthy, and bountiful.

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