The 5 Most Confusing Health Food Labels

Gluten-free, grass-fed, organic — oh my! There are a number of terms that can confuse even the most educated shoppers. Many of them sound healthy on their own — that is, they have a health halo effect. Here are five of the buzziest, what they really mean, and what they don’t.

The Food and Drug Administration has not developed a formal definition for the term natural. However, the government agency doesn’t object to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Natural does not mean organic though, and it doesn’t necessarily indicate that a food is healthy. For example, we saw a cereal labeled natural, and it contained a whopping four different types of added sugar. Tip: When you see this term, read the ingredient list. It’s the only way to really know what’s in a food, and if it’s worthy of a spot in your cart.

The USDA Organic Seal indicates that a food was produced without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), or petroleum or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. The symbol also means that organic meat and dairy products are from animals fed organic, vegetarian feed and are provided access to the outdoors, and not treated with hormones or antibiotics. If the seal says “100% Organic” the product was made with 100 percent organic ingredients. Just the word “Organic” indicates that the food was made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients.

“Made With Organic Ingredients” means the product was made with a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients, with restrictions on the remaining 30 percent, including no GMOs (for more about GMOs and what the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal means, something else you might see on a packaged food, check out my previous post 10 Healthy Eating Apps This Nutritionist Loves). We strongly support organics, but like natural, the term organic doesn’t necessarily mean healthy — in fact, there are all kinds of organic “junk foods” like candies and baked goods. Once again, when buying packaged food, the real litmus test is the ingredient list.

This term generally indicates that a food was produced within a certain geographical region from where it’s purchased or consumed, such as within 400 miles or 100 miles or perhaps within the borders of a state. Like “natural”, there is no formal, national definition for the term local. What local does not mean is organic, which is something 23 percent of shoppers falsely believe, according to a recent U.S. and Canadian survey (17 percent also believe that a food labeled organic is also local, which isn’t accurate either).

Nearly 30 percent also think that “local” products are more nutritious, and that’s not a given, since there are no specific standards pertaining to ingredients or processing. Also, it’s important to know that a locally produced food may not contain a nutrition facts label, because small companies with a low number of full-time employees or low gross annual sales are often exempt from the FDA’s food labeling laws. Hopefully a locally produced goody, like a pie from your farmer’s market, will include a voluntary ingredient list, but if not, be sure to ask what’s in it and how it was made.

According to the FDA, the term “gluten-free” means that a food must limit the unavoidable presence of gluten to less than 20 parts per million (ppm). The FDA also allows manufacturers to label a food as gluten-free if it does not contain any ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley or crossbreeds of these grains, or has been derived from these grains, or if it contains ingredients that have been derived from these grains, but have been processed to remove gluten to less than 20 ppm.

This means that foods that are inherently gluten-free, like water, vegetables and fruits, can also be labeled as gluten-free. The term gluten-free does not indicate that a food is whole grain, organic, low carb or healthy. In fact, many gluten-free foods are highly processed and include ingredients like refined white rice, sugar and salt.

Most mistakenly believe that grass-fed also means organic. The actual parameters, as defined by the USDA, state that the cattle must be fed only mother’s milk and forage (grass and other greens) during their lifetime. The forage can be grazed during the growing season, or consumed as hay or other stored forage, and the animals must have access to pasture during the growing season.

Grass-fed does not mean that the cattle’s feed is organic, and it doesn’t mean they cannot be given hormones or antibiotics. Compared to products produced conventionally, grass-fed meat and dairy have been shown to contain more “good” fats, less “bad” fats and higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants. But if you want to ensure that the product also meets the organic standards, look for that label term and the USDA organic seal as well.

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12 Tips To Sleep Soundly Every Night

Sleep issues can be devastating to overall health and well-being, as anyone who’s suffered a night of tossing and turning knows. While it’s frustrating to live with insomnia and other sleeping difficulties, there is hope! Here are 12 tips to help you get peaceful, blissful sleep:

1. Turn off the blue light one hour before bedtime.

Blue light is the most disturbing light when trying to go to sleep because it immediately shuts down your production of melatonin, the major sleep hormone that we produce at night. Sources of blue light include computers, iPads, cellphones, video games, and television.

2. Avoid caffeine after noon.

Many of us fail to realize how much caffeine can impair our ability to get to sleep and remain asleep. Most of us take four to six hours to metabolize caffeine. However, many of us may take much longer. Caffeine blocks the ability of a sleep-promoting chemical called adenosine to work. So think twice about that evening trip to a coffee shop or that dark piece of chocolate you crave.

3. Check that thermostat.

Most studies demonstrate that room temperatures of between 62 and 70 degrees seem to work best for sleeping. The reason is that our core body temperature drops at night. In fact, this drop is a signal to the brain to sleep. A warm room can inhibit this process.

4. Avoid cured meats and aged cheeses such as Parmesan close to bedtime.

Aged cheeses and cured meats contain an amino acid called tyramine. This amino acid, when ingested, increases the release of a hormone called norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a wake-promoting hormone that is part of the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system — certainly not something you want occurring when you’re trying to fall asleep.

5. Eat sleep-promoting foods.

Snacks that are high in tryptophan such as dairy products, cheese, nuts, seeds, and grains, when combined with complex carbohydrates such as whole-wheat toast or crackers, can encourage the onset of sleep. The release of insulin associated with the carbohydrates promotes the movement of tryptophan into the brain. Tryptophan is then converted to serotonin and melatonin, which are sleep-promoting neurotransmitters.

6. Park your worries in another room.

Don’t take your worries or your work into the bedroom. At least three hours before bed, write down your concerns and your solutions. Then put them in a desk drawer and leave them there for the night.

7. Make sure your alarm clocks are heard, but not seen.

The alarm clock should be in your bedroom to wake you up in the morning. Anxious glancing followed by calculating and then ruminating about “when will I get to sleep” or “how many hours of sleep do I have left” is a major cause of insomnia. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, put that clock where it can be heard but out of sight.

8. Exercise regularly.

Study after study has shown that those who exercise regularly go to sleep easier and sleep more soundly than their sedentary friends. In fact, a very recent study has dispelled the myth about exercising too close to bedtime. In this study, even those who exercised close to bedtime slept better than those who did not.

9. Avoid excessive alcohol close to bedtime.

Unfortunately, many alcoholics started out drinking to help them fall sleep. Although initially alcohol may induce sleep, as it leaves the body, it causes an increase in body temperature and triggers the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). As a result, it hinders your ability to stay asleep, and as time passes, you require more and more each night to fall asleep — not a good formula for health or sleep.

10. Quiet please.

If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, it could be the noise. The noise might be coming from your snoring spouse or that loud music that your recently returned 28-year-old is playing. In any case, most of us need quiet to sleep. The remedy can be as simple as a good pair of custom earplugs or getting your spouse to see someone about that snoring … or in some cases, considering a bedroom divorce.

11. Check that mattress.

An old mattress can be an unrecognized source of poor sleep. Most mattresses should be changed after seven years. With the new memory foam and air number mattresses, you can customize the degree of firmness to your comfort level.

12. Relax those muscles.

Use the practice of progressive muscle relaxation. It’s a sequential tensing and relaxation of various muscle groups accompanied by rhythmic breathing. It is simple to learn and very effective. It accomplishes two things: One, by relaxing muscles, tension is relieved, which in turn relaxes the mind. Two, the very activity takes your mind off everything else and serves as a form of meditation.

These are just some of the things you can do to help your sleep. The crucial point is to realize how important sleep is to good mental and physical health. So please make sleep a priority.

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Eat Smart with Jan Tilley: Mediterranean Chicken Sandwich

Need a vacation, from your vacation?

Hopefully, this month has brought out the best of your peak performance. In seeking to be the very best, we must not forget the importance of downtime.  Ask any performer and they will tell you the key to their success is ensuring adequate rest and recovery.  In our practice at JTA Wellness, we find that many of our clients have a case of the “go-go’s” (no not the band!); where they tend to be going to a soccer game, going on business trip, going to plan a party, or going to babysit the grandbabies.  Seldom do we hear people state they are taking time out of their day to recharge and let their body recoup. This week we want to challenge you to take charge of some of that long overdue R&R!

Think of the different areas of performance we have discussed this month (cognitive, digestive, emotional, athletic) and how much dedication they require on a daily basis. We have to be actively striving to achieve peak performance, but the strategy lies in the balance of not running oneself ragged; finding the yin to go with the yang, if you will!

Let’s explore the impact of rest and recovery on each of the performance areas.

Cognitive: We all know the feeling of being ‘brain-dead’.  When this happens take a step back and determine the reason behind that feeling. Is the brain not being fueled? Are we overwhelmed or stressed? Take time out of the day to assess your mental prowess.  It is a simple way of slowing down to give the mind the space it needs to perform at its peak.

Digestive: Learning that the gut has a mind of its own means it too needs adequate amounts of downtime. Giving your gut rest through deep breathing exercises, eliminating heavy calorie laden foods, or incorporating fiber rich foods that keep things moving are all solutions to managing your GI recovery.

Emotional: Who doesn’t need an emotional reboot from time to time?  Often when we are feeling emotionally imbalanced, we are simply tired.  Sleep is a time in which the body has a chance to heal and repair itself. Catching enough zzz’s can also affect your body’s reaction to insulin, along with other appetite stimulating hormones. How much is too much?  Click here to learn more about how much sleep we should be getting and its impact on our health.

Athletic: A body in motion will continue to stay in motion, unless there is an outside force getting in the way. Remember, with training more is not always better.  Over-training or over-use of the body can lead to excessive wear and tear. Tapering off before a competition, stretching, adding flexibility workouts are all vital aspects of a training routine.

This week’s Mediterranean Chicken Sandwich is a combination of the art of meal assembly and the ease of a slap together sandwich. Use grilled chicken (that can be marinated and grilled ahead of time), along with a zesty tatziki sauce (purchased or prepared using the recipe below) to create the ultimate performance sandwich on this your day of R&R!

Mediterranean Chicken Sandwich

30 mins + marinade
Serves 4



4 (5oz) skinless, boneless chicken breasts halves
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon each ground pepper, cumin & turmeric


1 large cucumber thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon light sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon celery seeds
1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons hummus
8 slices artisan bread
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 sprigs fresh dill

Nutrition Information
340 calories, 11g fat, 65mg cholesterol, 780mg sodium, 31g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 31g protein
(Sodium is dependent on the artisan bread chosen.)

1. Combine chicken, buttermilk, Kosher salt, pepper, curry, cumin, and turmeric in a large re-sealable plastic bag, seal, and turn to coat. Chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Prepare grill for medium-high heat. Meanwhile, in medium bowl combine cucumber, red onion, sour cream, lemon juice, celery seeds, and Greek yogurt.

3. Grill chicken until cooked through, 5–7 minutes per side. Brush bread on both sides with oil and grill until toasted, about 2 minutes per side; spread with hummus. Layer with chicken breast, tzatziki sauce, sprinkle with fresh dill and enjoy!

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How To Choose The Right Running (Or Walking) Shoe

Choosing the right shoe for you walk or run is an important decision. The wrong shoes can lead to injury, discomfort, or end your outdoor career before it begins. However, choosing the right shoe will keep your feet happy, support your unique running mechanics, and make the miles fly by.

1. Foot Type and Gait Analysis

We all have unique physical attributes. The first step to finding the right pair of running shoes is to determine your individual needs. Do you have flat feet or high arches? Do you pronate or supinate? Are you a heel-striker? These are difficult questions, especially for beginners. Fortunately, there are experts available (at no cost) to analyze your specific needs and point you in the right direction. Find your local running specialty store and pay them a visit.

2. Don’t Believe the Hype

Be careful not to get caught up in the marketing hype that shoe companies use to sell their products. Barefoot running, spring-loaded blades, energy return lugs, extra thin soles, extra thick soles, etc. They all claim to be innovative and new, which is why they are best to avoid. You want to go with something that has been tested and validated.

3. Comfort Over Style

Once you know the type of shoe you need, the fun begins. Try on as many shoes as you can. When you find a shoe that feels good, you’ll know it right away. Your running shoes should provide plenty of wiggle room for your toes while remaining snug around your heel. Hopefully, you find a shoe that looks as good as it feels.

4. Use Before Buying

Take them out for a test drive before purchasing them. Most specialty stores will allow you to take a quick run in their shoes before you buy them. If you purchase online, look for companies that will allow you to return them after taking them out of the box for a run. The run test should be done at your regular running pace to determine fit and feel.

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Eat Smart with Jan Tilley: Decadent Chocolate Souflles

As the Aerosmith song proclaims….”Sweet Emotion!”

We all have days where we just want to throw in the towel and tell ourselves I am too stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, worried, or tense to press onward. Controlling our stress hormone is an essential cornerstone of taking charge of our emotional performance. The hormone at the epicenter of stress management is cortisol, a hormone released from the adrenal glands atop the kidney.

Designed to give you a quick jolt of energy when you need to flee a dangerous situation (there’s a cheetah chasing you, an earthquake strikes, etc.), this is the role of cortisol. But our modern way of life, rampant with chaos and deadlines, has us frazzled into thinking that everything is a threat. What’s the result? Adrenal glands begin to emit cortisol which keeps us on high alert, even when there isn’t imminent danger looming. Enough time passes and this puts strain on your adrenals and creates a serious hormonal imbalance, not to mention raising your blood pressure and insulin levels.

It might help to think of cortisol as ‘The Hulk’ hormone: it’s not supposed to always be on, but that’s exactly what happens when you’re constantly stressed. Once cortisol gets a taste of its own power or can’t control the rage, Bruce Banner’s alter ego emerges and wreaks havoc on other hormones like insulin, growth hormone, epinephrine, and thyroid.

Keep that cortisol high enough on a daily basis, and fat storage increases. This is due to the fact that our body is now in survival response mode. Our body will not release weight when in this state; it’s going to slow our metabolism so that we have extra energy stores in case they are needed. Couple stress, poor sleep, and unbalanced hormone levels with a high-sugar, high-processed food diet, and you’ve got a surefire formula to feel crummy, sluggish, and unattractive.

Don’t despair, amidst this viscous cycle of stress there is hope. They key is moderation. Learning to achieve balance between the foods you consume, exercise you expend and the stress you allow in your life.

Through moderation and NOT deprivation we are able to control our indulgences for life’s sweet treats, in turn taking charge of our emotional performance (one chocolate-y bite at a time)! Decadent Chocolate Soufflés will provide a sweet treat without overindulging.

We leave you with this: Stressed spelled backwards is desserts, coincidence…I think not!

Decadent Chocolate Souffles

*Adapted from the New Mayo Clinic Cookbook
35 mins


Serves 12


½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons hot water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground almonds
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon salt
¾ cup 1% milk
4 egg whites
3 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
1 cup raspberries
Nutrition Information
90 calories, 3g fat,
5mg cholesterol, 55mg sodium,
15g carbohydrate, 2g fiber,
3g protein

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat bottom of 12 – 3 oz ramekins (or soufflé cups) with cooking spray.
In small bowl, combine cocoa and hot water, stirring until smooth; set aside.
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and stir in canola oil. Add flour, ground almonds and cinnamon. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly with a whisk. Stir in brown sugar, honey and salt. Gradually add milk and stir constantly until thickened (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat and stir into the cocoa mixture. Let cool slightly.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy with electric mixer on high speed. Add granulated sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the cocoa mixture. Then fold the remaining egg whites into the cocoa mixture, mixing gently only until no white streaks remain.
Divide the mixture into the prepared dishes. Bake for 15 minutes or until the soufflé rises above the rim and is set in the center. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and garnish with raspberries. Serve warm.

In Good Health,


For more information on Jan Tilley, MS RDN LD, check out her website at

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