Review: Larabar

Review of Larabar was due to compensation from the company’s whose products were reviewed. We Dish Nutrition tested each product thoroughly and gives high marks to only the very best. Opinions expressed at We Dish Nutrition are our own. 

By: Nikki Nies

I frequent my grocery store well enough if that if I were to be captured, blindfolded and told I had to go grocery shopping that way, I wouldn’t skip a beat. With that said, I’ve always passed aisle 13, where the energy bars are. Over the years, I’ve, unfortunately, never found energy bars that filled me. While many bars tout themselves as a great snack with loads of protein, it can be hard to decipher which brands are worth the calories and money when they all promote the same qualities and nutrients. We all know they can’t ALL be that good!

thumbYet, during FNCE 2014, I tried Larabar’s new line of uber products, which were more filling than I expected! I especially enjoyed the cherry cobbler, which is a great mixture of dried cherries, almonds, pecans, cashews, raisins, dates and sea salt.  Those are some of my favorite foods and to have them in one bar was like little bits of heaven!

Now that I am transitioning from college life to career, I know my routine will have to change as well.  For me, that means ensuring I will have portable, nutrient packed foods on hand! Thank goodness I experienced the wonders of Larabar when I did! Not only do the flavors hold up to their name, but nutrient wise, they do too! My rule of thumb when skimming through snacks, especially energy bars is that it should be at least 3 grams of protein and fiber, mostly heart healthy fats (omega 3s), mostly whole grains and no more than 15 grams of sugar. A tall order, yes, but feasible!

Let’s do a breakdown of nutrient content of some of Larabar’s popular bars: W

    Nutrient Parameter      
  Nutrition Parameter Cashew Cookie Peanut Butter Cookie Cappuccino Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Calories ≤ 200 calories 230 calories 220 calories 200 calories 210 calories
Carbohydrates ≤ 30 g 23 g 23 22 g 28 g
Fiber ≥3 g 3 g 4 g 4 g 3 g
Sugar* ≤15 g 18 g 18 g 16 g 16 g
Total Fat ≤10 g 13 g 12 g 10 g 11 g
Protein ≥3 g 6 g 7  g 5 g 4 g
Sodium ≤ 100 mg 5 mg 70 mg 0 mg 55 mg

*With six ingredients or less found each bar, the fruit in the bars contribute to the higher sugar and carbohydrate content. These bars are free of added sugars,sweeteners, preservatives, fillers, and artificial colorings.

What are your initial thoughts on the chart above? Be mindful that not all of Larabar’s products are the most sugar friendly.Yet, it’s not a coincidence that nutrient wise, the peanut butter cookie is the best and is considered a Larabar favorite! Make sure to read nutrition fact labels, compare flavors and remember that moderation is key. Make sure you’re stocked with other fresh snacks to maintain balanced intake.

Another note, I am not training for an Iron Man or marathon, so I won’t emphatically look for bars that contain ≥40 g of protein. Yes, there are products out there! As a gal that’s on the go, Larabar’s work for me!

Furthermore, Larabar is a great value-nutrient and price wise and have made efforts to provide quality in all they do.  Everything from production to recycling. Like FSTG, Larabar is committed to the non-GMO project, ensuring its consumers that fifteen of its products are certified non-GMO! Since their partnership with TerraCycle, Larabar wrappers are part of the Energy Bar Wrapper Brigade, a free recycling program and fundraiser opportunity for participants.  LARABAR_Energy_Bar_Wrapper_Brigade_Arrow

Grab your wrappers out of the garbage and sign up to be part of the Brigade, one wrapper at a time! Unfortunately, not all products are available in Canada, so Canadians, don’t get your hopes up when browsing through Larabar’s products!

Check out Larabar’s Facebook | Twitter | Instagram Pinterest | eNewsletter | Blog | Site 

Disclosure Agreement: Review of Larabar was due to compensation from the company’s whose products were reviewed. We Dish Nutrition tested each product thoroughly and gives high marks to only the very best. Opinions expressed at We Dish Nutrition are our own. 

Photo Credit: Larabar


Portfolio Diet

By: Nikki Nies{AE7BD78B-6507-4209-A994-0BCE1D51D5F1}Portfolio-Diet_article

The portfolio diet, created by David J.A. Jenkins, MD, decreases cholesterol levels without any side effects.  The name of the diet derives from the concept of figuratively “investing” in one’s health portfolio.  By investing in the consumption of cholesterol lowering foods, one is ensured of a variety of foods and diversification, just as in a diverse stock portfolio.

Previous diets aim at either cutting out an entire food group, but the portfolio diet looks at the big picture and has 4 key points:

1)   Soy products are consumed in replacement of meat (i.e. soy cold cuts, tofurkey)

2) 3 daily servings of Metamucil; oats and barley are primary source of grains; eggplant and okra are common vegetables consumed

3) replaces butter and margarine with plant sterol enriched margarine (i.e. Benecol, Take Control)

4) Handful of almonds consumed daily

Almonds contain cardio protective monounsaturated fats, antioxidants and vitamin E.  With a daily intake, almonds provide an additional lipid lowering effect.  Soluble fibers, such as oats, prunes, lentils and peas reduce absorption of dietary fat and increase loss of bile acids in feces.  Soluble fiber is found in the form of beta glucans in oats and barley and as pectin in fruits and vegetables.  Total cholesterol levels can be decreased 3-5% if 5-10 g of soluble fibers consumed daily.

health-082511-002-617x411Soy products decreases cholesterol synthesis and increases LDL receptor uptake, with the recommendation of 25 g of soy protein consumed daily.  Phytosterols and stanols compete with cholesterol for absorption and are able to block uptake from gut.

While I was looking at past studies’ evidence regarding the efficacy of the portfolio diet, there was one author I couldn’t get away from.  That name is ‘Jenkins.” As you know, Jenkins is the founder of the portfolio diet and his name is everywhere when it comes to the “research” of this diet.  Without easy access to other researcher’s thoughts on the diet, it makes me question why the research isn’t there.  While Jenkins’ Portfolio diet is not the worst of the worst diets, it’s advertisement of the the vegan diet to reduce chronic disease is questionable.  Extensive studies have proven the positive impact of the adoption of this diet. 7 studies were conducted to assess the effect of the portfolio diet, specifically the consumption of almonds on blood lipid levels in those with hyperlipidemia.  Over a four week period, LDL cholesterol was decreased by 30%, percentage change in LDL: 8.0%, CRP: 0.28; no difference found in blood lipids or CRP between control and experimental group.

Although there is evidence of cholesterol reduction, there have been no studies that have investigated the efficacy of a vegan Portfolio diet on healthy cholesterol levels.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Evidence Analysis Library posed the question “What’s the relationship between a portfolio diet containing almonds and cholesterol levels in patients with hyperlipidemia?”

It went on to share that in six of seven studies (with four time series studies, one positive, one neutral study and one randomized cross study), the intake of almonds was found to reduce LDL cholesterol by 30%.  In addition, a self selected portfolio diet that spanned over one year was found to provide a 12.8±2% decrease in LDL cholesterol.  While these numbers are promising, for a diet that has been around since 2003, there are still no present studies that have looked at the “entire diet”

Photo Credit: Lifescript and Red Orbit

1. Keith M, Kuliszewski MA, Liao C, et al. A modified portfolio diet complements medical management to reduce cardiovascular risk factors in diabetic patients with coronary artery disease. Clinical Nutrition. (0).

2. Phillips F. Natural cholesterol lowering with the portfolio diet.Practice Nurse [serial online]. July 23, 2010;40(2):19-22. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA.

3.  Evidence Analysis Library.  from:

Chocoholics Celebrate!

By: Nikki Nies

Chocolate has been tooted as a “healthy” indulgence.  Guys and gals clamor to their feet to celebrate such announcements! Before we get chokladahead of ourselves, I hate to burst your bubble, but I want to make sure every one knows why chocolate is healthy in moderation!

Chocolate derives from the cacao plant, which is flavanol rich phytochemical. Flavanols are a type of antioxidant rich flavonoids.  It’s important to note that not all types of chocolate have an equal distribution of flavonoids, with dark chocolate found to be the most antioxidant rich. Second best is unsweetened baking chocolate, which has the second most amount of flavanol content per serving.  Moreover, the more nonfat cocoa solids chocolate contains, the more antioxidants it has.

Nutrient Content of Chocolate: Cacao contains saturated fat, mostly in the form of stearic acid, which has been noted not to contribute to elevating cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fat and palmitic fatty acid are also present.

The issue that comes up with chocolate is when “milk fat”,”coconut butter”, “coconut oil”, “palm oil” and/or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils” are added.

Potential benefits of chocolate in moderation:

  • Reduce risk of heart attack, blood pressure, LDL oxidation, platelet clumping
  • May contain anti inflammatory properties
  • Increase insulin sensitivity
  • Improve arterial blood flow and/or chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Help resist cell damage

CocoaVia_Stickpacks_unsweetened_vertWith news of chocolate’s potential health benefits, companies have made efforts to provide more flavanol rich products.  Hershey’s has its own Cacao Reserve and CocoaVia by Mars has come out with its own line of flavanol rich dark chocolate!

Limit chocolate to no more than 15-30 grams of chocolate per day! Two Hershey kisses may not sound like much, but you don’t really need more than that to “taste” the goodness of chocolate!


Hummus and Guacamole Showdown



The Salt Review

By: Nikki Nies

Depending on living environment and/or accent, nouns be referred to as different things.  For instance, you won’t find the word “pop” on a menu on the East Coast, but in the MidWest, “pop’s” the standard name for soda.  Get it?  While these regional words are equally accepted and used for sodium bicarbonate, such exchange of words are not always accurate.

Salt and sodium are used interchangeably.  However, salt and sodium don’t have the same meaning.  Salt is the combination of sodium + chloride, with sodium deemed the unhealthy part of salt.  1 gram of sodium is equal to 2.5 grams of salt.  On average, people are consuming 9 grams of salt a day.

It’s important to follow these parameters as too much sodium can lead to hypertension and increase one’s risk for stroke and/or heart disease.  The salt shaker on your table isn’t the issue at hand, but 80% of sodium is from the pre packaged,prepared, restaurant processed foods that are packed with sodium rich preservatives.

Recommendation: One should have no more than 2300 mg a day of sodium/6 grams of salt.  If you’re of African American descent, 51 years or older, have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, you should limit to 1500 mg per day.  Yet, high salt intake doesn’t increase one’s risk for heart disease, but sodium does!

To be more mindful of the amount of sodium in foods, choose:

  • Food with less than 50 mg sodium per serving is very low in sodium
  • Entrees with no more than 480 mg sodium per serving   
  • Opt for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned
  • Look for “no salt added” or “low sodium” products
  • Eat in one more night a week.  Peruse the American Heart Association‘s website for heart healthy recipes and ideas
  • Limit intake of sodium rich foods–soy sauce, pickles, salad dressing, ketchup, cheese, canned meats, frozen meals (i.e. pizza, stir fry, TV dinners), bread, cold cuts, bacon, hot dogs, salami and sausage

Foods that contain more than 250 mg of sodium per serving are considered high in sodium.

Salt Grain Size Recommended Use Fun Fact
Sea Salt Small and large Cooking and seasoning Comes from evaporated sea water; it’s common for minerals to be left behind in sea salt, which gives it extra flavor and its off white color
Table Salt Very small For seasoning, baking and in salt shakers All mineralsare removed from table saltChemicals are added in so so the grains don’t stick together
Kosher Salt Large Cooking and Seasoning Salt isn’t actually “kosher”, meaning it doesn’t conform to Jewish food laws, it’s used to make meat kosher

Now that you can differentiate salt and sodium, you’re already on your way to lowering your risk for blood pressure, heart attack and stroke!


Omega 3 FA

Original Image by Camilo Rueda López via Flickr
Original Image by Camilo Rueda López via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Honestly, how many times a week do you find yourself eating fish or making your own sushi rolls?  Well, if you’re having a hard time recalling the last time you had a jam packed omega 3 fatty acid meal, let me persuade to add these types of food to your grocery list!

Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fats, deemed as “healthy fats” and “heart healthy.” They can help contribute to the reduction of inflammation, controlling blood clotting, build cell membranes in the brain and help protect against heart disease and stroke.

The three main sources of omega 3’s are eicosapentaenoic acid( EPA), docosahexaenoic acid(DHA)and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).  The body partially converts ALA to EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are found in fish, while ALA is found in nuts and seeds. These fatty acids (FA) are considered essential since they’re not produced in the body and need to be consumed in one’s diet.

Yes, while salmon is touted as the major source of omega 3’s, it can also be found in: anchovies, mackerel, algae, krill, bluefish, herring, sardines, lake trout, tuna and/or sturgeon. If consuming tilefish, mackerel, wild fish or shark, make sure to monitor how you’re consuming as these types of fish can have a toxic mercury level.

Additionally,food sources of ALA are: walnuts, flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil and/or flaxseed.

The one downside to omega 3 fatty acids are their high calorie content, so moderation is key.  There’s so many variations that fish, nuts and seeds can be introduced to your daily meals.  Check out some recipes from the NHLBI website or experiment in your kitchen!


Redefining Refined Grains

Original Image by Prem Sichanugrist via Flickr
Original Image by Prem Sichanugrist via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

When I say we’re redefining refined grains, what I mean is today we’re explaining what it means again.  While I provided a post on Whole Grains previously,I never really followed up on whole grain competition, refined grains.

If you’ve ever felt bombarded in the grocery aisles, trying to compare different brands or types of breads, don’t worry, I’ve been there too!

Refined grains have been milled, which removes the germ and bran of the whole grain.  So, what does that leave? The endosperm.  This removal provides a finer texture to products and extends shelf life.  However, when the bran and germ are removed, the nutrients that are found in there are often not restored.  This means the fiber, B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, B6, niacin), chromium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, essential fatty acids, calcium, protein, and iron found in the germ and bran are no longer present in refined products.

Original Image by Meal Makeover Moms via Flickr
Original Image by Meal Makeover Moms via Flickr

Refined grains include: corn bread; corn tortillas; crackers; pastries; desserts; couscous; grits; noodles; pretzels; macaroni; spaghetti; pitas; white bread; white sandwiches and rolls; white rice and/or flour tortillas.

It should be noted that fiber is located in the bran, but products with bran added back into the product doesn’t necessarily mean it’s whole grain (i.e. oat bran).  It’s important to read labels and decipher if what’s being advertised is really what’re you getting!

I hope this run down on refined grains helps you decipher what to buy at the grocery store.  While reading the ingredient list can be time consuming, the more you find yourself reading the lists, the quicker you’ll become at deciding you want to buy a product or not.  Happy shopping and eating!


Road Trippin’ Healthily


By: Nikki Nies

Growing up, a summer was not complete without a trek to Ohio to visit my grandparents.  I still remember packing the car the night before so we could get up real early, only having to put our clothes on for that day.  While I made sure to have my toothbrush in a handy spot in the car, the snacks were always a top priority concern of mine.

I grew up with limited trips to fast food joints, which I’m now grateful for, with my mother preparing sandwiches the night before for the road.

Here’s some friendly suggestions to keep in mind:

  1. Whole grain cereal cups: Look for brands that contain at least 4 g of fiber and approximately 160 calories/cup; i.e. cheerios; great to be paired with low fat yogurt and bananas
  2.  Peanuts in the shell: Great source of reservatrol, vitamin E and monounsaturated fats=heart healthy snack; 1/2 cup provides 7 g of protein, 3 g of fiber and 20% of your daily value of vitamin E
  3. Trail Mix: Opt for the dried fruit and mixed nuts options and you’re good to go; be mindful of portions, as 3 tablespoons are 140 calories and 9 g of fat
  4. Baby Carrots:  So handy and filling, dip in peanut butter if needed and it’s a stellar treat
  5. Bananas: They don’t get enough of the spotlight, but these fruits are awesome portable, year round fruit; a great powerhouse, able to provide you the energy you need to get through the day
  6. Plain Popcorn: don’t have to worry about staining your clothes, it’s a great portable snack sans butter
  7. Mini Pita Sandwiches: Combine hummus, sliced cucumbers, carrots and/or peppers to pita bread

NutsForNutsWith any trips on the road, whether it’s a 5 minute drive to the post office or cross country trip, you don’t have
to rely on junk food to get you through the days.  Any one who knows me well, can attest that I brings snacks anywhere and everywhere, you never know when you’re going to get in a bind and need a little refueling.  With a little planning and prep, your family and you can be on the road in no time with some delicious, yet health alternatives.

Wanting to experiment with trail mix varieties? It can add fun to prepping for the trip!


Meatless Proteins


By: Nikki Nies

With healthy eating constantly on the brain, it’s constant job to ensure balanced meals are consumed.  Meatless proteins aren’t for vegetarians and vegans any more, with more and more opting for meatless proteins.  Meatless proteins are often low fat, low calorie, with the added protein punch!

Meatless Protein Description Protein Amount per ½ cup How to Eat Tips
Quinoa Packed with fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and folate, low cholesterol; contains all essential amino acids 7 g Stir Fried Vegetables and Quinoa, Black Bean Quinoa Salad with Basil Lemon Dressing; Toasted Quinoa with Chiles and Corn Drain in a fine mesh strainer after cooking; add to soups, hot breakfast cereal or tossed with vegetables
Edamame Have as much fiber as 4 slices of wheat bread; great as an appetizer or within an entrée 8 g (shelled) Edamame with sesame, scallions and almonds; Roasted Edamame Steam instead of boil, which will preserve nutrients; can be served hot or cold
Chia seeds Great source of brain boosting omega 3 and fiber rich; contains great source of iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc; plump up and take on gelatinous texture when soaked in a  liquid 9.4 g in 2 tablespoons Mango Coconut Chia Pudding; Clementine Chia Pudding Use in jams, smoothies, oatmeal, salads, soups, etc.
Lentils Packed with B vitamins, folate, fiber, protein and are heart healthy 9 g Italian Lentil and Broccoli Stew Limit salting or using acidic items to lentils until cooked
Greek Yogurt Low in calories, protein packed; great substitution for sour cream or mayo; less sweet than some regular varieties 14.5 g Grilled Tropical Fruit with Greek Yogurt; Greek Yogurt with warm black and blueberry sauce Be wary of flavored containers that are packed with added sugar
Tempeh Soy bean based ingredient has great texture; firmer than traditional tofu 15.5 g Tempeh Burger; Miso glazed tofu On it’s own, tends to be quite bland, but is great with a marinade
Seitan Made from wheat gluten; has familiar texture of a piece of chicken or beef; brings out any flavors paired with it; looks like duck meat 21 g Mock Peking Duck; Seitan Stir Fry with Black Bean Garlic Sauce No need to add salt as many packaged varieties can have nearly 13% of daily intake
Peanut Butter Contains 2 g of fiber and heart healthy monounsaturated fats per serving 32.5 g Peanut Butter Banana Raisin Sandwich; Peanut Butter Caramel Corn Opt for reduced fat or natural peanut butter and “no stir” to limit messes
Chickpeas Aka garbanzo beans; fiber rich; can help cut LDL levels; low calorie 7 g Chickpea Stew with Eggplants, Tomatoes and Peppers; Cumin Spiced Chickpeas Look for chickpea flower, which is a great alternative to those that can’t eat gluten
Eggs When in moderation, can be great protein source; low in calories; may improve HDL levels 7 g/egg Baked Eggs with Cheese and Zucchini, omelettes, quiches, hard boiled, scrambled, sunny side up Choose cage free variety since they’re nutritionally superior and more humaneFound to have 2.5 times more omega 3 and twice amount of vitamin E in eggs of pasture raised hens
Cottage Cheese Affordable, can be eaten with reduced fat, calcium rich for bones, 13 g Combine with fresh veggies or with fruit and cinnamon Can be used as a replacement for ricotta cheese or sour cream in certain dishes
Pumpkin Seeds Great grab and go snack 7 g/1 oz. Pepita Corn Bread In fall, roast fresh seeds; be mindful of serving as seeds can be high in calories
Dried Black  Beans Low fat, fiber filled protein 6 g Cuban Black Bean Soup Opting for dry beans allows one to control sodium and additive intake; soak in large bowl overnight in water and rinse clean afterward, simmer on low heat and enjoy; make with cumin, garlic, red pepper, etc.
Soy Milk Convenient and versatile; often fortified with calcium and 4 g Espresso Soy Milk Shake Vanilla’s great in cereal and coffee; chocolate flavor’s great as a regular treat
Almonds Contains monounsaturated fats which are considered heart healthy 6 g/1 oz. Chili Spiced Almonds Sliced almonds are great over a salad


Let’s Be Heart Healthy!

By: Nikki Nies

Maintaining one’s health requires a healthy heart.  While the concept is simple, achieving the goal is not always as easy.  With heart disease the #1 leading cause of death, review of healthy habits is never too repetitive.

While change can be hard, the key is to make small, gradual changes to ensure they become permanent, small changes. The following suggestions are geared towards healthier habits for everyone: Heart-Healthy1

  • Being aware of portion size: overloading and overeating can quickly cause one to eat more than intended, including fat and cholesterol; keep track of the number of servings consumed and realize restaurants often serve more than 1 serving
  • Replace high fat foods with more fruits and vegetables: they can be eaten as a snack as well as a major portion of your daily meals; be aware of fried, canned and processed fruits and  vegetables, which are often high in added sugars and sodium
  • Whole grains: Replace refined grains with whole grains; in addition to being fiber packed, they can regulate blood pressure; want to mix it up, try couscous, quinoa, barley and/or high fiber cereal
  • Limit saturated fat and trans fat: Will lower risk of coronary artery disease and keep cholesterol levels in check; can lead to artherosclerosis, which is the hardening of one’s arteries and can increase risk of a heart attack and/or stroke; recommended to limit saturated fat to less than 7% of daily diet/14 g per day of a 2000 calorie diet; limit trans fat to less than 1% of a 2000 calorie diet
  •  Choose low fat protein sources: Opt for lean meat, egg whites, egg substitutes,legumes, poultry and fish
  • Dept. of Agriculture recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2300 mg daily for healthy individuals:  Those 51 or older, African Americans and/or those with high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or diabetes should limit intake to 1500 mg/day
  • Don’t completely eliminate: With elimination of certain foods, you’ll crave it more and end up overeating and feel bad about it; allow yourself the occasional indulgence and don’t feel guilty about it!
  • Plan ahead: If possible, plan menus of your meals ahead of time, which will decrease likelihood of succumbing to take out or last minute unhealthy food choices

Which of these tips are you most willing to add into your life?  What barriers aren’t allowing you to achieve your best self?  What tips have helped you in the past that you want to start again?