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5 Easy Ways to Kickstart Your Clean-Eating Goals Before January 1st

Many people refer to the days between Christmas and New Year’s as a “twilight week.” The bulk of the..

Many people refer to the days between Christmas and New Year’s as a "twilight week." The bulk of the holiday season is behind us, but the fresh start of the new year still lies ahead. It's tempting to consider this cozy in-between time as your last hurrah before January 1st. But indulging freely in wine and snacking on leftover sugar cookies likely won't leave you feeling your best! Instead, why not use this week to ease into a healthier routine? By the time 2018 rolls around, you'll be off to a running start with your goals—whether you're aiming to slim down or simply eat more mindfully. Here are five completely doable strategies to focus on, to get your wellness back on track.

Re-think that drink

For most of my clients, alcohol is the number one factor that impacts their eating choices and energy levels. In addition to being caloric, alcohol can act as an appetite stimulant and lower your inhibitions. This combo often results in eating foods you typically skip when sober, and noshing more overall. Then there’s the next day lack of energy, which can lead to being less active and choosing comfort foods for breakfast (like a sugary muffin, greasy breakfast sandwich, or bagel with cream cheese).

This week, commit to curbing your alcohol consumption. Volunteer to be the designated diver, and have sparkling water while others imbibe. Plan activities with friends and family that don’t revolve around drinking. Or try doing activities like bowling or a Netflix marathon without sipping alcohol. Even if you toss back a few drinks on New Year’s Eve, you’ll feel a lot better on January 1st if the previous week has been primarily dry.

Up your H2O

In addition to supporting optimal metabolism, water tends to naturally curb appetite, meaning you may be less apt to nibble on the holiday goodies still floating around. Upping your H2O intake also flushes out excess sodium, which can help you de-bloat, and get your digestive system moving. If you’ve been eating fewer veggies and more carbs than usual, this change can be especially effective for helping you feel lighter and more energetic.

In the days ahead, make water your beverage of choice, and aim for 2-2.5 liters a day (about 8-10 cups). If you dislike it plain, infuse it with fruits, veggies, herbs, and spices to boost flavor and add antioxidants. This one simple change can create a domino effect that spills over into other areas of your personal wellness, from better sleep to clearer skin.

RELATED: 7 Infused Water Recipes That Will Make Your H20 Much Tastier and Even Healthier

Get into a healthy breakfast groove

The old adage "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" really holds up. A new study published in the Journal of Physiology, looked at 49 people (ages 21 to 60) who were asked to either eat breakfast or fast until mid-day for six weeks. Researchers found that breakfast consumption impacted genes in ways that help regulate blood sugar, and may protect against diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Other research shows that people who eat their largest daily meal at breakfast are much more likely to lose weight and shrink their waist lines, compared to those who eat a big dinner.

Start each day with something hearty but energizing—like a veggie, herb, and avocado omelet with a side of fresh fruit; or a smoothie made with a handful of greens blended with frozen fruit, pea protein powder or Greek yogurt, almond butter, almond milk, and fresh ginger root. Think whole, nutrient-packed meals that offer a mix of lean protein, veggies, good carbs and beneficial fats. Starting your morning with this combo can set you up (both mentally and physically) for a day’s worth of mindful, health-driven habits.

Start cooking, even just veggies

Cooking for yourself is one of the best ways to take charge of your eating, from the ingredients to how they’re prepared and the portions of food you eat. But if entering full-on cooking mode is not realistic just yet, commit to making just some of what you eat from scratch. This can help you strike a better balance, even when you order takeout.

For example, steam or oven-roast extra veggies to toss into a Chinese or Thai dish you split with someone else. Or whisk together extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, and Italian seasoning to dress greens and other veggies, like tomato, cucumber, and bell pepper. Pile up your plate with salad before digging into pizza, lasagna, or another heavy entree.

This add-your-own-veggies approach ups your intake of nutrients and fiber, and can help crowd out other high-calorie foods without making you feel like you’re dieting. In fact, it’s not dieting—it’s simply creating a healthier balance.

For more clean eating tips, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

Consider your splurges carefully

No doubt there are numerous opportunities to indulge this week, from whipped cream-laden hot cocoa to popcorn at the movies and decadent dinners out. But many of my clients say that if they could go back and relive certain moments, they would have skipped various foods because they just weren’t worth it.

This week pre-think your options before you dig in. Rank foods on a scale from 0 to 5, with 0 being “meh” and 5 being "can’t live without it." If something doesn’t rate at least a 4, pass. If it’s not an absolute favorite, saying no isn’t about willpower or deprivation; it just makes sense.

Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.

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30 Best Oreo Flavors, Ranked and Tested

We write about Oreos a lot here. Like, a lot a lot. But can you blame us? The classic cookie has been around longer than any of us have (since 1912!), and there are so many Oreo recipes and desserts out there that frankly, we’re surprised that we as a society haven’t caused a nationwide shortage. There are few things in the world more simple and versatile as an Oreo cookie and milk (yes, that includes all of the 85-plus flavors in the brand’s history), and it’s safe to say we’re just a little bit obsessed. Case in point, this giant Oreo cake, these Oreo truffles, this Oreo popcorn, and this Oreo cookie skillet. You get the idea.

It was only a matter of time before we turned around and said, “Have we ever tried them all in one sitting?” We hadn’t. So we did.

Of course, there were hiccups. Although so many Oreo flavors have emerged over the course of the cookie brand’s 110-year lifespan, some flavors are hard to find on shelves. Some seem to be discontinued. Others are only available overseas. Green tea Oreos, for instance, are only available in Japan. (But whyyyy?) That said, our editors are nothing if not intrepid, tracking down a whopping 30 Oreo varieties for an in-depth taste test.

Without further ado, here’s our worst-to-best ranking of every Oreo flavor we could get our hands on. Let us know if we missed any favorites!


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How to convert a mushroom hater

As with any difficult relationship, Ollie, it can take work, but there is hope. “When you say, ‘I don’t like mushrooms’, it’s like saying you don’t like wine,” says self-confessed fungus obsessive Will Murray. “There are so many varieties out there, and they all behave in different ways.” The chef and co-founder of Fallow in London, who even grows his own at the restaurant, adds: “If, for example, you brine and deep-fry grey oyster mushrooms, they take on the texture of fried chicken.”

Perhaps a simpler strategy in the fight against squishy, spongy mushrooms, however, is to fry them on a high heat. “You need to be in danger of setting off the smoke alarm, or you’re not doing it properly,” Murray says. Then, as in life, it pays to be patient – and use more butter than seems reasonable. “Mushrooms hold a lot of liquid, so you need to fry them for quite a while to get them crisp,” says Helen Graham, head chef of veg-led Bubala in London. “If you don’t take them to the colour you want before adding other stuff to the pan, the mushrooms will never catch up.”

You could also try replicating Bubala’s charred oyster mushroom skewers. “We marinate the mushrooms in soy sauce, agave, coriander seeds, garlic and vegetable oil, then thread on to skewers and grill,” Graham says. “The agave helps to caramelise them, and obviously the oil helps to give crispiness and a really nice texture.”

Alternatively, pop a portobello in a bun. “I grew up in the Middle East, where it’s always barbecue weather,” says Noor Murad, who heads up the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen. “I love throwing mushrooms on the grill and slathering them in barbecue sauce [homemade or store-bought].” Melt a square of cheese on top, if you fancy, and serve with slaw.

It’s also worth considering how you prep the mushrooms. “You want to keep their meaty integrity, so you can really get your teeth into them, which means don’t chop them too small,” Murad explains. That said, a duxelles [finely chopped mushrooms cooked in butter with onions or shallots and herbs] might be a good gateway. “If she doesn’t enjoy the texture of mushrooms, make a very finely chopped duxelles,” Murray says. “The mushrooms dissolve into the sauce and add a rich undercurrent of earthy umami.” Spread on toast, add to omelettes or mashed potato, or go all out with a wellington.

You could also, of course, do away with cooking them altogether. “Raw mushrooms aren’t slimy,” says Murray, who suggests thinly slicing chestnuts or portobellos, dressing them with sherry vinegar (“or even a little sherry”), dijon mustard, olive oil, fresh herbs and minced garlic, then adding to salads. Dried mushrooms, meanwhile, have “second chance” written all over them. “They’re amazing, especially in the base of soups and stews,” Murad says. “You don’t get the texture, but you’ll get that umaminess – maybe that’s a good way to get Ollie’s partner to like mushrooms.” Graham agrees. She adds shiitake (“porcini would be equally delicious”) and kombu to stock, reduces down “with something tangy like pomegranate molasses”, then uses it as a sauce for cabbage. Happily, it’s good with other veg, too, so there’s shroom to manoeuvre. *groans*


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Preventing food fraud: Europe’s battle against the spice pirates

Spices are among the oldest food products in the world and still enjoy great popularity today. But h..

Spices are among the oldest food products in the world and still enjoy great popularity today. But how can we be sure of their quality and authenticity? With serious money to be made, counterfeiters are often attempting to fradulently pass off inferior products as the genuine article.

To find out more about how fraud in this arena can be identified and stopped, we went to Belgium to meet a spice trader – and also to see scientists working at the Joint Research Centre’s Fraud Detection Unit.

Spice expert

Herbs and spices are the daily business of Alexandre Veuve; he is the manager of the prestigious spice specialist and gourmet grocery store Le Tour Du Monde En Epices in Waterloo, south of Brussels.

As an expert in the sector, he always guarantees that the products he sells are of the highest quality:

However, he knows only too well that fraud is a common risk in this market:

“There is generally fraud on quite expensive spices, for example saffron. This is a spice that is worth as much as gold, so obviously there are a lot of scams involving it.

“Powders are also the target of fraud because they can be more easily falsified.

“That’s why we make our own powders; we buy the spices whole and then we create them ourselves.”

“There is ofen fraud on quite expensive spices – for example, saffron. This is a spice that is worth as much as gold, so obviously there are a lot of scams involving it.”Euronews

Europe’s food fraud unit

One of the facilities of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Geel in Belgium hosts the European Food Fraud Detection and Prevention Unit. Here, teams of scientists analyse samples of spices imported to Europe using state-of-the-art technologies, in some cases using methods similar to those used for police investigations.

One of the most powerful tools at their disposal is DNA analysis. The genetic map of the spice can indicate whether or not there are foreign biological elements present.

The most common types of fraud are the use of less expensive plants, or the addition of dyes to make the spice appear more attractive or authentic.

Antoon Lievens, a Molecular Biologist at the Unit, says saffron is a good example of where fraud is regularly attempted:

“We’ve found one or two samples that were not saffron at all and the sequencing analysis has shown that it was safflower that has been sold as saffron.

“Another exemple is curcuma (turmeric). We’ve found a sample that was not curcuma, but actually paprika powder that had been dyed or coloured to look like curcuma.”

Analysis via spectroscopy

The detection of fraud is based on a set of investigative protocols, each of which unveils a part of the puzzle. Spectroscopy is one powerful method; it doesn’t require special sample preparation and allows a rapid result through the examination of the samples molecules by a laser beam.

Jone Omar, an Analytical Chemist at the Fraud Detection and Prevention Unit, says this is a foolproof method:

“Spectroscopy is basically based on a ray of light touching the sample, which makes the molecules vibrate and we then obtain a light spectrum readout of the vibration of those molecules.

“So when we focus on a pure food, we have a pure spectrum for it.

“When we spot an adulteration, the spectrum of the vibration of the molecule bands is different.”

This x-ray fluorescence technique, which is also used for non-invasive analysis of artworks to establish authenticity or otherwise, reveals whether or not inorganic materials – such as sand or clay – are present in the plant sample.

Chemical tests such as liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry allow, through the separation of the molecules, the establishment of whether or not there are traces of external dyes present.

These same techniques are also used to create chemical fingerprints of spices, which can then provide even more in-depth information about the nature of the sample.

If the adulteration is confirmed, certain measures can then be taken.

Franz Ulberth, Head of the Fraud Detection and Prevention Unit, explains:

“One of the further measures could be that you send inspectors to check the company, to look into the books, to (examine) transportation papers, establishing a chain of traceability, to trace it back to the origin.”

The spice production and distribution supply chain is spread between different countries and this makes controls more complicated.

In a growing market of global scale, the use of these techniques is key to certifying the quality of the product.

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