Dietary Guidelines 2020: Back to the future for portion sizes – National Consumers League

Sally GreenbergWith 47 percent of the U.S. population projected to be obese by 2030 – and more than 2.1 billion people expected to weigh in as overweight or obese – it’s no surprise that governments worldwide have waged war on a health crisis which not only causes 5 percent of all deaths every year, but also has a $2.0 trillion economic impact annually. So what new measures can be taken that haven’t already been tried?

Is the solution based in advanced technology or medicine? Or do we need to take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture, and tackle a complex problem with simpler solutions by going back to basics? Research seems to indicate that portion control is one of the most promising strategies.

Advances in technology and entertainment over the past 40 years mean we are moving less. At the same time, our meals and snacks have been supersized. In its latest revision of the nutrition facts panel, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has increased some of the standard serving sizes for various food and beverage products to better reflect the total calories people are actually consuming. This could, however, send the wrong message about proper portions of food. And while there are some great nutrition tools and fact sheets available (see for example the National Institute of Health’s page on Portion Distortion), this puts responsibility on the individual to make the right choices. There are also initiatives about portion control from the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans discussed adapting portion sizes to help individuals make choices that align with the Dietary Guidelines´ other recommendations. But this was more of a passing comment without further guidance, and simply not actionable by consumers, health and wellness professionals, or even policy makers.

If real change is going to happen, it not only has to start at an individual level but also via policy based intervention and through corporate action. And there’s compelling evidence to show that portion size reduction, as a collective movement, could be the single most effective solution to an expanding problem.

The food industry’s own research – from the International Food Information Council’s 2017 Health and Wellness Survey – highlights this unmet opportunity, showing that consumers want to consume smaller portions as one of the steps to be healthier, however they are not acting on it, and are instead prioritizing value.

An interesting comprehensive analysis conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) is worthy of consideration. The paper found that while education and personal responsibility are critical elements of any program to reduce obesity, they are not the only solutions. Interventions that rely less on conscious choices by individuals and more on changes to the environment and societal norms are what’s needed—an example of this includes reducing portion sizes of packaged foods and fast food.

According to MGI’s research, portion control, as opposed to other obesity intervention methods such as product reformulations, labeling, weight-management programs, surgery, etc., is the single highest-impact intervention for reducing obesity; and the most cost-effective strategy.

Has it been tried? Not really—there was a previous attempt that was never implemented when in 2012, NYC Mayor Bloomberg tried to regulate portions by proposing the “Sugary Drinks Portion Cap Rule” prohibiting certain places from selling sugar-sweetened beverages that exceeded 16-fluid ounces. While the intention of the regulation was not to ban sugar-sweetened beverages, but to assist consumers with portion control, industry succeeded in defeating this initiative – apparently the rule exceeded NYC Board of Health’s regulatory authority.

Since 2012, and despite the supportive research of reducing portion sizes, little has been done to execute an effective policy that would seek to ‘re-size’ all of our packaged foods and beverages to take them back to healthier portion sizes. With the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines around the corner, there is no better time than now for policy makers to make a difference. Consumers need and deserve a clear, authoritative voice to provide impactful and easy to implement guidance on portion sizes and portion control for all foods and beverages.

Guide to good med smartphone apps – National Consumers League

92_med_apps.jpgThree out of four Americans struggle to take their medications as directed, and this costs our healthcare system $300 billion every year! New smartphone apps can help consumers — especially those with chronic conditions or multiple medications — take their medication as directed and become healthier. These apps can be a great tool to help you keep track of your meds, but not all medication apps are alike and some are more useful than others.

Today’s health apps range from helping users eat healthier, to looking up symptoms, providing daily motivation tips, or helping you take your medications as directed (or adherence). 

The purpose of medication management apps is to help you take your medication(s) as directed. Once you download a medication management app, you are often asked to input information about all the meds you are taking, including the dose (how much), how often, and when you take them. The apps usually offer an alert or reminder when you are supposed to take each medication.

Before picking a medication management app check to make sure it has the following features:

  • Good Security – Apps often store your private, personal information so be sure to pick an app that has safeguards in place to protect you. The app should have a log-in that requires a password and a disclaimer that guarantees that your information will not be shared with third parties without your knowledge. The app should not ask you to provide sensitive, identifying information, such as your social security number.
  • Reminders – Reminders, often sent as alerts, remind you when to take your medications according to the times you have set. The best systems let you indicate that you have taken the medication, need to delay taking the medication, or have stopped taking the medication altogether. Make sure the reminder is in a format that works for you.
  • Personalizing Information You should be able to input medication in the form of pills, inhalers, injections, liquids, or other forms. Some medication management apps only allow a certain number of medications, which is not helpful if you are taking many medications or if you are managing medications for more than one family member.
  • “Notes” Field You should be able to add in additional information about who prescribed the medication, directions about taking the medication, or any additional information in a “notes” field.
  • Functionality (or usability) Make sure the app is available for your particular type of smart phone or tablet, and you feel comfortable using it. 

These additional features are helpful in a medication management app, but might require additional fees:

  • Tracking missed doses Apps that let you record whether you have taken or missed doses and use visual reports to track your progress can help you identify areas of weakness to improve overall adherence.
  • Sharing information with health care providers and family caregivers Apps that let you email, print, or export your prescriptions and habits can help make it easier to share this information with health care providers and family caregivers. Some apps allow your health care providers (with your permission) to update your medication regimen on your app and send you information automatically, which can be helpful when you need to make changes.
  • Dose limits Some medications have strict dose limits. For example, for pain medications with acetaminophen, it is important to not take more than directed. Apps that monitor the dose limits you input can be helpful to make sure you don’t take too much. These apps can adjust next dose reminders according to when you indicate you took your last dose, rather than on a strict “every X hours” type schedule, which could be harmful if you ended up taking your last dose late.
  • Options for caregivers If you manage the medications of one or more family members, some apps allow you to organize medication information and schedules for multiple family members.
  • Other reminders Some apps incorporate medication reminders that involve more than just an alert when it’s time to take your next medicine. This includes when you need to refill your prescription or when your prescription is about to expire.
  • Reminders for more complicated medication schedules – If you have a complicated medication schedule, make sure your app fit your needs. Does that app let you mark a medication “as needed” but with strict dose limits? Does it let you mark a medication “every X days rather than every day? Can you group your meds?
  • Medication database These apps access a database of medications that allow you to enter, search, and select medications. This feature can save time and improve accuracy when entering your medication’s name and schedule.
  • Accessing the app online Some apps have a companion website that allows you to input information from a computer and sync it to your smart phone or tablet.

Make sure the app you pick works for you and makes it easier to manage your medications. Always ask your health care provider if you have questions about when and how to take your medication. Medication management apps can help you take care of your health by helping you take your mediation as directed.

Education campaigns improve safe acetaminophen use – National Consumers League

Untitled-1.jpgAcetaminophen is the most commonly used drug ingredient in America. It is found in over 600 of the most commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs, including Tylenol, Robitussin, Dayquil, Nyquil and so many more. An estimated 50 million Americans take acetaminophen every week. When taken as directed, acetaminophen is safe and effective. Taking too much acetaminophen, however, can cause severe liver damage.

Acetaminophen is the most commonly used drug ingredient in America. It is found in over 600 of the most commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs, including Tylenol, Robitussin, Dayquil, Nyquil and so many more. An estimated 50 million Americans take acetaminophen every week. When taken as directed, acetaminophen is safe and effective. Taking too much acetaminophen, however, can cause severe liver damage.

image_(1).jpegConsumer education is a key step to ensuring safe acetaminophen use and preventing overdoses. A new report from the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition (of which National Consumers League is a founding member) “Acetaminophen: How It’s Used, Preventing Overdose and What We Can Do to Promote Safe Use,” explores the successful impact of ongoing healthcare provider and consumer-led education campaigns. Over the last three years many organizations have launched new campaigns aimed at educating consumers about safe medicine use. Among these efforts is TakeWithCare.org, launched by NCL in 2014 to educate teens on safe use of over-the-counter medications.

The report found that consumer awareness about safe medicine use between 2010 and 2013 improved across the board. In 2010, 90 percent of people said it’s dangerous to exceed maximum doses and 76 percent said they were aware they could overdose by doubling up on multiple medications with the same active ingredient. By 2013 those numbers improved to 98 percent and 81 percent respectively.

Perhaps the most substantial finding from the new report is that consumer education campaigns do work and do help consumers be more informed. In 2010, 78 percent of those surveyed understood that, “exceeding the recommended daily dose of acetaminophen may lead to liver damage.” By 2013 that number increased to 87 percent. Many stakeholders from different backgrounds are working on educating consumers about the dangers of acetaminophen overdose. We must keep up these efforts to reduce unintentional overdosing.

As an organization that runs many consumer education initiatives it is great to know these campaigns truly do create a more informed and healthy consumer base. 

So…what is Acetaminophen?

Acetaminophen is the most widely used pain reliever and fever reducer that temporarily relieves minor pains and aches such as those resulting from the common cold, muscle aches, headache, arthritis, allergies, and premenstrual and menstrual cramps.

To find out if a medicine you are taking contains acetaminophen, read the drug facts label. Here’s an example:

When used properly, acetaminophen is safe and effective. Like any medicine, however, there is a limit to how much should be taken in one day. The FDA recommends a maximum daily dose of no more than 4,000 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen. The amount of acetaminophen in an individual product varies and you can find the amount listed in milligrams on the medicine label. Exceeding the daily limit, or overdosing on acetaminophen can lead to severe liver damage or death. Overdose occurs when consumers take too much at one time or take a second dose before they are supposed to in an effort to help manage the pain. Using multiple medications that contain acetaminophen can also result in misuse or overdose. It is important to read the directions carefully or ask your health care provider before taking any medicine.

Tips to Safely Use Acetaminophen

  1. Read and follow the medicine label.  Reading the labels provides consumers with need-to-know ingredients as well as proper usage directions. Find out if a medicine contains acetaminophen.
  2. Talk to your pharmacist/physician. Become more aware and informed about your prescribed or over-the-counter medicines. Ask questions about allergies, proper dosage, and how often the product should be used.
  3. Never take two acetaminophen-containing medicines at the same time. Double check the label, and don’t double up on acetaminophen.

For more information visit, Know Your Dose today!

Vaccination confusion putting nation’s health at risk – National Consumers League

vaccines_square.jpgThe New York Times recently broke the news that, largely because of a new anti-vaccine movement spreading across the country,  cases of measles have reached a 20-year high. The article reported that 85 percent of this year’s cases were in people not vaccinated because of religious, philosophical or personal objections. Fear that misinformation could result in undoing the progress we have made against diseases like measles have been realized.

This piece, authored by Sally Greenberg, originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

A Sept. 14, 1961 New York Times headlineboldly proclaimed “Measles Vaccine Effective In Test, Injections With Live Virus Protect 100 Per Cent of Children in Epidemics.” Before the measles vaccine, this was a disease that infected nearly every child in America by the age of 15, killing up to 500 children a year and hospitalizing an estimated 48,000 more across the country. The measles vaccine, safe and cost-effective, was a marvel of modern science. Spread by coughing, sneezing, and close personal contact, measles has no cure or treatment and is highly contagious.

That is what makes vaccination so essential. Parents who choose not to vaccinate endanger their children — one in five children who contract the disease will be hospitalized — and also threaten the health of their peers, their families, and their communities. Though whether to vaccinate or not is framed as “personal choice,” the fact is that this choice has major health repercussions. The anti-vaccination movement is not wed to science but rather a false narrative based on… nothing.

Vaccine misinformation began with a 1998 report, published in the medical journalThe Lancet, which claimed to establish a link between vaccines and autism. The study has since been discredited, disproved, and retracted. However, a recent survey commissioned by the National Consumers League (NCL) found that 33 percent of parents with children 18 and younger continue to believe “vaccinations can cause autism.”

The good news is that an overwhelming majority of adults (87 percent) support mandatory vaccinations for school-aged children.

The body of evidence supporting the effectiveness and safety of vaccine use is extensive. After nearly 40 years of measles vaccinations, in 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared measles “eliminated.” The term “eliminated” means that there was no reported disease transmission for a continuous 12-month period. Yet, in 2013 the CDC reported 189 cases of measles, and the pace of infection continues.

In California alone, a state where parents can choose not to vaccinate their children based on “personal belief” exemptions, we’ve seen 51 cases of measles reported so far in 2014. In the same period last year, there were only four cases reported in California, and there have not been more than 40 cases reported in the state since 2000. In the last decade, the rates of unvaccinated children in California have increased at an alarming pace. In 2007, an estimated 1.4 percent of kindergarteners were not vaccinated; by the beginning of the 2013 that number had more than doubled to 3.1 percent.

We must not allow anti-vaccination rhetoric to undermine these critically-important methods for keeping children and adults safe from illness or disease. A century ago, parents lived in fear of losing a child, or multiple children, to typhoid, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, small pox, whooping cough, mumps, and other diseases for which we today have vaccinations. Many of us grew up with little or no fear of death or impairment from these diseases. While it is true that no vaccine or drug, aspirin included, is 100 percent safe, the overall good these medications provide to the health of our population — by a huge magnitude — outweighs the tiny number of those who experience adverse reactions. Absent a valid religious belief or health concern, especially in the case of children, vaccinations are our moral imperative.

Getting in touch with your inner farmer – National Consumers League

kelseyIt’s unseasonably warm this week, and I’ve found myself longing to populate my deck with plants despite the cold that may lie ahead. Growing up, my parents spent summer weekends landscaping and planting, and I feel a deep satisfaction in caring for plants. We never had a successful garden exactly, maybe some tomatoes or herbs in pots — but there was something beautiful and amazing about creating something sustaining and useful from tiny seeds.

I worry that Americans are becoming less and less connected with their food. What we buy in the grocery store can be so vastly different than its origins.  Lately there has been some buzz about micro-gardening.  It’s perfect for people who have very little land to grow on, such as those of us who live in cities or apartments.  Micro-gardening focuses on fitting as many plants, and thus produce, into as few square feet as possible.

Companies like Earth Starter are creating aids to achieve maximum space use.  Their creations, the Nourishmat and Herbmat may soon be available for purchase but are currently only available through donation to the Kickstarter Campaign.  The mats come with “seed bombs” that are planted in designated spots. Window gardening is an even better, yet somewhat involved, solution for apartment dwellers.  If you’re able to set up one of these hydroponic window systems, kudos to you.

Encouraging the average American to cultivate his or her green thumb could, through education and assistance, help the urban poor get more fresh food to their tables.  Maybe if we all grew fruits and veggies, we’d feel a little more connected to them, more motivated to eat them.  Its reason enough for me to give it a try.  And for those of you who have absolutely no interest in gardening but still long for extremely fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables, there’s always Community Supported Agriculture which allows consumers to buy directly from farmers and in some cases affords you the opportunity to visit the farm.

Love and food: Old friends – National Consumers League

kelseyFood is a cornerstone of love. Think of all the ways we use food to bond: cooking for loved ones, eating together as a means to share conversation, gifting food. I grew up in a family for whom food was a form of love, and while this might not be every person’s experience, I think we can all understand the association. This Valentine’s Day, couples will flock to restaurants, cookies will be baked for families, and young valentines will exchange candy at school.  

It has me thinking about what are our most loving/loveable/love inducing foods.

Some foods that we associate with love are comforting. Peanut butter and jelly, for example, might have been what your mom made you for lunch every day growing up. Other foods, commonly called aphrodisiacs, supposedly evoke passion. As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, aphrodisiacs are “something that excites” but scientific evidence doesn’t necessarily prove that aphrodisiacs work as we intend. Despite their somewhat ambiguous nature, many aphrodisiacs have other positive health effects.

  • Some of the most notorious aphrodisiacs are oysters. They are known to have high levels of zinc, a mineral proven to increase testosterone in men, and iron, which can increase energy in people with an iron deficiency (most commonly women).
  • Hot peppers, another common aphrodisiac, are packed with vitamins and an antioxidant called capsaicin which may fight cancer, suppress appetite, burn calories and relieve pain.
  • Honey is known for its antibacterial properties (one of the many reasons a hot toddy is so good for a cold) and it contains boron which aids in estrogen and testosterone regulation. The term honeymoon comes from an old tradition of giving mead, fermented honey, as a gift to newlyweds.
  • Strawberries, cherries and pomegranates are all juicy red fruits packed with vitamins and anti-oxidants. Both strawberries and pomegranates have plentiful vitamin c which improves blood flow and cherries are high in melatonin, an antioxidant that’s helps to regulate the heart.
  • Chocolate is a Valentine’s Day favorite and has been proven to release phenylethylamine and serotonin, two brain chemicals that produce a euphoric feeling like that of falling in love.  Keep in mind it doesn’t take very much chocolate to reap its antioxidant and mood enhancing benefits so try to keep consumption to a minimum.

So friends if you’re looking for food to get in the mood this Valentine’s Day, I can’t make any promises but these might help. Even if they don’t, each has positive health benefits — and you really can’t argue with that.

Chipotle beefs up sustainable agriculture efforts – National Consumers League

kelsey As if it weren’t enough that the restaurant chain Chipotle revolutionized the extremely affordable, locally sourced and 100% delicious fast food meal, now they’re speaking out against the unsustainable and inhumane nature of industrial agriculture. And they’re doing so in the most entertaining way. The satirical series, “Farmed and Dangerous,” calling out big agriculture is set to debut February 17, on Hulu.

When I first heard about this series, I was skeptical. But then it dawned on me that Chipotle does some great things when sourcing their meat and dairy products, holding their producers to higher standards than pretty much every other fast food chain.

The 30 minute, four episode, series seeks to raise consumers’ awareness about industrial farming issues by taking a very serious, grim subject and satirically highlighting its biggest problems. This “values integration” raises awareness about issues the company combats and in return consumers view Chipotle in a positive light and will eat there in an opportunity to support their efforts.

It’s not Chipotle’s first stab at this blended marketing approach they’re calling ‘strategic entertainment.’ The Scare Crow (2013), Back to the Start (2011) and Meat Without Drugs (2012) are all short films about the disturbing tactics used by large industrial farms.  As a matter of fact, this approach isn’t new at all.  Proctor & Gamble created “soap operas” as a means of cross promotion; as did Ovaltine with shows like Captain Midnight back in the 1950s.  The return to such marketing tactics is most likely driven by consumers ability to skip commercials altogether, with technology like DVR and Netflix.  Even Whole Foods is slated to be releasing a new reality series called “Dark Rye.”

The series mentions Chipotle only once, as a means of debunking the current rumor that McDonald’s owns a controlling stake in the company. The share was indeed held by McDonald’s for eight years but they divested in 2006.

Full disclosure, the episodes will air on a Chipotle branded Hulu account but maybe they deserve to claim these efforts. So often we see commercials with entertaining but meaningless messages. Chipotle could have just as easily spent their money on a thirty second super bowl ad, but instead they chose to spread a message they believe in while getting the most possible bang for their buck. I know I’ll be watching.

Rates of tobacco use have drastically declined over the last 50 years. Another win for regulations. – National Consumers League

I recently wrote about the miraculous number of lives saved by tough auto safety regulations. Some states today are recording the lowest traffic fatalities ever. Why? Because of safety devices (seatbelts, airbags, etc.) and designs that were lobbied for by consumer advocates like Ralph Nader, Joan Claybrook, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, CARS,  and Consumer Reports/Consumers Union beginning in the 1960s.

Now I’m writing about another miraculous success story also related directly to a sustained public health education and awareness campaign. Fifty years ago – in 1964 – the US surgeon general issued a groundbreaking report on smoking and health. The paper offered definitive proof – based on thousands of studies -that smoking causes lung cancer and is linked to other serious diseases. Tobacco companies had spent years denying and obfuscating the evidence. Research since then has shown that tobacco can cause or exacerbate a wide range of ailments, including heart disease, stroke, multiple kinds of cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, asthma and diabetes, and can cause disease in those who inhale the secondary smoke – including wait staff in restaurants and bars and children of smokers.

This sustained campaign to discourage Americans from smoking –including high taxes on cigarettes, banning smoking in bars, restaurants, workplaces, airports, airplanes, trains, and other enclosed spaces, requiring smoking in restricted areas, curbs on advertising, banning sales to minors, penalizing smokers with higher health care premiums, and local and state programs for smoking cessation  – all have  helped to dramatically reduce smoking in the US.

I’m one of those who had a two pack a day habit so I know about smoking. It was incredibly difficult to quit – I did it four or five times for months or years at a time but got hooked again immediately upon taking the first puff.

I did finally call it quits and don’t dare come close to a cigarette today. Why did I quit finally? Lots of reasons, including that I felt shockingly short of breath when going up just a few stairs, the ever escalating cost, and the unpopularity of puffing away and polluting the air I was sharing with colleagues and friends. Not to mention it’s about the stupidest thing you can do, given all the terrible health conditions caused by and exacerbated by smoking. Thirty years after quitting, I also am happy to report that all of the six members of my immediate family who smoked back then have all kicked the habit.

So we are part of the success story. The percentage of American adults who smoke dropped from 42 percent in 1965 to 18 percent in 2012. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that tobacco control measures adopted since 1964 have saved eight million Americans from premature death and extended their lives by an average of almost 20 years.

However, we still have 44 million smokers. To tackle this challenge, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids have called for a new national commitment to drive down smoking among adults to less than 10 percent over the next decade. The groups also want to protect all Americans from secondhand smoke within five years by having every state enact laws against smoking in all workplaces, bars and restaurants; and ultimately eliminate death and disease caused by tobacco.

The power of the tobacco industry is a challenge. It spends $8 billion a year to market cigarettes and other tobacco products in the US, marketing too often aimed at young people.

The industry also enjoys profits from heavy smoking prevalent in so many developing countries. My recent visits to China and Cuba underscored the ubiquitous use of tobacco around the world. Happily we’re spoiled in the US by being relative smoke free in communal places.

Meanwhile, back in the US, many groups are rededicating themselves to driving rates of smoking down to under 10 percent. Federal, state, and local government health officials are working alongside these groups. So there we have it – another victory for sensible regulation and here’s to the millions of lives saved as a result.

Can a soda tax create a healthier America? – National Consumers League

kelsey As the obesity rate in Mexico rises, lawmakers have taken action in the form of a tax on sweet drinks and some unhealthy packaged foods.  This action in Mexico might ultimately lead to similar laws in the United States and other parts of the world.  Similar measures are being passed in many South American counties such as Chile, Ecuador, and Peru all of which are promoting healthier eating through law making.  

Ecuador even banned industrial food makers from using images of celebrities, cartoons, or animal characters on foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt and Chile banned toys in fast food meals.

The 8% tax on packaged foods and one peso (about 8 cents) per liter tax on sweet drinks was not passed without criticism.  Food companies argued that snack food is a staple for the poor and that their companies played a large role as contributors to economic growth.  Taxing unhealthy foods raises their cost to competitive monetary levels with their healthier counterparts, causing difficult economic effects on the poorest citizens who may not be able to afford either.  Soda and junk food taxes also earn these foods a “forbidden fruit” reputation which could have negative outcomes, especially in children.

California State Senator Bill Monning proposed a one cent per ounce “soda tax” that a University of California, San Francisco study found would save between $320 million and $620 million in medical costs associated with diabetes.  San Francisco may also move ahead with its own city wide soda tax of two cents per ounce.  It isn’t just California that’s pushing for these taxes either.   Telluride, Colorado and New York City are among the many cities that have proposed their own soda tax.

As junk food taxes are becoming an increasingly popular idea we need to keep in mind the best means of implementation.  Raising taxes alone addresses one area of the obesity issue.  A multifaceted approach that targets junk foods and seeks to make healthy foods more desirable would produce lasting effects. If vegetables and potato chips are similarly priced, we need to make the vegetables are marketed in a way that is more attractive.  Focusing on reducing advertising of foods high in fat, sugar, and salt and targeted toward children while simultaneously initiating campaigns promoting healthy eating would a great starting place.

Some sweet tips for a new diet in 2014 – National Consumers League

kelseyThe new year almost inevitably brings dieting difficulties for many of us, but many people realize that a diet isn’t always the best approach to losing weight and keeping it off. Changing your eating and exercise habits can have lifelong effects on your health, but doing so is more easily said than done. It can be a struggle, especially at the end of the day when you feel like you have eaten so healthfully and you just need a little something sweet.

It’s important to remember at these times that small indulgences are necessary for a balanced diet—so you don’t find yourself binging after too much deprivation.

Try getting your sweet fix in with some of these healthier options:

Banana and peanut butter: A great option because of the decadent texture. Make sure to not go overboard with this because it still has a lot of sugar in it but it also has a lot of redeeming nutrients like protein and potassium.

Greek yogurt and frozen berries: A fast and easy dessert, frozen berries are easier to keep on hand for when you need something sweet, and the Greek yogurt is a super food with plenty of lean protein.

Pomegranate seeds and dark chocolate: The pomegranate seeds are a challenge to separate from the rest of the fruit but it can be fun and satisfying to take your time eating them. A little bit of dark chocolate balances the pomegranate seeds out and provides antioxidants.

Apples and honey: Another traditional sweet snack, honey has antibacterial properties and you know what they say about having an apple a day.

Popcorn: Popcorn can be a slippery slope with outrageous amounts of sodium and fat when things go awry. However, I maintain that this can be a healthy, whole grain snack when it’s done right. Buying the kernels loose instead of pre-bagged allows you to make it yourself on the stove, giving you total control about the amount of butter, salt and flavors you add (no more fake butter!). If you want savory, go ahead and add Old Bay or other spices or seasoning (just watch the salt); if you’re looking for sweet, add sugar to the pot you’ll be popping it in for some homemade kettle corn.

Chocolate milk: Typically chocolate milk evokes memories of childhood, but it can actually be a satisfying dessert. It’s especially good as a post-workout snack, with the necessary sugars and protein that your body needs for recovery.

Wine: A great standby, wine can be the perfect dessert to wind down before bed as long as you don’t go overboard (no more than one glass). It might even lower your blood pressure and provide you with excellent antioxidants. Be careful though, alcohol can be known to stimulate appetites. If this describes you, it might be prudent to opt for a different dessert.

Tea or hot cocoa: Tea can be an excellent antioxidant filled option with virtually no calories (unless of course you take sugar and cream in your tea). If you are looking for something sweet, hot cocoa might fit the bill. It doesn’t have many nutritionally redeeming qualities, especially if you are making it with water not milk, but calorie-wise you aren’t doing much damage, and sometimes you just need something sweet.

So with these new tools to curb your nightly sweets craving, go forth and embrace the new year, knowing that a more healthful lifestyle isn’t out of reach.