11 Weird Facts About Fruit

My kids have these books–if you have kids, you’ve probably seen them, too–that are all about strange and interesting facts. 1,001 Facts About the Human Body That’ll Blow Your Mind2,002 Weird and Wacky Facts About Natural Disasters3,003 Star Wars Facts You Won’t Learn From Watching the Movies. These are, of course, always complete with pictures of volcanoes gurgling over and half-costumed Wookies. (Aside: No, autocorrect, for once in my life I do NOT want to write “cookies,” but thank you for understanding my inner monologue so well.)

Last week I was chaperoning my 8-year-old daughter’s field trip to the natural history museum when a kid in my little student-herd kept getting on my nerves with his endless recitation of facts. Actually, he would pipe up, the longest whale on Earth was blah blah feet long. ACTUALLY, the oldest trilobite ever discovered was blah blah billion years old. No doubt, he had gotten these from the same books my kids pore over. (That or he has a lot of internet access for a third grader.)

I really had to grit my teeth to keep from opening up an ACTUAL can of chaperone whoop-ass on this kid, but then I realized…I’m a collector of weird facts, too. I just like different kinds of weird facts, usually about food. After all, fun facts are such delightful little nuggets of intellectual enjoyment, especially when they pertain to something that already interests us. Learning something new or strange must light up a particular part of our brains connected to pleasure. See, kids? Learning IS fun.

Anyway, I’m a sucker for surprising tidbits about any category of comestible, so for your reading pleasure (or, more likely, my own) I’ve assembled several about one of my favorite categories of food: fruit! Fruit is such a commonplace thing in our edible lexicon, but ACTUALLY it holds a ton of strange secrets. Therefore, I give you..

11 Weird Facts About Fruit

1. Kiwi isn’t originally from New Zealand or Australia. This fruit was originally grown in China and was known as the Chinese gooseberry until 1959.

2. Many people assume jackfruit is the world’s largest fruit. After all, these giant, spiky beasts have been known to kill people when they fall off trees–and they are the largest tree fruit on the planet. But the biggest fruit ever recorded was an Atlantic Giant pumpkin, which weighed in at over a ton. (Though if you ask me, it’s debatable that a pumpkin is a fruit.)

3. What we think of as seeds on the outside of strawberries are actually called achenes. The actual seeds are inside the achenes.

4. While we’re on the subject of strawberries, did you know that, ounce for ounce, they contain more vitamin C than oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes?

5. Passionfruit contains the most fiber of all fruits, with 98% of your daily value in a cup.

6. Tried Sumo oranges yet? If not, get thee to a Whole Foods and load up on these amazingly delicious mandarin oranges! But don’t be shocked when you see their price tag; the reason these oranges are so expensive is that they take up to four years to grow. Plus, in the U.S. they ship from only one facility in California.

7. While bananas get credit for containing lots of potassium, several other fruits actually boast more of this micronutrient. Watermelon, dried apricots, and avocados all have more potassium than bananas.

8. Why does one bad apple spoil the bunch? When apples (and some other fruits) start to rot, they release a gas called ethylene, which can reach–and begin to degrade–other fruits close by.

9. If you’ve ever been warned against eating grapefruit while on certain medications, you should probably listen. Grapefruit can block the action of certain enzymes responsible for metabolizing medication. The result: you end up with more of the medication in your bloodstream (and possibly adverse side effects).

10. Maybe almonds should be classified as fruits! They come from the prunus genus of trees and shrubs, which includes peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots. (Almonds are most closely related to peaches–which could be why the two taste so good together.)

11. Finally, my favorite weird fact about fruit–or is it about a vegetable? In the 1893 case Nix vs. Hedden, the Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes are vegetables, at least for tax purposes. So there you have it, if you ever need to settle the age-old debate.

Why Freelance Nutrition Writing Is Such a Great Career

Are you considering a career in freelance nutrition writing? Check out my post on how to get started, or like A Love Letter to Food on Facebook for more tips!

Need a professional health and wellness writer? Contact me at Sarah@ALoveLetterToFood.com.

If you don’t know me personally, you might not know that the writing I do here on A Love Letter to Food isn’t my only writing. Not by a long shot, actually. I’m a freelance writer–and not in the sense of one-off articles published here or there. Writing is my main gig, my bread and butter, my livelihood. I spend anywhere from 15 to 30 hours a week cranking out content for a number of publications and private clients (and probably would do more if I weren’t also a wife and mom to three school-aged kids).

As a licensed nutritionist, I primarily focus on nutrition, health, and wellness writing. I’ve been fortunate enough to land articles (and sometimes recurring work) with respected sites like Eat This, Not That!, Healthline, Verywell Fit, Greatist, and–coming soon!–Eating Well and Prevention. I also do quite a bit of parenting and spirituality writing for publications like Today’s Parent, Busted Halo, Aleteia, and Amendo…because I’m more than just a nutrition professional. I’m a mom and a Catholic Christian. I figure my writing can reflect all of these facets of my identity. And so far, I absolutely love this career path.

Quite honestly, before now, I’d never had a career I really liked. I’ve been an adjunct German professor, children’s museum tour guide, a secretary, a YMCA customer service rep, a substitute teacher, and–a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away–an ice cream scooper at Cold Stone Creamery. In each of these positions, I was always seeking more: more opportunity, more money, more ice cream (Ha! But seriously.). But now, with my freelance writing career, I find there’s no limit on my achievement or how far I can go.

I’ve written on this blog before about how this nutrition freelance writing journey began. In fact, it’s one of my most popular posts! Check it out for practical tips on getting started. But now I wanted to share some of the reasons this is such a rewarding career. Whether you’re considering dipping a toe or taking the plunge into freelance health and wellness writing, I hope this list offers some encouragement that propels you forward. (Or, if you’re looking for a writer, visit my Work With Me page.)

Here are five things that make freelance nutrition writing an awesome career.

1. Flexibility

Let’s say I want to meet a friend for lunch or need to pick up my kids on an unexpected early release day at school. No problem! The freelance career means that I make my own schedule and can roll with the punches of unexpected schedule changes. (Which we all know happens often, especially with kids.) If need be, I can get my work done at night or on weekends. Heck, as long as I have my laptop and internet access, I could even leave the country. I sure wouldn’t mind tapping away at a window overlooking the Eiffel Tower!

2. Recognition and Purpose

One of the saddest things I ever heard from colleagues when I was interning as a diet tech at a local hospital was, “We don’t actually know if the doctors read our notes.” Wait, what? You don’t even know if all the work you’re doing charting on patients actually does anything for their care? Major NOPE moment for me. (In addition to the fact that the dietetics office adjacent to the cafeteria that smelled like dirty mop water and overcooked tater tots.)

Personally, I want a job that I know actually makes a difference to someone, somewhere. Even though I might not know my readers’ names or how my writing impacts their lives, I believe that creating trustworthy nutrition and health information has a certain nobility and purpose. That means a lot to me.

3. Money

Raise your hand if you like making money. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

The nutrition industry is notorious for grossly underpaying its professionals. I happen to know that several employers in my area start their NDTRs at under $15/hour. And when I worked for a health and wellness non-profit–one with a top-notch national reputation, mind you!–I literally made minimum wage. For most of us trying to make an actual living, this is not sustainable. And as nutrition professionals, our knowledge isn’t worth such low compensation!

That’s why I love freelance writing. In a given month as a writer, I make anywhere from four to seven times what I made for around the same number of hours at a non-profit. Yes, skills and experience matter for scoring higher pay, but I don’t have to attend seminars or trainings or even necessarily obtain my RDN. I just have to research well and communicate well.

4. Independence

I’ll be honest…I never had a boss I loved. Several companies I worked for were oozing with hierarchy, which, when you’re at the bottom, can be pretty discouraging. (Or, to be more blunt: It sucks.) Plus, I’m not crazy about getting micromanaged. (True story: I once had a manager write me a note that said, “Write a note that says…” and then wrote the entire thing herself.) But I really don’t mind working for myself!

As a freelancer, I can pitch whatever publications I have the guts to approach, set my own hours (see #1, Flexibility), and go after as much or as little work as I like. I work in tandem with clients and editors, but I’m in charge of my own career.

5. Minimal Hassle

Long commute? Mandatory meetings? Dress code? Nope, nope, and nope. There are definitely some things I miss about working in an office setting with fellow co-workers, but I sure do love not having to deal with a lot of the hassle.

If you’re a dietitian or diet tech, I’d be willing to bet you face another hassle: wondering whether your patients or clients actually listen to you. Your training qualifies you to be an expert on all things diet-related, but is that high-cholesterol patient really going to take your advice and stop eating burgers and fries five days a week? Maybe, maybe not.

The beauty of putting your writing out into the universe is knowing that, very likely, you won’t get pushback about it. You won’t have to hound anyone about counting their carbs or cutting back on sodium. You’re simply creating solid health information–and you can feel good about that. Rest assured that plenty of eyeballs will see your work. Whether or not the owners of those eyeballs take your good advice and translate it into practical change isn’t up to you. For me, that’s a relief. People change on their own timeline, not mine.

Convinced yet that freelance nutrition writing is a great career? I wish you all the best! Don’t forget to check out my post on how to get started with freelance health and wellness writing, or like A Love Letter to Food on Facebook for more tips!

If you need a freelance nutrition, health, wellness, or parenting writer, I’d love to work with you! Email me at Sarah@ALoveLetterToFood.com.

12 Healthy (And Cheap!) Trader Joe’s Products I Can’t Live Without

If you ask me, there’s one grocery store that trumps all the rest, where I’d willingly shop to the end of my days: Trader Joe’s. I firmly believe that this unique chain has excellent business practices, amazing products, and some of the smartest marketing on the planet. (Ever heard the Freakonomics podcast about how Trader Joe’s should run the country? Pretty compelling stuff.) My long-term plan, after retiring from my writing career, is to trade in my laptop for a Hawaiian shirt to become a TJ’s checker. I imagine spending my twilight years preparing samples of plantain chips and using my employee discount to purchase copious amounts of Neapolitan Joe-Joes. (I hear they pay pretty well, too!)

As both a nutritionist and a long-time Trader Joe’s shopper, however, I’m familiar with the common criticism that too many of the store’s products are highly processed. While it’s true that TJ’s carries plenty of not-Whole Foods (badum ching!), I’ve found that it’s entirely possible to find lots of healthy, minimally processed products–and I’m happy to share some of my favorites!

Here are 12 TJ’s products I buy time and again. They’re not only healthy, but (at least where I live) significantly cheaper than their counterparts at big-box grocery stores. Happy shopping!

1. Les Salades du Midi Fresh Spinach

Sure, you could buy fresh spinach just about anywhere, but I especially like getting mine from Trader Joe’s for a couple of reasons: 1. At 10 ounces, the bag is enormous and lasts a good two weeks, and 2. It’s consistently inexpensive. I almost always have a bag of Les Salads du Midi in my fridge.

2. Multigrain Blend With Vegetables

You’ll spot this one in the frozen section. Read the ingredients and you’ll find it’s literally just a mix of barley, spelt, and rice with veggies, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pro tip: heat in a saucepan with some extra olive oil and lemon juice until warm, then add crumbled feta for an easy, healthy side dish to go with meat or fish.

3. Creamy Salted Peanut Butter

If your peanut butter has any ingredients besides peanuts and salt, that’s a problem. Added sugars are oils are NOT necessary in peanut butter–which is why I dig TJ’s very basic two-ingredient recipe.

4. Spicy Lentil Wrap

Need a quick, healthy lunch? This spicy lentil wrap is plant-based with mega-high fiber. Accompanied by a dippable tahini sauce, it makes a super convenient take-along meal. I eat half of it one day and half the next to stretch the veggie goodness over two lunches.

5. Soft 10-Grain Bread

For as simple as bread is to make–flour, yeast, water–it’s amazing how difficult it can be to find a commercially made variety that doesn’t contain at least a dozen suspicious ingredients. But TJ’s 10-Grain Bread’s ingredient list is long for all the right reasons: 10 whole grains!

6. Frozen Fruit

Frozen fruit is often harvested at the peak of freshness, so when strawberries or mango aren’t in season, you’ll probably do better to buy them frozen than fresh. Trader Joe’s sizable frozen fruit section typically offers competitive prices and a broad selection. I stock my freezer with berries and tropical fruits to use in smoothies, oatmeal, and muffins.

7. Roasted Red Peppers

Canned and jarred veggies don’t have to be boring or gross (unless we’re talking about canned beets which are, by definition, boring AND gross). Roasted red (or yellow!) peppers are an awesome staple to add flavor and interest to recipes. Toss them in a salad, layer them into a dip, or whip them up in a soup.

8. Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

For pizza night, you could go through the rigamarole of making your own pizza dough from scratch (and good for you if you do)–but to save time, TJ’s whole wheat pizza dough sure is a sweet whole wheat convenience.

9. 2% Greek Yogurt

Hellooooo, probiotics! Greek yogurt is a great source of good gut bugs, calcium, and protein. I eat it almost every day in some form or another and I’m always happy to use TJ’s 2% variety for a few less calories than the whole milk kind.

10. Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Tomatoes are high in vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene, so they’re certainly a valuable fruit-slash-vegetable to include in your diet. But is there really any reason to pay $5-plus buy them sun-dried? Not when you have a Trader Joe’s close by! Even when a recipe calls for sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, I simply drizzle some olive oil over these lovelies and let them sit in a jar for awhile. Try them in these dinner recipes.

11. Cilantro Jalapeño Hummus

You’re gonna need to like spicy to like Trader Joe’s Cilantro Jalapeño Hummus. This creamy dip definitely has a kick. With a garbanzo bean base and generous amounts of jalapeño, garlic, and cilantro, it’s a healthy alternative to heavier dips. I could eat it by the spoonful, but you’ll probably want to spread it on crackers or crudités.

12. Lentil Soup With Ancient Grains

Can we talk lentils one more time? This tomato-y lentil soup with ancient grains may be rather high in sodium (as are most soups, let’s be honest) but its ingredients are simple and nutritious: lentils, veggies, grains, and a smattering of spices. All at just 200 calories per serving.

Flax Seed Meal

I’m late to jump on the flaxseed meal bandwagon, and now I can’t get enough. These ground seeds are full of ALA omega-3 fatty acids. Try them in these Blueberry Flax Seed Muffins!

What’s your favorite healthy Trader Joe’s product? Tell me in the comments!

My Takeaways From the 2019 Today’s Dietitian Symposium

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the 2019 Today’s Dietitian Symposium just a quick drive away from home in Scottsdale, AZ. If you aren’t familiar with Today’s Dietitian, it’s a top-notch print magazine and online publication nutrition professionals look to for reliable, evidence-based health and nutrition information. In addition to their publications, the brand offers an annual roaming conference in May. This was my first time attending, and I learned a ton!

Although I’m not a dietitian (and I was literally the only dietetic technician I saw at the conference–ha!) I didn’t feel out of place. As a health and wellness freelance writer, I try to stay pretty hip to the latest research and trends. The sessions felt digestible, and, for the most part, very helpful.

Looking out at the room during a session

I shared a bit on my social media channels about what I learned at the symposium, but wanted to go more in-depth here on the blog. Here are four of my top takeaways from the two-and-a-half days:

1. Now is a great (but also super challenging) time to be a nutrition professional

Nutrition is sexy! People care so much these days about what they do and don’t eat. The public is seeking diet advice under every rock and behind every tree (and definitely on every shiny website and image-conscious Instagram post). Because of this uptick in interest, now is an awesome time to work in nutrition. As I’ve found in my own brief career, there are innumerable opportunities for credentialed professionals. The conference displayed the immense variety of the nutrition working world.

On the other hand, it also highlighted some of the ways being a dietitian (or NDTR like me) is more difficult now than ever. At the moment, there’s a MAJOR emotional component to people’s beliefs about food… so although, as scientifically trained nutrition professionals, we might emphasize our credibility by pointing to our degrees and the hard evidence behind our advice, this isn’t necessarily what the public wants. We’re living in an era of hashtags and sound bytes, not deep analysis or thoughtful reflection. It can be really tough to make the truth about nutrition compelling to the average consumer.

Secondly, in this age of social connectedness, with a million platforms to join and products to promote, it can feel like we have to be all things to all people. Be an influencer! Build your Twitter following! Secure brand deals! All while keeping up with the studies, determining your audience, and figuring out how much to charge for your services (oh, and maintaining your own svelte figure, because who wants to listen to an overweight dietitian?). Anybody stressed yet?

2. Networking is worth it — and it’s a pretty small world

One of my biggest goals for attending the conference was to meet and mingle with fellow nutritionistas. Mission accomplished! Despite my natural introversion, I went bold with introducing myself to strangers–and often found the person I had just said hello to was a mover and shaker I’d heard of before (hashtag #starstruck). I assembled a dozen business cards from other RDs over the course of the conference and was not shy about putting my own out there, either, like…

Not only was it cool to rub shoulders with some big names in the industry, it was also just great to sit down and chat with like-minded nutrition professionals. We’re not that big a club, so we get pretty excited when we meet.

3. Nutrition science has come a long way — but we still have further to go

Justified or not, nutrition science gets a bad rap for constantly changing. “First they said eggs were bad, then they were good, now they’re bad again! What can you even believe?” goes the common criticism. (As Michael Pollan famously said, “Nutrition science is where surgery was in about 1650–you know, really interesting and promising, but would you want to have them operate on you yet?”) But I felt impressed at the TD Symposium with how cohesive most of the messaging from dietitians actually is.

We know a lot of things for sure: Overconsumption is a problem in this country. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains should be emphasized, no matter who you are (almost). Fad diets are usually a bad idea. Gluten and dairy are not the enemy. Overall, I think we’re getting a handle on a lot of tricky topics.

I will tell you, though–no joke–I sat in on concurrent sessions that appeared to give conflicting advice about carbohydrates and fats. The first presenter seemed to be saying we should embrace low-carb diets to treat obesity and heart disease. The second said we still need to focus on limiting fat (especially saturated fat). In the presenters’ defense, they both said a lot had to do with the quality of carbs and fats…but still.

4. Nutrition professionals need to be kind, flexible, open-minded, and show our love of food!

Dietitians and NDTRs are competing with a lot of other (sometimes very loud) voices when it comes to giving the public sound, evidence-based nutrition counsel. To stay relevant, we have our work cut out for us. Some of the best advice I heard at the Today’s Dietitian Symposium was about the soft skills side of being a nutrition professional.

Gone are the days of beating people over the head about diet changes. It doesn’t work (and it’s really not fun for anyone). We have to approach clients/patients/friends/readers with kindness, flexibility, and open-mindedness. For eating, one size definitely does NOT fit all. How can we help people to enjoy their food while making positive changes? How can we “liberalize” instead of restrict? I think these are extremely important questions everyone working in nutrition should consider.

Finally, the best approach to food and diet is FUN! I absolutely love the concept emphasized at the conference that dietitians and DTRs need to show people how much we freaking love to eat. (I mean, I hope for me it’s obvious, given the name of this website…) Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s our job to help others as a cheerleader and fellow lover of food.

So thanks, Today’s Dietitian 2019 for an informative, interesting conference! Hope I can make it next year in Savannah, GA!

7 Creative Ways to Use Dried Fruit

When you think of dried fruit, what comes to mind? “Part of a gift basket we always give Grandpa for his birthday”? “A grab-and-go snack for hiking”? “Shriveled excuse for real fruit”?

Historically, I was never too impressed with dried fruit. (Though, one thing it has going for it is that, here in the States, we don’t call it “desiccated fruit” like I’ve seen in the UK. Sounds more like roadkill than a tasty treat.) Part of my issue was that I always believed it to be less nutritious than regular fruit. With the water drawn out of it, I figured, you get none of the digestion-promoting, skin plumping, all-around body-boosting hydration you would from regular fruit.

But come to find out, just because water is removed doesn’t mean all nutrients have left the building. Dried fruit retains (almost all) its antioxidants, micronutrients, and fiber—more, in fact, per weight, than fresh fruit. So, in one sense, dried fruit could be considered more nutritious than fresh.

Still…even though it turns out dried fruit is actually healthy, I never knew what to do with it. Eating it plain always did remind me a bit too much of Grandpa’s annual fruit basket birthday gift, and not in the most appealing way. So when the friendly folks at Bare Snacks reached out to see if I’d like to try a smattering of their dried fruit and veggie products, I was intrigued. Were there more creative ways to use dried fruits and veggies I just hadn’t thought of yet?

The short answer: Yes!

The bountiful sample Bare sent over invited a whole new world of experimentation with dried produce. The last month or so has been a fun process of discovering the many delightful uses of dried strawberries, apples, bananas, coconut, pineapple, and more.

Here are seven creative (and tasty) ways to reap the health benefits of dried fruit:

1. Make a popcorn trail mix.


Call me crazy (it’s okay, my family does anyway) but I sometimes think popcorn could use a little boost. That’s why I so enjoyed adding dried strawberries and bananas—and chocolate chips, obvs—to this tasty popcorn trail mix. The sky’s the limit for what kind of dried fruit you’d like to mix in for a unique movie night snack.

2. Top cereal with it.

What’s the difference between cereal you see in commercials and the cereal that actually comes out of the box? FRUIT, baby.

(Everyone knows Crispix doesn’t come with raspberries, right?)

Add a little luxury to your breakfast bowl by sprinkling it with dried berries. You might even feel like you’re in a classic, overly enthusiastic 80’s cereal commercial.

3. Make a fruity PB-graham cracker snack.

Peanut butter graham crackers are one of my go-tos for an afternoon snack. Adding dried strawberries and apples makes them a bit more interesting (and tangy! and nutritious!).

4. Make granola or oatmeal with it.

For me, breakfast is the toughest meal of the day to include fruits and veggies in. I honestly have to “trick” myself a lot of the time by incorporating them into the package of whatever I’d choose anyway, like a baked oatmeal or bowl of granola. Try using dried apples in place of fresh in this Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal, or pump up the nutrition in Vanilla Chai Granola by adding dried coconut or mango to the mix.

5. Use it in a yogurt parfait.

Don’t have time to make homemade granola to put in a parfait to start your day? No worries. Simply use dried fruit all by its lonesome. You’ll still get a pleasing crunch mixed in with smooth and creamy yogurt.

6. Put it in cookies.

There’s SO much more to the world of dried fruit in cookies than slipping some Craisins into your Toll House recipe. Jazz up your cookie game (and add some fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K, among others) with the dried apricots, figs, and cherries in Ina Garten’s nearly all five-star-reviewed Fruitcake Cookies.

Alllllll the jazz hands for jazzed-up cookies.

7. Use it as an ice cream topping.

Don’t worry, I don’t mean ruining perfectly good Oreo ice cream with dried apricots or some such nonsense. I mean enhancing ice cream with a similarly-flavored dried fruit, like adding some dried coconut and pineapple bits to a bowl of piña colada gelato. Instant added fiber and nutrients plus added yummy taste!

What’s YOUR favorite way to eat dried fruit?