Tag: health

Are you a Cereal Pro?

Cereal still remains one of the most popular breakfast (or snack) options across all age groups. In fact it is estimated that 50% of Americans eat cereal for breakfast daily.

After milk and carbonated beverages, breakfast cereal is the third most popular item sold in grocery stores. With hundreds of options to choose from, it can sometimes be overwhelming to select the right variety for your health goals.
Here are some helpful pointers to assist you the next time you hit the cereal aisle:
  1. Read the food label! The food label provides you with all the pertinent nutrient and ingredient information needed to determine whether a product is in fact healthy.
  2. Choose whole grain options. To know if a product is made with whole grains check the package for a) the words “100% whole grain” or b) the ingredient list to see if the first one listed is: whole wheat flour, stone wheat, durum wheat, or wheat flour. If you see “enriched white flour” the product is a refined (less healthy) grain.
  3. Go for the fiber. Select a cereal that provides 3 grams or more of fiber per serving.
  4. Be careful of the sugar. The cereal industry in the U.S. uses over 882 million pounds of sugar per year in its production! Aside from weight gain, added sugar contributes to many chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. To check for grams of added sugar, look under “total sugar” on the food label. For example, the label will read 30 grams of total sugar, 20 grams of added sugar. That means 20/30 grams of sugar were added by the food company. Don’t be fooled by the bright packaging or your favorite cereal mascots. The sugar is everywhere!
Healthier cereal options provide important key nutrients such as fiber and B vitamins. However, like any food, it is very important to watch portion sizes. Typically, 1 serving of dry cereal = 1 cup.
Now you are ready to take on the cereal aisle like a pro! Which cereal do you like to eat?

Food Spotlight: Artichokes

Not only do artichokes make such beautiful centerpieces with their unique texture and flower-shape, but they also provide several health benefits.
History: Artichokes are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world. They originate from the Mediterranean and Northern African regions and have been harvested since the 5th century BC. It takes 6 months for the buds to be ready to eat, however they can be harvested as many as 30 times a season, with their peak season being in both the Spring and Fall.
Nutrition Profile: Artichokes are high in fiber and are loaded with vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folate, phosphorus, and magnesium. In fact, a medium artichoke contains almost 7 grams of fiber, which is a whopping 23-28% of the reference daily intake (RDI). They are one of the richest sources of antioxidants, which is particularly important with both corona virus and flu season upon us. Additionally, artichokes have been shown to: reduce both unhealthy (LDL) and total cholesterol, increase good (HDL) cholesterol, lower blood pressure for those with pre-existing elevated levels, and improve digestive issues such as bloating flatulence, and constipation.
How to Eat: Artichokes can be eaten both warm or cold. The heart, which is fully edible, is a culinary delicacy and is known for its smooth and nutlike flavor. The smaller heads, or buds, are usually the most tender and are typically served as a warm vegetable with a sauce or as a cold salad or appetizer. They can be steamed whole, cooked in a microwave, baked, roasted, grilled, or sautéed.
Additional Tips: Artichokes are typically served with butter, cream, or mayo-based sauces. Because these options are high in saturated fat, be mindful of portion sizes. For healthier options, prepare a sauce with: nonfat, plain Greek yogurt, lemon juice, dijon mustard, garlic powder, and a pinch of salt or tahini with lemon, garlic, and salt.

Reading Does the Mind & Body Good

“Some books leave us free and some books make us free.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
We all need a much needed escape from reality right now so why not use the gloomy and cold wintery days to curl up on the couch with a good book.
Reading helps relax the body by lowering the heart rate and easing tension in your muscles. Not to mention, it helps transport us to an alternate world for a temporary time making us forget about everything that is going on. A 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading reduces stress by up to 68%, which is a more effective method for reducing stress compared to listening to music or doing art.
With endless options, stay at home orders, and cold weather, why not pass the time with a good book or two. For the ultimate cozy experience, grab a blanket, make a warm beverage, and light a candle.
Comment below with your book recommendations.

Food Spotlight: Pears

With over 10 varieties to choose from in the U.S. and 3,000 varieties worldwide, pears are a perfect seasonal fruit for this time of year. Their crisp, soft texture and sweet taste make them versatile in many dishes.
History: The common pear is probably of European origin and has been cultivated since ancient times. The pear was introduced into the New World by Europeans as soon as the colonies were established.
Nutrition Profile: Pears are roughly 100 calories each and provide fiber, Vitamins C, K, potassium, copper and tons of antioxidants. One medium-sized pear provides 22% of your daily fiber needs. Pears contain a soluble fiber called pectin, which is a prebiotic that nourishes gut bacteria and improves gut health. Because they have a high water content, they also help keep stools soft while flush toxins from the digestive system. Pears, particularly the skin, contain a variety of polyphenols, which help fight against oxidative or cellular stress inside the body. Vitamins C, K, copper, and copper help reduce inflammation and protect against certain diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure, assists with muscle contraction, and promotes kidney function.
Additional Tips: Since several health benefits are found in the skin, so be sure to include the skin in your eating and preparation methods.
Healthy Recipe Ideas: They can be eaten on their own, cut up onto a salad, made into a sauce, jam, or spread, baked into a dessert, mixed in with alcoholic drinks, topped onto a crostini, or roasted with vegetables. Popular cooking methods include roasting and poaching. They pair well with chicken, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, cheeses like Gouda and brie, and ingredients like lemon and chocolate.

Food Spotlight: Cranberries

Cranberries are often known for being made into sauces and juices, but in reality fresh cranberries are extremely tart and are nowhere close to the sugary levels you may be familiar with.  
 
History: Cranberries are one of the few fruits native to the swamps of northeastern North America. Native Americans used them as a staple beginning in the 1550s. By the 1620, the Pilgrims learned from the Native Americans how to use cranberries in their cooking. They are now one of the many symbols of the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.  
 
Nutrition Profile: Cranberries are low in calories and are packed with fiber, Vitamin C, and tons of antioxidants. With both corona virus and flu season upon us, cranberries are great to incorporate into your diet to help support your immune system. If you are prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs), 100% cranberry juice can help reduce your risk and serve as a natural way to reduce severity of symptoms. Additionally, cranberries have been shown to prevent stomach cancer and ulcers, reduce unhealthy (LDL) cholesterol, increase good (HDL) cholesterol, and promote heart health.   
 
Additional Tips: When drinking juice, only drink 100% Cranberry Juice and do not have >8 fl oz. All other cranberry juice products are simply cocktails, blends, or only contain 10% juice. The rest is plain old sugar! Cranberry products contain high amounts of oxalates, so for those prone to kidney stones, be mindful of portion sizes.
 
Healthy Recipe Ideas: Add sliced raw cranberries to a spinach salad. mix them with vanilla yogurt, use them to top sirloin steak, salmon, or chicken, and use them as a dessert topping for angel food cake with cool whip.

Dark Chocolate Covered Banana Coins

Cool off with a sweet treat that won’t break the calorie bank. Introducing: Dark Chocolate Covered Banana Coins.

Fruit is a much healthier alternative to ice cream, popsicles, and other high calorie, high sugar frozen desserts. Fruit provides natural sugar, helping to satisfy your sweet tooth, while also supplying many essential vitamins and minerals. Make it frozen fruit, and now you really have something to cool off with.
 
Bananas provide potassium and fiber while dark chocolate is an antioxidant and contains flavanols, which help reduce blood pressure, improve blood flow to the heart, prevent blood clots, and promote overall heart health. You can easily swap out the banana for strawberries or pineapple or prepare this recipe using a combination of all three fruits. This recipe is super easy to make and is one the entire family will enjoy both making and eating.
 
Moderation is key with sweet treats, even healthier alternatives. Be sure to enjoy these delicious frozen desserts in a small but satisfying amount. 1 serving size = 4 pieces.
 
Ingredients:
  • 2 ripe but firm bananas (peeled)
  • 2 cups of dark chocolate chips
  • 4 Tbsp vegetable oil
Directions:
1. Slice the banana into 1 inch thick coins. Line a tray with non-stick parchment or wax paper and lay the slices evenly onto the tray. Place the tray in the freezer for about 1 hour until the bananas are frozen solid.
2. Place the dark chocolate chips and vegetable oil in either a small microwave safe bowl or glass measuring cup. Microwave for 30 second increments, stirring each time. Repeat this process until the chocolate is melted down and smooth. Set the chocolate aside to cool (do not place in the refrigerator).
3. Take the bananas out of the freezer. Set each banana slice onto a fork and, using a spoon, drizzle the cooled dark chocolate onto each side. Ensure the chocolate is coated evenly on all sides. Let any excess chocolate drip off before setting the slice down on parchment or waxed paper. Immediately put the slices back in the freezer and freeze for an additional 30 minutes until the chocolate sets.
4. Enjoy some now or store in an airtight container. Slices can last up to a week.

Fill your Day with More Laughter

You may have heard the expression, “laughter is the best medicine” and this statement could not be more true! Not only is laughter free and accessible, but did you know it has numerous physical and mental health benefits? 

Laughter is truly the best form of therapy for it helps relieve stress, release anger, sadness, and tension, increase relaxation, and improve your overall mood. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which are chemicals released by the brain to boost pleasure and make you feel great. It also reduces cortisol, which has several health implications. Laughter is a particularly helpful tool for those who suffer from depression and anxiety and need a quick, free, and drug-free way to relieve symptoms.

When you laugh, there is an increase in oxygen, which helps stimulate your heart, lungs, and muscles. This effect causes an increase in circulation followed by the relaxation of muscles and a decrease in blood pressure. What you are left with is decreased muscle tension, physical stress, and body pain. A healthy dose of laughter can actually leave your muscles relaxed for a whole 45 minutes! This is certainly more beneficial than spending time in a jacuzzi or sauna.   

Didn’t have time to exercise today? That’s okay, because laughing is actually a great abdominal and cardio workout. A study found that you can burn approximately 40 calories in a 10-15 minute bout of laughter. When you laugh, you are contracting your abdominal muscles, helping to strengthen your core. Additionally, laughing increases your heart rate and causes the lungs to draw in oxygen. Have you ever felt out of breath after a good, hearty laugh? Much like running, laughing produces a similar cardio response. While laughing should not replace regular physical activity, it certainly is a powerful enhancement to your exercise efforts.   

Immunity is a hot topic right now and laughter can actually help boost your immune system. It does so by decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. Positive thoughts produced by laughter release neuropeptides that can help fight against free radicals and other stressors of the cells and tissues.

It is no secret that laughter has several health benefits. But what is most important is that laughing helps us live a longer, more fulfilling, and happier life. We could all use a little extra laughter in our lives, especially now. It is time to turn that frown upside down and get your laughter on. Trust me, your body and mind will thank you later.

How to Create the Perfect Health Goals

Whether it is your career, finances, relationship status, health, or your life in general, goals are an important tool for helping guide you in a particular direction.

Goals serve as a blueprint for action and set standards for improvement. They help shape the purpose for what it is that you are trying to achieve and help you stay motivated and energized.

There are two types of goals: short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals are something you want to achieve in the near future (anywhere from tomorrow up to 3 years). Long-term goals focus on the bigger picture and require more planning for the future. Typically, long-term goals include those you hope to achieve in a 3-5 year time span, while short-term goals serve as the stepping stones to get there.

When creating any type of goal, it is important to ensure they follow the S.M.A.R.T parameters:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant/Realistic
  • Timely

By far, January 1st is the most infamous time for setting goals. However, the goal setting process is ongoing and ever changing, much like how life is in general. With 2020 over halfway done, why not take the midyear mark to reevaluate your old ones and/or create new ones.

In order to help you create the perfect short-term and long-term health goals, I will be walking you through each S.M.A.R.T component to help make your health goals a reality.

The first step in creating the perfect S.M.A.R.T goal is to make it SPECIFIC.
Creating a goal of “I want to lose weight,” “I want to be healthy,” “I want to make more money,” “I want to travel more,” or “I want to exercise more” are very broad statements. I like to refer to these as blanket statements, rather than directional statements.
If your goals are too general, how will you know how to accomplish them? What does “healthy,” “money,” “travel,” and “exercise” truly mean?
When working towards creating specific goals, try and answer the 5 w’s: who, what, where, when, and why:
  • Who: Who is involved in this goal?
  • What: What do I want to accomplish?
  • Where: Where is this goal to be achieved?
  • When: When do I want to achieve this goal?
  • Why: Why do I want to achieve this goal?
Let’s practice making our examples above more specific:
  • “I want to lose weight” > “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 6 months”
  • “I want to be healthy” > “I want to discontinue my 2 medications for high blood pressure”
  • “I want to make more money” > “I want to make a salary of $75,000 in 2020”
  • “I want to travel more” > “I want to travel to 3 new countries in Europe in 2020”
  • “I want to exercise more” > “I want to walk 30 minutes/day, 5 times/week”
Now it is your turn. Write down at least three health goals (either long-term or short-term) using the criteria for “specific” mentioned above.
The second step in creating the perfect S.M.A.R.T goal is to make it MEASURABLE.
Measurable means establishing a concrete timeline for assessing progress. A measurable goal should address questions such as: How much? How many? How will I know when it is accomplished?
By defining the metrics that you need to determine whether you meet the goal, you will be able to make the goal more tangible.
Let’s take a look at the examples from yesterday. Notice they all contain some quantifiable number or quantity that allows us to assess progress (ex. 10, 2, $75,00, 3, 30 minutes):
  • “I want to lose weight” > “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 6 months”
  • “I want to be healthy” > “I want to discontinue my 2 medications for high blood pressure”
  • “I want to make more money” > “I want to make a salary of $75,000 in 2020”
  • “I want to travel more” > “I want to travel to 3 new countries in Europe in 2020”
  • “I want to exercise more” > “I want to walk 30 minutes/day, 5 times/week”
Looking at your own health goals, do they all include something quantifiable? If not, edit them to ensure they meet the “measurable” criteria mentioned above.
The third step in creating the perfect S.M.A.R.T goal is to make it ATTAINABLE.
By making a goal attainable, you can determine what resources, skills, or tools you need to achieve the goal.
For example, if you have a goal to: “Go to the gym 3 days/week for 1 hour” what resources would you need to achieve this?
  • Answer: a gym membership, time to commute to/from the gym, sturdy tennis shoes, and workout clothes. If times are financially tough right now and you can’t afford a gym membership AND/OR if you are super busy and cannot set aside 1 hour/day plus driving time to go to and from the gym, this goal would not be attainable.
Instead, I would change the goal above to say: “Walk briskly for 30 minutes/day, 5 days/week.” By changing the words to accommodate the resources you actually have, you will make the goal more achievable. Now the resources you would need to make this goal a reality would be: sturdy tennis shoes, workout clothes, an outdoor walking space, and a 30-minute time commitment.
Let’s practice with one more example. The goal is: “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 6 months.” What resources will you need to achieve this? Answer: a scale to track weight loss, a meal tracking app, knowledge of the number of total daily calories you need for weight loss, knowledge of portion sizes, basic cooking skills, and motivation. If you lack some or most of these resources, then this goal would be unattainable.
Now it is time to look at the health goals you have written down. Do you have the resources needed to achieve these goals? If not, edit them to ensure they meet the “attainable” criteria mentioned above.

The fourth step in creating the perfect S.M.A.R.T goal is to make it RELEVANT.
Oftentimes the “R” can be interchangeable with “realistic.” Making a goal realistic determines whether you are willing & able to achieve something. Relevance means making the goal meaningful to you.
Let’s take a look at how to make goals both relevant and realistic.
  • If you have a goal, “I want to lose 10 pounds in 1 month” is this truly realistic? It can be for those who need to lose a significant amount of weight to begin with, however even ten pounds in 30 days is stretching it. Instead, if you are only slighter over your goal weight, you can change it to, “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 5 months.” This would be 2 pounds/month, which would be much more doable, achievable, and realistic.
  • If you have a goal, “I want to run 30 minutes/day, 5 days/week” but do not enjoy running would this be relevant or realistic to achieve? The answer is no it wouldn’t. Instead change the activity of running to something you actually enjoy doing such as: swimming, biking, walking, hiking, or dance, etc. This way you are more likely to be successful in achieving a goal that is enjoyable to you.
  • If you have a goal, “I want to travel to 3 new countries in Europe in 2020,” however flights are restricted due to Covid-19, is this goal realistic? It may be relevant to your needs, but it is not realistic. Instead, the goal can be changed to, “I want to travel to 3 new places in my home state by December 2020.” This goal may be more doable since it involves closer, less restricted travel.
Now is the time in the goal writing process to be the most honest with yourself in what you are hoping to achieve. In all of these examples, you can see that by changing goals to reflect your interests, needs, and enjoyment, you will enhance the goal’s likelihood of success. Take a look at your goals thus far. If they don’t seem realistic and relevant, edit them to ensure they meet the criteria mentioned above.

The fifth and final step in creating the perfect S.M.A.R.T goal is to make it TIMELY.
The purpose of putting a time constraint on a goal is to create a sense of urgency. Without a time constraint or deadline, it may be more difficult to find the motivation to work towards that goal. You always want to ensure that the deadlines you attach are realistic, meaning that they are not fast approaching nor too far away.
Let’s go back to our original examples: “I want to lose weight,” “I want to be healthy,” “I want to make more money,” “I want to travel more,” and “I want to exercise more.” Notice none of these goals have a time-frame attached. For example, how long do you want to give yourself to reach your goal weight? When do you plan to go off your medications? When do you want to make more money (1 month, 1 year, 5 years)? When do you plan to travel more (by the next month, 1 year, 5 years)? When do you plan on starting an exercise program? Without urgency, you can create a weight loss or fitness goal that could literally be for 10 years from now. On the flip side, you could create a weight loss goal of 30 days and that may be highly unrealistic.
Taking the examples above, let’s practice making them timely:
  • “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 6 months or by December 2020”
  • “I want to discontinue my 2 medications for high blood pressure in the next 6 months or by December 2020″
  • “I want to make a salary of $75,000 by March 2021”
  • “I want to travel to 3 new countries in Europe by December 2021”
  • “I want to walk 30 minutes/day, 5 times/week”
All of these goals now have a realistic time-frame attached, so that you can spark up motivation as well as more accurately measure your progress towards them.
Looking at your own goals, ensure they each have a time-frame attached, which meets the criteria mentioned above.