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Let’s Talk about Bread…

One of the questions I get from my clients most often is “what about bread?”. There is a lot of confusion about bread today thanks to the diet crazes of the late 90s/early 00s like South Beach and Atkins and the current keto diet rage. Many people think that bread makes you fat and that it is bad for you while others prefer to stick with a reduced calorie bread. Really, it seems everyone has an opinion on bread. So in this post, I’m hoping to answer your bread questions.

Do I need to stop eating bread?

The short answer is no. As a certified health coach, I really do not advocate for any diet that completely eliminates a healthy food group, with obvious exceptions being if you have a food intolerance or allergy or are trying to determine a food intolerance. What I do advocate for is balance and making the right choices.

Whole grains play a very important role in our diet. They are a good source of fiber and nutrients and they support our heart health. So my answer is no, you should not completely cut bread out of your diet.

How do I choose the right bread to eat?

To start, white bread is a no-no right out of the gate. White bread is over processed and essentially devoid of any nutritional benefit. So step number 1 is select a whole grain bread.

Here’s where we get into food labeling laws: just because a bread package says “whole grain” doesn’t make it so and doesn’t make it healthy. I’ve actually seen a package of white bread labeled “whole grain white bread” which isn’t even possible. It’s an oxymoron.

So, when you’re bread shopping, flip that package over to the nutrition facts side and this is what you want to look for: 3-5-3. At least 3 grams of protein, less than 5 grams of sugar, and at least 3 grams of fiber. If you can find even more fiber and protein, even better.

How much bread should I eat?

Not all calories are created equal, but bread can be a very calorie-dense food adding up to just too much. Depending on the bread you choose, you could be adding over 200 calories to a meal just by adding two slices of bread. I recommend incorporating just one slice of bread with a meal to avoid overdoing it. If you want to have a full sandwich, be cognizant of how many calories are adding up with that filling or opt for something like whole grain pita or flatbread.

The majority of what you should be eating every day is plants and lean proteins. Whole grains should be a complement to that.

What bread do you recommend?

I am a big fan of sprouted whole grain breads. The process of sprouting the grains used to make the bread increases the amount of certain nutrients in them. Sprouted grain breads also contain fewer carbohydrates and more protein than non-sprouted bread. Those who are sensitive to gluten may also find that they have an easier time with sprouted grains as they contain less gluten and more soluble fiber than non-sprouted grains.

There are 2 brands of sprouted whole grain bread that I recommend. The first is Ezekiel and I like the 7 Sprouted Grains Variety (found at Market Basket and Whole Foods). It contains 3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and just 1 gram of sugar and one slice contains 80 calories. The texture and density of Ezekiel bread can be a bit tough, especially if you are used to eating a white or lighter bread. If that’s the case, then you might like Mack’s Flax Bread from Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery (found at Whole Foods and slightly cheaper than Ezekiel) . This variety clocks in at 5 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, and 1 gram of sugar and contains 110 calories per slice. The slices of this bread are thicker and fluffier than those of Ezekiel, but are more caloric. Another option that I like though don’t recommend as highly is the Trader Joe’s generic sprouted grain bread. It’s cheaper and also has a lighter texture than Ezekiel bread but it only contains 2 grams of fiber per slice though it has 5 grams of protein.

Holiday Party Health Tips

Holiday parties can end in regret for a number of reasons, overindulgence very often being top amongst them. Overindulgence once in a while isn’t really a problem, but during the holiday season when parties are often at least a weekly occurrence, those extra treats can really add up and derail your weight management goals. So how can you enjoy your holiday parties without overdoing it?

Plan Ahead

Staying on track through the holidays requires advanced planning. Before you head out to a party, or to your office break room for that matter, I recommend making a deal with yourself. What are you going to drink? How many drinks? What snacks are you really looking forward to enjoying? Pick one or two you will allow yourself to have and then switch to healthy options. By doing this, you are starting off with a game plan right out of the gate with clear limits to follow. You also get to start off your night with enjoyment without overdoing it so you will feel even better afterwards.

Accountability

Very often, these plans will require you to be your own accountability partner, but you may be able to recruit your partner or friend to hold you accountable to sticking to your plan. If you know yourself and know you are the type who needs that external accountability (and there is nothing wrong with that!) then make sure that your accountability person is someone you trust, someone you know will hold you accountable, and that it is not a relationship that could suffer as a result of your accountability arrangement.

Know Yourself and Strategize

Do you struggle with self-control? Are you a mindless eater? Are you easily swayed by others? It’s really important that you know yourself – your strengths and your weaknesses.

If you know that you like to pick at foods or are a mindless eater, then choose a place away from the food table to station yourself to socialize. When you get food, portion out what you want onto a plate, even if it’s chips and dip, and walk away. Give yourself some time before returning for the table for more. Very often, if you distract yourself with socializing or playing a game, you will forget about that urge to indulge some more. You might also find that you weren’t actually still hungry  – don’t forget that those treats trigger pleasure receptors in your brain that make you want more even if you’re not actually hungry.

If you find that you eat more or drink more in social situations, try to find people to hang out with who are moderate themselves more or maybe aren’t drinkers. Likewise, if you have that one friend who is really not a good influence, ie. “come on! One piece of cake won’t kill you!”, try to avoid one-on-one time with them. You could also try being very honest and up-front with them: “I really am trying very hard to stay on track tonight and your support would mean a lot to me. I really don’t feel like having another piece of cake.”

Stay Hydrated

Making sure you drink plenty of water throughout the gathering is key. Not only will it help pace your drinking, it will also help you control your eating as water can make you feel more full. Drinking water between drinks or plates or even bites can also help slow you down so you can check in with yourself and see if you really want/need more of whatever treat you’re thinking of.

Bring Something Healthy

If it’s a gathering where people are pitching in by bringing different dishes, why not bring something healthy you will want to eat? You might worry that you’re being selfish or will catch some flack for bringing something healthy or that no one will eat it, but I can guarantee there is at least one other person there trying to keep on track as well who will be grateful that you brought it. Plus, you will be guaranteeing yourself a healthy option that you enjoy to focus on after you’ve had your treats.

 

These are health tips from a certified health coach who has had her own struggles with staying on track in the past (spoiler: it’s me) and, while they are helpful, I have to say that you really must be committed and ready to make this holiday season different for them to truly work. Advice is only as useful insofar as you are committed to following it, so that commitment and readiness are critical for the success of any health goals.

So, are you ready to make this holiday season different with balance and commitment and start your New Year off in health and wellness? Comment below with your goals!

How to Handle the Leftovers

Let’s be honest, our big holiday dinners aren’t a one-time event – we end up with refrigerators full of leftovers for days. Either way, despite your best efforts, during the holiday season you may very often find your home full of temptations and those can be the undoing of many health goals. For most of us, if it’s there, then we are going to eat it. So how should you handle having those leftovers, whether they’re appetizers, from the meal, or candy?

Food waste has long been an issue that bothers me to the core so, for a long time, I was the type of person who would keep it in the house and eat it, even if it wasn’t good for me. Then, at the beginning of my weight management journey, at a meeting of a weight loss program that I will not mention here, I was given one gift. In that meeting the group leader was talking about throwing away junk food and many of us were visibly not cool with that idea. Then she said something to the effect of the following: food contains nutrients that nourish, heal, and support your body and your health. Junk food does not contain anything that does any good for your body. Therefore, we need to stop thinking of junk food as food and get comfortable with putting it in the garbage.

Am I saying to throw all of your leftovers out? No. What it really comes down to is balance.

We, as human beings, eat for two reasons: 1. to survive, and 2. for enjoyment. If you’re not eating any foods you enjoy, if you’re not treating yourself, then you’re only getting half the experience and, on top of that, you’re going to feel deprived and unhappy….and maybe a little cranky.

So here is my advice for those leftovers after you have mindfully enjoyed your holiday dinner, party, etc.:

Set Deadlines

Just like you need to set boundaries with people who maybe aren’t so good for you to be around, you need to set boundaries with foods that aren’t so good for you, too. Having those unhealthy foods in your fridge or pantry for a week is too long – that could be 7 days straight of indulging and, the longer you’re off the bandwagon, the harder it is to jump back on.

I recommend setting a deadline of 3 days. After those 3 days are up, sort through what you have and part ways with those problems foods – like gravy, candied yams, green bean casserole, pies, white bread rolls, cranberry sauce (sorry – it’s basically just sugar), etc. Keep the good things – the veggies, the turkey (not the skin), whole grains, you get it.

Moderation and Mindfulness

Just because you have the foods from the big holiday meal, doesn’t mean you have to replicate that big holiday meal every time you have some leftovers. Before you toss those unhealthy options out, you should absolutely enjoy some – but do so with moderation and mindfulness. What does that mean?

Start with smaller portions. Using a smaller plate is helpful for this. I also recommend dishing out your small portion and then putting everything back in the fridge even before you warm up what’s on your plate – this will help curb that temptation to pile more on your plate or go back for seconds.

Finally, eat that delicious, indulgent food slowly, chew it completely, really enjoy it. Eating slowly and mindfully allows you to get more enjoyment out of your food and you will feel more satisfied by it. Don’t forget that digestion begins in your mouth with the process of chewing and salivation and your stomach doesn’t register the food you put in it right away – eating slowly will help you absorb more nutrients from your food and help prevent overeating.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

If you have some less perishable leftovers – maybe some candy that never got opened or alcohol that wasn’t drunk – and you want to use them at your next get together, remember the old refrain “out of sight, out of mind.”

It seems simple and almost silly, but it’s been proven that if you aren’t able to see those temptation foods, you will forget about them and they won’t tempt you. With this in mind, put those treats in the back of the cupboard with lots of healthful foods in front of them, or put them on a bottom shelf with healthful foods at eye level. You could also put them in an opaque container so you can’t see them. It’s been shown that having healthful foods fully visible and unhealthful foods not visible or out of reach prevents people from opting for the unhealthy foods and getting off track.

A quick note on food donation: I deliberately didn’t suggest donating leftovers in this post for several reasons. One is that many pantries and soup kitchens will not accept homemade or opened donations for sanitary reasons. Additionally, most leftovers are perishable which makes it difficult for pantries and kitchens to take them as they will spoil too quickly. That said, if you have unopened items, then by all means, donate away.

Following these three pieces of advice will help you enjoy the holiday fun without getting completely off track. Wishing you good health this holiday season!

Recovering from Holiday Eating

The holidays are a time for family, togetherness, gratitude, and very often, overindulgence. There is no way to “undo” your holiday overindulgence, but you can bounce back on track so one big party or meal doesn’t slippery slope into another and other. Here are my rules for overindulgence recovery:

1.Don’t try to compensate by skipping meals the next day

Many people think that they can balance out what they consumed the day before by simply eating less, or none at all, the next day. This simply isn’t how our bodies work and taking this approach will do far more harm than good. In addition to making you cranky, deliberately skipping out on meals will leave you ravenous and often leads to binging and poor food choices. Instead of trying to balance out your calorie load, focus on eating healthful foods and grazing on them throughout the day instead of eating a few larger meals. You will feel better, both because you aren’t starving and because you are nourishing your body, and you will be setting yourself up for getting back on track and staying there.

2. You can’t run your way out of that second helping of pie

You might often hear people say that they are going to hit the gym extra hard the day after their jumbo holiday meal. Again, this is not the right approach. First of all, it’s not feasible to truly burn off all of those calories and then some. Second of all, this is a really good way to overdo it or even hurt yourself, thereby taking you off track for a longer period of time. Instead of trying to burn off everything you ate over the course of an entire day in a 2-hour gym session, just do your regular workout. If you want to kick it up a little bit for a little extra sweat and burn, that’s fine, but running yourself to the ground is not the answer.

3. Drink lots of water

Let’s be honest, many of us overindulge in more than just food over the holidays. Over consuming alcohol plus eating so many salty treats at parties and the dinner table can leave you dehydrated and feeling terrible. Drinking plenty of water during the party or holiday dinner will do two good things for you: 1. it will help keep you hydrated, and 2. it will help prevent you from overeating as much because drinking water slows you down and makes you feel full. Drinking plenty of water the next day continues that rehydration process to get you back to feeling good again.

4. Be gentle with yourself

This is a big refrain you hear from me all the time. Be gentle with yourself. It is way too easy to beat yourself up for going off your diet or eating until you felt sick but berating yourself for it does you absolutely no good. In fact, it could foster a mind set of “well, I’ve already completely ruined my diet and I have no self-control so why should I even bother trying?” Instead, appreciate how delicious the food was and congratulate yourself for realizing that you don’t want to continue on that course. Then you can get back on track.

Those are my tips for recovering from any holiday overindulgences you may be feeling the effects of this weekend. There are more holidays ahead of us, so I will just leave you with this: remember that there is nothing wrong with indulging occasionally – the key is that you do so mindfully so that you are truly enjoying it and you don’t overindulge.

Product Review: Dr. Praeger Burgers

When it comes to pre-packaged meat product substitutes, like veggie burgers, veggie nuggets, etc., I typically tell my clients that it’s best to avoid them altogether. The majority of those products on the market are incredibly over-processed, loaded with fillers and preservatives, high in sodium, and often contain harmful chemicals as well. Honestly, they hardly even resemble food and will not do your body any good. However, I recognize that there is definitely a need for products like this, otherwise they wouldn’t exist – life is busy so we need quick and easy options. With that said, I’ve examined a lot of these meat-replacement meals to determine which I am comfortable with recommending to my clients. The Dr. Praeger brand of veggie burgers met my criteria. (The following review is based on the California Veggie flavor)

Ingredients 4.9/5

The short ingredient list for these burgers is all real foods with names you recognize and, as soon as you pull a burger out of the box, you will notice you can actually see the pieces of veggies in it. You’re just not going to get that with most packaged veggie burgers.

Here is the list for the California Veggie Burger flavor: carrots, string beans, oat bran, soybeans, zucchini, expeller pressed canola oil, peas, broccoli, corn, soy flour, spinach, red peppers, arrowroot powder, corn starch, garlic, corn meal, sea salt, parsley, black pepper. That’s it. Real foods. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of canola oil but it has become the favored choice in a lot of “health” foods so it’s hard to avoid. The other great thing about these ingredients is they are non-GMO which is super important given the number of corn and soy foods in it.

Overall, I’m giving the ingredients for these burgers a 4.9/5 because I had to ding them for the canola oil and, really, the only way they could be improved would be if they were organic.

California_Veggie_Burger

Nutrition 5/5

Looking at the nutrition label, there’s even more to like. These clock in at just 120 calories and aren’t swimming in sodium either with 240 mg. They pack in 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein so they should keep you quite satisfied as well, particularly if you serve them on some whole grain bread. Since they are made with actual vegetables, we are also looking at some great vitamins and micronutrients.

Flavor 4.5/5

You might be thinking, “OK so they’re made out of veggies and are nutritious, but there is no way they could possibly taste good.” If that’s the case, my doubting friend, you’re in for a treat. These burgers are quite tasty! Do they tastes like beef? No. And if they did, I would be concerned about what they did to them to make them taste like beef. They taste like a veggie burger – a yummy veggie burger, not like those super processed varieties that taste vaguely like plastic. They’re a refreshing but savory flavor and the seasonings really shine through.

Texture 3/5

The texture is really the only aspect of these burgers I’m not a fan of and, honestly, that’s more of a personal issue than a product issue. If you’ve ever made your own veggie burgers at home, then you probably know that firm is not a texture you can really get to with them. It’s the same with these burgers – whether you pan-fry them, put them in the oven, or microwave them, they are soft, mushy might even be the right word for them, not firm. I’ve tried really hard to at least get the outside crispy in a frying pan, but just couldn’t pull it off. As much as I’m not a fan of the soft texture, though, it doesn’t ruin these burgers for me and I still like them. They do manage to stay together through cooking, flipping, and serving, so that’s a plus. I rated them a 3 out of 5 for texture because I’m not a fan of the mushiness but I also know that, if you want a real veggie burger, you need to be OK with the mush.

 

All in all, if you are looking for healthy and tasty store-bought veggie burger option, Dr. Praeger’s burgers are my recommendation to you. You can find them at a number of grocery stores, including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. I haven’t found them at Market Basket yet, but if enough people ask for them…. #justsaying

 

 

Found a healthy product that you’re curious about? Leave it in the comments as a suggestion for my next review!

Are Condiments Freebies?

We pay so much attention to the big things that we’re eating that very often we don’t even think about what we are putting on that food. Condiments are a really wonderful thing. They can add a new dimension to a food, complete the flavor profile, or cover up an otherwise unpalatable dish…like that time I forgot I was cooking chicken. Just like they add so much to our food, these sauces and dips can add to our waistlines as well. So what should you look out for when it comes to condiments?

Sugar

Many of our favorite sauces and toppings in the Standard American Diet contain a lot of sugar. Well, let me rephrase that – it might not seem like a lot in one serving as listed on the label, but, let’s face it, no one is sticking to that small serving size (new regulations yet to be enacted by the FDA will require serving sizes to be based on what people actually eat). Major sugar offenders include ketchup, barbecue sauce, and reduced and low fat salad dressings. Salad dressings in particular are sneaky because most taste savory; remember, when they take the fat out, they take out some flavor and texture that they have to make up for and they do that most frequently with sugar. Other more obvious offenders include sweet and sour sauce, duck sauce, and honey mustard sauce.

Sodium

Sodium is another concerning factor in many of our favorite condiments. Soy sauce is a fairly obvious one with it’s very salty taste. Ketchup is another big offender in this category. In general, Americans greatly overconsume sodium. It’s added into almost everything and then we top it with more. One tbsp of ketchup has 6% of your Daily Value of sodium in it. That may not seem like much, but, chances are, you’re eating more than one tbsp and that will be on top of salted french fries or a burger with salty cheese or salt mixed into the meat and before you know it you’ve reached your Daily Value quota in one meal.

Trans Fats

Trans fats are the unhealthiest fats in our diet and they have horrible effects on our health. Trans fats do not occur naturally – they are manmade and our bodies do not process them like other fats. Because of this, they contribute to decreased cognitive function, increased LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels, decreased HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels, increased abdominal fat, and an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Type II diabetes.  Salad dressings are the major culprits for containing these harmful additives.

Under current FDA regulations, if a food contains less than 1/2 a gram of trans fat per serving, food manufacturers can put a label on it that says “0 G Trans Fat” so you can’t make an assessment based on that. In order to ensure you are not consuming trans fats, make sure that you read the ingredients label carefully – if you see the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated,” then you will know the food contains trans fats and you should find an alternative.

So Then What Should I Eat?

My food philosophy is all about balance so I’m not going to tell you that you should never eat ketchup again – that would be impractical and…well, cruel. The only exception to this would be the condiments containing trans fats – just go out and find an alternative to those.

What I am going to recommend to you is to monitor your serving size. Literally, pull out a measuring spoon and measure out a tbsp of ketchup. If you eyeball it you will over serve yourself (obviously if there is no measuring spoon on hand then eyeball it).

Also, keep in mind that you have no control over or insight into what is in the dressings or sauces they serve you in a restaurant and those meals are frequently overdressed. To avoid an overload, always order your salad dressings and sauces on the side. You will be shocked at how much less you use and yet you’ll still get the flavor you’re looking for.

Substitutions

  • Salad dressing replace with Olive Oil and Vinegar
    • Avoid all of the sugar and trans fats by just making your own dressing with olive oil and vinegar – it is literally the healthiest thing you can put on your salad
  • Ketchup/Mayonnaise replace with Mustard
  • Store-bought mayonnaise replace with homemade
    • Store bought mayonnaise is almost always loaded with processed oils and preservatives. You can avoid all of this by making your own. Mayonnaise is super easy to make, all you need is eggs, dijon, lemon, vinegar, olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a blender or whisk. Boom. Mayo.
  • Soy sauce/Sweet and sour sauce replace with a drizzle of sesame oil
    • It’s a different flavor but sesame oil is delicious and is a very healthy fat. Because of the high levels of unsaturated fats in it, though, it should be used as a finishing oil rather than being cooked or heated.

 

10 Tips for Keeping Yourself Motivated to Work Out

We all lead very busy lives and it can be all too easy to find a reason to skip the gym for the day. I think we have all been in the place, though, where one excuse becomes many and before you know it, you haven’t exercised in weeks and have 0 motivation to get back into it. Taking that first step to get to the gym or hit the road for a run can be the hardest part, but if you can get that momentum started and keep it going, it gets loads easier from there. So how can you get yourself started and keep yourself motivated? Here are some tips that have worked for me and for my clients.

1. Find a workout you enjoy.

When it comes to fitness and weight loss, everyone has an opinion or story to tell. “Oh well, I ran 5 mi a day 5 days a week and I lost 30 lbs without changing how I ate!” “My cousin started doing Zumba twice a week and she has had amazing results.” It’s wonderful to try to share your success tips with others, but, here’s the thing, every body is different so what works for one person may not work for another. This isn’t just a physiological fact – it’s a psychological fact as well. If you hate running, then you are not going to get the same results as your friend who loves running and does it religiously. Why? Because you’re going to be miserable doing it, you’re unlikely to push yourself as much through it, and, chances are, you’re going to find any excuse not to do it because you hate it. If you find a workout that you have fun doing, then you are far more likely to stick to it and you’ll see better results.

2. Like your fitness clothes.

Fact: if you are uncomfortable with your body, you are not going to want to work out. Period. However, if you can invest in fitness clothing that you are comfortable in – that cover the spots you want covered, that fit the way you like, that breathe and allow flexibility – then you will be much more comfortable working out. Plus, I don’t know about you, but, if I have a fun new workout outfit I just bought, I’m way more excited to workout in it.

3. Track your progress and praise yourself.

It can be really easy to get discouraged and want to give up for a number of reasons. My advice, then, is find something about your workout that you can be proud of or makes you feel good and focus on that. For example, maybe you didn’t run as far as you wanted to or you struggled through your workout the whole time. Instead of focusing on the things you wish were different, high five yourself for getting out there when you weren’t even feeling it in the first place or for sticking it out even though you were struggling. Hold onto that self-praise and set a new goal for you to meet the next time.

4. Reward yourself.

Now, I don’t mean go out for a burger or ice cream here – not only will that defeat the purpose of your workout, it will also start you on a very unhealthy cycle. What I mean here is set a goal for yourself that you will continuously be working towards – maybe it’s running 5 miles or dropping a pant size – and pick something that you will reward yourself with once you reach that goal. It can be a pair of shoes you’ve been wanting or a new Fit Bit or a massage. Having something that you are working towards will help keep you motivated. The trick here, though, is that you can’t give in to the temptation to say “good enough” and treat yourself before you reach your goal.

5. Once you get that momentum going, don’t stop.

I think we can all agree that once you take a couple days off from working out, it is really hard to get back into it. To make sure that doesn’t happen, try to stay active regularly to keep that momentum going. You don’t have to keep at your regular workout routine every day, but commit to taking a 30-minute walk or doing some yoga while you watch TV. The goal is just to have something that keeps you moving so you don’t lose that momentum.

6. Find a workout buddy.

Accountability makes a huge difference when it comes to motivation. Find a reliable workout buddy and set a regular schedule to work out together. Make sure they are reliable though! I often see people declare themselves gym buddies and they just make excuses for each other to skip the workout.

7. Don’t make it a project.

If you have to drive 30 minutes to your gym or rush to and from commitments to get your workout in, you aren’t going to do it. Maybe you’ll do it a couple times, but it will fall off. Your workout doesn’t have to be a huge to-do. Take a run around your neighborhood or do a fitness video in your living room. Working out doesn’t have to include a gym membership and a commute.

8. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Comparison isn’t just the thief of joy; it can also be the thief of motivation. Constantly comparing yourself to others can make you feel self-conscious and defeated. Too much of those comparisons and negative self-talk can quickly slide into thoughts of “I will never be like that so why should I bother trying?”. Who are you exercising for? Yourself or them? I hope the answer is for yourself so you can live longer and healthier. If that’s the case, then who cares about anyone else at the gym or on Instagram? You’re in this for you, so focus on you. Confession: I get really self-conscious when I’m out running. My solution is to wear my sunglasses and listen to good music so I can drown out the rest of the world (but still hear traffic. safety first, after all) and focus on myself.

9. Find some music you like.

Music is an amazing motivator. It shifts your energy and affects your mood. Put on some music that makes you feel happy and energized and get out there!

10. Change it up.

If you do the same workout or run the same route every day, not only will you stop getting the same benefits from it, you’ll get really bored with it, too. Keep yourself interested in your workouts by switching it up and trying something new every once in a while, whether it’s running somewhere new or trying out a new fitness class like Zumba or kickboxing.

Your health is simply too important to let excuses get in your way. Follow these tips and get yourself moving so you can feel your best and live your best life!

Boost Your Immune System Naturally

I’m sure you’ve all heard the refrain “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, there is good reason why that saying exists! The foods we eat can help boost our immune systems to we get sick less frequently and, when we do get sick, it is less severe and we recover faster. There are also other healthful habits we can adopt that can maximize our immune systems to get through the Fall and Winter. So, now that Fall is here, the kids are back to school, and flu season is fast approaching, how can you support your immune system without relying on all kinds of medications?

Phytonutrients

Fresh produce is loaded with immune system-supporting compounds call phytonutrients (“phyto” means “plant”). These nutrients give plants their vibrant colors and distinct flavors. Phytonutrients include antioxidants which have been linked to a decrease in cancer risk by binding to the damaging free radicals in your body. They also include anti-inflammatory compounds as well. Inflammation continues to be linked to more and more illnesses and chronic diseases. Thus, phytonutrients protect your health on a number of different levels. To experience the benefits of phytonutrients, eat foods like berries, broccoli, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and eggplant. An easy way to think of this is eating the rainbow – the more different colors you can eat, the more phytonutrients you’re eating as well!

Add Some Flavor with Honey and Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a powerhouse of a spice. It has both anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. It has also been shown to be antimicrobial and antibacterial as well. Once the cooler weather gets here, I start sprinkling cinnamon on top of my coffee grounds every morning – it’s delicious and I can enjoy the immune system boost from it as well. We are fortunate in that most traditional Fall recipes contain cinnamon, so eating seasonally will help get more cinnamon into your diet as well.

Similar to cinnamon, honey has proven antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Adding some honey to your tea, to plain yogurt, or to smoothies is a great way to consume more of this immunity boosting sweet.

Move!

Our blood vessels are lined with special cells called the endothelium. The endothelium is like your body’s own pharmacy in that it releases a number of different medicinal compounds into your bloodstream as is needed. When you exercise, it increases the blood flow through your blood vessels and over the endothelium, thereby prompting it to release more of those medicines. This is why sometimes when you feel a cold coming on, you feel better after going for a brisk walk. Additionally, regular exercise can help produce new blood vessels further improving your circulation and your health.

Rest Up

In the simplest sense, our bodies need just 4 things: nutrition, movement, water, and rest. The last of those is the one that we seem to value least in American society today. Sometimes it seems like there are competitions at work to see who is the most exhausted or the busiest. But sleep deprivation actually depresses your immune system, so the more exhausted you are, the more likely you are at to get sick. Sleep is the best opportunity your body gets each day to repair itself and flush out the toxins you take in during the day. It’s not just about the quantity of sleep you get, however, it’s about the quality, too. To make sure you are getting sufficient and quality sleep, avoid simple carbohydrates and big meals in the evening. Having a glass of wine before bed might help you fall asleep, but it will disrupt your sleep later in the night, so skip out on the alcohol as well. It’s also important that you sleep in a dark room and keep all devices out of the bedroom – just looking at your cell phone screen in the middle of the night will disrupt production of your sleep hormones.

Some other quick tips:

  • Practice good habits like washing your hands regularly (avoid using hand sanitizer – it’s loaded with chemicals and contributes to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacterias).
  • Avoid eating processed foods as they contain many ingredients that contribute to inflammation in your body and don’t contribute anything in the way of nutrition.
  • Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum.
  • Keep well-hydrated – this means 1/2 oz of water per pound of your body weight per day (for adults).
  • Not necessarily “natural” in the strictest sense, but get your flu shot if you are part of the flu vaccine priority population.

 

Avocado Chocolate Mousse

One of the questions that I get a lot is what kinds of things can you substitute for dessert that still taste good and satisfy that sweet craving. Without fail, this recipe is my top suggestion. It combines the healthy fats of an avocado with the antioxidants of cocoa and it tastes just like a chocolate pudding cup without the added chemicals and preservatives and with less sugar. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Really? Avocado? That can’t be good. Just trust me on this one. You will be pleasantly surprised.

One thing to remember with this recipe is that, just like an avocado that is left cut for a while and starts to tastes weird, that will happen with this, too. The brown avocado flavor will start to come through if you allow this to sit for too long. Fortunately, this recipe is so quick and easy to make that it won’t be a problem to just whip it up whenever you’re ready. And you definitely won’t have any leftovers!

Ingredients:

  • 1 large, ripe avocado (not overripe)
  • 1/4 cup milk of choice
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar (optional, but recommended)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy.
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The final product looks just like regular chocolate pudding and it tastes like it, too!

I think this mousse tastes better cold, personally, so I suggest popping it in the fridge or the freezer for a little bit to chill it.

Try topping it with homemade whipped cream, chopped nuts, or shredded coconut before serving. This also makes a great lunchbox snack – just scoop some into a small tupperware and you have a DIY Jell-O pudding cup.

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Should You Try the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet has become the rage for rapid weight loss recently, but is it worth giving it a try? As I do with any fad diet, especially ones that involve eliminating entire food groups, I examined this one with a healthy amount of skepticism.

First, what is the ketogenic diet? You may recall the Atkins diet craze that preceded the South Beach Diet back in the late 90s/early 2000s – this is like a more extreme Atkins. Essentially, you slash the amount of carbs you are consuming down to just 2-4% of the calories you consume per day and focus on eating large amounts of fat. Your body primarily relies of carbohydrates to burn for energy. By cutting the amount of carbs you are consuming down to such a small amount, you force your body to begin to burn fat for energy – thus the weight loss results. Burning fat for energy – sounds great, right?

Well, not so fast.

First, it is very important to note that this is an incredibly unsustainable diet. As anyone who has tried Atkins or South Beach will tell you, you can cut out carbs…for a while. But long-term it’s just not doable. For most people, this is invitation to deprive and then overeat carbs when it finally gets to be too much. Such a diet is great for setting up a pattern of yo-yo dieting, which has been linked to heart disease and diabetes, as well as more weight gain over time. Furthermore, if you don’t follow this diet completely, you won’t see the results, which makes it even less sustainable. Basically, you will lose significant weight quickly on a ketogenic diet, but you will regain it quickly as well – this is not a diet for long-term weight loss.

If you are able to adhere to this diet in the long-term, the weight loss effects are likely to fade over time. Additionally, many experts say that this diet will result in muscle loss, which will slow down your metabolism, hindering further weight loss. You will also likely see a significant drop in your energy levels. This diet is not recommended for people with heart disease for the above reasons (remember, your heart is a muscular organ).

There are also a number of nutritive issues with this diet. For one, you really need to make sure you are supplementing very well because you will not be consuming anywhere near the nutrition your body needs on this diet. For another, this diet is very low in fiber, so you may encounter some serious digestive issues.

As a certified health coach, I do not espouse any diet plans that are unsustainable or involve cutting out an entire food group. This diet is not an exception. However, I am even more opposed to this diet because of the dangers it can pose to patient health. The keys to lasting weight loss are and will always be: a sustainable, balanced diet of fresh produce, healthy fats, and right carbs, regular exercise, and supportive healthful habits such as stress management.