Tips to Help You Eat More Plants

We have a plant problem in the US today and I’m not talking about marijuana. By and large most Americans aren’t eating enough plants in their diets in spite of volumes of studies showing that eating plant-based diets is key for lasting health and weight management because they are loaded with so many vital nutrients our bodies depend on. Part of the issue is that we are a very meat-centric society and many of us just don’t know how to work more vegetables into our cooking routine because we are so used to meals consisting of a meat, a vegetable, and a starch. However, there are many plants that are great sources of protein and can easily stand in for that meat on your plate. Here are some tips to get you started on eating more plants.

Eat something green with every meal

This one is a great rule to live by and will instantly get more plants into your diet. Just add a green vegetable to every meal. This could mean adding spinach to your eggs in the morning, throwing some greens into your sandwich at lunch, and having some kale or green beans with dinner. Having green vegetables with your meals will help fill you up and can buffer against the effects of high-fat meals to a degree.

Practice Meatless Mondays

Commit to eating vegetarian one day a week. This one will require some work on your part because it’s very easy to just resort to carbs, like pasta and bread, and you may need to search for some good recipes. But it’s worth it!

Eat more quinoa

Quinoa has become a wellness buzz food and for good reason. This little seed is a complete protein and is a good source of calcium, lysine, B vitamins, and iron. It’s also gluten free. Prepared like you would rice, quinoa can be flavored pretty much any way and is versatile for use in meals. I’ve used it like rice, made pizza crust with it, made meatless meatballs with it – lots of things!

Make friends with cauliflower

Cauliflower is another versatile plant food that can be used for a large number of things. For example, you can make pizza crust with it, puree it to make an alfredo sauce, or use it as a substitute for rice. These recipes are super easy and are a great way to eat more veggies!

Give vegetable noodles a try

Don’t have a spiralizer? That’s OK! Most grocery stores now carry a variety of vegetable noodles, from squash to zucchini to sweet potato to beets. And the internet is loaded with different recipes for every type of vegetable noodle. You could use spaghetti squash instead of regular noodles as well.

Load your pasta sauce

Marinara and pasta sauces are a great place to hide vegetables, especially if you have picky eaters. You can load your sauces with bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, squash – you name it. Keep it chunky or puree it for a smoother sauce. Either way, you just ate way more vegetables!

Drink more smoothies

Smoothies can be another good way to increase the amount of plants you’re consuming on a daily basis. Using fresh or frozen fruit and adding some vegetables like spinach, kale, or cucumber, you can make a powerhouse of a smoothie. Just be careful not to overload your smoothie so you end up with a high calorie treat rather than a healthy snack or meal.

Replace those chips and crackers

There are many healthy plant options you can choose for snacks on the go other than chips and crackers. Nuts, for example, are a great source of protein and fiber. Crunchy chickpeas are also a yummy plant snack on the go and can be bought or made in a variety of different flavors. Carrots, celery, and sugar snap peas are also taken on the go very easily and are great for dipping.

Treat yourself to the cut fruit plate

Many of us balk at the pre-cut fruit platters they sell at the grocery store because they really charge you for the convenience. But, in my opinion, it’s a worthwhile investment if it will make it easier for you to eat healthier.

Replace your bread with greens

Replace your wraps with collard leaves and your tortillas with lettuce cups. You could also use slices of sweet potato or cucumber instead of bread for your sandwiches.

It may seem like a lot of work at first, but it is actually quite easy to get more plants into your daily diet. Once you find some recipes you like and work them into your routine with some minimal prep, you’ll be eating plants like you’ve been doing it all along.

The Skinny on Fat

This blog post is another National Nutrition Month request. If you’re interested in joining the conversation or asking your health and wellness questions, join the Live Your Best Life Wellness Community on Facebook. 

Fat is a very confusing topic for a lot of people and for really good reason. In the 80s and 90s, we were inundated with messaging that fat is bad for you and the source of the American obesity epidemic and chronic illnesses. However, in recent years, it’s come to light that fat isn’t the evil we once were told it was and that sugar is actually a bigger problem (in spite of the sugar industry’s relentless lobbying efforts). But, it seems that some have taken advantage of this change in the tides and have taken the fat message in the opposite direction, creating diets that claim that eating lots of fat is healthy and will help you lose weight. And then there are the different kinds of fat with vague names that make it hard to keep them straight – saturated, unsaturated, trans, omega-3s, polyunsaturated, omega-6s…it’s dizzying. In this post, I’m hoping to clear things up for you.

Saturated Fats

Before we can talk about good fats vs. bad fats, we should cover what their names mean.

The dietary units we call “fats” are actually fatty acids which are made up, in part, by a chain of carbon atoms. When every carbon atom in the chain is bonded to a hydrogen atom, it is called a saturated fat. I remember this by thinking of the hydrogen as saturating the fat like water saturates a sponge so that every bit of the sponge is soaked.

Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature – so foods like butter, coconut oil, cocoa butter – these are saturated fats.

Saturated fats are often thought of as unhealthy fats, but that is not necessarily the case. Here is where it gets a little complicated: within the saturated fats category, there are short, medium, and long chain saturated fats. There is an important role in our diets for short and medium chain saturated fats: they help stabilize our cell membranes, help us convert Omega-3 fatty acids into usable forms, have antimicrobial properties, and have anti-inflammatory properties. Coconut oil falls into the medium chain category and that is the root of what makes it a healthy fat option. The health concerns come from overconsumption of the long chain saturated fats, such as animal fats, dairy fats, and cocoa butter. These are the fats whose excess consumption is linked to high cholesterol levels and heart disease. They also are higher in calories and are stored in our adipose, or fat, tissue. Unsurprisingly, Americans in general eat too much of the long chain saturated fats and not enough of the short and medium chain ones.

So what does this mean the fat in your diet should look like? This means eating lean cuts of meat (beef, pork, poultry, etc.), low-fat dairy products, and minimizing our consumption of things like butter. When it comes to the short and medium chain saturated fats, they do play an important role in our diet, but we don’t need to be eating a lot of them to derive the benefits and it’s important to remember that fat is a calorie-dense food. Therefore, moderation really is the key.

Unsaturated Fats

Since we now know that saturated fats have all of their carbon atoms paired with hydrogen atoms, we can guess that unsaturated fats have one or more carbon atoms not paired with a hydrogen atom. Instead, those unpaired carbon atoms form double bonds with the carbon atoms next to them. This chemical structure makes unsaturated fats less stable than saturated fats so they are liquid at room temperature. Examples of unsaturated fats are olive oil, flax seed oil, and fish oil. These are fats that are more vulnerable to going rancid and becoming carcinogenic when cooked to temperatures too high.

Unsaturated fats play very, very important roles in our diet, including: brain development and energy, maintaining healthy body tissues and skin, regulating our hormones, assisting in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and cushioning our organs. These are very healthy fats that we should consume regularly.

Within the unsaturated fat category, there are two types: monounsaturated fats have one double bond between carbon atoms while polyunsaturated fats have multiple double bonds between carbon atoms.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fall into the polyunsaturated fats category and are often considered the healthiest fat. Omega-3s are found in fatty fish, like wild salmon, flax seeds, and Omega-3 eggs. While Omega-3s are found in plant sources such as flax seeds, it’s important to note that the form those fats take in plants are not a form that the human body can readily use (ALA). This means that our bodies must first convert them into usable forms (EPA & DHA) before they can be used. Unfortunately, after that conversion occurs, our bodies’ absorption rate of those fats is less than 5%, so it’s more efficient to consume Omega-3s from fish sources than plant sources.

The health benefits of consuming Omega-3s include: building healthy brain cells, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease, lowering the rate of certain cancers, elevating our mood, and improving our learning, attention, and vision. In general, we Americans do not eat enough Omega-3s.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Omega-6 fatty acids are also a form of polyunsaturated fat that are very good for us. They play a critical role in our brain function and normal growth and development, among other roles. They are found in vegetable oils, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, edamame, and sunflower seeds. In general, Americans consume plenty of Omega-6s. The ideal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3s in our diet is 2:1.

Trans Fats

Trans fats are the bad fats. These are fats that do not occur naturally; rather, they are created by taking an unsaturated fat and adding hydrogen molecules to it, a process called hydrogenation. This was a profit move by the food industry in the early 1900s to stabilize vegetable oils so they would have a longer shelf life (the invention of Crisco). Trans fats have become very common place in prepackaged foods these days although there is a perception that they have fallen out of favor since the backlash against them. However, this is the food industry being sneaky. Legally, if a food contains less than 1/2 gram of trans fat per serving, they can put “0 grams trans fat” or “trans fat free” on a food package label. The lesson here: you can’t trust what the front of a package says. Instead, what you need to do to determine whether a food contains trans fats is to look in the ingredients list for the word “hydrogenated.” Hydrogenated oils are trans fats.

There are a number of compelling reasons to avoid trans fats: their consumption has been linked with low birth weights, high blood sugar, increased LDL (“bad” cholesterol), a decrease in nutrition density levels, a decrease in visual acuity, a decrease in Omega-3 levels in the brain (which we now know play a critical role in brain function), and a decrease in HDL (“good” cholesterol).

What About the Keto Diet?

The recent rage in fad diets has been putting your body into a state of ketosis by decreasing our carbohydrate consumption to very low levels and increasing our fat consumption to force our body to burn fat for energy. There are a number of problems with this diet craze.

For one, our bodies don’t burn fat for energy anywhere near as efficiently as they burn carbohydrates for energy. So by cutting our bodies primary fuel source drastically, we are depriving ourselves of the energy we need. Many on keto diets will experience low energy levels and mood levels because of this.

Secondly, you can overdo it with fat. The saying “too much of a good thing” really applies here. Yes, fat plays an important role in our diets but eating too much saturated fats (long chain), for example, can increase your cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. Furthermore, on high-fat diets such as this, you can’t be just indiscriminately eating loads of fats. The healthiest way to to eat is to focus on fish and plant sources of food. You want the majority of the fats you eat to be unsaturated, particularly polyunsaturated. Cutting carbs and eating loads of meat and butter and dairy may help you lose weight for a little while but it can have negative long-term health effects.

Finally, and perhaps more practically, this diet is not sustainable. Keto dieters may lose weight for a period, but they will crave carbohydrates and will swing back in the other direction and gain that weight back. This is simply what happens with deprivation in humans. This can contribute to a pattern of yo-yo dieting which has been shown to contribute to a slower metabolism over time and higher weights.

Bottom Line

When it comes to fats, high fat or low fat isn’t answer. Right fat is the answer. If your focus is on eating healthy fats, omega-3s, omega-6s, and other unsaturated fats like olive oil with a balanced diet, then you are eating a right fat diet, supplying your body with the fats you need without negative health impacts.

Veganism/Vegetarianism – Are they healthier?

March is National Nutrition Month so I am going to be focusing heavily on more nutrition-oriented topics in my blog this month.

One nutrition question I get frequently is whether it is healthier to go vegan or vegetarian over meat eating. My answer probably irritates many who ask: not necessarily.

So first let’s get the differences between the two out of the way:

Veganism

In the most basic sense, veganism is a diet in which you don’t consume any animal products whatsoever. This means no dairy, eggs, fish, meat, honey, or gelatin and no products containing these ingredients. Some vegans are stricter than others. For example, certain beers are clarified using animal parts and some vegans will not consume them based on that while other vegans don’t mind as much because the animal parts are not actually part of the beer. Likewise, honey is technically not vegan in the strictest sense, but many vegans still use it.

Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism allows a lot more dietary options than veganism. In the most general sense, vegetarianism is simply not eating meat. Other animal products, such as honey, eggs, dairy, and gelatin, may be OK for a vegetarian. Some vegetarians, known as pescatarians, will eat fish, while others won’t. Likewise, lacto-ovo vegetarians eat eggs and dairy, but no meat. As with veganism, there is a spectrum of dietary choices that fall into the vegetarian category.

Are Vegan or Vegetarian Diets Healthier than Eating Meat?

Not necessarily. Sorry. While both of these diets have the potential to provide your body with loads of healthy nutrients and help you maintain a healthy weight, there are some mistakes that can make them less healthy.

As a certified health coach, I immediately get concerned whenever the prospect of eliminating entire food groups comes up. That to me is an immediate alert that the individual adhering to that diet needs to be really diligent in making sure they are getting all of the nutrients they need.

One thing that I know from my vegan and vegetarian friends is the most annoying thing people say to them is, “are you getting enough protein”? In our meat-centric society, we often assume that meat is the best or only source of protein. The difference between animal protein and plant protein is that animal protein is what we call a “complete protein” – it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids our bodies need. Plant proteins are known as “incomplete proteins” because they contain some but not all 9 essential amino acids. However, you can combine different plant proteins to make a complete protein and you don’t need to eat them all at once to do it. For example, you could have nuts for a an afternoon snack, tofu as part of your lunch, and pea protein in your morning smoothie. So protein is a concern for vegans and vegetarians only if they are not varying their protein sources enough (generally speaking).

Vegans have a bit more of a challenge than vegetarians when it comes to making sure they are consuming all of the nutrition their bodies need. Eliminating one food group is one thing, but when you eliminate several, it can make things more difficult and complicated. With any diet, it’s important to monitor what you are eating to make sure you’re getting enough variety and nutrition but vegans have that much more monitoring to do. One nutritive concern that I have for vegans is their Omega-3 consumption. The best source of Omega-3 fatty acids (AKA the healthiest fats) is fish – partly because it is already in the form our bodies can use so we readily absorb it. There are plant sources of Omega-3s, but they are in a form that our bodies cannot use. This means that our bodies must first convert them into the usable form, but, once that conversion is done, our absorption rate is less than 5%. So it’s more of a challenge to eat enough Omega-3s without eating fish or taking a fish oil supplement. Iron is another nutrient that we get primarily from eating meat in our society. However, there are a number of rich plant sources of iron. As with protein, it’s really important for vegans and vegetarians to make sure they are eating enough plant sources of iron (like spinach for example), especially for women of child-bearing age.  Click here to receive my list of plant-based, whole food sources of iron.

The last major concern for both of these diets that I will discuss here is the meat substitute products found in grocery stores. Most store-bought, pre-packaged vegan and vegetarian foods are highly processed and loaded with all kinds of fillers and preservatives. These are not healthy options. The healthiest options are organic tofu and organic tempeh, not breaded faux-chicken from the freezer section. If you are vegan or vegetarian or are considering either, make sure that you really read all the labels of products you want to buy to make sure they’re not full of scary ingredients. If you’re a hands-on person and have the time, making your own animal-product substitutes at home is even better. For example, it’s actually pretty easy to make your own nut milks and you can use flax seed meal and water in place of an egg in recipes.

Is Meat Bad for You?

Again, not necessarily. Sorry.

As I said above, meat, fish, and poultry (I’m just going to call them all “meat”) are all complete proteins delivering all 9 essential amino acids. Meat is also a good source of iron (particularly red meat and liver) and fish is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Where the meat question gets tricky is when it comes to quality. Americans in general have no shortage of saturated fat in our diets and these are not the healthy fats we want to focus on consuming. Overconsumption of animal fats (excluding fish) has been linked to a number of health issues, particularly heart issues. Therefore, it’s important to consume lean cuts of meat as much as possible – this means lean cuts of beef, eating more poultry and avoiding the skin and fatty parts, eating more fish, etc.

Another quality factor when it comes to consuming meats is considering what that meat ate when it was alive. Much of the meat we eat in this country has been treated with antibiotics, hormones, and other substances that we eat when we eat the meat from those animals. Many of the animals in the factory farms that supply most of our meat also don’t feed their animals quality food and that affects the meat we eat as well. There are also a number of really awful humane issues associated with factory-farmed meat. Considering all of this, it’s important to eat organic meat as much as possible. Ideally, select meat from free-range animals that consumed their natural diet rather than some cheap mystery feed. The most ideal situation, is to actually know where your meat is coming from – supporting local farmers at the farmers’ market or joining a local meat share. Obviously, this is not always possible, but following the first two guidelines I mentioned will get you into healthier meat eating.

Read This If You Just Want the Gist of This Post Without Reading the Whole Thing

Science has shown time and again that plant-based diets are the healthiest option for us. Both veganism and vegetarianism can be extremely healthful diets when followed properly. They both have the potential to deliver loads of wonderful nutrients to your body and sustain its health for a lifetime. However, in our rush-rush, convenience-centric society, it can be hard to eat the variety of foods our bodies need and it’s very easy to opt for those junky convenience foods most of the time, regardless of whether or not you eat meat. Eating a variety of plant-based foods is critical to our health. This does not mean that eating meat is unhealthy or that we shouldn’t ever do it, though – meat can deliver large amounts of nutrients our bodies need all in one stop and, as long as you are eating lean, good quality, organic meat, then meat-eating isn’t a health problem. The majority of what you eat, regardless of your diet, should be fresh fruits and vegetables, but meat is a food you can eat every day and it plays an important role in many diets.

 

Product Review: Flatzza

Sooo I have a bit of a pizza obsession…honestly I could eat pizza every day but I don’t because it’s not good for me. However, that doesn’t mean that I am not constantly looking for ways to make my pizza habit healthier. You may recall my review of the Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Pizza Crust that was a heartbreaking disappointment. That was why I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much when I found the Flatzza Sprouted Grain Pizza Crust but I had to give it a try.

7GrainFlatzza12oz-2016-1This is from a company called Angelic Bakery which makes it seem even more virtuous. They come two in a package and are super thin crusts made from a mixed sprouted grain mash. They don’t carry the USDA Organic label, but they are non-GMO and are also produced in a very allergy-friendly facility (according to the label). As with the frozen cauliflower crust, there were a lot of factors I took into consideration here, including ingredients, nutrition information, texture, and flavor.

Verdict: We have a winner!

I have a new favorite pizza product and it’s these pizza crusts.

What’s the Deal with Sprouted Grains?

Sprouted grains are a bit of a fad right now, and for good reason. Sprouting the grains used in breads actually increases many of the key nutrients found in whole grains, such as B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and certain amino acids. Sprouting the grains may also lessen their impact on individuals with food sensitivities as they have a lower gluten content and higher soluble fiber content than grains that have not been sprouted. These factors make sprouted grains a nice addition to your diet.

Now onto the product itself…

Nutrition

Looking at the Nutrition Facts, a serving of 1/4 of this crust contains 140 calories, a impressive 5 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and just 1 gram of sugar. It’s also a good source of Calcium and Potassium and a source of Iron. Depending on what you put on your pizza for toppings, you could feasibly up your serving size of this crust as well. As a heath coach, I love seeing 5s in the fiber and protein categories – not only is this good nutrition, it also means that these thin crusts have a surprisingly high satiety factor.

Ingredients

Talk about clean eating! The first 6 ingredients in these crusts are the various sprouted grains found in them. From there, it’s all good, real food ingredients that you would expect to find in real food – no strange chemicals or artificial ingredients. Again, loving this.

Flavor

OK so these are nice and nutritious, but do they taste like cardboard? They’re actually really yummy! They taste like pizza crust, not like cardboard. They have a very slight nuttiness from the grains. Because they’re a thin crust, it’s easy for the flavor to be kind of overpowered by the toppings but I found them to be just right for my tastes.

Texture

When it comes to the texture of a pizza crust, I will admit I am a huge snob. Floppy, soft, or soggy pizza crusts are an abomination. I like a nice, crispy pizza crust and was a little worried that these wouldn’t be able to deliver since they are thin and could presumably become water-logged by the liquid in the tomato sauce. This wasn’t the case though! It took longer to cook than the packaging says, but we got them nice and crispy, just the way I like. If you like your crust softer, just don’t bake it as long. If you are a crispy crust person like me, I also suggest pre-baking it for just a few minutes before you top it to further protect against the liquid in the sauce.

Price Point

For any of you who buy Ezekiel or other sprouted grain breads, you are probably bracing yourself for the price on these crusts – I know I was expecting $5+. We paid $2.99. For two crusts! My frugal little heart was very happy with this!

It’s Important to Note…

that the crust is just one component of the pizza and that what you choose to put on it can really make or break your meal nutritionally. While the crust may be 140 calories per serving, if you load it with 3 cheeses, pepperoni, and sausage, you’re going to be eating way more than you probably should be. I recommend keeping the cheese to a single layer and using veggies for your toppings. We typically buy sliced provolone cheese and use that to top our pizza so it’s just a thin layer of cheese. Then, we top it with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and sometimes broccoli and spinach. Making your own pizza sauce is also a great way to keep track of what you’re putting on your pizza. Store-bought sauce often contains a lot of added sugar and sodium whereas a homemade sauce doesn’t have to. Plus it’s actually super easy to put together a simple but delicious tomato sauce.

 

All in all, I am super happy with these pizza crusts and would definitely suggest them for your occasional pizza night.

Deskercise!

This week, I’m happy to bring you a guest post from Concept Seating. We are a very sedentary society and that lifestyle takes its toll on our bodies and our health. Health risks of sitting too much include neck and spinal issues, muscle tightness, obesity, and metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels, and excess body fat around the waist. These translate into conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Many of us think that our half hour on the treadmill in the morning means that sitting at work for the rest of the day doesn’t matter, but that simply isn’t enough.

For many of us, the modern work environment leaves us little option than to sit most of the day, so it’s important to try to counteract those effects as much as possible throughout the day. How? Well, getting up and taking regular walking breaks is one way – try setting a reminder to get up and walk around your floor or the building every half hour or hour (some fitness trackers do this for you by buzzing every so often). As an added bonus, taking these breaks can improve your focus and thinking when you get back to your desk. Stretching is also critical to counteracting the muscle contractions that happens from hunching in front of a computer screen for hours on end.  The following exercises from Concept Seating give you a great combination of stretching and strengthening that you can do at your desk at any time of the day.  They help improve your posture, loosen up those shrunken muscles from hunching, and get you moving. Give them a try and let us know what you think!

Deskercise

Infographic courtesy of Concept Seating

 

Why Do I Get Sick When I Start a New Workout Routine?

Does it seem like every time you try to start a new exercise routine you get sick and end up having to start all over again? You’re not alone and this is an actual thing – it’s not just your body betraying you, though it may seem like it.

So let’s look at what’s going on when this happens and the steps you can take to stop it from happening to you next time.

Stress on Your Body

While exercise is really good for your body, it’s important to remember that it is also a stressor on your body, especially if it’s different or more vigorous than you’re used to. That stress on your body can temporarily run down your immune system, making you more susceptible to germs and viruses. It’s similar to how your immune system can get run down if you’re lacking in sleep for too long. One way of thinking of it is that your body has so many resources to allocate. If it needs to move more of them to exertion and healing/recovery from a workout, there are less resources to allocate to your immune system. Obviously, this isn’t quite what’s happening but it’s a way of thinking about it.

Gyms are a Germ Pit

I’m not being dramatic- they are a germ pit. Unfortunately, civilized human beings who actually thoroughly wipe down the equipment they use when they’re done are few and far between, so you’re sharing whatever they left on the treadmill before you. Free weights in particular are the dirtiest piece of gym equipment. In fact, one study found that free weights contain more than 300 times the germs found on a toilet seat. Sorry, but you needed to know. It makes sense when you think about it – how many times have you seen someone actually wipe down the weights before they re-rack them? Exactly. Never.

Your fitness classes are also guilty of being germy places. Yoga mats in particular are fantastic incubators for a number of infection-causing bacteria. And, just as at the gym, you can’t count on your neighbor wiping down her equipment as diligently as you do.

Add to this germy mix a rundown immune system and you have a perfect equation for a fitness de-railing illness.

So what can you do to end the vicious exercise-sickness-exercise cycle?

Tips for Keeping Healthy

  • Wipe down your equipment BEFORE and after use.
  • Avoid touching your face until you’ve washed your hands thoroughly.
  • Bring your own towel – some gyms transport their dirty and clean towels in the same gym, thereby recontaminating the clean towels with bacteria.
  • Try to make sure you wipe your face with the side of the towel that hasn’t touched the equipment – you can do this by putting a mark on one side of your towel or using a towel that has a pattern on one side.
  • Ease into your new workouts instead of running headlong in so it’s less of a strain on your body. You can do this by taking more modifications in your first class or starting your runs at a slower pace, for example.
  • If you’re going to try a new workout that’s more strenuous or just different from what you’re used to, do what you can to support your immune system – drink lots of water, take your vitamins, get enough rest, eat lots of fruits and veggies for those phytonutrients.

My Routine

I’m a fairly fit person, but I’ve dealt with the struggle of starting a new exercise regimen and getting sick immediately many times. Most recently, I tried a new HIIT class which is very different from what I’m used to and I got majorly sick within a couple days. So I have developed a new routine to avoid that.

Hydration. Not only do I make sure to drink water while I’m working out, I make sure to refill my water bottle before I leave and continue to drink it on my way home with the goal of replenishing fluids and then some.

Hand Washing. I try to be mindful about not touching my face during my workout and I wash my hands in the locker room before I leave. I also wash them again when I get home even if I’m going to shower right away (Confession: I usually eat before showering #priorities).

Immune System Support: I make sure to support my immune system by taking a Shaklee Vitalized Immunity tablet with a big glass of water when I get home and I take my vitamins with a nutritious snack or meal.

Rest. I’m an early to bed person. I have always needed a lot of sleep and that hasn’t changed with age so I listen to my body for bed time.

Restore. I don’t go right back to it the next day. I give my body a break by doing something lighter that will still get my blood pumping, like a long walk or yoga. Then I’m giving my body some chance to recuperate while stimulating the lining of my blood vessels, the endothelium, which releases its own natural “medicine” to help me continue to recover.

Once you’ve gotten over this hurdle, be sure to check out my tips for keeping yourself motivated to workout so you can keep up the good work!

Decluttering

Today I want to share a post from a good friend of mine, Cheryl Russo of Organizing by Cheryl. I met Cheryl a few months ago and she quickly became on of my favorite people. She is such a positive, genuine person and really walks the walk when it comes to organization.

“A post about personal organizing?” you say? Yes, let me explain. Our surrounding physical environment has a massive impact on our inner mental and emotional environment. If you are surrounded by clutter and disarray, odds are you feel stressed out and discombobulated much of the time. Likewise, if your kitchen is a mess, you are more likely to order takeout rather than cook a healthy meal. Are your junk food snacks more visible/accessible than your healthy snack? Chances are you’re going to opt for the indulgence over the healthy choice most often. We know that our emotional state and our stress levels impact how we care for ourselves- from how we eat to how we sleep to how much we move. So making your living and working environments work for you is super important to your health.

I know, as well as anyone else, that once things get to a certain point, starting the process of decluttering and cleaning out can feel hopeless, even impossible. But Cheryl has some great tips to keep you from getting overwhelmed:

  1. Start small – like your junk drawer or a cabinet
  2. Start with just 5 minutes a day
  3. For big projects, use the Pomodoro Method: 25 min working on it, 5 min break, repeat

Once you get started, here are her Top 10 Tips for Decluttering and Organizing:

Decluttering

If the following statements are true, then donate or ditch it:

  1. Something doesn’t fit (e.g., jeans that you had hoped to fit into, but it’s been 15 years now)
  2. You own two of the same thing (e.g., two blenders)
  3. It’s tattered or a dust-magnet (e.g., that high school hockey team t-shirt; that eucalyptus wreath you’ve had on the wall for 19 years)
  4. You just don’t love it (i.e., it doesn’t “spark joy” to quote Marie Kondo or it doesn’t “add value” to quote Joshua Fields Millburn)
  5. It’s expired (e.g., medicine, food, batteries) or outlived its purpose

Organizing

  1. Store like items together (i.e., have a system for storing things) like camera stuff with the camera and hiking boots with hiking gear
  2. Label boxes and bins clearly and store the bins with the labeled side facing out
  3. Don’t overstuff drawers; to paraphrase Marie Kondo: to keep clutter from accumulating, items must be just as easily put back as they are taken out
  4. Daily-use items should be stored within reach (but not out in the open cluttering a counter)
  5. When in doubt, keep multi-use items (e.g., a large knife: it can chop and the side of it can be used to crush garlic) and get rid of gadgets that have only one purpose; you probably never use that melon baller anyway

Other things to keep in mind…

20/20 rule

For those “just in case” items, if the thing is less than $20 to replace and you could rebuy it within 20 minutes of your home, then donate it (20/20 rule courtesy of theminimalists.com).

Sharing apps and other “sharing” ideas

There are lots of music and other online sharing apps and sites where you can “borrow” music, articles, etc. without actually owning the physical items. There are also car sharing companies (e.g., Zipcar) where you can reserve a car for a few hours or days; this is good if you live in a city where parking is expensive and/or difficult.

Paper (e.g., receipts, documents, forms, etc.) accumulation ideas

Buy a scanner app (e.g., Scanbot about $6) for your Smartphone; many of these apps scan documents beautifully, then you can email them to yourself or send them to a computer folder.

Sentimental items

Take a picture of them, then donate to those who could use them now; keep only a few of the things you have, ditch or donate the rest; find a new purpose for the item (e.g., an old blanket; turn it into a scarf, a cleaning cloth, or a handkerchief); or just get rid of them and be ok with it.

 

For some more great advice on organizing and de-cluttering your life, make sure you visit Organizing by Cheryl’s website and like her Facebook page!

Meet Cheryl:

23-Cheryl-200x300I love organizing. I was that kid who always had an organized bedroom. But it wasn’t until early 2016 that I decided that this was my true calling. I love the challenge of using space effectively. I live what I say; I have lived in more than a few apartments that were under 500 square feet. Therefore, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the use of space, and now I can use what I’ve learned to help others with their space. I look forward to working with you to create the space in your home or office that will allow you to focus on what matters to you in life. We will declutter and create space that will be organized, peaceful, and efficient. I’ll work at a pace that is comfortable for you and offer advice on developing systems so that you’ll be able to easily continue to maintain the space we’ve created. Let’s work together!

Healthy Breakfasts on the Go

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day – that’s not just an old wives’ tale. But, it can be the most challenging meal of the day as we are struggling to get ourselves ready for work, get our kids ready for school, maybe squeeze a workout, or leave earlier to drive the carpool. With everything that we have going on in our busy lives, it can be asking a lot just to eat breakfast let alone make it a healthy one.

Why is Breakfast So Important?

As the first meal of the day,  breakfast literally breaks our fast from the night before while we were sleeping. Once we wake up, if we go too long before we eat, our bodies begin to go into a fight or flight stress response and starvation mode. This elevates the levels of cortisol, our stress hormone, in our bodies. Since our cortisol levels are naturally at their highest in the morning anyway, elevating them further this way ensures that your stress hormone levels will be higher than they should be for the rest of your day. Eating within an hour of waking up will prevent this stress response from occurring.

Breakfast is the fuel for our bodies to start our day. Think of it like this: your body, having healed and rejuvenated all night long, is like a nice new car with an empty gas tank in the morning. You wouldn’t put sludgy cheap fuel into your brand new shiny car, right? Likewise, you don’t want to put junk food into your body to fuel your morning. A healthy, balanced breakfast consists of a lean protein and a complex carbohydrate. You can add a healthy fat in there for bonus points as well. The complex carbohydrate is burned for energy but it is absorbed as a slower rate than a simple carbohydrate like a donut or sugary cereal. This slower absorption rate give you even levels of energy throughout your morning and doesn’t spike your blood sugar like a simple carb would. The protein further slows this absorption and provides fuel on it’s own as well. The combination of fiber in your complex carb and protein will leave you feeling fuller longer. A healthy fat added to the mix provides brain food to keep you on top of things as you start your day.

Healthy On-the-Go Breakfast Ideas

So now that I’ve bored you with the science, here are some suggestions for healthy breakfasts on the go!

  • Whole grain waffles (I recommend these waffles) with all-natural, no added sugar nut butter (like Teddie). Sprinkle them with some cinnamon or cocoa powder for more of a treat or top them with half a banana or sliced apple.
  • Whole grain toast with low-fat cheese or hummus and half an avocado
  • Smoothie made with plain, low-fat yogurt, 1/2 cup of fruit, and 1 cup of spinach. If you like to add protein powder, I recommend this protein powder as it also contains additional vitamins and minerals and is a clean protein.
  • Fried egg folded up in a slice of whole grain toast
  • A banana and nut butter rolled up in a whole wheat wrap or lavash
  •  Egg muffin cups
  • Baked oatmeal muffin cups
  • Overnight oats
  • Coffee Smoothie –  1 cup cold brew or iced coffee, 1/2 cup milk of choice, 1/2 frozen banana, 2 scoops vanilla protein powder, blend and enjoy!
  • Whole grain toast with low-fat ricotta cheese and sliced apple sprinkled with cinnamon
  • 2 hard boiled eggs and a slice of whole grain toast and a piece of fruit
  • Savory quinoa and egg jar – pre-prep a big batch of quinoa and dish it into jars (1/2 cup serving) with whatever veggies you’d like and store in the fridge. In the morning, fry up an egg quickly and toss it in the jar to enjoy on the go. Or prep the whole thing in advance, microwave it for a minute, then go!

 

Got any favorite healthy breakfasts you take on the go? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Product Review: Kashi 7 Grain Freezer Waffles

Breakfast can be a very tricky meal when it comes to eating healthy because it’s often the meal we find the least amount of time for. However, as we know, most of the “convenience food” options there are for breakfast are anything but healthy choices and can set the stage for your eating for the rest of the day. Throw into the equation a picky eater, and you have quite the dilemma.

I get breakfast food questions a lot – people are trying their best to eat well but they are short on time and energy and they know that there are not many convenient options out there that will cut it. I also often hear “My kid will only eat waffles in the morning. Is there anything I can give him/her that isn’t as bad?” I became a health coach on a mission in the freezer section of Market Basket and I landed on Kashi 7 Grain frozen waffles.

kashi

The 3-5-3 Rule

The rule that I use in choosing a healthy breakfast cereal I also apply to other breakfast grains. Looking at the nutrition facts, you want to find a product that contains at least 3 grams of protein, less than 5 grams of sugar, and at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.

Kashi 7 Grain Waffles were a HUGE winner in this test with 4 grams of protein, 3 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of fiber for 2 waffles. These are an option that will keep you feeling full and satisfied and will not lead to a large blood sugar spike and crash.

Ingredients

The ingredients list for Kashi 7 Grain Waffles is enough to make my little health coach heart go pitter patter. The majority of ingredients are various whole grains and ingredients that you would expect to see in a wholesome grain product. As we know from the nutrition facts, they contain minimal added cane sugar and I’m not concerned about the canola oil in it as it is non-GMO and there is not a large amount in them.

A couple ingredients that some people get concerned about – soy lecithin and xanthan gum. While they sound scary, you are going to find these additives in virtually any packaged food product.

Soy lecithin typically raises red flags for people because of the word “soy.” A little while back, a very misleading study was conducted from which people concluded that soy acts as estrogen in the human body and can, therefore, cause certain cancers. However, there were a number of problems with this study that poke huge holes in those conclusions. 1. the study was conducted on mice which are not biologically similar enough to humans to make that extrapolation, and 2. the amount of soy those mice were given in the study far exceeds what any person would ever consume (here is a fantastic resource if you’d like to learn more about this). It also failed to account for the quality of the soy consumed. It’s also very important to note that, while soy lecithin is found in many, many foods, it is present in very, very small quantities.

Soy lecithin is typically added to food as an emulsifier or lubricant but it can also be used as an antioxidant and flavor protector. It actually has some health benefits, believe it or not. For one, it may lower cholesterol levels and, for another, it contains choline, which prevents organ disfunction, fatty liver, and muscle damage.

Bottom line on soy lecithin: unless you have a severe soy allergy or the soy is GMO, you need not worry about it.

Xanthan gum is the other additive people often worry about and it’s also found in almost everything that comes in a package. It is typically added to foods as a stabilizer and is found in very small quantities.  Although considered safe for consumption, it can cause gas and bloating in those who are sensitive to it. For this reason, those who eat a diet consisting of mostly prepackaged foods may notice a significant improvement in how they feel once they cut back on those foods.

Thus, while no additives is the best option, these two found in the Kashi waffles would not cause me to tell you to avoid them. (Here is a great resource on food additives if you’d like to learn more about what to avoid)

Flavor and Texture

Admittedly, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve had an Eggo waffle (I think I was watching Lamb Chop’s Play Along if that’s any indication of how long it’s been) but I don’t think these would be a noticeable change for your kids if they’re used to eating Eggos. They have the texture you would expect of a frozen waffle and a nice, very slightly sweet flavor. They’re not heavy or gritty like some would worry a whole grain waffle would be.

What’s Your Topping?

No amount of whole grain is going to matter if you are drowning your waffles in sugary pancake syrup. The typical store-bought pancake syrup consists almost entirely of unhealthy, even dangerous, ingredients: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, sodium benzoate, and artificial flavors to name a few.

Better options for waffle toppers include: real maple syrup, honey, fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt, natural sugar-free peanut butter, and avocado.

With a healthful topping, these multigrain waffles are a solid start to your day.

waffles

Accomplishing Your New Year’s Resolutions

Did you know that 92% of New Year’s resolutions fail? And 80% of them fail by February? Those seem like pretty depressing odds, but you CAN make your healthy New Year’s resolutions a reality by avoiding some of the common pitfalls I often see people making. Whether you are looking to lose weight or to just get healthier, here are my tips for keeping your resolutions alive.

Pitfall 1: You Don’t Make It Official

It may seem silly, but there is a lot of power behind writing down a goal. It puts the energy out there for it and also helps you get more clear about what it is you want to accomplish. Better yet, if you write it down and place it somewhere prominent where you can see if often, it can serve as a daily reminder/motivation to keep working towards your goal.

Pitfall 2: You Don’t Know Your Why

Knowing why you want to accomplish a goal is just as important as having a goal. There are going to be times when working towards your resolution is challenging, you’re beating yourself up, and you just want to quit. In those instances, having a very strong reason why you want to accomplish your goal will keep you going. I don’t mean “I want to lose weight because I need to be healthier” – that’s very vague and not personal. You need to dig deep for your why: “I want to lose weight because I want to be able to chase my children around at the playground” or “I want to lose weight because I want to go on an international hiking trip to see some of the world’s most amazing natural sites.” These are powerful why’s that mean something personal to you. Once you know your why, take it a step further and write it down with your resolution.

Pitfall 3: Not Setting Specific Goals

Making your goals specific enough is critical and can be challenging. Without a specific goal, it can be impossible to track your progress or know when you’ve achieved your goal. Plus, if you don’t know exactly what you’re working towards, how will you stay motivated? Instead of making your resolution “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get healthier” make it “I want to lose 30 pounds” or “I want to be a size 6” or “I want to be able to run a 5k.” That way you can measure your efforts and your success.

Pitfall 4: You Don’t Plan Ahead

In a society where we are surrounded by sedentary entertainment and processed, unhealthy foods, it can be a challenge to stick to healthful goals. This is why planning ahead is crucial. Going to a party or gathering? Bring some healthy foods you can snack on. Taking a trip? Plan for some activity time in advance. Going out to dinner? Review the menu online ahead of time so you know what the healthy options are going into it.

Pitfall 5: You Go It Alone

Accountability is a very powerful motivating force. Tell someone you know will check in with you about your resolution and your plans for accomplishing it. Even better, find someone to work towards it with you. For example, if you know that you have a hard time getting yourself to the gym, find yourself a gym buddy. If you want to become a runner, sign up for a 5k with a friend so you have a deadline and an accountability partner.

Pitfall 6: You’re Too Focused

The major reason why most diets fail is that they are not sustainable. They are built on the premise of deprivation so they give you results fast, but you can’t stay on them in the long-term and you gain back the weight pretty quickly. If you are looking to lose weight or to just eat healthier, make sure that you build in a treat day. Balance is the key to success and having a designated time to indulge will help keep you on track – as long as you plan ahead for it so you don’t go overboard and get right back on track after. For example, if sweets are your thing, you could say that Fridays are your treat day and you can have dessert with dinner on Fridays. Likewise, if you are going to a party or some other function and know there will be treats there, make a deal with yourself ahead of time that you can have one slice of cake or some of your friend’s famous nacho dip. We are human. We eat for two reasons: to survive and for pleasure. You need both sides of the coin to be successful.

Pitfall 7: You Eat Too Much Salad

Many of us think that in order to lose weight and eat healthy, we need to just eat a lot of salads. Don’t get me wrong, salads are an awesome powerhouse of nutrients, but they can get old really fast. There are tons and tons of healthy meals you can have that are not salads. Check out my recipes or jump on Pinterest and there will be lots of healthy food inspiration for you. Variety is the spice of life, so make sure you change it up a bit!

Pitfall 8: You’re Not Tracking

No one wants to track what they eat but it is super important, especially in the beginning of any healthy eating routine. You would be shocked at how much you eat without even realizing it and also how much of it isn’t as healthy as you would think. My recommendation to you is to track your eating at least for the first 2 weeks of your resolution so you can really get a feel for what you’re putting into your body. Think about it, how can you change what you don’t know? It’s worth the tedium of tracking for a couple weeks.

Pitfall 9: You’re Not Exercising

We often hear that maintaining a healthy weight is 80% diet and 20% exercise. But if you’re only eating healthy, then you’re only going to get yourself 80% of the way there. Remember that our bodies can acclimate to our calorie intake and just focusing on food will get you to that dreaded weight loss plateau. A varied exercise routine will help keep you working steadily towards your goal and you will get there more quickly as well. Plus, exercise is crucial to a healthy heart and circulatory system, a healthy respiratory system, healthy bones and muscles, and it’s even beneficial for your immune system.

Pitfall 10: You’re Not Hydrating

As an adult, you should be drinking 1/2 oz of water per pound of your body weight per day. Water keeps your joints and muscles working well, helps flush your body, helps you feel full, helps keep your skin healthy, and so much more. I bet that you have had someone say to you that there is a chance you’re thirsty when you think you’re hungry. Keeping yourself hydrated is critical to helping you get healthier and/or lose weight.

Pitfall 11: You’re Not Supplementing

Regardless of how healthy you eat, I can promise you that you are not getting all of the nutrients that your body needs. In fact, 90% of Americans aren’t getting the nutrition our bodies need. There are a number of reasons for this. Among them are that our produce isn’t as nutritious as it once was, that, biologically speaking, a 2000 calorie diet isn’t normal for humans so we are trying to get all of our nutrition is fewer calories, plus factors like antibiotic use, consumption of inorganic meats, and digestive issues. In order for your body to function at its best, it needs to be properly nourished and supplementing with quality supplements is the way to do that. Regularly taking supplements will also help you reach your health goals by properly fueling your body. With regular supplementation, you may even notice a change in your appetite!

Wishing you a very happy, healthy New Year and all the best with your resolutions!