The Granola Bar – Friend or Foe?

Today is National Granola Bar Day, but while ingredients like caramel, chocolate, and marshmallows may be must haves in candy, these sugary, high fat ingredients have found a new place to hang out. It’s time to take a closer look at the granola bar label.

Granola bars have become an on-the-go meal option for busy people, athletes, and outdoor lovers. The word granola may conjure up thoughts of healthy oats, grains, and nuts all nicely molded into an easy to eat bar, but many granola bars are glorified high-calorie cookies.

In the quest for a quick, healthy, satisfying snack, a granola bar may be at the top of the list, but snackers beware. The seemingly innocent bars may have a pretty shiny wrapper bragging about being an excellent source of this or that, but what lies beneath may be an over-processed nutritional mess.

Quaker Oats and General Mills lead the way as the most popular brands of granola bars, and while they may be the kings of the supermarket isle, they rank low in the hierarchy of good nutrition.  Averaging  25 ingredients, 12 grams of sugar, and many even coated in chocolate, these babies can be the equivalent of a eating a candy bar.

Similar to candy bars or cookies, many of the bars have high fructose corn syrup which is linked to weight gain, and insulin resistance, hydrogenated oils ,known to raise bad cholesterol ,  and monosodium glutamate (MSG)  which has been shown in lab tests to affect the regulation of hypothalamic appetite suppression (read: it makes you feel hungry again), which links it to obesity and type 2 diabetes .

It’s like the Bermuda triangle of bad nutrition, and not only are they a mouthful to pronounce, but also a mouthful of ingredients that offer no nutritional benefit and may be hazardous to health.    

The number of granola bars on the market   has exploded over the past few years, and with the focus shifting to healthier ingredients it’s possible to choose a healthy option. But reading the nutritional information is key to making the best choices, and the more recognizable the ingredients the better.

Many granola bars are fortified with vitamins and minerals, and while fortification is not a replacement for eating a well-balanced diet [6] it can help to make up for nutrients that may be lacking .  

Look for bars that are high in fiber (at least 5 grams), as it slows down the time it takes to empty the stomach (read: it keeps you feeling full longer), and it can reduce bad cholesterol . Try for at least 14 grams per day (depending on age and caloric intake).

There is a reason why some granola bars taste as sweet as a cookie, so checking for sugar and fat is the next step in making a healthy choice. Look for bars that have around  25% of the calories from sugar and 3 grams  of fat or less.

Don’t forget to check the serving size, which influences the number of calories and all the nutrient amounts listed on the label. When the serving size says two, it doubles all the numbers, but chances are it won’t keep hunger at bay twice as long.

While many granola bars are nutritional land mines, choosing a simple granola bar packed with nutrients and fiber will be more satisfying than a bar loaded with fat, sugar, and a bunch of ingredients from science experiment gone awry.

For a Short Bout of Exercise – Take the Stairs

 

To take the stairs or not to take the stairs… that is the question.

I was recently on jury duty, and the courtroom that we were in was on the seventh floor, so I rode up and down the elevator many times during the day, many days in a row. What I found interesting was that many of the people were riding the elevator up or down for one just one floor.  Definitely an opportunity missed…

In a recent study, British researchers confirmed that some exercise is better than nothing.

Researchers found that for sedentary people, even a few minutes of daily stair climbing – a vigorous but easily accessible form of exercise – can improve cardiovascular health.

Previous studies have shown that accumulating short bouts of exercise can make a difference; this one shows just how short those bouts can be.

Twenty-two sedentary college-aged women walked up 199 steps – more than you’re likely to find at home, but doable in a high-rise – in 2.25 minutes, a “brisk but comfortable” pace which shot their heart rates up to 90 percent of their predicted maximum.

They progressed from one ascent per day during the first week to six ascents per day, for a total of 13.5 minutes over the course of a day, during the sixth and seventh weeks.

By the end of this modest exercise program, the women were measurably more fit: Heart rate, oxygen uptake and blood lactate levels during climbing were reduced, and their HDL (”good”) cholesterol levels had increased.  Source: Preventive Medicine, 2000; 30, 4, 277-281 via acefintess.org

My husband has been on a stair climbing kick lately, because he is so busy at work, he has no time for the gym. He works on the 10th floor of his building, and takes the stairs up and down at least once a day. Now, I’m not saying that his weight loss is 100% because of the stairs (some of it is because his awesome wife only serves healthy food), but he has lost over 30 pounds in the last year or so.

Make a new rule – three flights of stairs or less, skip the elevator and hoof it.

Superbowl Sunday – Hooray Food!

Can you believe The Super Bowl is this Sunday. As disappointed as I am that the Broncos will not be there, I am still looking forward to the food. Every Fitness/Diet/Nutrition/Health related website has recipe tips for the big day. I thought I would throw mine into the mix also.

Anytime we go to someone’s house with food in hand, my husband doesn’t want me to bring anything that tastes or looks too healthy. I guess he feels like I am fanatical enough about food, that I don’t need to subject our friends to “that” kind of food.
So especially on Sunday, I have to bring something great. But I also want it to be healthy, even if I have to mask it as indulgent.
Here are a few recipes I am considering, and they can all be made ahead of time.

Southwestern Layered Bean Dip

1 16-ounce can nonfat re fried beans, preferably “spicy”
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
4 scallions, sliced1/2 cup prepared salsa
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 cup jalapeño slices, chopped
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack, or Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup zero fat Greek yogurt
1 1/2 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1 medium tomato, chopped1 medium avocado, chopped
1/4 cup canned sliced black olives, (optional)

Preparation

Combine re fried beans, black beans, scallions, salsa, cumin, chili powder and jalapeños in a medium bowl. Transfer to a shallow 2-quart microwave-safe dish; sprinkle with cheese. Microwave on High until the cheese is melted and the beans are hot, 3 to 5 minutes.Spread yogurt evenly over the hot bean mixture, then scatter with lettuce, tomato, avocado and olives (if using).
Nutrition Per serving:
146 calories; 7 g fat (3 g sat, 3 g mono); 12 mg cholesterol; 15 g carbohydrates; 7 g protein; 5 g fiber; 288 mg sodium; 164 mg potassium.
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Creamy Spinach Dip (notice the veggies as dippers)

1 small shallot, peeled
1 5-ounce can water chestnuts, rinsed
1/2 cup reduced-fat cream cheese, (Neufchâtel)
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
6 ounces baby spinach
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Preparation

Pulse shallot and water chestnuts in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Add cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, lemon juice, salt and pepper and pulse until just combined. Add spinach and chives and pulse until incorporated.
Nutrition Per 1/4-cup serving:
54 calories; 3 g fat (2 g sat, 1 g mono); 10 mg cholesterol; 4 g carbohydrates; 4 g protein; 1 g fiber; 222 mg sodium; 102 mg potassium
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Chocolate Crunch

1 cup Wheat Chex cereal,
(2 ounces)1 cup pretzel sticks broken in half,
(2 ounces)1/4 cup raw almonds,
(2 1/2 ounces)3 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate chips, melted
Preparation
Combine Chex, pretzels and almonds in a medium bowl.
Drizzle with melted chocolate; stir to combine. Spread the mixture on a wax paper-lined baking sheet and refrigerate until the chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.
Tip: To melt chocolate: Microwave on Medium for 1 minute. Stir, then continue microwaving on Medium in 20-second intervals until melted, stirring after each interval. Or place in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not boiling, water. Stir until melted.
Nutrition Per serving:
218 calories; 8 g fat (2 g sat, 3 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrates; 5 g protein; 3 g fiber; 397 mg sodium; 176 mg potassium

Power Up With Protein

Protein is the building block for muscle, and since the body can’t save it for later like carbohydrates and fat, it’s important to keep a constant stream coming, so the muscles stay strong and healthy. Protein construction is a never ending process, so if it doesn’t get a new supply often, the body will break down muscle from elsewhere in order to rebuild damaged areas – stealing from the biceps to pay the triceps.

In order to keep this thievery at bay, it is important to ingest protein throughout the day, and the two key times to get a protein fix are 30 minutes after waking up and 30 minutes after working out.

Wake up and smell the protein. We hear it all the time, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and come to find out protein is a critical component. If there’s any time the body is craving to get some much needed replenishment, it’s after being deprived of protein for the whole night. The body is hungry for nutrients, and protein is a fast way to break the fast. It’s also an instant metabolism boost, because eating protein requires extra energy to digest, which means the body burns more calories digesting it than carbohydrates and fats .

Equally as important is getting some protein after exercise. Following a training session, the body is a tiny bit damaged at the cellular level, and it needs time to repair this damage in order to get stronger. For the body to do this, it needs a little help from its friend, protein, so it can get the raw materials to rebuild and recover . By taking in protein (20 grams or so) within 30 minutes after exercise, the body gets the nutrients it needs to recover without breaking down its own muscle tissue. Friends don’t let friends lose muscle.

Good sources of protein are eggs, turkey bacon, soy protein, raw nuts, or cottage cheese. Fish, beans, lean beef, and chicken are great alternatives as well, but may not be so appetizing for breakfast. The quickest and easiest “whey” to get protein is by chugging down a protein shake, as it is absorbed faster than solid foods. Power to the protein!

Timing is everything. A dose of protein 30 minutes after waking up and 30 minutes after working out will help to keep the body strong and healthy by preserving muscle tissue and giving the metabolism a boost.

Secrets of weight training

Weight training is the new cardio.  I don’t think it is a replacement for cardio, but the benefits of weight training are endless… for men and women.

I love weight training, and I have been doing it for over 12 years. I am always learning new ways to maximize my workouts and my results. Just walk into a bookstore, or browse online and you’ll find hundreds of books all ready to teach you how to gain the benefits of weight training, but there are a few steps you should adhere to no matter what your goals. These steps will ensure optimal results from you weight training activities.

Step # 1: Make your workouts short. Weight training programs should never last more than one hour. Remember, you’re placing stress on the muscles as you lift weights. An hour is the maximum time to exercise without causing stress and possible injuries.

Step # 2: Make your workout intense. During weight training sessions one of your goals should be to challenge your body, so it adapts by building new muscle cells and burning body fat. If you are going to take the time to lift weights, really make it worth your while. I had a football coach tell me that the last rep should look like the first rep.  This little tip helped me to make sure my intensity was at full throttle throughout the entire set.  The last rep won’t feel like the first one, as there is a pretty good chance it will be painful (in a good way) and exhausting, but if you keep good form and intensity, it will show in your results.

Step #3: Consistently change your weight training routines. Regardless of whether you are trying to burn fat, improve sports performance, boost your metabolism, get more tone, or become a body builder, change is a must. To reach your goals most effectively and work smarter, you must constantly challenge your body. Your body can adapt very quickly to repetitive routines week after week. Adding more weight, changing the routine and changing the number of repetitions are all excellent ways to keep change in your weight training workouts.You should change your workout routine at least every four weeks, but you can mix it up every week if you prefer.

 

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