Keepin It Simple – 4 Easy Ways to Stay on Track in 2015

keep it simple

Happy New Year! and Happy New Year Resolutions! What will it be this year? Losing weight, gaining health, getting fit, building muscle, exercise more, eat less. Whatever your goals, one of the best strategies for success is  to Keep It Simple.

Here are my four favorite tips for any health and fitness related goals –

1.  Don’t Stress Out!  Stressing out about “how bad” you ate over the last 4 days, or how little you exercised is NOT going to help you lose the weight.  Nope, in fact, stress can make you hold onto more fat and pounds.  So stop it!  Move forward and don’t look back at what you did or didn’t do last week or weekend.

2.  Exercise with intensity!  Workout hard!  It doesn’t have to be long, it just needs to be intense.  And who wants to spend hours exercising anyway? I was so busy with kids this week, I only got 10-20 minute at the gym each day. I made sure my intensity was maxed out, and I feel like I got a good, all be it short, workout.

3.  Drink water like it’s your job!  Yes, down that water to flush out what you are retaining from any over-indulgent eating.  Salt, alcohol, and excess sugar can lead to a lot of bloat, so drink your water to flush it out! Who cares if you go to the bathroom 12 times a day?

4.  Just eat sensibly.  Eat your lean proteins, high fiber foods, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats.  It won’t take many days to see the changes.

Healthy Foods for Unhealthy Cravings

0910-chocolate-potato-chip[1]I have always heard that a food craving is your body telling you that it’s lacking a certain nutrient. I came across an article in Medical Daily that not only explains what cravings mean, but also offers healthy alternatives.

Food cravings can seem strong enough to pick us up and send us straight to the refrigerator, drive through, or local grocery, going against our better judgment. Our hunger pangs can often lead us astray, forcing us to make unhealthy choices when it comes to satisfying our food cravings. While we may blame our sweet tooth or stress for these compulsive cravings like chocolate, or a bag of chips, our body may be longing for something we cannot buy at the grocery store. These intense cravings may be a signal that something is amiss in our bodies such as vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients we lack.

Since most of us in eat a fair amount of processed foods, and not enough whole, nutrient-rich foods, we actually can suffer from very mild malnutrition. This explains why we end up craving what our body is currently lacking.

For healthier food choices, it’s important to recognize what types of key nutrients we’re missing, and how to put ourselves back on a healthier path where we remain just as satisfied.

1. Swap Chocolate With Raw Nuts

Craving chocolate can mean our body is in need of magnesium. Chocolate provides up to 10 percent daily value of magnesium for 2 ounces (and a whopping 290 calories), actually making it a pretty good source of magnesium.  But our craving for chocolate may be a learned response instead of the body actually thinking it’s getting the best source of magnesium. Dieticians recommend eating raw nuts, as a better source, on a regular basis to make the craving go away.

2. Swap Coffee Or Tea With Hydrating Juice

The desire for coffee or tea is quite common, especially during the early hours of the morning. In the AM, after the body has been on an eight-hour fast of anything liquid or solid, we tend to be more dehydrated. This is due to our metabolic processes still running, and water being lost in the processes.

Starting the day with a hydrating juice such as watermelon juice, or diluted orange juice (half water and half OJ) can be a healthier alternative. Once you hydrate your cells you may find you don’t need a caffeine boost which can actually cause dehydration. A sliced orange or sliced grapefruit in the morning is also great for hydration, vitamin C, and fiber.

3. Premenstrual Cravings

A week before a woman’s menstrual cycle, she tends to crave random foods like chocolate, and those laden with saturated fats. These cravings hint that the body needs more zinc. The level of zinc in your system fluctuates depending on your estrogen levels. Therefore, zinc increases as estrogen rises, leading up to ovulation, and then drops right before ovulation and stays lower until the beginning of your next cycle.

Zinc deficiency has been linked to lower levels of the hormone leptin, which is responsible for regulating the body’s energy expenditure, fat storage, and appetite. Leptin communicates to the brain when it should feel full and stop eating. Insufficient leptin levels are believed to be the primary cause of food cravings and overeating. Good sources of zinc include red meats, seafood, leafy vegetables, and root vegetables.

Rather than cave to your food cravings, understand what your body really needs, and replace the junk with healthy substitutes! Now you know.

Eat This, Not That: 5 Healthier Substitutes For Unhealthy Food Cravings

All You Need Is The Right Tool – 9 Best Kitchen Tools for Healthy Food Prep

imagesCAI5SIDKOne of the most effective ways to stay on track with a diet is to COOK AT HOME. But there’s more to a healthy kitchen than a well-stocked fridge and a pantry full of pre-portioned snacks.

My husband can fix almost anything. His favorite saying is “all you need is the right tool”. This is true when it comes to cooking healthy too. How you prepare and enjoy your meals matters almost as much as what you’re eating. The following are must-have items that will help turn your kitchen into a weight loss machine:

 

1. Food processor

You can purchase a mini or full-size processor for chopping or shredding vegetables, fresh herbs, and nuts with ease. It will also puree and let you sneak vitamin-rich cauliflower, broccoli, squash, and sweet potatoes into sauces and spreads or even soups. Whip up healthy hummus, pesto, and marinades, too. You can also try a handheld blender; they work well for smoothies.

 

2. Knives

Any smart weight loss program will call for plenty of vegetables, and a sharp knife will make all that cutting, chopping, and slicing much easier. Make sure you have a chef’s knife, a slicer, and a paring/utility knife, plus a sharpener (dull knives make prep work far less enjoyable). Armed with these, you can start your week off with containers full of red pepper strips, celery stalks, carrot sticks, and insert your favorite veggies here ____ for easy snacking. Embrace your inner Top Chef!

 

3. Downsize plates and glasses

Average plate sizes seem to be getting bigger and bigger. The bigger your plate, the more likely you are to load it up with food. Replace your 12-inch dinner plates with 9-inch salad plates, and then fill them up with high-fiber, low-calorie greens and beans plus smaller portions of healthy carbs and meat.

When it comes to glasses, Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab researchers found that individuals pour more of a beverage into short wide glasses versus tall narrow ones http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/.  I always tell people not to drink their calories, but if you want to have a morning OJ or a Friday night cocktail, choose a taller, narrower glass (think Tom Collins instead of rocks). But for water, choose the biggest goblet you can find: Many people mistake thirst for hunger, so staying hydrated can help you avoid needless snacking.

 

4. Salad spinner

This kitschy tool lets you simultaneously wash and dry your greens. Spinach and lettuce will last longer if stored dry.

 

5. Mini zip-close bags or small tupperware type containers

Use them to hold individual servings of nuts, dried fruit, granola, cheese, and other easy-to-gobble items. There is nothing worse than mindlessly eating handful after handful right out of the bag, and before you know it consuming 100’s of calories in an otherwise healthy snack.

 

6. Oil mister

These gadgets allow you to add just a spritz of heart-healthy oil without overdosing on fat. Think avocado oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil. Mist veggies prior to roasting them, or add some flavor to salads. You should also keep your pantry stocked with nonstick cooking spray, which allows you to whip up everything from scrambled eggs to chicken breasts without butter or oil.

 

7. Micro plane grater/zester

Use this tool to grate small amounts of flavorful cheese into soups, salads, and more. It will also zest oranges, lemons, and limes which can pack in a lot of flavor without adding any calories.

 

8. Slow cooker

If you don’t like cooking but love coming home to a house that smells delicious, this is the tool for you. I am not a great cook… ask any of my friends, but I can rock a slow cooker. It’s hard to screw up any meal when a crockpot is your tool of choice.  Slow cookers can turn basic ingredients such as chopped vegetables, chicken, broth, and spices into low-fat, down-home comfort food. And if you have a hot, delicious meal waiting for you, you’ll be less likely to open the fridge and mindlessly snack while you wonder, “What should I make for dinner?”

 

9. Spices

A fully stocked spice cabinet lets you add flavorful, calorie-free punches to food. You’ll save on fat and sodium, too. Staples include:

Basil for pasta and veggies

Bay leaves for flavoring stocks, sauces, and stews

Cayenne pepper (red pepper) for a spicy kick

Cinnamon for hot cereals such as oatmeal or in baking

Crushed red pepper flakes to add heat to spaghetti, soups, sauces, marinades, and meats

Cumin for chili or Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern foods

Dill for fish or potatoes; mix with low-fat yogurt or sour cream for a vegetable dip

Garlic powder for any recipe that calls for garlic flavor

Oregano for tomato-based sauces as well as stews and vegetables

Rosemary for lamb, chicken, potatoes, stews, sauces, vegetables, and fresh breads

Rubbed Sage for chicken, turkey, stuffing, and pork chops

Thyme for hearty roasted or baked dishes as well as vegetables

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.

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
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