Can Sweeteners Be Part Of A Healthy Diet?

Sugars; clockwise from top left: White refined, unrefined, brown, unprocessed cane

Sugars; clockwise from top left: White refined, unrefined, brown, unprocessed cane

Anyone who’s ever thought about what constitutes a healthy diet probably assumes it doesn’t include sugar. What about natural sweeteners, such as maple syrup, honey, and agave? Or stevia?  Is there a healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth? While the type of sweetener you choose to eat is important, even more crucial is the amount you eat. Here’s why too much sugar of any type in your diet can be harmful to your health.

One argument against sweeteners is simply that our bodies did not evolve to handle large amounts of concentrated sugars. Traditionally, the only sweet food we ate was fruit. The sugars in fruit are conveniently packaged with fiber, which slows the absorption of the sugar so that it doesn’t overwhelm our systems. Foods with added sugar (and refined carbohydrates that readily turn into sugar in our bodies) are so abundant these days — and, let’s face it, they taste really good — that most of us eat too much. But our bodies haven’t caught up to this new way of eating. For some, the extra load on the pancreas, the organ that controls blood sugar and fat storage, is enough to cause it to literally wear out, leading to insulin resistance and diabetes. In addition to having negative effects on your blood sugar, eating excess sugar can depress your immune system and promote chronic inflammation.

We also now know that carbohydrate intake from added sugars and refined carbohydrates is a more important contributor to heart disease than fat and cholesterol. Add that to the brain fog and energy highs and lows that can result from eating sugary foods, and we have good reason to be wary of added sweeteners.

What about artificial sweeteners? After all, they have zero calories and don’t raise your blood sugar. Well, there’s reason to be wary of these as well. Firstly, they’re artificial. If you’re following a whole-foods diet, these chemicals have no place. Secondly, new research is uncovering the darker side of artificial sweeteners. A recent study demonstrated that artificial sweeteners can negatively affect gut bacteria and cause glucose intolerance, the condition that precedes diabetes.

So what’s the bottom line? Does all this doom and gloom about sweeteners mean we have to give up our favorite desserts and snacks? No, I don’t think so. Sweets can still be a part of a healthy diet… in moderation, of course.

But moderation can be difficult when it comes to sweets. If you’re someone who finds it hard to get through a day without a sugary coffee drink, an afternoon candy bar, or dessert after dinner (or all three!), you might want to experiment with cutting back. I’ll talk about some ways to approach that challenge in a future blog post.

Sometimes awareness is enough to bring about a change for the better. Start by simply paying attention to the sources of added sugars in your daily diet. Refined white sugar or artificial sweeteners can be replaced with maple syrup, honey (especially from a local source), stevia, and agave. Zing Bars are sweetened with a small amount of agave – here is more about that.

We want to know – how do you make sweeteners a part of your healthy diet?

 

Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.

Health and Fitness Apps: Which One Is Best For You?

Young Woman Exercising on an Exercise Bike

Is your phone full of useless apps you’ve used once or twice? With over 43,000 health apps on the market (1), we’ve all tried our share of apps that over-promised and under-delivered.

The popularity of wearable trackers and health and fitness apps is growing at a rapid rate; consumers are offered a dizzying array of choices. So how do you find reliable apps that can actually help you achieve your goals? Start by asking these two questions:

1. What’s My Goal?

Are you sedentary and looking to start a walking program? Are you already active and training for a race? Or do you want to lose that extra 30 pounds once and for all? There are plenty of flashy apps that offer a lot of bells and whistles, but that doesn’t mean they’re more effective.

My best advice is this — keep it simple. Apps that offer too many features can be overwhelming and may distract you from the behaviors that really make a difference for lasting success. If your goal is weight loss, for example, choose a user-friendly app that allows you to keep a meal diary, track your workouts, and connect for social support. My favorite is Lose It! — this app has a huge nutrition database, a simple meal diary, a basic fitness tracker, and a friends feature. For running, I like RunKeeper — because usually all I need is my total time, pace, and distance, and the occasional workout idea. For meditation, I love Meditation Buddy — I set my time, choose a sound (like rain, beach, thunder, etc.), press play, and close my eyes.

2. Does Data Motivate Me?

Self-monitoring is a well-researched technique for successful behavior change. Some people love tracking weight or workout data; seeing the numbers move up, down, or hold steady can be very motivating; others hate it or just aren’t interested.  If data is your thing, you can get a device that syncs to an app with your workout stats like steps, distance, speed, heart rate, and more. I’ve been wearing a Fitbit for 3 years, and I love it — knowing where I stand with my daily steps really does get me up and moving on otherwise sedentary days.

I’ve also worked with clients who were obsessed with their fitness and weight loss data; they became distressed if they didn’t track one day or didn’t have access to the app — and paid more attention to the data than to their own feelings of energy, fatigue, hunger, and fullness. This is an example of data use that isn’t helpful — and isn’t sustainable.

If data isn’t your thing, look for an instructional app that guides you through workouts or offers health advice from a reputable source instead of tracking your every move.

App Appeal

The concept of having a personal trainer or meal diary in your pocket is what makes apps so enticing. But concepts don’t always translate well into practical, everyday use and lasting behavior change. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and what works for you. What health or fitness app is your fave, and why? We’d love to hear about it.

Resources

  1. Reynolds, A, Critically Evaluating Health Apps, ACSM’s Certified News, Volume 24, Issue 3, 2014

 

Beth Shepard thumbnail_2014Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard

 

What Does A Busy Dietitian Eat? 7 Whole Foods Meal-Planning Tips

 

Creative Commons image Green Smoothie by Wild Tofu/Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0

As a busy dietitian with a full-time job and a few side gigs (like this blogpost!), it’s not always easy to maintain a whole foods diet. If I don’t plan ahead, I’m tempted to fall back on potentially less healthful and always more expensive meal options like coffee shop pastries or convenience foods. While I’m an enthusiastic proponent of giving in to indulgences occasionally, I find that planning ahead helps enormously to keep me on track. Here are some of my methods for guaranteeing that I’ll have something delicious and nourishing to eat throughout the week.

Plan & Prep on the Weekend. I take some time on the weekends to think ahead and decide what I’m going to need for the week. As you’ll see in the following tips, I also do a lot of prep for my breakfasts, lunches and snacks to save myself time in the morning when I’m getting ready for work.

Make it Last. I always make one or two dishes a week that will give me leftovers. I find that the best dish for this purpose is often a soup or stew, but making extra of almost any dish will work. If you don’t like leftovers (a common complaint from my clients), make something that tastes even better the next day like a spaghetti sauce or casserole. Or change the food completely so it doesn’t seem like leftovers, like serving leftover roast chicken shredded on top of a salad.

Make Breakfast Ahead. Breakfast is probably the hardest meal to focus on with a busy day ahead, so I make mine on the weekend. Oatmeal can be cooked in large batches, then reheated with a little milk or water. Try some of these topping options to keep it exciting from day to day. Hard-boiled eggs can also be cooked ahead (steaming is my new favorite method) and served with a piece of fruit and a whole grain muffin. Homemade breakfast bars can be made with whole foods (try some of these recipes), or keep some Zing bars on hand. Lastly, don’t rule out nontraditional breakfast foods. Have dinner leftovers for breakfast!

Salads are Easy and Versatile. On the weekend, I chop up a few heads of romaine lettuce and keep them stored in the fridge in a plastic bag with a paper towel, which keeps the lettuce crisp. To build my salad, I add more fresh or cooked vegetables and a protein, such as cooked beans, leftover chicken, canned tuna, chopped hard-boiled egg, or nuts/seeds. With my homemade balsamic vinaigrette on the side (recipe below), it’s a portable and well-rounded meal.

Think Outside the Box. Keep your mind open to odd food combinations. My lunch the other day was a hard-boiled egg, some peanut-butter filled pretzels, and a salad made with leftover steamed snap peas, steamed beet and cucumber chopped up and dressed with balsamic dressing. Try for a ratio of 25% protein, 50% vegetables (can include some fruit), and 25% whole grains, and include a source of healthy fat.

Whole Foods Smoothies. My favorite smoothie is made with ¾ cup plain whole milk kefir, a small banana, ¼ avocado, ¾ cup frozen fruit and a tablespoon of chia seeds. The variations for whole foods smoothies are endless. You can also add greens, nuts or nut butters, or yogurt. Always add a source of protein and fat to avoid blood sugar highs and lows.

Keep Frozen Fruits and Vegetables Handy. Research has shown that frozen fruits and vegetables are often higher in nutrients than fresh produce (unless it comes from your own garden). And they’re mighty convenient since they don’t go bad and you can use only what you need.

Do you have a meal-planning strategy that keeps you on track during your hectic workweek? We’d love to hear from you!

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Carol’s Balsamic Vinaigrette

The recipe below makes about 3 cups of dressing. It sounds like a lot of salt, but since a serving size is only 1-2 tablespoons of dressing, the end result is perfectly seasoned.

1 cup balsamic vinegar

A splash of red wine vinegar (optional)

1-2 tablespoons salt (may need up to 3 tablespoons if using kosher salt)

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil

Combine the vinegars in a small bowl. Add enough salt to the vinegar so it tastes too salty (make sure the salt has completely dissolved before tasting). Add minced garlic to the mixture and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes.

Pour vinegar mixture into a blender. Add the mustard. Set the blender on high and drizzle in the olive oil slowly. After adding about ¼ cup of olive oil, add olive oil more quickly. Continue to add olive oil until dressing has thickened to desired consistency. Dressing can also be whisked by hand in a large bowl.

Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.

5 Fun Ways To Get A Move On This Summer

Photo By HuttyMcphoo, via Wikimedia Commons

I gutted it out on my run today; I deserve this extra scoop of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream.” Sound familiar? Using exercise as a license to indulge — or to eat with abandon — is very common. And, yes — I do it too, sometimes.

After a hard, sweaty workout, it feels natural to reach for a treat — or, as researchers call them, “hedonic snacks.” We want to reward ourselves for big efforts, whether it’s cracking open a cold beer or enjoying some chocolate-y goodness. We’ve earned it, right?

Maybe… I mean, all work and no play is no way to live. But if your goal is weight loss or maintenance, excessive post-exercise snacking — or choosing less nutritious snacks — could frustrate your efforts. A trio of recent studies sheds light on how to turn things around.

  • Subjects were told to complete a 1-mile walk; for fun, or to listen to music and rate the quality of it along the way. Those who completed the walk framed as “fun” ate less dessert than the other subjects.
  • Researchers sent another group of subjects out on a walk, described as sightseeing to one group, or with a task to complete. As a reward, they were given small bags to fill with as many M&Ms as they wanted. Guess who took more candy? The subjects whose walk was framed as a task.
  • Finally, runners completing a marathon relay were asked to rate their levels of enjoyment during the race. Those who had more fun chose a healthier post-race snack compared to those who rated the race as unpleasant.

Researchers concluded that when we think of exercise as… exercise instead of something fun, we tend to feel a need to reward ourselves with a pleasurable snack. But if we actually enjoy being active, we’re far less inclined to reach for the treats — or we eat less of them.

You already know that simply getting to do your favorite things is rewarding.  That’s the key — finding a handful of sports or fitness activities that are just plain fun for you. Here’s a short list of my summer faves:

Double Nut Brownie will be your new guilt-free chocolate treat

Choose a Zing bar for a nutritious snack!

  1. Day hiking. Nothing beats getting out into the mountains, soaking up the glorious greens and blues, and climbing past waterfalls, alpine meadows, and other soul-stirring scenery.
  2. Kayaking. Paddling along just on top of the water makes me feel like a low-flying bird.
  3. Water activities. Indoors or outdoors, getting wet brings out the kid in me — even during a hard-core lap-swim.
  4. Dancing. Whether I’m busting a move to Beyoncé in my kitchen, or doing the foxtrot with my husband, getting my groove on NEVER feels like exercise to me.
  5. Trail walking. My family loves to go down to the local trail for leisurely after-dinner walks. Hanging out together in a natural setting, visiting, and spotting blue herons and bald eagles is a fun way to enjoy beautiful summer evenings.

What types of sports or fitness activities you enjoy most, and what do you love about them? We’d love to hear from you.

 

Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard

Go Nuts for Good Health

Photo courtesy of Steffen Zahn

Nuts make a regular appearance here on the Zing blog… and for good reason. We’ve written about how eating nuts can potentially increase your life span and decrease inflammation. Research from five different large studies shows that eating nuts regularly can dramatically cut your risk of having a heart attack. Newer research is pointing to a positive effect on blood sugar that may help to prevent the development of Type II diabetes.

Nuts are a complex food, rich in protein, fiber, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E and trace minerals, and a whole host of phytonutrients (or plant compounds) — this combination of nutrients explains in part the many health benefits of eating nuts. 

  • Protein, fat and fiber digest slowly, ensuring that you feel full for longer and preventing blood sugar peaks and valleys.
  • The fats in nuts are about 62% monounsaturated, the type of fat that supports healthy cholesterol levels. Nuts also contain plant sterols, which also help lower your cholesterol. Many nuts, especially walnuts, contain omega 3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and good for your brain.
  • Fiber supports bowel health, feeds your gut bacteria, and lowers cholesterol.
  • Vitamins (vitamin E, folate, niacin, vitamin B6) and minerals (selenium, magnesium, calcium, potassium) support healthy cell function and may also have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory or anti-carcinogenic properties.

 Here are some nutty ideas for including more nuts in your diet:

  • Zing bars are made with a nut butter base, ensuring a satisfying dose of protein, heart-healthy fats and fiber. They make a tasty and portable hunger-busting snack.
  • Top oatmeal or yogurt with chopped walnuts or pistachios.
  • Put some crunch in a salad by adding slivered almonds.
  • Use cashews in a smoothie in place of protein powder (when blended, cashews become creamy). The protein and fat from the cashews will balance out the carbs from the fruit.
  • Blended cashews can also be added to soups to make a vegetarian “cream” soup. Here’s one recipe to try: Sweet Potato, Corn and Kale Chowder.
  • Keep a small container of your favorite nuts, or mixture of nuts, in a desk drawer to get you through a long afternoon at work.

 

 Resources:

  • Nuts for Nuts?
  • Eating Nuts May Help Pause Path to Type 2 Diabetes. Medscape. May 30, 2014
  • Nuts and health outcomes: new epidemiologic evidence. Am J Clin Nutr. May 2009; 89(5), 1643S-1648S.
  • Health Benefits of Nut Consumption. Nutrients. Jul 2010; 2(7): 652–682.
Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.

Summer Travel Plans? Remember To Pack Some Healthy Snacks!

Photo by Nicholas from Pennsylvania, USA (Environs), via Wikimedia Commons

Summer has arrived, and chances are you’re heading out of town for some fun and relaxation. Vacations are a great time to get away from it all, but that doesn’t mean you have to take a break from all of your healthy habits! Whether you’re sightseeing, shopping, or lying on the beach or poolside, going on a road trip or flying to your destination, you want to keep your energy level up so you can optimize your fun time. Bringing along some water and a few easy, healthy snacks will keep you hydrated and help you maintain steady blood sugar levels, keeping you off of the blood sugar roller coaster and feeling good. So when you’re packing your bags, include some food! Here are a few ideas:

  1. Zing Bars. Easy to toss in your carry-on, backpack, or purse, just unwrap and enjoy when hunger strikes. You know you’ll be getting a perfect balance of slow-digesting carbs, protein, and healthy fats to keep you going. Gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, or vegan? We’ve got you covered. Have you tried the Dark Chocolate Sunflower Mint or Coconut Cashew Crisp? Yum!
  2. Trail Mix. Of course you can buy trail mix, but making your own mix is fun and easy, especially if your grocery store has a good bulk food section. Read the ingredients listed on the bulk bins, and choose raw nuts and seeds, and unsweetened dried fruit (or sweetened with fruit juice) without additives like vegetable oil and sulfur dioxide.
  3. Toasted coconut flakes. Look for a product with just ‘coconut’ in the ingredients. A delicious snack on its own, and also a great addition to your homemade trail mix!
  4. Nut Butter and dried figs. When hunger strikes, you’ll be happy to grab some dried figs and a squeeze pack of almond or peanut butter from your snack bag. A delicious, satisfying combination.
  5. Jerky. A very portable source of protein. Look for jerky made from grass-fed or pastured animals that is minimally processed, without added preservatives or MSG. Or, you can make your own – here’s a recipe that uses ground beef, a cheaper alternative to other cuts of beef.
  6. Roasted Chick Peas. A portable source of vegetarian protein; roasting chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) is easy and delicious. Here are 15 Ways To Flavor Roasted Chickpeas.

 If you can bring a small cooler with you on your trip, consider:

  • Roll-ups. Such a versatile snack (or mini-meal), and easy to eat on the go. For the wrapper, use a whole-wheat or gluten-free tortilla, collard greens, or quality deli meat slices (cut thicker). Spread some hummus or pesto on the wrapper, add your favorite fillings (i.e. avocado, shredded carrot, zucchini, radishes, apples, spinach, cheese, black or pinto beans, etc.) and roll up.
  • Cut-up carrots, cucumber, bell peppers, celery, snap peas, and cherry tomatoes
  • Slices of watermelon and cantaloupe
  • Cheese and whole grain crackers

What are some of your favorite easy travel snacks? We’d love to hear your ideas!

 

Above photo attribution: By Nicholas from Pennsylvania, USA (Environs) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Erin Hugus, MS, CN has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health. She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.

 

 

 

5 Ways To Spring Clean Your Healthy Lifestyle

Do longer days and flowers in bloom inspire you to do some spring cleaning? With a new season, many people feel an urge to press the reset button — and clean, reorganize, and get things back on track. It’s easy to let healthy habits slide during the dark days of winter. Spring is the perfect time to shine a light on day-to-day routines, clear out the clutter, and freshen up your healthy lifestyle.

Sit Less, Move More

The verdict is in on too much sitting — and it isn’t pretty. Even if you get the recommended amount of cardio and strength training, you’re still at increased risk for a variety of unpleasant conditions if you sit too much.

Here’s the good news — breaking up extended periods of sitting by walking to the copier or restroom, or standing up makes a big difference. Program an alert into your calendar, or download a timer app — like UltraTimer —and schedule brief movement breaks throughout the day. At home, watch a movie over several days instead of all at once, or take several breaks to walk or run through the house, step outside, or pound out a few pushups.

Purge Your Pantry

Set yourself up for healthful spring eating by getting rid of less-nutritious fare lurking in your fridge and cupboards. Out with chips, sugary treats, and other energy-draining, stress-boosting, highly-processed foods. In with fruits and veggies — fresh, frozen or canned. When you need a little snack to stave off hunger before bed, you’re less likely to reach for the junk if it’s not around. Re-discover how satisfying a serving of unsweetened applesauce or a handful of sugar snap peas can be.

Get More Zzzzs

According to Dr. Mike Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic, “Sleep is the most underrated health habit.” It can make or break your health, quality of life, and even job performance. So if you’re doing too much daytime yawning, improve your sleep hygiene. If that doesn’t help, talk to your healthcare provider to rule out — or treat — any sleep disorders. Getting enough sleep can make a world of difference between feeling frazzled and being your energetic best.

Schedule Preventive Care

Take 15 minutes to schedule routine visits for the year. Not sure what you need? Call your medical or dental clinic and ask. Getting these visits on your calendar gets you one step closer to getting the care you need to protect the quality of life you enjoy.

Enjoy a Hobby

Do you lose track of time when you’re fishing — or gardening, or restoring antique furniture? If you’ve put your favorite pastimes on the back burner, dive in again. Or, if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, give it a whirl. Spending time on things you want to do — unrelated to work— is vitally important for relaxation, stress reduction, and creativity. Playing the piano and sewing leave me exhausted… and refreshed at the same time; these activities require so much concentration that my brain gets a break from the constant chatter of my everyday thought stream.

Are you seasonally inspired to streamline your healthy lifestyle? We’d love to hear what you’re doing to breathe new energy into your health habits.

Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard

 

5 Ways To Combat Seasonal Allergy Symptoms With Food

Spring has arrived! As invigorating as it is to see the world bursting into bloom, for some of us spring fever and hay fever go hand in hand. But allergy medications can be counterproductive, drying out the mucus membranes, working against the body’s desire to flush away the allergens, and causing unwanted side effects like drowsiness. This year, try these dietary approaches to managing environmental allergies.  

1. Limit foods that contain histamines.  When you experience allergy symptoms — runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes — you are reacting to histamines, which are released in your body in response to allergens. This is why people take anti-histamines to control allergies. Some foods naturally contain histamines, so limiting these foods during peak allergy times could help keep symptoms at a minimum. Some of the worst offenders are alcohol, aged cheeses, fermented foods, and processed meats. 

2. Get enough omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids in foods like salmon, sardines, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are anti-inflammatory and can help quench some of the inflammation triggered by seasonal allergies. To get enough omega-3s, eat salmon or other omega-3 rich fish three times a week, or take a daily fish oil supplement. Chia seeds are an economical vegetarian alternative to fish, and add protein and crunch to smoothies, hot cereals, salads or baked goods. Try this recipe for chia seed pudding. 

3. Eat foods that contain quercetin.  Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that blocks the release of histamines. It can be found in citrus fruits, garlic, parsley, apples, broccoli, tea, and dark berries (blackberries, blueberries). For the best chance against seasonal allergies, eat quercetin-rich foods year-round. 

4. Load up on antioxidant-rich foods.  Antioxidants from fruits and vegetables are a triple threat to seasonal allergies: they boost the immune system, protect cells against damage, and have anti-inflammatory properties that can help control reactions to allergens. Vitamin C, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, citrus fruits, red and green bell peppers and strawberries, has anti-histamine properties in addition to being a powerful antioxidant. Throughout the year, but especially during allergy season, make sure to eat your five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day. 

5. Spice it up!  In addition to adding loads of flavor to meals, spicy foods like onions, garlic, horseradish, chili peppers, and ginger are your allies in the battle against allergies. These foods are anti-inflammatory, calming the body’s overreaction to allergens. Some of these foods also help thin the mucus to alleviate nasal and sinus congestion.  

One more thing: blowing your nose and sneezing a lot can be dehydrating, so drink more fluids than usual when you’re having an allergy attack. If you have a juicer, try this immune booster shot. Warm liquids like the infusion below can soothe the throat and ease sinus congestion.  

Soothing Lemon Ginger Infusion

Ingredients:

  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • large knob of ginger (about 1 ½ inches long)
  • Honey to taste
  • Optional: Pinch of cayenne pepper

Directions:

  1. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil.
  2. Add several slices of ginger (I use 4-5 slices) to the water.
  3. Simmer 10-20 minutes. The ginger flavor will be stronger and spicier the longer you cook it.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Add lemon juice. Sweeten with honey to taste and add a dash of cayenne pepper if you like.

Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 4-5 days. Reheat gently but do not boil as this will “kill off” some of the vitamin C.

Additional resources:

 

Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.

 

 

Stressed Out? Try Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

photo credit: Alan Cleaver

So many people — clients, co-workers, family, friends —say they’re under too much stress. Are you?

According to the APA’s 2013 Stress in America survey, 42% of adults say their stress has increased over the past 5 years. Managing stress is vital to well-being, and a critical part of any behavior change attempt. I’ve seen many people stumble in weight-loss, physical activity, or tobacco cessation attempts during times of high stress. I coach my clients to try a variety of techniques to reduce stress, and develop personal tool kits to keep stress at manageable levels.

Last year, I added a new tool to my own kit.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has been around for ages, but in my opinion, it always sounded a little nebulous. Meditation, yoga, breathing, — all good; just a little too sandals-and-candles for me.

But research about the health benefits of MBSR became very compelling — reduced blood pressure, inflammation, and chronic pain; decreased anxiety and depression; the list goes on.

And then both my kids became teenagers. So, last spring I immersed myself in an 8-week MBSR class at a local hospital, hoping to reduce my own stress — and to share new insights with my clients.

Each class opened and closed with a seated meditation, during which Dr. W. — a neurologist — guided us through breathing and body awareness, soothing thoughts, and brief poetry selections. He assured us that getting distracted is normal — and to simply return to the breath whenever that happened. We learned a body scan, basic yoga poses, and walking meditations, and were instructed to see what we liked best — and build a personal meditation practice of 45-60 minutes a day by the end of the course.

 

photo credit: Steve Hardy

Dr. W. taught us that the mind is like a river full of thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness is like standing on the riverbank and observing the thoughts and emotions as they float by instead of getting carried away with them; choosing which ones to respond to instead of reacting to everything we think and feel. We learned about how the body, thoughts, and emotions all influence each other. Mindful awareness of these processes enabled us to intentionally respond to them in ways that reduced stress.

Each week, we were assigned daily meditation homework. Halfway through the course, my family noticed I was in a better mood and more calm. They became oddly cooperative in granting me as much undisturbed meditation practice as I needed. My classmates reported big reductions in blood pressure, anger, family conflict, and need for pain medications.

For me, self-compassion has been my biggest reward. Like many, I can be pretty hard on myself — expecting too much and being too quick to judge and criticize. Practicing MBSR has helped me to treat myself — and others — with more kindness and acceptance, and that works wonders for my stress level and sense of well-being.

I wholeheartedly endorse MBSR as a way to cope with stress and enhance your quality of life. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s definitely worth exploring. I’m not meditating every day — but I’m working on it. And that’s OK.

I learned more from my class than I can share in a blog post, but I encourage you to learn more on your own. If you’re already practicing MBSR, we’d love to hear what it’s doing for you.

May you feel joy; may you be at peace; may you be well.

Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard

Why Eating Breakfast Is A Good Idea

Photo courtesy of Pen Waggener

How much truth is there to the saying, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? The most commonly held belief about breakfast is that it can promote weight loss by preventing overeating later in the day. Recently, however, research is questioning this assumption and showing that eating breakfast may not be the key to losing weight, after all. But even though the jury’s still out on breakfast and weight loss, other studies show that eating breakfast regularly can enhance alertness and concentration, stabilize blood sugar throughout the day, and improve your heart health.

The most common reason I hear from people who don’t eat breakfast is, “I’m just not hungry.” Let’s look at why that might be true. The first meal of the day is literally the meal that “breaks” your overnight fast. While you sleep, your body uses less energy than when you’re awake and active. To get you started again in the morning, your adrenal glands produce the hormone cortisol, which signals the body to wake up by stimulating the release of glucose (sugar) to give you an energy boost. Initially, this may also be suppressing your natural hunger.

While this is a handy way of getting going in the morning, here’s why you don’t want to rely on cortisol to keep you fueled throughout the morning. Cortisol is a hormone that is usually released in response to stress. Without some nourishment first thing in the morning to provide fresh fuel for your body and to signal cortisol levels to drop again, cortisol and glucose continue to be released into the blood. Continuous high levels of cortisol in the body mimic stressful conditions and can cause elevated blood pressure and increased abdominal fat, among other things. Over prolonged periods, this can contribute to weight gain, obesity and even the development of diabetes and heart disease.

So how do you put together a quick, balanced breakfast that will sustain you throughout your busy morning without weighing you down?

  • A good breakfast should have protein as the star, with a side of fiber-rich carbs from fresh fruit, vegetables and/or whole grains. This formula works whether you are an omnivore, a vegetarian, a paleo diet follower, gluten-free, lactose intolerant, and so on. Good protein sources are yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, or meat. Protein (and fat, which usually comes along with your protein) takes longer to digest, so it keeps you feeling satisfied for longer.
  • Avoid refined, sugary breakfast options like sweetened cereals, pastries and sweet coffee drinks because these will cause blood sugar spikes and dips that will leave you feeling tired and irritable. More importantly, these foods don’t give you any real nutrition, so they also leave you hankering for more. The combination of tiredness, irritability and hunger inevitably leads to poor food choices later on in the day.

Try these tasty breakfast ideas:

  • Quesadilla made with whole wheat or corn tortilla, cheddar cheese and thinly sliced apples
  • Turkey roll-up with hummus and sliced red peppers
  • Scrambled eggs on sautéed greens (spinach, kale or chard)
  • Smoothie made from whole foods (4 ounces plain kefir, ½ banana, 1 cup frozen berries, ¼ avocado, 1 tablespoon chia seeds)

If breakfast is not already part of your morning routine, getting into the habit may be tough at first. Start with small portions and build up to regular-size portions. Or stick with a small but balanced breakfast and make sure you have a small but balanced snack mid-morning.

Remember that some of the benefits of a healthy breakfast can be lost if you are eating on the run, no matter what you are eating, because being relaxed is important for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. Take a few extra minutes in the morning to prepare and enjoy a healthy breakfast, and you’ll soon feel the benefits.

 

Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently  works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.