Tag Archives: balanced diet

8 Myths and Facts About Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits-and-VegetablesWe all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us. However, you’ve probably heard some things about fruits and veggies that are touted as facts but aren’t necessarily entirely true. Many rumors were started when low-carb diets became the latest trend. The natural “sugar” in fruit and the starch in potatoes also got a bad rap.

Here are some of the common myths about fruits and vegetables, as well as the facts you should know:

Myth 1: Fresh is best
Many people believe that only fresh fruits and vegetables count toward your daily intake. In fact, all fresh, dried, and frozen fruits and veggies can be used to make up your daily allowance of fruits and vegetables. All forms are full of essential nutrients. The most important thing is that you eat them!

Myth 2: Juice is bad
Consuming 100% juice is nutritious for you and an easy way to add fruits and veggies to your healthy diet. However, drinking all your fruits and veggies doesn’t cut it. You should mix in other sources fruits and vegetables into your diet.

Myth 3: Organic is more nutritious
In fact, there is no proof that organic fruits and vegetables are more nutritious for you than traditionally harvested fruits and vegetables. If you are concerned about consuming pesticides, the risk associated with consuming them is far less than the risk of not eating enough fruits and veggies.

Myth 4: Potatoes are fattening
When potatoes are dripping with butter, bacon and high-fat cheese or deep-fried, then they are full of calories, fat and cholesterol. A plain medium potato can actually help with weight loss. Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, B6 and fiber. And, potatoes have more potassium  than bananas.

Myth 5: Colorful fruits and veggies are better
In general this is a good rule to follow, but white foods have appealing nutritional values, too. Cauliflower is full of antioxidants, vitamin C and folate. Mushrooms and cabbage also provide many vitamins and minerals.

Myth 6: Vegetarian diets are lacking
Research has shown that vegetarian diets and lifestyles can lead to maintaining optimal health and having a longer life expectancy. The key to a healthy diet is providing your body with a balanced amount of nutrients, carbohydrates, protein and fat.

Myth 7: Sugar in fruits is bad
Fruits do contain sugar, but this is different than the added sugar in many of our processed foods. Added sugar lacks the multiple health benefits of fruits, such as phenols, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Myth 8: Fruits and veggies are expensive
Even on a budget, you can include fruits and vegetables in your regular diet. You may even find that buying fruits and veggies is less expensive that some of the more processed foods that come in boxes and packages.

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, what matters most is MORE. Americans overall are not eating enough fruits and veggies, and studies are showing they have an even greater role in human health than we once believed. Enjoy your fruits and vegetables in every color of the rainbow every day!

11 Foods To Help You Live Longer

senior-with-redwine-943080-mI am obsessed with living longer. I want to live to be over 100 years old. However, I also want to be a healthy centenarian.

I have been reading that more and more research shows what we eat can influence how long we live. What works for weight loss can also help slow the aging process. That’s because what you’re eating affects your waistline, the condition of your heart and even how long you live.

So, take a good look at your pantry and see if you’re eating for longevity. Here are 11 foods that science proves will help you live longer:

Green tea
The world’s second most popular beverage can reduce the risk of death by up to 26% if you consume several cups a day. In addition, it has the added benefits of reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Nuts
A study found that people who snack on a handful of nuts every day live longer than those who didn’t. Nuts are packed with cholesterol-free protein and other nutrients. Almonds have vitamin E, which protects the body from cell damage and boosts the immune system. Pecans have antioxidants and walnuts are good for your cholesterol.

Fish
Fish has been called brain food because it has fatty acids, DHA and EPA – all are important to brain and nervous system development. The Omega-3 fats found in seafood or fatty fish can lower cholesterol and triglycerides.

Berries
Berries are a great source of antioxidants. Blueberries, strawberries and acai berries are a source of polyphenols, a powerful compound that may help combat cancers and degenerative diseases of the brain. Cranberries may also help you live longer.

Fiber
Fiber may help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, prevent constipation and help digestion. Fiber also fills you up so that you can eat less. Beans are fiber-rich and can be eaten three or four times a week. Fruits and vegetables can also add fiber to your diet.

Vegetables
Veggies contain phytonutrients and loads of vitamins and minerals that may protect you from diseases. Dark, leafy greens have vitamin K that builds strong bones. Sweet potatoes and carrots contain vitamin A – good for your eyes, healthy skin and protects against infection. Tomatoes or tomato products may help prevent cancer.

Protein
Protein provides essential building blocks for daily repair of your cells. It’s critical to your health and vitality, especially as you get older. You can add protein to your diet with lean meat, fish, seafood, beans, low-fat dairy and eggs.

Healthy fats
You’ve probably heard about the Mediterranean diet. But what you may not know is the heart-healthy diet has been shown to increase the lifespan of elderly people by about 20 percent. The diet encourages eating healthy fats, like olive oil, as well as vegetables and whole grains.

Whole grains
Eating whole grains can reduce your risk of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Choose whole-grain breads and pastas, as well as brown or wild rice, instead of white options. Whole grains are less processed and retain more of the nutritional value. Whole grains also add fiber.

Dairy
Drinking vitamin D-fortified beverages like milk can help increase your calcium absorption. That’s important for bone health. Vitamin D also reduces the risk of colon, breast and prostate cancers. Eating yogurt can also give you the benefits of dairy and aid in digestion.

Red wine
Just a half a glass of wine a day can help you live longer. Research found that light wine drinkers lived up to five years longer than those who did not drink wine at all. Red wine is rich in antioxidants that help protect against heart disease.

Eat these super-foods to help increase your lifespan and improve your quality of life. By incorporating a balanced diet into your daily life, you can fight off some of today’s most life-threatening diseases and live longer!

Is Your Diet Missing 7 Essential Nutrients?

I have never had foot and leg cramps until the last six months or so. I did some research to see what might be causing my muscle cramps. I discovered that it could be caused by a vitamin and mineral deficiency, in particular a lack of potassium and vitamin D.

I started to wonder if there are other vitamins and minerals that were vital to proper nutrition and a healthier mind and body. The USDA says that American adults don’t get enough of many essential nutrients.

Here are 7 important nutrients that may be missing from your diet:

CALCIUM
Like many Americans, I don’t drink milk on a regular basis. I do eat a bowl of cereal most mornings and like to grab a yogurt cup for a snack. Yet, I am sure that I’m probably not getting enough calcium in my diet. Women 19 to 50 years old should get 1,000 milligrams a day (as should men), and that number increases for both men and women as they age.

Why you need it: Calcium is essential for healthy bones, protects your heart and arteries, and may lower the risk of breast cancer.

Where to find it: Milk, yogurt, calcium-fortified orange juice, fortified cereals and low-fat cheeses.

VITAMIN A
There are two types of vitamin A: retinol and carotenoids, like beta-carotene. Adult women need 700 milligrams a day while men need 900 milligrams.

Why you need it: Vitamin A is key for maintaining healthy eyesight and a strong immune system. It also plays a role in many other physiological functions, such as tissue growth.

Where to find it: Dark green and bright colored vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, pumpkins, winter squash, spinach, collard greens and romaine lettuce.

VITAMIN C
While vitamin C may not ward off colds as once believed, it’s still an essential part of a well-balanced diet. Women need 75 milligrams while men need 90 milligrams a day.

Why you need it: Vitamin C is essential to maintaining a strong immune system. It may help lower the risk of cancer and is required for healing wounds.

Where to find it: Many fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C, including citrus fruit, guava, cantaloupe, peaches, kiwi, red peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale.

VITAMIN D
Brought to us by sunshine, vitamin D is produced by the skin when you’re exposed to sunlight. Since many of us work in offices, we may not get enough sun exposure to make our vitamin D allowance. Optimal levels of vitamin D are up for debate. It’s recommended that adults get 600 international units of vitamin D a day.

Why you need it: Vitamin D is important in the development of healthy bones, muscles and nerve fibers as well as a strong immune system.

Where to find it: A few foods naturally contain this vitamin, including fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, as well as tuna. It can also be found in mushrooms, liver, cheese and egg yolks. Some brands of cereal, milk and orange juice are fortified with vitamin D.

POTASSIUM
You may know that too much sodium or salt in your diet can raise your blood pressure. You might not realize that too little potassium can contribute to high blood pressure. Adults should shoot for 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day.

Why you need it: A shortage of potassium can increase your blood pressure, as well as increase your risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis.

Where to find it: Potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, carrots, beans, peas, lentils, yogurt, bananas, fish, orange juice and avocados.

MAGNESIUM
Magnesium is required for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. If you have stomach problems as you get older and or if you drink alcohol, you’re at risk for low magnesium levels. Women between the ages of 19 and 30 should get 310 milligrams and after 31 should get 320 milligrams a day. Men who are 19 to 30 should have 400 milligrams and then 420 milligrams after 31.

Why you need it: Low magnesium levels have been linked to osteoporosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, muscle cramps and heart disease.

Where to find it: Spinach, beans, peas, lentils, oatmeal, whole grains and nuts.

FIBER
We know that fiber is important to our diets. Research has shown that it helps regulate our digestive system. A healthy diet should contain 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories.

Why do you need it: New findings show that fiber helps protect you from heart disease, type 2 diabetes and may help you maintain a healthy weight.

Where to find it: Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, cooked dry beans, peas and nuts.

A balanced diet that includes a variety of healthy foods can help you get your daily allowance of many vital nutrients. So, eat your fruits and vegetables, lean protein, good fats and plenty of fiber for better health!

 

10 Healthy Eating Myths and Facts

Healthy eating myths and factsSome days, it’s difficult to decide what to eat. Dairy products are bad for you. Carbs make you gain weight. No late night snacking. Eat low-fat foods because all fats are bad.

With this blog, we hope to help you demystify the rules of healthy eating. As with life, a healthy diet seems to truly be about balance. Eating a healthy, balanced diet of good nutritious foods is the best way to go.

Here are 10 common dieting myths and the truths that will set you on the path to a more healthy, balanced diet:

Myth: Some sugars are worse than others
As we blogged about recently, all sugar is simply sugar. Table sugar, agave, honey and high-fructose corn syrup add up to about the same calories. Your body absorbs all these types of sugar in similar ways. Rather than try to find the “best” sugar or avoid one kind of sugar, you should try to limit added sugars of any kind. This means sugary sodas, candy and other sweets.

Myth: Nighttime eating is more fattening
Many dieting methods will tell you not to eat after a certain time in the evening. The theory is your body will store more fat because it is not burned off with any activity. Studies have been conducted and found that eating a large meal late at night did not make the body store more fat.

Myth: Coffee is bad for you
We have also written in the past about the health benefits of coffee. Two to three cups of coffee a day has actually been proven to be part of a healthy diet and provides you with antioxidant phytochemicals. Coffee may help reduce the risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, gallstones and some cancers. However, use cream, sugar and flavored syrups in moderation.

Myth: All cholesterol is bad
There is good and bad cholesterol. We all need some cholesterol to build cells and make vital hormones. Saturated fats – found in meat, cheese, cream and butter – tend to raise LDL cholesterol or “bad” cholesterol. It’s best to minimize your saturated fat intake. You can eat more healthy fats, which help raise your DHL or “good” cholesterol.

Myth: Sea salt is good for you
Are you thinking of switching to sea salt to save on sodium? Gourmet salts have the same sodium as your table salt. Try using spices, herbs or pepper to add more flavor to foods. You already get about 75% of your salt intake from processed and prepared foods, not the salt shaker.

Myth: The less fat the better
As we mentioned, you need to eat some fats to thrive. You should eat the good, unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, fish, olives and avocado. You should limit saturated fats, while avoiding trans fats (or hydrogenated oils) as much as possible.

Myth: Carbs make you fat
Just like fats, not all carbohydrates are bad for you. People tend to lose weight on low-carb diets because these diets also restrict calories. Fewer calories mean fewer pounds over time. However, good carbs can help you feel more full and keep you from overeating or grabbing, unhealthy snacks.

Myth: Dairy is unhealthy
Skimmed and semi-skimmed milks actually have more calcium than the full-fat milk. The calcium is in the water part of milk, not the creamy part. If you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, low-fat milk and dairy products can give you nutrients without added fat.

Myth: Margarine is better than butter
Ordinary margarine contains just as much fat and calories as real butter. Margarine also contains hydrogenated oils which are considered trans fats – the category of fats that you should avoid.

Myth: Grazing helps you lose weight
While eating small, nutritious snacks between meals can help you curb your appetite, constant grazing sets you up to eat too many calories. You may also lose your ability to pay attention to your body’s natural cues that you are hungry or full if you continually graze.

As with most things, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There is no secret trick to weight loss or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The most effective approach is to form a lifelong habit of eating a nutritious, balanced diet and exercising regularly.

7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For You

Fatty foods that are good for youAre you having eaters’ remorse after indulging in a tasty Easter meal this past weekend? You may be worried that you consumed too many fatty foods. But you may have actually eaten good fats.

In addition, eating more fat – instead of less – can be key to helping you reduce your calorie intake. You won’t feel deprived like you do when you eat all low-fat foods or turn to carbohydrates to feel full.

We recently blogged that fatty foods may not be as bad for us as we once thought. It’s about more than just the amount of fat you eat. It’s the types of fat you eat that really matter.

Trans fats are still to blame for many of the unhealthy things that all fats get blamed for – heart disease, weight gain, clogged arteries and more. Trans fats are also called hydrogenated oils and are made from unsaturated fat that has been chemically altered to keep food fresh longer. Your body has no use for these fats.

On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can be good for you. They can help raise good HDL cholesterol and lower bad LDL cholesterol, and protect against the build up of plaque in your arteries.

You should still keep an eye on how much fat you eat. The USDA recommends that you keep your total fat intake to 20-35% of daily calories. You should limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your calories. Limit trans fats to only 1% of your calorie intake.

Here are 7 foods that are packed with healthy fats:

Olive oil
Olive oil is often used in a Mediterranean diet. It is a healthier choice over vegetable or palm oil. It may help reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancers. Olive oil has 100 calories per tablespoon, so you should still use it in moderation.

Eggs
Eggs are a great source of protein. We have been told that egg whites are the healthier part of the egg because they have less fat. While the egg yolk has some fat, it also has important nutrients. The yolk contains choline, a B vitamin that helps regulate the brain, nervous system and cardiovascular system.

Dairy
Cheese is packed with protein and fats that help keep you full. It’s great for a snack and for eating on the go. Milk and yogurt that are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids are a source of good fat. While sour cream has a bad reputation as a fatty food, at least half of its calories come from saturated fat. In fact, it has half the calories of a tablespoon of mayonnaise.

Seeds and nuts
Pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds are good for you. Flaxseeds are also a good source of omega-3s. Nuts are a great monounsaturated fat. Grab a handful of almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans or cashews.

Fish
Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout and sardines, are a good source of healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating two 3-ounces servings of fish each week.

Avocados
Avocados are high in fat, but it’s the monounsaturated, hearty-healthy kind that is good for your cholesterol. In addition, when you eat avocados with other food, they can help your body better absorb nutrients. Add avocado slices to a sandwich or substitute avocados for butter or cream cheese.

 Soy foods
You may be surprised how many foods you can buy that are made from soybeans. You can try tofu, miso, tempeh, soy milk and edamame. Soy products have many health benefits including the plant-based fatty acid ALA. You can even snack on roasted soybeans.

The key to healthy eating is creating a balanced diet with a variety of good food choices. It also helps to create healthy eating habits.

The Truth About Good and Bad Fats

whats-on-your-plate-1006881-mFor over 40 years, we’ve been told that saturated fat is bad for us. For instance, meat, cheese and other full-fat dairy products are high in saturated fats.

We tend to have an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to food. We think that if a food is considered bad, we have to avoid it completely.

Yet, new research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, shows that there may be insufficient evidence to support the long-standing belief that we should only eat small amounts of saturated fat.

A QUICK FAT REVIEW:
Unsaturated fats – Considered the “good” fats. These fats can be found in nuts, avocados and other vegetables. Unsaturated fats are lower in calories than other fats.
Saturated fats – Found mostly in animal products, such as meats and diary. It is recommended we reduce consumption of these fats.
Trans fats – These fats are unsaturated (good) fats that have been partially saturated with hydrogen to extend their shelf life. Trans fats have been found to elevate “bad” cholesterol and should be avoided.

In the 1960s, studies showed that saturated fats increased LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol. This LDL cholesterol was assumed to increase the risk of heart disease.

Recent studies have shown no significant relevance between saturated fat intake and coronary risk. Researchers now think that the relationship between cholesterol and heart disease is more complicated than just looking at LDL (or bad cholesterol) that comes from saturated fats.

Worried about your cholesterol levels?
Learn more about the best exercises to help you lower your cholesterol.

So, what now? Based on the research, it seems that the ratio of LDL to HDL (the good cholesterol), is the more important predictor of heart disease. There is also evidence that when compared to eating carbohydrates, saturated fat can increase HDL and lower fat deposits in the blood. This would, in theory, help protect against coronary disease.

Learn more about selecting good carbs, or smart carbs, as part of a healthy diet.

Keep in mind, the study does not say that saturated fat isn’t a problem. We should still follow the American Heart Association’s guidelines for a recommended diet. The AHA currently says that no more than 6% of your total daily calories should come from saturated fat.

Tips on eating heart-healthy foods:

Choose good fats
Select unsaturated fats for cooking and eating, but still try to limit your fat intake. Use polyunsaturated fats, such as safflower oil, or monounsaturated fats, like olive oil.

Go easy on the carbs
When we attempt to eat less saturated fat, we often eat more carbohydrates instead. Carbs from refined grains (like fat-free bagels and low-fat cookies) can lead to weight gain, which is also not good for our health or our heart.

Replace red meat and processed meats
Just because saturated fats may not be as bad as once suspected, it doesn’t mean you should eat tons of red meat, bacon and cream. Replace those foods with nuts, fatty fish and healthy oils.

Eat more fruits and vegetables
We already know we should eat a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables. In fact, we should strive to make fruits and veggies half our plate.

Here are 13 tips to make fruits and vegetables half your plate.

Choose whole grains
Select whole grain foods, such as oatmeal and whole-grain breads, rice and pasta. Avoid white rice, white bread and pasta, as well as potatoes, sugary drinks and other refined carbohydrates.

The key to healthy eating – like the key to healthy living – is finding a good balance. Choose a healthy, balanced diet across all the food groups. Too many calories from any source, whether it’s fats or carbohydrates, can lead to weight gain. And, it’s carrying that extra weight that can increase your risk of heart disease and other health problems.

Need help eating a healthy, balanced diet? Read 11 Healthy Eating Habits for 2014.

6 Truths about Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners

sugar cubes truth about sugarMy husband’s family has a history of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems. His parents have set a goal to cut down on the amount of sugar they eat. I have decided to make that a goal for my family as well.

Sugar has a bad rap, but to some degree it has been earned. It can contribute to obesity, as well as heart disease and diabetes.

The average American eats and drinks 22 teaspoons – or almost half a cup – of added sugar each day. The American Heart Association recommends that women eat only 6 teaspoons per day and 9 teaspoons for men.

Here are 6 truths and about the sugar and artificial sweeteners we eat every day:

You’re born with a sweet tooth
Believe it or not, humans are hardwired at birth to prefer sweet. That’s because sugars are a type of carbohydrate, and when we eat carbs, we stimulate the release of the feel-good brain chemical called serotonin. Sugar just makes us feel better. But, our sweet tooth adds up: the average American consumes about 142 pounds of sugar every year.

Sugar doesn’t cause diabetes
While sugar on its own does not cause diabetes, too much sugar can. Type 2 diabetes occurs when you gain weight and eat a high-calorie diet – your body can’t clear the extra glucose from your blood. If glucose isn’t quickly processed by your body, it can destroy tissue and lead to additional health problems.

High-fructose corn syrup is like sugar
High-fructose corn syrup is processed from corn and is very close to sugar. Both are made up of fructose and glucose and contain about the same amount of calories. Why do we see high-fructose corn syrup as an ingredient in so many processed foods? Corn syrup is cheaper to produce than sugar. It’s also easy to use in packaged foods and drinks.

Does corn syrup make you fat? Not necessarily on its own. Obesity is about eating too many calories, but many of those calories may be hidden in foods as high-fructose corn syrup.

Sugar likes to hide
That brings us to our next truth. Sugar likes to hide in foods. Even low-fat and “diet” foods can have extra sugar to improve their taste. Sugar also adds bulk, texture and thickness to take the place of fat.

To spot hidden sugars, you can check the nutrition label for “carbs as sugars.” You should also check the ingredients list for items ending in “ose,” such as glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, and maltose. These are all forms of sugar.

Blood sugar spikes are bad
In addition to preventing obesity and diabetes, another reason to cut down on sugar is to avoid blood sugar spikes. Even if your weight is on target, you can be shortening your life by causing spikes in your blood sugar level. Repeated spikes in blood sugar put stress on the organs that control metabolism for your body. Over time, it takes a toll.

Artificial sweeteners may not be better
So, I can just eat artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, right? Wrong. You can still gain weight even if you are using artificial sweeteners. There’s also no proof that the substitutes reduce the risk of diabetes. Most nutritionists say that you will be healthier if you eat a few squares of chocolate rather than loading up on artificial sweeteners all day.

What are some ways to cut down on sugar?

By making a few adjustments to your diet, you can cut out some of your unnecessary sugar consumption:

Eat whole grains – Swap white bread, pasta and rice for whole grain versions.
Cut down on fruit juice – Drink one glass of fruit juice a day, or you can even dilute it with water.
Reduce the sugar in recipes – Cut out some of the sugar in recipes or use spices to add flavor and taste.
Watch out for sugar-free labels – These foods often contain artificial sweeteners. While they taste sweet, they don’t satisfy the sweet tooth. Your brain gets confused and can lead to over-eating.
Also beware of low-fat and diet labels – These foods tend to be high in sugar to add flavor.
Reduce sugar in hot drinks – Cut the sugar from coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate and tea. Use cinnamon to flavor hot drinks or gradually adjust to no sugar.
Snack on fruit or nuts – Instead of grabbing a sweet treat, eat more healthy snacks like fresh fruit, nuts and even yogurt.
Replace some carbs with lean protein – Add more fish, chicken and turkey to your diet. These protein-rich foods slow digestion so that you have less cravings between meals.

Before you throw out your sugar bowl and every sweet snack, remember that cutting down on your sugar intake is a process. If you try to eliminate all sugar from your diet at once, you will be very unhappy and dissatisfied. Cut down on your sugar intake slowly over time. As you start to feel healthier and more balanced, you should find that you don’t miss the extra sugar!

9 foods to help you concentrate

Wild blueberries help you focus and conentrateI just read an article that says cognitive decline – or our ability to reason and remember things – can start to affect our brains as early as age 45. As someone who is rapidly approaching my mid-40s, I have to say this concerns me.

I have been on a journey this past year to live a healthier lifestyle and find more balance in my life. There are always challenges to maintaining a healthy balance. I get stressed out by the demands of work and family. I fall back into unhealthy eating habits or neglect my exercise routine. I sacrifice sleep to get more done.

The last thing I need is to have a sluggish brain and poor concentration while I’m trying to achieve more and live a balanced life. After doing some research, I found that there are several foods that can help me focus and improve my ability to concentrate.

Add these 9 super foods to your diet to help maintain a healthy brain:

Coffee
Caffeine has been shown to slow the aging process and improve short-term memory. While coffee isn’t necessarily going to make you smarter, it can boost your performance and make you more alert. As a huge fan of the benefits of drinking coffee, I am happy to learn that it can also help me concentrate.

Chocolate
Dark chocolate also provides a caffeine boost and contains powerful antioxidants that can help enhance your focus. Plus, chocolate just makes you feel good.

Berries
Berries have been shown to protect the brain from free radicals and help reduce the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and make a good snack. You can also add them to your cereal or oatmeal for a healthy breakfast.

Whole grains
Whole grains, such as oatmeal, cereal, quinoa and barley, contribute to your daily intake of fiber. Whole grains also contain B-vitamins that are used to break down carbohydrates to give your brain energy.

Fish
Fish are a great protein source and give your brain a boost. They are also rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain function and development. These healthy fats have amazing brain power. Salmon and other fatty fish like tuna and mackerel contain an important fat for brain health called DHA. Salmon is a good source of protein, which can also help you stay focused. To reap the benefits, add fish to your diet two or three times a week.

Leafy greens
Leafy greens, including spinach, kale and arugula, contain nutrient compounds that help the brain stay young. They also provide the antioxidant lutein, which can prevent cognitive decline. Try to eat two servings of leafy greens a day.

Nuts and flaxseeds
Nuts, especially walnuts, give your body magnesium, which helps your body function more efficiently and fights off fatigue. Flax is the best source for alpha-linolenic acid – a healthy fat that improves the workings of your brain.

Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba has been used for thousands of years for both concentration and memory. It is thought to boost blood flow and oxygen to the brain and improve function and memory. Ginkgo biloba can be added to your diet as a supplement.

Gum
While gum is not a food, it has been shown in studies to help people be more alert while performing tasks. So, if you want to improve your concentration, chew a piece of gum!

Eating a healthy, balanced diet helps you get the essential nutrients you need to focus. If you eat too much or too little, that can also interfere with your ability to concentrate. For the best brain benefits, eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber and protein.

6 ways to beat stress for better health

Stress juggling too many responsibilitiesWe all deal with stress. It can be a juggling act to balance all of our responsibilities. Your boss just dumped a bunch of work on your desk on Friday afternoon. The car battery died. One of the kids is sick. The property taxes are coming due.

Sometimes everything piles up at once, and you feel overloaded. You may not be able to keep all the balls in the air, and it seems like too much to handle. You can’t avoid stress. It’s just part of life. However, you can control how you deal with it.

Stress can cause you to gain weight and can even shorten your lifespan. By learning to manage stress, you can live a much happier, healthier and more productive life.

Here are 6 ways you can make changes in your life now to help you beat stress for better health:

1. Balance your lifestyle
How you live your life affects your stress level. If one aspect of your life is out of balance, it can lead to stress and dissatisfaction – not only in that area of your life but also in other areas. For instance, if your work schedule has become extremely hectic, it will impact your personal life. Your spouse may wish you could spend more time together. You may miss your kids’ sports or school activities due to work.

Here are some areas to work on to help you find more balance and reduce stress:

Look at your schedule. It’s important to create a balance between your personal needs, work, and your family and friends. Our relationships with others are an integral part of our happiness. Start by looking at your commitments. Maybe you need to adjust how and where you spend your time. Make more time for you. Or plan more activities with your family or friends. There may be things you don’t need to do at all. Sometimes just saying no when you’re feeling overwhelmed can be the greatest stress reliever.

Get enough sleep. Your body uses sleep to rest and re-cooperate from the stresses of the day. Your body and mind need sleep for many other healthy reasons, too.

Eat healthier. By eating healthier you have more energy, may lose weight or maintain your weight, and will feel better about yourself. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and protein can also help boost your immunity. Staying healthy is one of the best defenses against stress.

Make the time to exercise. If you can work exercise into your daily routine and make it habit, you will feel healthier and reduce stress. Even moderate exercise, such as walking, can help lower your stress level.

Find a sense of purpose. You may feel stressed if you aren’t doing anything that’s meaningful to you or that you truly enjoy. You may find a sense of purpose through your family, friends, a hobby you love, work or by volunteering. Your purpose should make you happy to get out of bed in the morning and fulfilled at the end of the day.

These are a few of the areas in your life that can get out of balance. It is also important to make sure you are financially and spiritually balanced. You may find it helps to set goals and improve your habits in order achieve more.

2. Get organized
Being surrounded by clutter can also contribute to stress. If you feel you are constantly searching for things or simply feel overwhelmed by all of the “stuff” in your life, then take the initiative to clean up the clutter and reduce your stress.

You can also improve your time management skills. I know I am often guilty of procrastination. I put things off or do unimportant tasks to avoid what I should be doing. The next thing I know, I haven’t gotten anything worthwhile done. By managing your time more effectively, you can prioritize what is urgent and what can wait. You can also get more things done in a shorter amount of time. That leaves more time to do the fun things!

3. Change your mindset
It’s easy to get caught up in negative thinking. Situations that are out of your control or not even your fault suddenly start to cause you unnecessary stress. Negative thoughts can trigger your body’s stress response. Changing your mindset to more positive thinking can help you cope with stress more easily.

4. Learn to relax
When you feel stressed, take time to relax. It may mean simply closing your eyes, breathing deeply and thinking positive thoughts for a few minutes. You can envision yourself in a place that makes you happy and relaxed. Sit outside and soak up the sun for a few minutes. Go for a quick walk and let your mind wander. You can also use different types of relaxation techniques to help you reduce tension.

5. Disconnect
We live in a plugged-in world. While all of our high tech devices – TVs, cell phones, computers, tablets – can help us stay connected and make work and life easier, they keep us connected all the time. Turn off the computer and cell phone and take a break from technology every once in a while. Spend time with family and friends without the distractions. Go outside and do nothing. Enjoy just being.

6. Reach out
If you start to feel too overwhelmed, reach out to friends and family. Simply talking to someone and venting your frustrations can help you feel better. You can talk to people you know from church or a religious leader. You may reach a point when you want to talk to a counselor or therapist. It’s okay to reach out and ask for help when you need it!

You can beat stress and live a more balanced, healthy and fulfilling life. How do you cope with stress?

What are smart carbs?

fruits and vegetables smart carbsI’ve been told for years that carbohydrates are bad. Apparently, that’s not entirely true. There are bad carbs, good carbs, simple carbs, complex carbs and even smart carbs?

Carbohydrates are, in fact, an important part of a balanced diet. You just need to be selective about the types of carbs you eat. Here are some guidelines to help you know which carbs are good for you and which ones you should avoid:

Simple or “bad” carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are easy for your body to breakdown. That should be good, right? Actually, it means these carbs deliver sugar to your bloodstream quickly. Simple carbs include white sugar and white flour-based foods. They breakdown quickly and cause your blood sugar to spike. That’s why when you eat sugary foods like cookies, cupcakes or a candy bar, you get a rush of energy but then it drops quickly and may bring down your mood right along with it.

Here are some examples of bad carbs:

  • Any foods made of refined carbohydrates like sugary cakes and cookies
  • White bread and pasta
  • White rice
  • Bottled or canned fruits and juices
  • Pop/soda and other sugary drinks

Complex or “good” carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates have complicated molecules that breakdown slowly. They deliver a steady supply of sugar to the bloodstream. As the sugar is delivered slowly to the cells, they can burn that energy more efficiently and your energy level and mood remains steady. These are also called good carbs.

Here are some examples of good or smart carbs:

  • Fruits and vegetables (especially kale or dark, leafy lettuce)
  • Beans (kidney and garbanzo)
  • Seeds (sunflower and pumpkin)
  • Nuts (almonds)
  • Whole grains (millet, quinoa and buckwheat)
  • Whole wheat bread and pasta
  • Multi-grain cereal
  • Oatmeal/oat bran
  • Brown rice
  • Sweet potatoes/yams

The best or “smart” carbohydrates

Smart carbohydrates refers to how your body processes the carb and uses it for energy. Glucose is the body’s main source for energy. When you get an extreme glucose surge from a sugary snack, it will lead to a stored fat deposit.

On the other hand, smart carbohydrates let you eat carbs without triggering the fat storing reaction. Smart carbs burn the energy at slower rate, so you give your body a steady source of fuel. You also don’t experience those highs and lows that you get with simple or “bad” carbs.

With smart carbs, you will get more satisfaction when you eat, your blood sugar will stay more level, and your body won’t be storing carbs as fat for later use.

When you eat smart carbs, your body is better at digesting them and using them as energy. You will naturally feel better and be more energized. So, add more smart carbs to your diet to help balance out your energy levels and feel healthier!