Tag Archives: healthy 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!

Advertisements

6 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health

crossword_background_001I worry about my brain. As the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia increases, I want to do more to protect my memory and cognitive function.

While we wait for a cure for Alzheimer’s or better treatments for dementia, what can you do to help prevent the diseases? You can lead a more brain-healthy lifestyle that can slow down the process of deterioration. No matter what your age, you can take steps now to keep your brain healthy.

Here are 6 ways to start improving your brain health today:

Stay active
Physical activity is a valuable part of living a more balanced life and can also lower the risk of cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50%.

In addition to protecting against Alzheimer’s and dementia, creating a regular exercise routine can also boost your mood, increase energy levels and reduce stress.

Read more about the benefits of exercise.

Eat a healthy diet
Your brain needs a nutritious diet to perform at its best. Make sure you are eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Focus on creating good eating habits that reduce inflammation and provide a steady supply of fuel.

Here are more diet tips to keep your brain healthy and protected:

  • Follow a Mediterranean diet – This approach to healthy eating includes a balanced diet rich in fish, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and fresh produce.
  • Avoid trans fats and saturated fats – You should reduce your intake of full-fat dairy products, red meat, fried foods, fast food and processed foods.
  • Eat heart-healthy options – If you’re following a diet plan that’s good for your heart, it’s also going to be good for your brain. When you reduce your risk of heart disease, you’re also helping protect your brain.
  • Add omega-3 fats – Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Eat cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel and sardines.

Keep mentally active
When you continue to learn new things and challenge your brain throughout life, you are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s a good idea to follow the “use it or lose it” approach. Activities that involve multiple tasks or include different types of stimulation, such as communicating, interacting and organization, will offer the greatest benefits and protection.

Here are more ways to exercise your brain.

Have a social life
We are social creatures. Relationships are important to our health. If you are isolated, you’re not thriving and neither is your brain. Studies show that the more connected we are and the more relationships we have, we test better for memory and cognition.

Do you have trouble making friends? Here are a few ways to build a strong support system and develop new relationships.

  • Volunteer – There are so many great causes you can support and giving back is good for your health!
  • Make weekly plans with friends – Take the initiative and get together with friends. You can go to the movies, visit the park, creating a walking group, or check out local museums.
  • Take a class – Join a gym or sign up for classes at a local college. It’s a great way to meet new people and stimulate your brain.
  • Get to know your neighbors – You may have people nearby who have similar interests to you. Make it a point to know your neighbors.

Manage your stress
Chronic stress takes a toll on the body as well as on your brain. Stress can lead to shrinkage in key memory areas of the brain, hamper nerve cell growth and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

There are many things you can do to prevent stress and keep your stress levels in check. Even the foods you eat can help you control stress.

Get plenty of sleep
Your brain needs to rest. A good night’s sleep helps your brain function at maximum capacity. When you don’t get enough sleep, you are cranky and tired. Lack of sleep also impairs your ability to think, solve problems and store or recall information. Deep, REM state sleep is important for memory formation and retention. Most adults need at least 8 hours of sleep per night. If you’re getting less sleep than that, your health, productivity and creativity can suffer.

To protect your brain health, embrace a balanced lifestyle that will improve your overall health. A balanced life includes exercising, eating a nutritious diet, establishing good relationships, reducing stress, and getting plenty of sleep.

9 Ways to Get the Health Benefits of Fiber

bread-1426350-mThe average American is not eating enough fiber. In fact, most of us get less than half of the recommended allowance of approximately 25 to 35 grams of fiber we need every day.

What is fiber? Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate found in plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables and grain products. Your body cannot digest fiber, and it passes through your body largely intact.

Why are most of us lacking in fiber? We eat far too many highly processed foods. The refining process takes out the natural fiber found in plants. We also consume a large amount of animal products, which all contain zero fiber.

These foods make up a large part of our diets and are poor sources of fiber:

  • Refined grains – commonly in most bread, pizza dough, crackers, dry cereal and pasta
  • Sugars – found in soda, baked goods, candy and other processed goods
  • Animal products – includes meat, chicken, fish, milk, cheese and butter
  • Oils – in the form of salad dressings and fried foods

Why do we need fiber? The numerous benefits of fiber include its ability to stabilize blood sugar, reduce cholesterol, decrease the risk of colon cancer, prevent constipation and support a healthy body weight. In addition, foods high in fiber are often high in mineral and vitamin content. Fiber may also prevent or control diabetes.

Here are 9 ways you can add more fiber to your daily diet:

Start your day with whole grains
Look for whole-grain cereal or oatmeal with 3 or more grams of fiber per serving. You can also add fruit to your breakfast to get even more fiber.

Fresh fruit
Any type of fresh fruit is a healthy snack. But when it comes to getting in your daily fiber, not all fruit is created equal. For high fiber fruits, try pears, raspberries, blackberries, bananas and blueberries. Apples with the skin on also provide high fiber.

Dried fruit
Most dried fruits are loaded with fiber. Try having a handful of dried figs, prunes, dates, raisins or apricots as a snack. You can also chop them up and add to cereal or even as salad toppings.

Vegetables
Vegetables can be a great source of fiber, too. High-fiber veggies include spinach, corn, broccoli, potatoes and artichoke hearts. All vegetables have some fiber. Too boost your daily fiber, add vegetables to sandwiches, pastas, omelets and soups. You can also add vegetables to salads or other meals.

Nuts and seeds
You may be afraid to eat nuts and seeds because they can be high in calories and fat. Yet, nuts and seeds are a great source of fiber and other nutrients. Sunflowers seeds and almonds are especially high in fiber. You can add nuts and seeds to salads or a cup of yogurt. You can enjoy a handful of mixed nuts for an afternoon snack.

Beans
Beans are high in fiber, full of protein and low in fat. Try eating beans at least twice a week to boost your fiber. You can use beans in soups, stews, rice and pasta dishes, salads and casseroles.

Peas and legumes
Lentils and peas are related to beans and are high in dietary fiber and protein while also being low in fat. Lentils are great for soups and stews. Cooked chickpeas can be added to salads or made into hummus.

Whole-grain bread and crackers
Whole grains include the entire grain and give you all the nutrients of the grain. If you’re eating a sandwich, choose whole grain bread. Try dipping whole-grain crackers in a healthy spread or eating them with your favorite salad.

Drink water!
Water and fiber work as a team in your body. Water is absorbed by fiber and helps waste products move more freely through the digestive track.

Also be cautious about adding fiber too quickly. Introduce fiber to your diet gradually so your body can adjust to the increased intake over time. Exercise can also encourage the movement of fiber through your digestive system.

Eating a diet high in fiber combined with other healthy foods can help improve your overall health and well-being. So, add more fiber to your diet today!

14 Healthier Treats to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 10.22.24 AMI love dessert. And I’m an equal opportunity dessert eater. I like it all – pies, cakes, cobblers, ice cream, cookies, brownies, chocolate – anything that’s sweet and decadent.

However, it can be difficult to maintain healthy eating habits when you love all things dessert. And, basically anything that will satisfy your sweet tooth is most likely going to sabotage your healthy diet.

We have blogged about the dangers and health risks of eating too much sugar in the past. 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 a day for men.

Here are 14 ways you can satisfy your need for something sweet and stick to your healthy habits:

Dark chocolate
Eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate (1.4 ounces) can improve your mood and reduce stress levels. So, you can enjoy a small bit of chocolatey goodness without the guilt.

Frozen yogurt
If you’re having a craving for ice cream, substitute frozen yogurt as a good alternative. It’s the same consistency as regular ice cream and it tastes almost as sweet.

Yogurt with toppings
Top a cup of plain Greek yogurt with your favorite treats – crumbled graham crackers, granola, nuts or fruit. You can even add some shaved dark chocolate. You get a decadent dessert without all the added calories.

Jell-O brand cups
Jell-O has single serving cups in many varieties and flavors. You can get pudding cups that have the same creamy flavor as cheesecake but with much less fat and calories. You can even make your own pudding from a powdered mix, using skim milk to keep it healthy. Add your own toppings for more flavor and fun.

Fresh fruit
Any piece of fresh fruit will offer enough natural sugar to fill your sweet tooth craving. It’s also an extremely healthy choice for added nutrients and fiber. Mix up your fruit and create tasty fruit salads.

Dried fruit
Dried fruit is handy to pack on the go as a quick snack and is a great way to have a sweet treat. Make sure if you’re buying packaged dried fruit that you check for no added sugar.

Fudge popsicle
With a fudge popsicle, you can get an ice cream fix along with the great taste of chocolate. It has fewer calories than regular ice cream or even slow-churned ice cream.

Nutella popcorn
You can make another chocolatey treat with Nutella and popcorn. Pop a small bag of natural popcorn and top it with 1 tablespoon of melted Nutella. It’s crunchy along with the perfect amount of sweetness!

Chocolate Nutty Pretzels
A salty and sweet combo may also help you with those sugary cravings. Microwave one square of dark chocolate and one teaspoon of natural peanut butter until both are melted. Then dip pretzels or pretzels rods for a great snack.

Sorbet
Keeping a pint of healthy sorbet on hand is a great option for filling a dessert craving without resorting to ice cream. You can even make your own sorbet if you’re feeling adventurous!

Frozen grapes
Put a bag or container of grapes in the freezer for a few hours, and you’ll have a long-lasting, sweet treat with antioxidants and other nutrients. Grapes also contain resveratrol, which may help lower bad cholesterol levels and be good for your heart.

Trail mix
You can make your own trail mix. Simply combine a healthy mix of nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, peanuts, or pistachios, with dried cranberries, cherries or raisins. You can also add in a few dark chocolate pieces for a great snack with good nutrition, too.

Animal crackers
A good-sized handful of animal crackers has just 120 calories and about 7 grams of sugar. While kids like to snack on them, adults can enjoy them, too!

Chocolate milk
Need a sweet treat during your day? Chocolate milk is good for you and boosts calcium and vitamin D, which research shows is important for preserving cartilage and joint health. Chocolate low-fat milk has also been shown to replenish stores of energy and nutrition after a vigorous workout or activity.

Now I want to eat something sweet, and you probably do, too! A healthy diet means eating a variety of foods and eating them all in moderation. Just be sure to watch portion sizes and treat yourself to these healthy dessert options.

Swap Junk Food With Healthy Food

cupcakes-1155519-mWhy are the foods that taste so good so bad for us? I love chips, soda, fast food and anything that’s called dessert.

Unfortunately, most adults and one in three children in this country are overweight or obese. Once we’ve developed the habit of eating unhealthy and extremely tasty foods, it’s really hard to make the switch to an all healthy diet.

Changing the way you eat can be easier if you start by taking small steps in the right direction. You can identify your worst “bad food” habits and replace them with healthier choices.

High calorie favorites
Most of our calories come from foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats. At the top of the list are sweets like cookies and cakes, as well as yeast breads. You may also get extra calories from fried or baked chicken dishes, sodas and sports drinks. Pizza, pasta, tortilla dishes, beef dishes and alcohol also pile on the calories.

Eat less of these foods:

  • Salt
  • Fast food
  • Saturated fats
  • Solid and trans fats
  • Added sugar
  • Refined grains

Eat more of these foods:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Lean protein
  • Seafood
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Whole grains
  • Healthy oils

You can make small changes to your eating habits and make a big difference in your calorie intake. Here are some ways you can swap out less healthy choices for healthier options:

Breakfast

  • Swap sugary cereals for whole grain cereals with no sugar added and add fresh or dried fruit.
  • Swap whole milk for 1% fat or even skim milk.
  • Swap full fat Greek yogurt for fat-free Greek style yogurt
  • Swap a glass of juice for real fruit

Lunch

  • Swap fatty meats for lean protein and seafood. Shoot for at least 8 ounces of fish a week.
  • Swap white bread, pasta or rice for whole grain varieties.
  • Swap butter and cheese for low-fat or fat-free options. Use olive or canola oils that are good for your heart and your waistline.

Dinner

  • Swap fatty cuts of meat for leaner cuts or choose skinless chicken or fish.
  • Swap mashed potatoes or fries for sweet potato options or choose more colorful veggies.
  • Swap creamy or cheesy sauces for tomato or vegetable-based sauces.
  • Swap pan-frying with grilling when cooking meat.

Drinks

  • Swap whole milks for skim milk in your coffee or when you drink a glass of milk.
  • Swap sweet tea for unsweetened tea.
  • Swap sugary drinks for a glass of water.

Watch your serving size
Our portion sizes have gotten out of control in recent years. When you go to a restaurant, you get enough food to feed three people. Buffets also create a challenge because it’s hard to realize how much you’ve eaten. Start downsizing to healthier portions. You can learn to eyeball your food to make sure you are eating the right amount.

Shrink your plate
You were probably told to clean your plate when you were growing up. Just like portions, our dinner plates at home and in restaurants have gotten bigger. If you clean your plate, you’re probably eating too much. Start eating on smaller plates, and you will find that you eat less.

It’s hard to give up all of your favorite foods at once and switch to healthier options. Focus on one area at a time. For instance, start by making healthy changes in your breakfast routine. Then, switch out fatty meat options for more lean protein at lunch and dinner. Next, cut back on refined grains and choose whole grain.

By making smaller adjustments over time, you will soon find that you don’t even miss your old favorites!

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.

Why are you so tired?

Reason's why you're tiredDo you find yourself yawning during the day? (You just yawned, didn’t you?) Would you like to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon? It’s not surprising that we often feel tired.

I know my habits are not the best. I try to do too many things in a single day. I stay up late to watch my favorite shows on DVR. I am stressed and end up getting out of bed early in the morning to get a jump on the day.

Yet, it could be other things that are making us tired. Here are 12 reasons why you might be feeling so fatigued:

You need more sleep
Most of us don’t get enough sleep. We stay up late watching TV, working or surfing the internet on our computer, tablet or smartphone. We get up early to get started on the work day. You should get about 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Avoid caffeine and alcohol a few hours before bed. Turn off the TV before bed and make your bedroom an oasis for sleeping.

You’re wired
Research has shown that using computers, tablets and mobile phones right before bed may interfere with your sleep patterns, leading to less time spent in the deeper sleep stages. Keep the gadgets out of your bedroom and stop using them about an hour before bed.

You have too much stress
Normally, your levels of the stress hormone cortisol will run higher in the morning and dip down at night. This pattern helps you keep a normal daily rhythm. Chronic stress can throw that pattern out of whack. If your cortisol levels stay high all day, it will disrupt your sleep. Try to be conscious of your stress level and do what you can to keep yourself at a moderate level.

You’re under-stressed
You may not have realized that being too laid back can also make you feel more tired. Moderate stress stimulates you and helps boost your immune system. Also, having tasks you need to accomplish can motivate you to stay active. If there’s nothing you are looking forward to doing or excited about, it’s much easier to decide that you are tired.

You’re dehydrated
A healthy woman who doesn’t replace just 1.5% of her water weight can experience mood swings and lower energy levels. Make sure you drink plenty of water based on the weather and your workouts.

You need more exercise
Too much time spent being sedentary can make you feel more tired even though you aren’t using as much energy. Think about it: You have a stressful day at work and that amps up your cortisol and blood glucose levels. Then, you spend the evening at your computer or on the couch watching TV. Your body doesn’t have a chance to release that energy and tension. This keeps you in a revved up state at night and disrupts your sleep. You can see that it’s a vicious cycle that keeps you tired.

So, get moving. Just 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week can fight off fatigue and give you more energy. You will also sleep better and feel more rested.

You’re depressed
If you have feelings of exhaustion along with sadness and loss of appetite, you may depressed. You may have lost the pleasure in doing things you used to love. If you have these symptoms, you should talk to a doctor or therapist to help you get back to feeling better.

You have a poor diet
Your eating habits can also contribute to your fatigue. Relying on carbs and sugars to get you through the day can make you feel sluggish. Eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and lean protein can help you boost your energy levels.

You’re over-caffeinated
Caffeine can help you be more alert and focused in moderate amounts. However, too much caffeine can raise your heart rate and blood pressure, as well as give you the jitters. If you decide to cut back on your caffeine intake, do so gradually. If you stop suddenly, it can cause headaches and even more fatigue.

You take medication
Many medicines can have side effects of making you feel fatigued. Some examples include certain groups of antidepressants and beta-blockers that are used for migraines and high blood pressure. If you notice that you are feeling more fatigued after you start a new medicine, talk to your doctor about alternatives.

You have low iron or B12
If your iron is low, you could have anemia. Your body struggles to function properly to remove wastes from your cells, and you feel worn out. If you’re feeling sluggish, you can ask your doctor for a simple blood test to see if you should take a supplement.

If you have fatigue with forgetfulness, restless legs, and numbness or tingling, you could have a B12 deficiency. You can take supplements to raise your B12 levels.

You have a disorder
Under and over active thyroid can cause fatigue. A blood test can check your level of thyroid stimulating hormone needed for proper thyroid function. If you are draggy with blurred vision and lots of urination, you could have diabetes. Tiredness is also a sign of heart trouble. If exercising makes you feel worse, then you definitely need to see a doctor.

Are you feeling tired after reading this blog? Do you feel like you could have one or more of these problems? I would start with the basics. Take a look at your sleep patterns, diet, exercise routine and stress levels to see if you need to adjust any of them. If you’re still feeling fatigued, it might be a good idea to talk with your doctor.