Eating Fresh in the Winter Cold

Unless you live someplace like California or Florida, eating fresh can be tricky during the winter months, and even in those warm locales, changing seasons still means changing availability of favorite crops. It’s not impossible to keep up your fruit and vegetable rotation in the cold seasons, but it does require some extra knowledge and technique.

Embracing Variety

Most families have a limited range of fruit and vegetable intake, stocking up every week with bell peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, apples and the like. You can find these year-round in most mega-marts because they ship them in from the southern hemisphere — by means that reduce their nutritional benefit. By opening yourself to new experiences, you vastly improve your options for eating fresh.

Some winter-season options to try include brussels sprouts, persimmons, leeks, kiwifruit, beets, guava, kale and most citrus fruits like grapefruits and oranges. You can even buy winter-season cookbooks to help you cook these new options into the most delicious meals possible.

Knowing Your Canned and Frozen Goods

Although not exactly “eating fresh,” it still serves the purpose and can get you through the winter. Many fruits and vegetables retain their nutrition and even taste better when frozen than if picked unripe and shipped long distances — so opt for frozen berries in your smoothie, and frozen broccoli in your stir fry.

On a similar note, a few vegetables are better canned than shipped, including favorites like peas and green beans. Tomatoes are a special case, as the canning process not only preserves the nutrients, but actually releases nutritional value that’s unavailable in the raw form.

Visiting Farmer’s Markets

You probably already hit the local farmer’s market in the summer to get your favorite produce fresh. Winter markets are typically smaller and less crowded, and offer exactly the kind of new produce you need to eat fresh all winter long. Ask the folks in the stalls what those brave, new foods are called, what they’re good for and how to cook them.

Many communities have one or more farming cooperatives in which you can buy shares of a crop. This amounts to a food subscription, where you go every week to pick up your share of whatever the local farmers grew. These are often known as CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), and can be found around the country. CSA boxes are often the easiest way to eat fresh and local all year ’round.

Getting Tricky

A final option is to grow your own favorite produce under conditions that convince the plant that it’s still summertime. An indoor garden, be it in your garage, a greenhouse, or your windowsill, is one way to do this. By keeping the heat at an elevated temperature, and intensifying light through windows, you create the conditions that get your crops to produce all year long. If you’re up for a real experiment, you can use hydroponics to accomplish the same thing.

Indoor gardening requires extra space and not a little time, but if you do it right you’ll have your favorite fresh produce all year long. Most communities will have a resource, club or similar group to teach you how.

What are some of your favorite ways to cook winter foods? Share your recipes in the comments to help fellow readers make it through to next summer. 

Sources

“Eat, Drink and Be Healthy”, Dr. Walter Willett, et. al., 2002

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20070316/canned-fruits-veggies-healthy-too

Finding the Sweet Spot: The Best Sweetener for You

Although sugar has a long history of human domestication and consumption, with records of its use going as far back as 510 BC., the sweet stuff has come under attack in the last 30 years.

Common sugar, more correctly called sucrose, is generally taken from sugar cane or sugar beets and is available in many forms. But, regardless of whether it’s white or brown, sucrose has been blamed for the increase of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in America. In 2009, obesity expert Robert Lustig went so far as to call sugar “toxic” and, according to the New York Times, new research has even suggested a link between sucrose and cancer.

With all of this negative press, many people wonder about alternatives to processed sugar. There are many out there, both artificial and natural. But which one is the right one for you?

Artificial Sweeteners

These synthetic, man-made sweeteners offer a zero-calorie alternative to sugar and come under a number of different names. The most popular artificial sweeteners include aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), saccharin (Sweet’ N Low) and sucralose (Splenda), each of which is many times more sweet than sugar.

Many of these sweeteners are featured in so-called “diet” products because they have virtually no caloric value, unlike sugar, which contains 15 calories per teaspoon. This makes artificial sweeteners attractive to dieters. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, there’s evidence that links these sweeteners with weight gain, although the link is not yet fully understood.

Because these substances are not actually carbohydrates, they don’t usually have any effect on blood sugar level and can be useful to diabetics, but always check with your doctor before using any sweetener, especially if you’re a diabetic or at risk for diabetes.

In the 1970s, a notorious study was published linking saccharin to bladder cancer in rats. This is likely responsible for a negative view of all artificial sweeteners that has spread throughout the years. According to the National Cancer Institute, however, there is no solid evidence backing these claims, and several newer studies have failed to conclusively link these sweeteners with cancer or any other illness.

Stevia

Stevia is an umbrella term that refers to several products that contain some form of extract from the stevia plant of South America. The products vary in terms of which part of the plant they use and how much they are processed before reaching the market.

Like artificial sweeteners, stevia is non-nutritive and has a negligible effect on blood sugar levels. However, there is no evidence that stevia has any advantages over artificial sweeteners.

Still, people who distrust artificial products may be more comfortable opting for a stevia extract. If you’re looking for the most natural product possible, do your research and select a stevia extract that is minimally processed. A note: stevia has an after-taste that some people dislike.

Agave, Honey and Others

There are also many natural sweeteners available including agave, fruit nectars, honey, maple syrup and molasses. Although these options each have unique nutritional benefits — for example molasses is high in several micro-nutrients —  they don’t seem to have any other benefits over sugar. They all could contribute to weight gain because of their calorie content and cause spikes in blood sugar, which makes them off limits to diabetics.

Have you found a sugar alternative that works best for you? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Sources

http://www.sucrose.com/lhist.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17Sugar-t.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/artificial-sweeteners/MY00073/NSECTIONGROUP=2

Diet Reviews: The Sardine Diet

Fish, with its huge doses of omega-3 fatty acids, has received a recent push as a healthy protein choice. It’s no surprise, then, that many diets have been released that are specifically designed to help you up your fish intake. The Sardine Diet, as its name suggests, is just such a program.

First detailed in a 2006 book of the same name, the Sardine Diet was created by certified dietitian and nutritionist Keri Glassman. The diet isn’t restricted only to sardines. Many people will be glad to hear that the diet doesn’t require them to eat sardines for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Rather, it encourages low calorie, high fiber, high protein and high omega 3 meals. We’ll consider what the diet entails, its potential benefits, as well as any cons associated with the Sardine Diet.

sardineWhat the Diet Includes

Following this diet begins with purchasing the book, which includes numerous recipes and meal plans. The foods discussed in the book all use fish as the primary protein source and are designed to boost your intake in both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Since the recipes are provided and portions are pre-calculated, you never have to worry about counting your calories. This kind of detailed planning takes all the guesswork out of dieting for you and ensures that you’re eating properly.

The Sardine Diet consists of three meals and two snacks daily. The types of food you can expect to be eating on the sardine diet include “Albacore Tuna Wraps” and “Sardine Tostadas with Avocado Salsa.” One of the most outstanding features of the Sardine Diet is that sardines, tuna and the other fish that are featured are relatively inexpensive and easy to get. These fish are also low in mercury.

What it Does

The push for sardines and other fatty fish is based firmly on the well-documented benefits of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Although fat is a much maligned nutrient, there are both healthy and unhealthy fats. The fats that are emphasized in the Sardine Diet are extremely healthy, according to the American Heart Association. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids have been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, increase HDL (good) cholesterol, lower the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, and slow the formation of harmful plaque on the walls of your arteries. Other potential benefits associated with these fats include reduced risk of breast cancer, improved mental health, improved joint health and decreased risk of inflammatory diseases like asthma and arthritis.

The Sardine Diet is also rich in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D, which all work in conjunction to improve bone and joint health. High calcium intake is also associated with a lower risk of obesity.

Potential Faults and Considerations

No diet plan is ever perfect for everyone and, despite all of its touted benefits, there are things to consider before diving into the Sardine Diet. The first, and most obvious, factor to think about is how you feel about sardines and fish in general. Many people do not enjoy the taste and texture of the little fatty fish. The diet does allow for substitutions with other oily fish, like salmon, but sardines are the preferred option.

Another aspect to consider is the fact that, although it discusses it, the Sardine Diet offers no guidance regarding an exercise program. Diet is only one part of a healthy lifestyle, so when embarking on any diet you should never neglect your exercise plan.

Have you tried the Sardine Diet? Please share your experience with us in the comments.

Sources

http://sardinediet.com/diet.htm

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp

http://www.dietsinreview.com/diets/the-sardine-diet/

Beware of High Calorie Holiday Drinks

Nothing says “it’s the holidays” quite like a creamy cup of eggnog or a mug of spiced apple cider. But drinking too many of these festive beverages can leave you looking like Santa.Christmas Hot Chocolate

Calories in Holiday Beverages

Before you reach for that glass of cheer, take note: fancy beverages are often loaded with calories, fat and sugar. In fact, many holiday cocktails and coffeehouse drinks pack more calories than desserts. To burn off the calories in one hot buttered rum, for instance, a 150-lb. woman would have to walk briskly for approximately 90 minutes. Check out the average calorie counts on popular holiday drinks — and approximately how much exercise a 150-lb. woman would need to do to burn it off:

Alcoholic:

*Eggnog (one cup): 391 calories = 35 minutes of kickboxing

*Hot buttered rum (16oz): 418 calories = a 4-mile run

*White Russian (16oz): 355 calories = 30 minutes of jumping rope

*Chocolate liqueur (3oz on the rocks): 310 calories = 40 minutes on the elliptical trainer

*Mudslide (8oz): 590 calories = taking a 45-minute spin class

* Champagne (5oz): 122 calories = 30 minutes of water aerobics

* Champagne punch (one cup): 146 calories = 30 minutes of raking leaves

* Peppermint Mojito (6oz): 180 calories =  30 minutes of Pilates

* Martini (3oz): 196 calories = 25 minutes using a rowing machine

*Spiced cider with rum (one cup): 150 calories = 45 minutes of housework

*White wine (5oz): 121 calories = 35 minutes of strength training

* Red wine (5oz): 125 calories = 30 minutes of playing with your kids</li></ul>

Non-alcoholic:

* Eggnog (one cup): 343 calories = 45 minutes of hiking

*Hot cocoa (12oz): 320 calories = 50 minutes of moderate aerobics

* Peppermint mocha (16oz): 470 calories = one hour of intense yoga

* Pumpkin spice latte (16oz): 410 calories = 40 minutes of step aerobics

*Holiday punch (one cup): 234 calories = 30 minutes of ice skating

*Spiced apple cider (one cup): 117 calories = 25 minutes of dancing

*Sparkling grape juice (one cup): 152 calories = a 20-minute swim</li></ul>

Tips to Lighten Up

Try these tricks to save calories on your favorite holiday beverages:

1. Cut serving sizes: Pour spiced cider into champagne flutes instead of a regular glass and the portion will be a few ounces smaller. You’ll cut calories but still feel like you’re drinking a full serving. Serve up hot beverages like eggnog or hot chocolate in shot glasses and garnish them with whipped cream, sprinkles, cocoa powder or cinnamon. This fancy display will be pleasing for both the eyes and waistline.

2. Substitute a lighter milk. Coffee beverages, cocoas, eggnog and White Russians are made using milk or cream. Sub skim or one percent milk for whole milk and use half-and-half in place of whipping cream and you’ll save calories and fat.

3. Get creative. Forget about the high-calorie cocktails this year and make holiday wine coolers instead. Start out with 5 oz. of white wine, add a splash of cranberry juice and garnish with a mini candy cane. This merry concoction contains less than one-third of the calories in a hot buttered rum.

4. Hydrate with water. Nothing quenches your thirst as well as good old H2O. When you feel thirsty, drink a cup of water before ordering a festive beverage. Sip on water between alcoholic drinks, too. If water is too plain for you, add a slice of lime, lemon or cucumber for a burst of flavor. Or try sparkling water.

5. Plan ahead. If want to cap off the night with a cup of eggnog, plan for it earlier in the day. Skip dessert or have a smaller dinner so you can indulge later on.

6. Nix the alcohol. Ordering your favorite drinks virgin can save you up to 100 calories per beverage. Try this recipe for a merry pomegranate champagne punch “mocktail”: combine a half a cup of fruit juice with half a cup of pomegranate juice, add frozen raspberries and garnish with a lemon peel.

7. Skip the extras. Many holiday cocoas, coffee drinks and alcoholic beverages are topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, sprinkles or a candy cane. While these garnishes look nice, the extra calories aren’t doing any favors for your waistline. Skip these extras, and when ordering coffee beverages, ask the barista for fewer pumps of the pumpkin, gingerbread or peppermint syrup. Chances are your drink will still be just as flavorful without it.

8.  Don’t pass up your favorites. There’s no reason to be a Scrooge and completely deprive yourself of your favorite beverages. Just be sure to indulge in high-calorie drinks only in moderation and keep up with other healthy habits, like having good nutrition and getting regular exercise, throughout the holiday season.

What’s your must-have holiday beverage and how do you make it healthier? I cannot resist white hot chocolate, but I always hold the whipped cream to keep calories in check.

Sources:

http://www.self.com/calculatorsprograms/calculators

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/holiday-drinks/NU00644

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/diet-busters-ten-high-calorie-holiday-drinks

http://www.self.com/health/blogs/healthyself/2011/12/8-low-cal-holiday-cocktails.html

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/22071944/ns/today-today_holiday_guide/t/cheers-tricks-cut-holiday-cocktail-calories/

http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes_menus/collections/healthy_holiday_mocktail_recipes

5 Healthy Alternative Thanksgiving Meals

There’s a reason Thanksgiving dinner leaves you wanting to fall asleep in the middle of the ballgame, and it’s not just the fact that you ate until you had to unbutton your pants. The quantity was certainly a factor, but the quality of your meal — all those simple carbohydrates, the heavy gravies and the extra helping of dessert — not only gives you an immediate energy crash but pose some serious threats to any health or weight-loss diet you had in the works just a few days earlier.

When you’re planning your Thanksgiving feast for this year, keep your most important centerpiece dishes, but consider swapping out some of your sides with these healthier alternatives:

1. Veggie Platter

Yes, we’re aware that the veggie platter you lay out every year is the one plate that’s still mostly full when it’s time to put away the appetizers. This isn’t because of the veggies, though. It’s because you’ve set it on the same table as those cookies and the meat-and-cheese board. This year, offer only veggies, plus maybe a little fruit. Folks will still want to munch, but they’ll munch much better. Great seasonal candidates for platterdom include celery, carrots and broccoli crowns. Although they’re not in season this time of year, it’s not too hard to get some bell peppers and cucumbers to add to the mix.

2. Fruity Salads

It almost isn’t Thanksgiving dinner until somebody breaks out the bowl full of Jello with fruit in it. That wobbly bit of wonderful may taste good, but it’s got about as much sugar in it as the dessert pies. This year, jettison the Jello. Replace it with a varied green salad made of crisp greens, some cheese and sliced apples or pears. Throw some nuts or dried fruit on top to garnish. If you don’t want to experiment, try this salad with figs and almonds.

3. Soup of the Day

Soup is a quintessential holiday food, a steaming bowl of yummy that reminds you how warm it is inside at the table. Lots of soups are high in sodium and the simple carbs that thicken the broth — especially if you’re serving it out of cans. One of the best things about soups is they’re very forgiving, so experiment with scratch-cooking a nice pumpkin soup this year. It’s a verified superfood, low on sodium and carbohydrates, and thematically matched with Thanksgiving culinary expectations.

4. Lose the Potatoes

With apologies to Idaho, potatoes are among the worst foods you can choose from a health standpoint. A simple baked potato has the same effect on your endocrine system as a bottle of soda. Try replacing your mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes with steamed green beans or carrots. Make them a bigger hit by adding a simple garlic sauce for the beans, or a honey glaze for the carrots. For an alternative that better matches the color and texture, try mashed cauliflower.  It’s nutritious, lacks the starch, and you can spice it to match anybody’s taste.

5. The Upper Crust

The trouble with your fruit and pumpkin pies is the sugar content, much of which is in the pastry crusts most people put at the bottom. By switching to a low-sugar crust, you can enjoy this holiday must-have while cutting down on the calorie load. Another trick is to simply make less dessert. Nobody needs four helpings of pie — so get an accurate head count and cook accordingly.

Sources

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/carbohydrates/

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/thanksgiving-recipes/NU00643

http://www.yummly.com/recipes/low-fat-low-sugar-pie-crust

Organic Food: Health or Hype?

Fruits and VegetablesLike many consumers, I have a goal when I enter the grocery store: buy healthy foods without breaking the bank. For the most part, choosing nutritious foods is easy. I stock up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and nonfat dairy products. But there is one gray area: organic.

Organic foods often cost a good bit more than their conventional counterparts. But are organic products really better for you? And are they really worth the higher price tag? These are questions I ask myself on every grocery store trip.

What Does “Organic” Mean?

Organic foods are made without using conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. The word “organic” means that the product has met certain standards set by the USDA:

100% organic: The food has no artificial ingredients, and can use the organic seal

Organic: The food has at least 95 percent organic ingredients, and can use the organic seal.

Made with organic ingredients: The food contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients, but it cannot use the organic seal.

Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy with the organic label come from animals that have not received antibiotics or growth hormones.

Farms must meet USDA criteria before they can become certified organic growers. Not all farmers can afford this certification, though. Organic farming practices are more expensive, which is why organic foods come with a higher price tag. If you have any questions about a local farm’s practice, talk to the farmer. He or she can give you more details than any label can.

Better For Health?

Some experts believe that consuming organic foods instead of conventional foods may be healthier, but the results are inconclusive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “makes no claims that organic food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced foods.”

A large study looked at scientific articles from the past 50 years and compared the nutrient content of organic vs. conventional foods. The researchers found that both organic and conventional products were comparable when it comes to nutrition. And just this month, a Stanford study concluded that eating organic foods over conventional products offers little to no health benefits.

As far as pesticides go, keep in mind that all organic and conventional foods sold in the U.S. don’t exceed government safety thresholds. This means that eating foods grown with pesticides shouldn’t harm your health. Just be sure to rinse all produce under running water before eating it.

Should I Go Organic?

The decision to buy organic foods is a personal one. Know that there’s more to having good nutrition than buying organic or not. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables — whether they be conventional or organic — instead of processed foods is a great way to enhance your health.

If you’re thinking about going organic, the “dirty dozen” is a good place to start. The Environmental Working Group encourages people to choose the organic versions of fruits and vegetables in the dirty dozen because produce on this list has the highest amount of pesticide residue: apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries and potatoes.

You can save money on organic products by shopping at local farmers’ markets. Produce and other goods at farmers’ markets tend to cost less than food sold in grocery stores. Eating foods when they are in season in your area can also save money.

Do you buy organic? Why or why not? I’m going to start opting for organic when it comes to the dirty dozen.

Sources:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/organic-food/NU00255

http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442451536

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20120618/apples-again-top-dirty-dozen-list-for-pesticides

Recipe for Easy, Make-Ahead Breakfast Bars

Recently, we’ve made many moms happy by providing the scientific facts backing up their ongoing claim that eating a healthy breakfast is important. We’ve also discussed some of the guidelines that make up this elusive “healthy” breakfast.

But one of the chief obstacles remain: We’re busy people, particularly in the morning. There’s not always the time it takes to make a healthy breakfast when we’re trying to get out the door.

Personally, I’m terrible at breakfast, and have had to collect many make-ahead recipes to ensure that I can start my day off right. Here is one of my favorites: Breakfast bars that are easy to make and store.

Breakfast Bar Recipe

These bars can be prepared any number of ways but the following ingredients form a good basic recipe. Here’s what you’ll need:

1 cup peanut butter, smooth

3/4 cup honey

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

3 cups oats, old fashioned

1 cup chopped walnut pieces

1/2 cup flaxseed

1) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

2) Combine the peanut butter and honey in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Stir until the ingredients are thoroughly combined and smooth. You will need to keep an eye on this since it can burn fairly easily.

3) Add the cinnamon and vanilla to the peanut butter/honey mixture and stir.

4) Gradually stir in the walnuts, flaxseed and oatmeal. Be especially careful when adding the oatmeal since it can quickly dry up the mixture. I recommend using a large spoon or spatula to ensure that the wet component binds to all the oats.

5) Pour the mixture into a greased 9″ x9″ baking dish and bake it for about 15 minutes until golden brown.

6) Remove from oven and let cool on rack. Then cut into 9 equal squares.

Nutritional Information

Each bar counts as a serving and constitutes a substantial breakfast. This particular recipe is on the high-end of the recommend calories of breakfast but is ideally suited for training days when your body will need more fuel:

Nutritional information per serving:

 Calories: 498.1

Total Fat: 28.7 g

Saturated Fat: 4.8 g

Polyunsaturated Fat: 14.0 g

Monounsaturated Fat: 10.0 g

Cholesterol: 0.0 mg

Sodium: 139.9 mg

Potassium: 561.7 mg 

 Total Carbohydrate: 68.9 g

Dietary Fiber: 11.2 g

Sugars: 23.6 g

Protein: 14.8 g

Notice that although this particular recipe does have some fat, it is primarily from the healthy poly- and monounsaturated fats which act as great fuel during prolonged endurance training. These fats may also contribute to a healthier cholesterol profile.

Possible Substitutions

Don’t be afraid to use this basic recipe to create your own bars. For example, many people favor almond butter over the traditional peanut butter. Although almond butter is much richer in micronutrients like calcium, magnesium and vitamin E, it can be considerably more expensive than peanut butter.

You can also use almonds instead of walnuts, or another nut that you prefer. I chose walnuts for this recipe because they’re a great source of omega-3s. The flaxseeds are included for similar reasons but can also be replaced by chia seeds.

Honey can be removed and replaced with another sweetener like agave nectar. Likewise, you can use raisins or any other dried fruit you like to add sweetness and flavor to these bars. You may have to adjust the liquid component of the recipe if you load it full of fruits and nuts to make sure that everything gets an even coating to hold it together.

If you’re trying to bulk-up or maintain a high protein diet, you can also toss in some of your favorite protein powder.

Have you tried these bars or do you make something similar? Please share your tips with us in the comments.

Sources

Breakfast bar nutritional information

http://lowfatcooking.about.com/od/lowfatbasics/a/goodfatsbadfats.htm

http://www.fitsugar.com/Nutritional-Comparison-Peanut-Butter-Almond-Butter-3248632

Breakfast: Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?

Fried egg with baconHow many times has someone reminded you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? It’s one of those health bromides that most everyone knows — and ignores. We’re usually in just too much of a rush in the mornings to do anything more than grab a pre-packaged or frozen something and call it a meal. Lots of us skip this meal altogether.

Not the best move, nutritionists tell us. But why is breakfast so important anyway? And what makes a “healthy” one?

Why is Breakfast Important?

As the name suggests, breakfast is about breaking the fast that you’ve experienced since your last meal the night before. Depending on your schedule, this could mean that you haven’t eaten in 10 to 15 hours, a huge gap considering that during the day we eat about every four hours.

Although we generally don’t think of sleep as an active time, your brain and body are still hard at work. Muscles rebuild themselves and recover from the demands of the previous day.Food is digested so the nutrients can be processed and stored; the heart and lungs continue to operate.And all of this is overseen by the brain, which is busy processing information collected throughout the day.

All of this activity burns up a lot of fuel in the form of glucose. So, when we stumble out of bed in the morning, our brains and entire bodies are at a massive caloric deficit.

When You Skip Breakfast

For some people, skipping breakfast is the result of simple oversight or disorganization. But others make the decision consciously, believing that it will help them lose weight.

In some cases, these deliberate skippers will then workout on an empty stomach, trying to force themselves into a fat-burning calorie deficit. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine explored the efficacy of this approach by monitoring the biological responses of exercisers who had fasted versus those who had eaten. The researchers found that the subjects who ate a light meal before exercising burned more calories, specifically those from fat, for up to 24 hours following the workout.

It should also be considered that when you skip any meal and go for long periods of time without eating, your blood sugar drops dramatically. Because you are more hungry than you would be otherwise, you are more likely to eat a large meal which will cause an insulin spike. This hormone response will actually cause your body to store more fat.

This Balanced Breakfast

Science and experience have shown the importance of breakfast, especially for the physically active person. But what is a healthy breakfast?

The exact answer to that question is fairly controversial in the health and fitness realm, but most experts agree that breakfast should account for about 25 to 30 percent of your daily calories.

This means that a healthy person following an active lifestyle and using a standard 2000 calorie diet should have a 500- to 600-calorie meal to start the day.

According to the IDEA Fitness Journal, an ideal breakfast should incorporate complex carbohydrates like oats and cereals, fiber from fruits and vegetables, and proteins from beans or nuts. IDEA suggests that breakfast should be no-to-low fat, so if you use milk in your oatmeal, cereal or smoothie, consider low-fat options or alternatives such as soy or rice milk.

A healthy breakfast will help set the nutritional tone for the day and get your body off to a decent metabolic start. Find foods that you can easily fit into your schedule and enjoy first thing in the morning. Also, consider your activity for the day and adjust your meal to fit. If it’s a training day, you’re going to want to eat more complex carbs than otherwise. Some easily prepared complex carbohydrate foods include starchy vegetables, beans and whole grains. If you’re typically rushing out the door first thingin the morning, why not try preparing something the night before? With just a little planning, you could have no-cook refrigerator oatmeal ready to grab and go in the morning.

In an upcoming post, I’ll share an easy recipe for healthy breakfast bars that’s been my fall-back breakfast option for a long time.

How have you managed to fit a balanced breakfast into your busy schedule? Please share your tips with us in the comments.

Sources

http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/build-a-better-breakfast-0

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21411835

http://www.theyummylife.com/Refrigerator_Oatmeal

10 Quick, Healthy Meal Ideas

These days, it’s normal to work long hours and feel constantly strapped for time. So it’s no wonder so many of us hit the drive-thru for dinner. However, most fast food meals are lacking in the nutrition department.

With proper planning, it is possible serve healthy, satisfying meals at home in a matter of minutes.

Healthy Meal Basics

For a well-balanced dinner, fill half of your plate with fruits and/or veggies, a quarter of your plate with whole grains(like 100% whole grain bread or pasta) and the other quarter with a lean source of protein, like fish or chicken. A nonfat or low-fat source of dairy, like a glass of skim milk, should also be part of your meal.

Planning is Key

The secret to serving a healthy, homemade meal each night is preparation. On the weekends, take the time to plan out that week’s meals. Head to the grocery store armed with a list of all the ingredients you’ll need. Once you get home, start prepping parts of the week’s dinners. Dice up the veggies, shred the cheese, and cook the rice,storing it in the fridge until you need it. Thorough meal preparation is a major time-saver. It’s also helpful to have some ready-to-eat foods on hand; try pre-washed salad greens or a rotisserie chicken.

Dinner is Ready

Here are some healthy meal ideas that require minimal prep time:

1. Bean burritos: Heat canned, low-fat refried beans, a can of chopped green chilies, and a packet of chili seasoning on the stovetop. Place the bean mixture into whole wheat or corn tortillas, and top with light sour cream and reduced-fat cheddar cheese. Add lettuce, tomato, onion, salsa or cilantro for an extra punch of flavor and nutrition.

2. Stir-fry: Fry frozen carrots, broccoli, snap peas, peanuts and kidney beans in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add soy sauce and serve over instant brown rice.

3. Omelet: Omelets aren’t just for breakfast! Scramble a couple of eggs, cook over medium heat and add your favorite omelet toppings, like bell pepper strips, mushrooms, tomatoes, and reduced-fat cheddar cheese.

4. Taco soup: On the stovetop, heat up a can of pinto beans, 1-2 cans of water, frozen corn, canned tomatoes, canned chopped green chilies, and chili seasoning. Top the soup with low-fat cheddar cheese and plain yogurt.

5. Salad bar: Let everyone in your family throw together their favorite salads. Build individual, entrée-size salads out of leafy greens (arugula, spinach, napa cabbage), chopped vegetables (carrots, cucumber, onion, tomatoes, peppers, peas), fruits (berries, raisins), a source of protein (shredded rotisserie chicken, black beans, hard-boiled egg), and small portions of extra toppings (sunflower seeds, cashews, reduced-fat cheese, avocado, croutons).

6. Pizza: Buy a plain or veggie frozen pizza, and top it with extra vegetables.

7. Veggie spaghetti: Broil some veggies and then throw them on prepared whole wheat, thin spaghetti. Top with heated marinara sauce.

8. Baked chicken or fish: Bake a piece of chicken or fish in the oven, and top it with a healthy pre-made sauce. Serve with a side of instant brown rice and heated frozen vegetables.

9. Pasta salad: Take cooked whole grain pasta and mix it with a can of rinsed black beans and your favorite raw veggies. Top with a small amount of low-fat salad dressing and parmesan cheese.

10. Rice and beans: Heat and mix together rinsed canned black beans, tomatoes, and canned corn. Serve over instant brown rice and top with shredded, part-skim mozzarella cheese.

What’s your go-to quick and healthy quick meal? I’m a child at heart and cannot resist a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

Sources:

http://www.choosemyplate.gov/healthy-eating-tips/sample-menus-recipes.html

http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/DGTipsheet16EatingBetterOnABudget.pdf

http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442465076&terms=quick+meals

http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=3639&terms=quick+meals

Fun Ways to Eat Less – Try Chopsticks (or Get Naked!)

Who doesn’t like to play with their food?  It’s something your mother probably told you not to do, but now that you’re an adult, give it a try. Especially since it can help you eat healthy.

That’s the message preached by Bill Wurtzel, a jazz guitarist turned healthy food guru, in his book Funny Food: 365 Fun, Healthy, Silly, Creative Breakfasts.  The book features Picasso-inspired plates of edible faces and other fanciful concoctions complete with strawberry ears and parsley hair, pear guitars and carrot airplanes. A plate of cottage cheese never looked so appealing. His book is aimed at teaching kids to eat nutritiously, but he started out by entertaining his wife and co-writer, Claire, with creative eats when they first dated 50 years ago.

Funny Food made me think of other ways we can help ourselves eat healthy — and eat less. The biggest problem most people have when trying to lose weight is that our portion sizes are usually way too large. By the time our brain finally catches up and says “Enough!” we’ve already gobbled up many extra calories. So here are some other ways to control your portions and have fun with your food:

Stick to Chopsticks. My friend Tracey told me her father lost lots of weight by eating only with chopsticks.  Now there’s an idea. I know I eat slower and get a lot less in my mouth when I use them. So unless you are particularly skillful with the pieces of wood, your meals are likely to get a lot smaller.

Switch hands. Another way to snack less is just as simple: use your non-dominant hand. A study at the University of Southern California found that people who snacked using their non-dominant hands ate 30% less than those who didn’t. Switching sides seemed to disrupt the unconscious hand-to-mouth pattern, making people slow down and consume less than usual.

Focus. Turn the television off. Put the book or magazine away. If you aren’t distracted while you eat, you can savor each bite, concentrating on what you are consuming, and maybe stopping when you are full — not just when you’re finished. Take each meal or snack as an opportunity to describe your food – the textures, flavors and smells.

Downgrade your dishes.
 Then there are studies that show people eat less when they eat from smaller plates. A serving of pasta will look a lot larger when crammed onto a small plate; thus our brains think we’re getting a full meal and we end up eating less and still feeling full. On that note, using a smaller fork instead of a large dinner fork could be helpful, too.

Go Dark. Try serving food on dark blue or black plates. Dark colors apparently make us feel full faster. Red and yellow seem to stimulate our desire to eat and white plates decrease our awareness of how much we’re eating. So the best bet is to eat on a small, black plate!

Take it all off. My favorite trick of all to eat fewer calories comes from swimsuit model Marisa Miller in Women’s Health magazine: Eat naked! “Eating smart is all about having an awareness of your body,” she says. “The most obvious way to do that is by seeing it. So when you’re trying to lose weight, spend more time wearing less. I don’t think you could eat a plate of nachos naked – could you?”

Photographic motivation. I’ve also heard of people who post a photo taken of themselves looking their fittest – perhaps in a bikini back in the day – on the fridge, where they’ll see it every time they get something to eat. That sounds like pure motivation to put down the Ben & Jerry’s.

What tricks work for you to keep the pounds off, or to eat slower so that your brain realizes when you’re full?

Sources:

http://www.funnyfood.us/

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/marisa-miller?page=2

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/01/18/use-contrasting-colours-and-smaller-plates-to-lose-weight_n_1212598.html

http://www.healthwatchmd.com/2011/09/overeating-which-hand-are-you-using/