Tag: healthful eating

Let Them Eat Cake

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Smiling, I watched as two kids around the age of seven happily grabbed pieces of the chocolate cake we were trying to unload. I worked in the free sample corner of a California grocery store. Usually my job involved cooking food for this purpose, but whenever we over-ordered a product, it conveniently became that day’s sample. The customers got to try something new and we got rid of our excess goods. Win-win.

The children had run away down an aisle toward the back of the store, presumably in the direction of their legal guardian. I was not yet a mother at the time, but the way people let their little ones run wild in public had always perplexed me. Weren’t they worried about the safety of their offspring? Weren’t they worried about the annoyance of others? Now that I’m a mother, I still don’t understand this lackadaisical approach to childcare, but if you disagree with me we can discuss…wait, what’s that? Oh, sorry. I can’t hear you over the chop-chop-chop of my helicopter parenting. Forgive me.

A woman walked up to my counter with an unpleasant sneer on her face. “What about the kids?” she barked at me. “That was chocolate cake! What about the kids?”

She was obviously angry that I’d given the children sugary food without asking their parents. She was not angry about the fact that the kids were completely without supervision–she was angry at me, the girl who was not allowed to deny anyone a sample, as per the boss’s orders.

If someone stood at the counter eating all of my samples, despite the fact that I got in trouble for an empty tray, I wasn’t allowed to say a thing. When the homeless lady came in daily to eat everything at once (and chug the entire carton of milk supposed to be used as coffee creamer), I had to watch in silence. What this abrasive, snarling soldier in the fight against sugar didn’t realize was that I was not allowed to join her military. I was sugar Switzerland.

But did I say any of this to her? No. Why not? Well, first of all, I needed the job. Arguing with a customer certainly wouldn’t garner me a raise come employee evaluation time.

Secondly, I am non-confrontational to a flaw. I don’t like it. It makes my stomach hurt.

And last of all, and most importantly, she was being rude. I didn’t deserve to be snapped at because somebody didn’t care enough to make sure their kids weren’t taking candy from strangers.

So what did I do? How did I handle the situation? I’m a bit embarrassed to say because it wasn’t very mature of me. In my defense, I had fifteen years of working customer service jobs with the public under my tired belt, and honestly, my patience with mean people was running on empty. I could still fake sincerity with the best of them, but my years of hoping that people are mostly good at heart were long behind me. My jaded inner Pollyanna was sitting firmly on the steps of her imaginary trailer, chain smoking and hollering ignorant invectives at the neighbors.

My temper in absentia, I did the first passive-aggressive thing that popped into my head. I pretended I didn’t understand her. She had a thick Spanish accent, and the way she was saying “the kids” made it sound like “da keys.” So I went with it.

“The keys? Have you lost your keys? The customer service desk is right over there. If someone has turned in your keys, that’s where they’ll be,” I told her kindly, with a beatific smile plastered pleasantly upon my lying jerk face.

“No! The kids! What about the kids?!” she yelled.

I continued to radiate sweetness and innocence, coupled with a not un-dog-like head turn to let her know that I was confused, yet patiently trying to understand her dilemma. I was here to help.

“Oh no. So…your keys? Did you lose your keys? Well, if you go to the customer service center they can help you find your keys, ma’am.” Still smiling. Apologetic nose crinkle. Blank eyes.

She turned beet red. I could practically see the cartoon steam coming from her ears. “No! The KIDS! The KIDS! The KIDS!” she spluttered at me in fury. Except that because of her accent it came out as: “Da KEYS! Da KEYS! Da KEYS!”

So I continued to psychologically poke the crazed woman by acting like I thought she’d lost her keys. Nobody does passive-aggressive like a person working retail. Nobody.

She stormed over to the customer service desk I’d pointed out to her and grabbed a manager. It was Jamie, one of the cooler ones, thank goodness. Her anger really helped my cause, as by the time she dragged him over to my counter she looked completely insane. Meanwhile, I thought about unicorns, emanated rainbows, and adjusted my halo.

“She is so STUPID! She is an IDIOT!” she pointed at me accusingly as I widened my eyes in feigned surprise. I held my hands out at the manager and said, “I’m sorry, Jamie. I thought she lost her keys, but I guess I’m not really understanding what she wants. I was just trying to help.”

“That’s okay. How can I help you, ma’am?” he inquired, turning to her politely.

Behind my manager’s back, I gave her a very different smile from the friendly “eediot” smile I’d been giving as I pretended to not understand for what she was berating me.

This smile knew she’d been saying “kids” and not “keys” all along.

This smile was shotgun-married to the hardened gleam in my eyes, and knew the score.

This smile whispered “Fuck you” as it passed you in a crowd, and kept walking.

It was at that moment she knew I’d been messing with her the whole time, and when she realized she wasn’t going to get me in trouble, she became even more enraged.

Without attempting to further thwart my agenda for the corruption of angelic children via evil chocolate cake, she immediately demanded that he refund her money and take back the bag of groceries she’d purchased.

Because yes, like some sort of sugar police officer noticing a violation while off-duty, she had been walking out of the store when the kids took my samples, and walked back in to yell at me. Now she stormed over to a register with Jamie for the refund, and then flounced out of the building, loudly announcing that she’d never shop in our store again.

(It never fails to amaze me when irate customers say this, as if the employees will take it as an insult. What we’d really like is a promise. Maybe even a legally binding document stating that you will never, ever come back. Please. Do it for the kids.)

The Chocolate Cake Incident happened in Los Angeles, the land of the body-conscious and health-minded. A few years later, I met the man who would become my husband, and we had a baby. To give our child a backyard in which to play, we moved to Oklahoma, the home of the not-so-body-conscious and not-so-health-minded. Sugar flows freely here. Gravy abounds.

In Oklahoma, nobody screams at me for feeding children chocolate cake. In Oklahoma, I am treated like a hippie freak for enjoying vegetables, and not really liking processed foods. I am sometimes appalled on play dates with other kids when their mothers hand them unnatural junk foods like dyed chemicals disguised as yogurt squeezed from plastic tubes, or as I recently witnessed, pull out a bag of marshmallows for them to eat with their Capri Sun high-fructose corn syrup waters.

Because it seems to be everywhere, we try to keep the sugar to a dull roar at home without being weird about it. We figure that if we don’t give our son too much daily sugar, it will be a nice treat when he receives it at school or from his grandparents. I recognize that it is my job as his parent to teach him to eat well so that he won’t become an adult with obesity and poor diet-related health issues. But I’d like to do this without making him feel so deprived he winds up overcompensating for all the desserts he missed once he’s grown up.

You know. Moderation.

My husband took our son with him to run an errand at the DMV this weekend. As they waited in line, a kind stranger bought our boy a gumball from a nearby machine. My husband was perturbed by the presumption that it was okay to give someone’s child sugar without asking. When he told me about it, I was bothered more that they gave an unknown child gum, as it was only months ago we could finally start trusting him to not swallow it.

As we discussed this, it occurred to me that we had become the sugar police. We were now the concerned adults whining about giving too much sugar to children. I immediately remembered the time I was on the non-parent side in Los Angeles, and tried to put myself into the shoes of the woman who’d chewed me out for giving chocolate to children six years ago.

Was she right? Should I have risked losing my job to take the cake away from the unsupervised kids? Had I unknowingly set the obesity and diabetes wheels in motion for them? Should I have explained that my job required me to give samples away to everyone? Had I been too cruel as I pretended I didn’t understand what she was saying to me?

Nah. That lady was a bitch.

 

 

Take It Off! 5 Top Foods for Faster Weight Loss

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No matter how badly we’d love for weight loss to be simple, there’s no magic pill or special trick to make shedding the pounds an easy process. But there is plenty of research to show that the foods we choose to eat can make a difference by raising metabolism and making us feel fuller to avoid unnecessary weight gain.

Certain foods allow the body to process calories in different ways, making nutritional choices a very important part of the diet and exercise puzzle for those hoping to lose weight.

 

Below are 5 top foods recommended by nutrition and fitness experts for faster weight loss:

 

1. Dairy—

Often touted for its value as a post-workout recovery drink because of the high amino acid and protein content, whey protein shakes are a common favorite of those in need of a quick pick-me-up.

Because they’re easy to make, whey protein shakes can be a good way to curb the appetite before it reaches the dangerously hungry “eating whatever’s available” levels that can sabotage anyone’s best intentions.

Calcium has also been shown to have a metabolism-boosting thermic effect on the body, with studies proving that dieters who ingest it every day lose almost twice as much weight as those who don’t: so if you’re not a fan of milk, consider adding some yogurt to your day.

 

2. Apples—

Apples are full of fiber, which is dietary aid well known for curbing hunger by creating a feeling of fullness in the stomach without a lot of calories, as well as promoting good digestion.

Apples are also full of pectin, a substance that swells into a gel that binds with water to enhance satiation, with the added bonus of preventing the amount of fat the body can absorb.

Apples have recently been connected to the prevention of metabolic syndrome, which presents with high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, waist thickening and pre-diabetes, making the timeless advice “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” more important to follow than ever.

 

3. Broccoli—

You’ve seen broccoli on every super-food list for its dense nutritional content, but broccoli is also a strong contender in the weight loss assistance arena because of the high levels of fiber it contains.

This high fiber content is also found in many other cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, which are great sources of vitamin C and phytochemicals.

Broccoli is high in riboflavin, which has been shown in studies to play a role in raising metabolism to increase weight loss, as well as providing an excellent non-dairy source of calcium for those who are lactose-intolerant.

 

4. Berries—

A bright and delicious addition to any smoothie or bowl of whole grain cereal, berries are loaded with antioxidants, which are famous for their anti-aging cellular protection and metabolism-boosting effects.

Berries are also a surprisingly good source of fiber, with raspberries at the top of the fiber-full list, with blackberries at a close second place.

Low in calories, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries have ketones that can help the body burn more fat and stabilize blood sugar levels.

A recent study also showed that berries helped raise metabolism and suppress appetite in mice by decreasing glucose levels while burning fat. (Source: University of Pennsylvania Health System.)

 

5. Beans—

An April 2013 study revealed that a diet rich in beans was as effective as a low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss, enhancing feelings of satiety with the added bonus of better cholesterol levels. (Source: Loma Linda University.)

While not offering quite the protein punch of lean meats and dairy, beans still have enough to help boost muscle mass and metabolism.

Beans also have a high fiber content that helps assist digestion by moving food through the gastrointestinal system faster than animal-based proteins.

 

Genetics and hormones definitely play a role in the physique we’re given, but there are ways to work with what we’ve got, and smart food choices that can make it easier to get into shape. Consider adding some of the foods above to your daily regimen, and see if they can help you lose weight faster and reach the fitness goals you’re hoping to achieve.

Fueling the Engine: What to Eat Before and After Exercising

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Knowing what to eat before and after exercising can drastically amplify the results achieved by a consistent workout routine. Although many fitness fans believe fat is burned faster by exercising on an empty stomach, most experts warn against this potentially metabolism-lowering practice.

Studies have shown that eating small meals before and after exercising can dramatically improve performance by keeping blood glucose levels stable—but it’s important to eat the right types of food at the right times.

Below are some useful fueling tips to enhance any fitness program:

 

1. Water Works Well—

The number one rule of effective exercise and recovery is proper hydration. We need fluids before, during and after workouts to keep all systems running smoothly and body temperature cool.

Plain water, coconut water, herbal teas or other types of non-caffeinated beverages are highly recommended, and be especially sure to hydrate 1-2 hours before exercising.

Well-timed pre-hydration will prepare the body for exercise without causing the sloshing, stomach-cramping feeling that drinking liquid too close to a workout can create.

 

2. Post-Exercise Hydration Helps—

Post-workout liquids are a great way to replace lost fluids, and including protein in these drinks can help muscles heal.

Protein shakes are a favorite recovery drink because they’re easy to make and contain helpful amino acids, but chocolate milk also offers similar benefits.

No matter what, your recovery drink should contain protein; and if you’ve worked out for a long time or in excessive heat, consider adding electrolytes as well.

 

3. Meal Timing is Important—

It is recommended that all foods be eaten at least 1-2 hours before exercise to avoid cramping, indigestion and other gastrointestinal issues that working out after meals may cause.

Because the stomach is busy digesting food, the body has less energy to dedicate to the workout, making exercise after a meal more difficult.

If your schedule doesn’t allow time for proper digestion, try to eat the smallest snack possible for your energy needs.

 

4. Food Type is Important—

Because carbohydrates give the body the most readily available energy source, they are the top pre-workout choice of food for many.

Especially recommended for shorter workouts involving intense training, carbohydrates keep the body’s engine running strong with less chance for stomach issues, such as those caused by fatty or excessively fibrous foods.

Protein is a good pre-exercise food for those exercising multiple hours in a row, as the carbohydrates will be burned first, with protein providing energy later when carb reserves are depleted.

 

5. Get on a Schedule—

Use a journal and take notes if it helps you figure out which foods give you the most effective workout, and try to stick to an eating/hydrating/exercising schedule if you can.

Everybody’s different, so what works for others may or may not work for you, but by staying conscious of your choices and schedule, you will find it easier to give your body exactly what it needs, allowing for better results.

Keeping a food and exercise journal can also help those who are dieting remain aware of the calories consumed and burned for weight loss progress.

 

6. Make Wise Food Choices—

In addition to knowing when to eat carbs or protein, it’s also important to choose healthy versions of these foods. For example: fried chicken is mostly protein, but it comes with excessive fat and simple carbs in the breading that might upset an exercising stomach.

Some popular pre-workout meals include whole grain cereals, breads or pastas because whole grains are high in fiber, causing them to be digested and absorbed slowly.

Examples of complex carbohydrates with a bit of protein for great pre-workout energy might be: peanut butter on whole grain toast, yogurt mixed with whole grain cereal, oatmeal with nuts, apple slices with a handful of almonds, or eggs scrambled with vegetables.

 

Smart hydration, fueling and recovery selections can greatly increase the benefits and effectiveness of any workout regimen. Use the tips above to remember when and what to eat before and after a workout to give your body the most efficient exercising experience possible.

Teach Your Children Well: Raising Kids Who Happily Eat Healthily

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Whether you are a new parent hoping to prevent your child from becoming a fussy eater, or already dealing with a picky kid, there are ways to open up the sometimes particular palettes of the little people in our lives.

It isn’t always easy, but it can be done with diligence, patience and creativity—and with type 2 diabetes and obesity in children continuing to rise, it’s especially important to teach kids the value of good nutrition so they can grow up into healthy adults.

Below are some top tips to help children learn to enjoy a variety of healthful foods.

 

1. The Vegetables Stay in the Picture—

When babies begin their foray into the world of solid foods, we start them off with the healthiest, natural foods, such as pureed vegetables and fruits.

When they work up into being able to handle small pieces, we add whole grain cereal and chunks of fruit like bananas, strawberries and avocadoes. But often, as they become toddlers, processed foods such as frozen chicken nuggets and junky snack foods enter the picture.

One way to raise an older kid who loves vegetables and fruits is to never stop feeding them the healthy fruits and vegetables we use during their solid food introduction. Avoid the temptation of convenient processed foods, or use them in moderation.

 

2. Include Kids in the Gathering and Preparing Process—

You’d be amazed by how excited kids will get about healthy foods if they’re included in the acquisition and cooking of them.

If you have a local Farmer’s Market, this can be a great way to teach kids about where healthy, real foods come from, or better yet, plant a backyard garden and let them watch and harvest the circle of life themselves.

Including kids in the cooking of meals can be a fun family bonding activity that encourages little ones to want to eat their creations.

 

3. Add Vegetables to Favorite Foods—

If your child loves pizza, lasagna or macaroni and cheese, consider adding vegetables to these types of favorite foods to include them in a positive way.

Start slowly if you already have a finicky eater on your hands, and don’t be discouraged if they pick the veggies out the first few times you add them. They are still getting a small taste of the flavor every time, which has been shown to eventually help kids get used to new foods.

 

4. Follow Your Own Healthful Eating Rules—

If kids see their parents eating unhealthy junk food, they will assume this is the way they’re supposed to eat as well, making it very important to model healthy behavior in the kitchen.

To reduce temptation and set a good example, keep healthy snacks like broccoli florets, carrot and celery sticks and apples readily available.

Eliminating sugary or nutritionally empty snack foods from your pantry and refrigerator can also make healthful eating more convenient, and be sure to make fast food a rare treat rather than a lifestyle.

 

5. Don’t Have a Food Fight—

Sometimes when kids are pushed too much in a direction, they will dig in their heels and stubbornly refuse because they’re feeling pressure, rather than because of the actual issue at hand.

Many parents simply ask that their children try a new food once, and allow them to decide if they like it without pressure. It can take over 10 tries for anyone to decide if they enjoy a new food, so don’t give up if the first, second or even third time’s not the charm.

Be patient, introduce new foods slowly, and remain nonchalant to avoid pointlessly combatant refusal to try new things from kids.

 

6. Make Dinner a Family Affair—

Sitting together at the table to socialize and enjoy each other’s company while you eat will create positive associations with the healthy foods you’re serving, as well as keeping parents in touch with kids.

When kids watch the adults in their lives eating healthy foods while chatting and enjoying each other’s company, it demystifies vegetables and other nutritionally smart choices by taking the focus off the food and onto the fun.

 

Remember that baby steps and moderation are best when trying to improve the eating habits of a family, and that it’s okay to occasionally have foods from the naughty list. Depriving everyone completely can backfire, making kids and adults feel resentful about what they can no longer have, setting back your progress.

Use the tips above to gently guide your kids in the direction of better nutrition to set them up for a lifetime of good health.

Healthy New Year! Top Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

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Holiday weight gain is a widely accepted fact of life, causing many to hopelessly give up and give in to the temptation of high-calorie treats that seem to lurk around every festive corner. But accepting rather than fighting poor habits throughout the holidays can set anyone on the path to dietary disruption and bad health.

As we get older, every ounce of weight gain matters, and can seem impossible to lose, making it especially important to keep a close eye on calories. Luckily, there are many easy ways to prevent the sabotage of all your fitness plan progress.

Below are some top tips to help anyone avoid the trap of holiday weight gain.

 

1. Retain the Routine—

Yes, you’re on vacation. No, this doesn’t have to mean you should take a break from the gym, yoga classes or whatever form of exercise you generally work into every week.

Sticking with your workout regimen can keep your metabolism moving and help you burn extra calories; something you might really appreciate later when faced with a plate of holiday cookies.

And don’t be afraid to go heavier on exercises that burn more calories during the holidays to offset the extra intake.

 

2. Step Away from the Buffet—

When hanging out at social events, it’s easy to get caught in a conversation while standing near the buffet table if you’re grazing randomly, so purposefully grab a plate, make your selections, and move away from the food area.

This will help you be aware of exactly how much you eat, while removing the temptation to have “just one more” cookie or chip with dip as you stand mindlessly chatting and nibbling.

 

3. Make Friends with the Vegetables—

At every holiday party, there is a generally a plethora of sugary baked goods and salty snacks, with a sad, neglected vegetable tray sitting alone and ignored somewhere on the table.

Find that lonely tray of vegetables and load up your plate with these fiber and nutrition-packed beauties, because they’re going to fill you up without a lot of calories while fueling your body with vitamins and minerals.

Remember to go easy on the dip, and eat all of the veggies before moving on to the more calorie-dense foods.

 

4. Protein is Your Pal—

In addition to vegetables, lean protein in its various forms is a great way to fill up and stay full without fattening carbohydrates.

Look for shrimp, chicken or any other versions of protein that aren’t covered in heavy sauce, and add these to your vegetable bounty for a healthy holiday meal.

 

5. More Sleep, Less Stress—

Lack of sleep has been shown to increase the body’s levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that increases weight gain, especially around the middle. It can be difficult when you feel like you have one million things to do, but making sleep a priority is definitely worth it.

Cortisol is also known for breaking down muscle, and muscle loss lowers metabolism, making it especially important to get the sleep you need during the food-filled holidays.

 

6. Wonderful Water—

Feelings of dehydration can mimic hunger, making it important to remain hydrated at all times to prevent pointless snacking.

Dehydration can also lower the metabolism and increase inflammation levels in the body, both of which lead to weight gain. Some experts recommend alternating a glass of water between every adult beverage to prevent the dehydrating diuretic effects of alcohol.

Drinking water before meals has also been shown to create a feeling of fullness that can help promote weight loss, so before you head out to that holiday party: drink up!

 

7. Do the Shopping Shuffle—

Buying gifts online can be more convenient, but if you want to sneak in a little extra exercise while you take care of holiday-related errands, go to the actual stores and walk around.

Worried about missing an online deal? Many stores will match online competitor prices, so be sure to take a device with you that allows Internet access, or print out the best price you can find to show store employees.

 

8. Saving Calories is Sabotage—

Don’t make the mistake of trying to starve yourself all day to “save calories” for the holiday party later. This will only drop your metabolism down into starvation mode, and set you up to overeat late in the day, which is the worst time to overindulge if you’re trying to stay trim.

Instead of starving, eat healthy, well-balanced meals, and if the party you’ll be attending isn’t a dinner party, consider eating your final meal of the day before you go to keep the snacking to a minimum.

 

Focusing on the humanity, kindness and goodwill of the season (rather than trying to figure out how much food you can stuff into your face in a few weeks) is also a helpful way to avoid holiday weight gain. The holidays may involve a lot of food, but they really aren’t ultimately about food at all, are they? If you can keep this philosophy in mind, and use the smart tips above, you can keep your diet and fitness program on track to have a healthy New Year!

Fight the Flu! 6 Top Ways to Boost the Immune System

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It’s that time of year again; when the office is full of coughing employees, and the work environment sounds more like a doctor’s waiting room than a place of business. We can thank the various strains of influenza, common colds, multiple stomach bugs, and all of the many other viruses that rapidly spread during the winter months for this unpleasant phenomenon.

Every year during this season, we know illness is coming, and while many of us get our vaccinations hoping to avoid catching the flu, sometimes shots just aren’t enough. Fortunately, there are many things every person can do to bolster the immune system and decrease the chances of catching a virus.

Below are 6 recommended ways to boost the immune system:

 

1. Wondrous Water—

In order for all of the systems in the body to perform at top strength, they need to be adequately hydrated. Think of water as the oil for every engine in your body, because without it, nothing can run smoothly.

Dehydration weakens the immune system by forcing the body to spend too much energy on inadequately hydrated and inefficiently running internal systems, stealing valuable virus-fighting resources.

Most experts recommend at least 8 glasses a day, but if you want to drink more, go right ahead. Your body will thank you by removing toxins faster to fight off disease.

 

2. Splendid Sleep—

Everyone is different: some people can function on 6 hours of sleep, and others are worthless without a solid 8 or 9 hours. You can tell how much rest you need by how you feel, so be sure to make sufficient sleep a top priority during flu season.

If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, experts recommend cutting out all caffeine by 2 p.m. every day, turning off screens and bright lights 1-2 hours before bedtime, and if needed, a melatonin supplement can help the body realize it’s time for bed.

 

3. Stress Less—

Stress drastically reduces the immune system’s ability to ward off illnesses, making it crucial to find ways to relax.

For some, stress relievers like a walk, warm bath or meditation can help, but if home remedies aren’t cutting it, be sure to get professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist. There’s no point in going through life feeling anxious, and if untreated, chronic stress can adversely affect overall health.

Stress hormones like cortisol can also trigger negative reactions like weight gain, so the less of these negative substances produced by the body, the better – especially when contagious viruses are spreading amongst the general population.

 

4. Excellent Exercise—

Great for reducing stress and promoting good sleep, exercise also helps keep us strong by improving cardiovascular health, releasing positive mood endorphins and controlling weight.

Exercise strengthens the immune system by increasing circulation, which allows immune system cells to move through the entire body to perform more efficiently.

 

5. Protective Probiotics—

Our intestines contain bad and good bacteria that can hinder or promote certain biological processes. If you’ve ever taken antibiotics, you’ve eliminated all of the bacteria—both good and bad—making it extremely important to replace the good bacteria (called probiotics).

Probiotics are the helpful intestinal flora generally delivered in yogurt, kefir, fermented food or supplement form that assist in bodily functions like digestion, calcium absorption and brain function.

Probiotics have also been shown to reduce allergies and enhance the immune system, so replenishing the good bacteria in your digestive tract can be a powerful way to keep the illnesses away.

 

6. Fighting Foods—

It’s important to eat a nutritious diet all year long, as this has been proven to help us stay healthy, but some foods are believed to be immune system-boosters as well.

Garlic, for example, is known for having natural antimicrobial properties that fight infection, with studies showing those who frequently include garlic in their diets catch fewer contagious illnesses.

Omega-3 fatty acids are known for reducing inflammation, fighting infection and boosting immune function. Fish, walnuts and flaxseed are a few common foods high in Omega-3s, but supplements are also available.

Antioxidant-rich foods and beverages like berries, dark chocolate and green tea are well known for creating a powerful immune system, so be sure to ingest extra antioxidants daily during peak flu season.

 

A weakened immune system can lead to more illnesses, allergies and sicknesses, making it important to keep it in tip-top shape no matter what the season. Use the helpful tips above to boost your immune system so you can stay healthy all year long and avoid catching viruses like the flu.

Cheap Eats: 10 Top Tips to Make Marvelous Meals with Less Money

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Groceries are becoming more expensive every year, with no relief in sight, making it more important than ever to stretch every dollar. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimated average cost to feed a family of 4 runs between $146 to $289 per week, so if you’d like to stick to the lower end of that average, you’ll have to learn to be a smart shopper and find ways to be frugal.

Below are 10 tips to make meals your family will love while spending less money at the grocery store:

 

1. Timing Matters—

Studies have shown that because stores start sales mid-week, this is the best time to grocery shop for items marked down because of impending expiration dates.

Food close to expiry that can be frozen will save your family big bucks if you have freezer space in which to store it.

 

2. Frozen is Frugal—

Frozen vegetables will often have more vitamins than fresh vegetables because they are fresh when frozen, and haven’t journeyed from their original destination to sit losing nutrition in a produce section.

Meat can also be bought in bulk, separated into smaller portions, and then frozen to save money.

 

3. Buy Dry—

There are many dry goods that offer nutritious meal options with endless seasoning possibilities that can make meals delicious as well as affordable.

Rice is a great high-fiber grain that fills people up for less, and is gluten-free for those who are intolerant.

Beans bought dry, rather than canned, are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Beans also create a complete protein when combined with rice, allowing diners to skip expensive meat dishes.

 

4. You Say Potato, I Say Big Savings—

Potatoes are consistently one of the cheapest fresh foods offered, and the most versatile. A big bag of these vitamin C and potassium rich vegetables can be made into healthy baked potatoes and fries, or mashed with butter, garlic, sour cream and anything else you’d like to add.

Side dishes, casseroles, crock pot soups and stews can all benefit from these spuds, and fill up the hungriest growing children in a nutritious way. So skip the processed foods full of preservatives and get back to these basic staples.

 

5. Don’t Obey the List—

While making a shopping list can help us save money by eliminating gasoline-wasting trips to the store for 1 or 2 items, don’t be afraid to skip the non-necessities written down if the price isn’t right.

Try to find these foods cheaper later if a price is higher than you’re used to seeing. You tend to know the prices of items you regularly purchase, so if it seems expensive, your instinct is probably correct.

 

6. Price Match, Please—

Many stores now offer price matching, which means that if you have a flyer with a cheaper price on any item they carry, they will match that price to keep your business (money) in-store.

The bigger grocery chains are known for starting this program, but many other grocery stores are also offering price matching in order to stay competitive. It never hurts to ask, right?

 

7. Sale Stock Ups—

When foods you’re sure your family will eat with longer expiration dates go on sale, stock up on them to save money later.

If you have a decent-sized or extra freezer, this is a great way to save money on meat and other frozen goods when they go down in price as well.

 

8. Slow Cook the Savings—

The secret weapon of creative cooks on a budget is the slow cooker. Offering a high improvisation factor, a crock pot can be a great way to use up the vegetables or other leftovers in your refrigerator before they go bad to stretch food even further.

A bigger batch of stew or soup means ingredients can be bought in bulk, saving money, and there will be plenty of leftovers to cover lunches, too.

 

9. Online is Fine—

If you’re an impulsive shopper and tend to come home with multiple items that weren’t on the list, you might consider grocery shopping online.

This may sound strange, but actually many larger chains are exploring this option and offering free shipping after a certain amount.

Obviously, you will still have to go to the store to purchase perishables like produce and meat or frozen foods, but if you buy all the dry goods online, you’ll at least lessen the time spent near potentially tempting impulse items.

 

10. Minimize Monetary Contact—

The less you shop, the less you’ll spend in a week, so resolve to only shop on one day and stay away from the stores unless absolutely necessary.

Shopping solo is also highly recommended, because having more people to grab impulse items around is a quick way to fill up a shopping cart with things you don’t need.

Plus, if you’re alone you can concentrate better, and maybe you’ll actually remember those coupons you keep forgetting to use.

 

Shopping on a tight budget can be a challenge, but with a good grocery plan involving the useful tips above, you can save money and feed your family affordable meals that still taste expensively delicious.

Dinosaur Dinners: What to Know Before You Go Paleo

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The Paleo diet is a growing trend in the world of fitness, with many athletes promoting its propensity for building muscle and increasing energy, thanks to high protein and clean eating.

“Paleo” is short for “Paleolithic” because the premise is that cavemen didn’t have to worry about modern health issues like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure — and we’re hoping that by eating as our ancestors did, we might also avoid these problems.

Back before industrialized farming, people had to hunt and gather for meals, which means there were no legumes, grains or dairy products, eliminating these choices from the Paleo diet (along with sugar, alcohol, starchy vegetables, salty, or processed foods). Whole, natural foods such as vegetables, nuts, fruits, fish, lean meats, seafood, healthy fats and eggs are allowed.

If you are considering going Paleo to see if you feel better, stronger and more energetic, you should know the pros and cons of adopting this diet. Below, the positives and negatives are listed to help you decide if eating like a caveman is right for you.

 

The Pros of Paleo:

1. Real Food is Best—

Eliminating processed foods full of chemicals, dyes, additives and preservatives from our diet is always a good thing, no matter what.

Many people have food allergies and negative reactions to the extras added to processed foods without even realizing the cause — and it can be hard to pinpoint which chemical is causing the problem when you’re eating entire lists of them.

By choosing foods in their natural, simple state, you will eliminate the risk of ingesting carcinogens, allergens, gluten, or otherwise inflammatory response-inducing substances.

2. Less Carbs, Lower Blood Sugar—

Without grains and starchy vegetables, which can elevate glucose levels, the Paleo diet is great for people with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes who are trying to control their blood sugar to avoid medication/insulin therapy.

Protein is a large part of this caveman style of eating, with meat, eggs and nuts being a primary source of calories. Protein is a highly recommended food option for diabetics because it has a lower glycemic index and takes longer to burn, providing steady energy without blood sugar spikes.

One study found that participants following the Paleo diet showed improved glucose tolerance, increased insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity compared to the group eating carbohydrates. (Source: The Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology.)

3. Vegetables are Healthy—

Unlike the Atkins/high-protein diet craze, the Paleo diet recommends that followers eat plenty of vegetables.

If leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach are included, the calcium in these will help make up for the calcium sources formerly provided by dairy.

Eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables will also provide the body with plenty of vitamins, minerals, and the fiber needed to keep the digestive system moving smoothly, avoiding the constipation sometimes caused by eating too much meat.

 

The Cons of Paleo:  

1. Modern Meat is Fatty—

The animals our ancestors hunted ran free and were naturally lean, unlike the animals of today’s industrialized farming system with no room to exercise, crowded into pens, and overfed on purpose.

This means today’s meat is not as healthy as Paleolithic era meat would have been, making it important to buy free-range, grass-fed and antibiotic-free meat whenever possible.

Saturated fats can lead to high cholesterol, kidney problems and inflammation, so most nutritionists recommend Paleo participants choose fish, nuts, seeds and lean protein sources while eating plenty of vegetables on this diet, rather than using the plan as an excuse to overindulge in steaks and burgers.

2. Not Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly—

If you eschew meat or all animal products, this may not be the diet for you, as eliminating starchy vegetables, legumes and all grains will leave you with less food options than you already have.

For example: Beans and rice combined create a complete protein to replace meat, but neither food is allowed on this diet.

Vegetarians will still be able to use eggs as a source for protein, but vegans will be left with mainly nuts, avocados and seeds. Vegetables do contain a surprising amount of protein, however, so if careful food choices are made, a vegan can go Paleo.

3. Time and Money Consuming—

Because of the limited nature of the Paleo diet, those who follow it must plan weekly menus extremely well to include a variety of foods, or nutritional deficits may form quickly.

If plenty of different vegetables are consumed, this will greatly increase the chances of meeting vitamin and mineral needs, especially if plenty of calcium-rich greens are included in the diet.

Another caveat: Grass-fed, lean, free-range meat and organic, fresh vegetables can be expensive, so this diet may also be expensive to maintain.

 

The Paleo diet has plenty of positives to offer, such as whole, natural foods and fresh vegetables. With more people than ever before becoming gluten intolerant, this grain-free way of eating may be very appealing. But vegetarians, those with kidney problems, cardiovascular issues, or trouble digesting meat will find the caveman life intolerable.

Read the pros and cons above before you go Paleo to decide if it’s the right dietary plan for you.

 

 

The Good, the Bad and the Healthy: 5 Ways to Cut Calories with Creative Cooking

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In order to maintain or lose weight, we can’t eat too many calories every day. Adding exercise can help us reach fitness goals faster, but if excessive amounts of fattening foods are being consumed, we will still gain unwanted pounds.

The good news is that there are many ways to cut calories and fat from our favorite dishes without losing the flavor. By making smart food choices and using cooking techniques that promote lean, healthy meals, it’s easy to create a nutritious, low-calorie menu the whole family can enjoy.

Below are 5 easy ways anyone can reduce the fat or calorie content of favorite foods without losing the taste:

 

1. Use Reduced Fat Dairy Products—

Many low-fat products replace the missing fat with sugar, which is naturally fat-free, but quickly processed into fat by the body, nullifying the point. But dairy products like light sour cream, skim milk and reduced fat cheese are usually processed without extras.

There will be a change in richness and texture, such as the difference between skim versus whole milk, but at least you’re not drinking additives. Pay special attention to what is added to coffee as well, because rich, high-calorie creamer every morning can add up.

One exception: Many yogurt makers add artificial sweeteners to reduced fat yogurt products. These unnatural chemicals aren’t good for anyone, and most nutritionists will tell you it’s better to eat the full-fat yogurt with wholesome ingredients than to swallow dyes, additives or fake sweeteners in the name of fewer calories.

 

2. Add Vegetables Whenever Possible—

In addition to being full of vitamins, vegetables are a great way to add fiber and satiety to any meal without high calories.

If you’re making an omelet, add diced vegetables like grilled onions, tomatoes or peppers. If you’re making meatloaf, load it up with mushrooms, finely diced zucchini or beans. Turn the chicken breasts and rice you were planning into a delicious, veggie-filled stir-fry.

By replacing fattening foods with filling, low-calorie vegetables whenever you can, you will automatically lessen your daily caloric intake.

 

3. Use Lean Cooking Methods—

Obviously fried foods are not on the daily menu for anyone who’s trying to maintain a healthy weight, but there are other ways to prepare food that will make it taste great while still being healthful.

By taking the skin off lean meats and marinating them before cooking to maintain tenderness, you can drastically reduce fat content. Broiling, grilling and baking meat dishes rather than cooking with oil and rich sauces can save calories as well.

Stir-frying or sautéing in a pan or wok works great if minimal oil is used, and steaming vegetables is an extremely low-calorie way to prepare vegetables. This can be done via microwave or saucepan, but a vegetable steamer is a wonderful investment for any kitchen that takes all of the work out of this cooking technique.

 

4. The Spice of Life—

Adding extra herbs, spices and flavorful vegetables used to season meals such as pepper, paprika, dill, shallots and garlic can really boost low-calorie foods, making up for the missing fat with intense flavor.

Savory seasoning can also help convince family members who are reluctant to make the switch to healthier versions of their favorites (such as exchanging ground beef for leaner ground turkey).

Cooking with basil, garlic and oregano can give a meal a delightful Italian edge. Spices like cumin, coriander and turmeric can add an exotic Middle-Eastern flair to a meal, along with beneficial antioxidants. And don’t forget that while they aren’t officially spices, vinegar and lemon juice can really brighten up a dish.

 

5. Remove the Visible Fat—

In addition to removing skin from poultry, be sure to trim the fat off the edges of every cut of meat you prepare, and drain the grease or extra oil from anything cooked in a pan before using.

Always select the leanest cuts of meat, and choose ground meats like turkey and beef with the lowest fat ratio available.

If something is grilled or broiled, yet still greasy, use paper towels to gently blot excess oil from the surface before serving. This may seem like a small thing to do, but small things add up to big calorie savings over time.

 

In addition to helping with weight maintenance, eating less fat can add up to major health benefits like reducing risk for: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and cancer. Use the low-calorie cooking tips above to help your family stay healthy and happy, while still enjoying all the foods you love to eat.

After School Specials: Super Snack Ideas for Healthy, Happy Kids

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When kids get home from school, they’re a few hours past lunch time, hungry and needing a snack to tide them over until dinner. But chips, crackers and other simple carbohydrates can be a waste of calories that could have instead provided growing children with the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy and strong.

So what’s the solution? Healthy snacks, of course. By feeding kids the right foods after school, you can make sure that every calorie counts; and when snacks are properly prepared, even the pickiest little one will eat fruits and vegetables instead of empty starches.

Below are some creative ways to make good nutrition tasty and appealing so kids will snack on real food instead of junk.

 

1. Freeze the Fruit—

Dieting women have known for years that frozen grapes make a refreshing, low-fat replacement for ice cream, but any fruit can be frozen if your children like cold treats.

Mangoes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, bananas and peaches can all be frozen to create a healthy snack that tastes great with a dollop of Greek yogurt for added protein.

If you have a high-power blender, frozen bananas can be turned into a treat with a surprisingly similar texture to soft serve ice cream, with peanut butter, cocoa powder, assorted fruits or other natural flavors added if desired.

 

2. Prep the Veggies—

Often, we have the celery, carrot sticks, fresh broccoli and cauliflower sitting in the refrigerator drawer, waiting to be used, but we forget to prepare it in time for snacks.

Rather than waiting until you have hungry children clamoring at your feet, cut up fresh vegetables during the day and place them in a sealed container with a bit of cold water to retain moisture.

When kids get home from school, instead of grabbing salty, processed nibbles, you can give freshly sliced vegetables with ranch dip or hummus to snack on.

 

3. Find the Fruit Bowl—

This seems like an obvious, classic way to promote healthful eating, and many of us grew up with a bowl of fruit on the table for quick snacking.

But our world has become much more convenience-minded in the last few decades, making many reach for chips, crackers and other processed junk foods instead of that good old apple we used to enjoy.

To get back into this great habit, buy apples, oranges, nectarines, peaches, bananas and other kid-friendly foods, wash and dry so they’re ready to eat, and keep the bowl within constant reach of little hands.

Children don’t get to control much in their lives, and being given the option to grab something from the fruit bowl whenever they want will make them happy. And if they lose their appetite for dinner because they had too much fruit… is that really a bad thing?

 

4. Mix It Up—

Kids love variety and choices, and a really healthy, fun way to give them this is with homemade trail mixes in individual servings they can grab and go, making your life easier.

Use sandwich bags to blend assorted nuts, dried fruits (without added sugar) like raisins, cranberries, blueberries and banana chips or apple rings. Some grocery stores now carry dried blueberries, mango, papaya and even dried kiwi, so get creative.

If you have a picky child, allowing them to help make multiple bags of their own special blend of trail mix can also encourage them to want to eat their creations.

 

5. Smoothie Sailing—

A great way to get fruits and vegetables into kids without a fuss is by making icy smoothies in the blender that taste like a shake, but are actually nutritious.

By adding dairy milk, almond milk, or yogurt, you’ll give children valuable calcium needed for growing bones.

Mild vegetables like carrots and spinach can also be juiced for fruit smoothies to increase the vitamin content as long as berries, oranges or apples are added to sweeten it up.

 

6. English Pizzas—

English muffin halves make adorable mini-pizzas when toasted and covered with marinara sauce, and kids love the novelty of having their very own pizza to top with shredded cheese and vegetables.

Have the vegetable toppings diced before kids get home so they’ll be ready to go, and muffins pre-toasted. All kids will have to do is spread the sauce, add the cheese and veggies, and let a grown-up microwave or bake pizzas in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese.

Use whole grain muffins to increase the fiber and nutritional content of this fresh, fun treat.

 

Snack time doesn’t have to be junk food time: it can actually be a great way to get fruits, vegetables and other nutritious fare into kids’ diets in a completely delicious way. Use the after-school snack tips above, or find other innovative ideas to replace empty calories with wholesome, healthful and enjoyable foods your kids will love.