Planning Ahead is the Key to Healthy Eating

“Plan ahead” is something we have been told all throughout our lives. It’s not always possible to plan ahead for certain things but I have found that in my own life, it’s essential for me to stay on track with healthy eating.

Try to think of the times you have given in and eaten something not so healthy. Were you starved? In a rush? Did you make up excuses about needed something quick?

All these excuses could be remedied just by planning ahead.

Five Tips for Planning Ahead:

1. Prepare your breakfast, lunch, and snacks the night before. Doing this will prepare you for the occasional alarm mishap that has you scrambling to get to work in 10 minutes. I have heard of people filling up their blender container with all the ingredients for a green smoothie and sticking it in the fridge so it’s ready to go the next morning. Also, packing your snacks and lunch will keep you on track at work.

2. Keep healthy snacks in your work area. I always have fruit or nuts with me so that when I start to get hungry I can munch on something before I get desperate. Another good tip is to eat a snack right before you leave work. If you do this, it’s less likely that you’ll arrive home starved, with very little patience to prepare a healthy meal.

3. Make things easy on the weekends. By washing, cutting, and prepping your produce on the weekends, you can make it much easier to prepare meals during the week. Also, this will allow you to plan out your meals so that nothing goes to waste.

4. Prepare for dinners out. If you know the restaurant you will be eating at, look at the menu online. If you can’t find anything healthy then make sure to eat a large salad prior to heading out. Doing this will prevent you from overeating unhealthy foods and will make it even more likely that you will stick to your healthy eating plan.

5. Don’t be caught off guard at family functions. If you know your family doesn’t eat as healthy as you, don’t ignore this. Eat beforehand or offer to bring something. This will give you the opportunity to have something healthy to eat as well as share that dish with your friends and family. Who knows? They might get hooked!

What are your tips and tricks for planning ahead?

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Body Mass Index: An Incomplete Gauge of Obesity Risk

What would you say about a man who is 6’2 and 235 lbs? If you couldn’t see him, how could you assess whether or not he was at risk for obesity related illnesses? The obvious tool has been to calculate his Body Mass Index, or BMI. You can calculate this by dividing his weight (235 lbs) by his height in inches squared (5476) then multiply by 703 to get the BMI which in this case is 30.2. You can also use various reputable websites to get to the same figure by just inputting his height and weight. According to these websites, a BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese. Simple right?

What if I told you that this mystery man was Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his bodybuilding career, would you still think he was obese? Probably not.

The problem with BMI is that it only considers height and weight, and fails to acknowledge body composition. Therefore when used solely as an obesity gauge, people with high muscle compositions may end up in the obese range while people with high fat, low muscle compositions may end up in the normal range.

Even though it is flawed, the BMI is still an important component to determining obesity and potential health risk. The National Institute of Health believes that combining BMI, your waist measurement in inches, and taking into consideration your current and genetic risk factors for obesity related diseases provides the best picture at your current and potential risk. More specifically, your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes increases in women with waist measurements of 35 inches or greater and men with waist measurements of 40 inches or greater. This is something a BMI clearly cannot determine.

Remember, the Body Mass Index is just a tool in the fight against obesity but it is not the only tool. You wouldn’t fix a house with just a hammer so why limit yourself to just one tool when looking to improve yourself?

Make it Healthier: Lentil Soup

When your are trying to eat healthier, you don’t always have to reach for the health cookbooks. Your favorite recipes, and even new recipes you have been dying to try, can be changed around to be healthier. From now on, I am going to start posting some of the recipes I have changed and the estimated impact on their nutritional values.

In Gainesville, I got very involved with soups. I made all kinds of soups, but one of my favorites is lentil soup. I found this recipe on the food network but I wasn’t thrilled about all the ingredients. I try to use very little meat, if any, in the dishes I cook at home. Making something vegetarian is an easy way to get rid of calories and fat in a meal. I also changed the kind of broth and the quantity to help reduce sodium. I added no extra salt and added black pepper to taste. This makes approximately 11, 1 cup servings.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons of olive oil

4 large celery stalks, sliced

3 large carrots, peeled and sliced

1 large white onion, chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons of dried oregano

4 cups of low sodium organic vegetable broth

4 cups of water

2 (14-ounce) cans of diced tomatoes (basil, garlic, oregano flavored) in juice

1 bag (about 14 ounces) of lentils, rinsed

Directions:

Saute the onions, celery, carrots, garlic, oregano, and rosemary in the olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the vegetable broth, water, and tomatoes with their juice. Bring it to a boil and then add the lentils. Reduce to a simmer, and cover. It should take about 40 minutes for the lentils to become tender. Add black pepper to taste and serve.

Approximate calculations of nutritional value per 1 cup serving:

Calories: 144

Fat: 2 g

Saturated Fat: 0.3 g

Sodium: 422 mg

Carbohydrates: 30 g

Fiber: 12 g

Sugar: 4 g

Protein: 10 g

Comparing this to the original recipe you are avoiding approximately 126 calories, 506 mg of sodium, 5 g of fat, 2 g of saturated fat, 57 mg of cholesterol per serving! You could take this recipe even further by purchasing canned tomatoes with no salt added and by skipping the sautéing part by cooking the vegetables in the broth or by sautéing and draining the oil prior to adding the broth.

These strategies can be used in tackling all your favorite recipes. Even though you may not think that it makes a huge difference, every little bit matters.

Happy cooking everyone!

***Keep in mind, these are approximations based on brands I have used and the brands I have compared them too. The above figures are just to give you an estimation of the benefits of making these changes.

Please don’t pass the salt

Salt, or its alter ego sodium, has become a huge problem for Americans. The U.S. government has been compelled to address the issue, claiming that 50% of Americans need to drastically reduce their daily sodium intake. How do you know if you’re in that 50%? Should we all be taking steps to reduce the sodium in our lives?

Sodium is extremely important for many of your body’s daily tasks, like controlling your fluid levels, so why is too much a problem? If you intake more salt than your kidneys can filter out, the sodium that builds up in your blood causes you to retain fluids (that gorgeous bloating look you get after a really salty meal). This in turn elevates your blood pressure because of the increased stress on your heart from having to pump the larger amount of blood. High blood pressure is associated with various ailments including heart disease and stroke so it isn’t something to take lightly.

Sources of Sodium for Americans

When looking for the sources of sodium in the American diet, the Mayo Clinic found that an alarming 77% of sodium we intake comes from processed and prepared foods. This may shock some people who think that because they avoid processed foods they do not have to worry about their sodium intake. My warning to you all is that if you eat outside of your home, regardless of where you go, you should be concerned about your sodium intake. In my case, I found out that my favorite quick meal, an “all natural”  low fat chicken noodle soup served at a national chain restaurant, contains over 1400 mg of sodium. That’s over half of your daily recommended value of 2300 mg!

Besides limiting my dining out, I also avoid processed foods whenever possible (this can sometimes be difficult when your are a college student or someone on the go but it’s important to do the best you can). Additionally, I have taken the steps to reduce the salt I knowingly add to my meals. For example, I cannot control how much salt a company chooses to put in their vegetable broth, but I can choose a lower sodium option and mix broth with water to dilute the sodium. I can also eliminate extra sodium by avoiding the salt shaker altogether. It’s okay for food to come in flavors other than “salty.” If you learn to cook with herbs and spices I guarantee you won’t miss the extra salt. Basil, rosemary, cayenne pepper, oregano, and cumin, are just a few staples in my cabinet that give my food tons of flavor without the health risk.

There are many “salt traps” that can be easily avoided. For example, condiments such as salad dressings and sauces are notoriously high in sodium. Alternatives such as oil and vinegar, or making your own dressings and sauces could save you 100s of mg of sodium in just one serving. Try my favorite salad dressing which is balsamic vinegar with garlic powder and black pepper sprinkled on top. You’ll forget all about your trusty salt shaker.

Another trap is deceiving product labels. Just because a label says that the product has “reduced sodium” doesn’t mean you should add it to your pantry. It’s important to check all labels because “reduced sodium” could still be an excessive amount.

Reducing your daily sodium intake is likely to be beneficial to your health and is easily possible once you know what to look out for and what to do to make the transition painless. Feel free to leave your sodium reducing tips below.

Addictions…

When you think of the word addiction, what comes to mind? Heroin, cigarettes, prescription drugs? Most of us would think that we are not addicts because we do not use any of those kinds of substances, but I am here to say that there are addictions beyond the obvious ones. I am coming out and saying I was addicted to soda.

Just because something is not illegal or because it is a part of our everyday lives does not mean excessive use is not an addiction. Researchers are finding that addictions to fast food, candy, soda, etc. are very much real, just as any drug addiction. The study demonstrated how animals who were fed a high fat diet had clear changes in their dopamine receptors causing them to become more compulsive eaters. The animals also refused to eat healthy food even when that was the only kind of food given.

So what is the big deal about dopamine receptors? Dopamine receptors are in charge of managing the body’s pleasure responses to drugs, foods, alcohol, etc. so when we indulge again and again, the body starts reducing the number of these receptors. The big problem with this is as the number of receptors decreases, we need to increase the amount we intake in order to get that same pleasure response. Are you starting to see how you can be addicted to that cheeseburger and how it is very similar to drug and alcohol addictions?

Currently, I do not eat fast food very often but my one addiction has always been soda. I have never gotten to the point of drinking various 2-liters a day, but for most of my life I have drank 1-2 cans a day. I have tried to quit drinking soda but just like a drug, I relapsed again and again. I realized that to quit soda I had to do it gradually.

First, I stopped drinking soda at home. This was pretty easy because if you realize when you crave things like soda it is usually when you are out to eat at a restaurant, or eating really greasy foods at a fast food joint. You will quickly find that water goes just fine along side a healthy meal you prepare yourself. I then started eliminating the soda I drank when I was out. You have no idea how hard it is to resist the value meal option at Subway! I actually had them give me water in the same cups they serve soda so I could trick my brain. This was actually pretty helpful.

The biggest advice I can give about any addiction (and I used this myself with soda), is something I picked up from a past drug addict talking on The Doctors show. He said that every time he had a craving, he would urge himself to wait until tomorrow to get his fix. He told himself that he would get through today and have his fix tomorrow. By the time tomorrow came, the urgency was no longer there and he could keep on. It sounds silly but it really works. Next time you are going to go get ice cream, tell yourself you will get it tomorrow and watch the days between servings increase!

Although I still have the occasional soda, I am definitely not addicted to it anymore. I hope that you all are inspired to break one addiction you have today!

Granola: Health Food or Health Hazard

As a kid, I definitely had my share of granola bars. I have flirted with all the different flavors, but have been committed to the chocolate chip chewy granola bars. I have also never been concerned with the contents of the bars, because granola is supposed to be good for you right? I have come to find that this is not always the case.

The basics of granola are simple: whole grain rolled oats and honey, toasted in the oven. Sometimes nuts, dried fruit, and seeds are added as well. Granola is an amazing source of whole grains and can provide protein, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, etc. etc. depending on the kind you get.

Look at your box of granola bars and count how many extra ingredients it contains. How many of those ingredients are sugar in one form or another? Pretty shocking right? So now we see yet another really amazing health food, get drowned in so many bad ingredients that you might as well pick up a Kit Kat bar.

The goal with granola is to make sure it is organic, contains no trans fats, is sweetened naturally, and contains no artificial preservatives, flavors, or colors. If you follow those tips, you are likely to find a product that is extremely good for you. If this does not sound appetizing and all you can picture is chewing on a tree branch I promise you, granola is for everyone.

Today I ventured out to try loose granola (in a bag and not packed into bars) to see if it is even edible. I went to my local grocery store and picked up Back to Nature’s Apple Blueberry granola.

It satisfies all the requirements and it was delicious! I ate it right out of the bag and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The best part, is that each 1/2 cup serving size contains 38g of whole grains which brings you much closer to the recommended 48g a day than my favorite granola bar would (containing only 18g).

Although you may think healthy granola is out of reach, this bag (8 servings worth) was $3.59, less than your Starbucks coffee. It may still be tempting to buy that giant box of fruity sugary cereal for that same price or less but remember, what you save now on price, you may be paying for it later with your health. My suggestion: pay a little more now for a great source of whole grains, no trans fats, and reduced sugar content.

And if you are still obsessed with the idea of granola in bar form, there are tons of great recipes online to make your own. Making your own granola bars guarantees that you know what is in it and you can control how much sugar you are adding.

So what is the verdict? Granola is definitely a health food if done right. Enjoy granola, your body will thank you.

Get Up and Move!

It is incredibly likely that you are sitting down as you read this, and it is highly unlikely that you have just sat down in front of the computer to read just this blog. If you are like me, you spend hours a day sitting whether it be at work, studying at a desk, or just wasting time on the internet. If that sounds like you, I urge you to get up and walk around your house for 10 minutes. Seriously, get up now and do it. I will wait…

You may think that was a silly suggestion but for those of you with so much going on that you cannot even think of going to the gym, sometimes 10 minutes at a time is all you have…and that is okay.

This post is NOT encouraging laziness. I repeat, DO NOT use this post as an excuse to not exercise. This post is meant to encourage those of you who feel like exercising is impossible, and who think because you cannot fit a 30-60 minute block of time into your day, you might as well not do anything. I strongly feel that exercise can be incorporated into just about anyone’s lifestyle (assuming that you are healthy enough for exercise as per your physician).

Spend one day writing down everything you do, and how long you spend doing each thing. Did you find that you spend 30 minutes each morning watching the news and drinking coffee? Did you take a 20 minute shower? What did you do on your breaks at work? How much TV did you watch after dinner?

I think I have made my point.

Try this. Shave 10 minutes off your shower and walk around your neighborhood briskly. Spend every other news segment doing crunches, lunches, and push ups. Use your breaks at work to walk up and down the stairs or walk around the block. As for the TV after dinner, invest in a DVR. Watching recordings of your favorite shows allows you to fast-forward through commercials, saving you 15-20 minutes off of an hour long show. If you watch two shows a night you have 30-40 minutes of time that you can spend at the gym instead of sitting on the couch watching fast food commercials and candy commercials (those always get me). If you cannot afford a DVR, mute the TV during commercial breaks and spend each break doing different exercises.

You may think that 10 minutes here and there is ineffective, but I urge you to reconsider. If you are not exercising whatsoever, any physical activity will make a difference. In fact, the CDC recommends doing three 10 minute sessions to add up to the 30 minutes if you do not have the time to do it all at once. They have a wonderful article on how to get started with exercise including solutions to some of the more common problems we present as excuses not to.

It is no secret that the benefits of physical activity are endless. Lowing high cholesterol, lowing high blood pressure, and reducing the risk of developing type 2 Diabetes are just a few of them. Any of these benefits should be reason enough to start exercising so I urge you all to get up and move!