Nutrition tips for a healthier diet

  • Eat a rainbow. Fruits and vegetables are a wide range of beautiful colors for more reason than to make the produce section look pretty. All the colors represent different vitamins and nutrients. So, if you eat a whole bunch of different colors, you’ll get all your vitamins straight from the source.
  • Fill up on water first. Often times we feel tired or hungry when we’re actually just thirsty. Water fills you up and helps lube up your intestines so everything else flows smoothly. Ever seen a dry river bed or stream? Things don’t flow so well. Same goes for plants; they die when they don’t get enough water. Plants are alive; your body is alive; you get the picture.
  • Fill up on fiber. I have spoken to so many people who have cured all of their digestive issues by incorporating more vegetables, legumes and water into their diets. Water helps lube up your intestines, and fiber helps create bulk matter to move on out. Getting your fiber from your diet instead of from a supplement also incorporates more vitamins and nutrients to your diet, since most fiber rich foods are rich in those as well.
  • Have healthy snacks handy. If you keep an apple, raw almonds, lunchmeat, string cheese, yogurt and/or carrot sticks on hand, you’ll be less likely to hit up the snack machine. None of these options are in the snack machine because they won’t live long enough. Take note: If they can live forever in a machine or on a shelf, they can hang out in your body that long, too. You may as well just tape those sodium, sugar and preservative – laden foods to your gut or your thighs. Raw vegetables make a healthier crunch than chips, and they hold up just as well in dips.
  • Skip the soda, mixed drinks, energy drinks, specialty coffees, creamer and concentrated fruit juices. If you want to lose 5 pounds in one month, all you have to do is change what you drink. If you can stick to water, freshly brewed tea, black coffee, and the occasional glass of red wine, you’ll be well on your way to a trimmer waist. Diet drinks may appear to be safe options, but over time you can end up with some wicked bladder issues and a metabolism that thinks sweet flavors don’t require any extra work.
  • Don’t try to trick your body. If you try to trick your body by feeding it fake stuff, the joke will end up on you. I’m sure I’m not the only one still apologizing to my body about the whole olestra thing.
  • Eat at regular intervals. If your body isn’t fed regularly it will go into starvation mode and hold on to everything you feed it. If your body knows it can expect more, it will go ahead and use what you give it. Also, if you wait until you’re starving, you’re more likely to reach for less healthy food options.
  • Picture your last meal. When you get hungry, it can feel as though you haven’t eaten in forever. You completely forget the high-calorie meal you ate just three or four hours earlier. Try keeping a food journal or picturing your last meal before you choose your next one. This will also help you to pick a wider variety of foods. Bottom line – we are fanatical about hand-sanitizer, but we pay hardly any attention to what we put in our mouths.
  • Set a timer for 20 minutes. Your meals should last you 20 minutes for a couple of reasons; 1) It probably took that long for you or someone else to make a meal, so you should show your appreciation by savouring it. 2) It takes 20 minutes for your body to realize it’s being fed. Give your metabolism and digestive system a chance at keeping up with you.
  • Brush your teeth. The minty clean flavor that comes with brushing your teeth or chewing sugar-free gum can deter you from eating more. You know how bad orange juice tastes after you’ve just brushed your teeth? Mint makes other flavors seem less attractive. Don’t have toothpaste or gum handy? Seek out some mint tea. Freshly brewed tea has even more to offer.
  • Eat right for your size. We aren’t all the same size, so we don’t all need the same amount of food. This is easier to figure out at home than at a restaurant. Even if you’re only 120 pounds, a restaurant is still going to serve you the same amount of food as they would if you were 250 pounds. Only you can prevent overconsumption, and forest fires.
  • Fill at least half of your plate with vegetables. Your plate should be at least half filled with vegetables. The other half should be a quarter of lean protein, and no more than a quarter of starch. I will never understand why we ever started covering the entire circumference of our plates with starch and then topping it with a little of the stuff that’s good for us.
  • Make your carbs whole-grain. You wouldn’t serve lunchmeat on a mound of bleached flour and sugar, right? If you’re serving white bread, you might as well. As a general rule, brown is better – unless it’s the brown sugar at the grocery store that’s just regular sugar with molasses added.
  • Read the label. If you don’t recognize most of the ingredients on a food label, don’t buy it. Baring spare time and ability, you should be able to recreate anything that is already prepared for you in a grocery store by purchasing all of the necessary ingredients. Looking for a healthier version of a marinade or dressing? Check out the ingredient list and mix up your own minus the artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.
  • Share dessert. Split a candy bar, piece of pie, cookie, ice cream, etc. You don’t need to consume an entire mound of dessert to taste the goodness. Why anyone would ever eat a king-size candy bar is beyond me. Got a chocolate craving? Have two small pieces of dark chocolate and a cup of skim milk. You’ll feel satisfied, plus you’ll have gotten some antioxidants and calcium out of the deal.
  • Start with soup or salad. Broth-based soups or leafy greens with vinaigrette will give you a head start towards a healthier meal. Better yet, order soup and salad and skip the big entrée.
  • Eat breakfast. Your metabolism doesn’t start until you “break” the “fast”. Non-instant oatmeal, blueberries, a banana, eggs and whole-grain toast, etc. will work like igniter fluid.
  • Eat your beans. Lentils, black beans, garbanzo beans, fava beans, northern beans, pinto beans, lima beans, kidney beans – they’re all good for your heart, great for your digestive system, they fill you up, help reduce cholesterol, and can even prevent cancer. Add them to soup, salad, pasta, roasts, ratatouille, etc.
  • Try to avoid dieting. When we yo-yo diet we confuse our bodies. You don’t like it when someone is a yo-yo in a relationship, right? If you’re yo-yo dieting and trying all the fads, you’re stringing your body along.
  • Give yourself a break. So you fell off the wagon one day. So what. Perfection is unrealistic. Be consistent, and try to make healthy choices 80% of the time.
  • Project “Dish Makeover”: There is a healthier way to make almost everything. Makeover your favorite dish and share the recipe with friends. You might start a chain reaction of healthy yumminess.
  • Make it a family affair. Go to mypyramid.gov and look up the food pyramid and portion sizes. Have your children try to keep up with what food groups they’ve had and what size servings should be on their plates at meals. If they can learn their ABC’s, they can learn Vitamins A, B, C, etc. and other important nutrition tips to live by, too.
  • Make it fun. The idea is to have a healthy, positive relationship with food. Food is not your enemy, preparation and abuse are. Love yourself by feeding yourself well. Unlike a box of cheezits or donuts, your body will love you right back.
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Foods that block fat absorption

Perhaps it’s what you’re NOT eating that’s making you fat.

Eating healthy isn’t all about cutting things out of your diet, eating low-fat, low-carb, low-sodium, etc.

Your body needs a variety of foods so it can perform all its functions – including regulating fat absorption. Eating a wide variety of foods helps your body to use what it needs and discard what it doesn’t need.

The right food combinations can help your digestive system absorb vitamins, minerals, good fat, and nutrients, and turn waste into bulk to move it on out.

You probably already know that having some olive oil or avocado with your salads and veggies helps your body to absorb all of the good stuff the other ingredients, but did you know that certain foods can help your body absorb less fat?

Your body knows it doesn’t need a ton of fat. We’ve got central heating if we need it, and food is always available, so we don’t really need extra insulation or large energy/fat stores like our caveman cousins did back in the day.

For those of you scanning to find the part where I get to the foods you can eat to help reduce fat absorption, I’m getting there; however, first I have to say that none of this gives you a license to go eat a ton of crap. Nothing is an easy fix-all like that, so don’t go crazy. Also, supplements won’t have the same effect as eating the right foods. In general, avoid taking pills and go straight to the source to achieve optimal health.

Without further ado, here’s a list of foods that have been shown to lower fat absorption.

  • Calcium: Men’s Health reports that “dieters with the highest calcium intake from dairy foods lost 60% more weight than those with the lowest.” It’s not all about milk and cheese either; canned beans, peas and fish, yogurt, most dark greens, almonds and oranges have a high amount of calcium, too. Maybe have a glass of skim milk with your steak instead of wine… maybe.
  • Apples: ShapeFit.com reports that the pectin in apples prevents your body from absorbing large amounts of fat. In addition, apples are high in fiber which helps fill you up and move waste out of your body.
  • Soy: ShapeFit.com also lists soy as a fat absorption blocker because of lecithin, a nutrient that breaks down fat stores. Throw some soy nuts on your salad for a little added crunch, or use soy protein powder or milk in your smoothies.
  • Sea kelp / Seaweed: Sea kelp has a natural, soluble fiber called alginate 
that helps halt digestion of fat. Try some seaweed salad next time you’re out for sushi.
  • Unrefined whole grains: The fiber helps you excrete more fat, rather than storing or absorbing it.

The common denominator in most of these foods is fiber. Get your daily fiber intake, and get it naturally.

Also, even if you don’t believe in “fat blockers,” all of these are really healthy options for many other reasons, so there’s no reason not to give them a shot.

I like a little nightcap of 1/2 skim milk and 1/2 vanilla soy milk right before bedtime. Who knew a simple end of day indulgence could make a difference? I would never fully count on these foods to do all the work for me, but it can’t hurt to work them in a little more.


What can I eat? Snack on this

When you initially make the decision to eat healthier, it’s easy to feel limited. You look over the list of “can’t eats” and wonder, what can I eat?

The hardest thing to manage is snacking, so I have compiled a list of snacks you CAN eat without sabotaging your mission.

First, when you start to feel hungry, go drink a glass of water or skim milk. Make yourself wait another two minutes, then decide if you’re still hungry. Often times we mistake thirst for hunger.

A couple of things to keep in mind when choosing snacks are food label awareness and moderation.

It’s great to have the 100 calorie pack options, but you should still look and see where those 100 calories are coming from. If you’re getting a ton of sugar, salt, hydrogenated oils, etc., you’re better off getting 200 calories from something that is good for you. Empty, highly processed calories won’t hold you as long, and you’ll end up needing more food sooner.

Be careful when buying trail mix, too. If the nuts have been roasted in oil and salt, the fruit has been dried and rolled in sugar, and they’ve added chocolate, you may as well just eat a candy bar. I make my own mix at home with dark chocolate chips, raw nuts, a small amount of dried fruit and low-fat granola or Cheerios; then I separate it into snack size Ziploc bags so I have manageable portions on hand.

We are all guilty of messing up a good thing when it comes to snacking. We add mayonnaise to tuna, caramel to apples, salt and butter to popcorn, creamy dressing to freshly cut vegetables, etc. If you must have these things, bring/add them in serving-size portions. Free pouring/dipping can get you in a world of trouble. My mom used to say, “A second on the lips; forever on the hips.”

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Pay attention to what you are putting in your mouth. We put so much energy and thought into what we wear on the outside, yet we mindlessly shovel food into our bodies.

Without further ado, here are some snacking options you can feel good about.

Good snack choices

  • Almonds (about 20, raw)
  • Olives (5 – too many and you get too much sodium)
  • Lean cold cuts wrapped around low-fat string cheese
  • Vegetables dipped in hummus (2-4 Tbsps to keep fat down)
  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Low-fat yogurt with 1/4 cup low-fat muesli or granola and berries
  • Apple or banana with 1-2 Tbsps peanut butter
  • Celery with 1-2 Tbsps peanut butter
  • Berries and light cool whip
  • Frozen grapes
  • Apple sauce
  • Hard boiled eggs

 


How to look a size smaller

Do you wear your clothes inside out so the tag shows? Hopefully not; however, if the smaller size fits, you buy it in every color, right?

Have you ever been guilty of any of the following?

  • Buying an article of clothing simply because it fit in a smaller size than you normally wear.
  • Not buying an article of clothing because it fit in a larger size than you normally wear.
  • Buying a smaller size in hopes that it would fit after you lost some weight.
  • Buying a smaller size, even though it wasn’t as comfortable on as a size up, just so you could continue to claim it as “your size.”

Why do we torture ourselves by purchasing the smallest size we can fit into only to worry that we will only be able to wear it on our best (skinniest) days?

Here’s the deal: Wearing the wrong size makes you look bigger than you actually are.

The only thing other people see is how your clothes fit you. You’re the only one who knows what size you’re wearing. Others won’t know you’re wearing a smaller size than normal, but they will see if you have a muffin top spilling over the waistline of your pants, or if your top is straining at the buttons.

If your clothes are too tight, it doesn’t matter that you were able to squeeze into them. Ill-fitting clothes cheapen your appearance. Wearing the appropriate size, even if it’s a size up from what you would like to wear, will actually make you look smaller.

It may make you feel good to buy a size 4 or know that what you’re wearing is smaller than you normally wear, but – being intentionally redundant – you’re the only one who knows that.

Don’t rush out and buy clothes that are way too big, though. If they don’t fit your shape you may as well be wearing a potato sack.

Sizes vary by brand, so you’re not going to wear the same size across the board. Always try on clothes before you buy them.

A visit to a good tailor can make a huge, inexpensive difference in your wardrobe. Let out a little on one seam; take in a little on another, and voila!

Another tip is to dress from the inside-out. What I mean by that is you have to start with the right undergarments. There is no point investing in nice clothes if you’re not going to wear something nice and appropriate underneath them.

If your bra doesn’t fit you well or fit well under your outfit, you can ruin the entire effect. Your bra straps should not cut in and give you unnecessary fat rolls, and your chest should be adequately supported. A good bra will lift your breasts off of your rib cage, giving the appearance of a longer, slimmer torso.

The same goes for your underwear. There are enough options and contraptions out there now that there is no excuse for elastic cutting in, panty lines, etc.

Our bodies are changing all the time. Whether you need tummy support, a butt lift, thigh smoothing, invisible straps, etc., there is a piece of lingerie developed just for you.

A healthy diet and regular exercise will help you look and feel better, and those in conjunction with a nice wardrobe will no doubt make you look your best. However, whether you adhere to a specific diet and exercise regimen or not, any figure looks good in clothes that fit well.

Remember that your clothing size is not your identifier. I only know people by their name, and no one has ever called me by a number off my tag. The person who invented clothing sizes wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings or boost someone else’s.

Love yourself enough to take pride in your overall appearance. The way you look and feel in your clothes makes a difference in how confident you appear, and confidence is your best accessory.


Get rid of pounds and bloat with a little addiction subtraction

Sugar and salt are addictive; and, as with most things that are addictive, they’re not good for you. The more you have, the more you crave, and the harder you have to work to undo the damage.

You won’t find a surgeon general’s warning on their packaging; but, if there was one, it would mention that they can both be harmful to your heart and your waistline.

What’s worse? They’re both very sneaky about getting into your food without you realizing.

While eating dinner at home the other night, my husband reached for our favorite creole seasoning. I mentioned the high salt content to him since he tends to overpour, and he said, “Oh well, it should be okay since I haven’t had any other salt today.” He thought he hadn’t had salt that day because he hadn’t used a salt shaker. In his defense, this is a common misperception.

Where are they hiding?

  • Check the labels of pre-packaged foods, sauces, seasoning blends, dressings, marinades, bottled/canned beverages, etc. and you’ll quickly understand why your body is hanging on to unwanted pounds and water-weight.
  • I love soy sauce, ketchup, hot sauce and Worcestershire, but I use to use them as freely as if they were made up of air or water. Now I know better, and I’ve also learned that a little goes a long way. Now I understand why ketchup packets are so tiny.
  • Bread, cereal, snack foods, dried fruit, nuts, jerky, olives, pickles, hot dogs, baked beans, etc. are full of unnecessary sugar and salt, and energy and athletic replenishment drinks are just as guilty.

What you can do to get off sugar and salt?

  • The less sugar and salt you have, the less of them you’ll want, and both addictions are much easier to kick than something like smoking.
  • Cook at home, and pay attention to everything you add. Try out different herbs, spices, freshly squeezed citrus juices or even alcohol to enhance the flavor of your food without salt, and make sure your canned goods are low sodium or say ‘no salt added’ on the label.
  • Taste your food and think about all the natural flavors of what you’re eating before you add anything to it. Here in Italy, salt isn’t commonly on the table at restaurants. Why should it be? If you’re paying a chef to cook your food, maybe you should let him/her decide how it should be seasoned. I’m not a trained chef, but I’m insulted when someone seasons the food I’ve cooked before they taste it.
  • Make dessert a real treat. One night of not reaching for something sweet after dinner will make it easier the next night. It should be a treat rather than something you have to have. Try having an orange after dinner to cleanse your palate and satisfy your sweet tooth, or go brush your teeth right after your meal.
  • If you’re a parent, you are in control of whether or not your child starts out with an addiction to salt and/or sugar.

How much can/should you have?

  • The National Academies’ Institute of Medicine recommends that most adults get no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day; the equivalent of about one teaspoon of table salt. If you are at risk of hypertension, cut that number down to no more than 1,500 milligrams.
  • Nutritionally, you do not need any added sugar; especially not refined sugar. Most fruits and vegetables have natural sugars in them, and these cover all you need.
  • A balanced diet of natural, “real” food covers all of your nutritional needs.

It’s not all evil.

Everything in moderation is fine. I like sugar and salt too, so I’m not saying you have to cut it out entirely to lose weight. The goal is for you to be aware, and in control, of how much you have. Knowing that they are both in most of the food you eat, even if you don’t add them yourself, will help you moderate your consumption.

If you need a nasty visual, imagine a sticky sugar substance making fat stick to you, and salt making you swell up. Got that image in your head? Doesn’t look nearly as tasty that way, does it?


Recipe: Drink this, not that – (Green) Tea Time

Sweet tea was a beverage staple growing up in Georgia; but, after making more than a hundred pitchers of it working in restaurants, I can’t bring myself to drink it anymore.

When you look at a glass/pitcher of sweet tea, imagine half of the container filled with granulated sugar. That’s a lot of sugar, right? It’s dissolved, so you can’t actually see it, but it’s in there.

Tea itself isn’t bad for you; it’s the amount of sugar in most tea drinks that’s bad. Even the bottled, green teas that claim to boost your metabolism on the front of the label give a different message when you turn them around and check out the sugar content.

It’s true that green tea can boost your metabolism, but you’re not maximizing the benefits by drinking the bottled stuff. Green tea helps your body burn fat with catechins and caffeine, but you would need to drink almost twenty bottles to get the same amount you can get from one home-brewed cup. Your body does not need, 1) sugar from twenty bottled drinks or, 2) that many trips to the bathroom in a day.

I brew green tea at home and keep it in the fridge. It’s cheaper, healthier, and I think it tastes better, too. Give it a try. You can say “yes” to this beverage as a staple.

Chilled Green Tea

  • 8 of your favorite green tea bags (Yogi and Tazo make my favorites)
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1 Orange
  • 1/2 Tbsp agave
  • Pitcher, Hot Water

Clean the outside of your lemon and orange. Slice each in half, squeeze juice into the pitcher and then drop in the rest of the fruit. Add agave and stir. Put your tea bags in the pitcher and fill with hot water. Cover pitcher and let steep for 10 minutes. Set in fridge and let cool without adding ice. Enjoy once cooled!



Which comes first: weights or cardio?

You use to always hear that you should perform your cardio first to warm up before you hit the weights. Then, a few years back, the order got flipped. So, which is it? What order should you do your weights and cardio in to achieve the best results?

The shortest answer is that you should do weights first, but if you don’t understand why, then you aren’t setting yourself up for the highest level of success.

Why weights first?

In order to perform short bursts of energy in weight training, your body uses glycogen (carbs), so the idea is to burn off the glycogen so that you can move straight to burning more fat when you switch over to cardio.

Another reason to do weights first is to prevent injury. The thought behind that is, if you are tired from cardio, you won’t be as agile and conscientious during your weight training, which could be dangerous.

What to be aware of when performing weights before cardio

Even though I suggest starting with weights, that does mean you should skip your warm up. You should never walk right into the gym and lift your max. Obviously, if part of the reason to start with weights is to help prevent a weight training injury, there is more to it than simply swapping the order.

Warm up with light weights, perform some kettlebell swings, do jumping jacks or something else along those lines for 5-10 minutes so that you can safely perform a light stretch and prepare your body for the workout.

In the end, it’s all about your body.

If you are exclusively using light weights or performing a circuit training routine that mixes weights and cardio, you don’t need to worry about the order. You aren’t as likely to hurt yourself using light weights, and circuit training is a combination weight-cardio workout rather than a split order.

Above all else, as long as you’re working out, you’re doing great. If you’re covering both weights and cardio, and your method is working for you, then stick with it. If you’re not currently on an exercise plan, I hope this information fuels you to get off your rear and take that first step towards becoming a stronger, hotter version of yourself.