Hydration, Hydration, Hydration!

Are you still exercising outside or has the hot July weather chased you indoors to the gym? Or has summer vacation taken over your fitness goals altogether? Regardless of your current physical output level at the moment we need to stay hydrated.

Drinking water is of course the easiest way to make sure our hydration levels remain adequate…but it’s not the only way. caffeine and sugar tend to offset our efforts and a lot of sports replacement drinks have unnecessary levels in them.

One way we can help our bodies maintain proper fluid levels is to eat certain foods in addition to our water intake.

– We know watermelon is good for this. It is named “WATERmelon” because it’s over 90% water. It also has good-for-you sugar that helps stabilize your blood sugar
Cucumbers also have a high water content and are a nice cool summer snack
Celery is another vegetable containing a lot of water – not the most flavorful in my opinion but with a schmear of low-fat peanut butter or other nut butter it packs a satisfying protein & hydration snack
Bananas & Kiwis don’t have a high water content but they contain the potassium that’s necessary to help your muscles keep in the water they need to keep you hydrated

Breakfast – it really is the most important meal

I know we’ve all heard this before and there are many reasons why this is so true. Breakfast sets the stage for the rest of the day and gives your body the nutrients to get going after a night of not taking in any calories. So why to so many people skip it? That’s a good question that I’ve heard several variations of basically two reasons: not enough time and I don’t like to eat breakfast.

If time is your issue and reason for not eating breakfast than you have some options. I pack my breakfast every day just as I pack my lunch and snacks. This way I don’t have to spend time eating it before I leave for work but I have it ready for the whole 5 minutes that I get to eat it. What do I pack? Something different every day to keep it interesting: oatmeal, cereal, english muffin, or the occasional whole wheat bagel with low-fat cream cheese. It’s easy to pack it yourself too because you can control your portion size. Invest in decent Tupperware containers that you can easily pack. Sometimes I’ll make 2-3 servings of oatmeal ahead of time and put different fruit in it each day. Notice I named all carbs for my breakfast? Carbs give you more stable energy that can get you through a few busy morning hours. Also try to avoid the sugar – package oatmeal and many cereals have a higher content than you think. Read the labels.

If you simple don’t like breakfast then try something lighter, such as a shake or piece of fruit. Shakes you can even make at home ahead of time and have single servings in the freezer. You can mix in yogurt, soy or almond milk, or regular milk. The fruit – regardless of the format – gives you a boost in fiber. Another option is a V8 type drink – had plenty of fruits & veggies but watch out for too much sugar here as well.

So, eat your breakfast. It’s good for you and helps set you straight for the rest of the day!

Pasta does not make you fat!

I repeat – Pasta does not make you fat!

What puts on the pounds is how much we eat and what we put on our pasta. The full plate of fettuccine alfredo..although yummy…is not the most healthy way to make pasta. The USDA recommends we eat 6-11 servings of whole grains per day. This includes pasta and it’s good for you. It fills you up, gives your body time-released energy, and is usually enriched with folic acid which is known to support a healthy heart and prevent birth defects. Runners eat it before races because of the steady energy it provides.

There is also the whole wheat variety which is widely available now. This kind has more fiber in it than regular pasta but not everyone likes the stronger ‘wheaty’ taste and it’s double or triple the price. Sometimes, I’ll mix it in with regular pasta to get the best of both worlds!

And back to the serving sizes…one serving size is roughly 1/2 cup of cooked pasta. That’s it. I don’t know about you but I’m still hungry after that 🙂 BUT, remember we get 6-11 servings of whole grains spread throughout the day and we don’t need to eat them all in one sitting. So, if you have 1 cup of cooked pasta (equaling 2 whole grain servings) you get 4-8 servings left…plenty of room for cereal in the morning! Still hungry thinking about only 1 cup of pasta? Add 2 servings a veggies &/or a serving of protein (chicken, shrimp), drizzle a little bit of antioxidant rich Extra Virgin Olive Oil and you have a pretty satisfying and healthy meal that’s not heavy on the carbs or calories.

Try it this week and let me know how creative you can make your healthy pasta dishes!

Blackberries for Health

I was at the farmer’s market this morning picking up my weekly stash of fresh fruits & veggies and the very first thing I put in my basket were blackberries. And then I had to move them because they would have been squished by the cantaloupe :-). Blackberries are one of summers best fruits because they are not only convenient, but they do triple duty for your health!

They are sometimes a little pricer that strawberries or blueberries but they are well worth the splurge. The better known benefits are they the are high in Vitamins A & C but did you know they are stocked with fiber, folic acid, and potassium too? They battle free radicals which helps against cancer AND wrinkles! The fiber in them helps keep you fuller for longer. And there’s yet another benefit – the same compound that reduces these free radicals is linked to reducing the effect if histamine. How timely that these little berries are ripening around the same time that allergy season hits. Hmm…nature’s way of telling us something?

So, by eating these little powerful jewels you can get all these benefits with fewer calories. Eat them fresh and within 2-3 days of purchase for maximum freshness & nutrition. You can also get them frozen or freeze them yourself. I love to save a few of them in the freezer to add to yogurt to make a smoothie – perfect for a spring/summer afternoon snack. Yum! You can also put them in your cereal, pancakes or salad.

Do you have any good ways to make blackberries part of your diet?

References: Jerry Baker’s Kitchen Counter Cures

Flaxseeds – Heart healthy meets brain booster

This powerful little seed is a versatile addition to your diet. Flaxseeds contain a compound that our bodies can turn into Omega-3 fatty acids (the ‘good fat’). It’s fat that we need for a healthy heart and optimal brain function! They contain fiber so they support regular digestive function. There have also been studies that support consuming flaxseeds reduce our cholesterol. What more do you need to give these guys a try?

They are tiny little seeds that resemble sesame seeds, but they’re a little darker brown. They have a very mild nutty flavor and they’re fairly simple use in every day meals. You can get the actual seeds or the milled variety. The seeds last a little longer though.

I put about a teaspoon in my oatmeal or cereal every morning. I’ve also added them to stir-fries, soup, and even ground meat! You can buy flaxseed bread as well – I know Trader Joe’s carries it and it’s a nice change from whole wheat.

Wheatberries – good for weight loss!

Wheatberries are a funny little grain.

While they are sometimes hard to find (I get mine at Whole Foods in the bulk aisle), they are worth their weight in gold when you add them to your regular diet. They are good for maintaining and balancing your regularity and help with weight control because only a small handful fills you up! And they are fat-free.

Wheatberries, also known as Hard, Red Winter Wheat, are a whole grain that is very high in fiber (the insoluble kind which keeps you fuller for longer), Antioxidants and Vitamin E.

If you are able to find them then they are very easy and versatile to add to your weekly menu. You can add them to your cereal or oatmeal in the morning, your salad at lunch, and your stir-fry dinner. They can be a replacement for rice or pasta and added to soups or breads. Sometimes you can find ‘Wheatberry bread’ – check by the organic breads at your supermarket.

To prepare wheatberries, put them in a pot with water, bring them to a boil, then reduce the heat to med-low and let them perk for about a half hour. When they are done they will be a nutty-tasting plump little chewy grain. You can store cooked wheatberries in your fridge for the week and uncooked ones will keep in the cabinet for about a month.

Quinoa – The Super Grain!

With February being heart-healthy month, it makes sense to talk about what foods to eat for a healthy heart. Everyone else is, right? There are a whole boat-load of recipes out there but I want to suggest you try one that’s a little more out of the ordinary…Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). I’m sure I’m not the only one who mispronounced it the first time 🙂

Quinoa is a superfood, although I’m not sure if it made the official list yet but it has my vote. It’s a grain that packs a ton of protein – more than any other grain. It contains as almost as many amino acids as meat does and it’s loaded with more vitamin E, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium that other grains. The heart-healthy kick comes from all of the insoluble fiber is has along with some mono & polyunsaturated fat – the good kind! This means it will fill you up and keep you running smoothly. Because of these wonderful nutrients it battles not only heart disease, but cancer, diabetes and stroke, and gives your immune & digestive system a boost. My favorite thing about it is that it really fills me up without being heavy.

How do you cook it? Pretty much the same as you would cook rice and it’s more versatile. It comes in flavors too. Use it with sauteed veggies, toss it in soup or put a scoop in your salad. You can add dried fruit to it for a sweeter flavor to balance it’s nutty flavor. You can also make burgers out of it…or at least cut our some of the meat by mixing it in.

If you’re new to Quinoa then get the regular flavored kind (Trader Joe’s makes a good one) and toss in some veggies & chicken for a nice stir fry, then experiment from there.

Snacking Healthy

I love chocolate. There, I said it.

So if you’re anything like me, you may have some challenges when it comes to snack choices. I’m always looking for something sweet, especially after dinner. I was doing my due diligence to make sure my meals were healthy, but by not planning my snacks, I was sabotaging my own efforts.

Your body does a pretty good job of regulating blood sugar and it’s a very efficient process (unless you are diabetic) assuming that you feed it the proper nutrients at regular intervals throughout the day. However, the typical American diet dictates that we eat three meals a day – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In those three standard sittings, we’re sometimes overly hungry by the time we sit down to eat and wind up consuming more calories than we need. When we’re overly hungry, our blood sugar is lower and our body tries to compensate by craving calories quickly – usually empty ones – and we oblige. And the cycle continues…

The solution? Plan your snacks!

Ensuring that you have 2-3 healthy and gratifying snacks in your back pocket greatly minimizes your risk of overeating at mealtime. Our blood sugar begins to drop about two hours or so after we’ve finished our last meal.

Try this:
1 – Mid-morning snack – eat it about 10-10:30 am and try something with calcium that’s low fat like yogurt, cheese, or cottage cheese. The protein in these snacks fills you up to keep you satisfied to lunch.
2 – Mid-afternoon snack – eat around 3-3:30 pm. You want some belly-filling fiber here becuase this needs to carry you to dinner time. Try raw fruits or veggies because your body takes longer to break these down but they won’t weigh you down like the more complex carbs. Apples, bananas, carrot sticks, broccoli, etc. Extra pionts for a smear of protein like peanut butter or hummus. I also like a granola bar here – Kashi makes one with almonds and mocha…yum! Watch the sugar on these though – check the labels!
3 – After dinner snack – This one is tough for me and try not to eat it too late. About 8-8:30 should do it but if you’re hungry earlier that’s fine too. I like to have whole wheat pretzels or pita chips dipped in hummus, guacamole, or even salsa. You have a little bit of carb, little bit of protein, and it still feels like you’re having a fun snack. You can also have dried fruit. It’s gives you the sweetness without the unnecessary calories as long as you get the kine without the added sugar.

Happy Training!