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I’m not a huge fan of calorie counting, but sometimes it’s good just to get a rough idea of how many calories you’re taking in.  If the average diet is around 2000 calories daily, and you eat three meals that are about 460 calories, that leaves room for three 200 calorie snacks.  That’s just if you want to maintain your weight, if you’re looking to lose weight it would be a little less.  Everyone’s calorie needs are different; a nutritionist can help you figure out more specific numbers.

Here are some healthy snack ideas that are all 200 calories or less:

  • Smoothie made with 2 oz 2% Greek yogurt, 1 cup frozen raspberries, and 1 small banana
  • 1 medium apple sliced with 1 Tablespoon almond butter
  • 2 cups spicy popcorn
  • Sandwich made with 2 slices whole wheat bread, 2 Tablespoons hummus, and a handful of arugula
  • ¾ cup Sweet and Spicy Trail Mix
  • 2 cups carrot sticks with ½ cup Tzatziki dip made with 2% yogurt
  • Crispbread with avocado dip made with Wasa Crisp n’ Light 7 grain


 
Nope, not the grocery store chain.  Today we’re talking about what makes a food “whole,” and why that makes it good to eat.

A whole foods diet contains foods that are not very far removed from their natural state.  This includes foods like vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs, milk, and whole grains.  Our bodies are designed to digest food as it’s found in the world.  Our guts know how to digest and utilize an apple; they’re not sure what to do with an apple-flavored pop tart.

The opposite of a whole food is a processed refined food (like that apple pop tart).  These are foods that have been broken down to the molecular level, isolated, thrown back together with other stuff, had other things added back in, messed with so much that our bodies can barely recognize them as food!

Here are some guidelines to help you find whole foods at the grocery store:

Shop the perimeter of the store.  Whole foods are easy to find in the produce, bulk, meat, and dairy departments.  Venturing into the inner shelves of the store will probably just lead you to items like sugary breakfast cereal.

Buy foods with no packaging.  Whole foods usually involve little or no packaging.  Examples are: apples from the produce department, whole chickens from the meat department, brown rice from the bulk bins.

If you are buying a packaged food, check the ingredient list.  The ingredient list should be short, and you should recognize what each of the ingredients is.

If you don’t know what an ingredient is, don’t buy it!  If a food has long complicated chemical names, those are food additives and preservatives.  If you don’t know what something is, do you really want to eat it?

Consider how many steps it took to make that food.  If you can imagine making the food in your own kitchen it is most likely whole.  If you can’t imagine making the food but you feel like you might need a Hadron Particle Collider to do it, it’s probably not whole.

It’s important to remember that the value of a food is not just the sum of its nutrients.  We get more from carrots than just a big dose of Vitamin A.  Whole foods are a complete package of nutrients, antioxidants, water, and other components that are balanced in just the right way for our bodies.  We were born to eat this way!

I know we weren’t talking about Whole Foods the grocery store, but I really enjoy this song about the trials and tribulations of shopping there so I’ll leave you with this video.
 
A wholesome breakfast can really help propel you through your day.  Some sugary breakfast foods will make you feel like you need a nap by the time you get to work.  Your body needs fuel for the whole day in the morning:  whole grains, fiber, healthy fats, and a good wallop of protein will get your day started right.  Today we’ll talk about some sugary processed breakfast foods that you'll want to avoid, and then discuss some savory options to try.

Here are some foods on the market that look more like dessert than breakfast.  The really gross part about it is that most of these foods are marketed towards children!

Kellogg’s Frosted S’mores Pop Tarts®:  It’s no surprise that these contain 19 grams of sugar in each pastry; the ingredient list includes sugar, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and corn syrup solids.  How do they even pack that all into a 3 x 5” pastry?

Quaker® Instant Oatmeal Dinosaur Eggs:  I mentioned this product earlier in a post about faux “health” foods.  This is a brown sugar-flavored instant oatmeal packet that has candy dinosaur eggs in it.  Apparently when you heat up the oatmeal the eggs crack open and there are candy dinosaurs inside.  I’m pretty darn sure this is not how nature intended us to eat.

Kellogg’s Froot Loops® Marshmallow Cereal:  Do you think they call them “froot” loops because the FDA wouldn’t want people to think they contained actual fruit?  There isn’t actually any kind of fruit in the ingredient list, just natural and artificial flavoring.  On top of that, the very first ingredient in this cereal is sugar.  That means it contains more sugar than any other ingredient in the whole thing!

Instead of giving yourself a sugar high at breakfast, try one of these fast and wholesome options:


For more information on why breakfast is the most important meal of the day, check out this post from August.

I actually have a packet of the Dino Eggs oatmeal in my pantry right now; some friends and I bought it as a prop for a nutrition workshop.  I am scared to taste it!

 
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Today’s post is a quick reminder to take a time out when you need it.  Simple breathing exercises can help you relax and calm your mood.  A few minutes of breathing meditation can help clear your mind for the rest of your day.  Here are a few ideas:


Shoulder Shrugs:
  • Stand or sit up with a straight spine.
  • Inhale and shrug your shoulders up towards your ears, creating tension.
  • Exhale and roll your shoulder blades down and back.
  • Repeat 4-5 times.

Sharp exhale:
  • Sit in a chair with both feet planted on the floor, close your eyes.
  • Place one hand on your belly, just above your bellybutton.
  • Take a big inhale through your nose.
  • Let the air out of your lungs in short sharp bursts, like you’re trying to blow your nose.
  • Take about 8-10 bursts to empty your exhale entirely.
  • As you’re exhaling feel your hand on your belly move up and in with your bursts.

Countdown
  • Let your eyes float closed, seated or standing.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose, counting to 4 in your head as you do.
  • Retain your breath for a couple of seconds.
  • Exhale completely, counting down from 8 as you do.

Stress reliever
  • Let your eyes float closed, seated or standing.
  • Take a deep inhale through your nose.
  • Open your mouth and exhale completely, making an “ah” sound.

 
What is lymph?  While it kind of sounds like a magical creature that lives in the forest with fairies and elves, it’s actually a vital part of our immune system.

Lymph is a fluid that flows through our whole body in its own special vessels.  This fluid is like a cleaning agent for our insides, it picks up germs and other nasties from our blood and carries them off.  Then it drags the germs through little jellybean-shaped lymph nodes, which house immune cells that can knock those nasty germs out.

It’s important to keep our lymph flowing freely so that our immune system can do its job to fight disease.  Sometimes our lymph becomes stagnant, which can slow down our germ-fighting power.  Here are some ideas to keep your lymph moving:

Exercise:  Lymphatic fluid can’t really travel through the body without pressure from our muscles.  Moving and working your muscles with exercise is the best way to get your lymph flowing smoothly.

Massage:  Instead of moving your own muscles, you could have someone else do it for you!  This has the same effect on your lymph as exercise; it helps move the lymph by putting pressure on your muscles.

Water:  Staying hydrated is also important for maintaining lymphatic flow.  Dehydration can decrease the volume of your lymphatic fluid, meaning less flow will be directed through the nodes, which means less germs knocked out of your system.  Sip water regularly, and try to get around 2 liters each day.
 
Today we’ll discuss what the current research says about the effectiveness of taking a daily multivitamin.  Keep in mind that vitamins and supplements are just as serious as prescription drugs; so don’t take anything new without talking it over with a healthcare professional!

Many people like the concept of a multivitamin.  It seems like a good idea to take a pill to make up for any nutritional gaps in one’s diet.  But does it actually do your body any good?

One 2011 study looked at the multivitamin use and health issues of 182,099 participants over the course of three years.  They found no difference in cancer risk, heart disease, or mortality between the persons who used multivitamins and those who didn’t.

On the other hand, some studies have found that people who use multivitamins have lower rates of disease.  Another study from 2011 found that breast cancer patients who took a multivitamin after treatment had higher survival rates.  These studies also find that people who take multivitamins tend to eat more plant foods and exercise, so it can be hard to tell if the vitamin is adding any additional benefit.

Based on the current research, it appears that a multivitamin does no visible harm or good.  Some people with specific health needs may benefit from a vitamin or herbal supplement.  It’s important to discuss supplements with a Nutritionist, Dietitian, Naturopathic Doctor, Herbalist, or Pharmacist before trying anything new.  For the most part, your dollars will be better spent on wholesome fresh foods instead of pills!
 
Earlier in the week we found out that spreads and sauces are a good way to incorporate more veggies into your diet.   We also learned that mushrooms are good for immune health.  It makes perfect sense that today’s recipe is a spread that has mushrooms in it!

This spread is tasty on whole grain crackers, in a sandwich, or on top of some eggs.  It’ll keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but I don’t know that it ever lasts that long in our house!

Mushroom & Onion Spread

  • 2 medium onions, cut into half moons
  • 3 cups crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup red wine, or vegetable broth if you don’t drink alcohol
  • ½ teaspoon cane sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan that’s big enough to hold your mushrooms and onions.  Once oil is heated, add the onions to your pan.  Cook until softened a bit, stirring to prevent sticking.  Add your mushrooms, salt, pepper, and sugar.  Cook for another two minutes or so, until the mushrooms are soft as well.

Add wine or broth and turn up the heat a bit, just until the liquid starts to boil.  The move the heat back to medium-low to bring it down to a rapid simmer.  Simmer and stir until the mixture reduces, then starts to gel and thicken up a bit, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool completely.  Store in a glass jar in the fridge.
 
There are a number of diet systems on the market that claim to alter your metabolism. Is there a pill or food additive that can change the way your body digests food? Here we’ll explore what these systems to see what they are and if they actually work.


The Green Tea Diet: Brewed green tea has a number of compounds that are beneficial to health, including many antioxidants. Some manufacturers sell green tea concentrate in pills or liquid form and claim that it can speed up metabolism and promote weight loss. Studies that have examined the effect of tea on metabolism have found that it can increase human resting metabolism slightly, but not enough to result in weight loss. Further studies found that the increase in metabolism was due to the caffeine in tea, not anything in the tea itself. So while having a cup of green tea in the morning may help keep you alert, it’s not going to significantly change your metabolism.


Sensa Weight-Loss System: This product is a powder that is sprinkled over food that claims to make the consumer feel full faster, and therefore lose weight by eating less. It consists of popular flavor and smell enhancers that are found in many processed foods, such as maltodextrin (modified cornstarch). This product doesn’t change your metabolism in any way, it encourages the consumer to eat less by amplifying the taste and smell of what they are eating. Most of us are going to eat the amount of food we want to eat regardless of what it smells like, so the effectiveness of this additive is questionable.

HCG Diet: The Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Diet (try saying that three times fast!) is a hormonal supplement that claims to increase weight loss and redistribute fat from the hips and thighs to other areas of the body. Sound too good to be true? The Federal Trade Commission thought so too. That’s why they prosecuted Kevin Trudeau for publishing false health claims in his 2007 HCG diet book The Weight-Loss “Cure” They Don’t Want You To Know About. Claims that this supplement promotes weight loss are based on a single study from the 1950’s that has been debunked through a number of studies performed throughout the last six decades.

Maintaining a healthy metabolism is a little subtler than taking a pill or brewing some tea. Here are some ways to naturally support your metabolism:

• Get enough sleep
• Eat small amounts regularly throughout the day
• Exercise most days of the week
• Minimize emotional stress


You can read more about nurturing metabolism in an old post here.
 
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Harsh winter weather can increase stress on our immune systems in a number of different ways. The human immune system is comprised of many different types of cells, all of which need certain nutrients to operate properly. Here are some foods to add into to your diet that can support a healthy immune system:

Fermented Foods:  These foods contain probiotics, helpful microorganisms that can assist in maintaining the health of the digestive tract. Various studies have suggested that probiotics can help get rid of harmful bacteria in the gut. Because probiotics are alive, fermented food works best when they also contain fuel for the probiotics, known as prebiotics. Here are some ideas for foods that contain both probiotics and prebiotics:

  • Yogurt and Fruit (or compote?)
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut

Tahini:  This paste made from ground sesame seeds is a good source of zinc.  This mineral is involved in many different areas of an immune response.  Zinc assists every cell in multiplying and communicating with each other.  Tahini’s rich consistency can add a dairy-free creamy kick to sauces and salad dressings.

Mushrooms:  Researchers have investigated several different varieties of edible mushroom for their immune-enhancing properties. Some experiments have shown that white button, shiitake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms help regulate a healthy immune response. The earthy flavor of these palatable fungi lends itself well to soups and stews.

This article is a reprint of a post I wrote for Sound Integrated Health News.

 
I was hired as someone’s personal chef for a couple of weeks this summer.  As I was cooking and packing the food, I thought to myself “it’s amazing how many vegetables I can squeeze into one meal!”  Today we’ll discuss how you can start to infiltrate your plate with veggies (without having to get a graduate degree in nutrition).

Never let your grains leave the pot without a buddy.  Frozen or low-sodium canned vegetables make a good fast addition to cooked grains.  Beans or corn go well with small grains like brown rice, and they give your meal an extra protein boost.  Try tossing frozen broccoli or sliced bell peppers in with your whole grain pasta, just add them in the cooking water for the last minute or two.

How would that meal look with a handful of spinach on top?  Keep a bag of baby spinach on hand for last-minute veggie additions.  Making pasta?  That spinach will wilt in there nicely if you stir it in while it’s still hot.  Got a sandwich?  How about some greens between your meat and cheese?  Spinach is a great source of calcium, iron, and vitamin A.

Sauces and spreads and dressings, oh my!  Here’s where you can get creative.  Any number of vegetables can be blended up into items like tomato sauce, hummus, or a mustard vinaigrette.  You can tell I’m a fan of this from the Edamame Dip and Tart Green Pesto recipes from Healthy Snack Sunday.  Why not add a pureed zucchini-onion-kale-tomato sauce to your whole grain pasta that already has frozen broccoli and fresh spinach in it?  Now we’re talking!

To get some ideas for veggie-rich sauces and spreads, check out this page from Choosing Raw.