by Tracey Shaffer, RDN, LD
January 19 is National Rid the World of Fad Diets and Gimmicks Day. Yes, there really is an official day for it and it is the third Tuesday in January each year.
If you are like most Americans, at one time or another you have tried a diet fad or gimmick that promised quick and easy weight loss only to find that the weight you lost was gained back in less time than it took to take it off. But how can you spot a fad diet?
A red flag should go up if it promises that a large amount of weight can be lost quickly, if fewer than 1,000 calories per day are to be eaten, if special foods need to be purchased, if no risks are provided or if large advance payments or long-term contracts are required.
Although not nearly as enticing as flashy diets or celebrity endorsed supplements, the best way to lose weight and keep it off is a balanced diet and regular exercise. Not only will you lose weight with this approach, you will improve your health as well.
So how do you get started implementing a well-balanced diet and exercise plan without following a pre-made meal plan, supplements or exercise gimmicks? Follow these three steps and you will be on your way.
Step 1: Create a Vision
What would you like your life to look like in 1, 5 or 10 years? This isn’t a number on the scale. This is the big picture of your well-being. Describe your ideal state of physical and emotional health. What does that look and feel like? Create a vision board by using pictures of your vision if it helps.
Step 2: Determine Your Goals
Goals get you to your vision. These can be reevaluated and changed along the way. Long-term goals are goals you want to reach in 6-12 months. Short-term goals are goals you want to reach in 3-6 months. Examples of long-term goals are to complete in a 5K race or to lose 50 pounds or to increase your strength and muscle mass.
Short-term goals may be to run 2 miles or to lose 20 pounds or to bench press 200 pounds. Whatever your goals, make them SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. An example of a SMART goal is: I will run 2 miles per day on 3 days of the week (M.W,F)
Step 3: Write Down Weekly Habits
Habits are what you do daily/weekly that get you to reach your goals. These are the important things that create a lifestyle change if done consistently.
Examples of habits are eating 3 servings of vegetables each day or walking for 30 minutes daily outside.
Small habits help you reach your goals and can add up to BIG changes in your health, fitness, and well-being.
By following these three steps you will be on your way to a healthy new lifestyle.
And remember, consistency, not perfection, is the key to a permanent lifestyle change. Slow and steady always wins the race
Need a healthy dinner idea to meet your vegetable goals? Try this veggie-packed Minestrone on a cold evening:
by Tracey Shaffer, RDN, LD
For many of us, the holidays are as stressful as they are joyful. These weeks are filled with family gatherings, eating temptations and special occasions. Add COVID-19 to the mix and this holiday season’s stress levels may be at an all-time high.
Stress can have serious repercussions on your health. If you are feeling the world on your shoulders, try some of these lifestyle tips to relax and get a good night's rest.
Meditation has been scientifically proven to help alleviate stress after just eight weeks of a regular practice. Meditation has been shown to ultimately reprogram the brain to become more open and less reactive and better able to cope when life’s stressors start accumulating. Not sure where to start.
Try these tips:
Simply sit or lie comfortably, close your eyes, breath naturally and focus your attention on your breath. Try to maintain this meditation practice for two to three minutes to start. Try a YouTube meditation video for at least 15 minutes and try to follow along before you go to bed or first thing when you wake up.
Try an app. There are several apps such as Calm and Headspace that can help you start your meditation practice.
Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth slowly at least 6 times when you start to feel stress.
Exercise is not only good for your waistline and your heart, it is also one of the best ways to alleviate stress. The benefits are strongest when you exercise regularly.
Exercise can also improve your sleep and a rested mind is a more peaceful mind. Think you have to go the gym and sweat it out? Not at all. Just go for a walk, dance or ride your bike. Any activity such as walking or jogging that involves repetitive movements of large muscle groups can be very stress relieving.
Eat to Reduce Stress
Foods can help reduce stress in many ways. They can help calm you by releasing serotonin, strengthen your immune system, and fight depression. Some of the best foods to combat stress are whole grains, citrus fruits, salmon or other foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as chia seeds or flaxseeds, nuts, dark leafy greens, avocados and warm beverages such as herbal tea.
A diet full of salt, sugar and refined carbs can make coping with stress even worse.
Whatever you choose to cope with stress this season, just remember that self-care is one of the best gifts you can give to fully enjoy the holiday season.
Try this stress-relieving recipe:
More than likely, you or someone you know has diabetes. Just over 1 in 10 or 34.2 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and 1 in 3 American adults or 88 million have pre-diabetes.
November is American Diabetes Month and the following are some tips to help those with diabetes or pre-diabetes lower their blood sugar and manage their diabetes better.
Eat a Variety of Food
Often times my clients are very upset and frustrated when they are first diagnosed with diabetes because they are afraid they have to give up all of their favorite foods. But the key to eating healthy for diabetes isn’t about deprivation it is all about balance. All foods can fit into a diet for diabetes.
Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a fourth with lean protein such as lean meat, chicken or turkey without skin, fish, eggs, nuts, beans or tofu. Fill another fourth with a carbohydrate food such as a whole-grain, fruit or a starchy vegetable such as a potato or corn.
Add a serving of dairy if you would like such as milk, yogurt or cheese.
Can you ever have sugar again? Sure! You will just need to learn how to fit in those sugary treats. Speak with a registered dietitian to help you manage carbohydrates and read labels.
Avoid Sweetened Beverages
If you are a regular soda drinker, work on cutting back. Higher sugar foods especially in liquid form can cause your blood sugar to spike. Start with how much you are drinking now and keep reducing until you aren’t drinking any at all.
You can still fit in a sweetened beverage in occasionally, but you just might find that once you get them out of your diet, you don’t miss them at all. Water is always the best for hydration.
Eat at Regular Times
Work on a regular pattern of eating especially if you are taking medications for diabetes or insulin. Talk with your doctor about the best time to take your medications based on your eating pattern.
If you skip a meal your blood sugar may dip down too low and cause symptoms such as dizziness, lack of coordination, confusion, shaking or sweating or loss of consciousness. Blood sugar that goes too low (hypoglycemia) can be life threatening if not treated immediately.
Watch Your Portions
Eating healthy foods is a step in the right direction, but watching your portions is just as important. A serving of meat or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards.
One serving of rice or pasta is a half cup or about the size of a tennis ball. A serving of a potato is the size of a computer mouse. Controlling portions is key to managing blood sugar.
Physical activity is an important part of managing blood sugar and staying healthy. Physical activity lowers blood sugar, lowers blood pressure, aids in weight loss and improves mood. Find what you enjoy doing and do more of it. Use a step counter to increase your daily steps.
For more information about diabetes you can visit the websites of The American Diabetes Association (ADA), The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP).
Try this healthy recipe for your next taco night!
Whether there will be trick-or-treaters this year or not is unknown, but there is never a shortage of Halloween candy on the grocery store shelves. And, the temptation to pick up a bag or two or three of those chocolatey minis is hard to resist.
Having these treats around the house can wreak havoc on your healthy eating pledge and without a plan in place, one small piece can quickly turn into a trash can of mini wrappers.
But, don’t fret! You can still enjoy your favorite seasonal treats without ruining your progress towards your goals by following a few Dos and Don’ts:
Do: Make a plan that fits
Maybe you have decided to allow yourself three small candies a day or just a treat before dinner. Or, maybe you count several out and place them in a plastic bag and when it runs out, you’re done. Whatever your plan, make sure that it works for you and your lifestyle. Don’t set yourself up for failure, and find what works for you the best.
Don’t: Waste your time trying to pick a “healthy” candy:
Organic? Low-fat? Sugar-free? It’s all candy and whether it has limited sugar or fat, doesn’t mean it’s any healthier. Eating a bunch of candy that you feel is a better choice may not satisfy your craving and you may just ending up eating even more and then giving in to what you really wanted all along. Pick the treat you want and enjoy it!
Do: Store your treats where you can’t see them
Out of sight really does mean out of mind. You’re less likely to grab a piece if it’s not right in front of you. Try storing it in a canister that you can’t see through or in a cabinet you don’t use very often. That way you will be seeking out the candy instead of the candy seeking you out.
Don’t: Eat candy when you are hungry
Treats should be just that—treats. If you are hungry you will overeat your goodies. Plan a healthy snack or dinner and eat your treat as finishing piece. Satisfy your craving not your hunger.
Halloween should be a fun holiday and doesn’t need to wreck your plan. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday without letting it derail your progress. What if you do overindulge? You’re human. It’s ok. Move on and continue with your healthy eating plan the next day. You’ll find your splurge didn’t really change much.
Try this yummy Halloween treat:
by Tracey Shaffer, RDN, LD
Fall brings an abundance of flavorful, seasonal foods that are packed full of nutrition! October makes us think of apples, pumpkins and slow cookers. Now is the time to take advantage of these flavorful fall foods and the nutrition they provide.
More than 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the U.S. There is sure to be a variety to please even the pickiest eater! The saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” has scientific merit. One study found eating an apple a day helped reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Regular apple consumption has also been linked to weight loss, improved gut health, cancer prevention and reduced inflammation. There are many ways to add apples to your daily diet. The easiest way is to wash and eat! Or add chopped apples and a dash of cinnamon to oatmeal before cooking it for a flavorful fall treat.
Apples and oatmeal make a great fall combo in bars, cookies and breakfast breads as well. Keep in mind, apples ripen six to 10 times faster at room temperature, so if you want your apples to last longer, store them in the refrigerator.
Pumpkin contains B-complex, vitamins A, vitamin C and vitamin E, carotenoids, folate, manganese, calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and other antioxidants. They are specially favored for their rich content of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A.
Pumpkin promotes eye health, boost immunity, can help relieve inflammation and more.
Pumpkin may not be the healthiest in muffin form, but you can add pumpkin to soups, stews, hummus and pasta sauce. Try adding pureed pumpkin to smoothies, yogurt or oatmeal for a nutritional boost and added flavor.
There is nothing better than walking in the door to the smell of dinner ready to eat. Slow cookers help with planning which sometimes can be the hardest part of putting a meal together. And slow cookers aren’t just for dinner.
You can cook steel cut oats overnight for a heart-healthy breakfast, or make some homemade applesauce for a delicious and nutritious snack. Whether it is a soup, a stew, a pot roast or pulled pork, nothing says fall quite like a slow cooker.
Try this delicious recipe for Pumpkin Pie Slow Cooker Oatmeal:
Whether your child is going to school in-person or learning from home, this year is nothing but unusual. Keeping your child healthy and happy can make for a successful learning experience no matter what their “classroom” may look like. Here are some health and nutrition tips to start your school year off right.
Break the Fast
Start the day with a healthy breakfast including some protein and carbohydrate such as eggs and whole wheat toast, Greek yogurt, fruit and a whole-grain waffle, just to name a few.
Keep them Hydrated
Dehydration can make your child feel sluggish and tired. Always keep a water bottle near so they can sip throughout the day.
Have a Plan
Kids flourish on routine, so keep a consistent schedule. Bedtime, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks should be close to the same times every day.
Let them Sleep
Limit screen time to at least 30 minutes each night before bedtime. Kids ages 6-12 need nine to twelve hours of sleep while teens need eight to ten hours. Sleepy kids don’t make good learners, so make sleep a priority.
Keep them Active
Due to the unusual circumstances this school year brings, kids may be missing out on recess, physical education and other activities. Make time for some outdoor activity, weather permitting.
Let them Help
Kids are more likely to eat the food they help prepare, so include them in the planning, shopping and preparation of meals. Help them choose a vegetable, starch and protein to make a complete meal.
Create a Healthy Snack Box
Instead of letting kids just grab any snack throughout the day. Stick to consistent snack time and create a box of healthier options in baggies in both the refrigerator and the pantry to choose from.
Some healthy options are cherry tomatoes, carrot and celery sticks, individual hummus packs, whole grain crackers, cheese cubes, cut-up fruit and individual natural peanut butter packs.
Try this slow cooker taco dinner for a quick weeknight dinner.
Do you get enough fruits and vegetables? Look at your plate. Is half of your plate full of fruits and vegetables at each meal? The recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables is 5-9 servings per day. If you meet the recommendation, you are one of the few.
Most Americans do not get the recommended daily dose. Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins and minerals along with fiber that make up the base of a healthy diet.
Try the tips below to start adding more fruits and vegetables to your day.
Keep visible reminders. If you don’t see it, you won’t choose to eat it. Make fruits and vegetables readily available to eat. Place a fruit basket on the counter and make sure cut-up fruits and vegetables are the first thing you see when you open the refrigerator.
Dip it. Offering a dip on the side can make fruits and vegetables much more appealing. For a quick veggie dip, mix plain yogurt with a Ranch seasoning packet. For a fruit dip, mix vanilla yogurt with a little peanut butter and cinnamon.
Blend it in. Smoothies are a perfect opportunity to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Blend plain Greek yogurt, frozen fruit of your choice and spinach together and you’ve got a tasty smoothie that is also healthy and fiber-filled!
Mix them in. Next time you make mashed potatoes, steam up some cauliflower and mash it right into the potatoes. Puree vegetables into soups or grate carrots and apples and mix into muffins. Get creative! There are many ways to sneak fruits and vegetables in your favorite dishes.
Use as snacks. When you’re on the go, keep apples and oranges in your car. Or have carrot sticks and hummus when a snack is needed before dinner. Fruits and vegetables can be just as portable as other high-sugar, convenient snacks.
Eat the ones you like. If you are convinced that you hate all fruits or vegetables, pick the ones you like and stick with them. Vegetable haters might not like peppers or tomatoes, but they may like salsa. Salsa can spice up about any meal!
Snacking. Is it good or bad? The difference between snacking as a bad habit and it satisfying hunger between meals is in the timing. Snacking emotionally and mindlessly throughout the day can add extra calories and weight gain, but a snack strategically placed between meals and planned ahead of time can aid in weight management.
Snacking not only can prevent overeating at our next meal, it can assist with blood sugar control and give us satisfaction and enjoyment.
A good snack is carb-smart and is paired with a protein. When searching for the perfect carb-smart snack, keep fiber in mind. Fiber helps fill us up, curbing our cravings.
A perfect example of this is fresh fruit vs. fruit juice. In comparison, one cup of juice and one medium piece of fruit have the same amount of carbs, about 20 grams. On the other hand, a cup of juice has no fiber and the fruit has 4 to 5 grams of fiber, making it a good source of fiber and providing you something that will really make a difference in filling you up.
What do you pair with your fruit? Ideally, a good protein source. Protein also contributes to filling up your stomach. We should be shooting for at least 5 grams of protein in a snack.
Great examples of this include a hard-boiled egg, a cheese stick or 2 tablespoons of nut butter; they all provide us with 6 to 8 grams of protein.
When looking for a good snack here are some suggestions: Snacks that are between 150 and 200 calories, low in added sugar, around 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrates, at least 3 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein.
The perfect snack would fit within these parameters. Aim for a snack that fits three of the five suggestions. If the package says 1 serving but doesn’t fit within these parameters, try splitting the package or choosing something different.
Make your snack save the day with these simple tips and tricks. A good rule of thumb is to always be prepared. Try not to leave the house without a snack. This allows you plenty of time to scout out the best options that fit within your lifestyle.
Granola bars or a trail mix are affordable and easy to throw in a purse or bag and take with you. Watch out for high-carb, high-calorie bars, and make sure you include a protein source in your trail mix such as almonds!
You’re starving and you forgot your snack - what do you do? Many convenience stores have healthy choices such as fruit and cheese cups, yogurt, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and popcorn.
Do some refrigerator and cupboard searching and prepare yourself a better-for-you snack. Try hummus and veggies, half a multi-grain English muffin and peanut butter and Greek yogurt with chopped nuts or this great recipe for Roasted Chickpeas.
Did you know that the human body is about 70% water? During hot weather, it’s more important than ever to replace this water when we sweat. The process of replacing fluid in the body is called hydration.
When we’re active, we use muscles. Muscles generate heat and the body responds with sweating to maintain a normal temperature. If we get dehydrated, we lose the ability to regulate body temperature and life-threatening heat injuries can follow.
Thirst is not a good indicator of hydration. Early symptoms of dehydration are headaches, dizziness or fainting, cold clammy skin, rapid heartbeat, nausea, drowsiness, loss of concentration, irritability, decreased performance, heavy sweating and muscle cramps.
Beyond heat cramps comes heat exhaustion and even heat stroke. All these stages of dehydration are dangerous and must be treated. If you have these symptoms, get out of the heat; drink water, juice or sports drinks (unless your doctor tells you otherwise); and get medical attention.
Water is always a good choice for fluid replacement. You should drink at least one pint every 30 minutes during activity and even more when it’s hot outside.
At a minimum, you should drink about eight glasses of water each day. Sports drinks are good, though the extra electrolytes may not be necessary for normal hydration.
Juice works but contains too much sugar to drink as your only source of hydration. Alcohol, energy drinks and coffee are not good hydrators because they work as diuretics in the body making you less hydrated.
Get a variety of liquids in your diet. Drink plenty of water and drink more when it’s hot outside. If you see any of the symptoms of heat injury, take action immediately. Don’t like plain water? Try infusing your water with fruit!
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, more families are eating at home. Eating at home not only saves you money, it saves you fat, sodium and calories too. Studies show that individuals who eat out daily are taking in about 200 extra calories a day.
Lack of time, a lack of resources or a lack of knowledge may keep some from cooking at home. Nobody wants to spend hours in the kitchen prepping, cooking, and cleaning up every night. But you don’t have to be a pro to make meals that are quick and healthy. With many wanting to avoid eating out, it’s the perfect time to get back into the habit of cooking again.
Planning is the first step to dining in. Take one morning or afternoon to plan your meals for the week. Look on your calendar and choose which nights you want to eat at home. Find some quick and easy recipes that your family all enjoys. A quick search on the internet should give you some ideas. Check your pantry and refrigerator to see what ingredients you have on hand and make a list of the remaining items you need.
Next, prep as much as you can beforehand. Cutting up vegetables and having meat cut up and cooked when you have time saves time and relieves stress when you don’t have the time. Now everything is ready to go when needed.
Here are some other tips for creating a meal in a minute:
Use your slow-cooker or instant pot. Although it takes between 6-8 hours to cook, putting the ingredients in the slow-cooker before you leave for the day only takes a minute and then a meal is ready to eat right when you get home. Simply throw in a protein source such as beef, chicken, or pork, add a little bit of liquid such as chicken broth, juice, soy sauce, or any other of your favorite flavorings. Add in a dash of seasonings and some cut vegetables to make it a complete meal. And instant pots can cook ten times faster than traditional methods saving you even more time.
Use convenience foods. Grocers offers precut fruits and vegetables to help you save time when you’re making a meal at home.
Try getting meal kits delivered to your door. Although there is prep involved, everything you need is there and ready to go.
Find recipes with five ingredients or less. The less ingredients, the less prep work. Try this quick and easy delicious fish recipe: