Monday, June 28, 2010

The secret to staying fit and trim? Regular exercise and food in balanced amounts!

Have you ever experienced a twinge of envy as you observe that some of your friends seem to never engage in the 'battle of the bulge', always looking fit and trim? True, some few individuals are genetically 'lucky', seemingly eating whatever they like and not gaining an ounce. But, really, such people are rare. Most people who don't seem to ever need to diet have a secret – a balanced exercise and food program. While this may sound over-simplistic, it's really the best way to achieve optimum health and a positive image in the mirror. Let's see how you can, by forming a few new habits, be one of those people – lucky, yes, and by design.

Our formula for a balanced exercise and food program puts equal emphasis on both factors. Many people torment themselves with a stringent diet more amenable to a bird, while totally neglecting the exercise that goes hand in hand with getting and staying healthy, trim and fit. So we'll begin with a few facts on the merits of exercise.

In the 'old days', when Grandpa walked two miles uphill, both to and from school, people really didn't need to give much thought to getting adequate exercise – it was a natural result of necessarily active living. Today, most of us live a sedentary lifestyle ... instead of getting up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows, feed the chickens and walk those two miles uphill to school, we grab a cup of Joe – and perhaps a donut – and rush off in our cars or to the metro and on to our offices. While our days may be filled with stressful situations, we let our bodies languish as we fret in the chair at the desk. This sort of routine is obviously not a balanced regimen of exercise and food choices. While there may not be a cow or chicken in sight of your home, there are nonetheless so many opportunities for exercise. When was the last time you took a walk? Rode a bike? Climbed the stairs, or roller-skated? Much more fun than milking a cow and a good workout for all of your muscles, a boon to your cardiovascular and respiratory health and great for a vibrant, glowing complexion. So many studies have demonstrated the huge benefits of just a half-hour of exercise, 4-5 times each week, that it's indisputably one of the best regimens you can easily work in to your daily life.

As said before, but worth the repetition, exercise and food go hand in hand. Healthy food choices are the other half of this equation, and it's not nearly as difficult as you might think. When you shop for food, stuff your basket first with foods that are nutritious and healthful. As for the 'goodies', such as ice cream, candy, chips, dip and the like, try to indulge in fewer of these 'empty' foods, week by week. If you've been known to down a bag of cookies in a single sitting, have a stern talk with yourself ... limit your intake to a few cookies – and that, just a couple of times a week. The gradual decline in the consumption of these foods will benefit you in the long run.

The exercise and food equation really is simple ... it's a matter of moderation and balance. Try it, you'll (eventually) like it! Especially when you get on the scale and look in that full-length mirror!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fitness and Nutrition Go Hand in Hand

We see lots of professional athletes on television eating anything they want in copious quantities and yet looking fitter than they should considering what they are putting into their bodies. But this is just the result of great genetics and you need to remember that these elite athletes are really the exceptions to the rule. Most of us need to consider fitness and nutrition as one and the same thing in order to achieve even a modicum of athletic performance.

This means that in addition to all of that gym time you are putting in you need to be careful about what you are putting into your mouth. When we are young we tend to think that we will live forever and nutrition is not of paramount importance. In this country unfortunately there is a marked increase in childhood obesity because we are not

educating our children on the benefits of fitness and nutrition. Kids grow up eating junk food and sugary soft drinks and way too much juice and not nearly enough fresh fruits and vegetables like they should. Teachers and parents need to take a much closer and careful look at this glaring deficiency in our children’s nutritional upbringing.

The bad habits our kids develop carry on into their teen years and later into their adult life. Obese children become obese teens who become obese adults. The risk for heart attacks and clogged arteries and diabetes becomes life threatening for these obese people. Studies have shown that they live shorter lives. The ones that do make it into their golden years are beset with a multitude of health problems. These problems could have been avoided with earlier training in fitness and nutrition in their social strata.

If you teach a child to eat raw broccoli and carrots at an early age, that is what they will crave for the rest of their lives. Their muscle density and bone strength becomes superior and they end up becoming the elite athletes among their peers. Not only do children whose parents focus on fitness and nutrition have superior physical strength, endurance and agility, but their mental agility is also enhanced. They are able to focus on their schoolwork better and generally get way better grades.

Fitness and nutrition should be mandatory educational courses for our kids from pre-school through high school. Unfortunately many school cafeterias around the country continue to serve lunches and snacks that are high in saturated fats and calories and low on nutrients. It is of vital importance that we as a nation respond with urgency to this serious problem that involves our most prized resource, our children and their very future.

We cannot continue to ignore the benefits of fitness and nutrition education at an early age. The very future of our nation depends on our children. It is only right that we should do everything we possibly can to make sure that they are receiving the very best fitness and nutrition courses and motivation that we can give them.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Creating sensible, easy-to-stick-with food diets – ones that work for you!

With food costs rising around the world and economies in turmoil, it still remains a fact that many Americans struggle with their weight on an ongoing basis. Losing weight has become such a commonplace goal that we now have a bevy of food diets from an array of 'experts', typically with a low-carb, low-fat or just plain starvation-style diet, promoted as the only real way to lose unwanted pounds. Well, here we've got a refreshing new approach to food diets: one you construct yourself, consisting of nutritious foods you enjoy eating which also get you where you want to go. Sound good? Let's see how you can put this no-nonsense, but tasty approach to work for you.

If you were to make a list of all your favorite foods, you'd find that, while chips and dip and chocolate may first come to mind, there are plenty of healthy foods which are worthy of inclusion in food diets designed to lose weight. For example, you may not be big on veggies, but you love avocados, carrots, lettuce and artichokes. These veggies are packed with nutritive value, while being relatively skimpy on the calories. Give these beloved veggies a starring role in your menus. You'll enjoy what you're eating, feel happy, pampered and satisfied and still achieve your goal of weight loss. Do the same with your list of meats, poultry and seafood. If you enjoy chicken, custom food diets are a snap! Chicken is on the menus of almost every cuisine in the world. Find new ways to prepare this economical and lean meat. Think about fruit-based recipes – who doesn't like a fruit smoothie of their favorite fruits? The smoothie makes an excellent breakfast, mid-afternoon snack or dessert. Make your smoothie with yogurt or low-fat milk to keep those calories in line.

Speaking of beverages, if you're a coffee-with-sugar hound, try sweetening your coffee with Splenda(R) – this product tastes just like sugar, without the calories. The same goes for sodas – there are now several major soda brands made with Splenda(R) too. You also might find it useful to insert a few new fruit juices into your beverage lineup. Chilled Chai tea, with a tad of milk is another delicious alternative. Varying the types of foods and beverages within your usual food choices goes a long way towards relieving dietary boredom.

Condiments and seasonings are just one of the secrets of successful food diets. Herbs and spices can really put some zip into an otherwise bland recipe. One tomato, cut into wedges or slices, may not seem an exciting menu choice – that is, until you make this into a small salad plate adorned with snips of fresh basil leaves and a few slices of fresh (naturally low-fat) mozzarella cheese. If carrots rank high on your list, try a dish of cooked, sliced carrots in a sauce of orange juice laced with ginger for a real taste treat. Bring the orange juice to a simmer, add a touch of cornstarch to thicken and some powdered ginger. When the sauce is thickened, return the cooked carrots to the pot, stir and serve.

Produce is fast becoming a 'luxury' food, due to cost. However, this doesn't mean that food diets should be geared to less of these nutritious foods. Choose the best and freshest produce you can find. Use your best-loved fruits and veggies list to cruise the net in search of new recipes to use these favorites. Then, don't let them go to waste! If you find you bought too much, remember that many fruits and veggies can be blanched and frozen for future use.

When you consider that we eat not only to allay our hunger, but to also please our palate, it makes sense that variety, food quality and seasonal produce are smart criteria on which to base food diets.

The last of our tips on constructing food diets concerns food portion sizes. The majority of the trendy food programs rely on small portions. When your dinner plate has too much 'white space', the psychological effect is that you ultimately feel deprived. Here's a great trick to using small food portions that are still, at the end of the meal, satisfying. Start serving each course on a separate plate. For example, you might begin with a small fruit cup with a flavored yogurt as the 'sauce'. Take the time to enjoy this course, as well as the table conversation. Don't rush through it! Your next course might be your meat and a side of veggies, seasoned in an interesting way. This technique also gives your tummy a chance to catch up with your eyes.

Now, what about that dessert? Taking the time to savor your food, with a few minutes between courses might find your tummy full and happy, not in need of the conventional sugar-laden dessert. If you do crave a finisher to your meal, try a small, fresh fruit and cheese plate. Again, quality counts, but you don't need much to refresh and satiate your palate.

In the end, custom food diets such as this tend to work for you – the unique individual. Give this method a try and see those pounds disappear!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"Organic", "All-Natural" - Do these Labels acctually mean Healthy Food to You?

All you want is simple healthy food; you don't know what goes into the stuff they serve at restaurants, and so, you feel that nothing can quite compare to the honest and simple fare you can rustle up right in your kitchen. So you head down to the portals of your trusted local supermarket, and you look for the cuts that you trust - hopefully, you'll find chicken that's free range, naturally raised beef and hygienically butchered healthy meat in general. You do see plenty of reassuring labels on all the packages all around the butcher's brightly-lit glass case, but there is a little voice at the back of your mind that wonders if these labels really do mean what they seem to mean. Well, you would do well to trust that healthy skepticism your mind is capable of; for as we are about to see, most of the time, those labels usually mean nothing wholesome at all.

Let's start with an old favorite - free range chicken. What exactly is it that you believe free range chicken is when you see those neat packages at the supermarket? Plump healthy birds roaming the plains, pecking at a delicious worm here and a little grain there? Well, yes and no. The Department of Agriculture is the authority that looks at each manufacturer's practices, and decides on whether or not to award a free range cerificate. According to their standards, a free range chicken has to be allowed to be outdoors more than 50% of their lives. But the department is quite flexible on what "the outdoors" can actually end up meaning. It could mean the wonderful open bucolic setting you imagine, or it could mean a cage that's 3 feet wide as opposed to the normal 15 inches of the battery farm. Just going down and getting a few ingredients for a home-cooked healthy food can turn out to be quite a study in hairsplitting.

Now the term free range is important not just for the amount of personal space you imagine each chicken gets; free range in your mind, is important also for the way it seems to suggest a certain dignity that goes into the process of bringing food to the table. You imagine that the bird is brought up "organically", that it is brought up in the country in a way that is not "artificial". These are some of the most misused terms in the food industry though, and so much could go wrong in any attempt you make to interpret what they might mean just by the sound of them. People are typically so concerned about bringing home healthy food that they will gladly pay twice for "organic" chicken. And the poultry industry sees no problem with exploiting this market with trickily-labeled meat. The first step there would be to get the USDA's approval for the use of the term organic on their packaging. If your chicken package doesn't bear the certification stamps - the USDAs Organic seal, and the seal of the Secretary of Agriculture, you can be pretty sure that your chicken never saw any greenery, any open sky or any organic feed.

Okay, how about the other certifications we tend to look for and make our purchase decisions by - "No growth stimulants or added hormones", and "All natural- minimally processed/no artificial ingredients"? Surely there is no way that any farmer could find a way around these declarations is there? Now two out of three beef cattle in the US are pumped full of growth hormones to make them grow bigger, faster. The USDA does approve of the hormones used; it says that when you eat beef raised on hormones, those hormones are not passed on to you. If that is so, how come the European Union has banned it? Europe believes that the hormones used in meat farming gets into our food, and harms our reproductive systems - people who are affected by these hormones typically have lower sperm counts and really early menarche. If you don't see the specific declaration that no growth hormones were used, you are in trouble. The "All-natural" claim for instance doesn't include a no-hormone assurance. The problem is, the USDA has no real rules for any of this; so the manufacturer can use this to mean whatever he wants it to mean. When it comes right down to it, there really are no guarantees for how healthy you food source is when everything comes from a massive industrial effort. Profits almost always trump any interest the manufacturer might have in really doing a meaningful job.