Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year, New You: Tips to keep on track with your new year's resolution

Have you made the bold resolution to "eat right" and get back in shape this year? Each New Year's Eve, as they raise and clink their glasses, millions of people around the world vow to finally get in shape, lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle in the coming year. To their dismay, many of those resolutions have gone out the window by February and there are plenty of reasons why. Since we don't want to see that happen to you, we've got some tips to help you maintain your resolutions and get in the best shape of your life this year.

1. Strike while the iron is hot. There's no better time to start than the present. Your intentions are good and your will is strong, so turn your intentions into actions and get your healthy habits going as soon as you can so that they can get established more firmly for the new year.

2. Slow down, speedy! Yes, we know we suggested you start ASAP, but we aren't suggesting anything drastic. It's great to be eager to lose weight, but the name of the game is sustainability. The trouble with most new year's resolutions to lose weight is that they are far too drastic. You tell yourself "The party's over" and dive straight in to an extreme diet which is far from healthy and not something you can maintain for the long haul. The real secret is to simply choose healthy, lower calorie options more often rather than doing what everyone else plans to do - go on a crash diet. Drastically cutting calories might help you shed a few stubborn pounds, but that won't last for very long and you'll just bounce right back to what you were eating before, if not worse.

3. Keep your eyes on the prize. Setting goals is crucial if you want to see results. You set goals and deadlines at work, and you know where you're going when you get in the car, so why would you ever change the way you're eating without knowing where you're planning to go with it? Visualize yourself at your ideal weight and set smaller goals along the way. Make a 3 month goal, a 6 month goal and a 1 year goal. A healthy pace is to aim to lose 10% of your body weight over 6 months, or about a pound each week.

4. Track your progress. Just like a GPS, you need to see where you've been to know where you're going and figure out how long it will take. Keeping track of your diet and exercise habits will help you identify what works and what doesn't, and will take the guesswork out of any problems you might be having. Not losing weight? See what you've been eating and perhaps eat less or exercise more the next week to see better results.

5. Don't get discouraged. Change is hard, there's no question about that. We all stumble and hit roadblocks here and there but the key is to brush yourself off and get back on track. You're human, and you have cravings just like anyone else - you can't beat yourself up if you eat a cookie or go out for dinner with friends, just start fresh the next day! One pound gained or lost is worth 3,500 calories, and chances are, even if you have that cookie or cake, you aren't going to drastically sabotage your entire game plan in one fleeting swoop.

So start now and before you know it you'll be saying that 2011 was the year you became healthier and in better shape than ever!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Oscar-Winning Actress Carey Mulligan Quits Dieting

Best known for her Oscar winning role in the film "An Education", Carey Mulligan has always been a slender, petite girl. Despite having a body that many women would envy, Mulligan's strategy was neither healthy nor enjoyable and she's finally put that method to rest.

Depriving herself of the joys of good food and a healthy diet, Mulligan used to be on a strict diet and once weighed a mere 112 pounds. According to Mulligan, she used to eat only "Weetabix for breakfast, soup for lunch and salad for dinner", and she used to say "'No, I will not have that glass of wine! Put that pizza away!' It was not fun." We bet.

Mulligan says that her weight has since fluctuated, with no negative impact on obtaining film roles or from anyone else for that matter, so she's come to the conclusion that, for her, being thin is not the key to success or happiness.

Now comfortable with her appearance, Mulligan added "I'm not going to restrict myself or make myself miserable...I finally came to the realization that [weight] doesn't matter...I think I went through a phase of not being comfortable with myself and now I am." Hopefully, other girls and women will be able to learn from her example and free themselves from the clutches of deprivation and misery. It's so unnecessary!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Craziest Celebrity Health Theories of 2010

Throughout this year, like every year, we've highlighted and debunked some of the craziest celebrity diet trends out there. It's basically part of a celebrity's job description to look incredible at all times and, unfortunately, at all costs, so some of the stuff they do is pretty outrageous and oftentimes just plain dangerous. Thankfully, a UK-based group called Sense About Science (SAS), which is dedicated towards promoting sound science and debunking myths and inaccuracies, have rounded up a list of the top celebrity health theories to shed light on just how nonsensical and blatantly non-science based they are. So just in case we think about making the same mistakes as they have, let's take a look at some of the crazy diet trends out of Hollywood and resolve to avoid these 'diets' at all costs in 2011.

According to the group's website, this year, we saw "the biggest rise in dubious theories about how the body works". For example, singer and actress Olivia Newton-John admitted to taking digestive enzymes and plant tonics to "boost her immune system….". In addition, singer Sarah Harding from Girls Aloud confessed that she "sprinkles charcoal over her meals believing that it absorbs harmful substances in the body". Another unhealthy diet trend made popular by Naomi Campbell and actors Aston Kutcher and Demi Moore is to consume nothing but maple syrup, lemon, and pepper for up to 14 days - more commonly known as the master cleanse. And perhaps you recall singer Cheryl Cole dropping more than a few pounds on a diet claimed to be tailored to her blood type.

Some other wacky celebrity theories included those in the fitness realm, with soccer star and wife of Posh Spice David Beckham and the future wife of Prince William Kate Middleton have been spotted wearing a "hologram-embedded silicone bracelet which claims to improve energy and fitness".

According to SAS Assistant Director Lindsay Hogg, "When people in the public eye give opinions about causes of disease, cures, diets, or products we should buy or avoid, that's it. Their opinion goes worldwide in seconds...It gets public attention and appears in every related Google search for months. So if it's scientifically wrong, we’re stuck with the fall-out from that. We have thousands of scientists who are willing to look at claims about medicine and science. We’d like to see more celebrities checking out the science before they open their mouths and send the wrong thing viral." We couldn't agree more...except for the fact that it gives us something to laugh about!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Got the Winter Blues? Diet and Exercise Can Help

This time of year, as the days are shorter and we spend less time outdoors, many people find themselves in the thick of the winter blues. The holidays are just about over and you may have gained a few pounds with all the celebrations, but eating right and keeping active can help banish those blues and get you back in shape for the new year.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common affliction in times and places where sunlight is scarce. Many people can relate to the symptoms, including a lack of energy, an increased need for sleep, and a craving for foods that help pack on the pounds -- especially this time of year. The end result of extra calories in and less activity is that dreaded weight gain. Not to worry, a healthy dose of your favourite sunlight vitamin, a boost in fruit and vegetable consumption and moving about a little more can get you over the hump until spring arrives, and is a good practice to maintain year round.

Vitamin D is normally produced when our skin is exposed to sunlight for about 15 minutes a day, but there is not enough sunlight for 6 months of the year for us to do that up here in Canada. Taking at least 1000 IU per day of vitamin D is recommended for all adults, but those who are feeling the effects of SAD may actually need more - just not more than 4000 IU per day. In addition, eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies will help ensure that you're meeting your daily recommendation of vitamins and minerals that can help raise your spirits until the sun sticks around for a little bit longer. Omega-3 fatty acids are also implicated in depression, and can help boost your mood, so be sure to take at least 1000mg per day. In addition to a healthy diet, physical activity releases "feel good" hormones called endorphins which can reduce the effects of SAD.

Feeling down this time of year is pretty much to be expected, but you don't have to suffer! Get back on track with healthy eating, move around a little more and you'll be feeling like yourself again in no time.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Rachel McAdams Ditches Diet During Holiday Season

Rachel McAdams has famously gotten into incredible shape for her last few movie roles. Most notably for her role in Sherlock Holmes, McAdams had to dress in itty-bitty corsets which were a struggle to squeeze in to. Thanks to a healthy diet and loads of exercise, McAdams has been able to maintain her svelte physique -- but as soon as the holidays hit, she just couldn't say no to Mom's home cooking.

Like most healthy women, McAdams can't resist a good family meal. To cap things, she works so hard all year round - not only on her films but also on her figure - that the holidays are truly a time to let go and enjoy all the indulgences that she normally sets off limits; all the rules go out the window and relaxation is key.

McAdams isn't going to feel sorry for herself for indulging this time of year because she's got a strong head on her shoulders and all the tools at her disposal to get right back in shape in the new year. She's not alone, either -- have you heard all the commercials for gym memberships on the radio lately? January is the busiest month for gym-goers and it's also when everyone jumps on to their post-holiday diets.

As long as we know what to do to undo the holiday "damage", we can rest worry free and get back on track once this is all over. According to McAdams, “I love to eat... Not every day is a holiday, you know?” And in my opinion, she is completely right!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays from NIM!

Wishing you and your family all the very best this season!

Holiday Travel Plans? Give Jet Lag the Boot

At this time of year, not everyone appreciates the frigid cold, ice and snow. It's rare to find someone who enjoys being frozen out of their car when they are late for the train at 7am, and 'dodge the falling icicle' is neither safe nor entirely entertaining. So, not surprisingly, December through February is a popular time to take off for sunnier and much warmer destinations in addition to those a little further away to visit friends and family. But before you go, be sure to arm yourself with a few handy travel tips that will keep you feeling your best all the way through your holiday.

Jet lag can strike when you least expect it especially after travelling for a long time or crossing multiple time zones. Your internal clock and normal body rhythms get confused which makes you feel tired, sluggish and even dizzy. Not exactly what you had in mind when you took a holiday! You're not helpless, though -- eating right, drinking plenty of water and getting as much shut-eye as possible can straighten you out and get you right back on track or even prevent the jet lack from kicking in to begin with.

During your flight, drink as much water as possible. Keep it coming - pick up a large bottle at the airport after clearing security and ask the flight attendant for a cup every time she walks by. On that same note, avoid alcohol and caffeine unless you really need a cup of tea or coffee to keep you up. Flying makes you dehydrated to begin with, and substances that add to that effect will just make you feel so much worse!

Next, avoid heavy meals and foods in flight. The altitude and changing eating schedule can upset your entire digestive system, so stick to lighter fare. Avoid salt and fatty foods as much as possible, as salt will cause you to retain water and bloat, while fat will sit in your stomach longer and take longer to digest which can enhance the effects of an already shifty digestive system. This follows even when you arrive at your destination. It may take you a few days to get used to different foods and schedules of eating if your internal clock is set to a different time, so keep it light and fresh and graze throughout the day if you can.

Lastly, try to get as much shut-eye as possible on your flight, and expose yourself to as much light as you can when you leave the plane -- sunlight can help you reset your internal clock. If you still can't get adjusted to the new time where you land, try taking natural sleep remedies like valerian or melatonin to help you doze off at the right time.

Travelling can be so much fun, but only if you're feeling good - it's exhausting too! Give your body all the help you can so you're ready to hit the ground running and enjoy your time away to its fullest.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's List Time: Top Ten Food Trends of 2010

As we come to the end of another year (where did it go?), it's everyone's favourite time to start reflecting upon the year that has passed. What does that lead to? Lists, of course! Television stations, news programs, magazines and online outlets are listing the top 10, 50 or 100 trends of 2010. TIME magazine is just one of the culprits, but lucky for us, they've also included a list of something near and dear to our hearts -- Food!

Some of the items on this list are plain and obvious to just about anyone, but there are some that are more industry-specific that I'm hearing about now for the first time. Some trends that I noticed for sure were the resurgence of naturalism (back to nature!), locavorism (everything local down to the smallest details) and grotesque Fast-food Frankenmeals (making "meals" out of heart-stopping ingredients that should never be eaten in such massive quantities e.g. the double down "sandwich" from KFC or a burger in between two grilled cheese sandwiches). Food or restaurant blogging, tweeting and reviewing have also blown up this year, with patrons using websites like Yelp and services like twitter to warn or entice their fellow restaurant-goers about their own foodie experiences.

Lardcore (using lots of lard and fatty pork products), on the otherhand, is not something I specifically noticed as a trend, but I certainly heard a lot about chocolate-covered bacon and "deep-fried everything" this year, particularly at the CNE. And how about the supposed Sous vide explosion? Little did I know that counter top machines that cook your food by simmering it in a vacuum sealed bag might become the "next ovens".

While I'm not so sure about some of these 'trends', maybe you will agree with the list a little more. Check out the list from TIME magazine here and recount the mistakes or advancements we've made in the food industry this year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cut Fat, Eat Well and Live Longer

They say that good things never get old, and true to form, eating well is one of those things. Another truth? Just as you are what you eat, a healthy diet can help you to live healthier for longer.

It has long been known that healthy eating can lower your risk of developing chronic diseases and ultimately helps you live healthier for longer. It makes sense: if you can avoid getting sick, you can live a fuller, more active and fulfilling life for longer. But new research specifically points to the fact that in older age, following a lower-fat diet loaded with fruits and veggies helps lower the risk of dying.

The study looked at individuals aged 70-79 and found that those who ate less fruits and veggies with more fatty foods, especially those with saturated fats like cheese, fried foods and ice cream had an increased risk of dying over a ten year period. Participants in the "healthy foods" group ate more low-fat dairy products, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish, and vegetables, which is the basis of any healthy eating regimen. The risk of dying in this group was lower than any other group in the study.

Healthy eating can often seem like a daunting task, but there are a few basic points to follow that are really quite simple. Healthy eating isn't rocket science - all the healthiest "diets" and ways of eating have all the major points in common. Eat more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, nuts and seeds, small amounts of low-fat dairy products, less meat over all but choose lean meats (like pork or poultry) when you do, and eat more fish. It is also best to avoid saturated and trans fats, added sugars and too much alcohol. I guess that is why they also say "don't mess with a good thing" - certain points about healthy eating are universal.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blame the "What the Hell" Effect for Holiday Weight Gain

What is it with the holidays that makes us so indulgent and frivolous when it comes to healthy eating? Think about it, restaurants are packed to the brim, cupboards are stashed with cookies, donuts and fruit cake, the LCBO is sold out of all kinds of booze and eggnog is flowing like the rapids. In fact, at this time of year, Canadians splurge and spend an average of nearly $400 million on candy, sweets and treats, another $1.9 billion on booze, and guzzle eight million litres of eggnog. Another fun fact is that just one average holiday meal clocks in at around 3,000 calories but one pound of fat gained is worth 3,500 calories. Try burning that off at the gym (it'll take you a week). This holiday fact-sharing is just so heart warming!

Right, so why do we allow ourselves to behave this way? Scientists call it the "What the Hell" effect, and it goes just how it sounds. "We have a tendency to say: 'Oh what the hell, my diet is broken already and there's nothing I can do about it now. I'll just go ahead and eat everything in sight and go on a new diet tomorrow. Or next week. Or maybe next month,' " says Janet Polivy, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto at Mississauga.

It's human nature to want to eat what is tasty and available; we love sugar, fat and salt, and if there's a plate of cookies or truffles in our faces, and all our friends are savouring the goodness, we can't help but want to partake. This is why attempting to lose weight over the holidays is not only inadvisable, but often futile - who wants to be depressed and feel as though they're missing out this time of year or feel guilty for giving in? There are ways you can avoid feeling that way.

Shift your focus to avoiding weight gain rather than losing weight, enjoy a few treats as you wish but be sure to balance your days out. Don't eat everything in sight, but do eat what you really love -- and make sure to exercise. If you could ever get away with skipping the gym, now is not the time! We all need all the help we can get if we still want to avoid feelings of guilt at holiday parties and still be able to wear our pants and dresses by the end of this month. Now go forth and be brave, but be sure to enjoy!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Drinking Tea Can Help Curb Weight Gain

Drinking tea is a practice that has been around for centuries and still remains strong today. So many cultures place a high value on relaxing and enjoying tea; just think of how many gatherings and get-togethers, but also independent reflective practices are centered around the soothing and invigorating beverage. You're given relaxing tea at the spa or the yoga studio, offered a fresh cup of tea when visiting friends or family, and there's even tea at the office to perk you up and keep you focused on the task at hand. These are all great reasons to sip on a cuppa, but even more so if you consider the fact that drinking tea may actually help you whittle your waistline!

It's common knowledge that caffeine (and theophylline found in tea) gives us energy and wakes us up (it does this by stimulating the central nervous system), but it gives our metabolisms a bit of a boost. This is one reason why it's recommended that we drink at least one cup of green or white tea each day. In combination with caffeine, both green and white tea have plenty of health-boosting antioxidants and other fat-burning compounds. But if you love black tea, don't worry -- it's good for you, too.

According to a new study, both green and black tea may be able fight the nasty effects of a high-fat diet, including weight gain and rises in both cholesterol and blood glucose, as well as insulin resistance – a precursor to type 2 diabetes where the body does not efficiently use the insulin it produces.

The particular study, which was done at Kobe University, Japan and was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry gives us all the more reason to ensure we get in our daily dose of tea, except for the fact that the study was done on mice. We do know that the mechanism works, but future work needs to be done with human participants so that we know exactly how effective tea drinking is on the prevention of weight gain in humans. For now, we can stick with what we know and just aim for 1-2 cups of green or black tea (with no milk or sugar!) to benefit from all of the other wonderful properties of tea. Bottoms up!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Almonds Might Help With Diabetes Management

Who doesn't love almonds (especially the chocolate-covered kind)? OK, I'm sure there are lots of people out there but I have to say that those who avoid almonds for non-allergy-related reasons are missing out! Not only are almonds loaded with omega-3 essential fatty acids that help keep your heart healthy and other healthy fats that keep your nails and hair strong and shiny - there's also promise that almonds can help in the battle of preventing and managing type 2 diabetes.

According to a new study, eating almonds can help with increasing insulin sensitivity and achieving healthy blood cholesterol levels by lowering LDL-C levels, both of which are important factors in managing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Two groups were assigned to follow a healthy diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association, but one group consume 20% of their calories from almonds. The average age of the study participants was mid-50s. Overall, the 'almond' group had higher insulin sensitivity (meaning their cells responded better to insulin, lowering their blood glucose levels more effectively) and lower LDL-cholesterol levels (the 'bad' kind that ups the risk of CVD and type 2 diabetes).

Mind you that all you need is about an ounce a day within the context of a healthy diet to reap the health benefits that almonds offer, so if you're already there - no need to up the stakes. While it's true that almonds are loaded with healthy fats, they're still loaded with fats and you don't want to go overboard. You should not be increasing the amount of calories you're eating each day, just replacing some fats with almonds -- remember that weight is actually a better predictor of diabetes risk rather than just dietary factors alone. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is the first priority, then you can start worrying about micromanaging your diet!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Prevent Age-Related Weight Gain

A lot of women complain of weight gain after menopause. This tends to happen even if they did not increase the amount of food or calories that they ate prior to menopause, and even if they don't feel that they eat a lot to begin with. One explanation for this phenomenon is that decreasing estrogen levels impact the distribution of fat storage on the body, however, it is also true that everyone's metabolism slows down just a little with each passing year. So, if nothing else changes, you require less and less calories to sustain your activity levels with every year that goes by. This means that even if you eat the same amount of food consistently, your body's declining energy requirements result in the storage of all of those 'excess' calories you're taking in - calories that weren't excess the year before! The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to help with this problem, and exercise is an excellent place to start.

It is common knowledge that exercise helps boost your metabolism at any age, especially muscle-building and strengthening resistance training like yoga, pilates, or using weights. In addition, numerous studies have also shown that keeping physically active through the years can help reduce the effects of age-related weight gain. For example, one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who were physically active in their younger years, and continued to stay active, put on less weight overall compared to their less active counterparts. Yes, exercise obviously burns calories, but it also helps keep your metabolism running smoothly and helps prevent it from slowing down, which is a big deal if you like the amount of food you're currently eating and you're able to maintain a healthy weight.

Another thing you can do is to be sure to eat regular meals and snacks, 5-6 times a day. Using money as an analogy, it's better to 'spend' your calorie budget in smaller amounts, spread evenly throughout the day rather than 'splurging' only 2-3 times a day. Small, frequent meals keep your metabolism actively working throughout the day and also help ensure you don't get too hungry and over-eat.

So that's it folks, you've heard it before, but I'll say it again - if you don't use it, you lose it, and this certainly applies to your metabolism.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kit Kat Makers Nestle Swallow Down Diet Brand Jenny Craig

In a strategic yet somewhat paradoxical move, Nestle, the maker of sweets and desserts like Kit Kat chocolate bars and sugary Nesquik cereal, has just acquired the weight loss brand Jenny Craig for Australia and New Zealand. A few years back, Nestle bought most shares of the brand for a whopping $600 million US.

Great, so first Nestle can make money off of the sales of their fattening candy bars, then they can make even more money helping people lose all that weight, right? Perhaps, but upon further examination, this acquisition is not actually as strange as it seems if you consider that Nestle is continually making headway in becoming a more responsible and healthy conscious company. For years, they have had a dedicated nutrition branch specializing in baby formulas and hospital nutrition and they also own the sports nutrition brand PowerBar as well as the Lean Cuisine brand.

According to Nestle Chairman and Chief Executive Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, “The rise of obesity and the resulting metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, is a major public health concern, not only in the USA but also the world over,” which is prompting the company to make a greater investment in the nutrition and weight loss industry, as opposed to focusing all their energy on chocolate bars and sweets. The Jenny Craig franchise is just another notch on their nutrition and 'weight management' belt that will help Nestle take "another important step in its transformation process into a nutrition, health and wellness company,” said Brabeck-Letmathe.

Nestle isn't the first company to harmonize their guilty pleasure brands with healthy conscious ones. Back in 2000, Unilever bought both Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Slim Fast, perhaps recognizing that all that indulgence may eventually prompt consumers to seek assistance in losing weight.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Contrary to Popular Belief, Kids Like Low-Sugar Cereal

I am personally of the opinion that you learn to accept and like the foods that you're exposed to. Give kids healthy food, and they'll grow up eating healthy food. Certainly, palates change and adapt as we grow up, but in childhood, it's a simple formula; at least it was in my home growing up. It went like this: Mom provides food, kids eat the food. Hungry kids can't refuse food, so they'll eat it eventually. It's not easy, and it takes perseverance on behalf of both parties, but trust me, I'm nothing but grateful, because that's the right way to do things, if you ask a Dietitian. So it comes as no surprise to me when researchers at Yale just 'discovered' that kids will eat cereals, even if - gasp - there's no sugar all over them! How can this be?

In the study, half of the children were given sugary cereals like Froot Loops, Cocoa Pebbles and Frosted Flakes, while the other half were given low-sugar options like Cheerios, Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes. What happened was not totally surprising: the kids in the 'high-sugar' group ate almost two bowls, while the low-sugar group downed about half a bowl less. In both groups, the kids rated the cereals highly and said they tasted good. The main difference was that the low-sugar group at the 'right' amount of cereal, while the high-sugar group not only ate more, but also consumed way more sugar, both of which bump up the total calories consumed by the kids.

In addition, the kids in the low sugar group ended up consuming more fresh fruit and orange juice after they were done with their cereal, bumping up the nutrient value of the whole meal. This makes sense, as they not only had more room left from eating less cereal, but the fruit and juice tasted better than if they had just eaten spoonfuls of sugar - obviously the fruit and juice would taste less sweet and less desirable in that case.

We know what dumping refined sugar does to our bodies; the physiological response is a spike in blood sugar, followed by a bigger spike in insulin to help bring all that sugar into our cells. The problem with these big insulin spikes is that they overshoot the amount that is needed, causing our sugar levels to dip afterwards. The result? A sugar-high and insatiable appetite followed by lethargy, confusion and the need for a nap. Over the long-term, these highs and lows, in addition to consuming too many calories, can raise one's risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Who wants their kids to go through that?

Realistically, this message applies to all age groups - eat healthy more often and that will become your new norm. It's amazing how the more sugar we eat, the less we notice it. Try cutting it out or reducing the amount you consume for a few days and you'll be shocked at how sweet some things taste once you get the sugar addiction out of your system!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Are Granola Bars Healthy Snacks or Junk Food?

For people on the go, granola bars are arguably the best snacks in a hurry. It's difficult to throw much else in your bag or car without fear of spoilage or damage. Sure, you an take an apple, banana or pear, but you risk bruising and squishing that fruit in a rush or after a long day, and need to make sure you wrap it properly to avoid making a mess. Sandwiches are great too, but their preparation and proper storage requires time and thinking ahead. There are many good options for healthy snacks, but most often, granola bars are the easiest. But are they really healthy or just dressed up candy bars?

The answer can be both, and like any starch or grain product ( like breads or cereals), you have to know what you're looking for in order to get the biggest health benefit. A good rule of thumb is to look for products in the range of 100-200 calories (remember- this is just a snack!) with at least 4 grams of fibre and a similar amount of protein (if possible), with 10g or less of sugar for every 30 grams of carbohydrates. The more fibre the better, as it keeps you fuller for longer! Protein will help keep you satisfied, but you don't need to seek out 'high protein' products, as there will be a lot of other ingredients added and likely more calories packed in.

Read the nutrition label - you want to choose a product that is low in sodium (150mg or less), contains little or no saturated or trans fats and less than 10g of sugar. Healthy snacks are meant to help balance your blood sugar and insulin levels from one meal to the next so you stay full and satisfied, so there's no need to dump large amounts of sugar into your body in between meals!

Granola bars are not meant to be meal replacements, they're snacks to get you from one meal to the next and help you stay on track with your healthy eating regimen when you're on the go. If you're not in a total rush, use granola bars sparingly and choose fewer packaged products whenever possible. Fresh fruit, low fat dairy products, whole grains, nuts and seeds all make great snacks, especially when eaten together. A small apple and sugar-free yogurt or 5 almonds provide fibre, hydration, calcium and protein and a slew of vitamins and minerals all for around 100 calories! Try beating that with a granola bar!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Extreme Diet Makes Christian Bale Look Skeletal

Christian Bale is known for taking it to extremes for the sake of his movies. He has played a psychopath murderer, a ninja crime-fighting superhero and a futuristic robot killer just to name a few of his roles. But for a recent role as a drug addict, the normally buff and muscular Bale reduced his figure to that of a skeleton, an experience which he vows never to repeat again.

Surviving off of just one can of tuna and one apple a day (around 200 calories total), Bale put his body into a catabolic state, breaking down not only fat stores but nearly all of his muscle stores as well, which could put his life in serious danger. In total, he lost a whopping 60 pounds, which is extreme for someone who was a very healthy weight beforehand.

Regarding his experience, Bale said he had never felt more mentally calm, which is great, but this was only because he had no energy to do anything, which forced him to do a lot of meditation and reflection! He said "You just go beyond any bodily needs. Your energy gets to such a low point that it all just becomes mental. You felt like some sort of guru that could go sit on top of a mountain.". Despite this time of mental clarity and peace, he went on to say "Mentally, it does wonders, but I would never sacrifice the joys, the ups and the downs, the rollercoaster of life for that calmness. I'd rather be getting in there, getting involved and having it a bit more raw than that.". Not only that - his body and health will be in a far better state with actually eating normal amounts of food than it ever could be with surviving on just 200 calories a day!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Special K Brand Launches Mobile App in U.S.

Kellogg's has done remarkably well at marketing their Special K challenge throughout North America, and now they've made it even easier to follow. With the launch of their new myPlan application for both android and iPhone platforms, perhaps more people will start whittling their waistlines while consuming Kellogg's products.

Just in time for the holidays and to help with New Year's resolutions, the myPlan application allows its users to follow the Special K diet wherever they are. The Special K diet in and of itself is nothing more than a system to help with calorie counting and portion control. The app, as well as the website, allows users to determine how many calories they need each day in order to achieve their desired weight goals, and then creates customized menus with recipes that they can whip up, all the while controlling their calories. Special K products, of course, are on the menu, accounting for breakfast (no surprise here as Special K is a cereal), snacks and potentially one other meal in the day, depending on the user's weight loss goals.

Special K products are low-fat or fat-free - but, at least in Canada -they are also low in key nutrients that are important for not only weight loss but also the prevention of chronic illness and immune support. Many Special K products, such as the classic rice cereal, are also higher on the Glycemic index, as they are made from refined grains and are metabolized very quickly by the body. With little protein or fibre and no fat to modulate the rate of metabolism in the digestive system, those carbs hit the bloodstream rapidly, followed by a marked insulin response. Not to mention the fact that many of the other cereal products and bars are quite high in sugar.

Despite the potential flaws that this 'diet' contains, I admit it is a useful starting point for many people who need to learn the basics of calorie counting and portion control. The primary goal for disease prevention is weight loss, so any way one can go about that is beneficial. Beyond that goal, the next step is to start increasing fibre intake to 25-30g per day, incorporating healthy fats (especially omega-3s), choosing lower-GI foods, consuming adequate amounts of protein (0.8g/kg body weight) and of course, exercising! But for now, let's just start at step one.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Eat Less By Thinking About Eating More

They call it the 'imagination diet', and on first pass, it seems like a total joke. But what's funny is that it's actually based on tried and true principles of psychology. There might actually be something to this! Scientists believe that people who think about eating specific foods more often are actually able to curb cravings and end up eating less of them, as if they were actually eating the food in their minds, not just imagining it.

The concept is called 'habituation' and its the same thing that happens after you move into a new house, and eventually stop noticing the sound of cars driving by that initially bothered you, and how we get used to bright lights in a room, the smell of food while it's cooking or how that slice of pie or it stops tasting as good after the tenth bite. Humans simply get used to repeated stimuli and stop noticing or caring about things that happen over and over - physiologically, it's a way to save energy. This is true even if it's only in our minds.

So, basically, scientists believe that the more we think about eating specific snacks and treats, the less we actually care about them and the less we will actually eat in the long haul. The reverse is true in people who don't think about these foods as often, meaning that when they are in fact exposed to those stimuli, they will want them more. And sorry, actually eating those foods over and over won't help you lose weight!

So, come on - get started on thinking about all of those holiday sweets and treats and eventually they might just be as boring as those Christmas carols playing on repeat all season!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

'Naturally Thin' Author Bethenny Frankel Wasn't Always so Healthy

You may remember her as one of the stars of Bravo's hit series Real Housewives of New York City, but business- and health-savvy Bethenny Frankel has worked hard to separate herself from that image. She's now a best-selling author of cook books focused on healthy eating and weight loss, has her own series of fitness DVDs and is starting up a new TV series much different from her last. The thing is, Bethenny wasn't always such a health guru. Lucky for her, she's since learned a lot, and her past mistakes have led her on her current path to good health and success.

Just like the rest of us, it took time, trial and error for this healthy lifestyle powerhouse to find balance and make healthy living easy. Like many people, when it came to healthy eating, weight loss and physical fitness, Frankel used to get too caught up in the end result and make the mistake of setting goals that were too large, expecting results far too quickly. This led to cycles of starvation and deprivation, followed by binge eating, which is all so far from the philosophy of being healthy, and is the last thing that is going to make a person lose weight and keep it off! Frankel admits she used to "get drunk and binge on everything in the deli, and then do a juice fast or starve, then do it all over again,". Now, at 40, as a mother and wife, she knows better...presumably.

After gaining only 35 pounds in her pregnancy, and losing all but 5 in only 3 weeks, Frankel jokes about rumors of her "snorting diet pills" and says that everyone got so worked up for no reason, since she was healthy during, before and after her pregnancy. She credits her strong will and discipline for avoiding pregnancy binges, as well as her own Yoga DVDs for getting her body back in shape post-baby.

Being the author of diet books called Naturally Thin, and with a yoga DVD called Body by Bethenny, it shouldn't surprise anyone if simply taking her own advice is the reason why she looks so great! Frankel says she doesn't believe in diets, opting for healthy balance instead. She stays active by going for long walks, doing yoga 3 times a week and enjoying low-fat vegetarian dishes, which help keep her lean and trim. Now there's some sound advice we can follow.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Eating More Seafood Helps You See

Eating seafood more often can help protect your eyes and keep your vision sharp for longer. While we're often advised to eat more fish, especially salmon, for heart health, it turns out that our eyes can benefit from the fruits of the sea as well! These benefits are thanks to the inflammation reducing and blood-vessel protective effects of the omega-3 fatty acids contained in seafood.

Researchers have now found that eating a variety of seafood including shellfish more often results in lower levels advanced macular degeneration, especially in older adults. Choosing foods like oysters, crabs and tuna, among others, can help prevent this common cause of age-related blindness.

It was found in the study that most people who showed lower levels of vision problems only ate fish once a week on average, but those people who ended up with impaired vision were far less likely to consume seafood. This suggests that even a weekly dose of seafood can help protect your vision, as opposed to avoiding it all together or eating it far less frequently. So dive in, it's not that scary.

It just goes to show once again that it's hard to go wrong with healthy eating - once you've got that down, there are so many other benefits that come part in parcel - some of which we know about and other we have yet to discover! So even if fish won't make you see like Superman, at least you're doing your whole body and overall health a big favour. Plus, in case you forgot - it's delicious!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fit Fergie Shares Diet and Exercise Secrets

The Black Eyed Peas have enjoyed some major success over the past few years. It seems as if everything they touch turns to gold, and much of this success undoubtedly has to do with front woman Fergie. Say what you want about the woman, but at 35, she's got a figure that would make most women jealous (and maybe afraid!). Despite the not-so-subtle 'help' she's had in some departments, her toned abs, arms and legs are undeniably the result of hard work and healthy eating. But as we've seen with other examples of Hollywood stars, looking as great as Fergie definitely has it's drawbacks.

For us regular folks, looking good is only one part of the diet and exercise picture; most of us want (and need) to eat well and be active in order to maintain good health and prevent chronic illness at the same time. In Hollywood, health seems to be of little importance - you've got to make your mark while you can, enjoy your 15 minutes of fame and be on your merry way. If you have to be a little 'crazy' or unhealthy in order to look amazing, it's a small sacrifice. Fergie is no exception to this rule.

This self-professed workout 'Madwoman' devotes countless hours to the gym, sculpting her physique, while at the same time tricking her mind to avoid foods that will derail her goals. For example, Fergie has confessed to making herself believe that French Fries are poison - totally off limits, and she only allows herself one bite - if any - of dessert. She savours every crumb of that bite and admits to looking 'like a freak' while doing it. What happened to moderation?

At least she's got the major points right - Fergie includes lean protein like egg whites or chicken breast, whole grains in toast or couscous, and healthy fats like flax seeds and avocadoes in addition to tons of fruits and veggies in all of her meals and snacks. With well-balanced meals and snacks packed with proper nutrition, it's no wonder she's able to resist unhealthy food, even if her restrictions are a little bit excessive! So there you have it - despite being a little bit of a 'freak' with her food, at least Fergie's got the basics down and so can you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Healthy Eating is Important in All Life Stages

It is fascinating and frightening to realize that a lot of our health predispositions are set before we are even born. Once we can make informed decisions about what to eat and go forth to access those foods (probably around adolescence), it might be too late for some people. Now, new research has added to the fact that what moms eat during their pregnancies has a major impact not only their babies' future health (we know this all too well), but also on the choices and preferences that those babies will make and have as they grow up and enter into adulthood! Talk about planning ahead!

Researchers have come out with the finding that junk food actually smells better and is more attractive to babies born to moms who made unhealthy choices in their pregnancy. But this finding doesn't just apply to junk food, it works with alcohol and other substances as well. This is because, according to the researchers, the pregnant mother's diet sensitises her growing fetus to those particular smells and flavours, which ultimately shapes their brain development. They further state that this phenomenon occurs due to the fact that the baby's brain 'expects' that whatever nutrients the mother provides them with must be safe and good, thus their brains are programmed to seek these nutrients out later.

Since so many chronic diseases as well as their risk factors are 'set' in utero, it is amazing to finally get closer to figuring out exactly why. According to study author Dr. Josephine Todrank, 'This highlights the importance of eating a healthy diet and refraining from drinking alcohol during pregnancy and nursing.". Agreed!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Season's Eatings! Healthy Holiday Recipes

Whether you're having your own holiday dinner or joining friends and family, healthy, elegant holiday recipes that taste delicious and decadent are always in order! We've included some of our figure-friendly favourites that we're sure will be a hit at on any dinner table.


Appetizer: Steak-&-Boursin-Wrapped Bells.
Loaded with lean protein, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorous and zinc, this brighgly-coloured, gorgeous and simple appetizer is a sure crowd pleaser.

Ingredients:
Serves 16

16 thin slices grilled steak, such as filet mignon (about 8 ounces) or Deli Roast Beef
1 cup light Boursin cheese, divided
4 ounces thinly sliced bell pepper

Directions:
Spread each steak slice with 1 teaspoon Boursin cheese and top with bell pepper slices. Roll the steak around the bell pepper slices.

Per piece: 37 calories; 2 g fat (1 g sat, 0 g mono); 13 mg cholesterol; 1 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 5 g protein; 0 g fiber; 34 mg sodium; 66 mg potassium.

Side Dish: Mashed Roots with Buttermilk & Chives.
Warm, creamy, decadent and fibre-rich. Who would have thought! Ditch those plain old mashed potatoes and spice things up with celery root, rutabaga, and ofcourse, some Yukon Golds!

Ingredients:
Serves 8

2 pounds celery root, (celeriac), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
5 cloves garlic, peeled
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3/4 cup nonfat buttermilk,
1/2 teaspoon
salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup snipped fresh chives

Directions:
1. Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a large pan or Dutch oven. Place celery root, rutabaga and potatoes in a large steamer basket over the water, cover and steam over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Add garlic and continue steaming, checking the water level and replenishing as necessary, until the vegetables are fall-apart tender, 20 minutes more.
2. Remove the vegetables, drain the cooking liquid and return the vegetables to the pan. Add 2 tablespoons butter and mash until chunky-smooth. Gradually stir in buttermilk, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
3. Just before serving, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and chives.

Per serving: 173 calories; 6 g fat (4 g sat, 0 g mono); 15 mg cholesterol; 26 g carbohydrates; 4 g protein; 4 g fiber; 289 mg sodium; 826 mg potassium.


Side Dish: Maple-Roasted Sweet Potatoes.
Bright orange and full of carotenoids (antioxidants) as well as vitamin C, it's hard to resist roasted sweet potatoes, especially when maple syrup is involved. What could be more festive?

Ingredients:
Serves 12

2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes; toss to coat.
3. Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.

Per serving: 96 calories; 2 g fat (1 g sat, 0 g mono); 5 mg cholesterol; 19 g carbohydrates; 1 g protein; 2 g fiber; 118 mg sodium; 189 mg potassium.


With Turkey: Bulgur Stuffing with Dried Cranberries & Hazelnuts.
Fibre-rich and festive, bulgur is a nutty whole grain that pairs perfectly with turkey as well as holiday staples like cranberries and hazelnuts. This stuffing is also high in vitamin C and magnesium, as well as omega-3 essential fatty acids. A wonderful substitution for traditional bread stuffing.

Ingredients:
Serves 10

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups chopped onions, (2 large)
1 cup chopped celery, (2-3 stalks)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups bulgur, rinsed
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup orange juice
2/3 cup chopped hazelnuts, (2 ounces)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Add onions and celery; cook, stirring often, until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, cinnamon and allspice; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add bulgur and stir for a few seconds. Add broth, bay leaf and salt; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the bulgur is tender and liquid has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine dried cranberries and orange juice in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on high for 2 minutes. (Alternatively, bring dried cranberries and orange juice to a simmer in a small saucepan on the stovetop and remove from heat.) Set aside to plump.
3. Toast hazelnuts in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until light golden and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. When the bulgur is ready, discard the bay leaf. Add the cranberries, toasted hazelnuts, parsley and pepper; fluff with a fork.

Per serving: 210 calories; 7 g fat (1 g sat, 5 g mono); 2 mg cholesterol; 34 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 6 g protein; 7 g fiber; 114 mg sodium; 269 mg potassium.

"Marky Mark" Wahlberg Ditches Diet After Filming

It's quite funny how one can easily predict that after an extended period of strict dieting and deprivation, people often just ditch their diets all together. There may indeed be exceptions to the rule, but this is not the case with actor and former Calvin Klein underwear model Mark Wahlberg. After two long years of strict dieting and training for his latest film "The Fighter", Wahlberg is throwing in the dieting towel - at least for now.

Once known best for his 6-pack abs, Wahlberg has managed to maintain a fit physique for all these years with a devotion and passion for fitness. Now 39, one could argue that this actor and father looks just as good as he did back then. In fact, he has just completed shooting his latest film "the Fighter" in which he plays a boxer, a role which he prepared for by training for a staggering two years, five days a week, 30 minutes a session.

Now that it's all over, Mark admits that his "new regimen consists of a bottle of red wine and a lot of food" and that he is just enjoying himself at this point. Regarding his wife's opinion on his new diet, Wahlberg said ‘She’s like, “If you want to hold on to me, you gotta do something”.’ Can it really be that bad? Considering Mark's love of boxing, he will most likely continue to balance his now relaxed caloric intake with regular exercise, although perhaps not as strictly as before, saying "‘Ultimately if I can train for another six months and look like a world class fighter that would be great.’ I guess only time will tell!

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Little More Protein Helps Keep the Pounds Off

Losing weight, while difficult, can be done using any number of diets. Obviously some diets are healthier than others, but weight loss through dietary means ultimately boils down to limiting the number of calories you take in - regardless of what you're consuming. Keeping weight off, it turns out, might just be a little bit more complicated, according to researchers.

Once a person reaches their weight goal, they must readjust the number of calories they consume to promote weight maintenance, not loss. But it turns out that at this point, what a person eats to maintain their weight can actually help or hinder their ability to keep the pounds off. But the good news is that the diets that have been found to work best are also the easiest to stick to, and are backed by sound science.

It has been shown that diets slightly higher in protein - that is, on the higher end of what is recommended, but not more - so about 30% of your caloric intake, when paired with foods low on the glycemic index, deliver the best results. This all makes perfect sense if you break it down a little further. Low-GI foods are more slowly digested and sugars are released into the bloodstream gradually, not spiking blood glucose or insulin levels. These foods also tend to be higher in fibre, which promotes feelings of fullness. In addition, protein is an important factor that is associated with feelings of satisfaction. So if you're full and satisfied, and your blood sugar is not spiking or dipping, you're likely to stay healthy and happy, and able to maintain your weight for longer! No wonder diets high in vegetables and fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and lean protein are said to be the healthiest in the world.

Friday, November 26, 2010

10 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Throughout history, times of celebration have been synonymous with bounty. For those who had little, there was always something on the table to be thankful for, and it was not a time for rationing or showing restraint. Today, the holidays are no different -- the problem is that we are! Times have changed, and for many people, holiday indulgence turns into gluttony; bounty is all around in the form of appetizers, alcohol, main dishes and desserts and we just cant resist - nor should we entirely. The funny thing is that most people don't want to gain weight over the holidays, but holding back is very difficult. In fact, the average holiday meal clocks in at around 3,000 calories -- that's more than most people need in a day, never mind in one single meal!

Not to worry, we're here to help you moderate the effects of the holidays on your health. Just follow these 10 tips and you'll be in far better shape than if you just threw in the towel and let loose on the buffet table (proverbial or otherwise).

1. Plan Ahead. This point is key. You need to know what you're getting in to in regards to holiday dinners and events so that you can ration your calories and meals accordingly. But following a plan does not mean that you should skip meals. You've heard it before and we'll say it again: always eat breakfast. The key here is to keep your metabolism revved up and working all day long, but this also means that the rest of your meals can't be super-sized. Eat small, regular meals and healthy snacks during the day to help avoid overeating at holiday parties.

2. Drink moderately. Note that we're not suggesting you abstain from enjoying a drink or two, but realize that alcohol and other sugary beverages are loaded with calories that you won't even notice you're drinking. To make matters worse, alcohol makes you hungrier, so all this does is make you eat even more! Try alternating each drink with a glass of water.

3. Don't deny yourself. Have a small taste of the things you really enjoy, but the key word is taste. If you know you'll want a bit more of something you love, have less of something else! There's no point on filling up on things you don't really want just for the sake of it. And if you happen to overindulge at one meal, don't kick yourself over it - just get back on track with your next meal.

4. Make smart swaps - Substitute Greek or strained yogurt for cream, sour cream and mayonnaise, and substitute herbs and spices for salt and fats. You can also add strained applesauce or pumpkin puree instead of butter or cooking oil when baking.

5. Eat smaller portions or use a smaller plate. A smaller plate will limit the amount of food you can load on, creates more work for you in terms of going back for more, and also makes people notice when you dig in for seconds and thirds - which might just stop you. When it comes to large portions, try sharing them. This works well with dessert. You can also avoid loading up on dressings and side dishes which are typically high in calories. Trim the fat from your meat and use less gravy and dressings (or choose low-fat ones).

6. Prepare Smaller Portions. Believe it or not, not everyone is interested in tasting all 12 of your appetizers. You might be surprised at how well received a simpler, smaller dinner will be in between all the others.

7. Pace, don't race. Eat your food slowly. The point is to really enjoy and taste your food. Really savour each bite. If you eat too fast your stomach won't have time to register that it is full and you'll have gone way over what's necessary by the time you call it quits.

8. Out of sight, out of mind. And out of reach! Be sure to avoid loitering in the same room as the food because if you can see or smell it, you're going to keep thinking about it, and your chances of going back for more increase exponentially! A better strategy? Focus your attention on the company, rather than the buffet or the bar.

9. If you must snack, choose raw vegetables, low fat dips and salsa.

And lastly,

10. Make sure you get regular exercise and lots of sleep throughout the holidays. The only way to balance those calories in and maintain your weight is to burn them off! Exercise is also a great way to blow off any holiday stress, because as fun as they are, there's always something on that to do list. Try to go for a walk after dinner (a great way to get away from the food), or get to the gym in the mornings before the holiday activities begin! Take naps if you're feeling exhausted, because the more tired you are, the hungrier you'll feel.

So, with these tips at hand, go forth and enjoy your holidays without all the guilt and weight gain. Here's to your good health this holiday season!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Is Personal Health on Your To-Do List?

We all know people whose lives are scheduled from dusk to dawn. They're in meetings or travelling or glued to their computers and blackberries, with "no time" to get any physical activity or choose healthy meals to eat. Yup, when it's time to eat, it's all about pre-packaged or prepared meals and lunches are often synonymous with meetings in restaurants. The end result? Often overweight, hypertension and eventually heart disease. It is completely understandable when people have an excess of obligations, whether in work or otherwise, that they end up prioritizing by deadlines - the sooner something is 'due', the more attention it needs. So when is health 'due'?

Since we imagine health as an abstract concept that we can't always wrap our heads around, it's difficult to know how to prioritize it or where it belongs on our to-do lists. Today? Next week? After this deadline? Well, just the same as we have to eat and shower and breathe each day, health should be something that we just 'do' every day - and it shouldn't be so difficult. But to begin with, it wouldn't hurt to actually schedule it, just like an important meeting, so that we're prompted to take action.

Did you know that the definition of mental health includes a balance between work and leisure time? That's right - you simply have to take a little time off here and there to gain some perspective. An in terms of physical health, how about spending an hour or 2 on the weekend getting your meals prepared for the week to save time, including blanching some veggies and pre-cooking some chicken breasts and whole grains so they're easily accessible in your fridge. Or what about buying healthy snacks like fruit, veggies, granola bars, yogurt and so on - it's not that hard. You can even do your groceries on-line if you don't want to take the time to go to the store, and finally you can always have healthy meals delivered to your door, so there are no excuses!

Mental and physical health are of the utmost importance and deserve as much if not more 'scheduling' and priority on your to-do list as anything else. So go on. Take a breather!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Scientists: Obesity Caused by More than Diet and Exercise

While North Americans tend to take the main focus (and blame), obesity is on the rise all over the world - and not just in humans. Scientists have discovered that the average weight of a number of species from mice to monkeys is on the rise and they're struggling to figure out why.

In humans, we know that diet and exercise are the keys to a healthy weight and preventing obesity, but what about in other animals? Why are their weights on the rise, and what can this tell us about ourselves? Scientists believe that factors such as light exposure or infections might have something to do with it; stating "It may be something in the air, the water or the food, other than the nutrients.".

Forgive my skepticism, but the truth is, as long as energy intake is balanced with output, energy is balanced. It may not be easy or what everyone wants to hear, but it appears as if people are constantly looking for someone or something else to blame to absolve themselves of the responsibility of maintaining their health. I'm not suggesting that individuals should take all the blame since there are obviously bigger factors involved, but if we are able, we should try to take the reigns.

It will be very interesting to see what other factors will be found in future research that contribute to obesity, but for now, let's just stick to the basics.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What to Eat for the Healthiest Hair

Winter is just about upon us, so it'll be no time until we start seeing that dreaded winter hair loss and breakage. Yes, winter is harsh on our hair. Cold winter winds whipping, scarves and jackets tangling and indoor heating drying out our strands - how soon until those 'winter protection' commercials from brands like Pantene start airing? Don't worry though - while shampoo and conditioner will help, you can strengthen your hair from the inside out and actually enhance it's growth through a healthy diet.

Many people think that applying something on the surface of their hair (or skin) is going to solve their dryness problem, but the problem actually has more to do with nutritional deficiencies than the quality of your cream. Those external products can help protect and act as a defense mechanism, but they won't fix the initial problem. The real key is to make sure you're getting enough protein, vitamin E, omega-3 and 6 MUFAs and PUFAs along with vitamins B, C, E, A and K. You also need to be getting enough iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and zinc if you want healthy strong hair. Now, it should be noted that deficiencies in these nutrients can cause breakage and hair loss, but if you're already getting enough, there's no sense in going overboard - more is not better; 'enough' is what you need.

So what kinds of foods can help maintain healthy, strong strands? Foods like fish, meat, poultry, raw nuts, seeds, whole grains and green leafy vegetables pretty much run the gamut from Vitamin A to zinc in addition to providing you with lean protein, simple and complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. You can really do a lot with those ingredients! And sure, there are always supplements that can provide you with many of these nutrients, but if you're not getting enough fats in general (20-30% of your daily calories or 44-66g per day on a 2000 calorie diet), dryness will still be a factor. Plus, nutrients tend to be more biologically available and usable from whole foods anyways. As long as you're having complete, balanced meals (with items from 3 or more food groups at each meal) you should do very well. Here's to your healthy, strong hair!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Oat Bran Lowers Cholesterol

On these frosty, cool mornings, a hot bowl of oats is just what the doctor ordered - literally. We've known for years that oats are a factor in good health and that soluble fibre helps to reduce LDL cholesterol levels (the bad kind), but today, Health Canada has formally recognized the health benefits of Oat bran specifically.

You may have seen the claims on the packages of Quaker oats, all oats in fact, stating that "oat fibre helps reduce cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease." These claims kind of alluded to the fact that the soluble fibre in oats, called beta-glucancan, help reduce LDL levels, however it seemed as if they were kind of beating around the bush. This is because Health Canada strictly regulates health claims, and very few specific food items or brands of foods are able to have claims associated with disease prevention. Nutrients, yes, but whole foods or parts of them, not usually.

Recently, Becel's pro-activ margarine was the first product in Canada able to display the claim "lowers cholesterol absorption" thanks the fact that it contains plant sterols. Now, Quaker oats can join that special list and proudly display health claims such as "1/3 cup (30g) of Quick Quaker Oats or Quaker Large Flake Oats supplies 40% of the daily amount of the fibres shown to help reduce cholesterol."

According to Dr. Randall Kaplan, PhD, Director, Nutrition Science and Regulatory Affairs at PepsiCo Canada, "A large body of evidence has demonstrated the effectiveness of oat fibre consumption in reducing blood cholesterol. Health Canada's announcement means that we can communicate something very tangible to Canadians - eating foods that contain oat fibre, such as oatmeal, helps reduce cholesterol."

Friday, November 19, 2010

For Diet Advice, Women Don't Welcome Men's Input

It's a fact of human nature: our behaviors and thoughts are shaped by the norms of society. We act within the confines of what is considered acceptable, and if we deviate, we're considered strange. For women, things like choosing what to wear, how to look from day to day, and body weight are strongly determined by what other women are doing. So when it comes to dieting, men's opinions and advice have little effect on women.

Australian researchers have come to the conclusion that for women, diet tips from men are not only unwelcome, but also disregarded. It was concluded that women don't diet and worry about their weight for men, they worry about it for other women. Yes - I guess women are like that. This makes sense if you consider that men love women with curves, but women seem to want to rid themselves of their curves in our society. Plus, what women wear initiates in high fashion, where models tend to look more like coat hangers. This also further highlights the fact that women can be more strongly persuaded in both a positive or negative direction when examples or advice are delivered by a woman as opposed to a man.

For example, in the study, women paid greater attention to unhealthy messages promoting crash diets if women delivered them! This is scary stuff. But knowing this can also help us make a difference in shifting society's norms to healthier standards. Good health should not be a 'trend' and should not be sacrificed for the sake of 'looking good' - whatever that means. Women and men require pretty much the same breakdown of nutrients, just tailored in amounts proportional to their size and activity level, so sound advice is sound advice any way you slice it, from a woman or a man. Perhaps women ought to pay more attention to what the opposite sex has to say in regards to good food and and a more positive body image - they seem to know a thing or two about that.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Some Healthy Diet Lessons From Hollywood

Although it might seem petty to care about and scrutinize celebrities based on their appearances, the fact remains that what they do and how they look ultimately reflects upon society - young girls and women mostly. Most people know what it means to be healthy, but it's difficult to go against what the rest of society is doing. So when it's trendy to be way too skinny, we need some positive examples of girls who are doing things right who can tip the scales in a healthier direction.

On that note, today I came across two examples of people who are doing things right: Natalie Portman and Kelly Osbourne. We're reported before on Kelly Osbourne, who has undergone a major diet and lifestyle overhaul. She used to be the poster child for bad habits but now she seems to be the polar opposite! Once overweight, she's now in the best shape of her life, which is why she's donning this month's cover of SHAPE magazine. Kelly looks absolutely spectacular in a red, belly-baring bikini. Her secret? Swapping chips and soda for healthier options. In her own words, "I started losing weight and realized, ‘Oh, it’s true what they say: Diet and exercise really work!’". That's right - not starvation!!

Now on the flip side, Natalie Portman basically had to starve herself to 'accurately portray' a prima ballerina in her latest film 'Black Swan'. Natalie is normally a wonderful role model when it comes to eating right and exercising (she's vegetarian and maintains a healthy weight), but she had to switch up her healthy habits in order to look underweight. She was exercising excessively and not eating enough, and probably lost more weight than she even needed to in order to accurately play her role. Her extreme weight loss actually alarmed her trainer when he noticed how lean she had gotten and he could see her ribs and spine. Thankfully, once shooting was over, Portman bounced back to her healthy habits straight away. She said "It was pretty immediate. I was ready to leave the ballet life," adding "I was like, 'Please don't let there be re-shoots for this [film] because I don't think I could get back into the costumes!'". Yep, it's better to eat and be healthy!

So, it goes to show that while there are a bunch of bad examples out there for girls and women, there are still some positive messages resonating from Hollywood that might help some people stay on the right track to health!

What You Eat Today Affects Your Future Health

Heart disease is a young person's disease in an older person's body. It doesn't happen over night, and it doesn't happen as a result of age - it happens as a result of inappropriate diet and lifestyle choices that stem from youth through adolescence and eventually, one day, kick you in the butt when you're older.

The funny thing about this fact is that when we're in our teens and twenties especially, poor diet and lifestyle choices are trendy! Now, the American Heart Association has come out with new research that more clearly illustrates the fact that a high sodium intake during adolescence - you know, when it's cool - is strongly associated with heart disease and hypertension in adulthood. In fact, they showed that on average, adolescents take in a whopping nine grams of sodium each day! I can't fathom -- the recommendation is no more than 2300mg, but 1500mg is the ideal goal. They're taking in nearly 4x the 'looser' recommendation and 6x the best recommendation.

Now don't worry, there is always room for improvement when it comes to poor diet and lifestyle choices - it's never too late to make a change for better health, but just think about some of the things young people (not exclusively) say: "hey, do you have a smoke?" or "I'm gonna go get a double down sandwich, it's so gross and bad for you -- you have to try one!" or "I'm so lazy" or"We're gonna drink so much tonight, then eat Chinese food, then chips and then go to bed at 4am". Yep - it's not pretty. We've all seen and heard it. We put our bodies through a lot of bad stuff, especially when we're young, and yet we are still surprised later on when we get sick.

You can still add many years of good health to your life by taking action as soon as possible, instead of waiting until things get worse...you're not 'doomed'! So go on, get active, cut back on that salt and saturated fat, eat more frequent and smaller meals, lose those few extra pounds on your tummy, get more rest, reduce your alcohol intake to 1-2 standard drinks per day, and eat more fruits and veggies! Any or all of the above can yield amazing health benefits - the more the better.