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!