Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Healthy Summer Salads

Who doesn’t love a salad with their meal during summer? Pairing a salad with a meal is more refreshing than eating a heavy baked potato when it’s 90 degrees outside. Here are two great, easy, and healthy salads that I love during the summer. Both salads are filled with fiber and protein to keep you feeling full and satisfied and either goes great with grilled fish, chicken, or steak. So, forget the fattening Caesar salad, and serve up one of these healthy and yummy alternatives instead! Enjoy!

Spinach Strawberry Feta Salad (serves 4)

1 bag of pre-washed spinach
1 cup of reduced fat feta cheese
50-60 raw, unsalted almonds (or almond slivers)
2 cups of sliced strawberries
½ cup of Annie’s Naturals Fat Free Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

Calories per serving: 225

Apple Walnut Salad (serves 4)
1 bag of pre-washed romaine lettuce (or whatever type you prefer)
½ cup of Sargento shredded parmesan cheese
2 medium granny smith apples sliced or chopped
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup of Trader Joe’s Fat Free Balsamic Vinaigrette

Calories per serving: 200

What's great about salads like these is that you can mix up the nuts, fruit, and cheese for an entirely different salad. Try pear with gorgonzola cheese. Or add cranberries to the apple walnut salad. Or, eat these salads as entrees by adding grilled chicken breast on top. Be as creative as you want!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Magic Pill?

This past weekend, I was reading my new Glamour magazine while I laid out in the sun (wearing SPF 30 sunscreen of course) jamming along to my iPod. I got to an article that asked if there was a magic pill that could…

• Slash your chance of getting breast cancer
• Help get rid of headaches
• Cut symptoms of depression almost in half
• Lower your risk of type 2 diabetes by 50 percent
• Make it easier to get pregnant when you want to
• Boost sexual arousal by 100 percent
• Improve your body image
• Make you fall asleep 40 percent faster
• And help you lose a pound a week
…would you take it? Of course, after reading the exact list above in my Glamour, I was nodding my head in agreement, thinking duh who wouldn’t take a pill that did ALL of that!

Guess what that magic pill is? Exercise! That’s right – 30 minutes a day will truly keep the doctor away! That is pretty powerful stuff! Like I’ve said in past posts, the benefits of exercise reach far beyond transforming your physique. If you want to feel better mentally, physically, and emotionally every day just get moving for 30 minutes! I can’t name one other single thing you could do that would have such an extensive impact on your overall health. What a small price to pay (if you even want to think of it like that) for such a great benefit! Talk about an amazing return on your investment!

Remember, exercise comes in all forms. You don’t need a gym membership or fancy equipment to get in shape. Go outside and walk for 30 minutes, take a yoga class, go for a hike, go swimming, dance the night away, play tennis, work out to an exercise DVD or with Wii Fit, play volleyball, do jumping jacks and run in place, basically do whatever excites you and gets you MOVING for 30 minutes. Everyone has 30 minutes in the day so find the time and reap the rewards!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An Insider’s Guide to Restaurants

For two years during college, I worked in the restaurant industry, working my way up from hostess, to to-go service, and finally to server. And let me tell you, working in a restaurant teaches you a lot! I have so many crazy stories from my restaurant days from my boss getting in a fight with a drunk customer, to a senior citizen choking and dying on a piece of steak right in the restaurant, to a woman flinging her baked potato across the table because it was wrong, to a mom spiking her underage son’s coke practically in front of my eyes. But beyond the crazy stories, memorizing the menu, and learning a lot about human behavior, I actually learned a lot about food (and no, we don’t spit in your food if you send it back, we may mock you and vent, but we don’t spit). Here’s just a few of the things I’ve learned while working in the restaurant industry:

1. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is cooked in butter. So the next time you think you’re being extra healthy by ordering a chicken breast, steamed veggies, and a baked potato with the toppings on the side, think again! The chicken breast is basted in butter, the veggies are soaked in butter, and the jacket of the potato is covered in butter. If you’re really trying to be healthy when you go out to eat then specify that you don’t want the extra butter on your meal. Most of the time, servers are more than happy to ‘86’ (remove) the butter for you.

2. A server’s job is to sell! If a server gets you to order an appetizer and/or dessert then your bill just went up and hopefully so did their tip! I don’t care how sweet and cool your server is their job is to sell you what you don’t need. And a lot of times, it’s hard to say no because people go to restaurants to relax and enjoy food, not to count calories, worry about every bite, and penny pinch. Nevertheless, you should still be weary; the most popular appetizer at the restaurant I worked for has a whopping 3,000 plus calories! Think about it, if a server successfully gets you to order an appetizer, dinner, AND dessert, just imagine how many calories you’re eating!?! It’s astronomical!

3. Nine times out of 10 the most frequent customers are obese. If you don’t believe there is a strong correlation between the amount you eat out and gaining weight, think again! From two years of working in the same restaurant, I can tell you that our ‘regulars’ were usually obese. And, really it isn’t rocket science. When you go out to eat versus cooking dinner, even if you order what you would cook at home anyways, the restaurant meal has 10x the amount of calories, fat, and sodium than the home-cooked meal does. Plus, you end up eating things you probably wouldn’t have eaten at home. Say you planned on cooking up sirloin steaks with veggies and a baked potato at home, would you necessarily pair that with a loaf of bread, Caesar salad, bottle of wine, and then finish the night off with dessert? Probably not, unless it was a special occasion or you were entertaining company. So imagine if you’re doing this once a week, or even twice a week at a restaurant? It adds up!

4. On a similar note, ‘regulars’ who have kids tend to also have obese kids. I was astonished at what parents would let their kids order when they were out to eat. One kid’s mom let him have three or four refills of coke. One parent convinced their kid to choose an even worse dinner than she originally wanted. This little girl wanted to order macaroni and cheese (which, is still ridiculously high in fat and calories), but her mom convinced her to get fried chicken fingers with French fries and ranch dressing, which is even worse! I just felt so bad for these kids when I worked in a restaurant. The choices these parents let their kids make, or made for their kids, do nothing but contribute to their obesity and declining health. Chilis chicken crispers for kids have a whopping 600 calories, 39 grams of fat, and 1,610 milligrams of sodium! Adults shouldn’t even consume this kind of meal on a regular basis, let alone kids!

5. Even those so called “healthy” meals on the menu aren’t that great. Cheesecake Factory’s Weight Management Grilled Chicken entrée still has 580 calories and 13 grams of fat. I could make grilled chicken at home, with a baked potato with a tablespoon of butter, and a side of asparagus for roughly 375 calories. So please, don’t be deceived by restaurants’ “healthy” menus. In all honesty, most restaurant items should have the nutrition facts of the so called “healthy” items and not even be labeled “healthy” because they’re still not that great. I guess it’s all relative though. If you’re out at Cheesecake Factory, the weight management chicken looks mighty healthy when you compare it to its Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken, which comes in at a whopping 1249 calories and 30 grams of fat. It’s pretty pathetic that the 1249-calorie chicken makes the 580-calorie chicken look healthy because neither is really that great! Personally, I’d rather stay in, make my 375-calorie chicken dinner and enjoy a glass of wine and strawberries with some whipped cream for dessert all for less than 550 calories.

The lesson here is to be mindful when you eat out. Trust me, I love eating out. It’s great to have someone serve you, not have to worry about cleaning up after dinner, and eating food you wouldn’t normally cook at home. I totally understand the appeal! But, if you’re really trying to watch what you eat, you need to either cut back on how often you eat out or be very specific with your server about what you do and don’t want in your meal. And trust me, cutting back on how often you eat out is a lot easier than going to a restaurant and making the healthy choice. For me, it’s real easy to tell myself all day that I’m not going to eat that bad when I go out to eat, but in all honesty the second I step into a restaurant my self control goes right out the window!

Also remember, if you do have kids, really be careful about eating out too often because kids’ menus are really pretty disturbing! Remember, your kids are not old enough to always understand the consequences of their decisions. They often turn to YOU, their parents, to help them make good choices because they value your opinion. So please, help them make the good choices when it comes to food. Most restaurants post nutrition facts on their websites. It is not a bad idea to scan the menu before dinning out to help your family make the right choices.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Need Some Inspiration?

I admit, there are days when I just really don’t feel like working out, where putting on my gym shoes feels more like a chore than an exciting challenge. I know how hard it can be to stay motivated and make exercising and eating right a consistent habit. Think about it, if it were so easy, we wouldn’t have the obesity epidemic we currently have in this country. After a long day of work (and being in high heels), it’s not always easy to come home and hop right into the gym, but without fail I manage to make myself do it every single time (unless my body is super sore and really needs a night off) because life just isn’t that HARD and I have no excuse not to take care of my health! In fact, no one should make excuses to not take care of their health. And, being physically active is an integral part of being healthy.

Whenever I’m feeling uninspired about working out or eating right, I watch or think about the Biggest Loser on NBC. When I watch that show and see how hard the contestants workout in the gym, I think hey I can do that too! These contestants are 2-3 times my size, and push themselves way harder than I do. Now, I know it’s a reality show and that they are there for one single purpose, and that’s to lose weight. They have amazing trainers, 24-hour access to the gym, and no other responsibilities or obligations holding them back; they can fully focus on their goal. Nevertheless, what these contestants are doing is not easy. To get up every day and spend hours working out and being pushed to workout harder than they’ve ever worked out in their lives is AMAZING! And, every time I watch that show and see their progress and hard work I’m inspired. Whenever I am feeling unmotivated, I think about what these contestants do and think I have NO excuse not to get in my gym and workout. I have a young, fit, able body and I feel truly blessed for that. If people 2-3 times my size can do things 10x harder than I do, I truly have no excuse not to push myself.

If you ever feel like you CAN’T (I hate that word with a passion by the way) do something, watch this show and get some real perspective. You can overcome anything you want to – genetics, years of bad eating and exercise habits, low self esteem, etc. The only thing holding you back is YOU! If a 350-pound contestant like Michael (who started at over 500 pounds) can run a 5k on the treadmill for the first time in his life, anything is possible! You can change your circumstances at any age, any weight, any time. And, more importantly it doesn't matter what you did in the past, it matters what you do NOW, and what you plan to do tomorrow. So, please don’t say “can’t” and don’t come up with excuses. You CAN and you SHOULD exercise and take care of your body, no ifs, ands, buts about it!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sweet Potatoes – A Year-Round Super Food!

We all know how important it is to get our fruits and veggies (especially fresh ones), but how many of us really do on a daily basis? It is much easier to grab processed, pre-packaged foods than it is to peel an orange or steam fresh broccoli. Even if it takes a little extra effort, it is worth the time it takes to eat fruits and veggies because they are loaded with the nutrients our bodies crave. Plus, you really get your bang for your buck with both because you can actually eat a good size serving of either for under 100 calories!

One of my new, favorite veggies to make is sweet potatoes. I grab a bag of pre-cut and pre-washed spears or cubes, which you can find in the produce section of any supermarket. Sweet potatoes are a great compliment to any meal, and are so sweet (as the name implies) and delicious. Here’s my recipe for making delicious sweet potatoes:

1 bag of pre-cut and pre-washed sweet potato spears or cubes
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon (more or less as desired)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Place in the oven and cook for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and enjoy! It’s really that easy!

Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber. And, the best part of all is that sweet potatoes satisfy my craving for something sweet!
To learn more about the benefits of eating sweet potatoes, click here:  

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Information Overload

Every day I feel like I learn something new when it comes to nutrition and exercise. There are so many tips and tricks out there, that at times, it can be overwhelming to process it all! New studies come out all the time about new ‘super foods’ or how much exercise we really need each day. Then, there are all the different types of diets out there with varying approaches to weight loss. How does one navigate through so much information? To me, it’s kind of like fashion trends. Every month I get a new magazine updating me on what’s hot now and what ‘must have’ items I should invest in. It would be expensive, time consuming, and nearly impossible to follow every single trend out there. The same goes for nutrition and exercise, there is a lot of great information to choose from, but it would be simply too difficult to incorporate every single tip and trick you read about. Just like with fashion, you find the trends that work for you. And the same applies to nutrition and exercise, you have to find the tips and tricks that work for your lifestyle. Even when 80s fashion is the BIG thing, I just don’t go there because it isn’t my thing, no matter how cool it may be. It's not that it can't be cute on others, I just don't think it's cute on me. Well, the same applies for something like tofu, it may be a great healthy food, but it just isn’t my thing. But, that isn't to say it may not work great for someone else.

I know sorting through all the information isn’t easy, but don’t let it overwhelm you! Just pick out the information you feel you can successfully incorporate into your lifestyle. As I’ve said before, what works well for me, may not work well for you and vice versa. We all lead very different lives and have different advantages and disadvantages going for us. For me, I’m very fortunate to currently have a gym in my garage. It makes it very easy for me to workout at any given time. I’m also fortunate that I only have to cook for me. I can only imagine that it would be much more difficult to have a family depending on me for meals. On the other hand, I have a busy schedule between working full-time and going to school part-time. Also, I’m always on a budget, so I just can’t splurge on groceries for the sake of trying new foods all the time. We have to learn to make nutrition and exercise work for the lifestyle we have NOW. Just like we have to shop for the clothes that work for our bodies NOW, not the bodies we hope to have in three months when we lose 10 pounds. So, take a look at your life. What advantages do you have that would aid eating right and exercise? What road blocks do you have to navigate around? The sooner you identify these things the sooner you can tailor a plan that works with your specific lifestyle. For me, because I am busy and on a budget, I buy a lot of the same foods over and over again that I know are quick and easy to make. As much as I’d love to be a Martha Stewart and cook fabulously, healthy meals with tons of fresh ingredients every night, that isn’t my reality. Two nights a week I’m eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner as I literally drive to school. Of course, it would be great if we all had personal chefs and trainers helping us stay healthy, but for most of us that is never going to happen. Nevertheless, don’t let your circumstances hold you back or the overload of information bog you down. Understand your advantages and disadvantages and incorporate the tips and tricks that best work with your lifestyle.