Should You Shake the Salt Habit? The Benefits and Risks of Dietary Sodium

According to scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “When people eat too much sodium, the kidneys have trouble keeping up with the excess sodium in the bloodstream. As sodium accumulates, the body holds onto water to dilute the sodium. This increases both the amount of fluid surrounding cells and the volume of blood in the bloodstream. Increased blood volume means more work for the heart and more pressure on blood vessels. Over time, the extra work and pressure can stiffen blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.”

High blood pressure is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, “nine out of 10 U.S. men and women will develop hypertension at some point in their lives.” Children can also begin developing high blood pressure so cutting back on salt and sodium early in life is an important step in prevention.

Most of our salt comes from packaged, processed, or restaurant foods and not from a salt shaker. But daily sodium intake can add up quickly through cereals, bread, cold cuts, and snack foods. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that you should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. Limiting foods that are in a box, can, or bag as well as reducing restaurant and take-out meals, will help reduce your daily sodium intake. Reading labels on soups, crackers, cheeses, and some juices or sport drinks will help you make an educated guess on the amount of sodium you consume on a daily basis

Potassium has the opposite effect on heart health by relaxing the blood vessels, allowing sodium to release from the bloodstream, which results in lower blood pressure. People can make important, yet simple, dietary changes to help lower their risk of high blood pressure. Instead of salt for cooking, you can add herbs and spices, and citrus like lemon to add more flavor with less sodium.

For athletes, the balancing act of sodium and potassium intake is important for performance. Health risks associated with too little sodium include muscle cramping, heat illness, and the inability to rehydrate and restore electrolyte balance after exercise or an athletic competition. In addition, there is an increased risk for hyponatremia, which is a low sodium concentration in the blood caused by excessive water intake. If you are a salty sweater during exercise, consider increasing sodium intake before, during, and after exercise.

Preparing and eating meals that contain fresh vegetables and fruits, which are naturally high in potassium and low in sodium—and eating less bread, cheese, snack foods, and processed meat, which are high in sodium and low in potassium, will help prevent high blood pressure.

Quote of the week:

“I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.”  ~ E.B. White

Recipe of the Week: Grilled Eggplant “Pizza”

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant, cut into ½ inch slices

¼ cup olive oil

Jar of pasta or pizza sauce (or you can make homemade marinara)

Fresh mozzarella (I buy pre-sliced BelGioioso)

Fresh basil

Brush eggplant slices with oil and lightly sprinkle with sea salt. Let stand for five minutes. Grill eggplant, covered, over medium heat or broil 4 inches from heat until tender, 4-5 minutes per side.  Transfer to a baking sheet and spoon the pasta sauce to cover each slice. Place a slice of fresh mozzarella on each slice and broil for 2 minutes or until the cheese starts to bubble and brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped fresh basil. Enjoy with a side salad!

What is HIIT and Should You Be Doing It?

HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training. The workout alternates between short bursts (30-60 seconds) of High-Intensity exercise followed by a similar active recovery period with the sequence repeated for about 20-30 minutes three times a week. For example, cycling as fast as you can at a high resistance for 30 seconds followed by several minutes of slow, easy cycling with lower resistance. Another example is sprinting for a minute on a track or treadmill, followed by 3-4 minutes of slow jogging.

HIIT has become a trendy workout because of the efficiency of the conditioning compared to steady-state cardio or traditional gym workouts. Research has shown that a 30-minute HIIT workout may burn 25-30% more calories than weight training, running, and biking in a similar time frame. Additional benefits include burning more fat, increasing your metabolism, and flexibility (no equipment is required). Many HIIT workouts are usually less than 30 minutes, so an ideal choice for anyone who can’t spend an hour at the gym. Research shows that HIIT is more efficient than steady-state moderate intensity exercise at improving aerobic and anaerobic fitness, cardiovascular health, resting blood pressure, fat burning both during and after exercise, muscle mass, and cholesterol levels.

Although HIIT has many benefits, this form of physical activity isn’t for everyone. To begin, you need to have a basic fitness level. The training is very intense therefore, if you’re not used to physical activity or you have not exercised before, it could cause stress on your heart. There is also a higher risk of injury as you are moving at a fast speed during the intervals. If you have a heart condition or feel dizzy when exercising, you should seek a  medical evaluation from your physician before engaging in any physical activity.

If you have never tried HIIT before and want a simple workout to get started, try adding some running intervals to a regular walking workout. For example, walk for 1 minute and 30 seconds, jog/run for 30 seconds, then repeat. Each interval is 2 minutes total, so you spend 30 seconds of the interval with an elevated heart rate, then keep your heart rate going with 90 seconds of walking. Repeat this 15 times for a great 30-minute beginner HIIT workout.

If you have tried HIIT before and are looking for an added challenge, try a flexible format so you can mix in whichever exercises/cardio you would like to do. The example workout below includes 3 sets of 3 rounds each, so you can target arms, legs, and core. Pick your cardio and your exercises and get started!

  • [30 second cardio (row/bike/run) + 3 arm exercises (15 bicep curls, 15 hammer curls, 15 push-ups)] *repeat 3 times
  • [30 second cardio (row/bike/run) + 3 leg exercises (20 reverse lunges, 15 goblet squats, 15 qlute bridges)] *repeat 3 times
  • [30 second cardio (row/bike/run) + 3 abdominal exercises (20 crunches, 15 leg lifts, 30 second plank)] *repeat 3 times

Quote of the week:

The only bad workout is the one that didn’t happen.

Recipe of the Week: Easy Buddha Bowl

This is my go-to dinner when I want something fast and nourishing. This vegan, one-bowl dish contains whole grains, plant proteins, and vegetables. You can also top with avocado and add more veggies.

Ingredients:

¼ cup prepared brown rice

2 cups kale, steamed and chopped

½ cup Chickpea Salad (I used Cedar’s Chickpea Salad)

½ cup coleslaw mix (I used Dole Classic Coleslaw)

Prepare the brown rice according to package. I make 2-3 cups of rice so there are leftovers for other meals. Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a non-stick fry pan. Break kale from stalk, chop into bite-size pieces and place in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain. Place kale in serving bowl; add cooked rice, chickpea salad, and coleslaw mix. Toss well. You can add a little olive oil, but the dressing in the chickpea salad gives the dish a savory taste.

Building a “Performance Plate” for Athletic Excellence

Boston is a great place for athletes and fans alike. We love our Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins. But this coming Monday, April 15, is Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts and the 123rd Boston Marathon. This world-class race brings many ages, genders, and performance levels to a challenging course each year. Training for a marathon involves logging in several miles of running over several months while remaining injury-free. But an athlete’s full potential can be delayed if they are not combining optimal fueling strategies with their training.

As a former marathon runner, I began keeping a food journal after running my second Boston Marathon. I quickly realized the difference between a “good” run and a not-so-good run. Hydration and sleep play a major role, but what I ate before, during, and after a long run made a huge impact on performance and recovery. Research has shown that endurance athletes who consume more calories perform better during a competition. But you need to train your intestinal track to see what works best for you. Meals and snacks with carbohydrates as the foundation and protein on the side offer the right balance for endurance training and successful competition.

Below are some guidelines that athletes may consider as a fundamental part of any training regimen in any endurance sport.

  1. Whole grains or energy-enhancing foods: 100 percent whole-wheat bread, bagels, tortillas, pita bread and crackers; brown rice; whole-grain pasta; beans; potatoes; oatmeal; whole-grain breakfast cereals; yogurt.
  2. Lean proteins or recovery/muscle-building foods: Grilled/baked/broiled/roasted chicken, fish, pork loin, turkey, sirloin and lean ground beef; eggs; low-fat cheese; tofu.
  3. Fruits and vegetables or antioxidant-rich foods: Apples; oranges; bananas; blueberries; grapes; melon; strawberries; broccoli; green beans; spinach; romaine lettuce; carrots; cauliflower; mushrooms; cucumbers; tomatoes.
  4. Fat or immunity/flavor-boosting foods: Salmon; tuna; nuts; seeds; olives; olive oil; canola oil; avocado; nut butters; oil-based salad dressings.
  5. Fluid or hydration-promoting beverages: Water; low-fat milk (cow, almond, soy, etc.); coconut water; sports drink with electrolytes; 100 percent fruit juice.

This will be my sixth year volunteering during marathon weekend and I continue to be inspired by all the athletes that come to our great city to run the Boston Marathon. “May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face.”

If you are running this weekend – good luck! If you are training for an athletic event of your own, no matter how big or how small, feel free to reach out and I will be happy to help you learn how to use food as fuel to reach your goals.

Quote of the week:

“All you need is the courage to believe in yourself and put one foot in front of the other.”

~ Katherine Switzer, First woman to run the Boston Marathon

Recipe of the Week: “Can’t Beet Me Smoothie”

Adapted from: Run Fast. Eat Slow. by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky

Beets are packed with antioxidants, inflammatory compounds, and naturally occurring nitric oxide that helps lower blood pressure and improve brain function.

Ingredients:

1 cooked beet; peeled and quartered (Save time by using raw beets, instead of baked, and puree them in a high-speed blender).

1 cup frozen blueberries

1 small frozen banana

1 cup unsweetened almond milk or other milk of choice

1 cup coconut water

1-inch knob fresh ginger; peeled

1 Tbsp. almond butter

Place the beet, blueberries, banana, milk, coconut water, ginger, and almond butter in a blender. Blend on high speed for several minutes until smooth. Makes 2 servings (you can store extra serving in fridge for up to three days).

How to Decode A Nutrition Facts Panel

Food labels appear on almost all packaged foods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established serving sizes for many foods and requires that all labels for a product use the same serving size. For example, the standard serving size for pasta is two ounces of dry pasta which equals one cooked cup. A few years ago, the FDA publicized a revised Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods to reveal new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. The new label makes it easier for consumers to make educated food choices, especially for products that are larger than a single serving. Labels now indicate the number of calories and nutrients on both a “per serving” and “per package” basis.

In addition to the serving size and the servings per container, the FDA requires that the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels show nutrient information in two ways – in quantities (such as grams) and as percentages of standards called the Daily Values. Based on these recommendations, a person who eats 2,000 calories per day should consume:

  • less than 65 grams or 585 calories from fat
  • less than 20 grams or 180 calories from saturated fat
  • at least 275 grams or 1,100 calories from carbohydrates
  • approximately 50 grams or 200 calories from protein
  • less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (although the American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day)
  • less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol
  • about 25 milligrams of dietary fiber

Food labels list ingredients in descending order of prevalence by weight, nutrition facts based on standard serving sizes, and Daily Values based on a 2000-calorie diet. For example, if you compare a cereal that contains “whole grain oats, sugar, oat bran, corn starch, honey, brown sugar syrup, salt, tripotassium phosphate, rice bran, canola oil, and natural almond flavor” to a cereal that reads “100 percent rolled oats” on its label, it is easy to see the difference in nutritional value.

Important things to look for on a nutrition label include:

  • Serving size – If you eat more than one serving, you are consuming more calories, fat, and sugar than what is listed. It may be important to measure out some foods.
  • Fat – For optimal health, you should avoid anything that contains trans fats. Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. The primary dietary source for trans fats in processed food is “partially hydrogenated oils.” Choose foods with more unsaturated fats than saturated fats.
  • Total Carbohydrate – Aim for whole-wheat or whole-grain ingredients, such as oats or quinoa, and look for foods with high fiber content (at least 3 grams per serving).
  • Protein – If two products are similar in calories and sugar, choose the food with more protein. Proteintakes longer than carbohydrates to break down in the body, providing a longer-lasting energy source.
  • Sodium – Avoid packaged foods that contain more than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving. Excess sodium increases blood pressure because it retains fluid in the body, and that creates a strain on the heart.
  • Sugars – Sugars in food can be naturally present and added to foods. Sugar has many names on an ingredient list. Besides those ending in “ose,” such as maltose or sucrose, other names for sugar include high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey, or fruit juice concentrates. You want to avoid added sugar as it contributes zero nutrients and adds many calories that can lead to extra pounds.
  • Ingredients: Look for ingredient lists that are short and contain whole-food ingredients. I strive to purchase products that have five ingredients or less as well as recognizable ingredients that I can pronounce.

Every ingredient is important! Compare food labels to make healthier choices in the foods you buy. I downloaded a nifty app on my phone called Fooducate that helps me make better food choices. You can scan a packaged item’s bar code (or search for food items through the website), and you’ll see its letter grade (A to D) with a description of its nutritional benefits or reasons to leave it on the shelf. That said, shopping the periphery of a grocery store will ensure you stock up on fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish– all foods that do not require a Nutrition Facts panel.

Quote of the week:

“To think is easy. To act is hard. But the hardest thing in the world is to act in accordance with your thinking.”  ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Recipe of the Week: Hot and Spicy Nuts

A savory, snack that you can also package in mason jars for gifts.

Ingredients:

4 tbs. Butter

2 tbs. Worcestershire sauce

½ tsp. cumin

1 tsp. celery salt

1 tsp. garlic powder

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. salt

4 cups of unsalted mixed nuts

2 tsp. kosher salt

Melt butter in a saucepan. Add all spices and simmer over low heat. Add nuts and stir. Line cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper. Spread nuts and toss with kosher salt. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Cool on paper towels. Enjoy!

Hot and Spicy Nuts

Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation, or swelling, is part of the body’s natural healing system and helps fight injury and infection. But when there is no external injury or infection to heal, the immune system cells that naturally protect us begin to damage healthy arteries, organs, and joints. Daily stress, poor sleeping habits, less than optimal nutrition, and lack of exercise all contribute to inflammation in the body.

Initial signs of chronic inflammation can be subtle and include feeling tired or run down. As inflammation develops inside the body, it begins to damage your arteries, organs, and joints. There are several ways to reduce or reverse inflammation through a healthy, anti-inflammatory lifestyle. This begins with managing stress. If you experience constant stress in your life, this will contribute to inflammation. If you have never tried meditation, INSIGHTTIMER.com is an app you can download on your phone for free with guided meditations. Another way to de-stress is by practicing yoga. I am not that flexible and don’t always find time to attend a class, so I purchased a DVD I can do at home.

Regular physical activity is an excellent way to avoid inflammation and maintain a healthy weight. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise and 10-20 minutes of weight training (or resistance training) five times a week.

What you eat can have a significant impact on inflammation. Eat more fruits and vegetables and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, tofu or soybeans, walnuts, and flax seeds. Other anti-inflammatory foods include blueberries, grapes, celery, garlic, olive oil, tea, and some spices (ginger, rosemary, and turmeric). Avoid or reduce foods that promote inflammation such as red meat, simple carbohydrates (white flour, white rice, refined sugar, and high fructose corn syrup) and anything with trans fats (margarine, corn oil, fried foods, and most processed foods).

You may not be able to change everything all at once, but if you are mindful of ways to reduce inflammation and take the necessary steps, it will pay off over time with improved health and reduced chronic disease.

Quote of the week:

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Recipe of the Week: Lemon Chicken with Broccoli

This is an easy, one-skillet dinner that can be served on its own or paired with angel hair pasta or brown rice.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (I use Penzeys Italian Herb Mix)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Juice of one lemon (about ¼ cup)

4 cloves minced garlic

10 ounces fresh broccoli

Heat your oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle sea salt, pepper and Italian seasoning on each side of the chicken. Once your skillet is hot, add your chicken breasts. Brown chicken for about four minutes per side or until golden brown. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside. Add the chicken broth, lemon juice, and minced garlic to the skillet. Stir and scrape up any brown bits that are stuck on the bottom.

Add your chicken back to the skillet. Simmer the chicken in the sauce for about 5 minutes, turning halfway through. Add your broccoli to the skillet and cook until broccoli is bright green and tender and chicken is cooked through, about 5 additional minutes. Serve hot!

Lemon Chicken with Broccoli

Ten Easy Ways to Shed Pounds Without Dieting

It is no secret that maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health. The list of benefits includes lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer. Meeting or keeping to this goal is easier than you think with these ten tips:

  1. Sleep! Poor sleeping habits or inadequate sleep can lead to unhealthy behaviors. When we are tired, we may make poor food choices or skip on exercise which may contribute to weight gain. Setting yourself up for a successful night’s sleep means shutting off all electronics, lowering the temperature of your room, and keeping the room dark. *If you have an iPhone, you can even use the Bedtime feature offered in the clock app. You can set the time you want to wake up and track how many hours of sleep you would like to get, and the app will notify you 15 minutes before you should head to sleep! This app can also put your phone on “Do Not Disturb”, so no phone calls or texts will wake you.
  2. Drink more water. Sometimes when you are hungry, you are actually thirsty. Drink a few glasses of water before a meal to curb your appetite.
  3. Eat mindfully. Think of what you are putting to your mouth and savor each bite. Eating slowly allows you to enjoy your food and know when you are full.
  4. Eat breakfast. Not everyone feels like eating in the morning, but skipping meals lead to overeating during other meals or snacking more at the end of the day. A good breakfast includes protein and fiber to keep you full. Healthy choices include yogurt, fruit, oatmeal, nuts, whole-grain toast, and eggs.
  5. Write it down. I just started keeping a food log through Lose It! and became hyper-aware of my eating habits and empty calorie intake.
  6. Exercise. Daily physical activity is good for the mind and body. Every minute counts, so if you can’t get to the gym or exercise class, go for a short walk, do some jumping jacks, pushups, and sit-ups.
  7. Meal prep. I covered this is an earlier blog post (linked here). The  benefits of planning and cooking your meals ahead of time include less time cooking during the week or when you are hungry for something healthy and have no time to cook.
  8. Rearrange your plate. Build your plate with half vegetables, one-quarter whole grains, and one-quarter protein. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and peas are included in the “grains” portion of your plate. You can also use smaller plates to reduce the amount of food you serve yourself.
  9. Eat more veggies! Vegetables are low-calorie, high-fiber, and nutrient-rich. When thinking of your next meal or snack, think of a few vegetables you enjoy and super-size the portion. Then you can add in some protein and whole grains. I love pasta, but do not have it often. When I make a pasta dish, I toss with a variety of grilled, sautéed, or roasted vegetables and serve with a garden salad.
  10. Set goals. You don’t have to overhaul your life to achieve optimal health. Taking small steps each day that include healthy habits will ultimately lead to a healthier lifestyle. For example, eating breakfast every day or beginning an exercise routine.

Quote of the week:

“Change the way you look at things and things that you look at change.” ~ Wayne Dyer

Recipe of the Week: Baked Eggplant Sticks

I always forget that I bought an eggplant and then I am forced to look for new ways to prepare one. I saw this recipe on SkinnyTaste and had to share.

Ingredients:

10 oz eggplant

1 tsp olive oil

1/2 tsp kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper

1/2 cup Italian Seasoned breadcrumbs

2 tbsp parmesan cheese

1 large egg white

oil spray

1 cup marinara sauce for dipping (optional, extra)

Preheat the oven to 450°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray with oil. Cut ends off the eggplant. Slice eggplant in half, then into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Lay each slice on the cutting board and cut into 1/4-inch strips. Be sure to cut all the strips the same size so they cook evenly. Place eggplant strips in a bowl and season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Combine breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese in a bowl, and egg whites in another.

Dip a few strips of eggplant at a time into the egg whites, then into the breadcrumbs. Using a fork, remove eggplant from crumbs and place on the baking sheets. Spray with more oil and bake 10 minutes in the middle rack. Turn over and bake an additional 5 minutes, or until golden. Serve hot.

The Health Benefits of Vitamin D

The body produces vitamin D as a response to sun exposure. The best way to increase vitamin D levels in the body is by exposing bare skin to the sun for about 5-10 minutes 2-3 times a week. Living in the Northeast, it is unlikely that people are getting enough vitamin D and may need to consume fortified food or supplements.

Having enough vitamin D is essential for several reasons:

  • Support the health of the brain, immune system, and nervous system. Supplementing with vitamin D during the winter months may reduce the risk of influenza.
  • Maintain strong bones and teeth by regulating calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood.
  • Support lung function and cardiovascular health
  • Regulate insulin levels and manage diabetes. Insufficient levels of vitamin D in people with type 2 diabetes may negatively affect insulin secretion and glucose tolerance.
  • Pregnant women who are deficient in vitamin D may be at higher risk of developing preeclampsia and require a cesarean section.

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency may include depression, fatigue, hair loss, muscle pain, and painful bones and back. The most accurate way to measure vitamin D levels is a blood test.

Although sunlight is the most efficient source of vitamin D, there are natural ways to increase vitamin D. Foods that provide vitamin D include:

  • Fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon
  • Foods fortified with vitamin D, include some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks

Quote of the week:

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” ~ Martin Luther King

Recipe of the Week: Smoked Salmon Appetizer

Ingredients:

  • 1 pre-baked pizza shell (I used Stonefire Artisan Thin Crust Pizza)
  • Herbed cheese or creme fresh
  • Capers
  • Fresh snipped dill
  • Smoked salmon.

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees; place pizza shell on rack for 8-10 minutes. Remove shell to cutting board and smear cheese all over crust in a thin layer. Sprinkle generously with capers. Arrange salmon on top, snip dill over entire top. Cut into 16 sections and serve at room temperature. You can also cut into little squares

Smoked Salmon Appetizer

The Quickest and Easiest Way To Meal Prep

Preparing and eating meals at home or taking on the go does not have to equate to hours in the kitchen. With a little prep work on the weekend, you can have a week’s worth of healthy meals to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Below are a few simple steps to ensure a week of healthy eating.

Write it down! Spending time to make a shopping list and create menu ideas for the week ahead is optimal for saving time and money. A list will make weekly shopping more manageable and also provide a solid plan for meals, especially dinner. And if you don’t want to do all your shopping at once, you can refer back to the list for ideas.

Plan ahead! Take a quick inventory of your fridge and pantry so you can navigate the grocery store and only purchase what you need for the week. Shop the perimeter of the store first, as that is where you will find the healthiest foods (fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and dairy). You can also stock up on staples like whole grains, dried herbs and spices, canned broth, beans, and eggs.

Time to cook! It may be easier to prepare meals for the week on the same day you shop. Begin with foods that require longer cook times, such as brown rice or soups. Let hot foods cool to room temperature before you store or freeze. Cook chicken breasts ahead to use on salads or in stir-fry dishes. Wash and dry lettuce so it’s ready to use for salads. You can also slice or chop veggies that you will use throughout the week in salads, stir-fry dishes, snacks, or roasting (peppers, carrots, celery, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, winter squash, zucchini, summer squash). If you are pressed for time, you can purchase chopped vegetables or cut fruit. In addition, buying a whole rotisserie chicken is a huge time-saver for a quick dinner.

Time to Eat! Below are a few suggestions for weekly meals:

Breakfast ideas:

Smoothies – prepare fresh fruit such as bananas, strawberries, and pineapple and freeze in individual bags. Or you can buy frozen fruit and add a fresh banana. Using fresh-squeezed orange juice or almond milk is an easy way to add flavor or creaminess without added calories/sugar.

Vegetable Quiche Cups: Combine egg whites, cheese, spinach, green or red pepper, onion and a dash of hot pepper and bake in muffin tins for a high-protein breakfast on the go. FULL RECIPE HERE.

Lunch ideas:

Greek Salad – Using the washed lettuce you prepared early in the week, toss together a with tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, olives, and avocado. Add chicken breast for added protein if you’re extra hungry!

Chicken Caesar Salad – Combine the washed Romaine lettuce with cooked chicken, Parmesan cheese, and a simple dressing. Be sure to measure out the serving size of the dressing so extra calories and fat don’t sneak their way into your salad.

Minestrone Soup: Prepared ahead of time, this is a hearty meal to eat at home or pack to go. (RECIPE HERE)

Snack ideas:
Cut veggies with hummus or ranch dressing; homemade trail mix (RECIPE HERE), or fruit salad.

Dinner ideas:

Zucchini Noodles and Marinara Sauce – You can spiral the zucchini ahead of time and combine with jarred sauce or homemade marinara and top with Parmesan cheese.

Roasted Veggies and chicken sausage – Since the sausage is fully-cooked, you can slice and pan-fry with prepared roasted vegetables.

Stir-fry vegetables with brown rice – Using the rice you cooked earlier in the week, stir-fry in sesame oil and/or olive oil with chopped vegetables (broccoli, carrots, onion, cauliflower, and red peppers) and serve over rice.

Quote of the week:

If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.  ~ Jim Rohn

Recipe of the Week: Easy Greek Salad with Avocado

Ingredients:

Field Greens or Romaine Lettuce (washed and chopped)

1 large tomato chopped

1 medium cucumber chopped

¼ cup Kalamata olives

¼ Feta cheese

1/3 avocado

Fresh ground pepper

Red onion (optional)

For dressing: Wisk juice of one lemon with one tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of Dijon mustard.

Instructions:

Combine all the ingredients for the salad in a large bowl and toss well with dressing. Enjoy!

Let’s Get Physical! The Benefits of Regular Exercise to Improve Your Health

It’s no secret that regular exercise is good for your mind and body. The simple message offered in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (2nd edition) says to “move more and sit less throughout the day” and suggests 30 minutes of physical activity a day for adults and 60 minutes for children, at least five days a week.

Physical activity for all ages, genders, and body types can make you feel, function, and sleep better. In addition, the long-term health benefits of physical activity are proven to reduce the risk of several chronic diseases. Whatever your current level of fitness, there are so many ways to incorporate more physical activity into your week. When I was a young mother, I needed a quick, concentrated workout to fit into my busy schedule. I headed to a nearby track and began by walking one lap, running one lap until I could run a mile. One mile led to three miles, which led to my first 5-mile race.

Physical activity is an individual choice and does not need to involve a trip to the gym. Some days, my “workout” may include a walk with a friend, cleaning my house, walking my dog, doing some yard work, and walking the golf course (in my attempt to be a golfer!). Ideally, combining moderate aerobic activity (endurance or cardio), strength exercises, and stretching into every week is optimal for overall health. Below are a few tips to succeed in regular physical activity at any level:

  • If you are sedentary, begin with light-intensity activities like a leisurely walk (2 mph) or light household chores.
  • If you are currently active, but not regularly exercising, try moderate-intensity activities such as brisk walking, doubles tennis, golf, biking, yard work, or recreational swimming.
  • If you already engage in regular physical activity, you will benefit from vigorous-intensity activities on most days of the week. These include jogging, hiking, running, swimming laps, jumping rope, strenuous group fitness classes, and strength training.

For significant health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (or a combination of both moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity). Incorporating a variety of activities during the week will prevent boredom and fitness plateaus. The bottom line is: get moving and keep moving! No one ever said, “I wish I didn’t do that workout!”

Quote of the week:

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible.”

~ Audrey Hepburn

Recipe of the Week

Oven-roasted sausage with vegetables*

Ingredients

6 sweet Italian pork sausage (you can also use cooked chicken sausage)

1 large green pepper

1 large onion

1 medium head cauliflower washed, trimmed, and florets separated

Olive oil for pan

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the sausage links for about 15 minutes and remove from oven and cut into 1-inch pieces. Slice the pepper into 1-inch pieces and place in large bowl. Slice the onion and add to bowl. Add the cauliflower pieces and cut sausage to bowl and toss well. Brush a baking sheet with olive oil and spread the sausage/vegetable mixture evenly on pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until the sausage begins to brown. Serve with brown rice or whole-wheat penne pasta.

*For a vegetarian/vegan version of this dish, eliminate sausage and super-size the veggies (I swap the pepper for Brussels sprouts).

The Power of Food to Defend Heart Disease

February is American Heart Health Month and a time of year to raise awareness about heart disease and prevention. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, yet highly preventable. The ideal diet for heart health is one that is low in animal products, low in sugar and processed foods, and high in vegetables and other whole plant foods. In addition to regular exercise, making heart-healthy nutritional choices will help you live a long and healthy life. Below are eight heart-healthy foods to include in your diet.

Berries: Eating a variety of berries may prevent cardiovascular disease as this colorful fruit is high in antioxidants and polyphenols. Rich in vitamin C and fiber, berries such as strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries contain compounds that help lower blood pressure and LDL (the bad cholesterol!).

Avocado: This fruit has more potassium than a banana, which helps to lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that eating avocado can improve heart disease risk factors like cholesterol levels as well as blood triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood). Although a healthy fat, keep in mind that the serving size of an avocado is one-third, which is 123 calories.

Green Leafy Vegetables: Another reason to love spinach! Leafy vegetables such as cabbage, kale, romaine, and spinach contain vitamin K which helps with the synthesis of blood clotting and also slows calcium deposits in artery walls leading to a healthier heart.

Nuts and Seeds: Eating nuts, nut butter (peanut, almond), and seeds (think pumpkin, sesame, flax, and chia) have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of inflammation, and decrease insulin resistance. A little goes a long way as this heart-healthy food is rich in (good) fat, fiber, and protein, but high in calories.

Beans: Not only do beans have an array of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but beans also contain phytochemicals that reduce inflammation and oxidative damage within the arterial walls (oxidative stress is caused by an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in your body).

Apples: Eating an apple a day is a natural way to prevent heart disease, as benefits include lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Apples contain pectin, a soluble fiber that prevents cholesterol absorption in your gut.

Tomatoes: As a source of the antioxidant lycopene, tomatoes can lower inflammation in your body and prevent oxidative stress that contributes to heart disease. The nutritional value of a tomatoe is improved when cooked as it releases more lycopene, which has shown to improve heart health and blood pressure.

Dark Chocolate: Yes! Dark Chocolate is an antioxidant-rich food that helps reduce cardiovascular disease. The darker, the better, so look for varieties that contain at least 72% cocoa.

Quote of the week:

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

~ Benjamin Franklin

Recipe of the Week: Cauliflower “Fried Rice”

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 5 scallions, chopped, whites and greens separated
  • 1/2 cup shredded or diced carrots
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 1 large Egg
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or black pepper
  • 1 medium head cauliflower trimmed, and florets separated
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce or Tamari

Instructions:

Coarsely chop the cauliflower into florets, then place half of the cauliflower in a food processor and pulse until the consistency of rice. Set aside and repeat with the remaining cauliflower. Shred one carrot in the food processor or dice (I used shredded carrot). Combine egg and egg whites in a small bowl and beat with a fork. Season with salt. Heat a large non-stick pan or wok over medium heat, then add olive oil. Add the eggs and cook, turning a few times until set; set aside. Add the sesame oil and sauté scallion whites, peas and carrots and garlic about 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and sauté one additional minute. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the cauliflower “rice” and soy sauce to the pan. Mix, cover and cook approximately 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower is slightly crispy on the outside but tender on the inside. Add the egg then remove from heat and mix in scallion greens. Serve immediately.

Cauliflower “Fried Rice”