Monthly Archives: January 2019

Part 1: Best Resolutions and Best of Intentions, but Losing a Little Steam?

Chances are pretty good that like over 40% of other Americans, with the dawn of 2019, you resolved to lose weight, spend less, learn more, or do something to better your life in some way. This list of resolutions is a nearly universal tradition of annual rebirth and revitalization. Sounds good, but how’s that working for you?

By now, for many of us, our gusto has turned to dust-o. When that alarm beeps at 5 am to remind us it’s time to go running, the bed feels a little warmer and more comfortable than it ever has before. Did you swear off chocolates but then, after realizing you just popped your third truffle into your mouth, decided that it’s too late to turn back and “to heck with those resolutions”? Just finish the box? No way! Come on, you can do this. Everyone is entitled to a mistake or two. Enjoy that truffle; don’t beat yourself up over it, but don’t feel the need to finish off the box. If you fall down, get up and keep going!

So, how do we go about maintaining the excitement and zeal to hold fast to our well- intentioned resolutions? Do many people really make it through to the end of the challenge and succeed, or do most of us just make the resolutions for fun and never really bother with it for very long? Sadly, about 80% of people fail in their resolve by the second week in February, according to U.S. News & World Report.

What is the reason for making our resolutions on New Year’s anyway? When did this whole idea start and why? As it turns out, ancient Babylonians and Romans seem to have started the tradition by making promises to their gods about trying to be better people by returning items they had borrowed and repaying people to whom they owed money. The early medieval knights vowed to remain chivalrous while Christians sought forgiveness through prayer and made resolutions about living more holy lives.

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions still has a place in current religious practice, not only remaining a practice among many Christians, but also during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which finds its faithful reflecting upon their actions over the previous year and seeking forgiveness for their sins.

The tradition is very much rooted in religious beliefs and has been sustained through the ages as humans forever aspire to be better than they are. It is a noble desire, and each year, there are always those who do find success in reaching their goals. Do not fool yourself into thinking that just because many people give up, it is an unworthy goal or a waste of time or effort. On the contrary, if you do it right from the very start, you’ve got this. And the cliché that anything worth having is worth fighting for, well, that is a life truth.

So, what does it take to keep the flame burning and not giving up on those promises we make to ourselves? We’ll dive into that in part 2 of this article!

Sugary Sweet… Not Such a Treat?

From birthday parties to holiday feasts, nearly every joyous occasion we celebrate is accompanied by a host of sugary desserts that puts on pounds and leaves our blood sugar sky high. While there is a definite rapture in the taste of these decadent delights, it isn’t only the taste that makes it so hard to resist the chocolate lava cake or the key lime pie. Your brain actually gets a kick too.

Sugary Sweet... Not Such a Treat?

When you eat sugar, or even look at an enticing dessert, dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is part of the brain’s complicated reward system enabling us to anticipate and experience pleasure, floods into your mesolimbic pathway. We then experience a blissful sensation. The more often we reward our brains with sugar, the greater our dopamine response becomes. This is why people will experience “sugar cravings.” Much like an addiction, sugar is a difficult temptation to resist, especially when we are confronted with it in so many places. The real kicker is that sugar is included in so many foods you eat, you may not even realize when you’re eating it. Did you know that iodized salt contains a tiny quantity of sugar in the form of dextrose? Yep. You heard it right folks, there is sugar in your salt.

The reason it’s important not to consume too much sugar is the indisputable connection between sugar consumption and obesity. Obesity greatly increases the chance of developing type 2 diabetes. It has also been linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease. There has even been some speculation and provocative research by Rainer Klement and Ulrike Kammerer in Germany (1), about slowing cancer growth by restricting sugar in the diet of cancer patients.

Excessive sugar intake contributes not only to weight gain and its associated problems, but also to tooth decay. If you are able to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, you will probably also reduce your risk of developing many of these medical conditions.

So, how can you ski that sugary slope without landing face first in a dopamine-filled ditch? Well, the good news is that there are many healthy alternatives to sugar which are easy to find at almost any grocery store. Here are some natural alternatives:

1. Stevia is extracted from the South American plant known as Stevia Rebaudiana. It is a natural sweetener with zero calories. In human studies it has shown no connection to adverse health effects, and in fact has some health benefits.

2. Xylitol is extracted from the wood of birch trees and from corn, and exists naturally in many fruits and vegetables. A sugar alcohol, the taste is similar to that of sugar but it has 40% fewer calories with a total of 2.4 calories per gram. Like Stevia, xylitol does not share the harmful effects now attributed to sugar and also has some health benefits.

3. Erythritol, like xylitol, is a sugar alcohol with even fewer calories. It only has 0.24 calories per gram, which is 6% of the calories in sugar. Tasting even more like sugar than stevia or xylitol, many people find this an easy change to make. Your body can not break down erythritol and so it is simply excreted in your urine without having the negative impacts that sugar has.

4. Yacon Syrup is another sweetener derived from a South American plant, the yacon plant, also known as Smallanthus sonchifolius. This sweetener is a dark liquid bearing a similar consistency to molasses. The sugar molecules in yacon syrup can not be digested, and therefore the caloric impact it has on the body is about 1.3 calories per gram. This sweetener has also been shown to reduce the feeling of hunger by suppressing the hormone ghrelin, which may help you curb your eating. This syrup should not be used for cooking, because high temperatures break down its structure. It is fine for sweetening tea or coffee, oatmeal, and cold foods.

It is important to note that one side effect shared by all of these sugar substitutes, except for Stevia, is that in excess, they may cause some individuals to experience bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Also, Xylitol is extremely toxic to canines, and care should be taken to keep it away from dogs.

So, the next time you are staring down the dessert table at your cousin’s wedding, maybe you can check to see if any of the items were made with a natural sugar substitute. You might be able to enjoy the satisfaction of sweetness without the guilt or worry that comes with sugar.

(1) Klement, Rainer J and Ulrike Kämmerer. “Is there a role for carbohydrate restriction in the treatment and prevention of cancer?” Nutrition & metabolism vol. 8 75. 26 Oct. 2011, doi:10.1186/1743-7075-8-75

Starting a Healthier Lifestyle in 2019? Lettuce Help You with That!

Here are some fantastic options for shaking up your salad routine!

Everyone is familiar with the good old salad standby: iceberg lettuce. But if you’ve walked into any major produce department lately, you’ll notice an enticing assortment of leafy varieties that may be unfamiliar. These can offer great options for spicing up your salads with something a little more exotic and healthy. Here are some of the options you’ll likely encounter:

Arugula
Arugula, the funny-sounding name that reminds one of the horns on old cars, has a distinctive peppery flavor that really brings an exciting zip to your salads. The texture is different from iceberg lettuce, as the leaves of this plant are skinny rather than broad, with a softly undulating border and a smooth surface. This leafy treat weighs in high in vitamins K and A and is a good source of fiber and protein.

Kale
This curly-leafed green has grown wildly in popularity in the past few years and is now finding a place in everything from salads to oven baked-chips and smoothies! While it may seem like a new and passing fad, this vegetable was grown by the ancient Romans.

Kale has a somewhat bitter flavor, and the texture can be rather tough. If you find either to be an issue, you can tear it into smaller pieces in your salad, so as not to have the flavor overwhelm the other ingredients. And give it a good massage with an oil-based dressing to soften the texture.

Kale is one of the most nutritious options for salads with 1,021% of the recommended daily value of vitamin K, 308% of the RDV for vitamin A, and 200% of the RDV for vitamin C. With its incredible vitamin potency, it is no surprise that kale has become a hero among the health-conscious.

Spinach
This leafy green became famous after Popeye the Sailor Man gulped it down in his daily cartoon and suddenly burst out with muscles—doing impossible stunts with his superhuman strength—attributable to the magical can of spinach. While this vegetable is certainly healthy, it probably won’t turn you into a muscle-bound superhero in one sitting. It does taste fabulous raw, with a slightly astringent, earthy flavor and is a great complement to any salad. With a huge amount of vitamin K and vitamin A, it beats arugula for nutritional value. It’s also a good source of fiber and protein. While it can’t compare with kale for these vitamins, its dark green leaves boast more folate than kale, making it a definite health bonus for any salad.

Swiss Chard
Boasting even more vitamin K than kale, this superfood could be next on the list of fashionable health foods. Swiss chard, slightly bitter to the taste, contains 1,038% of the RDV of vitamin K, with 122% of the RDV of vitamin A. Chard is also an excellent way to work vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and manganese into your diet and is reputed to have a slightly milder flavor than kale. Another bonus to adding this leaf to your salad is its highly interesting coloration: dark green leaves and a vividly red stem and veins. It adds a very colorful appeal.

Radicchio
Another ancient companion to your salad, radicchio was mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his 79 A.D encyclopedic Naturalis Historia, commenting that this velvety red-leafed plant was good for insomnia and blood purification in addition to boasting a nice taste. He notes that it was Egyptians who bred this variety from the chicory plant.

Radicchio has a bold flavor, somewhat spicy, and is also pleasingly colorful with its purplish red leaves accented by white stem and veins. It resembles red cabbage but has quite a different flavor. A tasty addition to your salad!

Watercress
Once a staple in the diet of Roman soldiers and used medicinally by Hippocrates (the father of medicine),  it should be no surprise that watercress is bursting with nutritional goodness. Unfortunately, over time, the plant became known as the food of the poor and was less fashionable in comparison to the new varieties of salads that were cultivated over the next 100 years.

This ancient green is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables such as broccoli, arugula, kale, and Brussels sprouts. It is high in vitamins K, C, and A. With a tender texture but a slightly peppery taste, this dynamic green is a wonderful addition to your leafy repertoire.

The Lettuces
Whether you prefer iceberg, leaf, Boston, or romaine lettuce, most have a similar mild flavor. The four most common categories are looseleaf, crisphead, romaine, and butterhead. The iceberg lettuce we are so familiar with is a great example of crisphead, with a round head of tightly packed leaves. The butterhead variety is also mostly rounded, but with the leaves being more loose and smooth (usually found in the grocery store in plastic clamshell cases).

While romaine lettuce has rather long leaves and a robust spine, the looseleaf varieties grow as rosettes, with loosely gathered leaves—easily harvested one leaf at a time rather than by the entire plant.

The mild flavors of all the lettuces make them an ideal base upon which to add the spicy, bitter, and peppery varieties of leafy greens listed above.

Whatever exotic varieties of greens you choose to add to your salads this year, don’t be afraid to try something new! Variety is the spice of life, and this is especially true with greens.