Eat from All Five Food Groups Daily to Improve Your Health

It’s always impressive when your waiter or waitress presents you with a plate of food that looks too pretty to eat. Many chefs say “we eat first with our eyes (saying attributed to an ancient Roman gourmet).” Have you ever noticed that the more enticing dishes tend to be visually appealing due to the variety of foods and colors displayed?

Eat from All Five Food Groups Daily to Improve Your Health

It’s hard to get that same mouth-watering effect when you have just one thing on the plate. Likewise, the greater variety of food groups you consume, the better the chance you are getting  sufficient quantities of vitamins and minerals from your meals.

According to the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion(CNPP), an organization established in 1994 with the objective of educating and encouraging dietary guidance for all Americans, we should be following the MyPlate.gov model in order to make better food choices and eat healthfully.

The MyPlate model replaced the MyPyramid and the Food Guide Pyramid in 2011, and many people find it much easier to follow. Instead of a pyramid shape, the MyPlate image is designed to look like a place setting, with each of the five food groups displayed in the proper proportions on the plate. It is easy to understand and remember the right ratios of foods we should be eating when contemplating this visual tool.

The reason it is so important to eat from a variety of different foods is that each kind of food has different types and amounts of key vitamins and minerals. If you eat too much of one and not enough of another, you may find that you are lacking in some key nutrients, and over time, this may have a negative consequence for your health. In addition, choosing a variety of foods keeps your meals interesting so you won’t  become bored with your diet plan.

According to the MyPlate Plan, half of our plate should consist of vegetables and fruits, while the other half should be protein and grains. The portion given to veggies is a little bigger than that allotted to fruit, and the portion given to grains is slightly more than that for protein. On the top right of the image is a little circle as though for a drink. This is the dairy group and indicates the proportion of dairy we should have relative to all the other food groups. It is a slightly smaller area than that given to fruits.

The balanced diet presented in the MyPlate Plan is an ideal framework for healthy eating that is easy to remember and follow when creating meals at home or choosing what you want in a cafeteria or restaurant. Take a look at the MyPlate Plan visual tool.

The MyPlate image is not the only helpful tool provided by the CNPP to show you how much of each food group to eat; you can even get a personalized plan specific to your gender, height, weight, and activity level to help you ensure you are eating the right foods in the right quantities. Just go to: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlatePlan.

Which Exercise Burns the Most Calories?

Getting the Most BURN for Your Buck!

Getting the Most BURN for Your Buck!

Whether you are doing squats, sprints, spinning, or swimming, you want to know that the exercise you choose is going to have a nice big return on investment when it comes to burning calories. You work hard and expect to see results, but which physical activity is going to help you reap the biggest rewards? After all, not all workouts are created equal.

If you don’t have a lot of time to exercise, the good news is that you can still maximize your energy expenditure with a short duration but high intensity workout. The activities which burn the greatest amount of calories are those which use more muscle mass and also involve resistance.

An excellent cardio workout for calorie burning is sprinting. Jim White, American College of Sports Medicine spokesperson, says, “Sprinting burns a massive amount of calories, but it can only be kept up for a certain amount of time.” He suggests alternating between two minutes running at the fastest pace you can sustain, and then jogging for a minute to recover before resuming the faster pace again. Running at a pace of 7.5 miles per hour, a 155-pound person can burn 465 calories in a thirty-minute span of time. That is excellent efficiency!

Tabata workouts are another incredibly efficient way to burn calories. Typical Tabata workouts will rotate between four different exercises, such as crunches, jumping rope, squat jumps, and lunges in 20-second increments followed with 10 seconds of rest. This is repeated in cycles for about half an hour. The American Council on Exercise found that in an average 20- to 30-minute Tabata workout, one can burn about 15 calories per minute, or 450 calories per half hour.

Since swimming requires using so many different muscle groups from the kicking of your legs, the stroking of your arms, and the tightening of core muscles as well, it is no wonder that this type of exercise ranks as one of the best calorie-burning cardio workouts. The type of swim stroke you choose will play a role in how many calories you burn. For example, a 155-pound person doing the butterfly stroke can burn 409 calories per half hour in comparison to 372 calories in the same time frame for the breast stroke. If you swim in the ocean, the current of the waves also gives an added challenge, upping the intensity of your workout and maximizing the calories burned.

These three types of workouts will help you burn calories fast. But, check out the exercises below to decide which type you prefer.

These activities will burn approximately the listed number of calories for a 155-pound person in a 30-minute period:

  1. Basketball ——————————————-298 cal
  2. Bicycling (12-13.9 mph) ————————– 298 cal
  3. Bicycling (20 mph) ———————————614 cal
  4. Circuit training ————————————–298 cal
  5. Cross country hiking ——————————223 cal
  6. Dancing slow (waltz, foxtrot, rumba)———-112 cal
  7. Dancing fast ( bally, twist)  ———————–223 cal
  8. Dancing (disco, ballroom, square) ————-205 cal
  9. Elliptical trainer ———————————— 335 cal
  10. Fencing ———————————————–223 cal
  11. High-impact aerobics —————————–260 cal
  12. High-impact step aerobics ———————–372 cal
  13. Horseback riding ———————————–149 cal
  14. Ice skating ——————————————–260 cal
  15. Jumping rope —————————————372 cal
  16.  Kayaking  ——————————————–186 cal
  17. Low-impact aerobics ——————————205 cal
  18. Low-impact step aerobics ————————260 cal
  19. Martial arts (judo, karate, kickbox) ————372 cal
  20. Moderate calisthenics —————————–167 cal
  21. Moderate stationary bicycling ——————260 cal
  22. Moderate stationary rowing ———————260 cal
  23. Running (5 mph) ————————————298 cal
  24. Running (7.5 mph) ———————————465 cal
  25. Running (10 mph) ———————————-614 cal
  26. Ski machine ——————————————353 cal
  27. Soccer ————————————————-260 cal
  28. Stair-step machine ———————————223 cal
  29. Stretching, Hatha yoga —————————-149 cal
  30. Swimming (backstroke) —————————298 cal
  31. Swimming (vigorously) or breaststroke ——-372 cal
  32. Swimming (butterfly or crawl) —————— 409 cal
  33. Tai Chi ————————————————–149 cal
  34. Tennis ————————————————–260 cal
  35. Vigorous stationary rowing ———————–316 cal
  36. Vigorous Tabata ————————————-450 cal
  37. Volleyball ———————————————149 cal
  38. Walking (4.5 mph) ———————————-186 cal
  39. Weight lifting (vigorous) ————————–223 cal

 

Finding the Right Work-Life Balance

If you feel like you are working more hours than ever before, you are in good company. The American workforce has seen many changes over the past century, and a drastic change just in the past 40 years. In 1960, according to the Center for American Progress, “only 20 percent of mothers worked. Today, 70 percent of American children live in households where all adults are employed.” As the only industrialized nation in the world without a mandatory option for new parents to enjoy paid parental leave benefits, many feel the work-life balance in our country has been thrown askew.

It is difficult to take time off for vacations or even if you aren’t feeling 100% well when faced with the prospect that your boss might think you’re not committed enough to your organization or may overlook you when it’s time for the next big promotion in favor of someone who wasn’t absent as much. While it’s obviously important to avoid unnecessary call-ins (sick), we all need some time to relax and get away from our jobs on a regular basis. The weekends just aren’t enough.

In fact, many of us don’t have weekends at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 33% of salary-employed people spent some time working on weekends—with an average of 5.53 hours worked on a weekend day. Those holding multiple jobs and self-employed people were more likely to work on weekends than those with only one job or those employed by others.

According to the International Labor Organization, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” When it comes to our global competitors, we are also working longer days, taking fewer vacations, and waiting longer to retire. But, before you pack up and relocate to France, allow us to present some strategies to help improve your work-life balance.

1. Leave your job at work:
While work is essential to provide for the basics in life such as your home, car, and paying the bills, it should never be a higher priority than your health and happiness. When you spend eight hours a day at your job, it becomes a large part of your life, and it’s vital that you are “working to live and not living to work.”

When you leave, really leave! Resist the urge to check work emails and texts after work hours unless there is absolutely some critical matter that you know you may need to attend to. (Hint: such a “critical” matter is not going to pop up often.) Try to get your work finished before heading out so that when you get home you can truly be present in the moment and not trying to finish up tidbits from your job that distract you from the people and things that you enjoy.

2. Put a priority on hobbies and activities that you enjoy:
Ask yourself what you would spend your time doing if you didn’t have to work. Unless that involves sipping Mai Tais on a Caribbean beach, or exploring some other distant locale, find time around your work day that you can start regularly participating in those activities on a consistent basis. Make a point of scheduling time for this pursuit on your day planner and strictly enforcing that you take that time for yourself to enjoy.

3. Keep the importance of family in perspective:
A wise word from Heather Monahan, founder of #BossinHeels, a career mentoring group, “Realize that no one at your company is going to love you or appreciate you the way your loved ones do. Remember also that everyone from work is replaceable,  and no matter how important you think your job is, the company will not miss a beat tomorrow if you are gone.” This is a great reminder that work should not take precedence over family. Don’t kid yourself into believing that you’ll always have time later to spend with them, because before you know it, the time is gone and the people you wish you had spent time with may have grown up or grown away from you.

4. During the work day, take a few minutes when you can close your eyes and think about something that brings you joy. Or, take those minutes to look at pictures of places and people (or pets) you love. Just taking a brief mental break from work, not talking to colleagues or reading work-related emails and memos, even for a short period of time, can refresh you and help bring balance to your work-life relationship.

5. Get outside. Nothing can soothe the soul like spending some time in nature. If you have any hiking trails nearby that will allow you to get into the woods, then seek them out. Walking in a wooded environment will provide you the sights, sounds, and scents of nature that are so lacking in our busy lives.

There is a new theory that some people suffer from “nature-deficit disorder.” While this may not be a formal diagnosis, Richard Louv so aptly used it in his book (Last Child in the Woods) to describe a growing problem in our country in which humans who are deprived of nature seem to be suffering psychological, physical, and cognitive damage as a result. Allow yourself some time in a natural setting to breathe deeply and relax, totally separate yourself from your workplace, and let your mind wander to the beauty around you. If you make time to do this every week, chances are you will begin to notice a greater sense of balance in every aspect of your life.

Which is Right For You – a Personal Trainer or Dietitian?

If you are serious about losing weight and getting in shape, you may be wondering whether you should hire a personal trainer or a dietitian to help you achieve your goals. With the many different diets that have risen in popularity and then faded to obscurity and the ubiquitous gyms and exercise systems claiming to be the best, making the right choice for yourself takes a little time and research.

One thing is certain: you need to ask yourself if your main goal is to lose weight or to get in shape? These two things are very different, though they are often believed to be the same. A person can be very thin but not very muscular, and likewise, someone may have been working on those muscles but still have a lot of pounds he or she needs to lose. How you answer that question will help you to determine if you may benefit more from the advice of a personal trainer or a dietitian.

When it comes to weight loss, exercising helps but is not nearly as effective in the short term as making changes in your diet. Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, is a nutritional biochemist and formerly acted as director of the Nutrition Clinic at the University of Utah. He said, “As a rule of thumb, weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise. An analysis of more than 700 weight loss studies found that people see the biggest short-term results when they eat smart. On average, people who dieted without exercising for 15 weeks lost 23 pounds; the exercisers lost only six over about 21 weeks. It’s much easier to cut calories than to burn them off exercising. For example, if you eat a fast-food steak quesadilla, which can pack 500-plus calories, you need to run more than four miles to ʻundo’ it.”

If you had a choice between jogging for thirty minutes to burn off the calories, or just eliminating two 16-ounce cans of soda, what would be the easier choice? For weight loss, seeing a dietitian for help in planning an appropriate diet that is safe and effective in helping you reach your goals is probably your best choice.

On the other hand, if you are not so much interested in losing weight as in developing your muscle mass, which will also help in long-term weight loss goals (more muscle increases metabolism), the personal trainer might be the way to go. A personal trainer can create a personalized regimen for you that will help you increase your strength, introduce you to new types of exercises, prepare you for any physical challenges you want to undertake (like running a 5K or marathon), help you stay motivated, and help you develop fitness goals that can ultimately encourage weight loss.

Whether your goal is to become more physically fit by increasing your muscle mass and overall strength, or to lose some weight, or both, the help of a personal trainer or dietitian will help you attain your goal faster with healthy practices and without injury.

Below are some professional organizations that you can contact to locate certified professionals:

 

 

Healthy & Quick Breakfast Ideas

We recently shared information about how important breakfast is for maintaining good health and starting your day off in a great mood. Now that you know some of the benefits of not skipping that morning meal, instead of hopping in the car with nothing to eat, here are some simple solutions that will guarantee you have the time to enjoy breakfast even when you are in a hurry.

Healthy & Quick Breakfast Ideas

The key here is making something fast. You don’t have to sacrifice deliciousness or healthfulness. Below are four of our favorite superfast breakfast options:

Berries and Oats Muffin – in the Microwave!
1/4 cup quick oats
1 egg
Small handful of blueberries
2 Tbsp brown sugar or Stevia
1Tbsp soymilk or almond milk (optional-for more moist muffin)

Put the quick oats, handful of berries, egg, and a sprinkling of brown sugar into a coffee mug. Mix until well-combined, then microwave for 1 minute on high. Take a peek at 45 seconds to prevent it from overflowing, and keep cooking in 30-second increments until the muffin looks firm.

Five Minute Microwave Quiche

1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1 or 2 slices bacon or 1/4 cup bacon bits (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Using a coffee mug, add the egg, 1/3 cup shredded cheddar, 1/3 cup milk, and salt and pepper to taste. You can optionally add some bacon or bacon bits as well. Using a fork or miniature whisk, beat thoroughly to mix well. Cover the mug with a paper towel and microwave on high for 3 minutes or until fully cooked. You may want to add spinach to get an even greater nutritional punch. Just make sure the spinach has had as much liquid removed as possible before adding to the cup.

Peanut Butter Protein Balls

1/2 cup ground flax seeds
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons honey

These delicious little snacks are easy to make and their decadent flavor will make you feel like you are able to eat dessert for breakfast. The no-bake, super easy recipe is packed with fiber, healthy fats, and protein. With only five ingredients, this recipe means you have no more excuses not to eat breakfast!

Combine all ingredients in medium bowl. Stir until well combined. Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes to make them easier to roll. Roll into balls.
These may be stored in the fridge for up to a week if you can get them to last that long. Good luck with that!

Fifteen-minute Italian Baked Eggs 

With 5 minutes to prep and 10 minutes to bake, you can toss these babies in the oven and finish getting ready while they cook.

1 cup marinara sauce
4 large eggs
1/4 cup fat free or lowfat milk
1/4 cup shredded gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup basil, fresh or dried

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Lightly coat 2 10-ounce ramekins with nonstick spray or oil.
3. Pour marinara sauce into ramekins in even portions.
4. Add milk, both cheeses, and eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Bake until egg whites are cooked through and opaque, approximately 10 minutes.

 

Does Eating Breakfast Really Matter?

We’ve all been there in that morning rush when you are trying to get your lunch packed, make sure the kids have their lunches packed, and you’ve already spilled your coffee. It seems like everything in the universe is conspiring to make you late for work. You are tempted to skip breakfast, but your stomach is churning, and you know it really is the most important meal of the day— regardless of how cliché that may sound.

Does Eating Breakfast Really Matter?

Is it true? Is breakfast really that important? Well, according to dietitians, yes. It is! Not only does eating breakfast give your metabolism a kickstart—helping you burn calories all day long—but it helps your brain to focus, which is important whether you are heading to the office or heading to school.

Believe it or not, eating breakfast is also linked to maintaining a healthier weight. According to Christy C. Tangney, PhD, a clinical dietitian at Rush University Medical Center, “Studies have found that although people who skip breakfast eat slightly fewer calories during the day, they tend to have a higher body mass index, or BMI.”

Many studies have shown that eating breakfast is associated with having a better memory and concentration, a lower chance of developing diabetes, heart disease, having lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, and having good health in general.

It is difficult for experts to say whether breakfast is the cause of these healthy traits or whether people who eat breakfast just also have healthier lifestyles.

In addition to benefits for your health, eating breakfast can affect your emotional outlook as well, improving your mood in the mornings drastically. Skipping breakfast, or any meal for that matter, can lower your blood sugar which not only leaves you feeling weak and tired, but also lowers your mental acuity, and often puts you in a bad mood.

British researchers conducted a study (published in the 1999 journal, Physiological Behavior) in which 144 otherwise healthy adults fasted overnight and then were separated into several groups the next morning. One group ate nothing, one group had a moderate breakfast, and the third group only had coffee. Over the next several hours the groups were monitored.

  • The group having had nothing to eat performed the worst on memory tests and felt the most fatigue at noon, four hours after waking.
  • The group consuming coffee did not feel fatigue, but had lower scores on mental skills tests than those who ate breakfast.

Other studies have turned out similar results. Dr. Tangney also points out in regard to adolescents, “Of more concern is that an association has been found between skipping breakfast and other risky behaviors like smoking and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.” So, including that all-important meal in your family’s daily routine may be helping in more ways that you can imagine.

If you often have no time to prepare breakfast in the morning, try keeping some ideas on hand that you can use to prepare the night before a quick grab-and-go breakfast. Muffins or mini-quiches can be made the night before, or perhaps just some simple biscuits with bacon and cheese that you only need to reheat in the microwave before you leave. There are many options that are easy to prepare in advance that you can serve all week long without having to spend hours in the kitchen or make yourself late getting out the door in the mornings. Your morning rush will be a little less stressful if you can just grab it and go.

What Does Extra Weight Do To Your Heart?

With Valentine’s Day this month, many are thinking about their sweethearts and what to get them to show their love: candy, flowers, jewelry, etc., but February is also National Hearth Month, and we should give an equal, if not greater, amount of attention to our physical hearts and what we can do to keep them healthy—that would be an important gift to give to your significant other.

What Does Extra Weight Do To Your Heart?

Have you thought about how your heart could be impacted by carrying around extra weight? According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), more than 93 million adults in the US were classified as obese in 2015-2016. A person with a Body Mass Index of 25-29 is considered overweight, but an obese person has a BMI of 30 or greater. Morbid obesity is one with a BMI of 40 or greater. Below is a table  from the CDC that will help you to see what that means in terms of actual weight, using a 5’9” tall person as an example.

Height Weight Range BMI Considered
5′ 9″ 124 lbs or less Below 18.5 Underweight
125 lbs to 168 lbs 18.5 to 24.9 Healthy weight
169 lbs to 202 lbs 25.0 to 29.9 Overweight
203 lbs or more 30 or higher Obese
271 lbs or more 40 or higher Class 3 Obese

We want to help you keep your heart healthy, so with that in mind, have you thought about how your heart could be impacted by carrying around extra weight? When your body is larger, you force your heart to work harder to carry blood throughout your body. This can lead to high blood pressure, which over time, can enlarge your heart or cause it to weaken, and can contribute to heart failure. Another potential effect is narrowing of blood vessels throughout your body, which can cause a stroke, heart attack, or kidney failure.

You probably acknowledge that being overweight can lead to problems with your health, but did you know that just making small changes in your weight can lead to big changes in your heart’s overall function? Heart disease is one of several risk factors of carrying extra weight, but dropping just 5 to 10 percent of your weight can lower that risk.

For Valentine’s Day this year, give your sweetheart the best present you can possibly give—a healthier you. Start with small changes to your diet and physical activity level:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or look for a parking spot at the end of the lot instead of the closest one you can find.
  • Instead of sitting all day at work, make it a habit to get up and move at least every hour. There are also desks that are available which, with a push button, will raise up for standing or down for sitting. Stand at least part of the time when working.
  • Park at the end of your driveway to force yourself to carry more loads from your car to your house when bringing groceries in.

It’s little changes like this that might not seem like much but which can have an impact when you do them frequently.  Also, imagine how much less frustrating it will be when you aren’t searching for that “good spot” at the store. You’ll feel less stress and maybe even a little pride as you hoof it past all the disgruntled drivers who are vying for that premium parking spot.

Speaking of the store, make a shopping list before you go in. This reduces the chances of impulse buying and picking up junk foods that will work against you. Make healthy food choices a priority. If your kitchen is stocked with healthy snacks and foods that are in line with your goals, it will make your efforts much easier.

Try to eat small healthy snacks frequently. When you wait too long to eat, your appetite increases, and you are more likely to overindulge when you finally do eat. Also, going too long between meals can slow your metabolism—working against you.

By cutting out just 500-1,000 calories each day, you can lose around 1 to 2 pounds per week. Try replacing that bag of chips with carrot sticks and hummus or a salad. Eat a cup of yogurt instead of a scoop of ice cream. Simple replacements will still satisfy your hunger and keep you on track to a reasonable weight loss goal.

Losing weight doesn’t have to be difficult or painful. By making small, simple changes consistently and dedicating yourself to continuing these little transformations, you will find that before you know it, you have made a significant transformation in your health.

We wish you a very happy Heart’s Day!

Part 2: Best Resolutions and Best of Intentions, but Losing a Little Steam?

In part 1 of this article, we talked about a list of resolutions that are nearly universal in the tradition of annual rebirth and revitalization which include lose weight, spend less, learn more, or do something to better your life in some way. In the second part, we want to discuss HOW you can stick to the promises that you made to yourself!

The key is to make sure you are setting realistic goals that you can reach. Many people set the bar too high or make their goal too vague. For example, rather than establishing a normal healthy weight loss goal such as losing one pound per week, a person might proclaim that they are going to lose 50 pounds without really laying out a plan for the appropriate time frame in which they will accomplish this goal. This can lead to a sense of defeat if he/she doesn’t see rapid weight loss.

And whether it’s weight loss, controlling our spending, getting better grades in school, or asking for a promotion at work, our resolutions always take us out of our comfort zones. With that in mind, it’s vital that we set smaller and very precise goals for ourselves—goals that will be easier to reach and help us build our confidence in our ability to succeed.

Start Small, Finish Big.

As you attain these smaller goals, your satisfaction will soar. Nothing helps me put that truffle back in the box like remembering that the last time I stepped on the scale, I was five pounds lighter, and I liked that. Celebrating each small success makes it easier to keep going. Before you know it, you will have reached your goal.

Many people find it helpful to track their progress in writing. You can look back on your journey later and really appreciate the work you put in. Sometimes, reading back over it and recalling the struggle is all it takes to find the motivation to keep going. And who knows, you may use your story later to inspire others facing the same challenges.

It is also important to put a number on it. Instead of just some vague goal like losing weight, set an attainable goal that will be easy to reach like one pound per week for four weeks. That may seem like a small amount, but according to the CDC, people who lose their weight slowly and steadily are much more likely to keep it off because true healthy weight loss is not going to come from a temporary diet, but from adopting a new lifestyle long-term. And, the CDC also says that 1 to 2 pounds per week is an ideal goal. To lose one pound per week, you would need to burn off 500 more calories than you consume on a daily basis (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories).

If your goal is to “spend less money,” make this goal less ambiguous by budgeting exactly what money you will spend and where it will go. Make use of a budgeting app like Mint or PocketGuard. You can also just plot it out on a spreadsheet. Whatever method you prefer, by tracking how you spend, it becomes much easier to see where you may be wasting money on things you don’t really need. That is how you start. Once you can highlight the less important recipients of your hard-earned cash, you can figure out how much money could potentially be saved by cutting those things out of the budget.

The key is to take baby steps. Make small changes initially, like opting to brew a cup of coffee for yourself in the morning at home rather than spending $4 at Starbucks every day. Whatever your vice, chances are that you can see big changes in your pocket at the end of the month once you start taking a closer look at your spending trends and making conscious efforts to peel back a little bit at a time.

Remember, write it down, take baby steps, and make sure you know exactly where your target is before you shoot the arrow. With sensible small goals, structured plans for accomplishing them, and a willingness to accept that you just might make a few blunders along the road to victory but that doesn’t mean you give up, the group of people celebrating success this year will probably include YOU. Go do it!

 

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