Exercising in an hour? Have a cup of coffee!

It’s not just for breakfast any more! Coffee can improve your workout, researchers have shown. Researchers conducted a study in which a sample of inactive men were monitored biking with and without caffeine. While the men said they put forth the same amount of energy whether or not they had consumed caffeine, the results revealed faster cycling rates after caffeine consumption. Another set of researchers conducted a study and found participants who had caffeine before a workout had an easier time holding back cravings. In fact, those who had caffeine ate 72 calories less after the workout than those who hadn’t consumed the stimulant.

I don’t think it’s surprising. The caffeine in a cup of coffee will boost your energy and help you stay awake, so it’ll give your workout a boost too. You don’t even realize that you’re working harder. If you’re not sleepy, then you can pedal (or run) faster. The caffeine also boosts your stamina – letting you work longer, getting in that extra mile (or half-mile for me!)

Heidi Skolnik, a sports nutritionist, also says that coffee also increases the release of dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters. So you can work past what you might otherwise perceive as pain or weakness. The benefit of coffee to your workout starts about an hour after you drink it.

Now, don’t go crazy! Putting in lots of cream and sugar or other calorie-laden additions might taste really good, but the extra calories will outweigh any benefits the caffeine will give you. A little milk is good though – the protein and carbohydrates it adds will help kick-start your brain!

And remember to drink water while you’re exercising. It’s important to stay hydrated, and coffee alone won’t do that! Get a good night’s sleep, and drink plenty of water and you’ll get the most benefit from your workout.

Overstuffed?

We’ve all been there. But the pizza looked so good! I couldn’t resist the Alfredo! Just one more piece of apple pie? Munchies during the game! Mindless munchies watching a movie.

And now, even a day later, you still feel stuffed.

Don’t beat yourself up about it now. What’s done is done. You can’t go back in time and not eat all that (no matter how much you might want to!).

And you can’t starve yourself today! Your body still needs the fuel to carry on today!

What do you do?

Do your regular workout, perhaps with a little more intensity. Walk a few more blocks. Drink a little more water.

If you have watercress in your crisper, put some in your salad – it protects your cells against free radicals, and is a natural diuretic.

Squeeze some lemon in your water – the Vitamin C helps detox your body and burn fat. Plus it helps with digestion and it’s delicious.

Eat more dark leafy greens – in your salad, in your soup, or saute them with a little olive oil. Dark leafy greens boost chlorophyll levels in your digestive tract which helps to eliminate environmental toxins.

Have an apple (or another fruit) – fruit is full of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber.

Eat some cabbage, artichokes or beets – they’re great for cleansing the liver.

Ginger and garlic help eliminate free radicals.

There you have it. Go eat some healthy stuff. But don’t overdo it!

Much more than just a vegetable

Mashed cauliflowerI’ve been re-introduced to the wonders of cauliflower! We’ve always just steamed the florets and added a pinch of salt and perhaps a bit of butter, but I learned that you can do so much more to it!

The Health Benefits of Cauliflower

Cauliflower contains Sulforaphane, which is a cancer-fighter, helps to reduce blood pressure and improves kidney function. It also contains Sulfur which is an anti-inflammatory and helps to remove toxic substances from the body. This versatile vegetable also contains multiple antioxidant phytonutrients. One serving of cauliflower contains almost a whole day’s recommendation of Vitamin C. It also contains Folate, Vitamin K, Fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids! Wow!

I mentioned that a key property of cauliflower is fighting inflammation. Inflammation can contribute to many debilitating illnesses, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and even cancer. Reducing inflammation also stabilizes blood sugars, helping to manage and prevent diabetes.

Studies have shown that cauliflower, when consumed once a week, helps fight colorectal cancer. And cauliflower doesn’t have to be cooked! It’s been shown that eaten raw, cauliflower binds with bile acid to help cholesterol levels.

Not Just a Side Dish

Steaming cauliflower and eating it just like that is still a great option. And steaming is much better than boiling cauliflower, according to the experts. When boiled, many of the phytonutrients are left in the water.

Besides mashing cauliflower and adding a bit of butter and a dash of salt as a healthier alternative to mashed potatoes, I’ve got to try ricing cauliflower! People swear by it! And using it as a pizza crust. A friend says you can actually pick up flattened riced and cooked cauliflower like bread!

 

Your dinner plate

Broccolini, sweet potato and chicken: A healthy plate is mostly plant-based foods.You try to eat healthy. You’ve even counted all the calories you consume in a day. You buy organic produce, eggs from cage-free chickens. You only eat beef from grass-fed cows. You’ve tried to cut out grains from your diet.

And still the weight stays on. You try running more, different exercise programs, and nothing seems to be working.

The solution may be a simple formula applied to your dinner plate. And it’s so simple you’ll think it can’t possibly work. But it does!

A healthy plate is based on plants. One-half to 3/4 of your plate should be filled with plant-based foods. Plants provide fiber, vitamins and minerals for nourishment. And the plants can be fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole-grain foods. Plant-based eating is in line with guidelines set out by the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Look at my plate above. Most of the plate is broccolini and sweet potato. Not a lot is chicken – and that’s lean chicken, no skin! Healthy and tasty, to boot!

Plus plants have fewer calories than meat protein and simple carbohydrates.

Think of all the time you’ll save by not counting calories!

Of course, like everything else in life, I believe in moderation. So my healthy plate works for me most of the time. I do indulge in pizza and chocolate cake. Just not all the time!

3 Requirements for a Great Meal

Who thinks that healthy meals are boring? Not me! Nope – every meal can be tasty, filling and healthy. If you’re trying to lose weight, the worst words in any language are “I’m going on a diet!” Yes, “diet” is a 4-letter word, but it’s just a word. It’s not good, bad or indifferent.

Your “diet” is just what you eat. Food is “fuel.” And that’s another 4-letter word. Food is what fuels your body. It’s imperative for everything!

So, what you put into your body should help you in your daily activities – the food you eat fuels your body, like gasoline fuels your car. (But, that doesn’t mean that your fuel shouldn’t be tasty!)

Every meal has to be filling, tasty and appetizing! It has to last for a few hours, until your next meal or a (planned) snack. Lean protein and complex carbohydrates help in filling you up.

The chicken in this picture was grilled, with a rub of spices, which add no calories but tons of flavor. I sprayed the grill with a little oil so the chicken wouldn’t stick. The broccolini was steamed and sprinkled with a little of the spice mixture, and the sweet potato was baked. I did add a tiny bit of butter to the potato. No artificial stuff – a tiny dab of butter for a bit of umami goodness. Yes, it adds a few calories but satisfies the craving for more.

What makes this dish appetizing to me are all the different colors. Sometimes in the depth of winter we’ll make meals that are all one color, which are basically unappealing to the senses. So whenever possible, we try to include food of many different colors. They satisfy the palate, the stomach and the soul.

Keep it simple!

chicken_broccoliniIt’s way too easy to zip in and out of a fast-food drive-thru on your way home from work. And that’s really dangerous. The portions are way too big. The food has too many calories, and it’s full of fat. It’s deep-fried. If you’re trying to watch your weight, and eat clean and healthy then drive-thrus are the most dangerous places on the planet!

Yes, french fries are delicious. Nothing can beat a burger and fries. Unless it’s a burger and fries with a shake. But I always feel a little sick and bloated before bed when I indulge like that. And it’s just not worth it. What is worth it is taking a few minutes to plan ahead for a delicious, healthy meal.

The first few times I planned meals for a week it was a real chore. Not fun at all. But then I wrote notes through the week about meal ideas and then I gathered those notes to plan the week’s menus and it was no big deal.

The key to actually following through on the meal plan on busy week nights is to keep it simple. Like the grilled chicken, steamed broccolini and sweet potato pictured. I microwave the sweet potato, so it just takes a few minutes. It’s done when the chicken is. I also use the microwave to steam vegetables. I do the potato first and wrap it in foil to stay warm and finish cooking. Delicious, nutritious and easy!

Accept your weaknesses

truffle-piecesWe all have something we’re not great at. Something we wish we were better at. Do you have a weakness for chocolate? Can’t stop at one piece? Me too. I accept that. I love chocolate – the darker the better. It’s really easy to fall off the healthy nutrition wagon and go overboard with dark chocolate. After all, it’s good for us, right? Yes – in moderation! And that’s the key. One is good, two and more – not so much. I know this, and as much as it pains me, I make my chocolate hard to get at. I put it in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator. It’s there, and it’s still yummy, but the harder I have to work to get a piece, the more I will think about it. I’ll indulge myself with one piece, then put the rest back in the baggie in the refrigerator.

So, from this example, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m a chocoholic. I don’t let it rule or ruin my life. I eat chocolate in moderation – it doesn’t ruin the rest of my diet. And I’m working to space out the chocolate I eat. One day it will get easier to do that.

Don’t Get “Hangry!”

Do you get “Hangry?”

GORP: Good Old-fashioned Raisins & Peanuts (with a few chocolate chips!)
GORP: Good Old-fashioned Raisins & Peanuts (with a few chocolate chips!)

(That’s Hungry mixed with Angry.) I do. I get so hungry that I lash out at anyone near me. One word not to my liking, and “Off with their heads!”

Not nice, but I can’t help it. The worst thing is that I don’t know when it will hit. So the best thing is to be proactive.

Most days are routine, and I know what to expect. Breakfast at 6:30, lunch at 12:30 and dinner at about 7. I know what to expect, so I can plan for it. But some days are out of the ordinary. If I’m going to a dog show, for example, I never know when lunch will happen, if it does at all. So I bring snacks! Healthy snacks that I can grab when I’m taking the dog for a potty break between agility runs, or before we go into the obedience ring.

Old fashioned “GORP” is a big favorite! That’s Good, Old-fashioned Raisins and Peanuts. Healthy and filling, not to mention yummy.  I might substitute almonds for the peanuts if I’m feeling virtuous. Or add a few M&Ms if I’m feeling daring! A handful of GORP and I’m good to go!

Or, for a mid-afternoon snack, I’ll have a carrot, or a few almonds.  I just make sure not to leave the house without a snack and a bottle of water. (That’s my reusable water bottle with ice and our good Skokie tap water.)

I’ll eat healthy if it kills me!

Pasta with rubies (beets) is beautiful and healthy!
Pasta with rubies (beets) is beautiful and healthy!

I’ll tell you why it’s so hard to eat healthy!

We’re tempted at every commercial break by fast food and other fatty options. Our friends post pictures of delectable desserts and easy casseroles, filled with cream and butter. Driving down any street in America we’re bombarded by multiple fast food restaurants in every strip mall. And even at family restaurants, the portions are huge! It’s no wonder Americans are gaining weight.

What to do? Play with your dog during commercial breaks, or do a few crunches. “Like” your friends’ posts, and eat those fatty concoctions with your eyes only. Drive right past those fast food restaurants! And if you’re eating out with your family, split the entrée with someone else at your table, or take half home for dinner the next day. Before you even start eating, cut the portion in half and decide that you’re taking the left (or right) half home!

It’s not easy. I know it’s not. And no one can decide for you that you’re going to eat healthy. It’s been a lifelong battle for me. All you can do is your best – I decide one meal at a time that it’s going to be a good one, and I don’t eat between meals. My sister is amazed that I don’t snack – but I know, if I start, I won’t be able to stop. Will power can be learned. All you have to do is judge for yourself whether you want that bag of potato chips or if you want to fit into those jeans…

Hydration

Fran's frozen water bottle
Fran’s frozen water bottle

Forget the old saw that says you need 64 ounces of water a day! But, you still need to drink plenty of water or other liquids. It keeps your head clear, keeps things moving, and helps to fill you up. Water also keeps your skin healthy, along with everything inside. Drink when you’re thirsty. More when it’s hot out or you’re doing more.

If your water doesn’t taste good, add some lemon juice. Or, add another flavored juice to your water. Make sure that it’s not sugared, though, because then you’ll undo much of the good that the water does.

And use a bottle that you can wash and re-use. Save the environment while you’re saving yourself! I like to freeze about a third of the volume of the bottle the day before. That ice will keep my water cold most of the next day. If I’m adding lemon juice, I’ll squeeze a half of a lemon and add it to the water that I’m freezing. The next day my water will be tangy and delicious!

I have a huge purple BPA-free bottle that takes up way too much space in the freezer, but I love it. I have a BUiLT-NY cover for it so the condensation doesn’t get all over everything.