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Posts Tagged ‘health’

Weekly Review: Veganism

My week as a vegan!

So last week, I decided to give the whole super-healthy vegan thing a try, just to see if I would become one those super-humans who only eats plants and feels amazing all the time. I actually did stick to the vegan rules the whole time (ok, well almost), and there were some good things and bad things I think.

First, the good.

The best thing about trying to be a vegan was that it forced me to cook. Every night. I actually got home from work, opened the refrigerator and pulled out ingredients to make a meal! Crazy! Kevin usually does all the cooking, but eating vegan without him left me no choice. I found myself liking it a bit; there’s something intrinsically rewarding about pulling together a homemade meal that I really did enjoy. I certainly eat a more balanced diet when I make dinner for myself, rather than just eating hummus and pita chips for dinner.

Then, the bad.

I missed my dairy! I have a piece of string cheese and a yogurt for lunch every day and I sorely missed those. I tried to replace them with a Kind Bar and an apple, but it just wasn’t the same. Honestly, it was really hard to feel full. The tempeh tacos I made filled me up, but that’s about it. I always left dinner feeling not hungry, but not really satisfied. Plus, may I’m just not good at making vegan meals, but nothing tasted all that great. It wasn’t that things tasted bad, but just nothing that really satified me in a delicious way.

And, the ugly.

I craved everything I wasn’t supposed to eat. I hated feeling so restricted, and I know that for the future, it just isn’t how I want to live my life. I don’t like feeling that certain foods are off limits, and I don’t want to feel guilty all the time. I much prefer to think about adding good foods, rather than restricting foods. I did find some new foods I’d like to add to my diet, like hemp milk and tempeh, and I found new recipes I’ll keep in the rotation. However, I just couldn’t justify living within such a narrow restriction forever. Plus, I’d have to take vitamins, which I really hate.

I’d love to hear about any of your dietary adventures! Have any of you ever tried veganism or another radical change?

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Vegan… for the week

My haul at the health food store

I’m doing something a little crazy this week; I’m going vegan. Hubby is out of town for the entire week, so I took the opportunity to go to the health food store and buy all kinds of things Kevin doesn’t really want to eat. He’s really a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and I have only successfully gotten him to eat tofu once. He said he liked it, but I think he was just being nice.

The funny thing is, I’m not even a vegetarian. I eat meat on a semi regular basis, and I definitely have dairy every single day. Examining the research, I’m not even convinced that veganism is necessary for optimal health. Several nutrients are really hard to get without animal products (iron and calcium) and some are impossible and require a supplement (B12). Plus, I do think that the health benefits gleaned from a vegan diet have much more to do with the large amount of vegetables and fruits consumed as well as the removal of processed foods and sugar, rather than the removal of any animal products.

So why am I bothering with the whole vegan thing? Honestly, because sometimes we all make decisions based on anecdotes and emotions rather than hard evidence. The past year I have been exposing myself to a lot of health research, and much of that has been about veganism. I read Eat and Run by Scott Jurik, Finding Utra by Rich Roll, The China Study, and watched Food Matters, Forks Over Knives, and Hungry for Change. All of which tout the incredible benefits of veganism. All of these sources go above and beyond just the health benefits; the claims about this diet border on magical. They claim it gives incredible energy, a clear mind and a great mood. They also claim that veganism improves your skin, makes the white of your eyes whiter (really?), and improves libido. So, I guess I figured why not? What’s the harm? Honestly, I thought that if I didn’t at least try it, I’d always wonder.

Lentil stew

So here I am this week, eating as healthy as humanly possible and consuming no animal products. Already, I’m tried new things I never thought I would eat. For breakfast, I make my smoothie with hemp milk, fresh spinach, chia seeds, and a packet of dried green superfood (which includes basically every healthy green plant you could imagine, plus some extracts). My lunch has stayed mostly the same; almond butter of whole wheat bread (although I bought this really expensive sprouted grain bread), apple, banana, organic applesauce, and a Kind bar. I did have to give up my string cheese and yogurt, which I was pretty sad about. Dinner is where things get interesting. Monday night I had tempeh tacos with kale and hummus. Last night I made a homemade lentil stew with sweet potatoes, and on the menu tonight is either quinoa pasta or quinoa with avocado, black beans, and some tofu. I’ve been eating cold quinoa with frozen berries, hemp milk and cinnamon for dessert, which is actually delicious.

The goal is to keep it up at least through Sunday and see if I have any of the proposed “magical” effects. I know that a week may not be long enough to tell, but I’m not sure I could really last any longer than that. Are any of you vegans? What do you think?

I’ll let you know how it goes!

-Sara

Should we be exercising… less?

This might sound crazy to you, but in the quest for weight loss, some of us may be exercising too much. How can that be, you might be asking, since so few people actually exercise? Let me ask you this; for those of you who regularly go to the gym, do you know anyone that you see there every day on the treadmill not getting any thinner? I know I do. There is a new research study out this month that suggests that some people may be struggling to lose weight because they are actually exercising too much!

The study was conducted by the University of Copenhagen and followed the weight loss efforts of overweight but otherwise healthy men in their 20s and 30s. The men were broken up into 3 groups; no exercise, 30 minutes daily and 60 minutes daily. They were told to keep their eating habits constant throughout the duration of the 13 week study. Afterwards, they were weighed, and as expected the group that did not change their diet or exercise habits lost no weight. The 60 minute group lost around 5 pounds on average, so they were mildly successful. However, the 30 minute group lost 7 pounds on average, which was significantly more than the researchers were expecting. How could this be?

One hypothesis is the compensatory eating effect. Those who worked out an hour each day felt exhausted afterwards and may have had an increased drive to eat in order to compensate for the large number of calories burned. The 30 minute group most likely didn’t perceive the effort to be all that hard, and may actually have kept their calorie intake constant. The second and more interesting hypothesis (I think) is the amount of other activity they did during the day. The 60 minute group usually felt pretty wiped out from their workout and spent most of their free time sitting; they took the elevator instead of the stairs and sat on the couch after work instead of tackling some chores. The 30 minute group actually reported feeling energized from their workout and they moved around significantly more during the day.

I loved this study because it actually made sense in my own life. When I was in college I ran both track and cross country. During the cross country season, I ran more miles during the week, and therefore always felt like I was burning a ton of calories. I definitely reduced my other activity and ate as many brownies as my heart desired and looking back at pictures, I was always a little heavier during cross country season.

How much do you exercise? Have you ever felt frustrated that you’re exercising so much and yet not losing weight?

-Sara

Getting Motivated

For those of us who struggle to exercise daily (or at least semi-daily), finding the right motivation is key. When my alarm goes off at 5:45 every morning, I need a really good reason to get out of bed; if not, I’m hitting the snooze and exercising tomorrow.

As an exercise physiologist, I’d like to think that the most current research is what motivates people to exercise. There are dozens of studies that tout the benefits of regular physical activity on reducing chronic disease; with just 30 minutes a day, you lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and even depression. That should be enough to make us want to move around, right?

Unfortunately, the research would suggest otherwise. According to a study done by Ingledew and Markland, exercisers tended to stick with a program much longer if their reason for working out was related to social interactions and those who were exercising for appearance didn’t last very long. Researchers have also found that when we perceive benefits to be either intangible or in the distant future, we aren’t very motivated. Just knowing that when you’re 75, your cholesterol will be lower doesn’t seem to be a potent motivator for getting off the couch.

So what do we do? There’s a great article on nytimes right now that suggests we will exercise much more often if we think about how it makes us feel, rather than how it makes us look, and if we think about how it affects us today, rather than how it will affect us 10 years from now. If yo look forward to your evening walk, thinking about how it helps you de-stress and how nice it will feel to be outside, you’ll be more likely to go than if you try to guilt yourself into going. Thinking about exercise as a punishment will always leave a bad taste and it will be a dreaded item to check off the to-do list.

I exercise for a couple of reasons; some noble, some not so much. Some days I look forward to my run; I feel fit and thin and it sounds like a fun thing to do. Other days, I force myself to go because I’m training for a race, or honestly, because I had an extra piece of chocolate cake the day before. But, what gets me out of bed in the morning at 5:45 is thinking how good I’ll feel for the rest of the day. If I tell myself, “it’s just 30 minutes. Then think what you’ll have accomplished before 7 am,” I’ll  get right up.

What motivates you to exercise?

Should I Workout When I’m Sick?

I’m writing this post to you wiped out on the couch with a wicked case of strep throat. I had no idea a sore throat could hurt so badly! Have you guys ever had strep throat? If you haven’t, count yourselves incredibly lucky and if you have, I feel your pain! It’s terrible!

If you’re someone who works out most days of the week, during cold and flu season, you may want to know, “Should I work-out when I’m sick?” Or, if you’re more like me, “Should I feel guilty for not working out when I’m sick?” I should tell you that it’s Sunday and I haven’t run since Thursday. One, because I’ve been on antibiotics for strep and on strict orders from the doctor to rest, and two, I just didn’t want to. 🙂

If you’re debating illness and exercise, you need to ask youself two questions; how sick am I and how much exercise am I doing?

How sick are you?

Let me first say that if you are contagious, please don’t go to the gym! You’re not being tough, you’re being a jerk. It’s bad enough that you’re sick, but sweating in out in the gym means your spreading your germs to dozens of exercisers. Don’t do it!Secondly, if you have a fever, the flu, or some other condition which makes the trip from the couch to the fridge an arduous journey, you are officially too sick to exercise.

However, if it’s just a persisent cold, a runny nose, or a cough, you may want to think about it. Research has shown that moderate exercise may boost the immune system and actually may help you fight the cold, especially if you are a regular exerciser to begin with.

How much exercise are we talking about?

Most all of the research that shows a positive relationship between immune function and exercise refers only to moderate exercise, not vigorous or long-duration exercise. What counts as moderate? If you are doing cardio, you should only exercise 20-40 minutes, and you should be able to talk to your neighbor the whole time. If you’re lifting, don’t do any sets to failure and go for volume rather than max strength (think 2 sets of 20 reps rather than 4 sets of 5 reps).

If you feel like a cold is coming on, let me encourage you to keep your exercise moderate, and don’t go for that long run this week. While moderate exercise may help you get over that cold, extreme or intense exercise could actually make you more susceptible to an infection.

Bottom Line: If you have strep throat, stay home! But, if you just have a cold, get your butt out the door and go for a 30  minute brisk walk.

Do you guys exercise when you’re sick?

-Sara

Guest Blog: Cancer and Nutrition

Please welcome guest blogger Jillian McKee, a Complimentary Medicine Advocate, to discuss proper nutrition when undergoing cancer and cancer treatment.

Cancer is a difficult situation for individuals, their family members and friends. However, eating nutritious food can help improve the quality of life during treatment, alleviate some symptoms, and offer strength and energy.

Nutrition Priorities

Eating healthy under normal circumstances is a good idea. Eating well when you have cancer is a priority, regardless of the type of cancer you may have, such as mesothelioma or any other type of cancer. Frame your eating plan around the following priorities:
            – Maintain a healthy weight
            – Promote muscle mass, strength, and energy
            – Find appealing foods that fit changing tastes and appetite levels

Nutrition Tips

Cancer patients may want to consult a registered dietitian to help find foods that are healthy and also easy to chew and digest.

Consider adding beverages, such as protein shakes, if eating meals becomes difficult. However drinking liquids during meals may increase nausea. A Stanford article suggests that cancer patients take medications with high calorie liquids or shakes. If your appetite is low, light exercise can help stimulate your appetite.

Choose foods high in protein in order to increase energy and maintain weight. Recommended levels of protein for cancer patients are approximately 45 to 60 grams daily. Foods high in protein include cheese, meat, peanut butter, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, milk and dried beans.

Avoid spicy foods, overly hot or cold foods, and foods with strong odors. These can make food appear less appetizing and become more difficult to eat.

Nutrition Recommendations

Before beginning cancer treatment make sure that you have plenty of easy-to-eat foods available to you. When preparing food, make and store extras to be easily accessed later. The extras should also be easy to finish making, such as a few minutes in the microwave. If you are too tired to create food, ask friends or family to help cook and deliver meals to you while you are in treatment.

As always, remember to speak with your doctor to receive information on how to handle nutrition during and after cancer treatment.

 

5 “Health Foods” that Aren’t Healthy

I know there’s a ton of information out there about what is a “healthy” diet, and advertising doesn’t help to clarify the situation at all. We get bombarded with images of “all natural”, sugar-free, and pictures of skinny people eating and drinking things we think will make us fitter, thinner and healthier. Unfortunately, many of these products don’t deliver what they promise, and instead may wreak havoc on your waistline. Here are the top 5 offenders (in my opinion):

1. Gatorade. This is my favorite product to poke fun at, not because their advertising is deceiving, but because of the way most of us react to it. Every Gatorade ad features professional athletes, extreme endurance runners, and fitness gurus pushing themselves to the max, and using Gatorade to achieve their incredible goals. And yet, who consumes a huge portion of their product? We do. Us 30 min run 3-5 times per week, average joes. Why? We know we aren’t Lance Armstrong or LeBron James, and yet some of us drink these products after every workout. Time for a little reality check; Gatorade (or other sports drinks) are a great way to replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates if you’ve depleted them.  Working out for 2-3 hours at a time in the sun means you’re very dehydrated, have low muscle glucose, and in need of sodium and potassium. If you just ran 2 miles on a treadmill, water will do just fine. For those of you who are interested in exercising to lose weight, Gatorade is a great way to negate all the hard work you’ve just accomplished. Put the bottle down and just have some water. It’s free!

2. Balance Bars. These are one of those energy bars that fall in between a few categories, and may be successful at tricking you into thinking they are incredibly healthy. (I used to eat one everyday!) The packaging has a runner on the front with a 40-30-30 graphic that suggests scientific research has gone into the bar (which it probably has). However, each bar has 200 calories, 17 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of fat. Just for a point of reference, a Twix Bar has 286 calories, 28 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of fat. So, the balance bar is better, but not by much.

3. Vitamin Water. How could something called vitamin water be bad for you? Well, it isn’t necessarily bad, just not as good as they claim. Each bottle of vitamin water contains 120 calories, and 32 grams of sugar (more than the Twix Bar). That’s a ton of sugar for something you’re just sipping on to get some vitamins. You’re much better of drinking water with lemon and taking a multi-vitamin every morning.

4. Diet Soda. You may have heard about this one. There are several reports and publications liking regular diet soda consumption to an increase in metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, and weight gain. Here’s a nice article reviewing some of those studies. The evidence is controversial; some claim extraneous factors led to weight gain, and that not enough factors were controlled to draw accurate conclusions. What I do think is interesting is that while the relationship between diet soda use and weight gain is weak, there is convincing evidence that diet soda doesn’t lead to weight loss. (at least not in the long-term). Additionally, the artificial sugars and dyes used in soda have been linked to cancer and other digestive issues. If you can, try switching to water with lemon, or put some natural fruit juice in sparkling mineral water.

5. 100 calorie packs of anything. Honestly, I think these are just dumb. I bought them quite a bit in college thinking I would be able to regulate portions better and feel satisfied from a little treat, but it never worked. I would take one pack of 100 calorie cookies to school with me, eat another at dinner, and a third before bed; each time feeling completely unsatisfied with my meager portion of fake food. If you want to eat, then you should eat something whole, natural and real. Yes, it will contain more calories, but it will leave you actually feeling satisfied and you won’t need to eat so much.

What foods do you consider “diet” or “healthy” foods? Has your opinion of what’s healthy changed over time?

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