Thursday, October 31, 2013

4 Healthy Travel Snacks

A no-frills latte and a banana is a good travel snack.
A no-frills latte and a banana is a good travel snack.
Image: Shutterstock
When I was in college, I often used to drive home for the weekend or for a holiday. It wasn’t a short drive—five and a half hours or so—and no matter what, I’d always end up getting hungry sometime during the trip. There’s nothing worse than stopping at a gas station when you’re starving—and trying to find something to snack on that will fill you up and won’t make you feel sick.

Now that I’m a little further from home, I usually take those trips on a plane—but even though the flight time isn’t very long, all that waiting around at the airport has a way of making me hungry.

The fast food, Cinnabon shops, sweet espresso drinks, and pastries are the most tempting options when I’m looking for a snack. But (sigh) time has taught me that those things a) will give me a tummy ache and b) will fill me up for about thirty minutes until the sugar burns out. Luckily, though, I’ve also learned over time that there are several easy and healthy snacks that make great roadtrip and airport food. Next time you’ve got the travel munchies, snack on one of these:

Greek yogurt and a banana 

Don’t hesitate to get full-fat Greek yogurt—it’ll actually help keep you filled up longer. Just watch out for the amount of sugar in it. I recommend getting plain yogurt and adding a banana, as the banana will both sweeten the yogurt and will give you a helpful boost in potassium and other vitamins. You can usually find both items in convenience stores and airport kiosks.
Cranberry Almond + Antioxidants
Try a KIND bar to tide you over.

KIND bars (or other healthy snack bars)

Filled to the brim with nuts, grains, and bits of sweetness (chocolate, coconut, and more), this is a granola bar with some major POWER! Plus, it’s easy to pack ahead of time and stow in a carry-on bag or in your car’s center console.

Chocolate milk

Delicious and nutritious (but it doesn’t taste like chicken)! Snag a carton or bottle of chocolate milk to load up on calcium and protein. It’ll give you a good boost in energy but isn’t pure sugar—so you won’t just crash half an hour later.

Latte and a banana

Coffee contains caffeine, which is very effective at tiding you over until real food. Skip the sugary syrup and get a plain latte (12 oz), pairing it with a banana or other fruit.

What do you like to snack on when traveling? The holidays are approaching, and I’d love to hear some more ideas for how to keep energy up during long trips!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

CrossFit Risks and Rewards

If you’ve been into the workout scene at all for the last decade, you have probably at least heard the word “CrossFit.” Maybe you’ve seen the increasingly popular CrossFit gyms that have been popping up like daisies in the past few years. If you’re brave, maybe you’ve even tried it.

CrossFit has been around for a while now, but in the past few years it’s become one of the most popular workout programs. There can be no question that CrossFit will, in fact, get you fit—but like any workout routine, there are some things you should know about CrossFit before you jump on the bandwagon.

Know the facts before deciding if CrossFit is right for you.
Image: Shutterstock
First off, CrossFit is intense. Like, really intense. The CrossFit method works to improve muscle strength, cardio endurance, and flexibility through a mix of aerobics, body weight exercises, and Olympic weight lifting. Classes are usually an hour long and include a warm-up, a skill-development segment, a workout of the day (WOD), and group stretching at the end.

There are some really great benefits of CrossFit. First, it provides a full focus on safe and effective movements, fitness, and eating right. Second, one of its goals is to prepare trainees for “any physical contingency—not only for the unknown, but for the unknowable.” Third, CrossFit classes provide trainees with a community. It connects people to each other as they push themselves toward a new level of fitness, and that’s a powerful thing.

But due to the sheer intensity of CrossFit, there are also a few things to consider before diving in. WODs are timed, and your job is to complete a list or circuit of exercises within an allotted amount of time. Rest is minimal, so you’ll get tired. As you attend more classes, the goal is to improve upon your previous times and scores, so it’s a constant race against time. Like any workout, your body will begin to fatigue, especially the muscles you’re using the most. And that means your form will deteriorate as well.

Good form is essential for avoiding injury, especially when dealing with intense workouts. Bad form is the reason so many people end up injured practicing Zumba—they’re not doing the movements correctly, and so they end up hurting themselves by straining muscles and twisting in odd ways. The same concept applies to CrossFit, so focusing on good form is a must.

Another downside of CrossFit is that because it is such an intense workout, it is more difficult for beginners to get involved in. If you’ve never weight trained before, you may not even be able to do many of the movements at the beginning. Once you build some muscle, though, that will change. Whether you want to use CrossFit to gain those beginning muscles, though, is up to you.

CrossFit is a powerful program that can take your fitness to a new level—just be sure you understand the risks and are willing to take them before you commit.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Seasonal Allergies? Try a Bit O’ Honey

Try local honey to prevent seasonal allergies.
Image: Shutterstock
The other day, I was on the bus with a man who had the sniffles and sneezes—seasonal allergies. As is usual, everyone just stayed quiet and minded their own business, some perhaps being annoyed at and others feeling sorry for the man. All except one woman, who looked up from her seat and very frankly said, “Have you tried seasonal honey?” The man looked a bit blankly at her, and she clarified. “Seasonal allergies, right?” He nodded. “Try local honey. It’ll help.”
The guy thanked her, and a few stops later she got off, leaving her little bit of wisdom behind. I had never thought about it before, but it completely makes sense that a local product like honey would help with seasonal allergies. Here’s why:

Seasonal allergies are dependent on your environment—if you’re allergic to something that exists in your environment, then you’ll suffer from allergies. Unless you move away from that allergen, you won’t escape it. But you can help your body deal with it. Sure, seasonal allergy medicines will help suppress allergies after they begin, but they won’t usually help prevent them.

Honey bees collect pollen from local plants, carrying it back to the hive and transforming it into honey. Honey that is collected locally and packaged raw will still contain traces of the pollen collected by the honey bees. The belief is that ingesting that honey will trigger your body’s immune response because of the pollen still present. Like when you get a vaccine, though, the amounts are so low and weak that your immune system can begin desensitizing itself.

Honey probably won’t work as a cure, but it’s likely that it can lessen the severity of your seasonal allergies if you eat one or two tablespoons per day for three months prior to the allergy season peak. Plus, who doesn’t like a bit of honey? Just be sure that it’s local, raw, and organic.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How to Buy Running Shoes

Finding the right running shoes for you will be well worth your time.
Finding the right running shoes for you will be well worth your time.
Image: Shutterstock
On Saturday, I got motivated and went for my first run in several months. It felt great—I love the cool, crisp fall air on my face, and living in a place where I can run near the water makes it all the better. Of course, my legs are still trying to figure out how they feel about the whole situation. My ankles and glutes are doing their best to remind me that my body’s just not used to running anymore. I’ll have to work back up to it.

Saturday’s “run” was actually a combination of jogging and walking; I could have pushed myself harder, but then my legs would have been completely useless for a few days instead of just a little sore. I have to be particularly careful because I use minimalist running shoes, which tend to work your ankle and calf muscles harder than regular running shoes. I love them, but they’re certainly not for everyone.

Choosing the right running shoes for you can be incredibly frustrating. How do you know whether you want toe shoes, minimalist, Nike Air, Adidas, Puma, Reebok, New Balance… if you’re like me at all, you want something that looks stylish but that will give your feet and legs support where it’s needed. Here are some tips for choosing your next pair of running shoes:
New Balance Minimus
These are my running shoes (well, when they were new):
New Balance Minimus
  1. Go to a specialty store. Sure, that shoe outlet store may have ALL the brands, but their staff simply won’t be up to par with smaller stores. Have you ever noticed that stores like REI and Nike have clerks who can tell you exactly what will be good for your needs? This extra insight can really make the job of choosing a lot easier.
  2. Don’t just try them on; take them for a spin. When you try on a shoe that you think might work, take a stroll around the store to make sure it doesn’t rub in strange ways or start to hurt after a few steps. Practice a little light jogging inside or outside if they’ll let you.
  3. Softer doesn’t mean safer. In fact, there’s no scientific evidence that proves that shoes with more cushion will prevent injuries. Gimmicks may be eye-catching but they are usually not worth your money. We naturally adjust when running to minimize discomfort, so getting a shoe with thick soles and lots of padding won’t save you from injury. Unless your doctor recommends something like gel inserts or ankle stabilization, you probably don’t need to pay the extra money.
  4. Extras, extras. If you find a shoe you really like, buy an extra pair or two! It may be expensive at the time, but you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble when they release a new model and retire your old one.
  5. Shoes should be snug but comfortable. Getting shoes that are too loose will increase your risk for injury, as it’ll be easier to trip or twist your ankle. Shoes that are too tight, though, will likely irritate your feet as they rub on the sides. Try to get shoes that are about half an inch longer than your foot, and experiment with different widths (Narrow, Medium, Wide) until you find the one that feels the best on your foot.
If all else fails, find a shoe that’s comfortable and that you feel stable in. The most important thing is that your feet are happy during and after your run.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

5 Fall Foods to Add to Your Shopping List

Time for fall foods like apples and pumpkin!
Time for fall foods like apples and pumpkin!
Image: Shutterstock
As I’ve gotten older (and, I hope, a bit wiser), I’ve come to a disheartening conclusion: just like the weather, foods have seasons. While I wish with all my heart that perfectly ripe strawberries were available year round, I now know that they’re not. Growing up, most of my vegetables came from the freezer or a can—not fresh off the produce stand. We’d get some things fresh—lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, apples, oranges—but most of the time the season meant little to what produce we consumed.

My dad’s battle with Meniere’s disease brought to light the insane amounts of sodium and other preservatives often added to canned and prepared food. Since I started cooking for myself, I’ve felt the same battle I’m sure plagued my mother: convenience versus freshness.

Because I’m now trying to buy most of my produce fresh, it means I have to pay more attention to seasons. There’s a reason tomatoes look so wonderful in the summer and so pathetic in January—they’re not in season. Oh, you can find them, but they will likely lack flavor and seem lackluster. Instead of buying wimpy produce when it’s out of season, I adjust my weekly menus to include in-season foods instead.

Eat more kale! It's delicious!
Eat more kale! It's delicious!
Image: Shutterstock
This time of year has so many foods that just feel good for the soul, don’t you think? Here are some foods that are currently in-season that you can center your autumn meals around:
  1. Apples—Make overnight oats with apple, cinnamon, and a dash of brown sugar.
  2. Broccoli—Tis the season for soup! Try something new, like a broccoli apple soup; or a broccoli, lemon, and Parmesan soup.
  3. Kale—I love making kale chips for a healthy snack. Just spread on a baking sheet, spritz with olive oil, and add a bit of salt and pepper. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes.
  4. Pumpkin—Last week, I made a pumpkin curry soup similar to this one. Try roasting and pureeing your own pumpkin for an extra-fresh meal!
  5. Sweet Potatoes—try these maple sweet potato pecan burgers—they are DIVINE!
If you absolutely need an ingredient that’s not in season, look for canned or frozen varieties that don’t add a bunch of extras in. I find that Trader Joe’s is a wonderful option for canned tomatoes in the off-season—just get the “no salt added” or “low sodium” varieties. They do add a tiny bit of salt, but not nearly as much as some other brands.

Happy fall, everyone!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kiss Me, I’m Irish!

Why do we kiss?
Why do we kiss?
Image: Shutterstock
How many times have you heard or seen the phrase, "Kiss me, I'm Irish"? I'm willing to bet it's a fair few times, especially around St. Patrick's Day. I've got a fair amount of Irish heritage, and though I find the phrase cute, I don't particularly want to invite strangers to actually come up and kiss me. That would be weird.

To me, kissing is something special; it's a physical expression of a bond I already feel with another person. It doesn't have to be romantic--I often kiss my family members and pets--but it does have to involve affection.

Kissing is something that most species don’t partake in; humans are among a select few species that “kiss” each other. It’s one of just a handful of cultural practices that you’ll find across the globe, and it’s been around for thousands of years. But what’s so special about kissing, anyway?

Some research suggests it’s about more than just showing affection. According to Live Science, there are a few dominant theories on the importance of kissing.

Some believe that females use(d) kissing as a way to asses potential mates and, well, get rid of all the “duds.” Those who support this theory say it’s possible that pheromones (chemical signals) could be transferred during kissing, passing information on health and immunities. While there is yet to be proof of a human pheromone that would do this, there is some evidence that scent carries information and that women tend to prefer the scent of men whose testosterone levels are high.

This theory is also supported by the fact that women tend to be pickier than men when it comes to choosing a mate. Women take on more biological risk in intimate relationships, which could result in pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood, so it makes sense that there would be built-in biological checkpoints when determining whether or not to take that risk.

Kissing can lead to deeper levels of intimacy, and one theory is that kissing came around for just such a need. There is some evidence that suggests that increased number and quality of kisses leads to higher relationship satisfaction, but not much to suggest that kissing came into existence to push couples to bond intimately and potentially conceive.

What are your feelings on kissing? We’ve all likely experienced the amazing kisses as well as the ones we’d rather not remember. Is a kiss being enjoyable simply a matter of attraction, or is there a biological component to it as well? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Get Friendly With Your Neighbors, Avoid Stroke

Social cohesion may help prevent stroke.
Social cohesion may help prevent stroke.
Image: Shutterstock
A new study published in Social Science & Medicine puts one more item on the list of things that could dictate the state of your health: your neighborly bonds. According to the study, having high neighborhood social cohesion reduces the risk of stroke by a whopping 48%.

Eric Kim, out of the University of Michigan, led the study. He reports that “In our statistical models, this effect was approximately equivalent to people who were current smokers versus never smokers.”

“Our research suggests that perceived neighborhood social cohesion shows a protective effect above and beyond traditional stroke risk factors, psychological factors, and individual-level social engagement,” Kim added.

The study surveyed 6,740 people over the age of 50, asking them questions like “Are your neighbors friendly?” and “Do you feel like you are a part of the community?” After the initial survey, the participants’ health was tracked for the next four years. Two hundred and sixty-five of the 6,740 participants had strokes, and those who were in neighborhoods with the lowest social cohesion were far more at risk. 

“Research in the last three decades has shown that negative neighborhood factors such as neighborhood violence, noise, traffic, low neighborhood socioeconomic status, and poor air quality increase the risk of poor health. Fewer studies have examined the potential protective effect that neighborhood factors can have on health, particularly stroke,” the abstract of the study reads.

So, how about it? Do you get along with your neighbors? Do you even know your neighbors? Could you call on them in an emergency? Would you invite them to a barbecue? Let’s get on with the neighborly love!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

H2O’s the Word

Coffee and I have a love-hate relationship.
Coffee and I have a love-hate relationship.
Image: Shutterstock

I love coffee. I love the taste, the routine… the general feeling of peace as I sip my morning cup of Joe at the kitchen table, the dog leaning against me for warmth and love and the cat curled up on my lap. I love the warmth and the peace of the moments I associate with coffee.

Yet, sometimes I hate coffee--or at least what it does to me. On Starbucks day (my one budgeted coffee purchase day), I have to remind myself to eat because the caffeine and sugar sometimes make me forget. I have to remind myself to drink water because if I don’t, I’ll get to lunchtime feeling jittery and a little sick.

On normal days, I make a concerted effort to drink at least a few glasses of water while at work, but when I have a cup of steaming caramel macchiato or pumpkin spice latte, I tend to just drink that instead. But on other days, I guzzle my water like there’s no tomorrow.

Not everyone is as dedicated a water drinker, though. According to the CDC, only about 22% of Americans consume the recommended 8 cups of water per day or more. Forty-four percent of adults don’t even make it halfway, and about 7% don’t drink any water at all. Instead of hydrating our bodies with the most basic of necessities, we consume coffees, sodas, and juices galore—forgetting that our bodies need water to function correctly.

78% of Americans don't drink the recommended 8 cups of water per day.
78% of Americans don't drink the recommended
8 cups of water per day.
Image: Shutterstock
About a quarter of kids don’t drink plain water throughout their day. One quarter. And, according to the CDC, people who drink fewer than four cups of water per day are also less likely to be moderately physically active. Plus, low water intake was also associated with low fruit and vegetable intake—meaning a less balanced and healthy daily diet. 

Almost every system in our bodies relies on water to function properly. Water is responsible for carrying valuable nutrients to cells, helping to release toxins, lubricating our joints, regulating body temperature, keeping soft tissues moist, protecting vital organs, dissolving minerals, and much more.

So, as I sit here drinking my once-per-week Starbucks, I remind myself that it’s nothing but water for the rest of my workday. My body will thank me for it. Do the same, and yours will, too.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chew On This: Post-Workout Eats

Not only is chocolate milk delicious,
it's also a great post-workout snack!
Image: Shutterstock
We’ve all been there: You’ve just completed an awesome (or grueling) workout. You may be feeling great, but chances are that you’re also feeling completely drained. There’s a reason for that—when we exercise, we exert insane amounts of energy, AKA calories. Workouts drain our bodies of energy, and it’s essential that you help your body recover afterwards. That means eating (or drinking) something that will give you back some of those calories and protein.

But you probably shouldn’t just go eat a doughnut, though it might be tempting. For those of us who have made that mistake, eating heavy or carb-heavy foods post workout can leave you feeling, well, not so great. To feel re-fueled, aim for up to 45 g of carbs and between 6-15 g of protein to help your body build up muscle.

So what foods would those be? Here are some suggestions for ideal noms after you’ve completed your workout:

  1. Dates with peanut butter
  2. Mix it up with some pistachios and raisins.
    Image: Shutterstock
  3. Deviled eggs with hummus & yolk filling and chives on top
  4. Pistachios and raisins
  5. Protein powder juice
  6. Chocolate or Soy milk
  7. Banana with nut butter
  8. Chickpeas with lemon juice
  9. Green smoothie
  10. Pear and peanut/sunflower butter
  11. Apple and string cheese
  12. Avocado and lemon
  13.  Sweet potato with black beans, greek yogurt, or salsa

My personal favorite after a workout is chocolate milk or a Naked juice (they sell mini-bottles of them at Costco now!). Both of these are easy on my stomach after a tough workout, and within just a few minutes of drinking them I can feel my body recovering. Instead of feeling drained and exhausted the rest of the day, instead I feel energized and strong.

What are your favorite post-workout eats? I’d love to hear some more suggestions!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sculpted Arms in 3 Moves

Stop dreaming about sculpted arms and GO GET SOME!
Image: Shutterstock

I’ve always been the girl with the "chicken arms." I’m built long and lanky, so even when I do build muscle, it doesn’t usually look like I have any. When it comes to my arms and upper body strength in general, it’s both hard for me to build that muscle and hard to show it. The process is a slow one, but I think I’m finally building up my arm strength again through my yoga practice.

For those of you who don’t do yoga, though, there are some great moves you can practice a few times a week to help build muscle and tone your arms. If you’re ready to surprise others with your awesome arm strength, try out some of these arm workouts 2-3 times per week.

Plyometric Pushups work a lot like regular pushups. Begin by balancing in a plank position (you can modify by putting your knees on the floor if you are a beginner). Lower your upper body down until your arms are at a 90-degree angle. Note: if your belly touches the ground before then, you may be arching your back and not engaging your core enough. Double check to be sure your back is flat like a tabletop. Once you reach the 90-degree angle, push powerfully back up, rising up onto your fingertips as you reach the top. Do 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps.

No more chicken arms.
Image: Shutterstock
Leg balance, curl, and press. This one takes a lot of core strength, so don’t be discouraged if you find it hard to balance at first. As your core builds up, it will become easier. Hold a pair of light dumbbells at your sides, palms facing your thighs. Lift up one leg so that the thigh is parallel to the floor and the knee is bent at a 90-degree angle. As you balance on one leg, lift the dumbbells first to shoulder height and then straighten your arms above your head. Lower back down to starting position slowly and with control. Complete 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps on each side.

Archer’s Plank. Start in plank position with a dumbbell in the right hand and legs spread to hip-width apart. Begin turning your body so that the right side opens to a side plank. Lift the right arm in towards your chest and then extend it straight up and overhead. Bring the arm back down with control. Complete 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps for each side.

What other arm workouts have worked well for you? I’d love to know. Share in the comments!