Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Eating Healthy When Nothing But Cereal Will Do

french vanilla granola
So delicious... and not so healthy :(
I’d like to say that I’m one of those people that makes myself a healthy, well-rounded meal every morning for breakfast—but then I’d be lying to you. I love cooking, but in the morning there is just so much to do, and I always feel a little rushed. And some mornings, I don’t feel like putting forward the effort to make anything. Some mornings, I (gasp) just want to eat a bowl of cereal.

And you know what? I’m mostly ok with that. I have some fundamental issues with cereal, such as the fact that it never seems to fill me up for long and that it’s too often loaded up with enough sugar to get me through a week. Luckily, there are some healthy cereal options out there that, while not my ideal breakfast, are good enough to get the job done.

How do you choose a healthy cereal? It’s probably one of the worst foods for being able to look healthy while being just the opposite. My absolute favorite granola (Sweet Home Farm French Vanilla) is one of those—it’s SO delicious, but has more added sugar than I’m willing to eat most days. Finding a cereal or granola that’s healthy means you must read the label, even if it doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear.

What should a nutrition label say? Try to find a cereal that fits within these requirements for each half-cup serving:
  • Fewer than 130 calories
  • No added sugar OR sweeteners (fewer than 1 gram of sugar)
  • If you really need a little sweet, look for a cereal with fewer than 6 grams of sugar per serving.
  • 3 grams or more of fiber
  • Maximum 125 mg of sodium
  • No partially hydrogenated oils
  • First ingredient: whole grain
For granola, try to find something that has 140 calories or fewer per ¼ cup serving. Sugar should be fewer than 5 grams per serving, and there should be at least 2 grams of fiber. And again, no partially hydrogenated oils.

If you really want to be healthy, try making your own granola at home--that way you get to control what goes in it, and what stays out!

If you’re a fan of hot cereals, check out this article by Sarah-Jane Bedwell, which is where I pulled these lovely facts. She’s got suggestions for hot cereals as well as freeze-dried fruits, which are a common ingredient in many “healthy” cereals today.

What’s your favorite cereal—healthy or unhealthy?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How to Prevent and Relieve Headaches – Naturally

I used to get migraines. A lot. They first started when I was just beginning high school (though I thought they were just headaches back then), and I’d suffer through them a few times each week, popping aspiring like candy to try and dull the pain. It wasn’t until my senior year, when I’dcompletely wrecked my stomach with aspirin, that I found out they were migraines.

I finally got special preventative medicine and “emergency” pills for when I felt a migraine coming on. In order for the preventatives to work, I was supposed to start out with one pill per day. If I got a headache, I was supposed to go up to two per day. If I still was getting migraines, I could go up to three per day. I liked the idea of not getting migraines all the time, but I was frustrated by the fact that, at age 17, I would have to take pills every day. The pills seemed to work fairly well, and I cut the frequency of my migraines down to one every week or two for the next few months.

I couldn’t afford to stay on the medication for more than a summer, though, and in the fall I started college—and the migraines came back. Since I didn’t have prescription medicine, I settled for Excedrin Migraine, which was a 50/50 toss up between working and making me nauseous in addition to the migraine.

These days, I’m lucky enough to have health insurance and can actually afford migraine medicine. I chose not to go the preventative pill route, though, instead opting for just the “emergency” medication. Not taking preventative medication is a personal choice, but one that can sometimes make life more difficult—if I’m not careful, I end up getting far more headaches than I probably would otherwise. But it’s worth it to me to not feel like I’m relying on medication to be well. This is something I can battle on my own.

Instead, I try to prevent and ease my migraines through a variety of natural methods. Some work better than others, but I figure everything is worth a try. Here are some of the things you can do to help prevent or treat migraines naturally:
  1. Get enough rest.
  2. Eat small, frequent meals.
  3. Use a cold compress on your forehead.
  4. Take a hot shower.
  5. Get a massage.
  6. Try acupressure.
  7. Drink less alcohol.
  8. Drink more water.
  9. Maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
  10. Minimize stress.
  11. Moderate caffeine intake. A little is ok, but don’t overdo it.
  12. Take breaks from the computer.
  13. Don’t get too much sun.
  14. Exercise regularly.
  15. Don’t stress your jaw – no jaw clenching or excessive gum chewing.
  16. Monitor your food triggers and avoid foods that set off migraines.
  17. Avoid overstimulation.
  18. Ride shotgun to avoid motion sickness (and migraines).
  19. Keep a regular schedule.
  20. Make sure you’re getting enough vitamins.

Take a look at this article on Yahoo! Shine for more details on any of the above items and why they help with migraines. Do you have any more to add to the list? I once had a doctor recommend rubbing rosemary oil on my temples to stimulate blood flow—and it actually did help a lot.

Stay happy. Stay healthy.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Have a Happy St. Patty’s Day… Minus the Hangover

st patrick's day clover
If you're planning on getting a drink or three for St. Patty's Day, keep these foods in mind to minimize hangovers.
Planning on going out for a good time this St. Patty’s Day? I’m Irish, so I’m all about that. Unfortunately, though, as I get older I’m especially noticing that my body is way less tolerant of alcohol than it once was. I never was much of a drinker, but I’m even less so now. I suppose that’s good news in the long run—having more than one or two drinks max per day generally makes our bodies cringe a little bit.

However, there are still times when I like to go out and have more than just one drink with friends—heck, maybe I’ll even have two or three! The question that comes to mind then is, How can I help my body recover faster?

bananas potassium
Bananas are full of potassium.
Believe it or not, what kind of foods we eat before and after a night on the town can have a huge effect on how we feel the next day. So, if you’re planning on drinking more than a pint this St. Patty’s Day, plan on eating some of these foods to help your body recover:

Asparagus – Boosts enzymes and helps break down alcohol. Eat before, during, or after going out to help with hangovers.

Bananas – Restore full muscle function by giving them a good boost of potassium. It helps with those day-after shakes you might sometimes feel. On that same note, kiwi and spinach are also loaded with potassium.

Clear Liquids – Before, during, and after drinking, focus on clear liquids rather than those rich in color. Drinks with brandy, bourbon, red wine, tequila, and others are rich in cogeners, which means they’re far more likely to cause a hangover. Drink a glass of water in between each drink as well as in earnest before going to sleep.

honey removes toxins, restores antioxidants, fructose
Honey gets toxins out and restores antioxidants and fructose.
Coconut Water – Coconuts, and coconut products are amazing. Coconut water is no exception. Filled with electrolytes without all the artificial ingredients, it’ll help restore your body faster than sugary sports drinks.

Eggs – Organic pastured eggs will give your body some much needed protein, which helps to break down toxins and restore vitamins drained by alcohol.

Honey – Eat raw honey with a few crackers to restore antioxidants and fructose. This will help flush out your system and get rid of any toxins that might still be lingering the day after.

Organic Broth – Drink clear organic broth the day after drinking help replace lost sodium and potassium in your body.

prickly pear anti-inflammatory
Prickly pear helps soothe inflammation.
Prickly Pear – Offsets inflammation caused by alcohol if consumed as a fruit, in capsule form, or as a tea or juice a few hours before the party starts. Delicious and nutritious!

Tea – Craft a cuppa ginger or peppermint tea to ease any nausea you might have. I’d stick with herbal blends until you’re sure your body can handle caffeine.

Toast – Your liver is too busy processing alcohol to regulate blood sugar, which means that you’re very likely to be lacking in that department. Pop a few slices in the toaster and top them with butter (I also like cinnamon and sugar on mine). It’ll help get your blood sugar back up as well as settling an upset stomach.

Tomato Juice – Vitamin and mineral-rich tomato juice might be just what you need after St. Patty’s Day. It’ll rehydrate your body and flush out toxins from your system, leaving you feeling refreshed.

Quinoa – Your amino acids also get drained by alcohol, but quinoa can help replace them! Plus, its nice neutral flavor will be easy to stomach even when you’re not feeling so great.

coffee herbal tea
Trade the coffee for a soothing herbal tea instead.
And a few things to avoid (even if you think you’re craving them), as they’ll likely irritate your stomach even more:

Greasy food
Orange or grapefruit juice

What are your favorite foods and drinks after a night on the town?

All images are from Shutterstock.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How Does Sugar Really Affect Your Brain?

Sugar activates our body's reward system.
Sugar activates our body's reward system.
Image: Shutterstock
This week, I’d like to share a video I discovered on Ted-Ed. With animation by STK Films and narration by Nicole Avena, it’s a short and concise version of what how sugar affects our brains.

Avena begins the video by defining sugar in its various forms. Basically, sugar is a broad term that refers to soluble carbohydrates: glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, dextrose, starch, corn syrup, raw sugar, and honey are all different “sugars” that are found in food.

Sugar is sneaky, too. It’s not just in candy bars and lollipops—look on the back label of many sauces, yogurts, and even canned tomatoes, and you’re likely to find sugar. Because of its prevalence in such a wide variety of foods, it can be incredibly hard to avoid.

With all the bad press sugar gets, you’d think we would have learned by now to just stop eating it. Unfortunately, that’s also difficult to do. When we eat sugar—in any form—it activates taste receptors on our tongues, which then send signals to the brain that tell it to activate a reward system. The release of dopamine into our systems is our brain’s way of saying, “Yum! You should eat that again!”

While sweets every once in a while won’t really hurt us, overactivating this reward system creates problems throughout the body. We become more tolerant to sugar, more likely to become obese, start craving sweets more, and find it harder to control our eating habits and cravings. Sugar isn’t dissimilar to alcohol and drugs in that way. The more often we send our bodies into that dopamine high, the more our bodies will crave it.

Check out the video below and let me know what you think:


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

9 Ways Tea Can Change Your Life

I love tea. Hot or iced, tea not only comes in a never-ending abundance of flavors, but it’s also incredibly good for you. The health benefits of tea have long been researched, and studies have found that tea’s benefits range from helping with diseases such as cancer and diabetes to encouraging weight loss and lowering cholesterol. With less caffeine than coffee, tea is a gentle mood and energy lifter.

In the words of Katherine Tallmadge of the American Dietetic Association, “There doesn’t seem to be a downside to tea.” I sure can't think of any--can you? I'm so glad to have such a delicious and healthy drink available, especially during rainy Seattle winters like this one.

With all its positive affects on the body, tea has been touted in the East as the “key to good health, happiness, and wisdom,” according to WebMD. So, what are the ideal blends of tea for different moods or ailments? I was inspired to find out by both my love of tea and by Back on Pointe's lovely graphic below, which I discovered on Tumblr. Here's what I found out about the mental and physical health benefits different types of tea can bring.
The Effects of Tea
The Effects of Tea
Image: Back On Pointe / Tumblr

Energy Boost—Black tea has a significant does of caffeine, less than coffee but still enough to perk you up. Plus, the bold flavor will help give you an extra jolt of energy. Spiced green teas will also give you a boost without the jitters.

Refresh—White tea has the most antioxidants of all types of tea, as well as the lowest caffeine content (other than herbal tea, which is caffeine free). Sip on some white tea for a mellow drink that will leave your body feeling refreshed and healthy.

Stress Relief—Green tea’s naturally leafy flavor and light dose of caffeine will help ease stress and refocus all those frazzled brain signals without wiring you for overload. Try to avoid black tea when extra stressed, as it has higher caffeine content. Roobios, honey bush, and herbal chai blends all help keep stress away, and ginger teas can get rid of those nervous jitters when they come a-knocking.

Creative Boost—To get those mind juices flowing, try a spicy blend like Indian Chai mixed with a little cream and honey or a rooibos tisane rich in electrolytes.

Immune System Boost—Get a dose of anti-sickness with fruity herbal teas like orange, lemon, or raspberry. The hot liquid will ease sore throats, and the lack of caffeine will help settle your stomach. Chamomile tea is also a great way to combat general winter blues.

Anti-Nausea—My personal favorites for settling an upset tummy include herbal mint and ginger teas. Mint and ginger naturally ease nausea and always leave me feeling much better. Try these with just a touch of honey if you want a little sweetness.

For Tranquility—Feeling frazzled and just want to relax? Try chamomile, lavender, roobios or lemongrass teas, which will help your body settle down. A steaming cup of any of these is wonderful shortly before bedtime.

Think Happy Thoughts—Need a mood elevator? Try lemon verbena and rooibos teas, which have natural mood-boosting qualities.

Focus—Sip on green tea or yerba mate to help with focus and overall productivity. Green and black teas help improve our cognitive function, alertness, attention span, and more. 

What's your favorite tea blend?