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Healthy Living: Salads in a Jar

Salads in a JarMy sister-in-law, Lesley, takes healthy to a whole new level. Her eating is as clean as it gets, and she puts a massive amount of time and effort into taking good care of her family’s health. She has my brother and her three sons eating super-duper healthy as well, which shows! They are an active, lean, happy family, and she takes great care of them inside and out!

Recently, Lesley hosted a salad-making party. Each guest brought one ingredient for a salad, along with five large Mason jars, and Lesley provided the leafy greens.

They set up everything they brought in salad-bar style. Guests started by placing any salad dressing they wanted (including vinegar and oil) in the bottom of their Mason jar. When you’re making these, keep dressings and wet ingredients on the bottom.

Next, add heavy ingredients like black beans, kidney beans or chick peas, or any proteins like chunks of chicken, tuna packed in water or grilled lean meats. On top of that, layer other fruits and veggies like strawberries, yellow peppers, cucumbers or tomatoes. Then, nuts, sunflower seeds or other grains are added. Finally, pack the jar with leafy greens like romaine or spinach. Cap the jar tightly, and store in the fridge for up to one week. Grab a jar each morning on the way out the door.

Turn it out onto a large paper plate, and your salad lunch is ready to go with the dressing already on top.


Healthy Living: National Heart Month

National Heart MonthFebruary is American Heart Month, and there’s no coincidence that it falls at the same time as Valentine’s Day. After all, we need to love our hearts and take good care of them!

Last year during American Heart Month, I had the privilege of spending a lot of time with Miss Texas 2014 Monique Evans, whose platform was “Remember Your Heart: One Beat at a Time.” Monique’s brother was born with a congenital heart disease, and it served as impetus for the ballerina to encourage people, especially children, to take good care of their hearts.

I caught up with Monique at two elementary schools in Longview, Texas, that day, where she talked to students about what they could do to begin or stay on a heart-healthy journey. She advocated daily movement like jump-roping, dancing, jogging, soccer, martial arts, baseball or a host of other activities that school kids should be involved in regularly, including giving 100 percent during their school gym class. She talked to them about what foods are good for your heart, like broccoli, beans and other foods with high fiber and low fat. The kids loved her. (Who wouldn’t? She’s funny, articulate and gorgeous, not to mention she got to wear a ridiculous amount of bling, which clearly was a huge favorite among the starstruck girl set.) I loved the fact that she was talking to kids, instilling these ideas in them at an early age.

When you get to a certain age, it’s more difficult to form healthy habits, and the damage to your heart might already be underway. I also loved how nothing she said was too drastic for the average person. She didn’t say to go out and run a marathon; she advocated staying active. Anyone can take a walk, take the stairs instead of the elevator or park in the farthest spot away from Target before shopping.

So this month, think about the small changes you can make to make a big difference to your heart.

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Healthy Living: Healthy Food Trends for 2016

Healthy Food Trends for 2016I’ve been reading a lot about the trends in health and fitness for 2016. Since we’re already almost 3 weeks into the year, you might have seen some of those already!

A few key points have caught my eye:

First of all, fat is back. We’re not talking about pile-driving a box of doughnuts, though. Instead, “low-fat” products with artificial ingredients are being kicked to the curb. This means we can embrace salmon, but we don’t have to sauté it in a stick of butter. Naturally-occurring fats (eaten in moderation) are okay again, while artificial fillers, sweeteners and fat substitutes are not okay.

That leads right into the new diet trend: mindfulness. Weighing your food and counting your calories are out, while eating consciously is in. Sure, eat the cookie but savor it, which promotes the mind-body connection of eating just one, instead of mindlessly snacking on the whole package. Do you want the cookie? Be mindful that you might have to give something else up to keep balance.

“Biodynamic” is a word you might be seeing a lot this year. It’s like “organic” on steroids. No pesticides, no chemicals, sustainable, local and everything that goes into pure, whole-foods are what goes into the term “biodynamic.” Look for it when you’re shopping!

Plant-based diet has been clarified as well. No, it doesn’t mean going vegan; it means choosing the majority of your foods from the earth, not from the processing center.

So, happy eating in 2016!

Healthy Living: Fitness Trackers

Fitness TrackersA new study has shown that the No. 1 fitness trend in 2016 is technology.

Are you surprised?

I wasn’t.

Specifically, people are spending millions on wearable fitness trackers.

You might have heard of Fitbit, but there is a myriad of brands that offer much of the same thing. I got fitness trackers for each of my sons and my boyfriend for Christmas.

A fitness tracker generally will record your activity level, like number of steps taken and amount of calories burned each day. Some show distance traveled or heart rate. The ones I bought track your hydration and your sleep patterns.

Most fitness trackers sync to an app on your phone or computer, so you have graphs, time-lapse information and at-a-glance data.

What do you do with all of this information?

At a glance, you can tell if you need to get moving! Most fitness professionals recommend that you aim for 10,000 steps a day.

If you’ve set a target goal for calories burned, your fitness tracker will let you know that you’re still 200 calories away from goal, so maybe you’d better schedule a brisk walk after dinner.

It will tell you that you’re not getting enough uninterrupted sleep, so maybe changing your sleep habits will help you feel better and be healthier.

As with any fitness equipment, you only need it if you’re going to use it, but for tech geeks and those who like to keep exact track, this is a great tool in your lifelong journey of healthy living.

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Healthy Living: Cranberry Cleanse

Cranberry CleanseDid you overindulge during the holidays on fatty foods and festive drinks? It might be time to help your liver cleanse itself of some of the toxins you might be putting into it!

Your liver, the largest organ in your body, performs over 400 functions per day, including storing vitamins, iron, glucose and fats so your body can use them later, and metabolizing food into nutrients that benefit your body. The liver also eliminates toxins, medications and harmful substances from your bloodstream.

When the liver gets “clogged,” so to speak, it functions less efficiently.

Cranberry juice can help rid your liver of the build-up of toxins. As always, consult with your doctor if you want to try a cranberry cleanse.

A cranberry cleanse can help by protecting  the liver from chemical toxins, stimulating bile production and supplying  the liver with the nutrients it needs, such as antioxidants for detoxification. This works because cranberry juice (the unsweetened, organic variety, not the “cocktail” popular in many stores) is rich in vitamin C, which thins and decongests bile, allowing your liver to metabolize fats more efficiently. Vitamin C also helps produce glutathione, the antioxidant needed during both stages of its detoxification process. Glutathione is an effective chelating agent, which means it binds to toxic drugs and metals to make it easier for your liver and body to remove them. Finally, vitamin C is an antioxidant, so it helps to protect the liver from free radicals that damage cells and tissues.

The cleanse is pretty simple, really. Combine one cup of purified water with a half cup of pure, organic cranberry juice (unsweetened). Add one tablespoon of organic, pure apple cider vinegar and the juice from one lemon. Drink on an empty stomach, first thing in the morning. Some prefer drinking it over ice. I just chug it.

I noticed a difference in a week, feeling more energetic and lively! I hope it helps you, too.

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Healthy Living: Green Tea

Green TeaFor years, I drank what must have been gallons of green tea each day.

I got away from the habit during the years when all I could think about was caffeine, caffeine and more caffeine, but lately I’ve been reminding myself of how much I love the green stuff.

Green tea is super healthy for you.

First of all, you aren’t overloading your system with caffeine, which isn’t good for your heart and has a law of diminishing returns. The more caffeine you drink, the more you need for it to kick you into gear. The more caffeine you consume, the worse you feel.

Secondly, green tea helps blood flow. This is obviously good for your heart and all your extremities. Green tea can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Green tea is good for your brain. Studies show that people who drink green tea have greater activity in the working-memory area of their brains. Green tea is a brain food! It has also been shown to help block the formation of plaques that are linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Green tea has been shown to help stabilize blood sugar in people who are overweight and tend to be insulin-resistant.

Don’t boil the water for your green tea. That can destroy some of the benefits of the green tea. It’s better to drink it at 165 to 170° F.

Drink green tea with peppermint to help with digestion, with ginger to help with nausea or motion sickness, with lemon to help with colds or a stuffy nose, and with honey to help with a sore throat.

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Healthy Living: New Year, New You

New Year, New YouAs the new year approaches, so many people are making promises to eat better and exercise more. I count myself among them. As the ball drops on 2016, I find myself facing some pretty significant health issues, far beyond your garden variety “I need to lose five pounds” challenges. I’ve been reading more and more about the connection between what you put in your body and how it functions. Now, my challenges have nothing to do with diet, but it’s critical to pay attention to diet for optimal health.

Experts analyze the trends for the upcoming year, looking at things that are gaining momentum as this year draws to a close.

Two foods that will be hugely popular in the new year are date nectar and maple syrup, replacing refined white sugar as natural sweeteners. Naturally sweet, you need less because of their bold flavors.

Pre-chopped, frozen fruits are a great way to make healthy dishes faster, without losing nutrients.

The sales of cacao bars have soared more than 37 percent over the past year, and experts expect that to keep growing. Cacao, instead of a milk chocolate bar, has less fat and bigger flavor. Cacao also has health benefits.

Medjool dates are becoming more and more popular, and are full of vitamins and natural sweetness.

Almond milk is the new soy, gaining popularity as the milk-substitute of choice.

Anything coconut continues to be on the forefront of the health-conscious. Look for coconut waters and milks to replace higher-fat products in cooking and baking.

Bone broth is all the rage, taking the place of richer stocks.

On the fitness front, body-resistance exercises continue to rule the workout world (think push-ups, pull-ups and other activities that use your body weight as resistance). Revive the leg warmers. In addition to yoga and Pilates, barre and ballet-style fitness classes (for adults) are hugely popular.

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Healthy Living: Winter Water Wonderland

Winter Water WonderlandIt’s about 7:30PM as I sit down to write this.

I think back to the day. I drank a glass of water when I woke up. Then, I had two cups of coffee. Then, a Diet Coke (Route 44 from Sonic size, nonetheless). Then, I had an unsweet iced tea with dinner.

How much of that, exactly, counts as water intake for the day? Approximately the first 8 ounces I had and nothing else. Everything else I had contained caffeine, which actually DEHYDRATES you, so it’s definitely time to pay more attention to how much real water I consume.

You need water as much in the winter as you do in the summertime. See that dry, scaling, ashy gray skin? Dehydration. Hair limp and lank? Dehydration. Nails brittle? You got it. Dehydration.

Experts say you should aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 75 ounces of water. Hot or cold doesn’t matter, as long as the drink doesn’t contain excess sugar or caffeine. If you are drinking caffeine, or alcohol for that matter, match that drink ounce for ounce with water, above and beyond your daily requirement for the day.

Water-based foods count toward your daily intake, like a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. You can even add them to your water to punch up the taste and nutrient level.

You still need water when you exercise, even if you don’t sweat as much.

A lot of delicious winter foods like soups and stews, especially commercial varieties, contain a lot of sodium. Cut back on sodium and drink more water to flush the excess from your system.
Finally, dress lightly and in layers, which helps reduce the way you sweat and therefore reduces water loss.

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Healthy Living: Slow Cooker, Roasted Rainbow Vegetables

Slow Cooker, Roasted Rainbow VegetablesOne of my favorite flavors of fall and winter is roasted vegetables. When I read you could cook them in the slow cooker, I became over the moon ecstatic: all the flavors I love with the convenience of the slow cooker.

Roasted veggies are a great way to help build your immune system during cold and flu season. They impart so many of the valuable vitamins and nutrients we need to stay healthy. You can use almost any combination of vegetables in this roasted version, and you can serve it as a colorful side dish, a vegetarian main course with couscous or quinoa, or just eat them as is.

Slow Cooker, Roasted Rainbow Vegetables

2 bell peppers (any color), cut into large chunks
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
3 small zucchini, cut into thick slices
2 yellow squash, cut into thick slices
1/2 cup garlic cloves, peeled
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1 tsp Italian seasoning

Spray slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray.

Toss vegetables with olive oil and seasonings; place in the slow cooker. Cook 3 hours on high, or 4 – 5 hours on low.

Serves 4 (as a side dish)

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 151, Calories from Fat: 41, Fat: 4 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (1 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 1 mg, Sodium: 622 mg, Potassium: 910 mg, Carbohydrates: 25 g, Fiber: 5 g, Sugar: 9 g, Protein: 5 g.

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Healthy Living: Super Soup

Super Vegetable SoupNothing is more comforting than soup.

It’s what I want after a migraine; when I have the sniffles; when it’s cold, rainy, dreary or snowy; and when I want a filling, healthy meal that won’t cost me the bank as far as fat and calories go.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of soups that are high in fat and calories (think anything cream-based), but this is the exact opposite. I joke that this soup burns calories when you eat it. In fact, I was first introduced to this soup through Weight Watchers, and I have used the same basic recipe, with a few tweaks, ever since!

Super Vegetable Soup

4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock (or homemade, skimmed of all fat)
1 can low-sodium diced tomatoes
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 yellow squash, diced
1 green zucchini, diced
3 Tbs garlic, minced
1 Tbs dried oregano
1 Tbs dried basil

Spray a large stockpot with nonstick cooking spray.

Sauté vegetables until tender. Add stock, tomatoes and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Simmer 30 minutes or until flavors have blended.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 61, Calories from Fat: 0, Fat: 15 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (0 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 100 mg, Potassium: 435 mg, Carbohydrates: 13 g, Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 5 g, Protein: 3 g.

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