Healthy Eating and Nutrition

Bad Habits to Kick to the Curb for a Longer, Healthier Life

It is pretty safe to say that most of us want to live a long, healthy life. We want to enjoy our grandchildren. After working for decades, we want ample time to do all the things we have dreamed of doing all our life, as soon as we retire. And while there are no guarantees in life, it is safe to say that being more health-conscious will bode well for our efforts. We have a lot more control than we may we think, with and more and more research,  pointing to the idea our genes aren’t as strong a determinant of the state of our heath, as our lifestyle choices. And as such, it would behoove us to educate ourselves about what habits are good, and which ones need to be discarded. Here are is a sampling of the latter.

The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse

One study that appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine a few years back compiled some very compelling evidence that  four particular habits may shorten our life by 12 years. That is more than a whole decade…that’s a big deal. They are: smoking, poor diet, inactivity and drinking too much. Researchers followed almost 5,000 British adults for over 20 years, and assigned them a score based on how many of the habits they engaged in, with none getting a score of zero, and all four getting you a four. Specifically, the habits were smoking, drinking more than three drinks a day for men and two for women, eating less than three servings of fruits or vegetables a day, and engaging in physical activity for less than two hours a week.According to death certificates, the higher the score, the shorter the lifespan. The most common causes of morbidity were cancer and cardiovascular disease, both of which are heavily linked to lifestyle. One of the most interesting things to note about the study were the generally relaxed guidelines that show you don’t necessarily need to be extremely healthy. For example, two pieces of fruit and a glass of juice would count as three servings of fruits and vegetables. Compare that to the US guidelines of having at least four cups of fruits and vegetables a day. The results suggest that all the different habits add up to a nice cumulative effect of increasing the odds of living longer.

Get Off Your Duff

Lately there has been more research examining the effects of not just inactivity overall, but spending long amounts of time sitting. Even if people engage in regular physical activity, prolonged sitting, regardless of the activity, was associated with a shorter life span. One study looked at 220,000 people and found that people who sat more than 11 hours a day were 40 percent more likely to die within three years compared to people who sat less than four hours. Sitting eight to 11 hours upped the risk by 15 percent. Researchers controlled for a variety of factors that could lifespan, such as age, gender, education, body mass index, smoking habits, diet, and living environment. This study was particularly  poignant because of the large number of people and the fact it looked at total time spent sitting, not just time spent engaged in sedentary activities like watching television.

Diet No-Nos

While the aforementioned study noted fruit and vegetable consumption as a major factor in longevity, there are some other points to consider as well in terms of what you may want to avoid. People who have a protein intake, in the form of meat and dairy,  were 74 percent more likely to die of any cause, and four times more likely to die of cancer in one 18-year study. These risks are comparable to that of people who smoke. There were some limitations though in that it did not distinguish between meat that was farm-raised and factory-farmed. Soda can be very damaging to longevity. Research has found it can negatively effect telomeres, which are like ‘caps’ at the end of chromosomes that shield against deterioration. This deterioration causes all sorts of issues from premature aging to disease formation. It can also age immune system cells prematurely.

In Closing…

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of bad habits that may negatively impact your health and shorten lifespan, but these considerations are certainly a good place to start. The key to dropping bad habits and picking up new ones is being patient with yourself in making the transition. If you had the willpower to totally transform overnight, you probably would already be the shining example of health. It is important to remember lots of little changes can add up to big results, so don’t worry about having to become obsessed with healthy living, and making it the focal point of your life  to the degree it causes great anxiety and stress.

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A Down and Dirty Guide to Healthy Eating

It seems like these days, everyone and their mother has some scheme for how best one should eat healthily. Don’t eat this, eat that! Avoid this, and eat only this other thing! Only eat this thing once a week and twice on Sunday! If you’re like most people, and you’re incredibly confused by the sheer amount of diet advice that’s out there, then maybe you should get back to the basics. As part of its “Choose My Plate” campaign, the USDA has offered some great general advice for regulating your intake and eating a balanced and healthy diet. Here are some of the most important tips that they offer:

Fruits and Vegetables:

It’s true what they say; these are the cornerstones of healthy diet. You may think that they’re boring, but that’s simply not true. There are so many options to choose from with fruits and vegetables, that you’re sure to find specific ones that agree with you and that you enjoy. Try to make fruits and vegetables about half of your daily intake

Make the switch to skim or 1% milk:

A simple change like this can have results that accumulate quickly. These lower-fat milks have the same calcium as higher-fat milks, but they’re much easier on the calorie count. Plus, rather obviously, there’s less fat in them!

Get with those whole grains:

Whole grains are good for you; it’s that simple. Of course, you might not want to make your entire grain intake of the whole grains variety. But even switching 50% of your grain intake to whole grains can have a positive effect on your health.

Watch your caloric intake:

While you don’t have to get out the calorimeter and test every morsel of food that goes in your mouth, having a general sense of your caloric intake can help guide your healthy eating habits. If you’re looking to trim pounds (and your caloric intake) try switching to smaller glasses, bowls and plates. Since we eat with our eyes, this will help you to eat less.

Cut back on sugars, salt and fats:

You don’t have to give up on them completely, we all deserve a splurge every now and again. But, switching one item in your diet (like a sugary soft drink) for another (like 100% fruit juice) even a few times a week can have positive health benefits that will only compound over time. As a general guide, this should suffice toward getting you on the road to healthy eating habits. As you experiment with divesting yourself of bad eating habits and replacing them with healthier ones, you’ll find particular food items, dishes and drinks that will appeal to you. As you make these discoveries, be sure to take note of what you’re enjoying, and allow yourself to enjoy those things. Doing so will make “eating healthy,” which seems like an inconvenience that deprives you of the things you enjoy, into a culinary experience that will fuel better and healthier eating habits throughout your life.

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To Eat Carbs or Not To Eat Carbs

Over the years carbs have been given a bad rap. When many celebrities jumped on the low-carb diet during the late 90s and the early 2000s, thousands of people from around the world shunned carbs altogether in the hope of losing weight like their idols.  Such fad diets have somewhat waned over the years, however, there are still many avid followers of the low-carb diet for the sake of healthy eating and weight loss. This controversial diet has caused a stir throughout the world among medical practitioners and researchers, however, it has to be said that the majority of the medical community still are against this kind of diet for the purpose of healthy living. All you need to do is to look around at your local café and see what people have on their plates to prove that many still believe that anything that contains carbohydrates is evil, hence the abundance of leafy salads that lie in front of people. Whether they want to eat such things on a daily basis is completely another story. Of course there are some health benefits that do come with a low-carb diet, but one must note the word “low” as opposed to “no.” There is some medical evidence that those who choose to follow a low-carb diet will lose weight easier than those who go on a low-fat one, however, it’s imperative that the dieter sticks to such diets and changes their lifestyle because as soon as they stop, they’re likely to pile the weight on again which defeats the whole purpose of their healthy eating in the first place.

Low-carb diets also have other health benefits

When people lower their carbohydrate intake and replace some of these carbs with proteins, blood pressure is lowered as are cholesterol levels. However, this only works when a person is following a tailor-made diet plan drawn up by a dietitian which includes a special balance of different food groups. Additionally, in 2007, Holt et al carried out a series of research with levels of insulin secretion and the consumption of carbohydrates. Studies proved that when carbohydrates are paired with other food groups such as proteins and fats, the body’s insulin levels increase which puts the consumer at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later on in life. However, these findings were more common in middle-aged men, most of whom already had weight and other underlying issues. Instead of shunning carbohydrates all together and depriving your body totally, medical practitioners recommend taking a different approach. Researchers suggest that people need to be educated on what carbohydrates actually are and how they work. Carbs provide the body with much needed energy and without carbs we simply wouldn’t be able to function properly. Understanding the different kinds of carbs, in other words the good carbs versus the bad ones, will help you to understand that there are indeed good carbs that need to be consumed. Opting for whole wheat breads, barley, rye and quinoa over fries are always going to be the healthier option and at the same time you’re allowing your body and brain to get all the right amounts of energy that they need while still following a healthy diet.

To say all carbohydrates are bad is a huge generalization

Even when people lower their carb levels, we can still see a lot of obesity in the community. It’s got nothing to do with the lowering of carbs, but instead it’s related to the kinds of carbs that are being consumed. People continue to make unhealthy choices. Processed carbs are the real killers that are increasing the rate of the obesity at extraordinary levels – processed carbs are believed to be the driving force behind overeating and weight gain because they take longer to break down in the body. Processed carbs are anything you can’t find in nature for example, you can’t find a bagel growing on a tree, therefore it’s processed – other things have been added to these carbs to make the food such as preservatives and additives, and next time you read the package of your “whole meal” bread, remember this too has been processed and while it may be slightly healthier, there are better carbs that you could be eating. Instead of cutting out carbs completely, you need to learn how to make smarter choices when it comes to eating them and how to decipher between good carbs versus bad ones. All fruits, vegetables, nuts, tubers and seeds contain unprocessed carbohydrates which will not compromise a person’s health. Cutting these food groups out completely will result in a loss of fibers and essential vitamins and minerals that the body needs. Many people are tricked into thinking that breakfast cereals are healthy and natural, however, if you were to take a look at their ingredients on the box, you’ll see that there a number of different ingredients with unpronounceable names – a sign that these are indeed highly processed and therefore not a good food choice if you want to follow a healthy eating plan. It is clear that the body does need carbs. All that is needed is a bit of education as to which ones are beneficial to the body and which ones are not. It’s a matter of lifestyle change and making careful food choices and not completely eliminating one food group to fulfill a diet.  

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Agalee Jacob. Examples of processed carbs. 2013.

10 Affordable Healthy Foods for Eating Smart on Any Budget

You’re undoubtedly aware that a diet rich in nutritious whole foods is fundamental to staying healthy and happy. But if you have to work within the confines of a limited food budget, you may find it difficult to make smart selections for meals and snacks. Unfortunately, the most affordable groceries are often the most heavily processed, least healthy options. But numerous nutrient-dense foods are readily available at low prices year-round. Below are 10 such foods you can buy in significant quantities for little money and incorporate into all sorts of dishes.

Cheap and Healthy Food #1: Eggs

These humble ovals pack a serious nutritional punch. Low-calorie eggs provide high-quality complete protein and most essential vitamins and minerals. They’re also a good source of carotenoids like zeaxanthin and lutein. Best of all, you can stock up on an 18-pack for less than $4.

Cheap and Healthy Food #2: Bananas

Fresh fruit can be a pricey purchase, but at around 60 cents per pound, a bunch of bananas is an exception. They’re rich in potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, biotin, manganese, dietary fiber, and other nutrients.

Cheap and Healthy Food #3: Potatoes

These tasty tubers are famed for their potassium content. They also supply several B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, copper, manganese, dietary fiber, pantothenic acid, and more. Buy Russets or other varieties in bulk for an average of three for $1.

Cheap and Healthy Food #4: An Entire Chicken

It’s convenient to purchase chicken breasts or other parts, but you pay a premium for that convenience. Spend about half as much per pound by buying whole as compared to boneless, skinless breasts. Chicken is high in protein and low in saturated fat, and an entire bird feeds the whole family.

Cheap and Healthy Food #5: Broccoli

This cruciferous vegetable’s impressive nutrient list and disease-fighting properties can be had for about $1.50 per pound. Broccoli packs plenty of dietary fiber, B-complex vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, chromium, pantothenic acid, copper, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and lots of other nutrients.

Cheap and Healthy Food #6: Whole Grain Pasta

Pastas made from refined flour are stripped of nutritional value and cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. Instead, get dietary fiber, B-complex vitamins, and more by opting for pastas made from whole grains, such as whole wheat or quinoa. A box is an affordable buy at around $2.

Cheap and Healthy Food #7: Beans

Countless varieties of beans are available canned or dried and in bulk for as little as 10 to 15 cents per serving. These legumes are rich in protein, providing a low-fat alternative to meats. They’re a great source of B-complex vitamins, potassium, iron, magnesium, dietary fiber, and additional essential nutrients.

Cheap and Healthy Food #8: Oats

Buy whole grain oats in bulk for as low as 15 cents per serving, which is a much better deal than a box of sugary breakfast cereal loaded with artificial ingredients. Oats offer B-complex vitamins and a heaping serving of dietary fiber to promote healthy digestive and cardiovascular systems.

Cheap and Healthy Food #9: Brown Rice

Brown rice is another smart whole grain purchase, available at about the same cost per serving as oats. This alternative to refined white rice is far more satisfying without the rapid rise and fall of blood glucose levels. It too is full of dietary fiber, B-complex vitamins, and more good stuff.

Cheap and Healthy Food #10: Canned Fish

The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fatty fish per week for lean protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Buying canned chunk light tuna (the cheaper, lower-mercury variety) and salmon lets you enjoy the benefits of fish for less than $1 per serving.  

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A Healthy Diet Starts with a Healthy Mind

On the face of it, eating healthy should be a pretty easy to goal to accomplish; the benefits have been firmly established so skepticism about whether this actually contributes to our well-being is an unlikely stumbling block. So, if we know we should eat healthy, and we want to, what is the problem? Well, there are quite a few, from deeply ingrained bad habits to lack of a clear plan to change our junk-food loving ways. To improve our diet, we need to make better decisions that move us closer towards our goal of living a healthier lifestyle. To make better decisions, we have to develop a certain state of mind. A healthy diet starts with a healthy mind, and here are just a few helpful tips for getting things right upstairs.

Stress Reduction as Priority Number One

Stress messes with our healthy eating goals in numerous ways. On the physical front, it produces all sorts of changes in the body that increase our cravings for unhealthy foods, namely refined carbohydrates and sugars. But, the real problem is the effects on our state of mind. When we feel stressed, we have a harder time making healthy decisions. It triggers episodes of emotional eating, and most of us aren’t reaching for a bag of carrots, to soothe the unpleasantness. We feel more pessimistic about our efforts to eat better, and just be healthier in general; and consistently feeling high levels of stress can really lead our efforts astray. When we bring stress under control, our whole outlook changes. We feel more motivated to eat better; we are feeling good, and we are inclined to continue making decisions that keep us feeling that way. Choosing healthy foods over unhealthy ones does not seem as difficult a decision; we don’t feel like we are depriving ourselves or sacrificing. So, if you are serious about changing your diet, you need to get serious about tackling stress, one of the biggest barriers to making healthy changes.


It seems meditation is being recommended for everything these days, and it makes pretty good sense. Meditation helps us strengthen our minds, reduce stress, gain a more positive perspective on life, notice thoughts but not react automatically, and allows us to get comfortable with uncomfortable feelings—which keeps us from making poor choices in that overwhelming desire to feel better instantly. That last point in particular can really help curb emotional eating and giving into cravings on a regular basis. Some research suggests it may be a valuable tool in improving our eating habits. A review of 14 studies that looked at mindfulness meditation as a primary treatment for binge eating ,emotional eating and weight loss, that appeared in the journal Eating Behaviors in April 2014, found mindfulness meditation was effective in reducing binge eating and emotional eating. A small study out of the University of California San Francisco in 2013 compared the effects of meditation and mindful eating against a control group (both received training on diet and exercise), and found the experimental group maintained their weight, and experienced a drop in cortisol levels ( high levels of which indicate being stressed), while participants in the control group gained weight and did not achieve this drop in the stress hormone.

Start Viewing Yourself in a More Positive Light and Be Forgiving

Work on seeing yourself in a different way. Your eating habits are borne of the mind, not some unchangeable aspect woven into your DNA. You can become a healthy eater, no matter what your diet has been like up until this point. Tell yourself this frequently, and you will see yourself transform over time. Be forgiving when you slip up—eating healthy is not about being perfect. Don’t berate yourself, just vow to do better. Before you know it, healthy eating will come naturally to you. If you can follow these three tips, you are well on your way to creating a state of mind that supports healthy diet choices, and you will be amazed at how much easier the process becomes.

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Meet Quinoa’s Super Cousin: Amaranth

By now most people have heard about the benefits of quinoa and probably tried it in their diet. But there’s an even “better and badder” version of this super-food out there that most folk haven’t heard of yet. It’s called amaranth. Like quinoa, amaranth is an edible seed rather than a true grain – although it is used in much the same way. That means it is gluten-free. This super seed is high in fiber, protein, and vitamin C. Not only that, just one cup of uncooked amaranth contains more iron than a large bowl of spinach and more calcium than a glass of whole milk. [1]

Here’s a few more of Amaranth’s many health and nutritional benefits:

  • Besides being high in fiber, protein, vitamin C, iron, and calcium, amaranth is a good source of magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and manganese. In fact, one cup of uncooked amaranth contains 120% of the daily recommended amount of magnesium.[2] This is especially important when you consider that well over half of all Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diets.[3]
  • Amaranth contains approximately 30 percent more protein than rice, sorghum, and rye.[4] Not only that, amaranth is almost a perfect protein. It contains 8 out of the 9 essential amino acids needed in our diets.
  • One of these amino acids is lysine, which is not found in corn or wheat. Lysine can help to lower levels of bad cholesterol, reduce stress, and improve how your body absorbs calcium.[5]
  • Amaranth contains beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce your risk of heart disease, curb stiffness and joint pain, and possibly even help lower the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s.[6]
  • Amaranth has not one but two substances that may have cancer-preventing properties. The first one is lunasin, a chain of amino acids that is found in very few other foods except soybeans. Lunasin has been shown in several studies to prevent the growth of cancerous cells in animals.[7]
  • The second potentially cancer-preventing substance in amaranth is squalene. This naturally occurring compound is found in small amounts in our bodies, but there are few food sources for it other than from shark liver oil – something not usually found in the average North American’s diet! As with lunasin, several studies have indicated that squalene shows the promise of stopping cancerous growth.
  • Squalene is thought to have several other health benefits as well. Although not yet definitively proven, many researchers believe squalene can help prevent heart attacks, boost one’s immune system, and help conditions such as asthma and psoriasis.[8]

Wondering how to get these little bundles of goodness into your diet? Amaranth seeds (sometimes referred to as amaranth grain) and amaranth floor are sold in many health food stores. In its seed form, amaranth can be cooked and eaten like a porridge or used in soups, polentas, and other dishes. Alternatively, the seeds can be popped like popcorn and used as a salad topper or in snack foods. Amaranth flour can be used in baking. But for an even easier way to get the benefits of amaranth, try taking amaranth oil as a supplement.

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