Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Story of the Donkey in the Well

A favorite inspirational story...

One day, a farmer's donkey fell down into a well.  The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do.  Finally, he decided the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway.  I just wasn't worth the effort to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him.  They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well.  At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly.  Then, to every one's amazement, he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well and was astonished at what he saw.  With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing.  He would shake it off and take a step up.  A s the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animals, he would shake it off and take a step up.  

Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off.

Moral of the story:  Life is going to shovel dirt on you.  All kinds of dirt.  The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up.  Each of our troubles is a stepping stone.  We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up!  Shake it off and take a step upward!

Monday, December 27, 2010

'Twas The Day After Christmas...

Christmas and Hanuka are over.  Gifts have been shared, packages unwrapped, the excitement and anticipation have gone, and friends and family have been visited.  We've eaten cookies, chocolates, pies and cakes, and consumed more than our share of eggnog and other fun beverages. Our pants are tighter than they were a week ago.

And now what? "In The Bleak Mid-Winter..." Around here, the sun doesn't shine enough.  Moods spiral downward. Why did I eat so much of that fudge?  Did I really need to eat an extra serving of prime rib and yorkshire pudding? We avoid stepping on the scales, or if we do, we get even more depressed. Some of us feel so disgusted with ourselves that it makes our mood even worse. What's a person to do except eat more left over cookies?

This is the perfect time to focus on creating a Healthier You!
Don't wait until the New Year.  How many times did that work for you, really?
Start making a healthier you today!
  1. Clean Out the Temptations.  Grab every goodie in sight and place it on the table.  Much of it is getting stale by now. You are done with it.  You've already tasted it and enjoyed it. Make a decision:  throw it away, freeze it to eat in small portions later, give it away to the neighbors, take it to your church or synagogue to freeze for the next gathering, donate it to a shelter, or put it down the garbage disposal.  Really.  It's going to waste or waist:  your choice.
  2. Bring in the healthy stuff!  Go shopping.  Buy fresh fruits, veggies, lowfat dairy, whole grains, lean protein sources.  The plan?  to set up your home to support your healthy focus. 
  3. Placement.  Put prepared veggies, cold water and fat free yogurt at eye level when you open the fridge.  Place a beautiful bowl of fresh fruit on the counter.  All other food needs to be put behind closed doors.
  4. Plan.  Write down what you are planning to eat for dinner in the next 3 or 4 days. Plan a big dinner salad or soup rich in veggies as one of the meals. Schedule your workouts and put them in your PDA, day planner, or calendar.
  5. Grab a new water glass or bottle and set it beside the sink.  Plan to drink a glass before every meal.
  6. Write down everything you eat for 3 days.  Include every taste or bite you take.
  7. Put your running shoes by the door and hand weights by the sofa to remind yourself to be active.  
  8. Haunted by some out of control eating behaviors?  Write down everything you ate or things you did over the holidays that you are not proud of.  Pick up the paper in your right hand. Examine it carefully.  Now, crunch up the paper and throw it away.  It's over, let it go.
  9. Find a support person or team to share your successes and struggles with. Find magazines, books and website that offer good advice on health.
  10. And remember:
   "Success is not final, failure is not fatal:  it is the courage to continue that counts." Winston Churchill

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

All I Want For Christmas Is My Health

Do you still have last minute shopping to do or maybe you have a little holiday cash to spend on yourself?  Try a gift that helps to encourage better health:

For walkers and runners:
  1. Pedometer. Clip it on and have fun seeing how many steps/miles you do in a day, or keep track of your walking distance. Mine quit working, so I'm hoping Santa remembers to bring me one!
  2. Sports watch. Hit the stop watch button and see how long it takes you to do your run each day. The Garmin sports watch is highly recommended by Amy, one of our MM groupies.
  3. Fanny pack.  Great for those who walk or run and could use a little zippered bag to securely keep keys and cell phone. I put this on my wish list after I lost my car keys in the snow while I was walking the dog at a park. NOT fun!
  4. Yak Trax.  Very much needed for all of us in snow and ice territory.
  5. Blinking lights to attach to clothing for safe walking in the dark.
  6. Head phones.  Sport headphones that fit securely around the ear are great for exercise.
  7. I Pod or other MP3 player.  Music can make the exercise more fun!
  8. I Tunes gift card.  New tunes are great.
  9. Water bottle.  I've been using a lightweight metal bottle, and it's very easy to keep clean.
  10. Exercise tights, shorts or sweats.  We always need a new pair!
  11. Reader Lisa suggested a subscription to Runners World or other fitness magazine. Great idea for information and motivation!
For Swimmers
  1. Aqua gloves or hand paddles to enhance your swim. 
  2. Fog-free goggles
  3. Water proof holder for MP3 Player.  I hear these are great for lap swimmers.
  4. Mesh gym sack.  A must for after your swim.
  5. Lap counter.  Great if you have trouble keeping track of your laps.
Other Exercisers
  1. Yoga mat.  It's time for a bright new color.
  2. Hand weights.  Great for strength training.
  3. Exercise video
  4. Active game for Nintendo WII or XBox
  5. Work out journal. Logging your fitness progress really helps.
Other Ideas:
  1. Healthy Cookbook.  I'm still an Ellie Kreiger fan.  We have both of her cookbooks and use them all the time.
  2. Potted Herbs. Pretty on the counter and always fresh and ready.
  3. Special herb or spice blends are great for the adventurous cooks.
  4. Infused olive oil.  Truffle oil is amazing on salads!
  5. Special vinegars.  Try raspberry vinegar on a berry, lettuce, pecan and blue cheese salad.
  6. Good knives make cooking so much easier.
  7. A good Food journal diary can make a difference for many people trying to lose weight.
  8. Food scale.  I leave mine on the counter and use it for everything.
  9. Fun measuring cups and spoons.  I saw some flower shaped ones at our local bookstore recently that looked like a great way to help with portion control. 
  10. Bath salts and oils or beautifully scented candles for relaxation time.
  11. Gift certificates!  How about a massage, pedicure, a session with a trainer, or the promise of a few hours of babysitting?
  12. How about a gift certificate for a fun cooking class?  Lisa also suggested a kitchen knife skills class.  I'd love to take one of those.  I've always wanted to wield a knife more like the chefs on food network...
What are some other ideas you have? 

Wishing you the gift of health...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Calcium Supplements 101

As with all vitamins and minerals, it's best to get calcium from food sources.  However, as we learned in the last post, it can be difficult for many people to get the 1000 - 1200 mg needed from food alone.  Many physicians and dietitians will then recommend taking added supplements.  If you are unsure, consult your doctor.

Choosing a supplement takes a little detective work.  
  • Select a supplement that has no more than 500-600 mg and contains vitamin D.  Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium.
  • Look for "USP" (United States Pharmacopeia) or "CL" (Consumers Lab) on the label.  These are voluntary industry standards, but do assure quality, purity and its ability to be dissolved.
  • Choose calcium carbonate or calcium citrate sources.  This is listed on the nutritional facts label.  
    • Calcium carbonate is the least expensive and is a good choice for most people. This is a more concentrated form, so one pill is usually one serving. Calcium carbonate should be taken with food.
    • For people with sensitive stomachs or with less acid production, calcium citrate is a better choice.  It's easier to absorb and can be taken without food. One serving size is usually 2 pills, so be sure to check the label. Anyone on acid blockers should choose calcium citrate.
  • Avoid dolomite, oyster shell and bone meal sources.  These have potential lead and other toxic metal content.
  • Take only 500 - 600 mg at a time.  No more than 500 mg can be absorbed at once, the rest would be excreted through urine, creating what one of my professors called "expensive urine."
  • If problems with gas or bloating occur, spread supplements throughout the day and be sure to take them with food. Liquid and chewable calcium supplements are already partly broken down and are often easier on your stomach. If you still have problems, switch to calcium citrate or try a different brand.
  • Constipation can be a problem with calcium supplements.  Be sure to drink 8 - 10 glasses of fluids each day, and increase your fiber intake by eating more whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. 
It is possible to get too much calcium, though highly unlikely if you are only getting it from food.  If you are consuming supplements of any type more is not better! The upper tolerable limit for calcium is 3000 for children ages 9 - 18, 2500 mg for adults age 19 - 50, and 2000 mg for those 51 and older.

Taking calcium supplements with some medications can reduce the absorption of that medication.  The thyroid medication levothyroxine, bone density medications such as biophosphates and certain antibiotics in the tetracycline class, need to be consumed at least 2 hours apart.

Some things can interfere with the absorption of calcium. 
  • Medications. Antacids with aluminum or magnesium, some diuretics, laxatives and glucocorticoids such as prednisone, will increase the amount of calcium being secreted by urine.  Physicians will want to monitor long term use of such medications, and possibly ask you to increase the amount of calcium you consume during that time. 
  • Oxalic acid found in some veggies such as spinach and beet greens actually binds with the calcium, preventing less of it to be absorbed by your body.  You will still get some calcium from the food, but not as much. 
  • Very high intakes of caffeine, alcohol, sodium, potassium, and phosphorus.  Consume these in moderation.
Calcium is so important to the health of our skeletal structure, muscles and nervous system.  It's best to get calcium from the foods you eat, but taking a supplement is recommended if you are not getting enough.  The key is to be mindful choosing your supplement and how you take it.  

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Calcium Connection

One day in 2nd grade wasn't going very well. I remember it clearly. Some unknown 7 year-old had neglected to drink all of their recess milk.  Yeah, serious stuff.  We were seated in traditional rows, all lined up waiting.  Mrs. Knaufala had decreed that no one was going out for recess until the guilty party confessed. We waited, and waited and waited...  I don't remember what happened after that, but the whole picture of Mrs. K standing there looking at us with those accusing eyes remains..

Granted, this was quite a few years ago, but why were we forced to drink warm cartons of milk?  (They always got delivered too early, so coolish-lukewarm was the best we got.) The message has been clear throughout our lives:  milk is good for you. Ads use celebrities sporting milk mustaches, "Milk, It Does a Body Good," "Got Milk?" We are encouraged by health experts to include 2 - 4 servings of dairy each day all of our lives.  Why?

Milk and many other dairy products contain the richest food source of calcium, a very important mineral to our health. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body.  99% of it is stored in bones and teeth, and the other 1% zips around in blood, muscle cells and in other body fluids.

As children grow, consuming enough calcium is important to help build strong teeth and the maximum potential bone size and density. It's also important for adults to consume enough calcium to maintain bone density and to maintain health.

Calcium is critical for muscle contraction and relaxation, enabling blood vessels to expand, helps blood clot properly, and helps transmit messages in the nervous system.  Since your heart is a muscle, calcium even helps regulate heart rhythm.  Studies have indicated that calcium helps lower blood pressure, and may in fact help reduce symptoms of PMS.

The bones act as a calcium bank for your body. Think of a savings account at the bank. If calcium levels are too low, your body will reach into calcium stores in bones, withdrawing calcium for necessary body functions. If you keep withdrawing all the time and neglect to deposit more calcium, your bones will become weaker and more porous, increasing the risk for osteoporosis and fractures.

High intakes of salt, protein, and caffeine increase the amount of calcium secreted in urine. One latte won't cause problems, but extremely high caffeine intakes for a long period of time may.

The recommended levels of calcium:
       Adults age 19 - 50       1000 mg/day
       Women age 51+          1200
       Men, age 51 - 70         1000
       Adults, age 70+           1200

Calcium Content of Foods:
      Yogurt, 8 oz plain                                  400
      Milk, 8 oz.                                             300 mg
      Soy milk, fortified, 8 oz                          300
      Yogurt, 8 oz fruit flavored or light            200 - 300
      Sardines, 4                                            240
      Cheese, 1 oz                                         150 - 200
      Artichoke, 1 med.                                   135
      Greens, collards, turnip, beet 1/2 cup       70 - 110
      Cottage cheese, 1/2 cup                          70
      Navy, pinto beans, 1/ 2 cup                     50 - 60
      Hummus, 1/2 cup                                   60
      Broccoli, 1/2 cup                                    45
      Almonds, 12                                           35

Are you getting enough calcium everyday? If you are a dairy consumer, it's much easier to reach the recommended levels. If you don't, it becomes a bit more difficult.  Calcium is now fortified in some foods like orange juice, cereal, and breads, which can help many of us achieve a good intake.

Stay tuned for The Calcium Connection, Part II, when we'll examine the use of calcium supplements and any dangers too much calcium can create. Until then, enjoy a nice glass of milk or a cup of cocoa made with soy milk. To your health!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Creamy, Light Soups For You

Kathy is looking for good soup and salad dressings recipes.  She's also a fan of “white” soups and dressings and wants help making those with lighter ingredients. Definitely off to a great start, she's already purchased the two cookbooks by Ellie Kreiger that I have listed on the recommended list: The Food You Crave and So Easy. My husband and I have used both of these cookbooks frequently and loved everything!

Highly recommended soups include the Beef and Mushroom Barley Soup, Confetti Chili, Tuscan Vegetable Soup  and the Rhode Island Clam Chowder in The Food You Crave.  The Roasted Tomato and Black Bean Soup in So Easy is so wonderful that I used it to serve over 50 people at a soup luncheon.  The White Turkey Chili also looks great, though I have my own White Chicken Chili that I will share with you. It's perfect weather around here for good, hot soup. As a matter of fact, we had chili tonight!

When you're making cream soups lighter, try using evaporated skim milk to replace all cream or milk in the recipe.  Evaporated milk is twice as concentrated as milk, so it gives soups a nice, rich texture without the fat.  Avoid using fat free half & half, as it contains added syrups and sugar.  To add an even thicker texture, blend 2 - 4  tablespoons of flour in cold milk, and stir slowly into soup.

For lower fat "white" salad dressings, plain or Greek yogurt is a great base to start with. Blend in a little low fat buttermilk until you get the thickness you want. Yogurt gives a nice tangy flavor, but if you prefer, you can tame it down a bit by adding a tablespoon or two of light mayonnaise. I'm sure you'll love the De-Light-Ful Ranch and Blue Cheese dressings in The Food You Crave.

As for our family favorite...

White Chicken Chili

Saute until transparent:
     1 Tbsp. olive oil
     3 cloves garlic, minced
     2 cups white onion, diced
Add, then cook for 5 minutes:
     1# chicken breast, cubed
     6 cups chicken broth (low sodium is a good choice)
     48 oz. Great Northern beans, drained
     1 - 2 cans green chilies
Season with:
     2 tsp. cumin
     2 tsp. oregano
     1/4 tsp. white pepper
     1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
     3 - 4 drops hot pepper sauce
Simmer for 1 hour.

The Soup's On...Enjoy!

Do you have any other ideas for Kathy?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ohhh, The Weather Outside is Frightful...

...But the snow is so delightful! Winter is here, at least where I live.  A light blanket of snow fell yesterday, making our yellow lab, Toby, very happy.  I don't know what it is about dogs, but playing in the snow is right up their alley along with all the kids!

I piled on an extra layer of clothing, and met my friend at a nearby park to do our 3 mile walk/run before dark.  As we started, it was 27 degrees, and a crisp wind was blowing at us.  We were pretty chilly when we started, but we soon were warmed up, loosening up some of the layers.  The sidewalk and trails already had icy spots, so we had to be extra careful with those. 

If you, too,  like to keep walking, running or playing outside during the winter weather, it's important to take a few precautions:

Dress warmly and in layers:
  • Keep the layer of clothing next to your skin a synthetic fabric that wicks away moisture.  Cotton shirts will absorb all that moisture, and ends up losing its ability to insulate and keep you warm.  One popular brand to try is made by Underarmour.
  • Good socks are a must.  I love the Smart Wool brand. We were given a pair to try in our walk/run group, and they were great: light, warm and non-itchy.
  • The next layer should be wool or a lighter weight fleece made of a synthetic fabric. This provides a nice insulating layer.
  • Wear a wind and water resistant nylon or Gore-Tex jacket as the outside layer.
  • Be sure to don on a stocking hat.
  • Put on those gloves or mittens.
  • Get your neck gaiter on.  We were taught a great way to make your own: Take 1/4 yard of fleece.  Wrap it around your head, then cut the fabric to that length.  Stitch the shorter ends together to make a wide band. Use it to wrap around your neck, breathe through it when it's really cold out, or fold it over to make a headband.  I've made 6 already---2 in a Snoopy Christmas pattern! 
  • Slip on your Yaks. Non-slip shoe grips like Yak Tracks really help when you are walking or running on snow and ice.  I wore mine all the time last year!
  • See: Take a flashlight or wear a headlamp. 
  • Be seen: Wear reflector strips or blinking safety lights. 
Take care of your body:
  • Be sure to walk slowly as you start your workout, then add speed accordingly.  Cold weather tends to make muscles tighter, thus more at risk for strains. Warming up those muscle fibers slowly is even more important in cold weather.
  • Blood pressure tends to rise quickly when exposed to sudden cold. Wearing warm clothing including that hat and gator, and warming up by starting slowly will help reduce any strain on your heart.
  • Asthma symptoms are often aggravated in the cold.  Take your inhaler with you if prescribed by your doctor. I find breathing through that neck gaiter helps me quite a bit.
  • Be sure to consult your doctor if you have any questions about your own health and cold weather workouts.
  • Stretch well after exercise (refer to the book, "Stretching," by Bob Anderson.)
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise for good hydration.
And if you've got somewhere to go, let it snow, let it snow, and just go!