Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Can Drinking Water Help You Lose Weight?

I've worked with many people over the years who have been trying to get healthier and lose weight.  One question that often comes up is, "How much water should I drink?"  Every weight loss program seems to require a certain amount of water.  Some people have been told that drinking water helps them lose weight and some believe that water flushes the fat out of the body. The big question: Does drinking water really help you lose weight? 

Unfortunately, water is not this magical fluid that zips through your body like PacMan chewing up fat cells and flushing them away! If only that were true... Water does, however, help flush out the by products of fat metabolism after your body burns off stored fat for energy. And that's a good thing.

That being said, water may in fact help with weight loss. Many people know from personal experience that drinking water helps them lose weight, but research on this was lacking. In 2010,  Dr. Brenda Davy, a Virginia Tech associate professor of nutrition, provided the first research on this subject.  She found that people who drank 2 glasses of water 20-30 minutes before each meal lost more initial weight and had a significantly higher total loss when compared to people who did not drink water pre-meal. It may be that water offers a way to fill up with a zero calorie price tag. In earlier research, Davy found that water drinkers ate 75 calories less at lunch and at dinner. That may not seems like much, but if you did that every day for a year and made no other changes to your calories in or out, you would lose 15.5 pounds in one year!

Dehydration reduces the rate at which you burn calories. Even if your body is just 1% dehydrated, your metabolic rate goes down, and you burn fewer calories. Staying well hydrated is very important both for weight loss and for overall health.

Some experts think that many of us mix up our body's thirst and hunger signals.  Yep. This was certainly true for me.  I used to think that any message my body was sending me said, "Eat Peanut M&M's." That was over 50 pounds ago! After I was drinking water regularly, I began recognizing when I was actually thirsty and not hungry---amazing.  Filling up on foods high in water content can also help.  Try reaching for soups, fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, yogurt, and other water-rich foods.

Why water and not any beverage?  Water is perfect: at zero calories it quenches thirst and gives your stomach a sense of fullness. For most of us, water comes to us clean and ready-to-drink right from our taps, very environmentally friendly.  All those benefits for absolutely zero calories. The all too popular soda, lemonade, "foo-foo" coffee drinks and smoothies, among others, offer way too many sugar calories and not much in the way of good nutrition.

Can drinking water help you lose weight? It certainly won't do all the work for you by off-setting an overdose of chips and dip. But, it's starting to look like drinking water may just help!


Sunday, May 29, 2011

I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing!


We've all been there. 
You were doing so well with your healthy eating plan.  
And then, you just lost it. 
You ate way too much.  
You can't believe you ate like that.... again. 

Though no one can go back and
 make a brand new start,
Anyone can start from now and 
make a brand new ending.
           -author unknown

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Drinking Enough Water? Part II

Exercise much? Of course you do, right?

So, you work out.  Your body heats up.  Then it needs to be cooled down to keep your body at a safe temperature.  After all, you don't want to get overheated and end up with heat related illnesses, and certainly not heat stroke. To cool down, your body sweats, and its evaporation creates cooling. The harder and longer you work out, the the more fluids you need to produce sweat.  Higher temperatures, humidity, and altitudes all increase the amount you need.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you consume plenty of fluids and stay well hydrated at least 24 hours before exercise (which means all the time, right?) Two hours before exercise, drink about 2 cups of water.  Replenish fluids at regular intervals if your exercise lasts longer than 30 minutes, ideally enough to replace water lost. Long distance runners are encouraged to drink 1 cup for every 20 minutes. After the workout, drink 1-2 glasses of fluid, or as much as needed to fully rehydrate.

Water is the best choice for most of us: it's calorie free and absorbed quickly. On that note, icy cold water is actually absorbed faster, so keep that in mind as the weather and your workouts warm up.

Sports drinks aren't needed unless your work out is at least an hour. With longer workouts, sports drinks replenish some of the electrolytes (sodium and potassium) lost along with all that sweat. The carbohydrates in sports drinks supply quick energy to delay fatigue during endurance exercise.

Chugging way,way too much plain water can induce hyponatremia, or water intoxication. In this condition, your electrolytes are extremely diluted, wreaking havoc with muscles and nerves. Water intoxication is fairly rare, but is being seen more often as more and more rookie exercisers try endurance events. If they don't know how to safely hydrate and the need to up the sodium, they can be at risk. Hey, if you're drinking 8 glasses of water a day, don't panic, as that's not even close to the amount to put you in danger.

Now you can find all sorts of interesting sports and fitness drinks out there---enough to make your head spin! Some of these fitness drinks are adding vitamins, caffeine, and herbal supplements that suggest benefits.  Are they worth it?
  • Get your vitamins from food and not in your sports drink. Just eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low fat dairy, dry beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. If you get too many of some vitamins, toxicity can develop.  This may be a problem for people who drink many of these vitamin-fortified drinks and/or who are taking multiple vitamin supplements. 
  • Caffeine is a non-harmful stimulant and has actually been shown to enhance increase endurance, alertness and motor skill, but too much caffeine can cause jitters. The NCAA bans caffeine at levels higher than the equivalent of 5 cups of Starbucks coffee.
  • Taurine, ginkgo biloba, and ginseng have not been proven to have any effect and are simply a waste.  
  • Guarana is an herbal supplement that like to act like caffeine, but more mild.
The bottom line: Be sure to increase fluids before, during and after exercise.  Bottoms Up!!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Drinking Enough Water? Part I

Water. It's essential for life and the single most important nutrient in the human body. Every system in your body relies on water. Water provides fluid to transport nutrients to cells, flushes away waste and toxins, and helps with cell metabolism.  It ensures a moist environment for ears, nose, and mouth, and is vital to the cooling system of the body by enabling sweat and evaporation to occur. Adequate water intake has even been associated with a decrease risk of some chronic diseases, including prevention of kidney stones. On the average, 60% of your body's weight comes from water.

Dehydration occurs when too little water or fluids are consumed.  Symptoms include feeling tired, weak, dizzy, and head achy. Energy levels decrease as does stamina for any activity you may try to perform.

Over the years, there have been all sorts of recommendations about how much water we should be consuming including formulas that make you calculate what you need---something like an ounce for every pound you weigh times some number, divided by something else. Ya, right. Just ignore these formulas, since individual needs vary too much and can be influenced by health, activity and even where that person is living.

The National Academy of Sciences, Foods and Nutrition Board recommends that men consume about 13 cups of fluid each day, and women should get 9 cups.  These recommendations include total fluid intake not just water:  milk, juices, tea, coffee, alcohol, and even the water in foods contribute to fluid needs. Food actually provides about 20% of daily fluid needs. Some fruits supply more than others, as watermelon and tomatoes are 90% water!

The daily 8 glasses of fluids each day is supported by this calculation:
The average adult produce 1.5 liters of urine each day,
             and 1.0 liter is lost in breath, sweat and bowel function
             which equals 2.5 liters lost daily

 Food provides 20% of water = 0.5 liter taken in
               that leaves fluid needs of 2.0 liters, or 8 cups
               for a total of 2.5 liters

But, who is that average individual?  Some experts still recommend the guide of 8-8 oz of fluid each day; it's easy way to remember to drink fluids, but it's really not supported by scientific evidence.

An individual's needs have to be considered.  Acute illness (fever, diarrhea, vomiting, bladder or urinary tract infection,)  living at higher altitudes (over 8200 feet) or in hot, humid, or heated environments,  Increase the body's water needs. Exercising certainly increases the need for fluids, and is influenced by the intensity and duration of activity.  Even he health and age of a person alter fluid needs.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that we have one glass of water with each meal and between each meal. I like this idea as a starting point, as it's quite simple. Other experts recommend drinking enough fluids to rarely feel thirsty. The problem with that is that as people get older, their ability to sense thirst diminishes.

One of the best rules of thumb is to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, keeping thirst at bay and to keep your urine clear or very pale yellow. How about: Be sure to see paler pee?  When urine is dark yellow or gold colored dehydration is often present. Not good for any cell in your body.

Water is a great choice to drink. It's what every cell in your body really wants and needs.  The big bonus is that it's inexpensive and calorie free.

Stay tuned for Part II, where we'll talk about how exercise changes your fluid requirements and how to choose the best fluids for exercise performance and recovery.  In Part III, we'll investigate whether or not water helps with weight loss.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Easy Roasted Vegetables

                                                               I've been making this colorful roasted vegetable dish for years and have fun using variations on the theme almost every time I make it. I simply start with one potato (white, sweet, or a combination) and 1 teaspoon of olive oil per person.  After that, I just add any amount of other non-starchy veggies I have around and roast away!

Easy Roasted Vegetables
Makes 4 servings

Preheat oven to 400 degrees or fire up grill.
Coat a large jelly roll (11x15") with cooking spray.
      (Line with parchment paper for easy clean up)
      Or, use large non-grated grill pan.
Cut into 1" chunks and place in pan:
      3 medium red skinned potatoes
      1 sweet potato
      1 sweet bell pepper, green or red
      2 large carrots, peeled (or 1/2 bag baby carrots)
      2 medium sweet onions
Add and toss well:
      2 cloves of garlic, minced
      1/4 - 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
      1/4 tsp salt
      4 tsp olive oil
Bake for 30 minutes. Add:
      1/2 bunch fresh asparagus*, snapped in half
Bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Nutritional Data (1/4 recipe)
238 calories, 5 g fat, 0 g cholesterol, 87 mg sodium, 44 g carbohydrate, 8 g fiber, 7 g protein
Exchanges: 1 starch, 1 fat, 3 non-starchy vegetables

Other vegetables to try:
      snow peas, fresh green beans, zucchini, summer squash (add later in baking time)
      celery, turnip, kohlrabi (add at the beginning)

*Add any vegetable you are using that needs less cooking time at this point

Try these Easy Roasted Vegetables this week, and let me know what you think!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Favorite Go-To Treats

What are your favorite go-to treats when you crave a little something that may not be very nutrient dense and you want to control the amount of those less nutritious calories coming in?

First, ask yourself what it is that you are truly craving. Are you really craving food or is it some other need that yearns to be met: are you tired, irritable, angry, happy, or sad?  If so, is there a better way to take care of that need like taking a nap, exercising or talking things over with a friend?

If you are physically hungry (tummy growling, weak, body demanding food to re energize,) it is time to eat. Try reaching for healthy food first to fill that need.  It's amazing how much better you will feel when you feed yourself well.

If it's just a little treat you have a craving for, try to identify what it is you want. Something sweet or salty, creamy or crunchy, cold or hot? Many times, you can find alternatives that are less caloric and even a bit more healthy but will still satisfy that craving.  For example, if your yen is for a cold, creamy and smooth treat and you are thinking ice cream, perhaps non-fat frozen yogurt would work just as well as Ben and Jerry's. Keep in mind, this type of eating needs to be done in a controlled, mindful manner.

When I have a craving, it's most often for something sweet and creamy. One of our MM Groupies told me about Weight Watcher's Dark Chocolate Raspberry frozen bars.  I tried one yesterday, and I've decided it's my new favorite go-to treat!  This is a great treat at a bargain 80 calories* that really satisfied my craving. They are a bit expensive, but since they come in 12 individual bars, portion control is built in. I also enjoy individually wrapped Dove Dark Chocolate Promises.  At 42 calories** each, I love that wonderful, creamy chocolate melting in my mouth as I try not to chew them for the utmost enjoyment. Since the key with these is to eat only one or two, they work well hidden out of sight in the back of my pantry cupboard.

My husband loves the salty crunchy treats. He really enjoys Ruffles Baked Cheddar and Sour Cream chips that have a price tag of 120 calories*** for 10 chips.  He's really good at putting one serving in a little bowl before eating them (he used to eat chips out of the big bag,) though when there are times of difficulty with control, he'll divide up all the chips into 1 oz servings and put them into sandwich bags.  Another option would be choosing factory sealed individual servings of chips. Remember, even if they are baked, light, low-fat or fat-free, it's easy for many of us to overeat these less nutritious treats.  Serve your self one serving, sit down, and mindfully enjoy every bite with no guilt!

I'd love to make a list of our favorite treats.  What have you discovered that provides help for your less nutritious cravings?  Let's see what we can come up with, preferable in 150 calories or under!  Let us know!
*One Bonus Buy
**1/2 Bonus Buy
**1 1/2 Bonus Buys

Saturday, May 14, 2011

When the Going Gets Tough...

You know what you need to do---things like exercise and eating right. You know you should do it.  Sometimes you do it and sometimes you don't. Why is it that it's so hard to keep going on a healthy lifestyle? What interrupts the process?

I asked the MM groups that question this week, and we had lots of responses.  There are aches, pains and injuries (like I'm going through now---can't walk or run right now!)  There are food pushers and holidays when many of us over indulge. Celebrations that always come with lots of great food. Getting older.  Low metabolic rates. Too little time. Stress, kids, emotions, weather, fast food, huge portion sizes, fatigue, spouses that don't want healthy food, spouses themselves...  We even stop our own progress sometimes with attitudes like, "I'm tired of this," "I just want to eat,"  and "it's just too hard and I don't care."

I like to think of these challenges as if they are things that crop up and slow you down on a road trip. You may encounter potholes, deer, road construction, an accident, flat tires, detours, or even ladders falling off of trucks in front of you causing you to swerve to avoid a crash.  These things just happen, but if our destination is important enough to us, we fix the flat tire and continue on our trip. We take the detour and adjust our estimated time of arrival.  When you are working on a health goal such as losing weight, you are hit with all sorts of challenges.  Holidays are huge potholes, celebration parties and food pushers may cause a flat tire.  But, to get to destination of living in that healthier, svelte, buff body, we figure out solutions and keep on trying. We persevere.

The question is, if we really truly, deep-in-our-hearts want to achieve our health goals, when these interruptions occur, just how do we keep on going?

When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going! (Billy Crystal):

  1. Focus on why you want to be healthier. Make a list of what you are reaching for.
  2. Imagine what you will feel like when you achieve your goal.  Create an entire mini-movie in your mind of how you might look, feel and act when you are healthier.  Pretend that active person riding a bike along the road is you.  See yourself smiling as you walk along the beach feeling good about yourself.  Practice visualizing this movie frequently. Visualization is a very powerful  tool to motivate positive behavior change.
  3. Develop an action plan:
    1. Decide on 1 -3  mini-goals you will work toward achieving this week or today? Write them down and plan to look at them often.
    2. Write down specific actions you will take to achieve these goals.
    3. freedigitalphotos/digitalart
    4. Be mindful of your mini-goal and Just Do It!
  4. Even if you hit a pothole along the road toward success, shake it off and keep on going.  It's not what happened that really matters, it's what happens next!
Consider the postage stamp: Its success depends on its ability to stick to one thing until it gets there! (adapted from Josh Billings)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Easy Asian Noodle Bowl

There is nothing like a great bowl of Asian noodles... I made this one with pork this week, but it would be  wonderful with chicken breast, shrimp or tofu.  This recipe is really easy, so be sure to put it on your menu plan soon.

Easy Asian Noodle Bowl

Bring large pot of water to boil and cook as directed on package, then drain:
      8 oz. whole grain angel hair pasta
Cook in microwave as directed on package
      1# package frozen pea pod, cauliflower, and carrot mix**                      
      1# package frozen broccoli pieces** 
While pasta and veggies are cooking, saute in a large skillet for 1 minute:
      2 tsp. canola oil
      1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, tops and all 
      1 red bell pepper, sliced
      1 Tbsp. peeled fresh ginger*, finely chopped
Add and saute until done (about 5 minutes)
      1 pound thinly sliced lean pork loin (trim all visible fat), chicken breast, shrimp or tofu
Pour into skillet:
      1 cup low sodium chicken broth
      1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
      1/2 tsp red pepper flakes or hot chili sauce (optional)
      1 tsp. toasted sesame oil ***(if you can find it)
Add the noodles and vegetables and toss until well blended.

Serves 4
1 serving: 444 calories, 7-8g fat, 73g cholesterol, 615 mg sodium, 58 g carbohydrates, 6 g fiber, 38-40 g protein.
Exchanges: 2 starch, 3 protein, 1 fat, 2 vegetables

*Keep fresh ginger in the freezer and just grate it as you need it---no need to thaw first.
**Make this simple, just choose 2- 1# packages of your favorite frozen veggie blends!!
***Toasted sesame oil has such a deep, rich, wonderful flavor, but it's hard to find. If you don't have it, just use plain sesame oil or add another teaspoon of canola oil.

...and enjoy your bowl full of noodles!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Food For Mood

Many of us do it.  We get upset, anxious, nervous, angry, stressed, bored, lonely or even happy.  And then, we eat.  We grab cookies, candy, chips, ice cream, bread, mashed potatoes, and chocolate, and use them as a prescription to help deal with the emotion. The question is, do these foods actually deliver what we're seeking?  Do they alter our mood?

It's true. I have a history of eating to calm myself or to help me deal with emotions I don't want to face, although I do control it much better than I used to.  Over the years, so many people have told me the same thing:  they start experiencing certain emotions and they start sucking down food like a baby and a pacifier.  Using small portions of food for your mood every once in awhile is fine.  The problem comes when this happens frequently, or if very large amounts of food are consumed which can lead to weight gain.  Sometimes people feel guilty when this happens, which can create yet another emotion that urges us to eat, and a vicious cycle continues.

Many studies are examining the association between food and brain chemistry. There are a number of neurotransmitters that zip around our brains, including serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine.  Serotonin has a calming effect while the others tend to perk you up and increase alertness. Though all the results aren't conclusive, some associations between food and mood prove quite interesting. Some nutrients found in foods are precursors to these brain chemicals. It is possible that the foods we choose do have an effect on our emotional state.

Carbohydrates seem to increase the production of serotonin in the brain, which is a lovely opiate-like substance that delivers a calming effect and reduces anxiety. Knowing that, it's interesting to note that almost all people's go-to foods during emotional eating tend to be laden with carbs, though most also have plenty of fat and often salt, too. Dieters who severely restrict carbohydrates (Atkins, for example) report an increase in depression after the second week on such a regimen.

Low blood sugar levels are often reason enough to be cranky and irritable. If you want to feel your best, eat foods to help stabilize your blood glucose.  Use lean protein, healthy fat and complex carbohydrates. Be sure to reach for smart carbs (less processed carbs) like whole grains, fruits and vegetables which take longer to digest and keep your blood sugar steadier longer. Eating a balanced breakfast is vital to getting the blood sugar levels in a normal range.  Try to include a small amount of protein, whole grain carb, fruit, and some healthy fat for a great start to a happy day.

Studies are showing that omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in alleviating depression. Whether or not omega-3's will actually work to improve your mood is not yet known.  Until then, reach for salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, walnuts and flaxseed...all good sources of omega-3's, and offer other wonderful health benefits, too.

People who are deficient in folate and vitamin D seem to have a higher tendency toward depression. Low vitamin D appears to lower serotonin levels.  Some health care providers are encouraging patients to reach for foods rich in these micronutrients. Salmon is rich source of vitamin D, along with fortified milk, soy milk, and supplements. Folate is found in nuts, seeds, lentils, spinach, broccoli and fortified cereals.

Low selenium levels are correlated with anxiety and irritability. Rich sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, seeds, fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs and grains.  Magnesium may also provide a calming effect, probably by increasing serotonin production.  Magnesium is found in beans, whole grains, seeds, spinach, broccoli and fish.  As you look at the food sources of all of these vitamins and minerals, you'll notice that getting a good, well balanced healthy food intake everyday should offer plenty of mood enhancing action.

Dehydration can cause sluggishness and irritability, so make sure you're getting plenty of fluids. People who are well hydrated are also found to be more alert.  Water is a good thing!

Small to moderate amounts of caffeine can improve alertness and produce a little extra energy,  though large amounts of caffeine tend to increase anxiety and nervousness.

Eating high protein foods may result in more alertness, which is probably due primarily to its leveling effect on blood sugar level.  Protein is also made up of amino acids, some of which act precursors to making dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain.  If you need your brain to stay focused and alert, be sure to include small amounts of protein throughout the day.

Too much food can increase sluggishness and the feeling of sadness, perhaps along with guilt. Blood tend to flow to the digestive tract after you've eaten, and it continues to do so until most of the food is digested.  This can take oxygen in the blood away from the brain during digestion, which may result in less focus and a bit more crankiness.

Chocolate does in fact raise the level of serotonin in your brain, along with a few others.  Is it any wonder why so many of us have a "thing" for chocolate when we're feeling certain moods?

There seems to be some disagreement in the research when it comes to eating carbs and protein together. Some researchers think the biggest serotonin rise comes with eating pure carbs.  Others point out that when protein and carbs are eaten together, one amino acid (tyrosine) heads to the brain and is converted to dopamine while the serotonin zips in response to the carbs.

As we consider what information the research has gathered so far, it's clear that eating a well balanced diet, rich in lean proteins, fish, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and low fat dairy, actually scores really well to help improve your mood. Until further research comes in, we can keep our mood as positive as possible by choosing to eat healthy foods, eat small meals often, stay hydrated and enjoy a little coffee and chocolate.

Eat Well, Be Well!