Sunday, September 29, 2013


Superfood, noun. A food that holds within it a magical quality that will provide health and eternal life. The holy grail. Or not...

In 1994, Dr. Steven Pratt first used the term superfood for what he called foods that contained specific nutrients shown in studies to lengthen life and provide health benefits. Scientifically, it doesn't mean a thing. It has no official definition. 

That doesn't stop manufacturers and advertisers from the "super" label. And why would it? It entices people to buy. "Super" increases sales. Unfortunately, some consumers buy into the "super-ness" of one food, missing the fact that one single food can't possibly possess the entire key to good health. By focusing in on one healthy food, you can miss the importance of eating a big variety of nutrient-rich foods. 

That being said, many health professionals simply think of superfoods as those highest in nutrient density. They have the biggest bang per buck, or lots of vitamins and minerals per calorie. Carrots. Not Oreos

Superfoods can be part of a healthy balanced diet, along with a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean protein. Eating chips and drinking soda all day and popping a superfood at night doesn’t do it. They aren't a substitute for or a supplement to an unhealthy diet. 

SUPERFOODS in a Super Diet = Super Health
Research supports eating a variety of healthy foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, quality protein, and dairy products, and minimizing processed foods. Eating a super diet just may help fight diseases such as cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. And, it may just put you in a better mood!
  • Produce: eat a variety, in a rainbow of colors to obtain the best mix of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
    • Dark Green Leafy Vegetables:  Spinach, collards, kale
    • Citrus Fruit: Grapefruit, oranges, lemons and limes. Rich sources of soluble fiber, and vitamin C
    • Berries: blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. High in antioxidants, vitamins, water and fiber.
    • Kiwi: rich in vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and a decent source of vitamin A and vitamin E.
    • Broccoli: Vitamins A, C, and K, beta-carotene, and fiber.
    • Sweet potatoes: Beta-carotene, potassium, and fiber.
    • Watermelon: Lycopene, vitamin C.
    • Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, kale, and cauliflower. Contain antioxidant sulphoraphane.
  • Healthy protein
    • Beans: high in soluble and insoluble fiber, magnesium, and potassium, considered starchy vegetables but a ½ cup provides as much protein as an ounce of meat.
    • Soybeans: tofu, edamame. Contain isoflavones and some omega-3 fats.
    • Fatty fish: high in omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, tuna, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines.
  • Dairy products: milk, yogurt, and cheese. Rich calcium and vitamin D milk. Yogurt can offer helpful probiotics.
  • Whole Grains include both germ and bran, which are good sources of fiber, magnesium, chromium, omega 3 fatty acids and folate. Examples include barley, oats, buckwheat, whole wheat, wild rice, and millet.
    • Quinoa (keen-wa) offers a complete protein, fiber, and a good source of iron, zinc, vitamin E, and selenium.
  • Nuts and seeds: high in healthy poly-and mono-unsaturated fat, magnesium, fiber, and offer a high satiety value. Walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Pistachios contain plant sterols.
  • Cocoa: contains flavonoids
  • Spices: Turmeric, ginger, and many fresh herbs and spices may have anti-inflammatory benefit.
  • Green tea contain polyphenolic compounds that may provide anti-inflammatory action.

You really are what you eat. The foods you eat today do influence how you feel today and do have an impact on your health over the years. In fact, you can find many foods that have a super-ior impact on your health the next time you go to the grocery store.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fit After 55: Senior Exercise

Winn, 96-years young
After traveling 750 miles, this field trip didn't disappoint at all. I absolutely love the Fit After 55 senior exercise class provided by the University of Connecticut's exercise science department. I'm proud to say that my parents have been part of this group for about 20 years. Incredible!

This group has had their share of difficulties to overcome including the typical hip, knee, elbow replacements, and some tough life changes, but they stay with it. After visiting several times over the years, it's clear that this wellness gang takes pride in their overall fitness. And they should. The quality of life for these folks is clearly above that of many if not most people in their age group. They are active and engaged in life. They know they have to move it in order to stay mobile and sharp. They get it. 

And, they aren't exactly new to the senior side of life. Heck, my dad's 85th birthday is coming up next week, and he's not even close to the oldest in the group! Winn takes that prize at 96 years old and he's still going strong. 

As they arrive twice a week, each heads to their preferred exercise machine and gets started. My dad likes to hit the stationary bike for a 15-minute program that includes a few hills to keep his cardiovascular system and his relatively new hip strong. My mom considers the walk to the class aerobic conditioning, so she focuses on the strength training equipment. I love the fact that they choose to park at their church 0.35 miles away and walk to class. Compare that to the 30 and 40 year olds at my gym who circle the parking lot trying to find the closest space!

Think for a moment about your own future self. What do you want to be able to do in 1, 10, or 25 years down the road? Active and healthy? If so, now's the best time to start working on it! Aim to do what it takes to care for the future self you want to be. Remember, it's never to late to improve your health!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chia Chat

Their not exactly the ch-ch-ch-chia seeds that used to grow the plush green hair on our clay-potted Chia pets. But, they're a close cousin. The chia seeds we buy today are from the Salvia hispanica plant, grown primarily in Mexico and Guatemala.  Ancient Aztec's are said to have survived long trips across the desert with only a small amount of these chia seeds and a pouch of water. Miraculous?

Chia's big on the superfood list these days. And why not? With its good source of plant-based omega-3's (alpha-linolenic acid,) whole grains, protein, antioxidants, high in heart-healthy soluble fiber, and calcium, chia stacks up pretty well on the nutritional front. One ounce (2 tablespoons) of this ancient Mayan grain delivers 140 calories, 4 grams protein, 9 grams fat, and 12 grams carbohydrate, along with a whooping 11 grams of fiber. Chia has the unique ability to soak up nine times its weight in water, creating a gelatinous gel that makes it usable as a binder in gluten-free baking. Some athletes claim eating chia and drinking water create a gel that diminishes dehydration.

Plenty of claims have been made that chia can reduce heart disease, stroke, and promote weight loss. And, as one may imagine, these statements are plastered all over the many websites selling chia. But, are they true? 

Early research results from small, short-term studies show that when subjects were given 3 tablespoons of chia daily, blood pressure dropped and C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation. Sounds like good potential for health benefits. Disappointingly, weight loss benefits of regular chia consumption have failed to pan out. While we wait for more results, eating chia seeds won't hurt, unless you overdo it. Too much fiber, even the easier-to digest soluble fiber that chia seeds have, can cause digestive disturbances. 

Our On the Way to Wellness groups had a change to do a little chia taste testing. I brought homemade chia seed muffins to sample, along with samples of the seeds themselves. The majority of the group thought the chia muffins were "fine" or "okay." A few rated them as good. (Just so you know, after 9 years of food units in 4-H and many college level food prep courses, I can bake pretty well. And, those are not the reviews I'm looking for in my baked goods!) Two of us, myself included, seemed to sense an "off" or bitter flavor that made chia quite unpleasant. Whether some of us are super-tasters or just have super-sensitive taste buds, not everyone in our groups were fans.

Chia vs. flaxseeds: Nutritionally, both are comparable as a rich source omega-3 fats and fiber. Since chia seeds are predominately soluble fiber, the whole seeds are easy to digest and don't need to be ground first. On the other hand, flaxseeds are rich in insoluble fiber that makes it difficult to digest which ground before use. Flaxseeds must be more Chia costs almost twice as much, usually about $10-$12 per pound. 

Try out some chia seeds and see what you think. Whether you choose to eat chia seeds, stick with ground flaxseed, or mix them up at will, both are good, healthy foods that can offer a variety of textures, taste, and nutrition that can do a body good.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Deciphering Nutrition Labels

Trying to decipher what all the words mean on a food label can be enough to drive any person insane. Some words have real nutritional meaning while others have absolutely none. Unhealthy foods are labeled with bright green labels giving an indication of health. Lean may sound like a good deal, until you see the amount of sodium or sugar stuffed into the food. As with so many things these days, it's buyer beware! But, in order to be forewarned, you need some background information.

Nutrition Facts Labels are required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on most packaged food and beverage panels. The ability to decipher the label is your key to using the nutrition information enabling you to make the    best food choices on your way to wellness. Your goal should be to minimize total fat, saturated fat, trans-fat, sodium, sugar and cholesterol. These ingredients are all linked with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

Does “Natural” mean it’s healthy? No! The FDA is responsible for the regulation of all claims on food labels, and has determined that the term “natural” can be used for meat products to indicate no added color, artificial flavors, or artificial ingredients, however has no particular meaning in other foods. “Natural” is not intended to be organic, low in sodium or sugar, nor does necessarily indicate any nutritious qualities. Your challenge, as with many front package panels, is to look past the word “Natural” and scour the Nutrition Facts label instead.

Focus on the ingredients listed on the back. These are listed by weight from highest to lowest concentration. The biggest impact will come from the first 3 ingredients listed on your label. If salt, sugar, or refined flours are numbers 1, 2, and 3, you may want to make another choice! Look instead whole grains listed on top.

Know the FDA approved terms:
  1. Lean (meat, poultry, seafood): 10 g fat or less, 4 ½ g of saturated fat And less, and less than 95 mg cholesterol per 3 oz serving.
  2. Extra lean: Less than 5 g fat, 2 g of saturated fat, and 95 mg cholesterol.
  3. Light: 1/3 fewer calories or ½ the fat of the regular food item.
  4. Healthy: Low fat, low saturated fat, less that 480mg sodium, less than 95mg cholesterol, and at least 10% of the DV (Daily Value) of vitamins A and C, iron, protein, calcium, and fiber.
  5. Good Source of Fiber: 2.4 – 4.9 g fiber
  6. Reduced or Less Sodium: At least 25% less sodium than the regular food item
  7. Very Low Sodium: 35 mg sodium or less
  8. Sodium free or no sodium: Less than 5 mg sodium and no sodium chloride in ingredients.
  9. Low in Saturated Fat: 1 g of saturated fat or less, with no more than 15% of the calories from saturated fat.
  10. Free: food product contains the least possible amount of a specific nutrient
  11. Very Low and Low: food product has a little more of the specified nutrient than the food labeled “Free”
  12. Reduced or Less: the food has 25% less of a specific nutrient than the regular version of the food.
     As you do your next grocery shopping, allow plenty of time to read the labels. Briefly glance at the front, but focus carefully on the back label. Be sure the foods you choose make sense for you and your family's health. There's a strong correlation between the food you bring home, and what you eat. Remember, even if the Oreo's and chips are on sale and the brown rice and berries aren't, you certainly aren't getting the bargain you're counting on when it comes to your health! There's just too much truth in You Are What You Eat!


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Elizabeth's Success Story!

Pat with Elizabeth (right)
Elizabeth was frustrated. She was not someone who had a lifetime of struggles with the battle of the bulge. But, as life sometimes has it, when menopause hit, things began to change. Unwanted excess weight started piling on. She worked hard to lose it, and that worked for a while. But, even though she was exercising 3-4 hours a week, she began to put weight back on quickly. Her clothes kept getting tighter and tighter. 

Then, on a trip to the emergency room, Elizabeth was thrown a curve ball. She not only found out she had a new health challenge she would have to deal with, but she'll never, ever forget being diagnosed as "OBESE."

Shortly afterward, Elizabeth joined our On the Way to Wellness group, ready for "rehab, and to begin my journey toward a healthier me."

Today, Elizabeth's 40 pounds lighter, and just glows when she talks about the changes in her health! She says her success was all about the M & M & M's: Motivation, Mindfulness, and Mentoring.

"Mindfulness was/is the significant part of On My Way to Wellness. Experiencing the mindfulness exercise in class and reading a book on mindfulness, were key to shifting my mind to a state of well-being. Living in a state of mindfulness allows me to be conscious of my life, my environment and the food I eat. Now, I am aware when I am eating mindfully OR when I am not!"

Mentoring helps you learn how to make those tough habit changes and actually live healthier. And, just like the research says, being part of a supportive group of people who are all focused on improving their health and making changes really does help. And, so does being educated with accurate information about real nutrition and health!

Motivation "came from Barb as my coach who encouraged me to keep trying even though health issues.  She told me I could succeed in spite of them. And indeed, I did! I lost 40 pounds without being able to exercise much of the time. 
The knowledge, education and experience that Barb’s brings to class is the key that unlocks the secret to reducing weight. I can relax about my weight, because I know how to be healthy."

Elizabeth's improved health continues as she successfully keeps those 40 pounds off, one and half years and counting! And her physician's thrilled with her improved lab results! Congratulations, and thanks for sharing your success!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Back to School and Healthy Living

New notebook and pens are ready to go!
There's something in the air. And it's something more than ragweed. A sense of busyness. Of unease.

Kids are heading back to school this week if they haven't started already. Parents and teachers are scrambling to get last minute shopping done and schedules organized. The relaxed time of summer snaps shut and the structure of routines begin again. Now, there is structure to adhere to and forms to fill out.

If you are involved with the start of school, you're already in the throws of this annual transition period. If you're not, it still impacts all of us to some extent. My office product junkie friends have had a field day these last couple of weeks stocking up on all the discounted file folders, notebooks, and writing implements of all colors. 

I've noticed over the years that many people seem to struggle with eating challenges when seasons change. Maybe its feeling melancholy, knowing those long summer days are shortening up and the nights are getting cooler.  Or maybe it's just that any changes can shake us up a bit. Whatever it it, 
we can use this seasonal change to our advantage to help us.

Get Back Into the Swing of Living a Healthy Lifestyle. Here are a few ideas that may help you transition to healthier lifestyle this fall and maybe even losing weight.
  1. Scheduling improves success, a.k.a. using your calendar!
    • Exercise 
      • Walking dates with friends
    • Sign up for a new class
      • Healthy cooking
      • Yoga
      • Walking/running group
    • Wellness support group or coach
    • Grocery shopping
    • Sleep
    • Joy time: time to do something that fills your soul with happiness
  1. Buy a fun, new insulated lunch bag with great new containers to refill daily. You don't have to be a kid or head out to a job every day to make one work for you. Packing a healthy lunch in the morning increases the likelihood that you'll eat a nourishing meal instead of noshing on whatever is at hand. You could even pack a second one for your planned, healthy snacks!
  2. Pre-package single serving containers of snacks. As you prep fresh veggies, put single servings into bags that are ready to grab at the front of your fridge. Individual bags of whole grain crackers or chips, popcorn, nuts, dried fruit, and cereal, all make great grab-n-go snacks. Great to have on hand at school, work, or home.
  3. School supplies can help you succeed
    • Colored pens make writing down your food intake much more fun
    • Stickers can give you an immediate "way-to-go!" celebration
    • New calendar or day planner to schedule time to take care of yourself
    • Little notebook to journal your food, workouts, grocery list, thoughts or goals
The key is to recognize the opportunity that the back-to-school fall season brings us. Take advantage of it and develop a way to structure your days and develop new routines that will enable you to achieve your health and wellness goals!