Tag Archives: healthy food

Carbohydrates: Friend or Foe?

How many times have you heard a friend, family member or coworker say “I’m going on a low-carb diet”? Chances are, you probably know someone (maybe even you) that has tried this method for weight loss. And why not? The Atkins diet, the Paleo diet, and countless others advise that going low-carb is the key to achieving the body of your dreams. But is this really the answer to healthy, sustainable weight loss? Could it be that carbohydrates get a bad rap not because we don’t need them but because most of us don’t know how to use them to our advantage, which begs the question; carbs: friend or foe?

When food is digested, it leaves the stomach and enters the intestines where it is absorbed into the blood stream in the form of blood glucose, which is then stored in the muscle cells as “glycogen” or fuel for our bodies.  This process is known as “gastric emptying time.” Gastric emptying time varies based on what you eat, and when the process is complete your blood glucose levels drop, signaling that it’s time to eat again. Proteins have a gastric emptying time of around 2 hours, while fats take 3-5 hours. Carbohydrates however, take between 20 and 40 minutes. This is why we often feel an energy crash shortly after eating a carb-heavy meal. This is also why carbohydrates have gotten such a bad reputation. However, studies conducted on gastric emptying time have found that when you add a protein in with a carbohydrate, gastric emptying time is slowed considerably (remember; it takes 2 hours for proteins to be digested). This allows for blood glucose levels to rise slowly and drop slowly, releasing steady energy for the body to use effectively and preventing that dreaded energy crash. For this reason, proteins should always be present in a meal that includes carbohydrates. The only time it is acceptable to have carbohydrates alone is immediately after exercising because glycogen synthase levels are high, so the body will take all that glycogen and store it in the cells for later use. If you eat a high-carb meal and then engage in a sedentary activity like sitting at a desk or in front of the TV, the glycogen will instead be stored as fat because the body can’t use it right away. So, instead of swearing off all carbs, we just need to know how to eat them so our bodies can use them properly.

Now that we’ve established that carbohydrates are vital for providing energy to our cells, how do we know how much and what types we should eat? The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that 58% of our diet should consist of carbohydrates, the RDA recommends 130 grams per day, and the Institute of Medicine recommends anywhere from 45-65% or more depending on the individual and their level of activity. Runners, for example, probably need closer to 70%. Why? Carbohydrates are our fuel. They are the body’s greatest source of energy. You wouldn’t get in the car for a cross-country road trip without putting gas in the tank first, right? However, you wouldn’t need as much gas if you were only going for a drive down the road. This is the mentality that one should use when determining how many grams of carbohydrates they should be eating daily. So, how do you know the amount of carbohydrates that is right for you? First of all, you need to know how many total calories you should be taking in daily. It is beneficial to enlist the help of a nutritionist or dietician when determining this, but you can get a good idea using this simple formula:

1. Calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate). This is the amount of food your body requires just to maintain it’s most basic functions (breathing, digestion, etc.). You can figure this out by taking your weight in kilograms (lbs./2.2) and multiplying it by 1 if you are a male and 0.9 if you are female (this represents the calories burned per kilogram per hour). Multiply that number by 24 (hours in a day) and you have your BMR.

2. Add in your activity factor. If you are sedentary (you do not exercise at all and have a job that requires little to no physical activity), give yourself a 1.1. If you are on your feet at least half of the day, give yourself a 1.2 for light activity. If you are on your feet most of the day, give yourself a 1.3. If your job requires a lot of physical activity (manual labor), give yourself a 1.4.

3. Calculate your daily exercise expenditure, or the amount of calories you burn during exercise per day. This can be a little tricky, which is why it may be helpful to have a nutritionist or dietician assist in getting the most accurate calculation possible. You will need to consider how many days a week you work out and what kinds of workouts you do to get approximate number of calories burned per workout (be careful not to overestimate). 

4. Take your BMR and multiply it by your activity factor, then add your daily exercise expenditure. Now you have a good idea of how many calories you should be eating daily.

5. Now, calculate 58% of that number and you have a general idea of how many calories per day need to come from carbohydrates. Carbs have 4 calories per gram, so take that number and divide by 4 to figure out how many grams of carbs that equals.

Now that you have a general idea of how many grams of carbohydrates your body requires to keep you going, it is equally as important to know which kinds of carbohydrates are best. There are two types of carbohydrates; simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates consist of sugars (fruit juices, white breads and pastas, corn syrups, etc.), while complex carbohydrates consist of starches (whole grains, beans, legumes, etc.). You should never eat a food with more than 20% of it’s carbs coming from sugar. In general, this means that we should stick with the complex carbohydrates as they are more filling and slower to digest. While fruit does include sugar and simple carbohydrates, they also have essential vitamins and nutrients that your body needs, so you don’t need to neglect these foods entirely. Just remember to limit your intake and combine your fruit with a protein to keep those blood glucose levels in check.

Carbs don’t need to seem like the enemy; following these simple rules will help you to turn them into a useful tool toward reaching your weight loss goals in a healthy and effective way.

 

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Have a Diet-Friendly Fourth: 10 Healthy Travel Tips to Keep You on Track!

The Fourth of July is finally here, and it is estimated that 40 million Americans have travel plans this weekend. If you’re among the many Americans getting away this holiday, you’re likely looking forward to kicking back, relaxing with a drink or two, and indulging a little more than you typically do (as you should!). But while relaxing on your diet and enjoying some Fourth of July fare is perfectly ok, you don’t want to overdo it and end up having to pack away that bikini long before Labor Day. To avoid overindulging on vacation this week, here are 10 helpful hints to keep you healthy while away from home.

1. Just One Treat a Day Will Help Keep the Fat Away.

Everyone deserves to treat themselves while on vacation. After all; how do you pass up an ice cream cone on a hot day, a fruity drink while on the beach, or a juicy burger at a July Fourth barbecue? The answer? You don’t! Just limit yourself to one treat per day, and opt for healthier choices the rest of the time.

What’s summer vacation without a little ice cream?

2. Walk the Weight Off.

People underestimate the effectiveness of walking for weight loss. While walking won’t burn the calories that an intense gym session will, it will still help to counteract some of those extra calories consumed on vacation. So while out of town this week, remind yourself to walk. Go for a hike, go shopping or sightseeing on foot, or just walk along the beach. Every little bit of physical activity counts, so make sure you’re getting in a little exercise each day.

A moderate walk can burn up to 300 calories per hour!

3. Hydrate for Health

It’s easy to forget to drink enough water while away on vacation, but it’s extra important to stay hydrated when spending time under the sun. Be sure to keep a bottle of water with you while engaging in outdoor activities, and have a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume.

Don’t forget to toss a couple of these into the cooler!

4. Sip Smart

If you plan on kicking back with a few drinks this weekend, choosing what you drink can have a major impact on the number of calories you consume. If the specialty cocktail at the swim-up bar sounds just too good to pass up, go ahead and order one, but just one. Opt for a lower calorie option such as a light beer or a liquor and diet soda for your second round. And as always, remember that all alcohol has calories, so the more you drink, the more calories you’re clocking in.

It may look harmless, but this can pack a meals’ worth of calories!!!

5. Beware the Buffet!

No matter where you’re vacationing this summer, the one thing you can count on running into is an “all you can eat” buffet. While it makes mealtime easier on restaurant and resort staffs during peak travel times, it can do major damage to your diet. The key to eating smart when dining at a buffet is to choose mainly healthy options, and not take the term “all you can eat” literally. Consider starting your meal with a salad to help fill you up a bit before hitting the main courses. Then, stick to one dinner plate and load up on healthier items that are grilled, steamed, or baked rather than breaded or fried, along with plenty of veggies. If you’re craving a menu item that’s less than figure-friendly, let yourself have it, but have just a small taste.

Decisions, decisions…

6. Be Snack Savvy on the Road.

Road trips can be exhausting, and gas/food stops become much-needed breaks from a long, dull drive. Unfortunately, they can also become a danger-zone for dieters. Between the fast food joints and the endless supply of chips and candy at the gas station, it’s easy to let healthy habits go before you even reach your destination. Avoid this calorie conundrum by packing healthy snacks before you hit the road. Choose snacks with fiber and protein that will fill you up without filling you out, such as mixed nuts, whole wheat crackers with low-fat cheddar, or whole wheat wraps with almond butter and banana slices.

Stay outta here!

7. Choose One Active Activity.

Sure, the idea behind a break is rest and relaxation, but being active at least one day while on vacation can boost your metabolism, burn some extra calories, as well as open you up to a new experience. So whether it be a nature walk, kayaking, zip-lining, or surf lessons, book at least one active excursion to get you up and moving.

Sure beats just sitting on the beach!

8. Don’t Forget Your Fruits and Veggies!

While on vacation, remind yourself to aim for five servings of fruit and veggies per day. Not only will this help you to maintain proper nutrition while away from home, but it will make you more aware of what you’re eating throughout the day. When dining out, order meals that include veggies and/or fruit, and bring portable snacks such as apples, bananas, or carrot sticks and hummus with you while on the go.

Don’t forget to pack these in your beach bag!

9. Split Your Servings

We already know that restaurant portions are grossly oversized, so instead of devouring a giant dinner and dessert, then washing it down with a side of guilt, consider sharing meals with whomever is traveling with you. You’ll still get to have what you want, just less of it. Also, restaurant appetizers are usually much smaller than entrees, so consider ordering an appetizer as your meal, or splitting two appetizers between you and a friend. You’ll get to sample more than one food without destroying your diet.

1/2 the plate=1/2 the calories

10. Go Local

Instead of dining out at large chain restaurants, seek out local spots that use local products in their menu items. Restaurants that pride themselves on providing fresh, local foods will likely provide healthier options and use less fatty food additions such as butter and heavy sauces that will cover up the natural flavors in the food. The less distance your food travels before it hits your plate, the more nutrients it retains, so you can also reap the benefit of healthy vitamins and minerals in your meal.

Who says fresh and healthy can’t be tasty too?!

*Whatever your plans this weekend, the Firefighter Fitness team wishes you a safe and happy Fourth of July holiday!!!!!

Spice up Your Life! 10 savory spices that will boost flavor and burn fat!

Who says “health food” has to be boring and bland? Giving up the fat doesn’t have to mean giving up the flavor! So trade in your butter for something better: here’s a list of spices that add zest to any meal, and offer up some pretty decent health benefits to boot.

1. Cumin: Typically found in Mexican and Indian cuisine, this pungent spice is beneficial in more ways than just boosting flavor. Cumin has been found to strengthen the immune system and improve digestion as well as mental function. Dieters can benefit from cumin’s ability to speed up metabolism and aid in nutrient absorption throughout the body. Add to taco seasonings and curry powders to give your meal a kick.

Cumin-spice

2. Cayenne Pepper: The health benefits of cayenne pepper are just about endless. This spicy pepper has been used to treat throat and stomach ailments, and has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. For those looking to whittle their waistlines, cayenne pepper is an excellent detoxifier and metabolism booster, and studies have proven that spicy foods actually suppress the appetite, causing us to eat less throughout the day. Add some heat to sauces and chili by sprinkling in a little of the powdered pepper.

SONY DSC

3. Turmeric: Turmeric, another “super spice,” is a natural painkiller and liver detoxifier. It is also used to speed up wound healing and treat skin conditions, and may help prevent certain types of cancers and Alzheimer’s. This Indian spice is a common fixture in curry, but is also a great addition to marinades and salad dressings.

turmeric

4. Ginger: Ginger has long been known for its ability to settle the stomach and aid in digestion, but it can also clear up congestion during cold and flu season, and is even thought to be a natural remedy for headaches and menstrual cramps. To reap the benefits of this powerful root, add a little to your tea or into a pitcher of water along with lime slices and fresh mint sprigs for a refreshing and detoxifying summer beverage.

ginger

5. Cinnamon: While I don’t recommend taking the “cinnamon challenge,” a scoop of cinnamon is beneficial in many ways. The sweet spice has been proven to lower blood sugar levels, making it ideal for diabetics and pre-diabetics. It is also known to aid in weight loss by increasing blood circulation and kick-starting metabolism. Sprinkle over desserts, puddings, or baked apples for a touch of spicy sweetness.

cinnamon

6. Flaxseeds: While not exactly a spice, flaxseeds made our list due to the number of health benefits they provide. There’s evidence to suggest that the plant food helps prevent heart disease, strokes, cancer and diabetes, and it’s a great source of fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. Use instead of granola with fruit and yogurt, or mix it into dough or batter.

flaxseed

7. Psyllium: Like flaxseeds, psyllium is not exactly a spice, but a seed husk which provides an excellent source of dietary fiber and also helps manage cholesterol levels, which in turn lowers your risk of heart disease. Ground psyllium husks are preferred over the actual husks as they digest easier. Take in pill form or add a little in with rice or pasta dishes. Just be careful not to overdo it on the portion sizes as the fiber in psyllium will fill you up quickly.

2Psyllium-Husks_250x250

8. Cardamom: This delicate spice is a source of many vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, niacin, vitamin C, and calcium; all essential in promoting good health. Cardamom can be found in both pod and powder form, and make an excellent addition to sweet foods and desserts.

cardamom-11

9. Mustard: Believe it or not, this ballpark staple is actually pretty darn good for you! A great source of B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium and potassium, mustard contributes to both bone and muscular health. So slather it onto your burgers and dogs, just remember not to overdo it. Mustard is high in sodium, which can increase your risk of heart disease when consumed in excess.

mustard

10. Black Pepper: You likely already have this super spice in your kitchen, but you may not know that it provides more than just flavor to your food. Cancer fighter, digestive aid, cough and cold reliever, and metabolism-booster are just a few titles on this common spice’s resume. Use as often and on anything you like! 🙂

pepper

While there are many other spices that provide useful benefits to our health, these are our top favorites due to their zesty flavors and ease in cooking. Experiment a little and figure out which are your favorites. Remember, nutritious CAN be delicious!

Grilling out CAN be healthy! Our favorite recipes to better your barbeque!

Everyone loves a barbecue, especially when the weather warms up! Unfortunately for our waistlines, however, many barbecue favorites aren’t exactly figure friendly. But before you put away that bikini, check out our savory summer menu that will tame your tummy and tickle your tastebuds!

Tomato Herb-Marinated Flank Steak:

steak

  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 shallot, peeled and quartered
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh marjoram
  • 1 tbs chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs flank steak, trimmed

1. Puree tomato, shallot, vinegar, marjoram, rosemary, salt and pepper in a blender until smooth. Set aside 1/2 cup, covered, in the refrigerator. Scoop remaining puree into a large sealable plastic bag. Add steak and turn to coat. Refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours.

2. Pre-heat grill to medium-high. Remove steak from marinade. Oil the grill rack and grill the steak 4-5 minutes per side for medium-rare or 6-7 minutes for medium, turning once and brushing the cooked side with some of the reserved sauce. When steak is cooked, turn it over again and brush with more sauce. Transfer to a clean cutting board and let it sit for 5 minutes. Thinly slice the steak cross-wise and serve with any remaining sauce spooned on top.

Vegetable Kebabs:

kebabs

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 ears corn, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tbs canola oil
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 2 small zucchinis, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 mini bell peppers, cut in half lengthwise with the seeds removed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme

1. Coat grill rack with cooking spray, heat grill to medium

2. Toss corn, zucchini, and oil in large bowl; add peppers, salt, cherry tomatoes and thyme and toss again.

3. Thread vegetables on metal skewers and place on grill. Cook 5 minutes or until underside has light grill marks; turn and cook another 5 minutes, or until zucchini is tender-crisp and vegetables have light grill marks on the other side.

Sweet Potato Wedges:

grilled_sweet_potato_fries

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch thick wedges
  • 1 tbs canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano

1. Coat grill rack with cooking spray; heat grill to medium.

2. Toss sweet potato wedges with oil; add chili powder, garlic powder, salt, and oregano. Toss again.

3. Place wedges on grill and cook about 10 minutes or until grill marks have formed. Turn and cook another 10 minutes or until fork-tender.

Seared Romaine Spears with Caesar Dressing:

grilled-romaine-a

  • 1/4 cup low-fat mayo
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbs fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbs Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 10 hearts of Romaine, halved length-wise
  • 3 oz. Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, shaved

1. Pre-heat grill. In a blender or food processor, blend mayo, vinegar, garlic, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco sauce. Gradually add 1/2 cup vegetable oil until dressing becomes creamy. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and refrigerate.

2. Brush hearts of Romaine with 1 tbs of the vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderately high heat, turning once or twice until lightly charred and crisp (about 3 minutes).

3. Spread half of the Caesar dressing on a large platter. Arrange the grilled hearts of Romaine on top and brush with remaining dressing. Sprinkle with shaved Parmesan.

We couldn’t forget the dessert! Frozen Mango, Kiwi, Raspberry Pops (these require freezing, so make the night before):

pops

  • 9 tbs water
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 5 oz. kiwi, peeled
  • 6 oz. mango, peeled
  • 6 oz. fresh raspberries
  • four 5 oz. cups
  • 4 popsicle sticks

1. Make a simple syrup by combing water and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Boil 4-5 minutes on medium heat; set aside.

2. Puree fruit separately in a blender. Set aside in 3 separate dishes.

3. Divide simple syrup between the 3 fruit dishes and mix in.

4. Equally fill four 5 oz. cups with kiwi puree and place in freezer for one hour.

5. Add mango puree and freeze 20 minutes. Insert popsicle sticks and freeze two hours.

6. Add raspberry puree and freeze overnight.

The Engine 2 Diet

engine 2 diet

First off, let me just say…I hate diets. Sure, it’s easy to follow a rigid meal plan when you have no plans, but at some point life gets in the way (birthdays, holidays, girls’ night out, etc.) and the diet goes down in flames (pun intended). That being said, I was skeptical when I came across The Engine 2 Diet cookbook while perusing my local Whole Foods. The diet was created by Rip Esselstyn, a Texas firefighter and vegan who developed the plan when he discovered that the cholesterol levels among his crew were dangerously high. The diet itself is nothing particularly groundbreaking; the idea is to eat only plant-based foods for 28 days in order to lose weight and lower cholesterol. Essentially, it’s being a vegetarian for a month. But is eliminating protein for a few weeks really the answer to effective weight loss that lasts? Is it practical for the average person? I decided to find out for myself.

My initial research of the Engine 2 diet brought up really positive feedback. A lot of people have lost weight by following it, and I can see why.  The diet is fruit and veggie-centric, and does allow for beans, lentils, and tofu, so lean proteins are still present in the plan, although anything animal-based is banned. Whole grains are also on the menu, which I liked because I disagree with the idea of a carb-eliminating diet. There are plenty of recipes available to choose from, so no matter your palate, you can find foods you like. I was pleasantly surprised to see that approved versions of burritos, pizza, and even desserts were included.

The pictures looked appetizing enough, so I decided to give the Raise the Roof Sweet Potato Lasagna a try. The grocery list for the recipe was somewhat daunting at around 20 different ingredients, but I liked that it was full of veggies, and any pasta dish that’s also diet-approved sounds like a winner to me. I have to say, finding the ingredients in the grocery store was a lot harder than choosing the recipe (Silken Lite Tofu anyone?). When I finally checked off the last ingredient on my list, I made my way to the checkout and discovered that this one meal had set me back about 40 bucks (added bottle of wine not included). I was determined to be positive, however, and headed home with a bevy of fresh produce.

The meal itself was actually pretty darn good. It was relatively easy to make, and the combo of sweet potatoes, spices and fresh veggies provided a unique flavor twist to your typical lasagna. It was a pretty filling dish too so there were plenty of leftovers, which made me feel a bit better about spending so much on one meal. Overall, I really liked the meal, and I would definitely consider giving other Engine 2 recipes a try.

My verdict on the Engine 2 Diet overall? Not too shabby as far as effectiveness. Yes, you’ll give up meat for a month, but you’ll get plenty of protein through other sources, and lots of fruit and veggies to boot. The recipes are tasty and super healthy, but they are a little pricey. The recipes in the book don’t share many ingredients among them, so if you go on this diet, you’ll have a thinner wallet to match your thinner waistline. The only other problem I have with the diet is its longevity. Unless you’re planning to become a vegetarian for life, it’s likely that you’ll end up back to your old food habits once the 28 days are up. My recommendation? If you’re interested in trying the diet, go for it! You’ll enjoy cooking the meals, and you’ll lose weight provided that you stick to it for the full month. But after it’s over, aim to go meatless one or two days a week to keep those healthy habits and keep the pounds lost at bay. And who knows, Engine 2 just may just make a vegan out of you!