How the Great Outdoors Makes you Healthy

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My boyfriend Greg and I have been hiking in the Adirondacks quite a bit this summer. We love Lake Placid; the restaurants cater to health enthusiasts like us with hearty, delicious, and healthy food choices and there is something uplifting about the fresh air of the Adirondack Mountains.

What I truly love is that just by being outside I am taking awesome measures to take care of myself—yes, even as healthy as I am, I am improving my health. Here are

my favorite scientifically proven benefits of the outdoors.

  • Vitamin D Rocks!

The best source of Vitamin D is the sun. Soak in those rays for at least 20 minutes a day without sunscreen to reap the benefits. Vitamin D boosts your immune system, collaborates with calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K to protect your bones, and it can even help prevent diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and heart disease.

  • Super Slumber

Sweet sleep feels so amazing…and when you are outside often, you keep your circadian rhythm working the way it was meant to, helping you to sleep when it is dark and rise when it is light. Nature has been proven to help prevent insomnia as well-an awesome bonus. See, there are psychological and physiological reasons you sleep better just by spending time outside!

  • Bright Eyes

Most of us wear sunglasses in the summer and that’s important for protecting your eyes, but even with those shades on, do you being outside helps your eyes? Artificial light and constant staring at electronic devices inside literally kills your eyesight. Get outside often to rest those eyes!

  • Maintainin’ a Healthy Weight

Being outdoors generally forces you to move your body more…and that exercise is awesome for maintaining a healthy weight. You don’t need to hike mountains like me; even a nice walk around the block is literal steps in the right direction!

  • Helpin’ my Heart

A recent study in Australia found that just 30 minutes of exposure to nature each week can reduce the prevalence of high blood pressure by nine percent. Imagine if you spent 30 minutes outdoors a few times each week?!

  • Marvelous Mood

Exposure to nature has been proven to boost your serotonin (feel-good hormone) levels! Sometimes when you are feeling blah, a step int the Great Outdoors can spark the joy we all need!

Time to pull yourself away from the electronic device, step outside, take in a deep breath, and delve into all the benefits that nature offers us!

Celebrate Cherry Season

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Cherry season is upon us in Central New York and I love it! Cherries are the perfect snack and they are a nutrition-boosting compliment to every meal. Add them to your yogurt, smoothie, or oatmeal for breakfast. Toss them in a salad for lunch or dinner. The best news about cherries is their health benefits. In fact, they are one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. Here are a few reasons why.

Cherries can help with weight-loss efforts.

Cherries are a high-fiber food, which is always good for weight-loss because fiber keeps us fuller longer. A lab study actually proved that cherries can in fact help prevent weight gain. In a study published in the Journal of Medical Food, rats that were given tart cherry powder mixed into a high-fat diet didn’t gain as much weight as rats consuming the same diet without cherries. The cherry powder intake was associated with lower lipid (fat) levels in the blood, percentage fat mass and abdominal fat weight as well.

Cherries can help you sleep better.

We could all use some good slumber, right? Well, cherries can help with this! Cherries are a great source of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone. Very few foods contain melatonin. Our bodies can manufacture a little bit of it through the pineal gland in our brain—consuming cherries can give us some extra melatonin to make sure we sleep soundly.

Cherries can increase your energy levels.

Of course better sleep can help with better energy levels, but there’s something else about cherries that can help boost your energy. The natural sugar and water content of cherries along with a plethora of antioxidants will no-doubt help prevent any energy dips you might experience during the day.

Cherries can protect against Diabetes

A lot of people with diabetes deter from fruit because of the sugar content. Cherries have a low glycemic index though so they don’t sky-rocket your sugar levels. Cherries have a glycemic index (GI) of 22 compared to say grapes that have a GI of 46, strawberries that have a GI of 41 or apples that have a GI of 39.

Cherries can reduce muscle and joint pain.

Hold off on the ibuprofen please! Cherries can reduce muscle and joint pain! A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that cherries helped prevent post workout pain in runners. Another study conducted at the Osteoarthritis Research Center found that cherry consumption greatly reduced the pain experienced by patients with osteoarthritis.

Cherries can protect your heart.

High in antioxidants and fiber, it should come as no surprise that cherries can protect your heart. The potassium content of cherries is particularly healthy for the heart by helping to regulate blood pressure,

Get yourself to the market and get some cherries today. They’re in season right now in Central New York through the month of July! And for a special treat, dip them in dark chocolate, which is also high in antioxidants!

By Kelly Springer RD, MS, CDN

Spring into Health with Asparagus

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4012644047_0828109f44_o.jpgNow that it is FINALLY starting to feel like spring (after it just snowed a couple days ago), I feel inspired to do a mini-series on spring cleaning (your body). Let me begin with asparagus. There is no better time to start increasing the seasonal veggies in your diet. It’s time to detox from those heavy winter meals!

When you eat fresh, seasonal veggies, you automatically feel more alive. Head out to the farmers’ markets the next couple of months and you will no doubt find fresh asparagus from local farms. I consider asparagus a spring veggie superstar! Here’s why Asparagus gets an A+ for nutrition in my book.

Asparagus is super high in vitamin K and folate.

Many people I have worked with know that vitamin K is important for healthy blood clotting and most people get enough vitamin K in their diet to help ensure that the blood is clotting optimally. However, vitamin K helps with so many other functions and most people do not get enough vitamin K to help with these factors.

Vitamin K keeps your bones strong. It is crucial as we age to protect our bones. Bone loss is the cause of so many health problems, especially hip fractures, which in many cases starts a downward spiral in health ailments for women after they go through menopause. But it is never too early to protect your bones. Most of us know that calcium is great for bone health; consider vitamin K as the key holder to getting calcium and other important minerals into your bones. Several Japanese clinical trials have proven how amazing vitamin K is for your bones. One study using data collected from the trials found that vitamin K supplementation produces a 60 percent reduction in vertebral fractures and an 80 percent reduction in hip and other non-vertebral fractures.

Vitamin K can also help prevent cancer. A German study in 2008 found that vitamin K helped prevent prostate cancer; other studies have found that vitamin K helps protect you from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, colon, stomach, and oral cancers.

Folate is an energizer! Folate helps prevent soaring homocysteine levels. When your homocysteine levels are high, you are at a much larger risk for developing heart problems. High homocysteine levels can also impair the brain, causing dementia or mood imbalances. So get your folate to manage your heart and mind! Folate is one of the most important vitamins for women to consume when they are pregnant; in addition to helping maintain a healthy mood, it also helps prevent birth defects.

In addition to vitamin K and folate, asparagus is heralded as an anti-inflammatory because it contains dozens of antioxidants! Because those antioxidants destroy free radicals, you are essentially helping to prevent almost every health ailment when you eat asparagus!

Head out to the market and get yourself some asparagus today! The white and purple varieties are yummy too. Lightly sauté it as a side dish. Toss it in salads too. To get the most nutrients from asparagus, try to consume it within a couple days of getting it from the market.

Spring into Health with Asparagus

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4012644047_0828109f44_o.jpgNow that it is FINALLY starting to feel like spring (after it just snowed a couple days ago), I feel inspired to do a mini-series on spring cleaning (your body). Let me begin with asparagus. There is no better time to start increasing the seasonal veggies in your diet. It’s time to detox from those heavy winter meals!

When you eat fresh, seasonal veggies, you automatically feel more alive. Head out to the farmers’ markets the next couple of months and you will no doubt find fresh asparagus from local farms. I consider asparagus a spring veggie superstar! Here’s why Asparagus gets an A+ for nutrition in my book.

Asparagus is super high in vitamin K and folate.

Many people I have worked with know that vitamin K is important for healthy blood clotting and most people get enough vitamin K in their diet to help ensure that the blood is clotting optimally. However, vitamin K helps with so many other functions and most people do not get enough vitamin K to help with these factors.

Vitamin K keeps your bones strong. It is crucial as we age to protect our bones. Bone loss is the cause of so many health problems, especially hip fractures, which in many cases starts a downward spiral in health ailments for women after they go through menopause. But it is never too early to protect your bones. Most of us know that calcium is great for bone health; consider vitamin K as the key holder to getting calcium and other important minerals into your bones. Several Japanese clinical trials have proven how amazing vitamin K is for your bones. One study using data collected from the trials found that vitamin K supplementation produces a 60 percent reduction in vertebral fractures and an 80 percent reduction in hip and other non-vertebral fractures.

Vitamin K can also help prevent cancer. A German study in 2008 found that vitamin K helped prevent prostate cancer; other studies have found that vitamin K helps protect you from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, colon, stomach, and oral cancers.

Folate is an energizer! Folate helps prevent soaring homocysteine levels. When your homocysteine levels are high, you are at a much larger risk for developing heart problems. High homocysteine levels can also impair the brain, causing dementia or mood imbalances. So get your folate to manage your heart and mind! Folate is one of the most important vitamins for women to consume when they are pregnant; in addition to helping maintain a healthy mood, it also helps prevent birth defects.

In addition to vitamin K and folate, asparagus is heralded as an anti-inflammatory because it contains dozens of antioxidants! Because those antioxidants destroy free radicals, you are essentially helping to prevent almost every health ailment when you eat asparagus!

Head out to the market and get yourself some asparagus today! The white and purple varieties are yummy too. Lightly sauté it as a side dish. Toss it in salads too. To get the most nutrients from asparagus, try to consume it within a couple days of getting it from the market.

Why I Love Olive Oil

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It seems like every week, different oils become trendy: flax oil, grape seed oil, avocado oil. These oils certainly have their benefits, but I mostly stick to my time-tested favorite, olive oil. I have blogged about the Mediterranean diet before and how I feel it sets the stage for a heart-healthy lifestyle—olive oil is just one of the reasons why this diet rocks! While I touched on olive oil in that blog, I am going to delve deeper here! You ready to learn to love olive oil? Here we go!

Olive oil is a type of monounsaturated fat—yes one of the healthy fats your body loves! The specific form of monounsaturated fat in olive oil is called oleic acid. Several studies have found that oleic acid helps reduce inflammation…and inflammation is the precursor to nearly every single disease—including cancer!

A lot of research has proven that oleic acid protects against heart disease; it lowers your LDL (BAD!) cholesterol, improves the function of the lining of the blood vessels, and may also help prevent blood clotting.

Olive oil is also loaded with antioxidants, which also help reduce inflammation. For example, one study found that the antioxidant, oleocanthal, found in olive oil, was as effective at reducing inflammation as ibuprofen.

Some of my clients are terrified of any fat, fearing that it will make them fat. But healthy fats like olive oil, are necessary for proper brain function and it is also necessary to help you absorb fat-soluable vitamins (vitamin D, K, A, and E). And as far as olive oil goes, a Spanish study examined college students consuming  olive oil for three years and they did not gain weight! My recommendation is to use it combined with balsamic vinegar as a salad dressing. You can also use it as opposed to butter why you scramble your eggs or make your omelets.

You don’t need tons of it, a tablespoon here and there is the perfect amount.

Be sure that you are using extra-virgin olive oil; this type is pressed most naturally and has the highest level of antioxidants and can withstand heat better for cooking. Also, make sure it is in a dark colored bottle so that light doesn’t impact the oil—otherwise, it can go rancid rather quickly.

Cheers to your heart, your brain, and your overall health!

Strawberries…My Latest Health Obsession

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Earlier this month, I had the great pleasure to travel to California to delve into two of my favorite things: learning and eating delicious, healthy foods! I attended California Strawberries #GetRealinCA farm tour and culinary retreat in Monterey.

I can’t say enough positive things about this experience. I learned so much!

Monterey is a huge agricultural area—most of our country’s strawberries and lettuces come from there. The way that California Strawberries grows their strawberries astounded me. Every single strawberry plant is hand-planted and hand-picked. No machinery involved! The strawberries are non-GMO and they are packaged right on the fields!

 

IMG_7185I used to worry about eating non-organic strawberries because they are on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list, but I won’t worry about eating non-organic strawberries anymore; I learned that you would have to literally eat 1,508 strawberries a day to experience any effects from pesticide residues. Also, many of the farms grow organically, but they haven’t reached the three-year mark to get their USDA organic-certification.

The stories of the over 400 family farms that grow the majority of our country’s strawberries were so heart-warming. Many of these farmers are living the American Dream. California strawberry farming has given Latinos more ownership opportunities than any other major crop; you can read some of their stories here.

I have always known that strawberries are healthy—a cup of strawberries has more vitamin C than an orange. I learned so much more about their health benefits at this event. They are great for your heart. A recent study in Circulation (the journal of the American Heart Association) found that women who ate three servings of strawberries a week had fewer heart attacks. They are also super-low in sugar, making them a great choice for diabetics.

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And the culinary experience at this event was amazing. I learned that strawberries can be used far beyond dessert. I absolutely loved the entrée we were served—Wood-oven-roasted Alaskan Halibut with lentils, dandelion, and berry broth. Head over to my website and grab some recipes for an awesome strawberry-kale salad or the most delicious strawberry shortcake you ever had.

Here is a video that California Strawberries put together about our experience.

Thank you so much California Strawberries for this absolutely amazing experience; I learned so much!

 

Foods from the Earth: Whole Grains

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As many of you are aware, a major dilemma with the Standard American Diet is the massive consumption of refined grains (crackers, cookies, pastries, many bread varieties, etc.). Unlike refined grains, whole grains contain the bran, endosperm, and germ of the grain; the parts where all of the nutrients “reside.” Whole grains have been consumed for centuries; these foods from the earth are rich in fiber, minerals, and even protein. Let’s take a look at just a few of my favorite whole grains…all of which happen to be gluten-free.

Quinoa

A decade ago, not many people knew about quinoa (keenwah). Now, you can’t pick up a health magazine without a recipe calling for quinoa. Quinoa originates from the Andes Mountains; it is estimated that it was first cultivated in Bolivia more than 5,000 years ago. There are over 120 different varieties. The most awesome facet about quinoa is that it has a complete amino acid profile, meaning that it is a phenomenal protein source. One serving has about 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Quinoa tastes delicious as an alternative to bulgur in tabouli.

Millet

Millet has been used in several parts of the world, such as India, South America, China, and Russia for hundreds of years. Its light flavor can be enhanced by lightly toasting it before boiling it. It can be also used to make a polenta.

Buckwheat

Like millet, buckwheat has been growing all over the world for centuries. It is the main ingredient in Japan’s soba noodles, Russia’s kasha, and French crepes. And even though “wheat” is in the word, it is gluten-free and contains no wheat; it is actually a cousin of rhubarb. I particularly love buckwheat pancakes.

Teff

If you have ever eaten Ethiopian cuisine, you have likely tried teff; it is the main ingredient in their Injera bread. The texture is so unique and absolutely delicious. Historically, Ethiopians are considered among the first civilizations to domesticate plants. It is estimated that teff was grown for food somewhere between 4000 and 1000 BC.

Don’t let grains intimidate you just because you have not cooked with them before. Several recipes can be found on the internet and they cook quickly. Research has shown that whole grains can aid in weight loss and can help prevent diabetes and heart disease. If the grains I mention are too unfamiliar to you, start with adding oats, brown rice, or wild rice into your meals. And, get this? Popcorn is a whole grain too; just skip all of the butter and go easy on the salt!