The Fitness Zest of Zumba


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week96Several years ago, my longtime friend Jennifer O. sent me a text telling me to meet her at her gym to join in a Zumba® class. At the time, I never heard of it the class. All I knew is it was some type of Latin-inspired aerobic dance-fitness class. Like always, I was up for a new endeavor and so I met her.

I positioned myself a couple behind the instructor so I could follow along easier. The upbeat music started pumping and so did the dance moves. I felt like I was playing Simon Says as I was constantly one step behind the teacher as she wiggled, twisted, turned, spun, and shook. What had I gotten myself into? While I am very athletically inclined and have excellent hand eye coordination, moving my body naturally to music and memorizing choreographed dance moves was never one of my personal fortes. But I carried on and noticed others simply loving the class, easily mastering the moves as Zumba veterans.

Created in the 1990s by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez, the word “Zumba” derives from a Colombian word meaning to move quickly and have fun! The energizing group exercise is growing in popularity with over 14 million people partaking in weekly classes in over 140,000 locations across more than 150 countries. The fun motto of the program is “Ditch the workout; join the party!” – ideal for those who don’t like to workout. Classes are typically one hour long and fuses aerobic activity with contemporary dance moves from various Latin styles – hip hop, samba, salsa, flamenco, soca, merengue, mambo, tango, and others – to nightclub-style choreography and heart-pumping music.

A great FYI is that there are several different types of classes of Zumba available; hence there is a class for every age and every ability level. In addition to the regular Zumba fitness classes, there is Zumba Core, which focuses solely on strengthening your mid body. Zumba Toning targets your abs, thighs, arms, and other muscles while Zumba Circuit features strength exercises on various circuit-training stations in timed intervals. ZumbaKids is specifically for kids, 4 to 12. Zumba Gold and Zumba Gold-Toning are both designed with the older generation in mind. Zumba Sentao is a chair workout, focusing on using your body weight to strengthen and tone.

The benefits of Zumba are many. Participates burn an average of 400 or more calories during an hour-long class. That tops step aerobics, hooping, power yoga and cardio kickboxing! Other benefits of the full body workout include better cardiovascular health, improved coordination, and increased mobility. It’s a total body toner, relieves tension and stress, and releases your blissful endorphins. Best of all, you don’t even feel like your exercising!

If you have yet to take a Zumba class, join in the next time your gym has one scheduled. You will quickly forget you where you are as you are mentally transported to a tropical oasis while you wiggle, twist, turn, spin, and shake to better health.

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.

How Fast is Too Fast for Weight Loss


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week94When The Biggest Loser contestant Rachel Frederickson won Season 15 of the television reality show, the public and the media went on a frenzy – her weight loss gone too far. During the taping of the show and the three months proceeding, the voice-over artist from Los Angeles dropped from 260 to an unrecognizable 105 pounds to claim the season’s crown and $250,000 cash prize. Her astonishing 155-pound weight lost, equivalent to 59.62% of her starting body weight, was achieved from daily six hours workouts and limiting her diet to 1,600 calories a day.

At 5’4” and 105 pounds, 24-year-old Rachel is now the exact same size of me. So of course, I will disagree with the self-claim body critics who will say she’s too thin and that she is anorexic. I like my size. And I think Rachel looks great! I believe it’s perhaps more about the shock of going from an unhealthy, obese body size to where she is today in the rapid speed of time to complete. In just under eight months. Wow! Now that is motivation and discipline. Or is it insanity and starvation?

To be fair, a swift weight loss can occur when a person of obese size stops eating poorly, frequently, and in overly amounts with little or no exercise in their day-to-day life and instead switches to eating wisely and healthy with the right foods in the right amounts and with an exercise program approved by their physician or personal trainer. The pounds can drop off. Easily 10 or more a week initially, depending on your starting size, and less as time passes. And of course, results are even quicker when you are on a national television show and have the constant support and guidance from a personal trainer and dietician.

So for those who aren’t cast on a weight lose show, what is a good rule of thumb to follow when it comes to losing weight? How much is too much and how much is too little? How much should you lose versus can lose?

There is no perfect answer to these questions since there are several baseline factors to consider. Starting weight. Goal weight. Metabolism. Genetics. Health conditions. Diet restrictions. Discipline. Exercise regimen. Support system. Lifestyle. Environment. And more.

However, if you want to lose weight and keep it off, your goal should be just one to two pounds a week. That’s all. It may not sound like a lot, but remain patient, dedicated, and consistent and you will see your hard work will pay off over time. Plus losing weight at a slow steady pace reduces the risk of unwanted side effects and increases the likelihood that you will be able to keep the weight off long term, like with The Biggest Loser Season 1 winner Ryan Benson, who started at 330, dropped to 208 and is now at 300 and Season 3 winner Erik Chopin, who began at 407, plummeted to 193 and is back up to 368.

Rapid weight loss is unhealthy and ineffective. It can cause dehydration, fatigue, dry skin and nails, hair loss, bloating, constipation, gallstones, iron and nutrient deficiencies, mineral loss, liver damage, heart disease, osteoporosis, and more. And if you are losing more than a couple of pounds a week, your body perceives it’s in starvation and will start burning muscle for needed fuel and energy. With less muscle mass, your metabolism automatically slows down and burns fewer calories.

As with any weight loss plan, consult with your primary physician first and request a complete physical before dieting. He or she can help you select a diet plan that is right for you and the correct amount of calories. Discuss an exercise program that is appropriate for your age, existing, fitness level, and goal. Finally, keep a dairy to help with your own personal weight loss journey. Track your daily food intakes and times along with the triggers that cause you to want to eat outside your meals and snacks. Document your exercise regimen, nightly hours of sleep, and your daily stress levels. Collectively, this will reveal your best recipe for your weight loss.

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.

Birthdays – A Time to Set Goals in 5 Easy Steps



week93Today is my birthday. Like many, I have stopped counting years ago, as age is just a number and numbers don’t matter. It’s all about how you live your life and how well you care for your self well-being.

Some of us love our special days and enjoy it with great festive celebrations. Dinners. Parties. Gifts. Trips. Others keep it on the down low and treat it as just another ordinary day.

Birthdays are milestone markers. They wrap up one chapter and start a new one. A clean upcoming year. A fresh slate. A new beginning. And if you weren’t happy where you were yesterday or yesteryears, well, here’s your chance. No one can argue otherwise, after all, it is your one and only day a year; the one day where no one can, or should, challenge you.

So what will I be doing this year on my special day? No big parties with friends. No celebratory trip planned, as of yet, however since I do love to travel, perhaps a later trip I will label a post birthday celebration. Actually, right now I’m working from home – snowed in from a nor’easter snowstorm – with birthday wishes from family and friends via texts, phone calls, emails, and social media mentions starting since the day before. If it weren’t for the snowfall, it would be the gym and the office in that order, followed by ideally an aerobics class afterward and then dinner at a favorite restaurant with one of my two brothers. Dinner with my other brother occurred a few nights ago as an early celebration since I was near his town.

Like both my brothers, I love to achieve – a born driven go-getter – and there is no better time then now to create some new goals to achieve than on a birthday. It’s an idea time to reflect and reminisce the years gone by then plot and plan the next upcoming bright ones ahead tagged with new aspiring goals. And if the years don’t seem bright at the moment, now is the perfect time to make certain they will be.

Setting and obtaining goals first takes a true steadfast mindset filled with determination and disciplinary actions to make your efforts and hard work pay off. The following are five steps to make your goals reality.

1. Commitment.
When planning your goals, select the one that is your highest priority and focus on that goal first. Concentrating on one goal at a time gives you the clarity you will need to achieve it. Then develop a realistic plan of action with a timeframe and benchmarks.

2. Discipline.
Stay focus with your eye on the prize and keep it going. Find the time. Every day, every week, whatever it takes to make it happen! This is the period that divides the go-getting achievers and the no-drive couch potatoes. First go at it didn’t work? Try again. Try another. Just make it materialize.

3. Consistent.
Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Never waver. Don’t back off. Staying consistent is a key ingredient to achieving your goal. Keep it going and stay persistent with your efforts and eventually you will achieve the results you are seeking.

4. Faith in Self.
Believe. It will happen with time and your hard work. Thicken your skin and resist listening to those who say that you will fail. Show them wrong. Prove it to yourself. There have been many before you that were told they won’t succeed and they do. Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Stephen King, Isaac Newton, J.K. Rowling, KFC Colonel Harvard David Sanders, Jerry Seinfeld, Dr. Seuss, Steven Spielberg, Socrates, Vincent Van Gogh, Vera Wang, Oprah Winfrey, F.W. Woolworth and others who believed in themselves and, despite of the odds against them, went on to find great success.

5. Have Heart.
Movie character Rocky Balboa once said, “Every champion was once a contender that refused to give up.” You must have heart and passion. You have to want it and want it bad. The achiever may not always be the one who finishes first or at the first go but often the person who fell down a few downs along the way, brushed him or herself off, and got back up to finish what they started – all because they had heart.

Stay committed, remain discipline, be consistent, keep faith in yourself, and have heart and you will achieve your goal.

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.

Book Review: “The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner


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week92As long as I can remember, I love to travel. Getting on a plane and taking off is a pure rush for me as much as exploring a new destination and meeting fellow travelers and residents. This is greatly due in part to my father who was a world traveler. Traveling was his biggest passion and it mine as well.

Another love of mine is nutrition and I can get never enough of learning more about it. What are the latest news, trends, and change of thinking? Hottest diet? I read about it and perhaps dabbled. Controversy over a vitamin – too much or too little? I can weigh in. Calories over volume? Tried both. This side of me is hands down inherited from my mother who has studied and practiced good nutrition her entire lifetime. Her findings put into her eating ways have been to her great benefit and good fortune, as my mother will turn 90 years young this year.

Needless to say what a joy it was to find and read a book that combines both of these two passions of mine, travel and nutrition.

In Dan Buetter’s “The Blue Zones,” he globe hops around the world to explore the homelands and secrets of how to successfully live a long healthy life from centenarians – from what they eat, how they exercise, and ways to cope with stress – and then shares his findings with his readers.

A National Geographic explorer and researcher, Buetter is an award-winning author and writer who had a deep interest in demographics and longevity. How one can turn back the biological clock, or better yet, beat it? He wanted to learn this and know how people remained mentally and physically vibrant as they aged, how they lived longer and lived better. So he formed a team of physicians and demographers and began traveling to the “blue zones” of the word, regions with the longest life expectancy, disability-free life expectancy or concentration of persons over 100.

In his book, Buetter takes you Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rico where you’ll meet a 94-year-old farmer, a 102-year-old grandmother, a 102-year-old hiker and others who share their daily healthy and lifelong habits. By observing their lifestyles extensively, Buettner’s team of professionals identifies critical everyday choices. These choices are practical tips for living long and well and include a diet of plenty of fresh fresh, unchilled fresh water, lots of fresh vegetables, limited red meat, limited fats and sweets, and a commitment to hard farm work or exercising. This is all in addition to having a richly entwined family life and close group of friends as a support system.

Buetter’s book is an interesting read, one you will find yourself dog-earing page after page. It provides the essential components of a healthy lifestyle, reinforcing life choices and priorities you may already practice – eat less, exercise daily, banish stress, and make family a priority – and others you have not. He has shared his “Blue Zone” research and discoveries on national level as well, through the media, including with appearances on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, NBC Nightly News, Oprah Winfrey, and David Letterman plus delivering over 500 keynote speeches.

To learn of more of Buetter’s research and discoveries, pick up a hard or digital copy of “Blue Zone.” It’s a must read for all those who are health conscious and want to discover new ways from the old and wise as to stay young and healthier as well as live life longer.

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.

Hiking Around Salzburg, Austria – A Fit and Fun Getaway


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week90aIt’s a hiker’s dream. Fields that are alive with absolutely breathtaking endless peaks and valleys in and around enchanting Salzburg, Austria. Known worldwide as once the home of the Von Trapp family and the birthplace to musically talented Mozart, Salzburg is a must visit city! You will fall in love with the charming city as much as you will fall in love with the magnificent countryside. Dreamy spires, rolling green hills, and romantic picturesque gardens, the city and its surrounding landscape is loved by all who spend time here, with millions of visitors each year from around the world.

I had to the opportunity to be one of those millions and traveled to Salzburg to visit my daughter who was studying abroad at Universität Salzburg. I was really making the trip because she was there and had little idea of what I would be seeing or experiencing other than this was where the beloved “The Sound of Music” was filmed. But as soon as my taxi driver drove into the center of town and I got a first hand look, it was love at first sight with Salzburg as well.

The fourth-largest city in Austria, Salzburg sits along the Salzach River and is a very picturesque European town dotted with renowned baroque architecture, quaint shops and boutique, hidden away restaurants, and wonderful historic attractions. The people are warm and engaging and travel mostly around time by foot, bike, or boat. All of this in addition to being right by the Alps and only a few miles from the German (Bavarian) border, which makes exploring both country’s trails and mountainsides very easy to accomplish.

While my daughter attended class during the day, I would venture out to the nearby hills and mountains to hike to my heart’s content. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails around Salzburg; too many to cover in just one trip. Many are reachable by public transportation or tour arrangements so no worries if you didn’t rent a car. Closest are the “house mountains” Untersberg and Gaisberg, both spectacular with well-groomed and well-marked trails.

If you only have one day to hike while in Salzburg, then Untersberg of the Berchtesgaden Alps is your mountain. With an elevation of 6,473 feet, it’s less than 10 miles from Salzburg and is reachable by bus. To get there, take Bus No. 25 from Hauptbanhof, Salzburg’s main railway station, to St. Leonhard. Once there, you can pick from several trails to lead you to the mountaintop or take a cable car for €21, an eight and a half minute journey. Once at the top, you will experience spectacular mountain-peak views and a wonderful birds-eye view of stunning Rositten Valley.

Gaisberg is just east of Salzburg and is part of the Limestone Alps with elevation of 4,226 feet. It’s easily identified by the massive antenna standing on the peak. Bus No. 151 from the Mirabellplatz Square will get you to the base, then catch a second bus through the district of Gnigl to reach the popular Gaisberg Trail. Follow this path to a viewing bridge where you have a clear look of the surrounding farmlands, Untersberg, and Salzburg.

And there are more hiking musts! Also close by is the Gerlospass, a mountain pass in the Alps between the Oberpinzgau region and Zillertal Valley. Once you reach the top, an elevation of 4,921 feet, you will see amazing views of parts of the Hohe Tauern National Park. The park itself has 700 square miles and home to Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner at a whopping 12,460 feet! West of Salzburg is the Salzkammergut Lake District, a hiker’s paradise that sprawls from Salzburg along the Austrian Alpine Foreland and the Northern Limestone Alps to the peaks of the Dachstein Mountains. From the village of Fuschl, hike around Lake Fuschlsee or ascend Mont Schober for most beautiful views of the Alps. And just an hour south of Salzburg and right over the German boarder, is Königssee (King’s Lake) for a wonderful hike plus the Obersalzberg uplands in Berchtesgaden National Park. Looming cliffs and soaring mountains enclose the area.

Other nearby popular destinations to hike include: Mount Kehlstien, home to the renowned Eagle’s Nest; the Hochkogel mountain in the Tennengebirge section of the Alps, home to the Eisriesenwelt Werfen, the world’s large limestone ice cave; and for the diehard hiker, the Salzburger Almenweg, a one-of-a kind 217-mile-long trek through the mountain region of Pongau rwith over 120 alpine huts to stay overnight along your journey.

The choices are endless when it comes to hiking in Salzburg. All you just need to do is get on a plane and get there to enjoy!

Getting There: Salzburg has it’s own airport, Salzburg W.A. Mozart International Airport (SZG), the second largest international airport in Austria, located only two miles from the center of town. Once you land, your best bet is to take a taxi to your hotel. Another option is the bus from the airport, which is excellent in Salzburg, but can be lengthy in time with all the stops. Another option is to fly into Munich, Germany and take the Euro Rail to the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof Train Station or rent a car and drive 89 miles to Salzburg.

Accommodations: Best Western Hotel Elefant, Sigmund-Haffner-Gasse 4, Altstadt, Salzburg, Austria Phone: +43 0662 84 33 97. I loved staying here! This is a very quaint, boutique-like hotel housed in a historic 700-year-old building in the heart of old Salzburg and directly off Getreidegasse, a street known for shopping and fine dining. It’s also easy walking distance to all of Salzburg’s major attractions. The non-smoking hotel offers state-of-the art accommodations, free Internet access, and a complimentary full breakfast that is simply delicious. Adjoining the hotel is one of their two restaurants in town, Restaurant Elefant, serving both Austrian and international specialties, fine wines, and the famous Salzburg Stiegl beer.

Nearby Activities: Sightseeing! Pick up a Salzburg Card from the Tourist Information Center and hop around to numerous attractions for just one price. Public transportation is also included! Admissions include Festung Hohensalzburg (Salzburg Fortress), Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountains, Marionette Museum, Mozart’s Birthplace and Residency, Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Natural History and Technology, Salzach Cruise, Salzburg Zoo, plus many more attractions. Or book a day trip through Viator (coach bus) or Bob’s Special Tours (mini van). I toured with both and enjoyed both equally. There are several excursions to choose from the salt mines and Bavarian Mountains to the Sound of Music Tour and Hohenwerfen Fortress, and many more.

Special Note: After a great day of hiking, dine at L’Osteria located right in the heart of the “new town” section Salzburg. It’s also just a stone’s throw from the Bridge of Locks of Love. Hands down now one of my favorite pizza places in town. We ate there a couple times. With a setting full of energy and good music flowing, this chic must-eat-at Italian restaurant serves timeless Italian cuisine at reasonable prices. Delicious platters include oversized pizzas baked in hearth oven, homemade pasta specialties, fresh crisp salads, and Tiramisu, Panna Cotta or Crema di Fragola for dessert. Fast and professional waiters serve. Make advance reservations as it’s always packed! L’Osteria Pizza E Pasta, Dreifaltigkeitsgasse 10, Salzburg 5020, Austria. Phone: +43 0662 87 06 58 10.

If you do have the chance to travel and hike in Salzburg, or already have, please leave a note below with more recommendations for all us to learn. My trip to Salzburg was so amazing and memorable; I know I will definitely return. And with this next trip, I will try some of your suggested posts!

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.

Why Guzzling Down Energy Drinks Isn’t Healthy


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week89This past week was a tough week for me. I got up, worked out, then had to drive 160 miles round trip in just one day. Then, I had to do that every single day for five straight days in a row.

By day four of the week, I was dragging. I simply felt lifeless with no vigor and little brainpower. All I really wanted to do was to go home climb back into my warm comforting bed and sleep my exhaustion off. But I couldn’t. I had to push and power through the day and get all done that was expected of me. But how, when my energy level was at zero? The answer, as wrong as it was then and remains, is that I broke down and drank a Red Bull. The following day, on day five, I drank another. Actually two.

I gave up soda years ago. As shared in my “The Sinful Sips of Soda,” I originally drank one diet brand simply for it’s lemon lime taste and the fuzzily feel. But I soon gave it up, cold turkey, after a bad reaction one night plus learning how unhealthy the carbonated drink is with all its non-nutritious and harmful ingredients, including the high amounts caffeine most carry.

Energy drinks are no different. In fact, they are worse. But that hasn’t stopped consumers. There are over two million people per day who drink energy drinks. The most popular? Red Bull, in fact the most popular energy drink in the world with 5.2 billion cans sold in 2012 alone.

The whole marketing hoopla around energy drinks is that give the drinker a burst of magically feeling energy. No, you are not superman or superwoman, but you know have the get-up-and-go you were lacking prior to gulping down the drink.

How does that happen? The beverage contains stimulant drugs, mainly very large amounts of caffeine, but also has high levels of sugar or artificial sweeteners plus herbal extracts, B Vitamins, and amino acids. Many also contain an added mix of carbonated water, yerba mate, açaí, and taurine and perhaps ginseng, maltodextrin, inositol, carnitine, creatine, glucuronolactone, and ginkgo biloba depending on the brand.

To illustrate the difference in caffeine levels between soda and energy drinks, a classic Coca-Cola Classic contains 23 milligrams (mg.) of caffeine per eight ounce serving while the sugary Monster, Red Bull, and Rockstar energy drinks have 75 mg., 77 mg., and 80 mg. respectively. That is three times the amount of caffeine over soda! The 5-Hour Energy drink? A whopping 207 mg. per two ounce serving. Watch out!

There are several potential health risks associated with high amounts of caffeine. Not only is caffeine a stimulant that can be habit forming, it is diuretic which causes dehydration. Caffeine decreases the calcium in your body and stimulates your central nervous system – causing stress, a racing mind, insomnia, and the jitters. And now its regular and daily use being recognized as a disorder.

Just last fall (September 2013), Steven Meredith and Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Baltimore, MD), Laura Juliano of American University (Washington, DC), and John Hughes of the University of Vermont (Burlington) coauthored and published a study in the Journal of Caffeine Research on the consumption of high amounts of caffeine, “Caffeine Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda.” The findings support caffeine is indeed a drug of widespread dependency, one that can be addictive and habit forming physically and psychologically. More than 50% of those trying to no stop their regular consumption of energy drinks may even go as far trouble not picking up a can by suffering withdrawal symptoms.

“At this time, manufacturers are not required to label caffeine amounts, and some products such as energy drinks do not have regulated limits on caffeine,” Juliano said with her conclusions. “Through our research, we have observed that people who have been unable to quit or cut back on caffeine on their own would be interested in receiving formal treatment — similar to the outside assistance people can turn to if they want to quit smoking or tobacco use.”

Recognizing the health hazards of drinking energy drinks, just this week the Los Angeles City Council is contemplating creating an age restriction of 18 and order, as reported by CBS News. When purchasing, ID will be required and a citywide campaign will be implemented, alerting the public about the health risks associated with drinking too many energy drinks with its high caffeine contents.

In actuality, caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the world and is also found in coffee, tea, chocolate, OTC pain relievers, and more. Many digest caffeine with without issues. But it is the high levels of caffeine found in energy drinks tat can be harmful with negative effects along with physical dependence.

As for me, when I awoke early Saturday morning to head to the gym, I was still feeling exhaustion. One who can’t sleep in, I headed off my day but by mid-morning I hit a wall of fatigue. I must admit stopping at a mini-market to grab myself another Red Bull for a third day in a row definitely crossed my mind, but I nixed it not once but twice, and powered through my day. In the end, I ended up going to bed two nights early to catch up on my zzzzz’s. Moving forward, energy drinks will be a boosting drink I will avoid giving in to as a quick fix instead replaced with driving less mileage in a week (let alone a day!) and more shut eye when my body requires.

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.

Move Over Peanut Butter; You’re Being Replaced with Almond Butter



week91One of my very favorite mid-morning snacks is a granny smith apple with a smooth and creamy almond butter. The crunchy tart fruit combined with the smooth nutty butter is an A+ in my book and shields my tummy from hunger pangs for the next few hours. And often a long hike, I will treat myself to a 1/2 to 1 cup serving of Healthy Choice’s vanilla bean Greek yogurt with, again, almond butter. I simply love the taste, topping the classic peanut butter, and it’s a bit healthier for you to boot.

Almond butter has more minerals than peanut butter, more fiber, fewer carbohydrates, and about half the amount of saturated fat. It is packed with vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, and phytosterols – helping to regulate your body’s blood sugar, lower your risk of a heart attack, and reduce elevated cholesterol levels.

Perhaps I was a bit spoiled or lucky as I fell in love with the very first almond butter brand I ever purchased and tasted. I must confess, I became a little obsessed with new food now a staple in my diet, stocked up in my cupboard and initially eaten a few to several times a week.

If you decide to give almond butter a chance with your own taste buds, below are the almond butters I have tasted and tried. As with any other food item, when selecting an almond butter be certain to read the label. For your healthiest option, choose one that have undergone minimal heat processing and has very little added ingredients.

Barney Butter Almond Butter Smooth
This was the very first almond butter I tasted and remains my absolute favorite. Smooth and creamy, the taste tops any peanut butter I have ever eaten. Ever. It’s typically found in the organic section of the supermarket. Ingredients: almonds, evaporated cane juice, palm Fruit oil, sea salt. For those with allergies, Barney Butter is peanut free and made in an almond only facility. Other almond butters by Barney Butter include: Almond Butter Cocoa Coconut, Almond Butter Crunchy, Almond Butter Honey Flax, Almond Butter Raw Chia, Almond Butter Vanilla Bean Espresso, and Bare Almond Butter Smooth. Nutrients per 2 Tbsp. (32g) serving size: 180 Calories, 140 Fat Calories, 15g Total Fat (1.5g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat), 6g Protein, 100mg Sodium, 8g Total Carbs (3g Dietary Fiber, 3g Sugars).

Jif Almond Butter Smooth

This is my second favorite of the almond butters. Like Barney Butter, no stirring is required and you can simply just start eating it right from the jar. But unfortunately, the Jif Almond Butter contains hydrated vegetable oils, which is an ingredient to be avoided. It’s found with the mainstream peanut butters in the supermarket. Ingredients: roasted almonds, hydrated vegetable oils (rapeseed, cottonseed and soybean), sunflower oil, contains 2% of or less of salt. For those with allergies, it contains cashew ingredients and may contain Brazil nut, hazelnut, macadamia nut and pine nut ingredients. Jif also makes Almond Butter Crunchy and two Cashew Butters, one smooth and one crunchy. Nutrients per 2 Tbsp. (33g) serving size: 190 Calories, 150 Fat Calories, 16g Total Fat (2g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat), 7g Protein, 100mg Sodium, 8g Total Carbs (3g Dietary Fiber, 3g Sugars).

Justin Almond Butter Classic

This almond butter is very nutty and a more earthy and gritty taste. Unlike the other butters, it contains palm fruit oil, which is composed of 50% saturated fat and 50% unsaturated. It’s found in the organic section of the supermarket and also comes in convenient 32 packet sizes perfect for when on the go. Ingredients: dry roasted almonds and organic palm fruit oil. For those with allergies, it may contain trace amounts of peanuts and hazelnuts. Chocolate Almond Butter, Honey Almond Butter Blend, Maple Almond Butter, and Vanilla Almond Butter also made and are available by Justin. Nutrients per 2 Tbsp. (32g) serving size: 200 Calories, 160 Fat Calories, 18 Total Fat (2g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat), 7g Protein, 100mg Sodium, 6g Total Carbs (2g Dietary Fiber, 7g Sugars).

Wegmans Organic Smooth Almond Butter Unsalted

This almond butter is also very nutty and gritty taste, needing to be stirred before using and refrigerated after opening. Of all of the almond butters, this one is my least favorite but perhaps you will feel differently as taste is, after all, a personally preference. It can be found in the organic section in Wegmans’ grocery stores. Ingredients: organic dry roasted unblanched almonds. For those with allergies, it may contain other tree nuts, peanuts and soy. Crunchy also available. Nutrients per 2 Tbsp. (30g) serving size: 190 Calories, 160 Fat Calories, 18 Total Fat (1.5g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat), 5g Protein, 0mg Sodium, 6g Total Carbs (1g Dietary Fiber, 2g Sugars).

So the next time your picking up groceries, pick up a jar of almond butter and give it go as it’s all about finding healthy guilt-free options. A tablespoon tastes delish on whole-wheat toast, is a great kick in your morning oatmeal, adds boost to shakes and smoothies, and of course is yummy when filled in celery and topped on bananas. Enjoy!

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.

What’s for Dinner? Italian Night Makeover with Spaghetti Squash


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week88For those of you who are pasta lovers, but feel like you can’t just give up the carb-laden food, then perhaps it’s time for a quick makeover with spaghetti squash as your answer.

Found in grocery stores – August through March – in several varieties, spaghetti squash is a cylinder-shaped winter vegetable with inside strands similar to thin strings of pasta. Think capellini or angel hair spaghetti. Yum! The stands are yellower than spaghetti and provides a sweet, mild flavor. Best of all, it can be baked, boiled, microwaved, or slow cooked in a crockpot.

How nutritious is the spaghetti squash? Very! Low in calories (42 per cup), low in fat (> 0.5g per cup), and low in carbs (10g per cup), it’s a great choice for weight-loss or weight-management plans. It is packed with vitamins A, B-6, and C plus the minerals potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sodium.

Ready to try it out? Below is one of favorite Italian dinner lineups for when I’m in the mood to indulge but don’t want the guilt. Make one or all! You can also top off your meal with your favorite bottle of Italian wine, a loaf of fresh whole wheat bread with olive oil, and espresso!

Italian Leafy Green Salad

In a large bowl, combine 2 cups romaine lettuce (torn, washed, and dried), 1 cup torn escarole, 1 cup torn radicchio, 1 cup torn red leaf lettuce, 
1/4 cup chopped green onions, 1/2 red bell pepper (sliced into rings), 1/2 green bell pepper (sliced in rings), and 12 cherry tomatoes. Set aside. Whisk together the 1/4 cup grapeseed oil, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, 
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over salad, toss and serve immediately.

Italian-Style Spaghetti Squash

Half 2 pounds spaghetti squash lengthwise and remove seeds. Place cut sides down in glass baking dish. Add 1/4 cup water and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for 8-10 minutes until tender and cool slightly. Meanwhile in large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add 1 red onion thinly sliced and cook for 3 minutes until onion is translucent. Add 1 diced zucchini and cook 4-5 minutes. Add 4 diced tomatoes, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes. Using a fork, scrape squash into bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive. Spoon vegetable mixture over squash. Drizzle with more oil if desired. Garnish with 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and 1 lemon sliced. Other option is instead of the vegetables, top with Cucina Antica’s Tuscany Pumpkin Pasta Sauce found online or at a whole food grocery store.

Almond Biscotti with Greek Frozen Yogurt

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Chop 1/2 cup soaked and crisped almonds (pecans, walnuts, pistachios, or hazelnuts can be substituted) coarsely in the food processor or by hand, and set aside. In a dry food processor fitted with the “S” blade, grind 1 1/2 cups of your favorite sweetener (I use stevia) to a very fine powder. Add 1 2/3 cups almond meal, 1 cup arrowroot powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon unprocessed salt, and 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast (optional buttery flavor). Spin it for a minute to a very fine powder. Open the lid, stir the bottom, replace the lid, and grind again until the powder is uniformly fine. To the dry ingredients in the food processor, add 3 eggs (at room temperature), 1 teaspoon guar gum (optional, for slightly less crumbling), 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, zest of 1/2 lemon or orange, 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional), and 1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds (optional). Pulse the nuts in briefly so they’re evenly distributed but not mush. Coat your hands with a bit of coconut oil. Remove the dough from the food processor. Divide it into two equal parts and place on the baking sheets. Shape each piece into a rectangular log about 10 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 1 inch thick at the thickest point. Bake for 20 minutes. If they begin to crack, remove from oven before they crack deeply. Let cool for 20 to 30 minutes in the pan on a rack. With a sharp knife on a cutting board, carefully slice each log diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick biscotti or a bit thicker. Place each piece flat on its side on the baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 325°F. Turn over each slice and bake for 15 additional minutes, until slightly golden brown on the top. Transfer to a wire rack or a plate to cool. Serve after dinner with Healthy Choice’s vanilla bean Greek yogurt or enjoy with breakfast! Store extras in an airtight container.

A few more tips with the spaghetti squash. When selecting, be certain it is hard and surprisingly heavy for its size. Avoid squash with soft spots and green in color. Once home, store your spaghetti squash in a cool, dry place. You may also choose to freeze. After cutting, wrap the squash in plastic and store it in your refrigerator no more than two days.


Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.

Yes, Women Can Bulk Up through Exercise


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“You won’t bulk up.” How many times have we heard this? For those of us who are convinced we can bulk up with certain exercises, but hear countless times that it’s not possible, well the later are wrong. We can. And I am one of them.

Despite having lower testosterone than men and regardless of watching what we eat, women with certain genetic makeups – especially those with small body frames – can build muscle easily and quickly, particularly in their thighs and buttock where fast twitch muscle is also often found. The muscle build up is often accomplished with resistance training, which is ANY form of exercise that causes a muscle to contract AGAINST an external resistance, creating a burn and a pump then a build in muscle. Not only is this with accomplished weights, but with popular cardio equipment including the treadmill, elliptical, and bicycle.

So what is a girl to do if that is the look she isn’t going for? What if she just wants to be tone and not overly muscular? Train for leanness and endurance.

We all know weight-training tones your muscles and can build muscle size. Increasing the weights used and the speed of reps can result in building muscle. So for muscles responding quickly to resistance, do the opposite. Perform more repetitions (15) with lighter weights completed within 90 seconds. Rest time should only be between 15 to 30 seconds for a cardio burn.

You may continue with your indoor cardio – running on a treadmill, pumping on an elliptical, and spinning a bike – but lower your tension on the equipment and limit your time to no more than 30 minutes a day.

If you can run outside versus on a treadmill, then do so. A treadmill forces your run through it’s push and pull resistance while a run outside is powered by 100% of you. You can also increase your cardio to longer than 30 minutes with the mechanical resistance now gone and up your days to five week since the movement of outdoor running will only make you leaner with amount of calories burned.

Also, incorporate exercises into your daily routine that helps to elongate your muscles, such as stretching, yoga, Pilates, swimming, walking, hiking, skating, and cross-country skiing. Sign up for a recreational soccer or basketball league. Join a running club. Play tennis, racquetball, or pickleball. Walk the course when playing golf.

Undoubtedly, you will need to do trial and error with your muscle-strengthening exercises before determining which workouts work best for you and your personal genetic makeup. Once discovered, set your limits and stick within those boundaries. Your goal is within reach.

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.

15 Easy Diet Changes that Make a Big Difference


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week86Sometimes it’s the little things in life that counts and adds up to make a difference. Or another way to look at it, baby steps people! I’m referring to making small subtle changes to your daily diet to get you started to eating healthier. It’s how I started many years, and what I suggest to those who inquire how I reached my healthy eating levels of today.

Below are 15 simply changes you can do to your diet today that matter and will make a positive difference with your health and well-being.

#1. Eat within one hour of waking up in the mornings. While sleeping, your metabolism slows down, your body temp lowers, and your blood sugar level drops to conserve energy. To restart your engine and lower your risk for weight gain and obesity, eat a balance meal of lean proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats within an hour of waking.

#2. Chew your food 30-50 times per mouthful. Chewing food thoroughly has several benefits, such as improving your digestion, eliminating bad breath, preventing excessive gas, and strengthening the immune system. It also takes up to 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal that your stomach is full. So between bites, place your utensil down and savor the moment.

#3. Avoid the whites: flour, sugar, salt, rice, potatoes and mayonnaise. Yes, don’t pass the salt, skip the sugar, and avoid white flour and mayonnaise. Yes, this means white pasta, white bread, and baked goodies made with white substances. All of these foods are absorbed quickly and cause a rapid spike in your blood sugar, which can result in weight gain plus is linked to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

#4. Eat protein with every meal. Protein satisfies hunger and boosts metabolism. If you don’t eat enough, your body breakdowns and burns muscle to compensate which you want to avoid. For each meal, consume enough protein fitting the size of your palm; a total daily intake of ~46g for women and ~56g for men depending on your age, situation, and activity level.

#5. Stop eating processed food. Skip the convenience and forget the delish taste. Eating processed food is not worth you ingesting, doing more harm than good, loaded with preservatives, unnecessary carbohydrates, trans fats, extremely high levels of sodium, and often high fructose. Processed meats come full of synthetic chemicals, many of which are potentially carcinogenic. Need more be said?

#6. Pack your lunch. Not only will it save on your wallet, but your body will thank you. If you typically grab fast food or sit down at a restaurant with coworkers or clients, you are most likely eating more fat and calories than you need or realize. Instead, pack your lunch and know exactly what you are eating. It may take extra time in the mornings, but it’s well worth it in the long run.

#7. Don’t eat lunchmeat or hot dogs. Sorry ballpark hot dog fans, this is one treat to avoid. Any meat that is salted, cured, smoked, or preserved with nitrate is considered processed. This includes bacon and sausage. As mentioned in tip #5 above, they are full of synthetic chemicals and are possibly carcinogenic. They are also usually high in fats and salt, which means they are not heart-friendly, either.

#8. Carry and drink fresh H2O. Pass on the sodas and fruit drinks. Instead swig half your body water in water in ounces of water everyday. Not only is water is one of the best tools for weight loss, it flushes out toxins and waste products, reduces the risk of a heart attack and colon cancer in addition to keeping you hydrated, nourishes your skin, and facilitates your athletic activities among other numerous benefits.

#9. Pass on unhealthy trans fats. These are the bad guys, primarily found in foods containing margarine or vegetable shortening, such as fried foods, baked goods, packaged snacks, fast foods, full-fat cheeses, and lard. These man-made fats raise LDL cholesterol levels while lowering HDL cholesterol, increasing your risk of a heart attack, stroke, and possibly type two diabetes. Instead, choose foods with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, including olive and canola oils, almonds and other nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish, such as salmon.

#10. Eliminate red meat, now. Numerous studies year after year show a direct line with red meat consumption to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other life-threatening conditions. This includes beef, pork, and lamb meats, which are all high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Most are filled with nitrates and have dangerous chemicals when cooked at high temps. Substitute your servings with fish and poultry.

#11. Eat every couple hours. Your body is like a clock. Eating every 2-3 hours will keep your metabolism high and your insulin levels stable, which in return keeps your energy up and your hunger under control. Going long periods without food can result in a breakdown and loss of muscle tissue, resulting in a slower metabolism, and a gorge out on your next meal.

#12. Pack a snack. Ever find yourself hungry when on the go? When this happens and you have nothing on hand, making a quick stop to grab a healthy snack can be challenging as you drive by fast food eateries or are tempted by the aroma of sweet treats when in a shopping mall. So before heading out, take along your favorite protein bar, a small bag of nuts, or grab an apple, pear, or banana to keep your metabolism going and ward off hunger.

#13. Eat fish 3 or more times per week or take a daily fish oil supplement. Protein packed, vitamin rich and low in saturated fat, fish is also great brain food. Most fish, such as salmon, tuna, and trout, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which keep arteries free of blockage, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and aid in brain development and memory. The omega-3s will also decrease your risk of heart disease, stroke, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer.

#14. When your hunger stops, stop eating. No, you do not have to finish all the food on your plate and not after that feel so full you could burst feeling. Goodness knows that many restaurants today super-size their servings. Once your hunger is satisfied, it’s time to put down the fork and ask for a container to take the balance home.

#15. Don’t eat past 7:00 pm. A good rule of thumb to follow is to stop eating 3-4 hours before retiring to bed. After eating, it takes about 6-8 hours or more for food to pass through your stomach and small intestine, depending upon the type. Only a couple of hours after dinner, your body naturally begins preparing for sleep with a reduced metabolism and storage of fat recently consumed. The only calories you body needs are the basics to keep your heart beating, your lungs breathing, and your eyes moving in REM sleep overnight.

I can easily give you another 15 changes to make to your diet, but let’s start with these. Add in daily exercise to the above and you are off to a good starting plan you can follow and build on for the rest of your life.

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.