Summer is often a time to relax and rejuvenate, but it can also feel just as hectic as the rest of the year. Between trips to the pool, sports games and camps, celebrations, vacations, school programs, and regular work, our daily schedules are about as unpredictable as they can be.
This unpredictability can present a challenge at meal time. It’s often easier to grab food on the road or rely on processed/packaged foods than it is to prepare healthy food at home. However, we can make healthy meals part of our summer experience without getting in the way of the fun.
Here are three easy ways to get the most nutritional benefit out of your summer meals.
1. Get Fresh
In-season fruits and vegetables are your biggest nutrition allies during the summer months. Fresh produce is not only packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water, but most varieties also taste best at this time of year, which means that you don’t have to dress them up with a lot of extras!
Look for ways to use fruits and vegetables in snacks/appetizers, side dishes, and desserts, and season foods with fresh spices to add flavor without adding calories.
You can also give yourself an extra activity boost by growing and harvesting these foods from your own garden, or walk or bike to your local Farmers’ Market and pick out a variety of fresh produce each week.
2. Take it Outside
Take advantage of nice weather to prepare your food on the grill. Grilling can be one of the quickest ways to prepare meals (you can even grill ahead of time and save food for later in the week), and it’s also a very healthy cooking method when you use proper techniques.
According to eatingwell.com, cooking meats at the high temperatures used when grilling, broiling, and frying creates compounds that are linked to some cancers. That said, there is no evidence that grilling causes cancer, and there are steps you can take to prevent the formation of these chemicals.
Make sure to keep your grill clean, trim excess fats from foods, and use marinades and rubs to act as a protective barrier against the high heat while adding some extra flavor.
Additionally, cook meat and fish to the right temperature while avoiding excessive charring. Food safety guidelines indicate that poultry should be heated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, ground red meat and pork to 160, and red meat steaks or chops and fish to 145.
3. Drink up
Traditional summer beverages including lemonade, smoothies, soda, beer, and other sugary alcoholic beverages can add a lot of extra calories and not much nutritional value to your meal (see our post on 5 Steps to a Healthy Margarita to learn how to make your favorite beverages healthier).
First and foremost, the beverage accompanying your meal should help keep you hydrated during warm weather. Your best options limit extra sugar and avoid the diuretic effects of alcohol and excessive caffeine.
Healthy examples of refreshing summer beverages include ice water, sparkling water, or unsweetened iced tea with lemon or lime. Low-fat milk, fruit spritzers (or watered down juices), and homemade, no-sugar added smoothies can also be great options.
Summer meals can be healthy, delicious, and easy and fun to prepare. Not only will you feel the added satisfaction of growing and/or preparing fresh foods, but your body will also thank you for limiting your intake of processed items.
Here’s one more bonus tip – take advantage of opportunities to slow down and create a more relaxed atmosphere during meal times. It might be tough in the midst of a busy schedule of activities, but taking your time will prevent overeating and help you enjoy the full flavor of the season.
What are some of your favorite, healthy summer recipes?
If you spent the weeks leading up to the summer season getting “swimsuit-ready” only to realize that mid-way through the summer, you’ve put on a few pounds, you’re not alone. Experts agree that summer weight gain is common among both adults and children.
Check out some easy ways to avoid the pitfalls, so you can stay healthy, fit, and ready to put on those skinny jeans this fall.
1. Plan Meals and Snacks.
Summer’s laid-back feel and variable schedule can derail your motivation and ability to plan and prepare healthy meals and snacks. However, maintaining a healthy menu and eating schedule over the summer is key to controlling your weight.
Schedule time during your day to shop for and prepare healthy foods. This might actually help you feel less stressed, because both your mind and body will appreciate a nutritious energy boost.
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2. Watch What You Eat at Summer Parties.
From your son’s graduation celebration, to your cousin’s wedding, to the family backyard BBQ, summer calendars are packed with events that include an unlimited amount of fatty, sugary foods.
To avoid overindulging, focus on catching up with family and friends. Don’t overload your plate, and avoid going back for seconds and thirds. You will have more time for conversation and ready to take on the next activity!
3. Limit Summer Treats.
It’s perfectly healthy to enjoy an ice cream cone once a week, but if that cone is accompanied by a frappuccino here and a margarita there (even one made from our healthy recipe), the extra calories can add up quickly. Less obvious, or seemingly “healthier” options, such as frozen yogurt, lemonade or Gatorade, and light beer, can also lead to weight gain.
With a little willpower and planning, you can decide for yourself when it’s okay to enjoy a refreshing summer treat, and when to say, “I’ll try it next time!”
4. Maintain Your Exercise Routine.
When regular schedules are thrown out of the window, as they often are during the summer, it’s easy to let your daily trip to the gym fall by the wayside. Staying active with regular exercise will ward off extra pounds and preserve your fitness.
Summer is a great time to enjoy a wide variety of fitness activities – from the pool, tennis court, and golf course, to regular classes and exercise equipment at the gym. The bonus? You can do many of these activities with friends and family who need to exercise too!
5. Have a Goal.
Spending the hot summer months inside a cool, air-conditioned house, moving from the couch to the computer with stops at the fridge in between is a quick way to gain weight. Avoid falling into this rut by aiming for specific goals.
Combine physical goals, such as training for a summer 5K or learning a new sport, with activity-based goals, such as volunteering, working a summer job, or taking a class. Keeping goals in mind may just be the motivation you need to stay energized, healthy, and slim this season.
What strategies keep you and your family healthy over the summer?
March is National Nutrition Month, and this year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is urging Americans to “Get Your Plate In Shape.” With the help of the “My Plate” model, which replaced the Food Pyramid in June 2011, the experts are giving us a reminder of the healthy nutrition goals we have heard before:
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
Make at least half of your grains whole grains
Switch to fat-free or low-fat dairy
Vary your protein choices
Cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars
So if we all know what to do, why do so many of us struggle not only to get our plates in shape, but also to keep them in shape? The problem for many of us is that we aren’t excited about making dietary changes, so we reluctantly begin following nutrition advice without a real plan.
Alternatively, if we take an active role in designing our own plates and developing our own implementation plans for change, we are setting ourselves up for the best chance of success. Here are a few tips to get started:
Analyze Your Plate: Take a look at what, when, and how much you eat every day (meals, snacks, and beverages included), and jot it down in a food journal. Consider the nutritional density of the foods you eat including the amount of carbohydrate and fiber, fat (including saturated or trans fat), protein, sodium, added sugar, and vitamins and minerals. Also make note of how you feel after each meal or snack (too full, still hungry, etc.).
With this information in front of you, you can identify the good food choices you make, as well as the choices that can be improved to create a more balanced nutrition plan that better meets your needs.
Redesign your Plate: There are plenty of generic diet plans created by magazine writers and celebrity trainers that will tell you exactly what to eat every day, but you are in the best position to decide what healthy foods work for you.
For example, your diet plan may tell you to have a spinach salad for lunch (a rich source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and Iron), but if you’d rather choke down tar than eat it, it’s not going to make you healthier. Following a diet plan that isn’t for you leaves you feeling frustrated and much more likely to cheat. Instead, consider consulting a doctor or personal trainer to help you design your plate, but make sure that you are the one in charge!
Adjust Your Plate One Item At A Time: Choosing specific, measurable, and manageable goals that you can accomplish in sequence may lead to to greater success than redesigning your plate all at once. For example, start by adding a one-cup serving of vegetables to every meal (as opposed to saying, “I need to eat more vegetables”). The following week, keep the vegetables that you found satisfying, and try adding some healthier protein options.
Another approach is to take a few of the traditional meals you eat often and determine how to make them just a little bit healthier. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new foods or preparation methods. Over time, this methodical approach to change will help you meet your nutritional goals, and you may actually enjoy the process!
What dietary changes have you made in the past that you still stick to today? What changes are you working on now?
It’s hard to exaggerate the important of heart health when almost 600,000 million Americans die of heart disease every year. Even individuals who are apparently fit and healthy can be caught unawares by a diagnosis, so let’s take a look at the steps you can take today to give yourself the best chance at a healthy heart now and in the future.
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Step 1 – Know your numbers and risk profile: Schedule a doctor’s appointment and a blood test to learn the important numbers (risk factors) for heart disease, such as your blood pressure, cholesterol level, fasting blood glucose level, and BMI.
Having multiple factors for heart disease increases your risk exponentially, and some factors, such as age, gender, family history, and race, can’t be controlled. However, knowing where you stand on the others will help you take the appropriate action; according Dr. Philip A. Ades of Eating Well, treating any one risk factor effectively halves your likelihood of developing heart disease.
Step 2 – Quit smoking (or better yet, don’t start): It’s easy for non-smokers to cite all of the negative effects of this habit as reasons to “just stop,” but they may not understand the seriousness of the lifestyle change required to quit. If it’s been a while since you have reviewed the risks associated with smoking, check them out here, and work with your doctor to develop a plan to quit.
The importance of the remaining steps cannot be understated, as they directly impact all of the remaining heart disease risk factors:
Step 3 – Adjust your diet if necessary: Making a conscious effort to reduce intake of saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sodium, and excess calories in general greatly reduces your risk for heart disease.
Some of the best ways to do that? Eat less heavily processed and refined food and substitute with more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins (including fish, nuts, beans, and lean meats). Keep a close eye on portion sizes of snacks and meals to lower your chances of overeating, and drink alcohol in moderation. For more healthy diet and nutrition tips from Midtown, click here.
Step 4 – Exercise more (or at the very least, sit less): Losing weight (or lowering BMI) is just one potential benefit of regular exercise. Consistent daily and weekly efforts to get up and move will help you become healthier, stronger, and more energized, and just 10 minutes of activity here and there can make a big difference.
Courtesy of www.bbc.co.uk
Once you begin consciously moving more, try adding more traditional exercise to your routine a few days per week for just a few weeks. Experiment with different activities until you settle on one that works for you. Your body and mind may not react positively right away, but if you don’t give exercise a real chance (which means a consistent effort), you will never experience the real benefits.
Step 5 – Stress less: While we hold out hope that someone will develop a “magic pill” that will banish stress from our lives forever, managing stress remains one of the most difficult aspects of our lives. Work and family commitments alone are enough to overwhelm our calendars and our worry threshold for the month. You can try to sleep more, take more time for yourself, and clear your schedule, but it’s not always possible to do those things.
So what can you do? It may help to start by identifying the centers of stress in your life and how you feel about them. Observe what happens to your mind and body when you experience stress. Knowing what causes your stress in the first place can help you gain new perspective and create coping strategies that will reduce stress and its consequences. It takes patience and practice, but you and your heart are worth it.