Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Healthy Brown-Bag Lunches

Packing healthy lunches and snacks to take to work or school offers many benefits. Healthy brown-bag meals can reduce fat, calories, and sodium in our diet, improving overall health. Smart choices can help us maintain a healthy weight. And brown-bag lunches just may improve your child’s IQ, energy and stamina.
According to research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a diet high in fat, sugar, and processed food starting at age 3 may lower IQ in later childhood, while a diet packed with whole foods and important nutrients may do the opposite. 
To move lunch and snack time into a healthful direction:
  • Choose foods with higher amounts of the nutrients we need: fiber, protein, calcium, potassium, and vitamin C.
  • Avoid foods loaded with things we need to eat less of: saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.
An easy way to accomplish both goals is to include more whole foods -- and less processed foods, junk food, and fast food at meals and snacks.
Quick Lunch and Snack Picks
Cold Cheese and Fruit Kit: Make your own “lunchables” by filling a reusable container with assorted cheese slices, easy-to-eat fruit like apple slices and grapes, and whole wheat crackers.
Falafel Pita Pleaser: Purchase ready-to-bake falafels in the vegetarian refrigerator section of some supermarkets. Bake them up ahead of time, then insert them in a whole wheat pita pocket spread with some hummus (homemade or store-bought).
Fish in a Pinch: Work a fish serving into your week by adding tuna or salmon to your green salad, pasta salad, or sandwich. For a satisfying snack, toss some tuna or salmon with balsamic vinaigrette and enjoy with whole grain crackers.
Love Your Leftovers: One of the easiest ways that corporate nutritionist Maggie Moon, MS, RD, makes sure she has a healthy lunch tomorrow is to start with dinner tonight. Before serving dinner, she packs some of it away in portable containers, stores them in the refrigerator, and then takes one to work the next day.
Pasta Salad Prep: Make cold pasta salad with leftover pasta shapes from last night. Toss chilled whole grain pasta with cheese cubes, lots of bite-size vegetables, and a homemade or bottled vinaigrette dressing made with olive oil or canola oil.
Pizza Bagels or Pizza Calzones: Bake a mini pizza in 5 minutes by spreading pizza sauce or pesto on whole wheat bagel halves or a whole wheat pita pocket (use the whole pita as a crust). Top with shredded cheese and your favorite veggie toppings (green onions, tomatoes, chopped red peppers, onions, olives, minced garlic, sliced mushrooms),  then broil in a toaster oven until the cheese is bubbling. If using a pita, fold one half over to make a calzone! Wrap it up for your bag lunch or, if your office has a toaster oven, bring it to work unbaked and bake it there.
Stock Your Work Fridge With Salad Dressing: To make it easier to enjoy salads at the office, Moon keeps her favorite salad dressing in the work refrigerator. Look for salad dressing with the least amount of sodium and made with canola or olive oil.
Southwest Wrap: Toss some drained canned black beans with salsa, avocado, red onions, shredded romaine lettuce, and cheese and wrap in a softened whole wheat tortilla. This is a favorite five-minute grab-and-go lunch for nutritionist Karen Ansel, MS, RD, co-author of The Baby & Toddler Cookbook.
Sushi with Veggies: Pick up a tray of premade vegetable sushi at your supermarket or favorite Japanese restaurant. It makes a great grab-and-go lunch the next day. Because it features veggies and avocado, there’s no chance the sushi will smell “fishy” the next day.
Wrap It Up: Make your sandwich wrap the night before, using a whole grain flour tortilla and spreads like green or sun-dried tomato pesto, olive tapenade, or honey mustard. Layer it with slices of lean meat or cheese, assorted vegetables, tomato, onion, and lettuce. Because it’s whole grain, the tortilla won’t get soggy overnight.

4 Lunch Salads You Can Make in 10 Minutes

Reusable containers can hold the makings of a delicious lunch salad. The salad will stay fresh if you add the dressing at lunchtime, so pack a small container or packet of your desired dressing (look for those made with canola or olive oil). Here are four different lunch salad ideas.
Cobb Salad: Toss together spinach leaves or chopped romaine with a hard-boiled egg, crumbled blue cheese (or similar), diced avocado and tomato, and lean ham cubes or strips.
Chinese Chicken Salad: Toss together salad greens, shredded chicken, shredded carrots, sliced green onion, and toasted sliced almonds.
Chicken Caesar Salad: Toss together romaine lettuce, chopped tomato, chicken strips, any other vegetable desired, and croutons.
Berry & Walnut Salad: Toss together dark green lettuce, fresh or frozen berries, blue cheese (if desired), and toasted walnuts (add chicken or salmon if desired). This salad is best with a raspberry or balsamic vinaigrette.

4 Freezer-Friendly Lunch and Snack Tricks

Fun-to-Eat Edamame: You’ll find bags of edamame (in pods) in the freezer section of most supermarkets. Keep a bag in the freezer, add some to your brown bag in the morning, and by lunch they will be thawed. Open up the pods and snack away at the high-protein, high-fiber green soybeans inside.
Leftover Breakfast Becomes Lunch: When you have leftover whole grain pancakes from breakfast, wrap each of them around a soy or chicken sausage and freeze a serving in a reusable container or zip-lock bag. If you are making healthful egg entrees over the weekend (egg and cheese sandwich on toasted wheat english muffin, quiche, frittata, French toast) and have a couple servings left, wrap them up and freeze them for a fast grab-and-go lunch or snack. Just warm in the microwave for 2 minutes!
Mini Muffins: Homemade muffins can be a healthful alternative to processed snacks and junk food when made with mostly whole wheat flour, moderate amounts of canola oil (2 to 3 tablespoons per 12 muffins), and minimal added sugar. Just pop a serving of mini muffins in each zip-lock bag and store in the freezer. Pack them in the brown bag, and they’ll be soft and ready to eat by lunch or snack time.
Spanakopita Triangles: These spinach-and-cheese-filled phyllo dough triangles are available in the freezer section of some supermarkets, such as Trader Joe’s. Brown them ahead of time in your toaster oven and wrap them up for tomorrow’s lunch or snack.

4 Fun Foods to Pack as a Snack or Lunch Treat

The following foods double as a satisfying snack or as a fun treat in a bag lunch because they contribute some protein and some fat (and some have fiber).
Nuts or Trail Mix: If age- and allergy-appropriate, nuts offer a satisfying combination of fiber, protein, and smart fats. Trail mix pumps up the carbohydrate calories by adding dried fruit to the nuts. A 1-ounce snack-size serving of mixed nuts (i.e., Planters NUTrition Heart Healthy Mix) contributes around 170 calories, 6 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, and 8 grams monounsaturated fat.
Cheese Sticks: Individually wrapped cheese sticks are available in part-skim mozzarella and 2% sharp cheddar, and even pepper jack. Two part-skim mozzarella cheese sticks have around 160 calories, 14 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrate, 0 gram fiber, 6 grams saturated fat, and 40% Daily Value for calcium.
Kettle Korn Fun: For something a little sweet but crunchy, pop up some Orville Redenbacher’s Smart Pop Kettle Korn (or similar) and pack half of the 2.9-ounce bag of popcorn for a brown-bag treat or snack. Each serving satisfies with 140 calories, 4 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams fiber, and 1 gram saturated fat.
Yogurt and Fruit Cups: Stir 1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries into 8 ounces of low-fat plain yogurt to make your own naturally sweetened yogurt cup. It has a nice balance of nutrients—185 calories, 12 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 2.5 grams saturated fat, and about 40% Daily Value for calcium and 30% for vitamin C.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stress and nutrition

Ongoing stress can take a toll on your body – it can cause weight gain, digestive problems, fatigue, poor memory, moodiness, headaches and muscle pain. Too much stress can also increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The good news: Consuming certain foods and nutrients, at the right times, can help you deal with stress and feel better.

The body responds to stress by prompting your adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline, two stress hormones that increase heart rate, elevate blood pressure and mobilize glucose (energy) for your brain and muscles. When stress is always present, this fight-or-flight response stays turned on. Prolonged stress accelerates your body’s use of carbohydrate, protein, fat and many vitamins and minerals. So the better nourished you are, the better your body is able to cope with daily stress.
Research findings from Britain, called the Food and Mood Project, support the link between a healthy diet and stress reduction. Among 200 people surveyed, 88 per cent of people reported that changing their diet improved their mental health. Sugar, sweets, caffeine and alcohol were among a list of foods found to exacerbate stress while fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts and water helped calm stress. So did eating regularly and not skipping breakfast.
The following diet tips are important strategies to help your body manage stress.
Don’t skip breakfast
The morning meal replenishes your body with glucose after a night of fasting. A balanced breakfast should include grains (oatmeal, whole-grain toast, high-fibre cereal), protein (egg whites, Greek yogurt, milk, cottage cheese) and a source of healthy fat (nut butter, avocado, flaxseeds, chia seeds).
Eat five times a day
Eat at regular intervals during the day to keep your blood sugar (glucose) steady, ready to fuel your brain and muscles. Eating too little – and not often enough – can cause imbalances in blood sugar that lead to mood swings, low energy, poor concentration and hunger.
Snack wisely
Good options include fruit and nuts, yogurt and berries, cheese and whole-grain crackers, a whole-food energy bar (e.g. Larabar, Elevate Me Bar, KIND Bar, Vega One Bar) or a protein shake than includes fruit. If necessary, set a timer to remind you to eat.
Focus on carbohydrates
Ongoing stress lowers serotonin, a brain chemical that’s important for sleep, memory and feeling calm and relaxed. Studies show that people under stress have higher serotonin and lower stress hormone levels when they eat a high-carbohydrate – versus high-protein – diet. And they report feeling more mentally sharp and less depressed. Base your meals and snacks on carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole grains, sweet potato, legumes and fruit rather than protein-rich foods like meat, poultry and eggs.
Boost B vitamins
The body uses B vitamins to mobilize its stored energy for immediate fuel. And vitamin B6 is also needed to make serotonin.
Good sources of B vitamins include enriched breakfast cereals, wheat germ (add it to a smoothie), legumes (add lentils or black beans to salads), nuts and seeds, leafy green vegetables, meat, poultry, milk and yogurt. You’ll find plenty of B6 in chickpeas, tuna, salmon, potatoes, bananas, avocados and turkey. To ensure you’re covered for B’s, consider taking a multivitamin mineral or a B complex supplement.
Get extra C
Vitamin C is thought to help blunt the rise in cortisol during stress and, in so doing, mitigate some of the harmful effects of high cortisol. People who have high blood levels of vitamin C have been shown to fare better mentally and physically when exposed to stressful situations compared to those with low levels of the nutrient.
Vitamin-C-rich foods include citrus fruit, cantaloupe, kiwifruit, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage. To supplement, take 500 milligrams of vitamin C once or twice daily.
Limit caffeine and alcohol
Too much caffeine and alcohol can reduce mental focus, disrupt sleep and boost cortisol. Switch to decaf or tea. Black and green teas are considerably lower in caffeine than coffee (one cup of regular brewed coffee has about 90 to 200 milligrams of caffeine; one cup of tea has 15 to 60 milligrams). If you can’t give up caffeinated coffee completely, limit yourself to no more than one drink per day before noon.
Supplementation can help
Supplements like CortiSLIM that focus on stress management can help also. Recent studies have shown the ingredient, Vinpocetine, is very effective in managing stress, inflammation, blood flow and heart. It also contains Chamomile, long known for its calming affects on the body.  

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Excessive Drinking Linked to Early Childhood Trauma

Why can some people control themselves from drinking too much while others go on to make fools of themselves or destroy their lives?

Sometimes the tendency to drink excessively may be more than just a case of escaping from problems or too much partying. The likelihood for alcoholism has been linked by scientific research to childhood stress.

Now, stress is not all that bad. In fact, it is necessary for survival as the right amount of pressure helps a person to think and act better in the face of difficult situations we will encounter throughout life. Cortisol, our main stress hormone plays a key role in the body’s “fight-or-flight” response by increasing our body’s available energy and nutrient supplies to our muscles so we can respond with quickness and efficiency.
So if too much stress is bad for us, where do we draw the line? According to research published by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the benefits of stress stops when it is ‘severe enough to overwhelm a child’s ability to cope effectively’.

Too much stress suffered over a long period can result to ‘a variety of short- and long-term negative health effects.’ It can disrupt the development of the brain in early life, and also impair the functioning of two body systems that play a vital role in developing a physically and emotionally healthy human being—the nervous and immune systems.

An article written by Dr. Steve Bressert for Psych Central (a website providing the latest news and research about psychological disorders, treatments and medication) adds that prolonged stress suffered as early as infancy could permanently change the way our stress hormones respond and how we react to stressors such as when drinking alcohol.

Wait...did you say drinking alcohol is stressful? In the short term it makes you relaxed, but if you continue to drink while the stress is ongoing (which is most likely the case as alcohol will not actually solve the problem) it increases the possibility that you’ll drink more...and more as a means of coping, till it leads to dependence.

Alcohol and brain chemistry

I’ve mentioned earlier that the occasional stress is an inevitable fact of life and can even be healthy for us. The body’s expected reaction after the threat is over is to gradually decrease cortisol levels until we return to our normal state. But for chronic stress sufferers or long-term heavy drinkers, their body struggles to return to its physiological state ofbalance. As the demands increase on their body’s systems, it sets a new (lower) balance point, resulting in a less effective body functioning.

One such effect is on brain chemistry. Since the balance is now tilted, when alcoholics experience stress, they may experience higher anxiety levels than non-alcoholics as their brains demand the release of higher levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. Cortisol is also linked to the brain’s “pleasure” systems, which is why a heavy drinker with higher-than-average cortisol levels need to drink more than before in order to achieve the same effect. In addition, cortisol plays a role in learning and memory (what a very busy hormone!), which is why our heavy drinker is more inclined to make drinking a habit and has an increased tendency of a relapse.
And oh, did I forget to mention why some alcoholics don’t seem to eat much, yet have large bellies? Cortisol causes the body to crave for high-fat foods AND tells it to put excess body fat in the abdomen, that’s why.

The deciding factor

You may be thinking that a lot of people experienced difficulties (broken family, poverty, war and famine, etc.) when they were young but didn’t turn out to be alcoholics or drug addicts as adults.
A person’s resilience, or the ability to cope with stress is influenced by several factors in the environment. These factors may help offset the effects of physiological changes that happened in early childhood.
Dr. Bressert’s article mentions that the strength of the relationship between stress and drinking depends on whether alternative coping mechanisms and social supports are available.

A study published in the National Institutes of Health also indicate “that mediating factors such as gene-environment interactions and family and peer relationships are important for resilience.” Another research published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism credits positive thinking, an optimistic attitude, problem solving and planning as the characteristics of resilient people.