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Why You Should Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

The importance of eating enough fruits and vegetables in your diet cannot be overstated. Sure, fruits may be sworn off by the most fervent No Sugar No Grain (NSNG) dieter, but the sugars in fruits are not exactly like processed sugars in candy bars. The NSNG crowd is not all wrong however, as there is some cause for concern for all kinds of sugar in our ultra-processed food ecosystem. Studies suggest you should avoid dried fruit as they contain more sugar with less nutrients. And smoothies and fruit juices should also be avoided, as they do not provide the benefits of an actual fruit but are densely packed with sugars.

According to NPR,

“There are lots of kinds of sugar. Fruits have fructose, glucose and a combination of the two called “sucrose,” or “table sugar.” But the sugars in fruit are packed less densely than in a candy bar, according to Elvira Isganaitis, a pediatric endocrinologist at Joslin Diabetes Center and a Harvard Medical School instructor.”

So it is better to eat a whole piece of fruit, as it contains fiber (providing the feeling of satiation after you eat) and other healthy nutrients and minerals. But, unfortunately, most Americans are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Here’s why they should.

The Harvard School of Public Health, a fantastic resource for all things dietary, published a general list of benefits associated with increased intake of fruits and vegetables in your diet. These include:

  • Reduce risk of heart disease and stroke;
  • Prevent cancer;
  • Promotes healthy eyes.

And, helpfully, The Huffington Post, summarizes more extensively the relevant literature on the benefits of both:

Vegetables:

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, and part of the Brassica family, which also includes kale, collards, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and cauliflower. Members of the Brassica family are rich in phytochemicals, known to have antioxidant properties. Broccoli is a true nutrition powerhouse: It is chock full of vitamin C, the mineral calcium, fiber, and vitamin A. It is also rich in sulforaphane, a health-promoting compound that can fight cancer.

Carrots are a good source of fiber, which helps to maintain bowel health, lower blood cholesterol, and aid in weight maintenance. The orange pigment found in carrots are due to the antioxidant beta-carotene, also found in other deep orange foods such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, papaya, and cantaloupe. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and helps to maintain healthy eyes, support your immune system, keep your skin healthy, and protect against certain cancers.

Spinach is available year-round in grocery stores around the country, offering a readily-available source of many vitamins and minerals. Spinach contains the minerals iron and potassium, as well as vitamins A, K, C, and the B-vitamin folate. Spinach also contains phytochemicals that may boost your immune system and flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that may be preventative against certain cancers.

Sweet Potatoes are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene and are also full of fiber, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, and the mineral potassium. They are especially nutritious when eaten with the skin on, and contrary to a popular dieting myth, they are not fattening!

Beets contain healthy doses of iron, the B-vitamin folate, and fiber. Red beets offer betacyanin, a plant pigment which may protect against colon cancer.

Fruits

Cantaloupe. This member of the melon family is rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, a plant-based vitamin A precursor that helps with eye health, among other conditions. It is also rich in the mineral potassium, which may help lower blood pressure and the risk for stroke. And, it is terrific if you are watching your waist — a one-cup serving contains a mere 50 calories.

Watermelon, which is especially terrific this time of year, offers a juicy, sweet taste and a high water content, while packing in the antioxidants lycopene, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, and the minerals potassium and magnesium.

Citrus fruits, including oranges and grapefruits, provide a significant source of vitamin C, folate, and potassium, as well as fiber. Pink grapefruits are particularly rich in the antioxidant lycopene. Eating these fruits whole yields more nutrients than drinking the juice.

Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which may help raise levels of HDL (good cholesterol) while lowering LDL (bad cholesterol). They are also high in the antioxidant vitamin E.

Grapes. Consuming grapes may reduce the risk of blood clots, lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), and prevent damage to the heart’s blood vessels, aiding in the maintenance of healthy blood pressure. Antioxidants called flavonoids may even increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind). The resveratrol found in the skins of red grapes may interfere with cancer development. Eating the whole fruit instead of consuming the juice contains the added benefit of fiber.

Kiwifruit, with its brilliant green inside, is packed with vitamin C and fiber.

As you can see, fruits and vegetables contain an absurd amount of vitamins and minerals. So much so that new guidelines suggest half of your plate should be split between servings of fruits and vegetables. Next time you’re in the grocery store, don’t leave out what could be the most important part of a balanced, healthy diet: eat more fruits and vegetables for a healthier life.

What is the Keto Diet?

It’s all the rage these days: the ketogenic, or “keto,” diet. It tells you the ideal diet is the opposite of the food pyramid, which makes grain and carbohydrates the staple of a healthy diet. According to the Harvard Medical School blog, the “ketogenic diet is not something new. In medicine, we have been using it for almost 100 years to treat drug-resistant epilepsy, especially in children.” Continuing, the Harvard blog explains the diet succinctly:

“In essence, it is a diet that causes the body to release ketones into the bloodstream. Most cells prefer to use blood sugar, which comes from carbohydrates, as the body’s main source of energy. In the absence of circulating blood sugar from food, we start breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies (the process is called ketosis). Once you reach ketosis, most cells will use ketone bodies to generate energy until we start eating carbohydrates again. The shift, from using circulating glucose to breaking down stored fat as a source of energy, usually happens over two to four days of eating fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.”

Because this diet moves away from carbs, each meal contains more fats and proteins than a typical meal. There is, of course, no restriction on vegetables with this diet, but it is emphasized that the main source of energy come from fats rather than carbs. That’s what sets the ketogenic diet apart. As a result, people on this diet utilize oils to cook foods more regularly. And Dr. Cate Shanahan, a biochemist from John Hopkins University, provides a useful list of good and bad oils to use for cooking.

So is the ketogenic diet good? Dr. Eric Westman, director of the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at Duke University, is summarized by Time Magazine as reporting it “can help reduce appetite, spur weight loss and improve markers of heart disease.” Dr. Westman’s studies also suggests that “a ketogenic diet can help treat obesity, type-2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.”

The main risk with the keto diet is confusing good fats with bad fats, and eating too much processed foods, which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. As with any change of diet, you will want to approach with caution, consult with your doctor, and thoroughly research the keto diet if you plan to jump on the bandwagon.

Don't Fall for the Fruit Juice Trap

As carbonated, sugary drinks fall out of favor with the public, fruit juices and fruit smoothies are on the rise. Whereas sugary soft drinks have been linked to obesity, squeezed fruit can’t be unhealthy, right? The logic is pretty simple: people believe fruit juices are equivalent to the serving sizes of a few piece of fruit, contain real fruit sugar, and have about the same effects as eating fruit. Unfortunately, this wrong in every case. In fact, the same scientists who blew the whistle on corn-syrup in soft drinks are ringing the alarm bell again.

In his interview with The Guardian, the scientist Barry Popkin warns us against the myth  that a glass or two of fruit juice is equivalent to one or two pieces of fruit:

“Think of eating one orange or two and getting filled,” he said. “Now think of drinking a smoothie with six oranges and two hours later it does not affect how much you eat. The entire literature shows that we feel full from drinking beverages like smoothies but it does not affect our overall food intake, whereas eating an orange does. So pulped-up smoothies do nothing good for us but do give us the same amount of sugar as four to six oranges or a large coke. It is deceiving.”

Indeed, because fruit juices contain little-to-no fiber, you don’t feel satiated after drinking them. According to Susan Jebb, a government advisor and head of the diet and obesity research group at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research unit at Cambridge University, “Fruit juice isn’t the same as intact fruit and it has as much sugar as many classical sugar drinks. It is also absorbed very fast, so by the time it gets to your stomach your body doesn’t know whether it’s Coca-Cola or orange juice, frankly.”

But that’s not all. Barry Popkin continues,

“The most important issue about added sugar is that everybody thinks it’s cane sugar or maybe beet sugar or HFC syrup or all the other syrups but globally the cheapest thing on the market almost is fruit juice concentrate coming out of China. It has created an overwhelming supply of apple juice concentrate. It is being used everywhere and it also gets around the sugar quotas that lots of countries have.”

Disturbingly, “Popkin and colleagues found that fruit juice concentrate was the fifth most common sugar overall and the second most common, after corn syrup, in soft drinks and in babies’ formula milk.” And, “all the long term studies on fruit juice in anything show the same kind of effect whether it’s a smoothie or natural [juice] and whether it’s a diabetes or weight gain effect,” Popkin added.

As The Guardian reports,

“Researchers from the UK, USA and Singapore found that, in large-scale studies involving nurses, people who ate whole fruit, especially blueberries, grapes and apples, were less likely to get type 2 diabetes, which is obesity-related, but those who drank fruit juice were at increased risk. People who swapped their fruit juice for whole fruits three times a week cut their risk by 7%.”

So don’t fall for the fruit juice trap and don’t believe the hype that it’s a good addition to a balanced meal. At least, not all juices are created equal. Be sure to conduct thorough research before you make up your mind as to whether fruit juice will find its way into your fridge.

Natural Solutions for Cleaning Your KitchenMost of us want to make cleaning as painless and as inexpensive as possible. The kitchen particularly is a unique challenge due to the variety of cleaning demands.  Now you can have an easy day of cleaning without using toxic cleaners. Almost all of these guidelines use things you’ll find around your house. Expensive cleaners aren’t necessary in most cases. And the best part is, by using non-toxic cleaning supplies, you can also get the children involved!

The Stove Top – Clean up grease by throwing a little bit of cornstarch or baking soda on it, wiping it away after you clean up the rest of the kitchen. Auto wax will make the surface sleek, smooth, and simple to clean.

Oven and Microwave Cleaning – To clean the microwave, place a sponge soaked with white vinegar or lemon juice in the microwave, heating it for a couple of minutes. Don’t open the microwave for about five minutes. The stuck on food should slide off. The same procedure can be used on ovens except, without a sponge, using a shallow pan together with a few cups of white vinegar. Heat for five to ten minutes and allow the oven to cool for approximately half an hour. Food will slide right off.

Red Dye Spots – For red meals dye stains on counters, such as those left by drinks, use straight rubbing alcohol, enough to cover the stain. Leave it for a few minutes and wipe away. Use a sudsy cleaner on the counter after.

Tarnished Silverware – For tarnished silverware, heat 2 water cups and add 2 tbsp of baking soda. Put silverware on a sheet of aluminum foil in a pan, making sure the silverware is in contact on the foil. A combination of metal and baking soft drink will cause the tarnish to disappear.

Of course, there are many other tips and tricks for cleaning around the kitchen. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and share your solutions on Facebook!

A new study, as reported by Consumer Reports, draws a correlation between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk. This is the first study to connect ultra-processed foods to cancer, although these foods have already been connected to obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

“In the new study published Wednesday in the medical journal The BMJ [British Medical Journal], participants were followed for eight years. They kept 24-hour food diaries, indicating which types of food they ate. Researchers then measured what proportion of each individual’s diet was ultra-processed.

The researchers’ analysis showed that for every 10 percent of a respondent’s diet that was made up of ultra-processed foods, there was a 12 percent increase in overall cancer risk (and an 11 percent increase in breast cancer risk).”

So what are processed foods? CNN reports, “ultra-processed foods occupy a growing part of the world’s diet. A 2016 study found that 60% of the calories in the average American diet come from this kind of food. A 2017 study found that they make up 50% of the Canadian diet, and they make up more than 50% of the UK diet. And more of the developing world is starting to eat this way.

According to The Guardian, “Ultra-processed food is a definition created by a group of scientists led by Prof Carlos Monteiro in Brazil, a country which also has national dietary guidelines urging they be eaten as little as possible. The classification system, called Nova, puts foods into four groups – raw or minimally processed foods including seeds, fruit, eggs and milk; processed culinary ingredients such as oils and butter; processed foods including bottled vegetables and canned fish and cheeses; and ultra-processed, which are ‘formulations made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives’.”

BBC produces a general list of foods that count as ultra-processed:

What counts as ultra-processed

  • Mass-produced packaged breads and buns
  • Sweet or savoury packaged snacks including crisps
  • Chocolate bars and sweets
  • Sodas and sweetened drinks
  • Meatballs, poultry and fish nuggets
  • Instant noodles and soups
  • Frozen or shelf-life ready meals
  • Foods made mostly or entirely from sugar, oils and fats

In general, ultra-processed foods include anything canned, sealed, or frozen, but especially if the sugar content accounts for about 20% or more of the calorie count.

Although the news appears diresome, researchers warn not to worry. A well balanced diet should be sought, in any case, which will include consuming whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Most perishable food items will not be ultra-processed, although in the case of breads it is more difficult to judge.

To show the ramifications more specifically, the BBC reports:

  • On average, 18% of people’s diet was ultra-processed
  • On average, there were 79 cancers per 10,000 people each year
  • Upping the proportion of processed food by 10% would lead to nine extra cancers per 10,000 people per year

So although this may be a call to be more conscious of your diet, there is still much more research to be done to determine the exact mechanisms that propel this increase in cancer risk.

Conquer the Toxic Dust Hidden in Your HomeMany of us don’t need a substantial push to swap harmful cleaning chemicals for less intrusive alternatives. Who likes dry, bleach-stained calloused hands anyway? As the dangers of indoor dust are well known, it’s becoming apparent the invisible, long term effects of our daily cleaning habits, and lack thereof, can amount to terrifying heights of harm. A recent study that “…analysed 26 peer-reviewed papers, as well as one unpublished dataset, from 1999 onwards to examine the chemical make-up of indoor dust…” found nearly 90% of dust samples contained particles linked to cancer and infertility, as reported by The Guardian. These findings were due in no part to small sample size: “The studies covered a wide range of indoor environments, from homes to schools and gymnasiums across 14 states.”

With the satisfactory appearance of Clorox’s clean glaze over countertops and the refreshing scent of Febreze floating like a lazy cloud from one room to the next, just when our homes seem cleanest, we may actually be most vulnerable. Altering what you buy, from harsh chemical cleaners to safer alternatives, isn’t the only thing you can do to curb indoor pollution, and doesn’t account for much of the problem. Your clean home houses hidden hazards.

The problem of indoor pollutants may appear at first glance counterintuitive. How could vanquishing bacteria, viruses, and who-knows-what-else from dirty floors and countertops, bathrooms and kitchens, ultimately harm us? Your everyday cleaners aren’t particularly handy for the real problem. The issue is that some chemicals in our couches and mattresses, our vinyl flooring and carpeting, contain flame retardants, known to cause cancer, affecting the reproductive and nervous systems, and phthalates, found in personal care products and food packaging, which “have been linked to developmental problems in babies, hormone disruption, and are also thought to affect the reproductive system.”

These chemicals, especially when imprisoned in a house on lock-down for the winter, can accumulate and mingle with dust in your home. “The researchers highlighted 45 toxic chemicals in indoor dust, 10 of which were present in 90% or more of the dust samples – these included flame retardants, fragrances and phenols.” As The Guardian points out, these chemicals, though banned in some products, like bottles and diapers, may not be banned in others, like walls and flooring.

But this isn’t a matter to just throw up our hands over, declaring all proactivity hopeless and ineffective. Singla, from the Environmental Science and Technology journal, writes there are steps we can take to reduce exposure to this toxic dust. One key is, when you are performing regular cleaning duties like wiping off the counters or sweeping, don’t tackle these tasks with dry brooms or paper towels. Use damp mops and cloths to reduce levels of dust. Whereas merely dry materials might kick the dust back in the air, damp materials will cause the dust to clump and aggregate. Also, vacuum regularly, as the suction disposes of the toxic dust in its container. And, of course, activism, to demand accountability, is the surest way to reduce exposure to these chemicals.

Although the problem of indoor pollution is extremely concerning, it’s in your power to reduce exposure. Besides changing the way you clean your home, you can also purchase plants, which help reduce indoor pollution by cleaning the air you breathe. And don’t be afraid to open up your windows when the days are brilliant, and the soft breeze of spring warmly soothes the plants and animals, blooming and bustling outside, stirred by the chance to enter your home like an old, visiting friend.

Mottos of the OrganizedDon’t let your stuff own you

It’s easier said than done. Some people collect so much stuff throughout their lives, they have no idea what to do with it. So they keep it. Then have to pay for space to store it. And the problem just perpetuates itself. When you make financial decisions about where to live, because you have a bunch of stuff that you don’t use but need to bring with you, then your stuff owns you. Don’t let that happen.

When it’s not fun, you’re done

Two questions to ask yourself about the things you own: Are you using it and is it fun? If the objects sitting around your home are never used, why do you keep them? Consider this: clutter in your home contributes to, or may reflect, mental clutter. It may both cause and reflect anxiety. Clear up the things you don’t use, the things that no longer contribute to your life, and notice how it affects your day-to-day mentality.

Free space is worth more than occupied space

When all kinds of objects just occupy space and have no other use, you basically pay for the objects to sit there. It’s like renting out space. And every time you want something new, you’ll have to find a new place for it. This is the cycle that owning too many things all too often becomes.

To get out of this rut, consider the value of free space. Free space is possibility. You can do anything with it.

The past should remain in the past

If you want a change in your lifestyle, consider the objects you surround yourself with. Are they just things of the past, no longer contributing anything to your lifestyle or the lifestyle you want? Are they things that remind you of what you were but don’t want to be? Let everything that holds you back stay in the past. Try surrounding yourself with things that inspire you, things that hold you to a certain level of living.

Getting organized can be very difficult. Disorganization is a habit, and breaking habits is difficult. Remembering these mottos will make it easier to break the chains of habit.

Begin Exercising at Your ApartmentThe best deals are those that involve getting the same product or service for a lower price. This is why exercising at home is best. No more gym rats. No more sweat-infused-axe-spray nausea. No more machine hogs.

Think about how much less effort you’ll have to put into preparation for the gym. Let’s talk about getting your apartment ready for exercising.

Goals

Obviously, if your goals aren’t similar to the outcomes desired by body builders, then you won’t need as much equipment as a typical gym. You just want to do cardio? Maybe, then, all you’ll need is a space for a yoga mat. Want to get really buff? The nice thing is, your apartment most likely has a fitness center that already includes some equipment. You’ll only have to make space for what the fitness center doesn’t have.

And don’t just brush off using the fitness center all at once. Research has shown it’s actually easier to form habits, like going to the gym, if you begin with small goals first. Maybe your first time lifting weights shouldn’t be at LA Fitness. Not only might you get discouraged, but missing a few days can turn into a few weeks and then you’ll be back at square one again.

If you want to build muscle, just begin with the basics: a quick ten-minute warm-up, followed by a period of strength training (pushups, pullups, squats), followed by a ten-minute cool down period. As simple as it is, beginning with this kind of routine will prepare your tendons and joints for heavier loads. And it has the added bonus of pushing you to form new habits.

Organization

The only other thing you’ll have to think about is how to store what you need. If you’re just getting a jump rope, you won’t have much of a problem. But if you need a bench press, for instance, you might have to get a little creative if you’re living in an apartment. Pick a space to use your equipment in. But this space doesn’t necessarily have to be used to store your equipment.

Another thing you can do is think about ways in which the storage space for your equipment can be used for other things. For instance, maybe your bench press can hold your plants. Maybe your bars can double as a coat hanger. There’s really no limit on what kind of uses you can put these things to.

Conclusion

If you want to begin exercising, just start at your apartment. Maybe use the fitness center, if your apartment has one. But if not, no big deal. Form the habit of exercising before you make lofty goals for yourself. That way, when the time comes to lift big weights, not only will your tendons be ready, but your mind will be ready too.

How to Break Old Habits and Adopt a Healthy LifestyleNow the holidays are over, and the New Year’s resolutions are kicking in, it’s time to think about sustainability. Whether you are resolved to eat healthier this year, exercise, or even learn a new instrument, you’ll have to think long and hard about how you’ll accomplish your by-the-end-of-the-year goals. The good thing is you’re not alone. Gaining traction on your New Year’s resolution is a matter of forming a new habit. So it’s important to understand how habits work.

Habits are like Cycles

In an interview with NPR, Charles Duhigg discusses his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business. Everything we’ve made into a routine, from exercising to cooking, from brushing teeth to cleaning laundry, begins with the same “psychological pattern.” This is called a “habit loop.” It’s really simple, actually: every habit begins with a cue, proceeds by routine, and ends with a reward. That’s it!

Let’s look a little closer. A habit begins with “a cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behavior unfold.” Then the routine occurs, which is the behavior itself, or the habit. Lastly, the reward is “something that your brain likes that helps it remember the ‘habit loop’ in the future.”

The interesting thing is habits are formed in the part of the brain that has a major influence on “emotions, memories and pattern recognition.” It’s called the basal ganglia. Why is this interesting? Because it’s a separate from the region of the brain responsible for decision making – the prefrontal cortex. And, as a result, when automation kicks in, when habit loops initiate, the prefrontal cortex goes into hibernation.

This is readily available knowledge, at least by quick reference to experience. Think about how difficult the very basics of reading and math once were. We learned by rote memory, by memorizing the alphabet and times tables, and this period of learning required intense concentration. But after a while these things became second nature. It’s because, like any other habit, our focus, determination, and persistence eventually formed habit loops.

Lessons from in the Loop

Because all habits begin with a cue and end with a reward, it’s important, especially if you have big plans for your health this year – to exercise three or four times a week, to cut out sugar from your diet, etc. – to figure out some sort of consistent pattern to follow when you eat, go to the gym, or whatever you may do.

Maybe before a trip to the gym you listen to music you really like as you prepare, and afterwards you treat yourself to some yogurt. When some people crave a sweet snack, they cut up some apples and eat those as substitutes instead.

With new habits, especially healthy habits, old habits are broken. And this means the power of the reward system established by the old habit loop becomes more and more powerless. As you exercise more, your desire to lay around all day will weaken. And as you stay away from sugar, your cravings will diminish.

For more information on habits and the science behind them, you might also be interested in Scientific American’s podcast episode where Dr. Art Markman discusses things like “How to know you have a habit,” “How to work in league with your psychology to from new habits,” and “How we are more likely to succeed when we view failure as part of the process.”

Conclusion

But, most importantly, remember that habits are like cycles: as you reinforce them, they eventually become as automatic and predictable as the sunrise in the morning. Don’t be discouraged by failure. Every mistake is an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to change, and an opportunity to become better at what you are trying to do.

unhealthy holiday habitsThe holidays are just around the corner. What, with all the food temptations, warm, chocolate drinks, and electric blankets, how can you blame anyone for lounging around? The snow is great—when you’re not covered in it. And besides, the best time for a nap is when it’s cold outside, and the fireplace is going, right?

But some habits are developed during the winter months that are best left undeveloped. Here are some habits to avoid this winter season.

Hot Shower

After you’ve built a snowman and won a snowball fight, what can be better than taking a long, hot shower? Well, in terms of your skin, one thing better than taking a hot shower is not taking a hot shower. A hot shower can dry out your skin. And in the winter months, you don’t want to look like a snowman, do you? Prevent skin irritation and flaking by taking a cooler shower.

Diet

Is there such a thing as a “cheat month?” The fact is, your body doesn’t think so. It doesn’t matter how warm that hot chocolate is. Don’t let your diet die this winter. Be sure to include vegetables. And don’t just drink hot chocolate 24/7.

Exercise

Of course, dieting and exercise are on every healthy-habits list. But in the winter months exercise is especially important. In the warmer months, you’re outside more on average than you are in the winter months. Think about the times you’ve walked to the store, jogged on trails, or relaxed with friends at the park or at that outside restaurant. But in colder weather, it’s really easy for all that extra movement in your day to completely cease. Keep up on your exercise: it might be the only significant movement you get most days.

The holiday season is just around the corner. Don’t let your health take a holiday! Avoid these three holiday slumps to stay in shape this winter.