How to Incorporate Omega-3s into Every Meal

omega-3s

Oh, omega-3s. You’ve heard the magic word many times and are already a believer, right?

While they don’t have the sexiest scientific name, the fatty acids are often referred to as “good fats” or “healthy fats.” They should be.

In the body, omega-3s are involved in the formation of cell membranes, the production of important hormones, and regulating genetic function. Because of these many roles, they’ve been linked to reducing inflammation, boosting heart health, and numerous brain benefits like decreased risk of depression and sharper cognition and memory.

FYI, they’re grouped into two categories: the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) variety, found in plants, and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) varieties, found in fatty fish.

This means there are options for all eaters, with an important caveat: The body needs to convert ALA to EPA and DHA to use it, and that process is incredibly inefficient. How much gets converted is affected by many factors and estimates vary (from 0 to about 20 percent). So you’ll need to incorporate many more omega-3-rich foods into your diet if you’re sticking to plant-based sources.

We recommend getting in at least two omega-3-rich foods per day, but if you can work ‘em into every meal, why not? Give it a shot by starting with these seven foods, all of which are excellent sources. We’re sharing each with an easy (and delicious!) way to eat it.

Foods High in Omega-3s

Chia Seeds

Sprinkle them on oatmeal or yogurt in the morning, add them to a dessert like Dark Chocolate Superfood Bark, or bake them into healthy Morning Glory Muffins.

Salmon

Eat it smoked on a tartine for lunch or simply broiled for dinner.

Walnuts

Walnuts are great on a salad, over chicken for dinner, or spiced up as a simple snack.

Flaxseed

These Pumpkin Flaxseed Pancakes are kind of to die for. You can also use flaxseed oil in salad dressings.

Canned Tuna

What’s easier than a yummy Tuna and Chickpea Salad for a fast lunch?

Olive oil

EVOO is a staple you likely already use in nearly everything—salad dressing, sautes, etc. How about a Broccoli Rabe Pesto Hummus?

Avocado

Another versatile food. Throw it in a post-workout smoothie, turn it into a dip for snacking. Better yet, eat it over fish, for an omega double-hitter.

What Are Antioxidants and Are They Really That Important?

antioxidants

Q: What Are Antioxidants, and How Do They Fit Into My Healthy Lifestyle?

A: Over the past decade, the term “antioxidants” has basically become shorthand for healthy. Ask someone to explain why a superfood is super? Antioxidants. How to reduce inflammation in the body? Antioxidants. How to prevent disease? Antioxidants.

But people often ask me this question: What are they, really? And are they as important as food manufacturers, nutritionists, and scientists make them out to be?

Here are the basic facts on the powerful nutrients, which, yes, you really do want all up in your diet 24-7.

What Are Antioxidants, and What Do They Do?

Many nutrients you know about fall into the category of antioxidants (the “good guys), like vitamins A, C and E, minerals like selenium, and  Most are found in plants—including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and herbs and spices—and in healthy fats like nuts and beverages like tea and coffee.

Put simply, all of them are substances in the body that protect your cells from the harmful effects of molecules called free radicals (the “bad guys”).

Free radicals are produced when your body breaks down food or as a result of environmental exposures like tobacco smoke, the sun, radiation, or chemicals found in food and skin-care products.

antioxidants

Think of a free radical as a pinball careening around inside your body, constantly smashing into other cells, disrupting normal cell functioning. The cells can’t do their jobs properly because these guys keep storming the gates. If the body isn’t able to defend itself and the free-radical production becomes excessive, it can lead to damage that contributes to aging (yes, including wrinkles!), heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

Antioxidants are the first line of defense to prevent that from happening. I like to think of them as little molecules flying through our bloodstreams wearing capes, like superheroes. When they encounter free radicals, they neutralize them (by using their powers to do things like donate electrons to balance out the unpaired electrons that cause the free radicals to wreak havoc, but that’s getting technical).

How To Include Antioxidants in Your Diet

All of that is to say that these molecules really are pretty incredible, and eating foods that contain them as often as possible is a great idea.

One way to determine a food’s antioxidant power is by checking its ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score. The ORAC scale was developed as a way to determine which foods were richest in antioxidants, and it essentially measures how well the components of a food mop up free radicals in the bloodstream. It’s not a perfect scale but it is a reference point.

But there’s a lucky secret: you’ll find the highest antioxidant values attached to colorful, plant-based foods like blueberries, kale, cinnamon and turmeric, and…wait for it…dark chocolate! In other words, most antioxidants are found in the healthy foods you should be eating anyway for other important nutrients like fiber.

So, your overall focus should be on maintaining a nutrient-dense diet that’s filled with a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and spices. This way, you’ll be taking in a variety of powerful antioxidants naturally, without going overboard, at every meal.

Photos: Adam Jaime, Mikey Boyle via Unsplash

The Most Unexpected Way to Serve Sweet Potatoes

sweet-potato-dessert-recipes-x-x

Sweet potatoes are a healthy staple that land on your grocery list regularly. You’ve roasted, mashed, and baked them, but have you used them in…cupcakes? Yes, sweet potato desserts are actually delicious and can be amazingly healthy.

You’ve already ditched all-purpose flour and begun baking with healthier flours, but maybe it’s time for you serve the tasty tubers in a whole new way?

Solana Nolfo, NLC, is here to help. Nolfo is a star holistic health coach and baker who’s a graduate of The Nutrition School and is also certified by The Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

She dreamed up the recipe for these Chocolate Sweet Potato Cupcakes, which also happen to be gluten-free (in case your mother-in-law has Celiac Disease, naturally) and are packed with other nutritious ingredients.

A Sweet Potato Dessert To Shake Up Your Baking Routine

While the sweet potatoes provide powerful antioxidants like beta-carotene, you’ll get servings of healthy fats from both the coconut oil and almond flour. Not to mention the presence of cacao, that magical food linked to cardiovascular health, stress relief, and so much more.

Of course, you can keep all that to yourself if your family is really just interested in biting into and savoring the sweet, gooey goodness. They won’t even know you’ve baked a health boost into their sweet potato dessert.

You may also want to keep this one on hand for your gluten-free girlfriend’s upcoming birthday (just add candles).

Get the recipe here, and learn more about getting Nutritious Life Certified like Nolfo, here. Just imagine all of the desserts you could end up adding sweet potatoes to…

 

Is Clarified Butter Healthy?

clarified-butter

Q: Is clarified butter healthy?

A: Clarified butter is actually healthy? Say, it is so, right?

Everyone wants to slab a little butter on their morning toast in the name of health and lately butter has been a getting a much butter, I mean better, rap.

Butter is a dairy product made from churning milk until the buttermilk (liquids) separates from the butterfat (solids). It’s this solid part that’s known as butter, the creamy yellow product that pretty much makes anything and everything taste better.

“Ghee”, a form of clarified butter, is different than regular butter in that it’s made by first boiling traditional butter until the water in the butter has evaporated. What you’re left with is three layers – whey protein, liquid fat, and casein particles.

After skimming off the top protein layer, you’re able to pour off and separate the liquid fat layer.

This liquid fat is what’s known as clarified butter, a more pure version of regular butter. Ghee is a form of clarified butter and only slightly different in that it’s prepared by continuing to boil longer until the butter is caramelized and then strained again.

So, should we all start spreading, melting and drizzling clarified butter or ghee on all of our fave dishes?

Let’s discuss.

One tablespoon of traditional butter offers about 100 calories and 11 grams of fat (7 of which are saturated fat).

Ghee has 90 calories and 10 grams of fat (6 of which are saturated fat).

Not that big of a difference, right?

But, we all know that just like actions speak louder than words, ghee’s health benefits count more than calories.

The traditional yellow butter you know and love might be on par in terms of calories, but ghee is richer in vitamins A, D, and E, which can help repair damaged skin, improve vision, help balance your hormones, and regulate your metabolism.

Ghee also contains 25 percent medium and short chain fatty acids compared to normal butter which contains only 12-15 percent. Butyric acid, one of the short chain fatty acids found in ghee has been linked to overall better gastrointestinal health as well as helping the body use it for fuel more efficiently.

When it comes to cooking, ghee has a higher smoke point compared to it’s traditional butter counterpart. This means that next time you’re whipping up that asian stir fry, you’re less likely to inhale smoke or consume any carcinogenic byproduct that’s produced by drizzling your cooking oil into a searing pan.

Recent science has even shown that people who consumed higher amounts of ghee had a lower occurrence of coronary heart disease, lower LDL cholesterol, improvements in psoriasis, and enhancement of memory, and it even has a positive effect on wound healing.

Now, back to the fat issue.

Even though ghee is high in saturated fat, studies have shown that to think that saturated fat is ‘bad’ for you might be an oversimplification of the cold hard facts.

The relationship between the dietary intake of fats and health is very complicated.

Fats overall, including saturated fats, are important for our health and wellness. Like just about all foods, there’s of course a spectrum of crummy fats (think processed, refined, fried and hydrogenated) and then there’s nutrient powerhouse fats like those found in ghee and avocado.

But this all comes along with a balanced mindset. A diet overabundant in anything (including good healthy fats) can be detrimental to your health.

I’ve seen ghee marketed as a “health food” but even the healthiest of foods can be overdone.

After all, it’s still a form of butter, and butter is a ‘use in proper portion’ kind of fat. A little healthy fat goes a long way, but too much can work against you in attaining or maintaining your health and weight goals.

I’m a big fan of a little bit (think a teaspoon or two) of real nutrient dense fat at every meal. Add ghee to the list next to avocado, coconut or almonds as a fat food that can play a healthy role in your diet.

Just don’t eat with a spoon out of a jar no matter how tempting it may taste and how many health benefits you can rattle off.  

5 Tips for Better Heart Health No Matter How Young You Are

heart-health

I take your heart health seriously, no matter how young or old you are.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women (and cause of total deaths in the United States) and whether you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease or not, that big red valentine in your chest needs some l-o-v-e and attention NOW.

I want to spend a minute empowering you to take control of your heart’s wellness. I know, I know, it’s more fun to talk about smoothie recipes or the latest diet fads or how eggs can make your hair shinier. But the reason so many people struggle with heart health in their later years is because they didn’t read this blog years before.

You know how you always see on Instagram “summer bodies are made in winter?” Well, healthy hearts are made NOW. So pay attention, peeps, young and old.

5 Tips for Better Heart Health No Matter How Young You Are

1. Eat Heart-Healthy Foods.

When I think of hearts, I think of love, and when I think of love, I think of a universal love… the love of food!

We all know by now that there is good research about how intimately connected the heart and food are. All of us should eat as though we have heart disease—or will have heart disease —because statistics tell us that 2,200 of us are dying every day from it. There is no glory in prevention. Sigh. But, there is in fact a huge prize if you really think about it: life.

Clients often come to me knowing what not to eat, like foods high in sodium, processed foods, and trans fats. You know, the “cut out the burger and fries” kind of thing. But what SHOULD you eat for a healthier heart? Whole real foods especially those high in fiber, healthy fats, and loads of veggies, especially greens. Incorporate quinoa, barley, oats, avocado, hemp, flax, walnuts, almonds, kale, broccoli rabe, and spinach. Eating healthy everyday is not as hard as you think.

2. Slim Yourself Down.

There’s nothing wrong with a little vanity. Wanting to look your best is not a crime, and as a health educator, I know that if I can get my clients to look and feel a little slimmer, their hearts will benefit tremendously. Basically, I don’t care what your reason is for considering heart health. Any reason will do.

Carrying around extra pounds makes the heart less efficient and more lethargic and compromises its ability to work. That’s a fancy way of saying your body works way harder to get you up that flight of stairs or play Matchbox cars on the floor with your kids or push that giant cart of groceries to your car when you’re overweight. Losing weight—as few as 10 pounds—can reduce cholesterol levels, decrease blood pressure, decrease the risk of heart attack and often reduces the need for medications. Oh and it can make all those things I mentioned wayyyyy easier.

You know I’m leading up to exercise, and that can be a total turnoff for people with a lot of weight to lose. Well, then, don’t call it exercise!

Instead, start with this: stand up when you would otherwise be sitting down during commercial breaks (or waiting for a doctor’s appointment or while on conference calls.) You burn 32 percent more calories standing than you do sitting. C’mon we all can do this! You don’t need to join a gym to get your sweat on. You can get rid of arm jiggle at the park, say buh-bye to extra booty using any old bench, or get fit from home.

3. Know the Research.

We’ve studied the heck out of fiber, sodium, and fats. We now know the importance of a high fiber, low sodium diet that is rich in good fats (mono and poly unsaturated) and limited in trans and saturated fats to optimize your ticker.

Scientists are also taking a close look at the cellular level. Really exciting new research is uncovering the role of ubiquinol in heart health. Ubiquinol is the converted form of CoQ10, and it is found to promote heart health and maintenance of cardiovascular health. CoQ10 is found in eggs, beef, fish, raw vegetables like spinach, cauliflower, and broccoli, and unprocessed grains. I also love fatty fish for the omega 3 anti-inflammatory benefits.

4. Snack Wisely.

Experts agree that most Americans have to change their eating habits to achieve a healthy heart. We tell people to eat breakfast, choose more fruits and vegetables, limit unhealthy fats and adjust portions.

We also tell people to snack. In an effort to pull away from extreme hunger and overeating large meals, a little meal between meals is encouraged. As someone who looks at other people’s food choices all day long, I can tell you that everyone has their own unique habits and needs, but most people love the permission to snack.

There’s no such thing, however, as a “snack” food. Snacks should be real food just like breakfast, lunch, or dinner. A slice of turkey wrapped around asparagus or carrot sticks and hummus are great choices. If you need something that’s portable, throw an apple in your bag with a small handful (about 10-15) of nuts.

5. Take Stock in your Stock.

Knowledge is power. Take a minute to assess your heart health right this minute. Pull together the information you need to evaluate if you’re at risk for cardiovascular disease.

You should have current lab work that includes your cholesterol information. Have your blood pressure taken. Dig into your family history. Evaluate your alcohol consumption and of course, QUIT smoking if you smoke. Load it all into this free MayoClinic database and if you’re at risk, see your physician for active care or preventive and baseline information.

And, don’t forget stock your fridge with the foods discussed in this blog!

9 Weight Loss Tips During Thanksgiving

weight-loss-tips

You’re looking for weight loss tips because you want to do Thanksgiving differently this year, right?

Usually, you eat until you’re stuffed then fall asleep on the couch and wake up in the 4th quarter of some football game. Oh wait, that’s every man in your family.

No, you retreat to a bedroom and pass out in a food coma on a proper bed like a lady, right? You tell yourself, it was all that tryptophan from the turkey.

But does the tryptophan in turkey really make you feel tired? Not really.

It seems like this common myth dates back to the Pilgrim era, but don’t just blame the bird for leaving you lethargic, because this is one myth that’s only marginally true…

Turkey contains an essential amino acid called L-tryptophan, which the body uses to produce the brain chemical serotonin. Serotonin can help us sleep by improving our mood, and promoting relaxation.

As it turns out, turkey contains almost the same amount of tryptophan as chicken, pork, and beef. What’s more, egg whites, soybeans and cheddar cheese have even more tryptophan than turkey!

So what are the real culprits behind your post-Thanksgiving marathon nap?

Aside from typical over consumption of food and alcohol, it’s usually just the result of too many carb-heavy foods and throwing your usual healthy diet out the window.

Mashed potatoes, corn bread, stuffing, and apple pie–oh my!–all of those starchy carbs can quickly raise blood sugar, and may encourage sleep.

This year, begin a new tradition.

Eat a little less, drink a little more, feel a lot better, and maybe you won’t even need the nap. You’ll be ready to show Black Friday who’s boss.

9 Weight Loss Tips During Thanksgiving

  1. Eat consistently throughout the day beginning with a well-balanced healthy breakfast.
  2. Choose from your arsenal of healthy snacks before you go to a holiday dinner (such as 2 high fiber crackers with 2 tsp natural peanut butter or a hardboiled egg) to control hunger.
  3. Offer to bring a dish. There may not be many healthy foods offered, so at least you’ll have one go-to since you’ll know exactly what’s in it.
  4. Load up on lighter and cleaner appetizers and healthy fats– such as  crudité with a portion of hummus.
  5. Set your sip limit – give yourself a drink maximum before the meal begins. Remember to sip slowly and choose lower-calorie and sugar options such as vodka and seltzer or wine spritzers.
  6. Exercise! An hour spent burning calories will also motivate you to make healthier choices later in the day.
  7. Control your portions – this includes veggies. Unless you’ve prepared them, they could be loaded with sneaky ingredients like margarine or sugary sauces. Don’t let desserts derail your healthy lifestyle either. Slice your own pie so you can control the size. And, skip that crust.
  8. Listen to your body and stop eating once you’re slightly satisfied. Period. You’ll have much better memories of a meal enjoyed than a meal over indulged in. Focus on your fam and friends.
  9. Drink lots of water. This will help to keep you from overeating and help you feel full so you don’t actually stuff yourself full.

And, don’t forget – enjoy your day, indulge in your favorite foods wisely, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

 

Why Healthy Fats Don’t Make You Fat

healthy-fats

It’s time for fat to ditch it’s bad-boy reputation once and for all.

I promise you. Let me repeat that. I promise you, fat does not make you F-A-T. It made some kind of sense years ago to explore the idea that high fat foods turned to fat in our bodies, but that scientific pursuit just didn’t pan out.

Researchers even found out that a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrate actually causes weight gain.

We’re fat-smart now and we know that you need roughly 30% of your calories to come from fats (healthy fats!) in order for you to be your leanest and healthiest self. Here’s the skinny.

Why Healthy Fats Don’t Make You Fat

All Fats Are Not Created Equal

All this studying of fats and fatty acids has left us with the knowledge that all fats are not created equal.

First of all, stay away from trans fats altogether. They promote inflammation and are just awful for you overall.

The healthy fats I want in your diet are the monounsaturated, found in olive oil, avocado, flaxseed oil, and nuts, and the polyunsaturated in the form of omega-3s, like fatty fish (tuna and salmon), walnuts, eggs, and chia seeds. (Skip polyunsaturated in the form of processed vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, and safflower, which are made up of mostly omega-6 fatty acids.)  These healthy fats are linked to strong immunity, improved cardiovascular functioning, reduced inflammation, and improved brain functioning.

Now, for the most complicated fats: saturated. Saturated fats like those in coconut oil and butter (their fat compositions vary slightly but both are high in saturated) have long been linked to increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association reaffirmed that fact with a 2017 study.

However, many experts disagree with the report’s conclusions on a few fronts. First, the link is based on the reasoning that saturated fat raises total cholesterol levels, but many studies suggest the link between higher cholesterol numbers and heart disease risk has been overstated. And while LDL is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, there are different types of LDL, and the total number may be less important than the composition of the actual particles. Small, dense particles are inflammatory and associated with heart disease risk, while larger particles are not.

Finally, many experts say studies on saturated fat often look at people eating it on top of an otherwise unhealthy diet—for example, alongside refined carbs, sugar, and not enough veggies and fiber—in which case it could certainly increase inflammation and heart disease risk. A reasonable portion of coconut oil on top of fibrous veggies (or grass-fed butter in a saute pan) in a low-sugar, whole foods, plant-based diet, however, comes with health benefits. My advice: think about saturated fat as part of your healthful diet but not as a main ingredient. Coconut oil is great, but it’s not kale.

Fat Helps You Absorb Vitamins

Eating fat helps your body absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. The deal is this: fat in your meal is going to help your body take in fat soluble vitamins. Your body stores excess fat-soluble vitamins (which is why over doing them in pill form can be toxic) in your liver and fat cells and then uses them as needed.

They are released slowly over time (unlike water soluble vitamins, which are excreted pretty quickly if you have enough in your system).

Fat Burns Fat, and Fat Burning Foods Exist!

True dat! It may not make sense to you, but dietary fat actually helps pull stored fat out of your cells to use for energy. Eating fat boosts metabolic health and helps to break down stored fat to get it out of your system. Say it out loud: fat helps you burn fat. Ahhh…

Fat is also your preferred energy source, so if you’re just hanging out, fat is the fuel that keeps your eyes blinking, heart beating and lungs respiring.

Fat Keeps You Feeling Satisfied

Think back to your high school chemistry class. Carbs are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules with simple single bonds connecting them.

These bonds are easily broken, and nutrients are quickly pulled into your blood. Not the case with our healthy fats! Fats have complicated double bonds, which require more time to break down in your belly and travel into your blood. This boosts satiety and keeps you full.

More satisfaction helps us to eat less, which is the first lesson in How to Lose Weight 101 and rock a healthy body.

There are more reasons that I heart fat (insulates the body from the cold and protects organs among a couple) but I hope you are convinced and converted.

In case you need a little fatspiration here are a few ways to get in at every meal:

Breakfast: Almond butter on ezekial toast

Snack: Low-fat Greek yogurt with shredded coconut

Lunch: Avocado on kale salad with sunflower seeds and olive oil

Snack: Peanut butter on high fiber crackers

Dinner: Grilled salmon over quinoa and sautéed red and yellow peppers

Enjoy fats as part of your healthy breakfast, healthy snacks, and overall healthy diet Happy, healthy eating!