Category Archives: Wellness

Yoga for Beginners

yoga
Yoga may help your aching back — but it requires a personalized approach.

“Joy…and pain…are like sunshine…and rain.” Those lyrics from an 80s song are an apt description of the ups and downs of life. But for the millions of people who experience back pain, the pain part takes center stage at times, sidelining them from some of life’s joy and sunshine. For low back pain that’s chronic (lasting three months or more) and nonspecific (not due to an injury, illness, or other known cause), yoga can help, according to a recent review of studies. Immobility and stress are two factors that can exacerbate back pain, and yoga can address both those issues, explains Judi Bar, Cleveland Clinic’s yoga program manager. But that doesn’t mean you should immediately sign up for Hot Power Yoga. When you’re dealing with chronic pain, it’s essential to take it slowly and listen carefully to your body, says Bar. “Not all yoga is created equal, and a motion that’s beneficial for one person may not be beneficial for another.”

When starting out, choose stretches that mimic everyday movements and support the natural movement of your spine. Throughout the following gentle chair sequence, stay mindful of your body’s signals and keep your breathing steady.

  • Sit tall in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the ground.
  • With your back straight and your hands on your thighs for support, lean slightly forward (toward the front of the chair) and then backward (toward the back of the chair), inhaling and exhaling as you move. Let your body tell you how far to go. Return to center, sitting straight up.
  • Gently lean to one side and then the other side, inhaling and exhaling as you move. Again, let your body tell you how far to go. Return to center, sitting straight up.
  • Keeping your buttocks on the chair, gently twist your body toward the right as far as you feel comfortable without forcing. Return to center. Repeat on the left, returning to center.
  • Sitting at the front of your chair, position your legs hip-width apart. With a long, flat back, reach forward and down toward the floor, keeping your neck aligned with your back (don’t let it hang down). Take a few breaths, then slowly return to your starting position.
  • Reach both hands toward the back of the chair to open your chest, inhaling as you gently stretch back and open, and exhaling as your return to the starting position.

“Notice how you feel immediately after this sequence, and the next day. Let that guide you on your next steps,” advises Bar. If you take a class, look for a class designed for those with low back pain, or a gentle class with an experienced teacher who can offer you modifications.

8 Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

sunrain

Lost your keys? Your temper? An argument with a fellow commuter? A maddening morning can morph into a decent day—or even a good one. The key is to reduce arousal levels, says Lisa Feldman Barrett, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and author of How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life the Brain. “When people are running late and feel time-pressured, or their goals are blocked—say, traffic—or they have an interpersonal conflict like an argument with a partner or child, their arousal levels soar. Cortisol is released to prepare the body for fight or flight,” says Dr. Barrett. “Even after your brain learns that the fight-or-flight mechanism is not necessary, your body takes a while to calm down, so you continue to feel wound up. That’s what can actually make it more likely for your bad day to continue.” Try these eight tips to help you wind down and bring your mood back up.

Pause the multitasking
Instead, take a deep breath and do just one single task for a few moments. Being effective at something helps you feel positive, and concentrating on just one thing “will help your mind stop racing or will help dislodge you from ruminating—for example, having an argument with someone in your head or replaying a bad event over and over again like a movie stuck on a replay loop,” says Dr. Barrett.

Get moving
Stretching exercises can generate feel-good chemicals and work out the tension that stress and a bad mood create, says Karen Cassidy, Ph.D., managing director of The Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago. Feeling better physically can counter some of the effects of feeling low mentally and emotionally.

Look around
Be mindful of the small details in nature that you find compelling and inspiring: say, a bit of greenery poking through a crack in the sidewalk or a vase of colorful flowers. “Immersing yourself in beauty for a moment is calming,” says Dr. Barrett.

Connect with a loved one
The best thing for a human nervous system can be another person’s nervous system, says Dr. Barrett, so share a smile or give (or get) a hug. “Try to avoid social media if you can,” she adds. “The worst thing for your nervous system can be another person, particularly when you are not sure if that person is evaluating you negatively or not.”

Do something nice for someone
Treat a friend or co-worker to lunch. Being kind and generous to others actually makes you feel better, says Dr. Barrett.

Concentrate on gratitude
Write down at least three things that you are grateful for and find at least three positive things that are happening now. “For example, if you just got into a fender bender with your car, you can remind yourself that you are grateful that no one was hurt, that you have auto insurance, and that the tow truck crew offered to drop you off at your office,” says Dr. Cassidy.

Revisit some challenges you’ve tackled successfully
Write down four or five problems you have solved in the past. “This helps you recall that you are capable of overcoming difficulties, and it jump starts your problem-solving mindset,” says Dr. Cassidy. “It helps you avoid the ‘there is nothing I can do’ mindset.”

Remember that all events in life are temporary
Keep in mind the expression “This too, shall pass,” says Dr. Cassidy. “That makes it easier to believe that you can endure and persist. Even crises are temporary.”

Wellness Challenge: Gratitude

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Your wellness challenge for this week is to identify someone you are thankful for and let them know. Try to do this four days out of the week (or more)! Besides making that person feel good, here are some ways that expressing gratitude will make you feel good, too.

“There is a magnetic appeal to gratitude,” says Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and a pioneer of gratitude research. “It speaks to a need that’s deeply entrenched.” It’s as if we need to give thanks and be thanked, just as it’s important to feel respected and connected socially. From an evolutionary perspective, feelings of gratitude probably helped bind communities together. When people appreciate the goodness that they’ve received, they feel compelled to give back. This interdependence allows not only an individual to survive and prosper but also society as a whole. It’s easy, in these modern times, to forget this, however. We’re too busy or distracted, or we’ve unwittingly become a tad too self-entitled. We disconnect from others and suffer the consequences, such as loneliness, anger, or even a less robust immune system.

“Gratitude serves as a corrective,” says Emmons. But by gratitude, he doesn’t mean just uttering a “Hey, thanks” or shooting off a perfunctory e-mail. He means establishing a gratitude ritual, whether it’s a morning meditation of what you’re thankful for, a bedtime counting of blessings, or a gratitude journal. This concerted, consistent effort to notice and appreciate the good things flowing to us changes us for the better on many levels, say gratitude experts. Here’s how.

1. You’ll feel happier.
In a seminal study by Emmons, subjects who wrote down one thing that they were grateful for every day reported being 25% happier for a full six months after following this practice for just three weeks. In a University of Pennsylvania study, subjects wrote letters of gratitude to people who had done them a major service but had never been fully thanked. After the subjects personally presented these letters, they reported substantially decreased symptoms of depression for as long as a full month.

2. You’ll boost your energy levels.
In Emmons’s gratitude-journal studies, those who regularly wrote down things that they were thankful for consistently reported an ever increasing sense of vitality. Control subjects who simply kept a general diary saw little increase, if any. The reason is unclear, but improvements in physical health (see below), also associated with giving thanks, may have something to do with it. The better your body functions, the more energetic you feel.

3. You’ll get healthier.
A gratitude practice has also been associated with improved kidney function, reduced blood-pressure and stress-hormone levels, and a stronger heart. Experts believe that the link comes from the tendency of grateful people to appreciate their health more than others do, which leads them to take better care of themselves. They avoid deleterious behaviors, like smoking and drinking excessive alcohol. They exercise, on average, 33% more and sleep an extra half hour a night.

4. You’ll be more resilient.
When we notice kindness and other gifts we’ve benefited from, our brains become wired to seek out the positives in any situation, even dire ones. As a result, we’re better at bouncing back from loss and trauma. “A grateful stance toward life is relatively immune to both fortune and misfortune,” says Emmons. We see the blessings, not just the curses.

5. You’ll improve your relationship.
A 2012 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study of more than 300 coupled people found that those who felt more appreciated by their partners were more likely to appreciate their partners in return and to stay in the relationship longer, compared with couples who didn’t feel appreciated by each other. Christine Carter, a sociologist at the Greater Good Science Center, at the University of California, Berkeley, notes that gratitude can rewire our brains to appreciate the things in our relationships that are going well. It can calm down the nervous system and counter the fight-or-flight stress response, she says. You can’t be grateful and resentful at the same time.

6. You’ll be a nicer person.
People can’t help but pay gratitude forward. When appreciation is expressed, it triggers a biological response in the recipient’s brain, including a surge of the feel-good chemical dopamine, says Emmons. So when you express gratitude toward a spouse, a colleague, or a friend, he or she feels grateful in return, and the back-and-forth continues. What’s more, thanking your benefactors makes them feel good about the kind acts that they’ve done, so they want to continue doing them, not only for you but also for others.

Inspired? Research has shown that one of the best ways to home in on the people and the experiences we appreciate is through writing in a gratitude journal. Recording our thoughts, by hand or electronically, helps us focus them, explains Emmons, who says that he, too, does this exercise to remind himself “how good gratitude is. It gives us time to understand better the meaning and importance of people and events in our lives.” Here are strategies for maximizing the benefits:

1. Go for depth rather than breadth. This will help you truly savor what you appreciate, and keep your journal from becoming simply a list of nice thoughts. (Journals like that tend to get abandoned.)

2. Write consistently. But it’s OK if you can’t do it every day. Once or twice a week is enough to boost happiness.

3. Write freely. Don’t sweat the grammar and the spelling. No one else will see this journal unless you want someone to.

4. Don’t think of this as just one more self-improvement project. Rather, it’s an opportunity to reflect on other people and the above-and-beyond things that they’ve done for you, says Emmons. In other words, “it’s not all about us,” he says. “This may be the most important lesson about trying to become more grateful.”

Wellness Challenge: Replace Sweets with Fruit

fruit

Your wellness challenge for the week is to replace sweets with fruit. Remember, your challenge is to do this at least 4 days this week.

Many types of candy are loaded with artificial dyes and flavors, high-fructose corn syrup and an array of other additives. Skip unhealthy ingredients and replace candy with fruit, nature’s sweet treat. While fruit contains natural sugars, it also delivers beneficial nutrients, vitamins and minerals. The fiber in fruit also makes you feel full, unlike most candy.

Out With the Candy

The first step to replacing candy with fruit is to remove temptation. That bag of taffy you have in your desk drawer and any other stashes of candy need to go. If you do not want to throw them away, take them to work for coworkers or give them to a friend. This prevents you from giving in to a candy craving, since the prospect is less appealing if you have to go out and buy candy to get your fix.

Fresh Fruit around the House

Keeping a fruit bowl in the rooms you frequent makes your new candy replacement more appealing and convenient. Wash the fruit so they are ready to eat, set out only as much as you plan to eat in a week and restock when the bowls are empty. Cut fruit that require peeling into candy-size pieces and store mini fruit salad bags in your refrigerator. Reach for these when you feel like snacking, instead of grabbing a bag of candy. If possible, store bags of fruit in a refrigerator at work to replace your visits to the vending machine.

Frozen Fruit Instead of Hard Candy

If your favorite is hard candy, buy a bag of frozen berries or chopped fruit. Alternately, make your own: prepare the fruit, spread it on a baking sheet and freeze it for an hour before putting it in a bag to keep the fruit from sticking together. Pop a piece of frozen fruit in your mouth and suck on it until it has thawed enough to chew. Keep some frozen fruit at your office as well, if you have access to a freezer.

Dried Fruit on the Go

For chewy sweet treats, dried fruit is your best choice. Most grocers have a wide selection of dried fruit; avoid sweetened varieties, which are nearly as bad as candy. Keep a bag of dried fruit in your desk, candy dish, or anywhere else you like to snack. You can also dry your own fruit. Slice them thinly, spread them on a baking sheet and place them in a dehydrator or in a 150-degree Fahrenheit oven for 10 to 12 hours. The fruit will not retain their color unless you dip them in ascorbic acid — or some type of citrus juice — before you dry them. This helps kill bacteria as well.

How to Achieve a Healthy Weight — for Life!

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In America, we want everything NOW — fast food, breaking news and next-day delivery. Our desire for quick results from exercise is no different. So what do we do? We restrict our daily caloric intake to unsustainable levels and exercise to burn additional calories. The pounds start to melt off and we’re thrilled! But here’s the problem with that approach: Calories are a form of energy and when you reduce them to extremely low levels, guess what else is reduced? If you guessed energy, you get a gold star. The truth is, crash or fad diets don’t work and aren’t good for your overall health and vitality.

Losing weight takes time, commitment and a lot of patience. Here’s how it works: 1 pound is equal to 3,500 calories, therefore, you need to burn 3,500 more calories than you consume (that’s a caloric deficit) in order to lose 1 pound. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a healthy weight-loss goal of 1 to 2 pounds per week. You’ll need to burn 500 more calories than you consume every day to reach that recommendation. (500 calories per day x 7 days per week = 3,500 calories per week). There are no quick fixes when it comes to permanent weight loss. The best way to release weight and maintain a healthy BMI: Commit to a lifestyle that incorporates a nutritious, Mediterranean-style diet of appropriate portions and be active every day. Here are some tips to help you get started on your journey to a longer, healthier life.

Set SMART goals. Make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. That means you’ll want daily or weekly goals. For example, aim for taking at least 10,000 steps a day and doing some strength training at least 3 times per week.

Start small. Setting a goal to lose 50 pounds is great, but it’s going to take time and you will become frustrated if you focus every day on those 50 pounds. Start small by setting a goal of eating a nutritious breakfast made up of whole foods every day for a week. Breakfast truly is the day’s most important meal because it gives you the energy you need to get moving, and it fires up your metabolism.

Make it personal. If you need to lose weight, chances are that you already know it but haven’t found the motivation to do it yet. Give the goal meaning and intrinsic value and it will be easier for you to stay the course when you’re struggling to maintain your healthier habits. For example, maybe losing the weight will allow you to run around with your kids or grandkids and enjoy time with them more. Or perhaps it will make it easier for you to participate in an activity you love to do.

Write it down. Tracking what you eat is one of the best ways to learn and understand your habits. It will reveal your eating patterns (e.g. do you mindlessly snack during your favorite TV shows?) and help you assess if what and how much you’re consuming is helping you reach your goals. There are journals and smartphone apps that will help you with this effort.

Have a plan. Don’t drive to work in the morning asking yourself, “What am I going to eat today?” Be prepared. Planning your meals and snacks ahead of time will help you manage the amount and quality of the food you eat.

Make exercise fun. If you don’t like broccoli chances are that you do not eat broccoli. The same principle applies to exercise. If you don’t like it, you are not going to do it. Find activities that you enjoy. You’ll look forward to doing them instead of dreading them.

Losing weight is challenging, but it is not impossible! Find a buddy and use some of these ideas to begin living the healthier life you deserve.

Proactive Strategies for Protecting Your Health

When it comes to protecting your health, one of the best weapons is information. Here are some strategies to help you stay healthy.

Learn about your risk factors.

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Do some research to find out what your personal risk factors are so you are aware of them when making choices about your health. Awareness of risk factors is the first step in knowing what you can do about prevention.

Schedule a doctor’s appointment.

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Most people only call their doctor when something is wrong. Get proactive about your health and schedule an appointment. Talk about the risk factors that you’ve researched, what changes you should make and strategies for making those changes. Be sure to leave the appointment with action items and a follow-up plan.

Introduce one new healthy habit.

water

When people get involved in working on their personal health, all the changes they “should” be making can feel overwhelming. Start small. Pick one new healthy habit and work it into your everyday life. Maybe start by drinking 8 glasses of water a day, or perhaps work towards including 30 minutes of exercise into your schedule several days a week. Wherever you start, keep it small. Once you’ve mastered the new habit, start another. Soon you’ll be on your way towards reaching your health goals.

Tell a friend.

friend

Talk with your friends about your health goals. Ask them to encourage your efforts. You might inspire them to set health goals of their own. Passing on the gift of proactive healthcare helps everyone in your network of family and friends.

Wellness Challenge: Relaxation

relax

Your latest wellness challenge is to relax for 15 minutes a day, at least four days this week.

Here are some of the benefits of getting in some good zen time every day:

You’ll keep your stress levels in check. Stress in small amounts is okay – it motivates us to get stuff done. When it starts hanging around for a long time and affecting our everyday lives, it’s time to take some steps to get it under control. Daily relaxation helps to manage stress levels.

You’ll sleep better. Sleep plays an important role in making sure that we’re functioning our best throughout the day. Find time to relax every night before bed and chances are you’ll find your quality of sleep improves.

Your mood will improve. A great way to improve your mood is to give relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation a try. It involves relaxing the muscles, and it helps to get stress and anxiety under control. It takes practice, but it’s worthwhile.

Your memory will improve and you’ll find it easier to concentrate. As mentioned above, relaxation usually means a better night’s sleep, which in turn does wonders for our memory and concentration.

You’ll be reducing your chance of physical illness in the long run. Being stressed for long periods of time puts lots of stress on our bodies, especially on our hearts. Make it a habit to relax regularly now, and you’ll be doing yourself a favor in the long run.

Here are some ideas on how to relax. Enjoy!

More Budget Friendly Healthy Foods

We recently posted about some healthy foods that are also healthy for your budget. Here are some more ideas. Enjoy!

parsley
Pass the Parsley, Please
What it costs:
11 cents per serving (1 cup, raw)

Why it’s good for you: Go ahead and munch on that sprig of parsley garnishing your plate. One ounce of this unsung herb (about half a cup) supplies nearly 50 percent of your daily vitamin A (as beta-carotene) and more than 60 percent of your vitamin C needs. A recent study found that the beta-carotene and vitamin C combo may help protect against dementia. It’s also loaded with vitamin K, which helps your blood clot when you have a wound but keeps it from getting too sticky and clotting the rest of the time.

How to use it: Who says pesto can only be made with basil? Try our Spinach Parsley Basil Walnut Pecan Pesto With Green Beans recipe.

cabbage
Head Off Health Issues With Cabbage
What it costs:
8 cents per serving (1 cup, raw)

Why it’s good for you: Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage may help prevent prostate and colon cancer, as well as increase survival rates in women with breast cancer. Cabbage is also a good source of folate, fiber, and vitamins C and K.

How to use it: Try this recipe for Crunchy Peanut Slaw, adapted from the Environmental Working Group.

barley
Do Your Body Good With Barley
What it costs:
7 cents per serving (1/2 cup, cooked)

Why it’s good for you: Chewy and nutty, barley is rich in both protein and fiber — the ultimate combination for knocking out hunger. And because barley is digested slowly, it keeps your blood sugar — and appetite — stable for hours. “This grain is high in soluble fiber, which tends to bind with bile acids and take cholesterol out of the body,” explains Jamieson-Petonic. Translation: It helps brings your LDL (lousy cholesterol) levels down.

How to use it: Barley lends itself well to risotto recipes — just go easy on the cheese. Toss the grain into a slow cooker with low-sodium broth and your favorite spices. Stir in 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese just before serving, and season with pepper or fresh chopped herbs like basil and chives. The grain also makes a great oatmeal alternative, says Jamieson-Petonic, who likes to dress hers up with cinnamon, almonds, dried cranberries and milk.

salmon
Bone Up on Salmon
What it costs:
72 cents per serving (3 ounces)

Why it’s good for you: Canned salmon is an inexpensive and convenient way to load up on fish oil, vitamin D and calcium all at once. Omega-3 fatty acids help protect the brain from shrinking as we age, and they reduce the inflammation that contributes to heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s. Omega-3s may even keep your vision sharp. The salmon bones, which are edible and can be mashed with a fork, provide more than 160 percent of your daily vitamin D needs. Low levels of D have been linked to heart disease. Another great thing about canned salmon: Much of it comes from wild Alaskan sources, and it’s much cheaper than wild-caught salmon fillets.

How to use it: Use canned salmon in sandwiches, the way you would tuna, or in place of deli meat. Canned salmon also works well for salmon burgers and fish tacos. Or try our recipe for Grilled Salmon with Pineapple Pecan Salsa.

turkey
Turkey Breast Is Best
What it costs:
36 cents per serving (3 ounces, cooked)

Why it’s good for you: Because most people associate turkey with Thanksgiving, buying it year-round can be a cheaper alternative to chicken. “Even though it may be more expensive, we recommend white meat over dark, which can have as much saturated fat as certain cuts of red meat,” says Kirkpatrick. One serving of white turkey meat provides 25 grams of protein and virtually no saturated fat. Turkey is a valuable source of selenium, which helps neutralize damaging free radicals in the body and may guard against age-related diseases. This poultry pick also provides vitamins B6 and B3 (niacin), needed for healthy skin, hair, eyes and nerves.

How to use it: Use ground turkey in your turkey burger, chili, meatloaf and meat sauce recipes. Mix in a package of defrosted and well-drained chopped frozen spinach for a simple way to get your greens. For a cheaper and healthier alternative to cold cuts, roast a turkey breast in the oven and refrigerate to use on sandwiches during the week.

beans
Get to Know Beans
What it costs:
Black beans and chickpeas, 6 cents per serving; pinto beans, 4 cents per serving; red kidney beans and black-eyed peas, 14 cents per serving (1/2 cup, cooked)

Why it’s good for you: “Protein, when you’re buying beef, turkey or even chicken, can be really, really expensive,” says Jamieson-Petonic. “But if you buy beans and lentils, you’re getting a lot more for your money,” she says. Undurraga agrees. “When you’re trying to eat healthfully on a budget, there shouldn’t be a lot of meat in your diet,” she explains. The average woman needs about 46 grams of protein per day, and most Americans have no trouble meeting that number. One cup of beans will supply one-third of your daily protein requirement. Eating beans in place of protein sources like red meat and full-fat dairy can improve your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

How to use it: While beans’ high fiber content is a nutritional boon, people who aren’t used to that much roughage may not see it that way. The secret, says Jamieson-Petonic, is to start slowly and gradually increase your fiber intake so your body can adjust. And, because fiber absorbs liquids in your digestive tract, always drink plenty of water to avoid getting bound up. Grill up a batch of our Black Bean Oatmeal Burgers, or, for a healthy sandwich spread, try this recipe for pinto bean hummus.

lentils
Pack in Protein With Lentils
What it costs:
6 cents per serving (1/2 cup, cooked)

Why it’s good for you: A good source of protein and B vitamins, lentils can help people steer clear of diabetes and heart disease. “They’re an anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-free substitute for meat, so they help reduce cardiovascular risk. They’re also high in fiber and a low-glycemic way to stretch your dollar while controlling cholesterol and blood sugar,” explains Jamieson-Petonic. They’re also loaded with essential nutrients like folate and iron.

How to use it: Unlike other dried legumes, lentils cook quickly without any pre-soaking. Brown lentils, the least expensive variety, break down during cooking and are best used in soups. These three soup recipes offer a tasty introduction to lentils and make the perfect cool-weather meal: Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup With Shiitake Mushrooms recipe, Pumpkin Lentil Soup recipe, and Collard and Lentil Soup recipe.

sunflower
Make Sunflowers Your Top Seeds
What it costs:
16 cents per serving (1/4 cup)

Why it’s good for you: “Sunflower seeds are really a good snack for a lot of reasons: They give you vitamins and minerals you won’t be getting from other foods,” says Jamieson-Petonic. Those nutrients include vitamin E, which helps safeguard cells from damage and may protect against heart disease and cancer; magnesium, which may help stave off depression, migraines and hearing loss; and selenium, which may help lower cholesterol and prevent hardening of the arteries.

How to use it: Avoid going overboard; eat sunflower seeds sparingly. A quarter-cup serving makes a 200-calorie snack. To keep from overindulging, use sunflower seeds in a trail mix with dried fruit and nuts, suggests Petonic. Or use them in place of more expensive pine nuts in pesto or sprinkled over salads or vegetables. Or buy them in the shell.

canola
Get Cooking With Canola Oil
What it costs:
2 cents per serving (1 tablespoon)

Why it’s good for you: Canola oil has the least saturated fat of all vegetable oils. Saturated fat contributes to disease-causing inflammation. The good fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, can help reduce your heart disease risk by lowering cholesterol and inflammation.

How to use it: Whereas extra-virgin olive oil is great for drizzling over food before serving, canola oil, whose smoke point is 470 degrees, can withstand high-heat cooking and works well for pan-frying, grilling and sautéing. Because of its mild flavor, canola oil can also be used in any baking recipe.

yogurt
Build Bones With Yogurt
What it costs:
62 cents per serving (1 cup)

Why it’s good for you: Skip the sweet stuff and go with nonfat plain yogurt. Fruit-on-the-bottom varieties aren’t just more expensive; ounce for ounce, they contain more sugar than most soda. While almost half of that is naturally occurring lactose, more than half isn’t. Sweetened yogurt tacks more than 14 grams of added sugar onto your diet. That’s nearly the recommended daily limit of 20 grams. One cup of nonfat plain yogurt, on the other hand, provides nearly one-quarter of your daily protein needs, as well as half of your day’s calcium.

How to use it: While we love Greek yogurt for being lower in sugar and higher in protein than conventional kinds, it is more expensive. When making dips or looking for a sour cream alternative, splurge on Greek, which has a much thicker consistency. Use conventional plain, nonfat yogurt in smoothies or mixed with fruit and honey for a snack.

Wellness Challenge: Cooking at Home

cooking

Your wellness challenge this week is to cook at home four or more days this week. Here are just some of the benefits of cooking at home:

Nutritious – Restaurants, both fast food and otherwise, are known to be notoriously high in calories, sugars, fats, sodium and carbohydrates. Even the healthier, low-cal options can contain a high level of sugars and fats. Eating at home allows you to cut out what you may deem unnecessary in your diet. You’re in control of the food you cook and the food you consume.

Increase knowledge of food – Food is much more than just something that tastes good and fills up your stomach. Cooking your own meals can teach you what foods are high or low in certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. It will even boost your creativity as you learn to combine nutritious foods to satisfy your palate!

Savor your food – The physical act of preparing your own meals will lead to a newfound appreciate for the food you consume. This is very important since mindless munching and emotional eating can contribute to unhealthy weight gain because you’re not fully conscious of the foods you’re eating. Being more aware of what you consume when you prepare it will make you less likely to overeat.

Appropriate portions- Restaurants are notorious for their extreme portion sizes. Preparing meals at home gives you the ability to exercise portion control and help curb the temptation of overeating.

Builds healthy habits- Cooking at home can jump-start your healthy lifestyle! By discovering healthy recipes, learning about food, creating and sticking to a meal plan, you and your family can be inspired to living a healthier life.

Encourages family bonding – Family dynamics can greatly improve with more at home, family meal times. Children benefit from the ritual of preparing and eating meals together. This is also a great teaching tool for parents to instill healthy eating habits in their children. In fact, several studies conducted by the University of Michigan found eating family meals at the dinner table is associated with fewer psychological issues and higher academic success in children and promoted sociability in the family.

Food safety – According to the CDC, foodborne illnesses (also known as food poisoning) affects 1 in 6 Americans every year. Cooking at home will give you the peace of mind you need in knowing you have the freshest ingredients (or at least since your last trip to the grocer’s!), and you can rest assured knowing your food has been stored and cooked at the correct temperatures.

Awareness of food allergies & sensitivities – While we’ve mentioned that you control the nutritional intake of your meals, cooking for yourself and your family also gives the control to avoid food allergens.

Cleanliness – Cooking at home can give you the clean conscience of not only knowing what’s in your food, but how clean your food is. Naturally, you’ll want to make sure your kitchen and dinnerware are sterile and your ingredients are prepared thoroughly before eating.

Saves money – Eating dinner out is expensive! It is a lot more cost-effective to purchase groceries than ordering take out or going to restaurants.