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How a 'Bad Food' Attitude Can Backfire

Do you struggle with cravings and wish you had the will power to cut out certain foods completely? When we work toward a healthy diet, so many of us think that making a list of food culprits and calling them off-limits will help us to succeed. However, if you take a deeper look at the psychology behind this flawed method, you’ll see so many reasons why adopting a ''good food'' or ''bad food'' attitude will never work.  Restricting certain foods won't just make dieting miserable--it can also ruin your good intentions of getting healthy and losing weight. Making arbitrary rules about good and bad food isn’t the answer to lasting lifestyle change. Instead, use the tips below to build a better relationship with food, learn to master cravings, build self-control and enjoy all foods in moderation.   Stop Labeling Foods as 'Good' and 'Bad' For decades, behavior analysts have studied the effects of deprivation on people’s preferences for food, tangible items and activities. The majority of literature on this topic says that, when we’re deprived of something, we’re more likely to select that particular item from an array of choices. In a recent study conducted at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, researchers found that participants who were asked to restrict either high-carb or high-protein foods for three days reported higher cravings for the banned foods. So, if you label chocolate as evil and forbid it from your menu, you’ll be more likely to want it in any form.   The good news is that some level of satiation (satisfying your craving for a particular food) can actually help you to avoid overindulging more often than not. If you can be conscious about your eating and have just enough of your favorite chocolate bar to satisfy that craving, you’ll be much less tempted to dip into the candy jar on your co-worker’s desk or buy a sweet snack from the vending machine.   This information about deprivation seems like common sense, but you’ve probably heard from friends or fellow dieters that the first step in avoiding high-calorie foods is putting them out of your mind altogether. Not true! Researchers are realizing that suppressing thoughts about a particular food can cause an increase in consumption of that food. In a 2010 study, 116 women were split into three groups. The first group was asked to suppress thoughts about chocolate, the second group was asked to actively think about chocolate, and the third group was instructed to think about anything they wished. Afterward, each of the participants was given a chocolate bar. The women who had suppressed their thoughts about chocolate ate significantly more chocolate than the others, despite identifying themselves as more ''restrained eaters'' in general. This just goes to show that ''out of mind'' doesn’t necessarily always mean ''out of mouth.''   Dump the Idea of 'Diet Foods' Often, when people are trying to eat better, they start to categorize foods into those that are on their diet plan and those that are not. However, banning specific foods from your weight-loss plan may just make you crave them more.  According to an article published this year in the journal Appetite, a UK study of 129 women measured the cravings of those who were ''dieting'' to lose weight, ''watching'' to maintain their weight, and not dieting at all. The researchers found that, compared with non-dieters, dieters experienced stronger, more irresistible cravings for the foods they were restricting.   Noticing the difference between healthy and unhealthy options is definitely key in establishing a pattern of better eating. And, when you’re starting a weight-loss program, it does help to read food labels and menus carefully so that you can choose wisely. However, when you start to categorize specific foods such as candy, baked goods, alcohol and fried chicken as foods you can’t have, you’re setting yourself up for a backfire. The issue with labeling a food as a forbidden substance is that your thoughts immediately center on that particular item... and then you inadvertently start bargaining and rationalizing to get more of it. (How many times have you broken your ''diet rules'' to reward a trip to the gym with chocolate or a long day at work with a cocktail or two?)   There are some diet plans out there that advocate choosing a particular day of the week as your ''cheat day''--a day when you can indulge in all the foods you’ve cut out during the week. But listing certain foods as ''cheats'' or ''treats'' can set up a scenario where you’re depriving yourself all week long and constantly looking to the future, waiting on the moment that you’ll be showered with your favorite forbidden goodies (like those commercials where fruit-flavored candies fall from a rainbow).   Besides causing you to crave, labeling certain foods as ''forbidden'' makes it really difficult to be mindful of and content with the healthy food you’re eating most of the time. Instead of worrying about restricting foods, try to redirect your focus on creating the most delicious salad, grilling a succulent chicken breast or munching a juicy piece of fruit. If you turn your attention to the abundance of healthy options in front of you instead of weighing the pros and cons of particular foods, you’ll be more likely to really relish and rejoice in your everyday choices.   Make Sense of 'Moderation' You’ve heard the line a thousand times: Everything in moderation. But what does this phrase really mean and how can you apply it to your healthy eating plan? Usually, people hand this advice out when they’re indulging in unhealthy food and drink and trying to get you to join in, say at a wedding or birthday party. So is it just peer pressure? Or is there something to this age-old saying?   Choosing to eat all foods in moderation works just fine for some people. If you have a healthy relationship with food (e.g., you have no trouble putting away the bag of chips after just one serving), then eating a little bit of your favorite food may satisfy your craving and leave you full until the next healthy meal.   However, for some people, it just doesn’t work that way. Sweets, salts and alcohol all cause biological reactions in the body that are hard to ignore. And, if you’re someone who responds strongly to these reactions, even one small bite can trigger you to continue sampling similar goodies. If you’re one of these folks, you’re definitely not alone, and it is important to know which foods affect you in these ways. Perhaps you’re a person who can have a bite of a sundae and pass the rest on to your spouse, but a fun-size candy bar can unravel your motivation and spark unhealthy choices for the rest of the day. Noting which tempting foods are your triggers can help you arrange your environment so that you don’t overindulge.   Rearranging your environment for success is the easiest way to change your behavior. If you do decide to indulge in a ''trigger food'' in moderation, opt to eat it in a place where there aren't any other snack options for you to munch on afterwards (a food-filled party would not be the best environment!). Choose snacks that you like, but don't love, so you're not tempted to eat too much but are still satisfied. Understanding which foods are likely to lead you down a slippery slope and preparing your environment and schedule for success will help you keep cravings at bay and keep your overeating under control.   Keep Cravings in Check Cravings are a good thing. On a basic, biological level, cravings tell us when we’re hungry, thirsty, sleepy and even when we need some human attention. The problem is that, because we’re so accustomed to having easy access to eat whenever we want and we’re able to choose from many unhealthy foods, the ratio of our wants and needs are all out of whack! It is time to step back and become aware of what we’re really craving and why. When we can look objectively at our yearnings for soda, chips, cake and cookies, we can make much better decisions about what we put in our mouths.   One of the best ways to get back in touch with your true cravings is to keep track of them.  For a few days, keep a journal of the time of day, what you’re craving, and whether you’re at work, at home, on the road, with your kids, etc. You can still give in to temptation—this exercise will simply give you a clearer picture of how often you crave, what you crave and in what settings those cravings occur.   In behavior science, before we try to change any habit, we do an assessment like this to look at the person’s current patterns so that we can set goals for small, stepwise changes. You’ll likely notice a pattern quickly (e.g., I always want something sweet with my 10 a.m. coffee). Then you can put some measures in place to deter this craving or make a healthy choice before it happens (e.g., I’ll start bringing a piece of fruit to eat with coffee so I don’t grab a muffin from the break room).   With a little mindfulness, you can ditch the ''good food, bad food'' attitude! Plan carefully and stay in tune with your body to make sensible decisions that will satisfy your cravings and promote weight loss.        References:   James A.K. Erskine & George J. Georgiou. 4 February 2010. Effects of thought suppression on eating behaviour in restrained and non-restrained eaters. Appetite 54, 3 (2010):499-503.   Jennifer S. Coelho, Janet Polivy, C. Peter Herman. 16 May 2006. Selective carbohydrate or protein restriction: Effects on subsequent food intake and cravings. Appetite 47, 3 (November 2006): 352-360.   David B. McAdam, Kevin P. Klatt, Mikhail Koffarnus, Anthony Dicesare, Katherine Solberg, Cassie Welch, & Sean Murphy. The effects of establishing operations on preferences for tangible items. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 38 (2005): 107-110.   Anna Massey & Andrew J. Hill. 18 January 2012. Dieting and food craving. A descriptive, quasi-prospective study. Appetite 58, 3 (June 2012): 781–785. Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1770

Break Out of Your Food Rut!

What's for dinner? What are you eating for breakfast or lunch tomorrow? If you aren't feeling excited about your meals, or if your kids are complaining about eating chicken again, you may be in a food rut.   It happens easily; between work obligations, social plans, and kids' soccer practices, we tend to fall back on easy-to-prepare staple meals that don’t require much thought or effort. And for some of us, cooking doesn’t come easily or isn’t a pleasure, so we rely on a handful of recipes we can confidently prepare.   While it's wonderful to have a few go-to meals you can rely on in a pinch, it can get old when you rely on the same meals too often. And that lack of excitement about what's on your plate could lead you to reach for additional snacks or sweets to bring more pleasure back to your eating—which can be a problem if you're trying to manage your weight or eat healthier.   We recently asked SparkPeople members if they were stuck in a diet rut, and we were surprised by how many people replied. Member CHOUBROU summed it up this way: ''The food rut is my biggest problem! I fall into it because eating the same go-to meals is convenient and easy. But eventually I get tired of eating the same thing, and that leads me to the temptation of eating out more, eating more frozen/processed meals, etc.''   SparkPeople member KALENSMOMMY5 asked for help: ''One of the main reasons I fall off the healthy eating wagon is that I get caught in a major food rut! As I am a full-time working single mom to a toddler, I have very limited time to cook, so I end up buying the same grab-and-go foods week after week. The unhealthy choices start to look more and more attractive as I get more bored with my standard foods. Help would be much appreciated!''   Lots of folks told us they’ve hit the wall, cooking-wise. What’s more, they shared great advice on how you can break boring food habits, no matter what causes them.   5 Signs You're Stuck in a Food Rut (and What to Do about It)   Sign #1: You Don’t Enjoy Cooking For many folks, getting dinner on the table is a chore, not a pleasure. If you don’t love to cook, or you’re not confident in your culinary skills, then it's normal to feel like you're in a food rut for awhile—at least until you develop a few basic meals that you can prepare quickly and easily. Here’s how:

  • First, think about what you enjoy eating. Sandwiches? Burritos? Breakfast for dinner? Salads? Consider how you can make those into healthy dinner options.  
  • Settle on three to five things you like, and find simple recipes for those meals. SparkRecipes is a great resource for quick and healthy meal ideas.  
  • Get comfortable with the basics. Once you’ve mastered an essential technique like sautéing boneless chicken breasts, then you can move on to experiment with different sauces or add-ins to change things up over time and prevent yourself from getting bored.  
  • Accept that you don’t love to cook, but don’t let that be your excuse for not eating healthy. If you master a few basic recipes, you’ll gain confidence—and you’ll be making a commitment to yourself.
Sign #2: You’re On Auto-Pilot Even accomplished home cooks tend to get stuck in a rut preparing the same go-to dinners over and over. Katie, a mother of two, posted: ''[My son] calls me on my food ruts—I know I've got problems when my garbage disposal of a kid complains about what I'm cooking.''   Like many folks who commented on our question about food habits, Katie says she refers to cooking magazines (her favorite is Food and Wine) for inspiration when she’s stuck in a routine. Cooking Light magazine and the books ''Cook This, Not That'' by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding, and ''Fast Food My Way'' by Chef Jacques Pepin were also recommended as great resources for quick and healthy meals.   David posted about different ways to find culinary inspiration: ''I realize [I’m in a food rut] when I’m on auto-pilot preparing a meal that usually gives me joy to cook. I break it up by shopping somewhere new for groceries, or getting a new cooking gadget, or sharpening my knives or getting a new spice.''   A simple strategy for busting out of the auto-pilot cooking rut is to find alternate ways to prepare those go-to meals—in particular, look to different ethnic cuisines for interesting takes on your standards. If spaghetti with meat sauce is in your repertoire, try linguine with spicy shrimp sauce instead. Not feeling that leftover chicken? Turn it into something new, like a tostada. Sometimes simply swapping a few ingredients within a go-to recipe can give you a whole new flavor and make your meals interesting again. Same with sides: If you're always steaming broccoli or brown rice, experiment with other healthy veggies or whole grains such as whole-wheat couscous, millet or quinoa instead.   Sign #3: You Always Eat the Same Meals This food rut often shows up at the start of the day, when we’re so busy getting out the door that we neglect a healthy breakfast, or we choose convenience foods over healthy ones. SparkPeople member LINDSAYHENNIGAN commented that she found herself eating high-fiber breakfast cereal every day: ''I got too focused on how much fiber they added, and failed to notice the 40 grams of sugar I was consuming each morning. My trainer caught it, and switched me over to bread with 2 or less grams of sugar with peanut butter, and I feel so much better.''   SparkPeople member FLUTTEROFSTARS, a vegetarian, shared a bunch of great ideas she enjoys to start her day: ''I’m fighting to get out of my food rut! I’ve been 'Sparking' for two months now, and have come up with several winning mini-meals.'' Some of her favorites include:
  • Salad with Morningstar veggie crumbles and low-fat cheddar cheese
  • Omelets with frozen vegetable blend
  • Greek yogurt with strawberries and flaxseed
  • The ''one-minute microwave muffin'' recipes for breakfast sandwiches from SparkRecipes
We all go through busy periods in our lives—a hectic few weeks at work, an extra-busy sports season—and getting a healthy dinner on the table every evening is even more challenging. Creating a weekly meal plan and then shopping for all the ingredients you’ll need helps avoid the food rut. When you know in the morning what you’re making for dinner that night, you can avoid grabbing quick and not-so-healthy items on that emergency trip to the grocery.  And planning dinners that can be repurposed into lunches avoids brown-bag boredom.   Sign #4: You’re Bored with Brown Bagging We’ll congratulate you for committing to bringing a healthy lunch instead of heading to the nearest fast food joint. But the contents of your brown bag need an overhaul if you’re stuck in the PB&J or turkey sandwich routine day in and day out.   Turning dinner into lunch is a great way to vary your midday meal, especially if you plan ahead and prepare extra food in the evening for the next day’s (or week’s) lunchbox. A dinner of grilled steak and veggies can become a lunchtime salad, and a pasta supper easily transforms into a chilled pasta salad a day later.   SparkPeople member FELIFISH26 posted: ''I usually eat the same boring thing for lunch (half a turkey sandwich on sandwich thin bread, cottage cheese, low-fat chips). BLAH, right?! After awhile your taste buds start to get used to it all, and I could probably be eating cardboard and not know the difference!'' She solved her lunch dilemma by combining some cooked chicken from dinner the night before with fresh pico de gallo that she made with chopped tomato, onion and cilantro. New lunch idea: chicken tacos.   Sign #5: You’re Stuck on ''Diet-Safe'' Foods Several SparkPeople members commented that their commitment to weight loss means they have a limited number of meal options that meet their calorie limits. Member STACYD16 wrote, ''I do believe that I'm in a food rut. I eat the same things daily because I know their caloric contents. I do have a cheat day about once a week that I really enjoy—and I thought that would throw me off, but it has really helped. I realized my issue is more portion control vs. the actual foods that I eat.''   While eating within a calorie range can be a challenge, portion control can help. You can also search for specific recipes within a certain calorie range by using the Advanced Search on SparkRecipes.com. So if you want slow-cooker dinners that contain fewer than 400 calories, simply edit your search options and voila! You'll be surprised just how many delicious and easy meals you can find within your calorie range for any meal.   When All Else Fails: Embrace the Rut Here’s one final strategy for breaking out of your food rut—know that you’ll get into one. Steve posted about exactly that: ''Another thing I'll do is the mid-week ‘king's food’ omelet—where, no matter what, I'll cook an omelet using the leftovers of previous meals. This does two things: It creates interesting flavors with combos I’d normally never think of, and it motivates me to cook good stuff early in the week because it's potential omelet fodder.''   Just as you can't expect perfection when it comes to eating within your calorie range, losing two pounds per week, or exercising as much as you'd like, you can't expect to be perfect in the kitchen, either—or to love every bite you eat. Accept that we all go through ruts with our food. But instead of allowing it to throw you off track, use it as a sign to change things up and find creative ways to make your food fun and delicious again. And remember, this (food rut) too, shall pass!   Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1759

8 Tips for Deciphering Diet Claims

Though food is supposed to be one of life's simple pleasures, few things cause more angst and confusion. It's no wonder why. We're constantly being told which foods we should eat to be healthy, which diets we should follow to be skinny, which preparation methods we should use to be safe, and which chemicals and contaminants in food we should shun to avoid illness. It's enough to give anyone indigestion. If you're confused about what to believe, you've come to the right place. In "Coffee Is Good for You," I'll give you the bottom line on an array of popular diet and nutrition claims in a quick, easily digestible way. Research about diet and health rarely yields the equivalent of DNA evidence, which provides incontrovertible proof. All types of studies come with caveats. However, if interpreted properly, a body of research can allow us to make sound judgments about how believable a claim is. Trying to make sense of the seemingly endless stream of food and nutrition claims can be overwhelming. Remembering the following 8 rules will make the task easier and allow you to stay focused on what’s really important:

  1. Don’t fixate on particular foods. Be wary of lists of miraculous “superfoods” you must eat or “toxic” foods you should never touch. Rather than worrying about squeezing one food or another into your diet, focus on your overall eating patterns, which should include plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, legumes, and good fats, and limited amounts of refined carbohydrates, junk food, red meat, and trans fats.  
  2. Look beyond narrow categories like carbs and calories. Many diet books and seals of approval on foods emphasize one or two factors, such as the calorie or carbohydrate count, while giving short shrift to other important things, like fiber, sodium, or trans fat. The fact that a hamburger is lower in calories than a salad doesn’t necessarily make it a better option. Likewise, just because fruit punch or cereal has added vitamins doesn’t mean it’s healthful. What’s important is the overall nutritional profile. You can get this from comprehensive food- scoring systems such as NuVal, which ranks the healthfulness of foods based on more than 30 factors.  
  3. Forget about fad diets. A plethora of weight- loss plans promise to melt away pounds quickly and easily. But in the long run, they rarely work. About 95 percent of dieters eventually regain lost weight. Instead of searching for the secret to skinniness, which doesn’t exist, try to eat more healthfully and be mindful of how much you’re consuming. Combined with exercise, this approach can prevent weight gain and, over time, lead to weight loss. And unlike dieting, it’s something you can stick with long term.  
  4. Recognize the limits of vitamin pills. While vitamin and mineral supplements can help make up for deficiencies of nutrients, they generally don’t live up to their billing when it comes to preventing disease, boosting energy, or improving your overall health. Supplements pack far less nutritional punch than food, which contains multiple nutrients that interact with one another and with other foods in a variety of complex ways. As a result, vitamin pills can’t compensate for an unhealthful diet. And they can cause harm if you take too much of certain nutrients.  
  5. Ignore health claims on food packages and in ads. A few such claims, such as those related to sodium and high blood pressure, are officially approved by the FDA, but most aren’t. They fall under a loophole that allows companies to use sneaky language like “helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels” or “helps support a healthy immune system.” Because these phrases don’t explicitly say that the food prevents or treats disease— even though that’s what any normal person would infer—manufacturers don’t have to provide any evidence. What’s more, there are no strict definitions for frequently used terms such as all natural, low sugar, and made with whole grains or real fruit. Because it’s virtually impossible to distinguish between legitimate and misleading claims by manufacturers, the best approach is to disregard them all and get your information from the Nutrition Facts panel on the package.  
  6. Verify emails before forwarding them. The vast majority of emails about food and nutrition are half truths or outright hoaxes. If someone forwards you an email claiming, for example, that canola oil is toxic or that asparagus cures cancer, assume it’s not true, no matter how scientific it sounds. Check it out with a reputable source like Snopes. com or Urbanlegends. about. com. Forwarding unconfirmed claims only adds to the hype, misinformation, and confusion.  
  7. Don’t be influenced by just one study. When you encounter news reports about the latest study, don’t jump to conclusions based on that alone. Remember that it’s just one piece of a puzzle. What matters is the big picture— what scientists call the totality of the evidence. For a credible overview of the science, check out online sources such as the Nutrition Source from Harvard School of Public Health, or newsletters such as Nutrition Action Healthletter, the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, and the Berkeley Wellness Letter. Or go to www. pubmed. gov and look up the research yourself.  
  8. Enjoy eating! As I said at the beginning of this book, all the admonitions about which foods we should and shouldn’t consume can make eating a stressful chore. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Using science as your guide, focus on the claims with the greatest credibility and relevance, and tune out the rest. That way, you’ll feel less overwhelmed. While following sound nutrition advice is important for good health, it need not spoil your dinner. Bon appétit!
   Adapted with permission from "Coffee is Good for You" by Robert J. Davis, PhD, by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2012 by Robert J. Davis, PhD, MPH. Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1725

How to Grow Your Own Herbs for Cooking

The next time a recipe calls for fresh basil, skip the poor substitute of dried basil, forgo the last-minute dash to the supermarket for some overpriced wilted basil, and just pluck a few tender leaves off of the basil plant you have growing in your very own herb garden.  What? You don't have fresh basil growing in your garden? Well consider this your invitation to start. Growing your own herbs is a simple and inexpensive undertaking that pays off big for your taste buds and your budget.  If you can keep a houseplant alive, you can sustain an herb garden.  Here’s how. Decide what you want to grow.  Some popular choices from home cooks are listed here along with their care instructions.  Start with just a few that you know you’ll use regularly, and then branch out from there. Herb Special Care How to Harvest How to Use Basil Pinch off any flowers that appear. This preserves the plant’s flavor, and will also help increase the leaf density of each stem. Harvest the upper leaves first, taking just a few leaves from each stem at a time. Add raw to salads, sandwiches and wraps, cook into soups and sauces, chop and sprinkle on pizza, make pesto. Parsley Parsley has a longer than average germination period of three to four weeks, so extra patience is required. Cut the outermost stalks just above ground level, which will encourage further growth. Both the leaves and stalks can be eaten in salads, soups, and Mediterranean dishes like Tabouli. Chives If you don’t intend on eating the flowers, pinch them off as soon as they begin to appear. Cut the leaves with scissors, starting with the outside leaves first, allowing about 2 inches of the leaves to remain. This entire plant can be eaten from top to bottom— the bulbs taste like mild onions, the leaves can be used in salads and other dishes, and even the flower heads can be tossed into salads. Cilantro Cilantro does not like hot weather. If the soil temperature reaches 75 degrees, the plant will bolt and go to seed, making this a short-lived herb. Aggressive pruning will extend its life, so be ready to use or store it. Save the seeds to use in cooking (the seeds are called coriander) or to plant. There are two methods of harvesting cilantro. When the plant reaches about 6" in height, you can remove the outer leaves with a scissors, leaving the growing point intact for new growth. Or you can wait until the plant is almost completely grown and pull it from the soil by its roots to use the whole bunch at once. Salads, wraps, dips, and many Mexican recipes. Rosemary This plant can be difficult to start from seed, so you may wish to buy a mature plant. And be careful not to overwater—rosemary likes its soil on the dry side. Simply cut off pieces of the stem as you need it. Many culinary and even medicinal uses. Thyme This plant can take awhile to start from seed, so you may wish to buy a mature plant. Drought-tolerant thyme is extremely easy to care for, and prefers drier soils. Simply cut off pieces of the stem as you need it. Often used to flavor meats, soups, and stews. Dill Drought-tolerant dill is extremely easy to care for, and prefers drier soils. Don't start harvesting dill until it's at least 12 inches tall, and never take more than one-third of the leaves at any one time. Great flavoring for fish, lamb, potatoes, and peas. Mint Mint is an invasive plant so stick to container gardening with this one. Pinch off sprigs as you need them. Mint is extremely versatile, and can be used in salads, desserts, drinks, and many other recipes. You can even chew it by itself for a pleasant, refreshing flavor.   Decide where to plant your herbs. Many herbs grow well indoors and outdoors in the ground or in containers.  If you have a little space with at least 5 hours of direct sunlight a day, you may prefer to grow them indoors, as the herbs will be much more accessible for cooking and watering, and not subject to threats of pests, weeds, or variations in temperature. Decide whether you’ll start from seeds or seedlings.  Seedlings are very young plants that you can transplant into your own garden. They are typically only available in the spring and summer from gardening centers and farmers markets.  Seeds cost less, but take more time and resources to grow from scratch (here's how). Gather your materials.  You’ll need a few gardening tools, like a small shovel or spade, some gardening gloves and pots or containers (optional since herbs can also be planted directly into the soil). You’ll also need some fertilized soil.  If you have a compost pile, you can use some fully decomposed compost to fertilize the soil.  Otherwise, you can use a general purpose compost solution, available in any gardening store.   If you’re container gardening, use a packaged potting soil mix, which will be free of pests. Start planting.  If you’re starting from seeds, sow into moist soil and cover with 1/2 inch of soil on top.  The seeds should germinate in about one week.  If you’re using a pot or container for seedlings, follow these steps.

  1. Ensure proper drainage by filling the pot with a shallow layer of course gravel.  
  2. Fill the pot about 1/2 of the way full, and place the plant, still in its original container, into the new pot.  Add dirt around the plant, gently packing it into place, so that the top of the new soil is at the same level as the top of the plant’s original soil.   
  3. Remove the plastic pot, tap it so you can easily slide the plant and all of its soil out, and place the plant and all of its soil into the hole in the soil of the new pot.
Care for your plants. Water at the base of the plant when the soil begins to feel dry, at least once per week.  Pull weeds that appear near the plant, because they will steal the nutrients from the soil.  If growing outdoors, bring them in before the first frost. Harvest the herbs.  Most plants will grow new leaves if you don’t pick the stems bare. You can pick the leaves with your fingers or snip them with kitchen shears. Use or store the herbs.  Many recipes call for fresh herbs, so simply pick your herbs, wash them and pat them dry before using in your favorite recipes. To store, you can preserve your herbs for future use by freezing them or drying them.  In either case, you must first prep them.  First, remove any soil or bugs by rinsing in cold water.  Then, remove flowering stems and flowers and gently remove excess water by patting with a paper towel.  Once your herbs are prepped, you can choose your method of storage:
  • Air drying:  Cut the stems at soil level and hang upside down in bunches (so that the flavorful oil travels into the leaves) to dry for one to two weeks.  Once dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store in a dry, airtight container for up to a year.  
  • Freezing:  The benefit of freezing, as opposed to drying, is that the herbs retain more of their just-picked flavor.  Place clean herbs directly into freezer bags, or try the cube method: Place a few teaspoons of chopped, fresh herbs into each cell of an ice cube tray.  Fill the trays with water, and freeze.  When cooking, just pop out a cube and add it to the pot like you would fresh herbs!
Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1739

What's Really Making Your Back Hurt?

Back pain is one of the most common complaints doctors hear from their patients. In fact, studies show that more than 80% of Americans will suffer from at least one episode of back pain during their lifetime. Back pain can range from mildly annoying to completely debilitating depending on the cause and severity of the symptoms.    So what really causes back pain? The answer is complex, but what we do know is the following people are at a greater risk of lower back pain: 

  • Adults between the ages of 30 and 55.
  • People who smoke. (Researchers theorize that smoking may decrease blood flow to intervertebral discs which can lead to accelerated cell death.)
  • Adults who had episodes of low back pain as teens.
  • People whose occupational activities require heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, etc. 
  • Those with a history of depression, anxiety or insomnia. (These conditions may affect a person’s ability to deal with pain.) 
Beyond these risk factors, there are a variety of problems that cause lower back pain. Here are the five most common causes of back pain—and what you can do about it.    Strains or Sprains to Back Muscles Strains (injuries to a muscle or tendon) and sprains (injuries to a ligament) are the most common causes of back pain. Moving suddenly, twisting or lifting heavy objects can cause microscopic tears in the muscles, tendons or ligaments in your back. Depending on the severity of the tear, this can cause mild to severe pain that comes on immediately or soon after an activity such as heavy lifting. The lower back area can be sore to the touch and achy, and muscle spasms can also occur.   Treatment:  Strains and sprains often heal on their own with home remedies, such as rest, ice and/or heat, gentle stretching and anti-inflammatory medication. Ice is generally used to reduce inflammation and swelling, while heat can help reduce muscle spasms. However, if you can’t walk more than four steps without significant pain, can’t move the affected area, or have numbness, you should see a doctor right away.   Degenerated Spinal Discs Spinal discs are soft, fluid-filled "sacs" located between each vertebra of the spine. They provide a cushion for the vertebrae, helping absorb impact and shock. Over time, the discs can degenerate or wear out, especially in the lumber (lower back) region. Some disc degeneration is part of the normal aging process. Other disc issues can be caused by injury or trauma to the back. The wearing down of intervertebral discs causes chemical and physical changes within the discs that can lead to inflammation and nerve-related pain, usually contained in the lower back region and not extending into the arms or legs. It is usually brought on by activities that compress the spine, such as bending forward from the waist, sneezing, coughing or sitting for prolonged periods of time. Often, it is relieved by a change in position such as standing up or lying down.        Treatment:  In most cases, anti-inflammatory medications and exercises that strengthen and stretch the back muscles can help.   Herniated Discs With age, spinal discs become less elastic, increasing the risk of rupture. When a rupture occurs, a portion of the disc is pushed outside of its normal boundaries; this is referred to as a herniated disc. The most common area where people experience herniated discs is in the lumbar (lower back) region of the spine. Injury or trauma to the spine can also cause a disc to rupture as can prolonged sitting (which puts pressure on lower back discs) and heavy lifting.   A herniated disc results in sharp or throbbing lower back pain that can come on suddenly (as the result of a fall, sudden movement or accident) or gradually. Some people feel less pain when lying down; others experience less pain with increased movement or standing. Depending on the severity of the rupture and its location near the nerves, some people may experience nerve-related numbness, tingling, weakness or pain that shoots down the leg.   Treatment: Dealing with a herniated disc depends on a number of factors, including age and severity of symptoms. Treatment typically starts with rest and refraining from activities that aggravate the condition. Many times, the condition will resolve itself given time. Ice, heat and anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve symptoms. Physical therapy can also help to improve the stability and strength of the lumbar region to reduce the risk of further injury.    Sciatica "Sciatica" refers to pain along the sciatic nerve, which starts in the lower back and runs down the hip and buttock on each side of the body. Sciatica commonly occurs when a herniated disc or bone spur compresses part of the sciatic nerve. Sciatic pain is usually limited to one side of the body. It can result in inflammation and numbness in the affected leg, and can get worse with standing, sitting, sneezing or heavy lifting. Pain varies from a mild ache to a jolt or shock.    Treatment: Prolonged inactivity can make sciatica symptoms worse, so it’s important to continue with regular activity (assuming it’s not the activity that caused the problem in the first place). Cold packs, heat packs, stretching the hamstrings and piriformis (which runs across the buttocks to the outer hip) and pain relieving medication can be helpful ways to self-treat the problem. If those aren’t successful, your doctor might prescribe stronger medication and/or physical therapy to help correct the problem.    Spinal Stenosis This is a narrowing of the open spaces within the spinal canal, which can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves that travel through the spine. Degenerative changes typically cause this narrowing process to occur, which is why the condition normally affects people over age 50. Spinal stenosis can cause cramping in the legs (when sitting or standing for long periods of time), and pain, numbness or weakness in the back or legs. It can also lead to problems with bowel or bladder control.   Treatment: Anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants and other types of medication might be prescribed by your doctor to relieve spinal stenosis pain. Exercises to improve balance, increase flexibility and stability of the spine and increase overall strength are also often part of a comprehensive treatment program.   Special Exercise Considerations for Back Pain Although two-thirds of patients with back pain report improvements within seven weeks, as many as 40 percent will see a relapse within six months. The good news is that, in general, those who engage in a regular physical activity program are less likely to have back pain now and in the future. And for most individuals, exercise will be a key component of their treatment program. Although the standard recommendation for people with back pain used to be rest, recent research has shown inactivity may not only delay recovery, but can also make the symptoms worse.     For most acute low back pain issues, low-impact cardiovascular activities such as walking are recommended. Patients are encouraged to resume daily activities as soon as possible. Specific back exercises, heavy lifting and prolonged sitting should be avoided when the issue is acute.   For many chronic low back pain issues, physical therapy is often helpful to correct muscle imbalances and prevent future problems. The goal is typically to develop a specific set of exercises that will increase strength, endurance and flexibility and also to learn correct movement techniques that will benefit the patient for the rest of their life.    With the proper guidance, it's possible for many back pain sufferers to resume normal activities and exercise in a safe, pain-free manner.   Sources Solomon, Jennifer. “Low-back Pain.” In ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist Manual, edited by Cedric X. Bryant and Daniel J. Green, 489-507. 2012.  About.com, "Herniated Disc," orthopedics.about.com, accessed on July 2, 2013. About.com, "Discogenic Back Pain," orthopedics.about.com, accessed on July 2, 2013.   Mayo Clinic, "Spinal Stenosis," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on July 2, 2013.   Mayo Clinic, "Sciatica," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on July 2, 2013.   Spine Health, "Lower Back Pain Symptoms and Causes," www.spine-health.com, accessed on July 2, 2013.                 Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1762

Supplements for a Healthy Heart

So you just found out that you have high cholesterol, or perhaps you have a strong family history of heart disease and want to do your best to prevent it. So you head to the pharmacy or health food store for help, only to be bombarded by countless supplements that tout their heart healthy benefits. Which should you choose? Are they all good for your heart? Are supplements necessary to improve your health and reduce your risk of heart disease? Before you buy into the billion-dollar business of dietary supplements, remember a few key things.

  1. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same way as medications are regulated. Manufacturers have a lot of leeway in their ability to make health claims on their bottles—much more than most health professionals would like—and these claims can be very misleading. Some claims are not even true or are not based on good scientific research. Never trust what a bottle or advertisement tells you about a product. After all, the goal of both is to get you to buy it. Do your own investigation first.  
  2. Dietary supplements are NOT a must for a healthy heart. Many people can reduce their risk of heart disease and improve their heart health by making simple lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and following the heart-health plan provided by their health care provider. Supplements alone cannot and will not undo an unhealthy (poor quality) diet or inactive lifestyle. If you do prefer to take supplements, think of them as an added insurance plan to the heart-healthy changes you're already making.  
  3. Supplements can interact with other medications. Even something as seemingly benign as a vitamin or mineral supplement can cause adverse reactions when combined with certain over-the-counter and prescription drugs, so ALWAYS keep a list of all supplements you take and share it with your pharmacist and health care provider.  
  4. Talk to your doctor first. Before taking any supplement, get advice and recommendations from your health care provider.
Here's a list of common supplements (listed in alphabetical order) that make heart health claims. Read on to find out which may help, and which supplements you should leave on the shelf according to evidence-based research. B Vitamins: Folic Acid, Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin B-12 The B-complex vitamins, which include folic acid, help keep your nerves and red blood cells healthy and strong. They are also involved in the metabolism (and reduction) of homocysteine, an amino acid that, when elevated, is linked to heart disease, blood clots, heart attack and strokes. Several controlled research studies indicate that a combination of vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, and folic acid can decrease homocysteine levels; but other studies have shown no benefit in reducing the risk of heart disease. Therefore, the American Heart Association has concluded that there isn't enough evidence to say that B-vitamin supplementation reduces cardiovascular risk. It is important to work with your physician before taking B-complex vitamin supplements to improve heart health. Baby Aspirin This little over-the-counter pain reliever has been shown to have some great heart-healthy benefits as well. Aspirin interferes with your body’s blood clotting ability. For someone with narrowed blood vessels, a decrease in blood clotting may help to prevent a blockage and thus prevent a heart attack or stroke. To determine if you would benefit from taking an aspirin daily, talk to your doctor first about usage and dosage. If you have already had a heart attack or stroke, your doctor has probably already discussed this treatment option. If you have strong risk factors for heart disease, you may also benefit from taking a baby aspirin daily. There is no standard dosage for aspirin usage and heart health: It can range from 75-325 milligrams. A baby aspirin (81 mg) is often prescribed. Some medical conditions such as bleeding disorders, asthma, stomach ulcer, or heart failure could become more dangerous if a baby aspirin was consumed daily. Aspirin can also interfere with certain medications, herbal supplements and dietary supplements, too, so talk to your doctor first. Calcium The mineral calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth, but the heart, nerves, and blood-clotting systems also need calcium to work properly. In people with high blood pressure (hypertension), calcium supplementation appears to have a modest effect by lowering systolic blood pressure by 2–4 mmHg, but it appears to have little effect in people with normal blood pressure. Calcium seems to be most effective in salt-sensitive people and people who normally get very little calcium in their diet. For people with high cholesterol, taking calcium supplements along with a heart healthy diet may modestly reduce LDL "bad" cholesterol by 4.4% and increase HDL "good" cholesterol by 4.1%. Taking calcium alone, without the heart healthy diet, does not seem to lower cholesterol. Other studies suggest that simply eating a calcium-rich diet (not supplementing it) can improve heart health. Research has shown that individuals who eat a vegetarian diet that is high in minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium) and fiber, and low in fat tend to have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease. Similarly, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study was conducted to test the effects of three different eating patterns on blood pressure: the "typical" American diet; a diet high in fruits and vegetables; and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, now known as the DASH diet. The third group experienced the greatest reduction in blood pressure among the three groups, which signals that dietary calcium plays an important role in heart health. A heart-healthy goal for calcium intake is to consume at least 1,000-1,200 milligrams daily. Determine how much calcium you are getting daily through your diet (tracking your food on SparkPeople's free Nutrition Tracker will do the math for you!) and then add a supplement to meet the remaining amount, if necessary. Coenzyme Q-10 Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10) is a vitamin-like substance found throughout the body, especially in the cells of the heart, liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It is involved in generating energy, cell respiration and cell transport. It occurs naturally (in small amounts) in meats and seafood, but can also be made in a laboratory for medicinal and supplementation purposes. Preliminary research indicates that Coenzyme Q-10 supplementation MAY:
  • Reduce blood pressure enough that people taking medication for hypertension can decrease or discontinue their dosage (under a doctor's care, of course).
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease complications when started within 72 hours of having a heart attack and taken for one year.
  • Help treat congestive heart failure when taken in combination with other heart failure medications and treatments.
  • Improve exercise tolerance in patients with chest pain (angina).
  • Help prevent the muscle pains and liver damage often experience by people using statin drugs.
Work closely with your physician when using or considering this supplement. Fish Oil Fatty fish that are especially rich in the beneficial oils called omega-3 fatty acids include mackerel, tuna, salmon, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, anchovy, sardines, herring, and trout. The omega-3 fatty acids can improve heart health due to their anti-inflammatory action. Fish oil can be obtained from eating fish or by taking fish oil supplements. Studies indicate the fish oil can help prevent heart disease and lower the risk of additional complications in people who already have heart disease. Some research indicates that fish oil can: reduce triglycerides by up to 20-50%; modestly lower blood pressure by expanding blood vessels; and offer greater heart-protection benefits when combined with statin drugs (cholesterol-lowering medications). Be sure to talk to your doctor about the amount of fish oil you should be taking. Your doctor will follow specific dosing guidelines based on your medical needs. A dose of 1 to 4 grams daily (with 240 milligrams of DHA and 360 milligrams of EPA per gram) is fairly typical, but the prescribed dosage will vary depending on your heart health and lipid profile. Warning: Taking high doses of fish oil can be dangerous; more than 3 grams per day can keep blood from clotting properly and can increase bleeding in your body. High doses of fish oil might also reduce the functioning of your immune system. Taking fish oil supplements in large amounts can also increase levels of the LDL "bad" cholesterol in some people. Green Tea Extract Green tea extract can be made from the dried leaves of the Camellia sinesis plant, a perennial evergreen shrub. Since green tea is not fermented (as black tea is) and is produced by steaming fresh leaves at high temperatures, it maintain important molecules called catechins, a type of flavonoid thought to be responsible for many of the benefits of green tea. Epidemiological evidence suggests that people who drink more green tea have healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In one study, participants who ingested 375 milligrams of an oral theaflavin-enriched green tea extract daily for 12 weeks experienced reductions in total cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Typical recommendations encourage the drinking of freshly brewed green tea, which appears to offer more benefits than supplementation. Drink up to 5 cups of green tea daily for heart health, or supplement with 375 milligrams of green tea extract daily. Talk to your doctor for more specific guidelines based on your medical needs. Niacin Niacin and niacinamide are forms of vitamin B-3, which is found in many protein-rich foods including poultry, fish, beef, pork, peanut butter, and legumes. It is also added to many enriched and fortified grain products (think cereals and breads). Niacin and niacinamide are required for fats and sugars to function properly in the body and for the maintenance of healthy cells. Research has shown that in high doses, niacin and niacinamide can help prevent heart disease by interfering with the body’s blood clotting action and possibly lowering triglyceride levels. Therefore, individual niacin supplements are sometimes used as a treatment for high cholesterol. Only niacin—not the form niacinamide—appears to lower cholesterol. Some niacin supplements are FDA-approved as prescriptions for treating high cholesterol. These prescription niacin supplements typically come in 50- milligram doses or higher, while over-the-counter supplements (which are not regulated by the FDA) come in strengths of 250 milligrams or less. Since very high doses of niacin are required for the treatment of high cholesterol, dietary niacin supplements is usually not effective or appropriate for this purpose. Niacin is safe for most adults. A flushing reaction is a common effect of niacin supplementation. This can occur as a burning, tingling, itching, and redness of the face, arms, and chest. Often starting with a smaller dose of niacin and taking aspirin before each dose of niacin will help reduce the flushing effect. Usually, this reaction goes away as the body gets used to the medication. Other side effects of niacin are stomach upset, gas, dizziness, and pain in the mouth. Serious and toxic side effects can occur when an individual consumes 3 grams or more per day. Talk to your doctor before using niacin as a treatment option for high cholesterol. Plant Sterols and Stanols Plant sterols and plant stanols are components of certain plant membranes. They are found naturally in small amounts in some vegetable oils, nuts, grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Research has shown that plant sterols and plant stanols have the ability to help lower total cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol. When you eat food that contains dietary cholesterol (found in animal products) your intestinal tract absorbs that cholesterol and puts it into the bloodstream. When the sterols and stanols travel through your digestive tract, they get in the way of dietary cholesterol, preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Therefore, less total cholesterol is absorbed by your body when plant sterols and stanols are present. The cholesterol that is not absorbed leaves the body as waste. To be beneficial, plant sterols and stanols must be consumed in the correct amount on a daily basis. The National Cholesterol Education Program’s Adult Treatment Panel III recommends an intake of at least 2 grams of plant sterols and plant stanols daily to be effective at lowering cholesterol and LDL levels. Plant sterols and stanols are now added to some margarines, orange juices, yogurts and other specialized foods. They are also available as a supplement. To assure that one gets the 2 grams daily needed for effectiveness, many doctors now suggest taking plant sterols and stanols as a supplement. Psyllium Blond psyllium seed and psyllium husk (the outer covering of the seed) are primarily used as to make laxatives for constipation and fiber supplements such as Metamucil. You can also find psyllium added to cereals, breads and snack bars that are marketed as "high in fiber." In addition, psyllium alone can be found as a supplement. The fiber from psyllium can reduce LDL "bad" cholesterol. Studies have indicated that taking blond psyllium in a dose of approximately 10-12 grams daily can reduce levels of total cholesterol by 3% to 14% and LDL "bad" cholesterol by 5% to 10% after 7 weeks of treatment. Warnings: Blond psyllium is safe for most people when taken with plenty of fluids to prevent the fiber from forming an obstruction in the esophagus. Blond psyllium can lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, so monitor blood sugar levels closely. It can also decrease the absorption of certain medications. In some people, blond psyllium might cause gas, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. For these reasons, make sure you talk with your doctor before using psyllium seed or psyllium husk. Red Yeast Rice Red yeast rice supplements come from the rice that is fermented with Monascus purpureus yeast. The active ingredient in red yeast rice supplements is similar to the active ingredient in the cholesterol-lowering prescription drugs (statins), such as lovastatin (Mevacor). While red yeast rice supplements can be used to maintain normal cholesterol levels in healthy people, and in reducing cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides in people with high cholesterol, it can also cause all the same side effects as statin drugs: liver damage, muscle pain, and muscle damage. Some red yeast supplements contain none of the active ingredient, and some contain significant amounts. Therefore, the American Heart Association warns against using red yeast until the results of long-term studies are available and the quality of the products become more standardized. It can cause stomach discomfort, heartburn, gas and dizziness. You should talk with your healthcare provider before taking red yeast rice. Selenium Selenium is a mineral found in foods and water sources. The amount of selenium in the foods you eat depends on where it is grown or raised; the amount of selenium in soils varies greatly, which means that foods grown in different soils have differing selenium levels. Crab, liver, fish, poultry, and wheat are generally good selenium sources. There is some preliminary evidence that selenium may help to lower LDL "bad" cholesterol and decrease plaque build-up in the arteries. However, in people with coronary heart disease, selenium supplementation in combination with beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E does NOT seem to protect against the progression of heart disease. Currently there is insufficient evidence available to recommend selenium supplements for the prevention of heart disease. Vitamin C Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin helps form and repair red blood cells and other body tissue. It helps keep blood vessels firm, prevents bruising, and helps keep the immune system strong. Good sources of vitamin C are fresh fruits (especially citrus) and vegetables, especially citrus fruits. Synthetic vitamin C can also be made in a laboratory to be used in supplements. Taking vitamin C along with conventional high blood pressure medications appears to decrease systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) by a small amount, but does not seem to decrease diastolic pressure (the bottom number). Taking vitamin C supplements alone, though, doesn’t seem to affect blood pressure. Regarding cardiovascular disease, evidence from many epidemiological studies suggests that high intakes of fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, partly due to the antioxidant content of these foods. However, results from research examining vitamin C intake and cardiovascular disease risk are conflicting. Results from most clinical intervention trials have failed to show a beneficial effect of vitamin C supplementation on the prevention of cardiovascular disease. So you're better off saving your money and just eating more fruits and vegetables to get the heart-protecting benefits of vitamin C. Vitamin E Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin found in many foods including vegetable oils (such as soybean, corn, cottonseed, and safflower oil), as well as margarines and salad dressings made from such oils. Nuts, seeds and wheat germ are also good sources of vitamin E. It is known as a powerful antioxidant, and for years, vitamin E supplements were touted as having a protective effect on the heart. Several observational studies have associated high dietary (not supplemented) intakes of vitamin E with lower rates of heart disease. However, clinical trials have not shown vitamin E supplements to be effective in preventing heart disease, stroke or chest pain. In fact some studies indicate that vitamin E supplementation actually increased heart failure and mortality. Overall, clinical trials have not provided evidence that routine use of vitamin E supplements prevents cardiovascular disease. While taking vitamin E supplements may not help prevent heart disease, increasing your intake of vitamin E by eating more foods that contain it may be beneficial. Sources Davis, Jeanie Lerche. "Supplementing Your Heart Health: Omega-3, Plant Sterols, and More," accessed March 2011. www.webmd.com. Grogan, Martha, M.D. "Calcium supplements: A risk factor for heart attack?," accessed March 2011. www.mayoclinic.com. Grogan, Martha, M.D. "Can vitamins help prevent a heart attack?," accessed March 2011. www.mayoclinic.com. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH," (PDF) accessed March 2011. www.nhlbi.nih.gov. Office of Dietary Supplements. "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets," accessed March 2011. www.ods.od.nih.gov. Therapeutic Research Faculty. "Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database," accessed March 2011. www.naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com. Woolston, Chris. "Why Supplements May Do Your Heart More Harm Than Good," accessed March 2011. www.health.com.Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1631

Garlic: The Big Flavor with Benefits

Garlic is a great way to add bold taste to your cooking without extra calories or sodium. But did you know that garlic offers more than big flavor? It's such a common ingredient in so many dishes that it's easy to overlook its health benefits.   Garlic is a member of the Allium family, along with onions, leeks and shallots. Like a tulip or daffodil, garlic grows from a bulb underground, producing leaves and a flower stalk. The underground bulb, with its individual cloves, is what humans have cooked with for more than 6,000 years.   Garlic originated in central Asia. Although Gilroy, Ca, calls itself the garlic capital of the world, China is the world's dominant garlic producer. Garlic shows up in many world cuisines, from garlicky Asian sauces, to Italian pasta dishes, to the classic French sauce, aioli.   Ancient Greeks and Romans embraced garlic for its health benefits; the Roman physician Galen praised its cure-all properties. Today, the National Institutes for Health notes that garlic is used as medicine for many conditions involving the heart and blood system, and for treating the immune system. Garlic also has anti-inflammatory and infection-fighting properties. According to the NIH, garlic is ''possibly effective'' when used as treatment for high blood pressure, fungal infections of the skin, hardening of the arteries, and colon, rectal and stomach cancer. When used medicinally, garlic is typically concentrated into extract or powder and given as tablets or capsules.   Varieties Garlic comes in hardneck and softneck varieties. Softneck varieties have a flexible flower stalk (which can be braided) and smaller cloves; most commercially available garlic is of this variety. Hardneck garlics have a firm, edible flower stalk (called a scape) and larger cloves. Increasingly, small farmers are growing heirloom hardneck varieties, some of which date back hundreds of years. You can find these varieties at many farmers markets.   Nutrition Data Garlic has been shown to moderately reduce cholesterol, and its sulfur compounds have been shown to reduce blood pressure. It's also low in calories (4 calories per clove) and high in vitamin C, selenium and magnesium. Very preliminary research has suggested that garlic may inhibit the production of fat cells in the body. A Note on Prepared/Processed Garlic Allicin, a unique sulfur component, is responsible for garlic's pungent flavor and also for some of its health benefits. Allicin is released when a clove of garlic is chopped and is at its most potent when used soon after chopping. For this reason, prepared minced garlic sold in jars in the grocery is less flavorful and less beneficial than fresh garlic. Pre-minced garlic is packaged with oil and preservatives like citric or phosphoric acid. Since it's so easy to peel and chop garlic, using fresh is recommended. You can even grow it at home pretty easily.  

Buying and Storing Look for garlic bulbs that are undamaged, with their papery skins intact. Choose bulbs that have larger cloves, as these are easier to peel. Garlic can be stored in a cool, dark place for three to six months; discard any cloves that have dried out or begun to sprout.   Cooking Garlic can be eaten raw or cooked. Cooking tempers the flavor (and lessens garlic breath). To prepare garlic for cooking, remove the papery skin and the hard root end from each clove, then chop according to recipe directions. (Some research has shown that cutting or crushing garlic activates its enzymes and that it's beneficial to wait five minutes before continuing with the recipe.) You can infuse olive oil with garlic by simmering a half cup of oil in a saucepan with 2-3 chopped garlic cloves. Garlic can be roasted, which creates a soft, caramelized texture and sweet, rich flavor. Note: Garlic is also sold in powdered or granulated form, which is appropriate for use in recipes like dressings, sauces or dips. Garlic powder is not a good substitute in recipes that call for sautéing or cooking fresh garlic. Granulated garlic, garlic powder and garlic salt are three different ingredients and shouldn't be used interchangeably, so pay attention to your recipe. Avoid garlic salt if you're watching your sodium levels. Healthy Recipes that Feature Garlic   Chef Meg's Favorite Ginger-Garlic Sauce This versatile recipe can be used to add bold flavor as a marinade or sauce for grilled meats or vegetables.   Low-Fat Slow-Cooker Garlic Mashed Potatoes Perfect for a crowd, this recipe can be made ahead for family gatherings. Chef Meg's Grilled Citrus Garlic Flank Steak Garlic adds a ton of flavor to this healthy, lean cut of beef.   Chef Meg's Herb-Roasted Garlic Sweet, softened roasted garlic is terrific on toasted bread slices, or in soups and stews. So, what are you waiting for? Start adding more garlic to your meals--the flavor and health benefits will be worth the garlic breath!

  Sources   National Institutes of Health. ''Garlic,'' accessed July 2012. http://www.nlm.nih.gov.   The World's Healthiest Foods. ''Garlic,'' accessed July 2012. http://whfoods.org.  

Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1791

Eating for a Healthy Heart

Looking for ways to kick start your heart-healthy lifestyle? Start by looking at your diet. Poor food choices can have a negative effect on your heart, weight and overall health; but making small, sustainable changes to improve your diet can have a lasting impact. There is a lot of misinformation about what foods are or aren't heart-healthy, so it may surprise you to learn that you don't need exotic fruits, imported nuts, or even pricey supplements to take care of your ticker. By making heart smart choices at home, at the grocery and at your favorite restaurant, you can reduce your risk of heart disease. Dietary DOs and DON'Ts for a Healthy Heart DO focus on fruits and vegetables. Most American's don't come close to eating the recommended minimum of five servings per day, but vegetables and fruits of all kinds and colors should take center stage in a heart-healthy diet. They're rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that promote a healthy heart and body, plus they're filling and low in calories, which can promote weight management. Fresh, frozen, dried, canned (without sugar/syrups or added salt), raw, cooked—all fruits and vegetables are good for you. Here are more tips to fit them into your meals and snacks. DON'T overdo it on juice and processed "fruit" snacks. The fruit filling in a breakfast pastry is mostly sugar—not a real serving of fruit. And while small amounts of 100% fruit juice can fit into a healthy diet, they're also concentrated sources of sugar (naturally occurring) and calories compared to whole fruits, which also boast heart-healthy fiber while juice does not. Find out how juice can fit into a healthy diet. DO monitor your sodium intake. Sodium gets a bad rap—and deservedly so. Our bodies do need this mineral, but in much smaller quantities than we normally eat. To prevent high blood pressure and heart disease, a healthy sodium goal to strive for is no more than 1,500 milligrams per day. Keep in mind that sodium doesn't just come from the salt shaker; processed foods, frozen entrees, canned vegetables, common condiments (like ketchup), deli meats (such as salami) and cheeses (including cottage cheese) can be high in sodium, as can many restaurant dishes. Learn how sodium sneaks into your diet and ways to reduce your intake. DON'T forget about added sugar. Most people know that sugar isn't exactly a health food. It provides quick-digesting carbohydrates, but no real nutrition (think: vitamins and minerals). While many people associate sugar with the development of diabetes, few people realize that sugar plays just as much of a role in heart disease as dietary fat does. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that individuals who ate more sugar had lower levels of HDL "good" cholesterol and higher triglycerides—markers of increased heart disease risk. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars (about 100 calories) each day; that number becomes 9 teaspoons for men (150 calories). Just one 12-ounce can of cola has about 130 calories, or eight teaspoons of sugar. Learn more about where sugar lurks in your diet. DO cut back on fat. To reduce your risk of heart disease you need to choose the right types of fat, and make sure that you're not eating too much fat in general. Most adults eat too much fat, regardless of the source, so cutting back on dietary fat is a good first step to a heart healthy diet. That's why choosing low-fat products, baking or broiling instead of frying, and reducing or omitting the fats that recipes call for (think: oil, shortening, lard) are important first steps to get your fat intake in line. Avoid fats that elevate your cholesterol levels: trans fats (hydrogenated oils found in baked goods and many margarines) and saturated fats (usually found in high-fat meats and dairy products, including beef, lamb, pork, poultry, beef fat, cream, lard, butter, cheese and dairy products made with whole or 2% milk, as well as baked goods and fried foods that contain palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil). About 25-35% of your total calories for the day should come from fat sources. For someone eating 1,500 calories per day, that's about 41-58 grams of fat. SparkPeople's meal plans and nutrition ranges meet this guideline, so if you track your food and are within your daily fat goal, you are meeting this recommendation. DON'T fear all fats. Not all fats are bad for you. In fact, certain types of fat, such as monounsaturated fat and Omega-3s, actually promote heart health. Once you've gotten your fat intake in line, focus on making heart-smart fat choices to meet your daily recommendations. Fats found in nuts, olive, soybean and canola oils, fish and seafood. DO imbibe in moderation (if you drink). Research indicates that a moderate alcohol intake has been associated with a decreased risk for certain cardiovascular diseases, particularly coronary heart disease. A moderate alcohol intake is defined as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. To find out if a moderate alcohol intake is appropriate for you, talk to your doctor about your consumption of alcohol, medical history, and any medications you use. Learn more about alcohol and your heart. DON'T start drinking alcohol if you aren't already a drinker. There are other, healthier ways to reduce your risk of heart disease rather than drinking alcohol, which also comes with its own set of risks and can lead to problems. If you don't drink now, don't start. Other healthy habits (like not smoking, eating right, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight) can also help you reduce your risk of heart disease. DO fill up on fiber. A high fiber diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Certain types of fiber may help lower LDL "bad" cholesterol. Adults should aim for 20-30 grams each day. To meet your daily quota, select a variety of unprocessed plant-based foods each day, including whole grains, (oats, whole-wheat bread/flour/cereal fruits and vegetables and beans. DON'T forget about cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance made in the liver and cells of animals. It is therefore found in animal products (meat, poultry, dairy and eggs), but not plant-sourced foods. A high intake of dietary cholesterol can contribute to heart disease. For the prevention of heart disease, limit your intake of dietary cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams each day. If you already have an elevated LDL cholesterol level or you are taking a cholesterol medication, this goal is even lower: 200 milligrams daily. While it may seem like there are a lot of "rules" to follow to protect your heart, it all boils down to making smart choices on a consistent basis. Focus on the foods that you know are good for you—whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean protein choices, and healthy fats—and limit or avoid the types of foods that don't do anything for your health (think empty calories, fried foods, sugar and sweets, and high-fat meats and dairy products). When you focus on the good stuff and make healthful choices most of the time, you'll be doing your body—and your heart—well. Sources American Heart Association. "Nutrition Center: Healthy Diet Goals," accessed March 2011. www.heart.org. American Heart Association. "Saturated Fats," accessed March 2011. www.heart.org. HelpGuide.org "Easy Tips for Planning a Healthy Diet and Sticking To It," accessed March 2011. www.helpguide.org. Mayo Clinic. "Healthy Diet: End the Guesswork with These Nutrition Guidelines," accessed March 2011. www.mayoclinic.com. United Press International. "Eating Fiber May Reduce Heart Risk," accessed March 2011. www.upi.com. Welsh, Jean A, Andrea Sharma, Jerome L. Abramson, Viola Vaccarino, Cathleen Gillespie and Miriam B. Vos. "Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among US Adults," Journal of the American Medical Association. Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=53

Hate Trump or Clinton? This Website Uses That Anger to Help You Lose Weight

Setting goals is one thing, but actually sticking to them is, well... yeah. The aptly named website Trump Your Goals is here to help, whether you want to lose weight or run a 5K—albeit in a pretty messed up way. Here's how it works: Enter your goal, set the deadline, choose the amount of money you'll pony up if you fall short, and answer the question: Who do you hate more, Trump or Clinton? If you don't complete it, the site donates the cash to your least favorite presidential candidate. Photo: Trump Your Goals This all sounds pretty backward, and to be fair, there's not much accountability here. You just have to say you completed your goal—and we know how easy that is. Science does back up the so-called anti-charity form of motivation. Studies have shown people are more driven by the possibility of a punishment than a reward. There's also research that supports attaching money to your goals and making them public. But there are plenty of ways to stick to your goals that don't involve inadvertently supporting a cause you're fundamentally against. Apps such as Commit and Strides can keep you on track, or if you're really the type that needs to put your money where you mouth is, tell a friend you'll buy them a drink if you fall short. Because life does get in the way, and it's not worth compromising your values.

Hate Trump or Clinton? This Website Uses That Fury to Help You Lose Weight

Setting goals is one thing, but actually sticking to them is, well... yeah. The aptly named website Trump Your Goals is here to help, whether you want to lose weight or run a 5K—albeit in a pretty messed up way. Here's how it works: Enter your goal, set the deadline, choose the amount of money you'll pony up if you fall short, and answer the question: Who do you hate more, Trump or Clinton? If you don't complete it, the site donates the cash to your least favorite presidential candidate. Photo: Trump Your Goals This all sounds pretty backward, and to be fair, there's not much accountability here. You just have to say you completed your goal—and we know how easy that is. Science does back up the so-called anti-charity form of motivation. Studies have shown people are more driven by the possibility of a punishment than a reward. There's also research that supports attaching money to your goals and making them public. But there are plenty of ways to stick to your goals that don't involve inadvertently supporting a cause you're fundamentally against. Apps such as Commit and Strides can keep you on track, or if you're really the type that needs to put your money where you mouth is, tell a friend you'll buy them a drink if you fall short. Because life does get in the way, and it's not worth compromising your values.

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