Category Archives for Nutrition Advice

The Difference between Probiotics and Prebiotics

Prebiotic compounds are abundant in
whole-wheat foods.

You might think that your digestive system serves only to help you process and extract the nutrients in your foods. It does that, of course, but it does much, much more.

In fact, your gastrointestinal tract has been called the “second brain” – a complex system that sends and receives all kinds of information to and from your “first” brain. The “brain” in your gut has a variety of receptors that gather information about conditions in your digestive tract. It then sends signals to your “first’ brain, which uses that information to control digestive function.

The Gut Microbiome

An important player in all of this is something called the gut “microbiome” – which is really a world within you. Your microbiome is an entire ecosystem composed of trillions of diverse organisms (including bacteria, fungi and viruses) – weighing between two and six pounds- which has profound effects on your health.

One of the primary functions of the microbiome is to break down dietary fiber, since the human body lacks the machinery to get the job done. The microbiome also supports the health of your immune system (much of which resides in your gut), helps keep out foreign invaders that could make you sick, and manufactures several essential vitamins.

With so many important roles that it has in protecting your health, there is increasing attention to the role that diet plays in maintaining the health of your microbiome.

While we don’t know exactly what the ideal composition of the microbiome should be, we do know that the more diverse the population of inhabitants in your gut, the better. The foods you put into your system have a big influence on maintaining a healthy balance of the microbes in your gut which, in turn, helps your two “brains” to optimally work together.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are the compounds in many of the high fiber foods that you eat. While humans lack the ability to break down the fiber that we consume in foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, the microbes in your gut are more than happy to do the job for you, in a process referred to as “fermentation”.

As the microbes ferment the dietary fiber that you eat, they produce certain compounds that serve as fuel for the cells that line your intestinal tract, thus helping to keep it healthy.

Prebiotic compounds are particularly abundant in bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, tomatoes, plums, apples, nuts, soybeans and whole-wheat foods.

Probiotics

The word “probiotic” derives from the Greek (“promoting life”). And probiotics certainly do just that in your digestive tract. Probiotics are the “good” bacteria (sometimes called live cultures) that you can consume from foods or supplements. Probiotics are the same bacteria that reside in your gut. Taking in probiotics can help to balance the populations of the various types of bacteria in your gut, which, in turn, promotes gut health.

While the idea of consuming bacteria may not sound appealing, it’s likely that you already consume them without realizing it. Probiotics are found in many fermented foods. Fermentation is a natural process in which bacteria convert sugars and other carbohydrates in foods into acids. That’s why many naturally fermented foods have a tangy taste.

For many people, the most common source of probiotics is fermented dairy products such as yogurt, kefir and certain aged cheeses. In fact, one of the most common strains of probiotic bacteria that reside in your intestines is Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is found in yogurt.

You can also obtain beneficial probiotics from fermented vegetables such as pickles, kimchi, olives and sauerkraut (only when sold refrigerated; canned products are heated during processing, which destroys the beneficial bacteria). Other sources include fermented soy products such as miso and tempeh, cultured non-dairy yogurts (look for “live active cultures” on the label) and kombucha beverages.

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4 Summertime Food Safety Tips

Make sure to cook food thoroughly
when barbecuing

Don’t spoil your summertime fun with the chance of getting sick from contaminated food. Here are some tips for maintaining food safety during warm weather.

Nothing says summer quite like backyard barbecues, picnics and camping. But nothing spoils a picnic more quickly than unwelcome guests—and I’m not talking about party crashers. These other unwelcome guests come in the form of food-borne bacteria, which can multiply quickly in hot summertime temperatures and make your picnic foods risky to eat.

The bacteria in foods that can make you sick grow quickly at room temperature, and even faster when the thermometer climbs to 90 degrees F (32C) or so. Keeping foods cold discourages the bacteria from growing, and cooking foods destroys them. So, the most basic rule is this: keep hot foods hot, and keep cold foods cold.
Here are four tips for proper food handling during those warm weather months:

Pack Your Cooler the Smart Way

If you’re going to carry raw meat to grill at the park or your campsite, pack your cooler carefully. Season or marinate the meat and put it in a tightly sealed plastic container or zippered plastic food storage bag, then keep it separated from any foods that are ready-to-eat in your cooler. You don’t want any of those raw meat juices dripping onto your fruits, veggies and side dishes. And pack your cooler with plenty of ice or ice packs, so that everything stays nice and cold.

Don’t Let the Outside Fool You

When it’s time to serve foods from the grill, check thick foods like bone-in chicken pieces to make sure they’re cooked all the way through before serving. Sometimes they cook quickly on the outside, but they’re still raw or undercooked in the middle. If you have a few hours before it’s time to grill, you can also partially cook chicken pieces in the microwave, then drop them in a zippered plastic bag with the marinade and refrigerate. Since the chicken is partially cooked, it takes less time to finish it on the grill; it tends to cook more evenly and it’s less likely to be dry.

Don’t Double-Dip

Once your fish, meat or poultry comes off the grill, it might be tempting to dunk it back in the marinade—but don’t. Since the marinade was in contact with raw or undercooked meat, it could harbor some harmful bacteria that could cause illness.

Follow the 2-2-4 Rule

When it comes to leftovers, an easy way to remember food storage guidelines is simple: two hours, two inches, four days. These numbers make up the “2-2-4 rule.”
Two hours is how long foods can safely stay at room temperature after you’ve taken them out of the oven or off the grill. In the case of cold foods, that’s how long they can safely stay out of the refrigerator or cooler. But there’s an exception to this rule: the limit drops to just an hour if the outdoor temperature is 90 degrees F (32C) or higher. Once the time limit is reached, the food should be refrigerated or frozen. So, if you’re away from home, be sure to pack up your food and place it back in the cooler with your ice packs to keep them at a safe temperature.

The two inch rule means that you should store leftover foods in shallow containers—no more than two inches deep—so they can cool down evenly and quickly. If containers are too deep, it takes too long for the food in the middle to cool down.

The last rule says that you should use your refrigerated leftovers within four days. Otherwise, you should toss them out. But picnic leftovers are pretty tasty, so chances are that they’ll be long gone before then.

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Want to Build Muscle? It Takes More Than Just Protein

Eat high-quality carbs to build muscles.

Protein is important for building muscle, but other nutrients play an important role as well.

If you were to ask most people what it takes to build muscle, they’d probably say that you just need to eat protein, protein and more protein. Protein is important, to be sure. After all, your muscles are made of protein, and your body requires adequate protein in the diet in order to have the building blocks it needs to build up muscle mass. But protein alone won’t do. You need to pay attention to the rest of your diet as well.

Essential Nutrients to Build Muscle

A lot of men who are trying to bulk up are also trying to lose body fat at the same time. But sometimes the approaches they use to meet those goals are at odds with each other. They’ll take in plenty of protein, which, when coupled with a strength training routine, should lead to more lean mass. But they may also cut their total calories back too far in an effort to get “shredded.”

That can be a problem. If you cut your calories too much, some of the protein that you eat is going to be burned for fuel, rather than being used to support muscle development. So, to effectively build muscle mass, you want to ensure that you have enough calories to support your activity, and the right balance of nutrients, too.

    Carbohydrates:

    Many bodybuilders see carbs as the enemy, and that can be a mistake. Yes, highly refined carbohydrates and sweets hardly do the body good. But the right carbohydrates found in whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables help to fuel activity, including working muscles. Without adequate carbohydrate to fuel your exercise, some of the protein you’re eating might get burned for fuel. So, to avoid “burning the candle at both ends,” make sure to include enough high-quality carbs in your diet.

    Fat:

    Dietary fat is sometimes underappreciated by some athletes. Like carbs, fats may have an undeserved bad reputation. Small amounts of the right kinds of fats are really important. That’s because certain fatty acids, the building blocks of dietary fats, are essential because the body can’t make them. Fatty acids are a vital structural component of every cell membrane, including muscle cells. The body relies on fat to fuel moderate intensity, longer-term exercise. That’s just the type of exercise that might be coupled with a strength-training regimen to build mass and lose body fat. Focus on the “good” sources, like nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil and avocado.

    Protein:

    Eating the right amount of protein is important for stimulating muscle development, and so is the timing of protein intake. The process of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is stimulated by strength training activity. But it’s also stimulated when you eat protein. This is one reason that strength-training athletes should aim to spread their protein intake fairly evenly over meals and snacks throughout the day. MPS is greater under these conditions than it is under a more typical pattern in which little protein is consumed in the morning, a bit more at lunch and then a large amount at dinner. And a bedtime snack containing about 25g of protein can help to stimulate MPS during the night.

Both plant and animal sources provide the necessary building blocks for MPS. “Fast-digesting” proteins are high in the amino acid leucine, found in a range of both plant and animal proteins. This includes soy, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds and beans, all of which stimulate MPS. And more slowly digested proteins, such as egg and milk proteins, may help to prolong the MPS process.

At this point, there’s nothing to suggest that “fast” proteins are better than “slow” proteins, or vice versa. What’s more important to know is that protein needs can be met from both plant and animal sources. With careful planning and attention to total intake, even vegetarians or vegans can consume enough protein to support muscle development.

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Healthy Digestion, Healthy You

Fermented foods are important for digestive health.

To keep your digestive system running smoothly, focus on fiber, fluids and regular exercise.

If more people really thought about how much their digestive systems do for them every day, they might be more inclined to take better care of their digestive health. Your digestive system has a huge job – it breaks down the foods that you eat in order to make nutrients and energy available to the body, and it is responsible for steering unwanted waste out of the body, too. On top of that, your digestive tract is a key player in immunity – the cells lining your digestive tract help protect your body against bacterial and viral invaders that could make you sick.

And, your brain and your digestive tract are in constant communication with one another. An incredible amount of information travels between your gut and your brain – so much so, that the nervous system that resides in your digestive tract is often called the body’s “second brain”. This system alerts the “first brain” if you’ve eaten something you shouldn’t have, and also keeps tabs on your hunger level and your mood.

And yet, many people abuse their digestive system – by filling it with highly processed foods, or eating too much, or eating too fast – and pay little attention to it until something goes wrong.

Key Components to Digestive Health

In the most general sense, what you eat and the way you live your life influences the health of your digestive system. A nutrient-rich, balanced diet helps to nourish all of your body’s cells, including those in your digestive tract. Fiber, fluids and regular exercise all help to keep you regular, and taking care of your “second brain” by keeping your stress levels in check can also help to promote digestive health.

Fiber and Fluids Support Digestive Health

Perhaps one of the most important dietary components for digestive health is adequate dietary fiber.

Most people think of fiber as the substance that helps to keep the digestive process moving. And certain fibers do just that. But not all fibers function exactly the same way, which is why we often talk about two types of fiber – insoluble and soluble fiber – both of which contribute to digestive health, but in different ways.

Insoluble fiber – sometimes called “roughage” – isn’t broken down by the body but it absorbs water, which adds bulk. This type of fiber – found in vegetables, bran and most whole grains – helps to speed the passage of waste through your digestive system, which helps keep you regular.

Soluble fiber– found in foods like apples, oranges, oats, barley and beans – thickens and swells up when it comes in contact with liquid. So, when you eat these foods, they swell up in the watery environment of your stomach and help to fill you up. But another important feature of soluble fiber is that it functions as a prebiotic – which means that it encourages the growth of the good bacteria in your digestive tract.

Your digestive system houses tens of trillions of microorganisms – made up of thousands of species – taken together, this bacterial colony is sometimes called the “gut microbiome”.

These bacteria help your body extract nutrients from your food, they help with the production of certain vitamins, and they protect the health of the digestive tract by keeping out dangerous foreign invaders. But this mini ecosystem residing in your gut appears to do even more – there is evidence that your gut microbiome may also influence your body weight, memory and mood, too. So, it’s important to provide these bacteria with their preferred source of fuel – in the form of soluble fiber.

You can also introduce beneficial bacteria into your system directly – in the form of probiotics found in certain foods. Fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir, pickles and sauerkraut, miso paste and olives are all natural sources of beneficial bacteria.

Since soluble fibers dissolve in water – and insoluble fibers trap it – it should come as no surprise that adequate fluids are important in keeping your digestive system running smoothly. But you also need water to produce saliva and digestive juices, and to transport nutrients to your cells, so taking in adequate fluids every day is vitally important to your digestive health.

Exercise and Stress Reduction Support Digestive Health

Regular exercise also supports digestive health in a couple of ways. As your muscles contract and your breath deepens during activity, the natural contractions of your intestinal muscles are stimulated, too, which helps to move food through your system. Exercise is also a well-known stress reducer, so it can help reduce digestive upsets that can occur in response to negative emotions.

The connection between your brain and your “second brain” in your digestive tract is something you’ve probably experienced in the form of a “gut reaction”. When stress or anxiety strikes, your brain sends a signal to your gut – and the next thing you know you’ve got a churning stomach.

The signals travel in the other direction, too – from gut to brain. When something in your digestive system isn’t quite right, an alert is sent to your brain, often before you even notice anything is wrong. Either way, this brain-gut connection suggests that keeping your digestive system in tip-top shape is vital to your sense of well-being.

The diet and lifestyle steps you take to keep yourself healthy are the same ones that promote digestive health, too. A diet that includes plenty of fiber from colorful fruits and vegetables and whole grains, adequate hydration, and regular exercise are all key factors. And take time to
enjoy your meals – you’ll be more relaxed, and less likely to overeat, too.

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Fitness Motivation for Men of All Ages

Add weights to build muscle

Getting fit and staying fit requires hard work, discipline and being committed to achieving your personal goals. At different stages of our lives, certain fitness goals may feel like they are harder or easier to achieve than others.
However, your health and well-being should be a priority regardless of age, and we should learn to train smarter, not harder.

For instance, men in their late teens and early 20s find that building and maintaining their muscle mass comes easier to them, and they notice results pretty quickly after starting a new workout plan.
However, men in their 40s and 50s may take a little longer to see results, and many find that building muscle takes more focus and dedication than it did when they were younger. This could be due to the fact that in the latter part of their teenage years, and well into their late 20s, testosterone levels are at their peak, which makes building muscle easier for the body. Not to mention the extra energy and free time we have during the younger phases in life that make getting to the gym and staying motivated easier to accomplish.

The good news is that regardless of what stage of life you’re in, your body has the ability to adapt and improve; and even if you’re busy, you can find ways to train and get the best results from your fitness plan.

Here are my three tips to help you get the best results on your journey toward achieving your personal fitness goals.

  1. Be specific: It is important to adapt your training and your mindset to match the specific goals you wish to accomplish. If you want to build muscle, you must train in a way that places significant stress on your muscle fibers in order to stimulate growth. This means that, as your workouts start to feel easier, you must increase the amount of weight you lift. If you want to improve your cardiovascular fitness, you must follow a similar approach – when it feels too easy, up your game.
  2. Set your expectations: We are all unique individuals with varying genetics, physical skills, personalities and unique levels of achievement motivation. Achievement motivation can best be described as a way of considering how a person is driven by their need to succeed, what lengths they are willing to go to, and what obstacles they are willing to overcome in order to achieve their personal fitness success. Setting goals that you know are within reach will help you stay motivated and push through those tough training days. So, in my opinion, it’s important that you set realistic expectations.
  3. Stay accountable: Consider re-evaluating your expectations and motivation as you train each week so that you can keep striving forward. This will allow you to adapt your training routine based on your results, or lack thereof. Having an accountability partner or training buddy will help keep you honest at the gym and, hopefully, provide you with a little competitive drive to perform at your best. So try to find the perfect gym partner or coach to train with you.

Remember to celebrate your ‘mini victories’ each step of your journey toward achieving your ultimate fitness goals.

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4 Simple Steps to Keep Men’s Skin Healthy During Summer Months

After shaving use a product that is alcohol-free.

Taking care of one’s skin during the summer months isn’t just for women. Keeping men’s skin healthy is as important, and we will show you what to do in four simple steps.

We know that movie stars are not the only ones who want to have perfect summer skin. Men also look in the mirror and sometimes see things they want to change, but with so many different products in the marketplace, it can be overwhelming. The reality is that you don’t need 100 products to have great skin during the summer. What you need are the basics; those might include a product that helps address facial hair, a product that doesn’t smell like flowers yet helps with wrinkles, and something to prevent excess oil.

Most issues with men’s skin revolve around facial hair. It can start with what they use to shave and how they take care of their skin after. Instead of using a bar of soap, use a product that is smoother and less abrasive. Bar soaps are tough on your skin because they can sometimes contain perfumes and harsh detergents that may strip the natural oils that are needed to keep your skin balanced. Look for products that contain invigorating ingredients like orange, citrus and grapefruit oil. After shaving, use a product that is alcohol-free. There are many great toners in the marketplace that are alcohol-free and come in a mist form for easy use. They help provide hydration without irritation after shaving.

Flowers are a great gift, but no one likes smelling like one. A sweet-smelling moisturizer can sometimes deter men from hydrating their skin properly. Look for a moisturizer with hydrating properties and additional benefits like SPF and antioxidants. These properties are going to keep your skin soft and hydrated, which means less visible fine lines and wrinkles. Antioxidants will combat free radical cell damage, and a daily SPF will provide UVA/UVB protection to prevent premature skin aging.

There are advantages to having oily skin, like aging well. Drier skin tends to show fine lines and wrinkles quicker. Even though this might be true, most men don’t necessarily like to look as shiny as the sun on a daily basis. In addition to using the right cleanser, toner and moisturizer, a weekly mask is a must. Using a facial mask once or twice a week can help with the removal of buildup and impurities. Look for ingredients like bentonite clay, which is known for its powerful ability to remove dirt and absorb excess oil. Masking on a weekly basis can help regulate your skin’s oil production. You can put a mask on after a run, the gym or while paying online bills.

During summer months, using the correct cleanser, alcohol-free toner, moisturizer with SPF and a weekly mask will help your skin look exceptionally healthy. If you don’t know how to get started, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Also, rely on a dermatologist for information on what is best for your skin. Your skin is the first thing people notice about you, and you only have one opportunity to make a first impression. So, this summer or any time throughout the year, invest in caring for your skin. It only takes minutes, and you deserve it!

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Lost Your Diet Mojo? Get Your Motivation Back!

Pack a healthy lunch.

When you’re having trouble sticking to your diet, it helps to remember what motivated you in the first place. Here’s how to get back on track.

One of the hardest parts of a weight loss journey is staying motivated. When you first start out, you’re all in – your intentions are great, you aim high, and you’re ready for the challenge. But then something happens. Maybe your weight isn’t coming off as quickly as it did when you started. Maybe your regimen is just too intense and you can’t stick to it. Maybe the “newness” and excitement of the first few weeks has worn off, and you’ve simply lost interest.

What Motivates You to Lose Weight?

When your motivation takes a nosedive, it sometimes helps to revisit your reasons for wanting to lose weight in the first place. Most people focus on the positive – “I want to have the energy to keep up with my kids” or “I want to look better in (or out of) my clothes.” Others take the opposite approach and focus on moving toward the negative – “I don’t want to avoid the mirror any more” or “I don’t want to feel so tired all the time.” Everybody is different; there’s no right or wrong reason. So take a minute to remind yourself why you embarked on this weight loss journey in the first place.

How to Get Your Diet Motivation Back

Let’s face it. Change is hard, and it can be tough to stay motivated. You’re probably trying to give up one or more bad habits – and you may not be ready to do so. Or, if you’ve suffered some inevitable setbacks, you may have lost confidence or feel like a failure. Maybe the rewards just aren’t outweighing all the sacrifices you’ve had to make, or the results aren’t happening fast enough. Here are some ways to help you get your motivation back.

  • Learn from your mistakes: Roadblocks and setbacks happen to everyone, don’t let them derail your plans. Many of the behaviors you’re trying to change have been with you for a long time. Try to figure out what causes you to fail and make a plan for how you can deal with the next slip-up.
  • Get back to keeping track: Did you stop keeping track of what you’re doing? Many people are good for the first few weeks – keeping track of what they eat, how much activity they’re getting, how they feel, changes in weight, measurements, mood, etc. And the feedback is really helpful. But after a time they figure, “I’ve got this” – when, clearly, they don’t. Have portion sizes gotten bigger? Are you eating more when you’re stressed or tired? Are you consuming too many liquid calories? It takes time to replace old habits with new ones, and keeping track is a great way to know that you’re making progress.
  • Be flexible: When you started on your weight loss journey, it’s likely you set some goals for yourself – like taking a brisk walk for an hour a day, or packing a healthy lunch three times a week. But just because you set that goal, doesn’t mean that it’s carved in stone. Sometimes we get overly ambitious, and we believe we can take on more than we actually can. If you set the bar too high, it’s better to lower it a little bit, rather than giving up altogether. What’s important is that you still make progress, even if you do it a bit more slowly.
  • Focus on behavior change, not just your weight: When you’re thinking about your ultimate goal, you may be too focused on achieving a particular weight on the scale. Instead, think about the behaviors that are going to help you reach your goal – more home-cooked meals or fewer cocktails, for instance – and give yourself credit for every time you practice this new behavior. After all, the positive changes you make in your diet and lifestyle are really what drive you toward your goal. The fact that you also get healthier and fit is just “icing on the cake.”

Reward small achievements: Many people make plans to reward themselves in some way once they’ve reached their goals, which is great – but you don’t have to wait until you’ve reached your ultimate goal in order to reward yourself. Think about ways to reward yourself when you’re a quarter of the way to your goal or halfway there. And find ways to reward mini-accomplishments too – drinking eight glasses of water, or exercising every day this week, or cooking three dinners at home. There’s no reason not to reward progress!

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The Best Nutrients for Bone Health

Leafy greens promote bone strength.

Do you know the best foods to eat to create a strong structure for your body? Here are some key nutrients that help support strong bones.

Ask most people what nutrients are needed to support bone health and they’ll likely say calcium and vitamin D. And they would be right, of course. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body (most of it is socked away in our bones and teeth), and vitamin D is critically important in helping the body absorb calcium. But many other nutrients play an important role in keeping bones strong and healthy.

Nutrients for Great Bone Health

Bone is a living, growing tissue. It’ made up of a collagen, a protein that forms a soft framework for bone, and a mineral component called hydroxyapatite, made primarily of calcium and phosphorus which are deposited in this framework to give bones strength and hardness. In addition to protein, calcium and phosphorus, there are other nutrients that help support bone health. Here are some key bone-building nutrients and where to find them.

Calcium

Calcium makes up about 2% of your total body weight, and most of it is stored in your skeleton.
Where to find it: Milk and milk products (yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.), almonds, green leafy vegetables.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body, and it combines with calcium to form the crystalline structure of bone.
Where to find it: Phosphorus is in many different foods, and most people get plenty in the diet. Major sources include milk, fish, poultry, meat, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from the digestive tract.
Where to find it: Fatty fish, liver, some fortified foods. Many people don’t consume enough vitamin D, however, and may benefit from taking supplements.

Magnesium

Magnesium stimulates the production of the hormone calcitonin, which helps to move calcium from the bloodstream into the bones. It’s also needed to convert vitamin D into its active form, which, in turn, supports calcium absorption.
Where to find it: Green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Potassium

Potassium helps to maintain calcium balance in the body, and it helps to reduce the loss of calcium in urine.
Where to find it: Melons, tomatoes, bananas, peaches, oranges, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, beans.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is necessary for the formation of collagen, the protein matrix of bone tissue.
Where to find it: Citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, kiwifruit, peppers, green leafy veggies.

Boron

Boron is a mineral that supports the body’s use of other bone-building nutrients, including magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin D.
Where to find it: Dried fruits like prunes, raisins and apricots, also peanut butter and avocados.

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6 Steps to Look Your Best On Your Wedding Day

Look beautiful on your wedding day.

Few things scream “it’s time to get in shape” more than getting engaged. Your wedding day is much more than just a regular day. It’s when every bride wants to look and feel her best.

But with the stress of everything that a wedding involves – finding an unforgettable venue, the best photographer, beautiful flower arrangements, delicious food, and good music – planning for this special day can easily become a tower of stressful events for the couple. Adding to the stress of wedding planning, for your “big day’ may also include dieting and losing weight so you can fit in that perfect dress you have been dreaming about.

Stress can slow you down, but having your wedding day as a deadline can help you find the motivation you need to find a nutrition plan that works for you. These six tips will help you start on your goal of looking and feeling beautiful on your special day:

1. Replace two meals a day with a protein shake

I suggest replacing breakfast and lunch with a protein shake that provides about 20 grams of protein and at least 200 calories to keep you full and satisfied until your next meal. The advantage to this approach is that well-balanced protein shake provides easy protein and calorie control, since you know exactly what goes into it. And, with enough protein to help keep you satisfied, you’ll be less likely to make poor choices when you go out with your girlfriends. Rather than giving up time with your friends, I suggest you have a shake before meeting up, then socializing over a green salad with a little dressing on the side or a broth-based soup.

2. Emphasize lean proteins and more vegetables at dinner

Cooking at home will give you a lot of control over what you eat and how much. If you do use the meal replacements for two meals a day, your third meal should place an emphasis on lean proteins and vegetables. Build your meal on proteins such as poultry breast or fish—and have both a vegetable salad and cooked vegetables alongside. Also, limit your starch to one small portion and, if you do have a starchy side, choose whole grains whenever possible.

3. Have a planned, healthy snack in the afternoon

A well-planned snack in the afternoon can help take the edge off hunger at dinner time. It’s also a great time to sneak in some extra fruits and vegetables. Rather than grazing on sweets or chips, try to eat a protein-based snack such as a small carton of yogurt, a protein snack bar, some raw veggies with hummus or a little bit of cottage cheese with fruit.

4. Add fruit to protein shakes

You need two or three servings of fruit a day. An easy way to meet your needs is to add fruit to your shakes, which will allow you to have your daily fruit needs more or less covered.

5. Start keeping a food diary

Logging your food intake is a good idea for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it will help you to keep your calories in check. And it can also help you with your emotional eating as well. When you get the urge to eat, I suggest you pull out your food diary and write down how you are feeling instead. If you can delay the urge to eat, even if only by a few minutes, the hunger for a snack is likely to pass.

6. Have fun exercising

It’s important to combine exercise with your healthy diet in order to meet your goals. But choose activities that you enjoy – if you don’t, it’s unlikely you’ll stick with your exercise plan. Ideally, your exercise program will include both cardio and strength training – but you can get your cardio by fast walking, swimming, bicycling or dancing, for example. Many people rely on food to cope with stressful situations; however, stress eating doesn’t usually take away stress – and often adds weight. Since exercise is a great stress-reducer, it can help you deal with the stress while losing pounds and toning your body – and will help ensure that you’ll look your best in that beautiful wedding dress.

Remember, years from today nobody will remember the food or the flowers, but they will remember you. So have fun planning your big day and take care of yourself as you prepare.

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Summer Countdown: How to Look Great in Just 6 Weeks

Watch your calorie intake and head for the gym.

Want to shape up for summer? Don’t wait until the last minute. If you start now, you’ve got six weeks or so––plenty of time to see some serious results before swimsuit season starts.

Six weeks may sound like an eternity, but if you’re trying to get in get in shape for summer, you’ll want to get going right away. I’m nudging you now, because many people have the tendency to put this off. As in, “I’m going on a surfing trip next week, and I can’t be seen looking like this!” A crash diet to take off a couple pounds in a week might make you slightly less self-conscious in your board shorts. But if you really want to make some headway before swimsuit season, the time to start is now.

Six Weeks ‘til Summer: Shape Up Now

Here’s the thing: a safe and achievable rate of weight loss is about one or two pounds a week. In order to lose a pound in a week’s time, you need to tilt your calorie balance in the negative direction by about 500 calories per day. Now, a pound of fat stores about 3500 calories. If you burn up 500 of those stored calories every day for a week, you’ll lose about a pound of fat. Larger people can often tip the balance a little further, coming up with a shortage of 750 or even 1000 calories a day to lose a bit more quickly.

Depending on your body size, that means that if you start now, you could lose 5 or 10 pounds by early June, and that could be enough to give you a beach body by the start of summer. With a one-two punch of diet and exercise, six weeks is enough time to see some noticeable changes in your muscle tone and shape if you dedicate some serious time to your workouts.

Diet and Exercise

The best way to create your calorie ‘shortage’ is with a combination of diet and exercise. Don’t try to just do one or the other. For one thing, if your calorie needs aren’t that high to start with, you may not be able to cut out 500 calories a day from your meals without cutting back too far. You shouldn’t go much below 1200 calories a day. If you try to cut too much, not only is it harder to pack all your nutrient needs into fewer calories, but you also may not have enough energy to exercise. Trying the ‘exercise only’ approach is tough, too, because it takes a lot of exercise to burn up 500 calories––like a solid hour of nonstop swimming.

Turn Up the Nutrition

Focus on eating the most ‘nutrient dense’ foods––those foods that give you the most nutrition for the fewest calories per bite. Vegetables top the list, followed by the lowest fat proteins (fish and shellfish, poultry breast, egg whites, fat-free dairy products, protein powder), then followed by fruit and then whole grains.

Power Up with Protein

Make sure to include some protein at every meal and snack. It will help keep you from getting too hungry in between meals.

Hold Up on the Grains

Cut back on your whole grains for the first week or two to give yourself a little head start. You don’t want to cut them out completely, but cutting back to just a serving or two each day can help you save a lot of calories. As long as you’re eating plenty of veggies and fruit, you should be getting enough carbohydrates to fuel your exercise.

Shake It Up

Careful calorie counting is the key, but it’s often one of the hardest things to do. This is why meal replacement shakes work so well. They take the guesswork out of calorie counting, because you know exactly how many calories are in them. Have a protein shake made with milk and fruit for two meals a day, then focus on veggies and protein for your third meal. Keep your snacks small and protein-packed (like a protein bar or a small carton of Greek yogurt), and you’ll keep your calorie guesswork to a minimum.

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