Category Archives: Fitness

The Superfoods of 2018

Yes, here it is.  The much anticipated annual post regarding 2018 superfoods.  Faster than a speeding antioxidant, more powerful than an amino acid, able to leap tall viruses in a single bound.  Look, inside at your immune system.  It’s a flavonoid.  It’s an omega-3 fatty acid.  It’s superfood!  Strange visitor from another country who came to America with powers and abilities far beyond those of ordinary foods.

OK, enough with the dramatics.  A superfood obviously has little in common with a superman, but what, exactly is a superfood?  The handy online dictionary defines it this way: a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.

Essentially, a food full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and few, if any, empty calories.  Therefore, usually a fruit, vegetable, or nut that we’ve known about, but paid little attention to (cauliflower, pecans, or raspberries) or ones that have been around forever, but we’ve never heard of before (sacha inchi nuts, maringa, or jack fruit to name three from last year).

So why do they change from year-to-year?  Well, why do car companies put out new models every year?  The answer is the same, we get bored with the old and value the new.  So, with that being said, here’s this year’s list…

Tigernuts – And no, eating tigernuts is not in violation of the Environmental Protection Act as they’re a tuber and not actual tiger…well, nuts.  They kinda look like shrunken, desiccated brown prunes that grow underground similar to other tubers like potatoes, carrots and turnips.  They’re native to Spain and the Mediterranean region and are sweet and starchy at the same time.  They get mentioned as part of a paleo diet and are rich in fiber, vitamins E and C, potassium, zinc and iron and since tigernuts aren’t nuts, there’s no worry about nut allergies…obviously.  Aside from being eaten, they also come in the form of milk called horchata.

Maqui berries – Native to southern Chile and Argentina, maqui berries resemble fat, purple blueberries with a slightly tart flavor.  They are apparently stuffed full of antioxidants, fiber, and omega fatty acids.  Their promotors claim they combat arthritis, high cholesterol, colon cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  This year, they are THE ingredient to add to your morning smoothie.

Fermented foods – While this isn’t a specific food, anything with “healthy” bacteria are all the rage this year, to include fermented milk products and vegetables.  The word most associated with fermented food is “probiotics” which refers to the beneficial bacteria present in them that promote digestive health.  Examples in the fermented foods category includes sauerkraut (a German fermented cabbage), kimchi (a Korean dish of fermented cabbage, radishes and other vegetables seasoned with chili powder, scallions, garlic, ginger and jeotgal), kombucha (a fermented drink of black tea, vinegar and sugar) and kefir (a fermented cow, goat or sheep milk product that resembles drinkable yogurt).

Sorghum – This whole grain that grows in a manner similar to corn, has been popular in the South, in syrup or molasses form, for hundreds of years and in Africa for thousands due to its drought resistant nature.  It’s a versatile grain that’s high in riboflavin, vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, and fiber.  Aside from a sugar substitute, it can be ground into flour, popped like corn and transformed into risotto.

Crickets – And small insects in general.  Apparently, crickets are almost 70% protein and contain all nine essential amino acids, vitamin B12, omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, potassium, calcium and iron.  And there is good news regarding the “crunch” factor…the nocturnally active insects can be bought in flour form and baked into cakes, muffins, etc.

There you go, the superfoods of 2018 and there’s something for everyone on the list, from whole grains to fruit to non-anatomical tigernuts to creepy crawlies.  After all, variety IS the spice of life.

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Sensible Tips for Getting and Staying Healthy in the New Year

Yeah, no this isn’t a New Year’s resolution post.  It’s simply a post about how to improve your health that can be applied at any time.  I’m just simply writing about getting healthy on January third.  That, in no way, associates this post with the new year…just go with it, OK?

So why get healthier?  Oh, I don’t know, maybe to live longer, fend off obesity related diseases, feel better, have more energy, spend more time with friends and family, enjoy life more, or gain super powers like being able to run a 5K, bike 20 miles or hike to the highest point in your state.

Interested? If so, then here are some specific things to keep in mind as you begin your healthier 2018:

Be sensible – As the title suggests.  Don’t go frickin’ crazy and suddenly declare this is the year you run your first ultra-marathon or lose 100 pounds or get on American Ninja Warrior.  For if you do set frickin’ crazy goals you’re just setting yourself up for failure…and then depression…and then binge eating…and then you’ve just done the opposite of what you set out to do.

Establish reasonable and sensible goals – As Socrates was found of saying, “Know thy self,” although I think he said it in Greek.  Look in the mirror.  You know that person looking back at you better than anyone.  That being the case, set a challenging, yet achievable goal that you are more likely to achieve rather than not.

Set specific goals – rather than general ones.  For example: lose 20 pounds rather than lose weight; run an entire 10K rather than start running; eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day rather than eat better; be physically active for one hour each day rather than exercise more.  Notice anything about the specific goals listed above?  They are all quantifiable.  They all have numbers associated with them that can be monitored and if you achieve them in July then set new ones.

Start slow – You have an entire year after all.  Don’t suddenly start fasting in an attempt to lose weight.  Don’t spend three hours in the gym on day one.  Don’t cut out sugar cold turkey.  Don’t go vegan on a whim.  Do gradually cut out junk food.  Do go to the gym for 30 minutes or so for two weeks or so to start.  Do track your sugar intake and then slowly cut it back without entirely eliminating it.  Do stop eating red meat for a week and see how it goes.

Be consistent – Come hell or high water, keep chasing your goal.  If you plan on exercising an hour each day, then, like Nike says, just damn well do it.  Yes, I know life intrudes on goal attainment, but if you’re sporadic in your efforts, failure soon will follow (Hell, now I sound like Confucius).

Go public – Shout your specific goal from the rooftops.  Tell anyone that will listen what your goal is and then tell them again.  Request that they ask you how close you are to your goal on a regular basis.  It’s amazing how sharing your goal with others serves as motivation.

Get help – In the form of others who have a similar goal and use them to help you achieve that goal.  Use them to get your lazy ass out of bed and/or out of the house.  Use them to slap that Snickers bar out of your hand.  Use them to forcefully tell you to back away from that massive piece of cake.  Use them to lace up your jogging shoes.  Use them to make you feel guilty if you backslide.  Use them to give you healthy recipes.  And finally, use them to cheer you on when you hit a significant milestone.

There you have it.  Your blueprint for a healthier 2018.  I’m not saying that if you follow all seven you’re guaranteed success, but it will sure increase your chances.  Happy New Year, good luck and stay strong!

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The Secret Behind Your Cravings for Unhealthy Snacks

Most people associate cravings with pregnant women…you know, pickles dipped in peanut butter or cookie dough and mustard.  However, we all tend to have cravings from time to time and research suggests that these cravings are caused by a mineral or vitamin deficiency within our bodies.  In other words, it’s your body “talking” to you like this, “Hey Lucy, I just checked our magnesium level and it’s awfully low, so why don’t you go scarf about 300 M & Ms because, you know, M & Ms are chocolate and chocolate is chock full of magnesium and never mind all those empty calories that come along with 300 M & Ms because we’re getting the magnesium that we’re lacking so it’s all good.” (our bodies tend to talk to us in long, run-on sentences…a little known fact).

Well, guess what?  There are other sources of magnesium aside from high calorie chocolate.  Wait, hold up, why do we need magnesium in the first place?  I’ll tell you…we need it as it helps with blood pressure regulation, blood sugar control, and protein synthesis and a prolonged deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, tension, migraine headaches and anxiety and depression.  So the next time you find yourself craving chocolate, it could be your body telling you something.  In that case, reach for some almonds, a banana, black beans, spinach or chard rather than the high calorie chocolate.

Your cravings for sugary snacks follow the same rule as above with the only difference being what your body is lacking and hence, craving.  This time it could be low levels of chromium, phosphorus, sulfur and/or tryptophan.  Chromium supports insulin function which helps regulate blood sugar levels and a lack of it has been linked to glucose intolerance which can lead to type 2 diabetes.  Instead of feeding your chromium craving with jelly beans, keep some pears or Brazil nuts on hand, or hit up a raw bar for some mussels or oysters.

Phosphorus is essential for skeletal and organ health and a deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, joint and muscle aches and anxiety.  So put away the Skittles and instead nosh on some sunflower seeds, almonds, brown rice or tuna.

As for sulfur, it’s essential for liver metabolism, anti-oxidant defense and joint health and a shortage is linked to fatigue, depression and degenerative diseases.  As good as Mikes and Ikes are, put ‘em away and grab an avocado or make a salad with tomatoes, cabbage and onions.

Lastly, tryptophan is an amino acid that assists in the production of niacin and serotonin which is tied to healthy sleep and stable mood.  And yes, turkey is a good source of tryptophan as explored in episode six, season nine of Seinfeld in which Jerry drugs his girlfriend with turkey, heavy gravy and wine to induce sleep so that he can play with her vintage toy collection.  Anyway, lack of tryptophan is, as one would expect, tied to sleep and mood disorders.  That being the case, lose the Sweet Tarts and enjoy some pumpkin and chia seeds, pistachios, eggs, or tuna instead.

Finally, if you’re craving salty snacks like chips or pretzels your chloride tank might be a little low usually from excessive sweating, vomiting or diarrhea or from the consumption of diuretics like caffeine.  We usually get plenty of chloride in our diet as it’s present in salt and most processed foods contain plenty of sodium chloride…aka salt.  However, that doesn’t preclude our salty snack cravings.  That being the case, hide the chips and enjoy some lettuce and tomatoes or slather some celery with peanut butter and then pop some olives.

If you’re anything like me, if unhealthy snacks are in the house I WILL eat them.  Therefore, the solution is easy, I keep them out of the house despite the eternal and vocal complaints of my family.  As Socrates liked to say, “know thyself,” and I know if it’s in the house it will get eaten.  I now consistently snack on nuts, seeds, and just about every type of fruit I can find and if my boys come home with excessive amounts of Halloween candy…well, you know the rest of the story.

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The Joys(?) of Comfort Food

So, when my awesome MagicKitchen.com boss gave me this topic, I must admit that I thought there wasn’t much to it.  Boy was I wrong.  It turns out that the phenomenon known as “comfort food” has been the subject of numerous psychological, sociological and physiological studies and I learned more about it than I actually cared to.  But not to worry, devoted reader, I won’t bore you with the specifics of the studies or get all “psychological” on you.  I’ll just explain the origins of the term, what constitutes comfort food, and does it, in fact, provide comfort to those that indulge.

It seems the term dates back to a 1966 newspaper article from the Palm Beach Post entitled, “Sad Child May Overeat” (a bit prophetic, that).  In that article, the author stated, “Adults, when under severe stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort food’ – food associated with the security of childhood, like ‘mother’s poached egg’ or famous chicken soup.”  I have two issues with that 50+ year-old definition of comfort food.  1.  I think I would remove the term “severe.”  And 2.  Since when was a poached egg considered comfort food?  Although, what is considered comfort food can vary greatly from person to person.  The term was finally added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1997.

Next, I tried to create a generally acceptable definition of comfort food from the myriad definitions out there and here’s the simplified definition I came up with: any food consumed in an attempt to feel better or to enhance already positive feelings.  The reason for the bifurcated definition is due to the fact that men and women (studies reveal) view comfort food quite differently.  Not only are the foods consumed in a desire to attain comfort different between men and women, but the reasons for consuming that food vary as well.

Studies indicate that the trigger, for men, to search out their version of comfort food comes from positive emotions, while women’s need to binge are triggered by negative emotions.  The study emphasizes that this is a trend, rather than a hard and fast truth.  Men can certainly gorge due to negative emotions, as this male can attest to.  When women do seek out comfort food, they tend to eat snack based foods such as chocolate, ice cream, cookies (in baked or dough form), and potato chips.  Men, on the other hand, look for what most people consider traditional comfort food, like meatloaf, pot roast, biscuits and gravy, lasagna, and mashed potatoes.

Other studies tend to link comfort food to feelings of nostalgia or sentimentality.  Remember when you were sick or hurt or found out your crush considered you hideous and your mommy took care of you by making home-made mac and cheese or apple pie?  Or the warm, fuzzy feelings of belonging that were created during the holidays of your childhood when the family sat down together to eat ham, turkey, green bean casserole and strawberry-rhubarb pie?  Well, when we are feeling lonely, stressed, rejected or dejected as an adult, some of us tend to go in search of those warm, fuzzy, “comfortable” feelings of our childhood in the form of food.  In other words, some of us tend to seek solace in the foods that are tied to happier, more care-free times.  Or foods linked with a specific person or place that have positive associations attached to them.

Or do we just use comfort food as an excuse to eat unhealthy junk, as one study alludes to?  This study claims that we can swap comfort food for other things that elicit the same feelings of well-being and warmth, such as a favorite childhood television show, music or book.  I know that watching old episodes of M*A*S*H while listening to Pink Floyd and reading Where the Red Fern Grows certainly makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

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Essential, Yet Old School Home Exercise Equipment

Our lives continually seem to be dominated by technology that changes on an almost daily basis, and home exercise equipment is not immune to this phenomenon.  The current trend is to connect the equipment to that internet machine in order to run, or bike, or row, or swim (well, maybe not swim) in various locales across the globe with other people from various locales across the globe with a remote trainer providing the motivation.  However, many believe, myself included, that when it comes to exercising, there’s no school like the old school.

I tend to view this debate in a similar manner to that classic pugilistic and cinematic masterpiece, Rocky IV.  As I’m sure you recall, Rocky decides to travel to Russia to train and then fight Ivan Drago, who had just killed the object of Rocky’s bromance, Apollo Creed.  The training regimes of the two rivals were diametrically opposed.

Rocky trained in Siberia with horse collars, rocks, a horse-drawn wagon, ropes, snow, and mountains, in other words, like a 19th century hermit.  Drago, on the other hand, had the most technologically advanced equipment known to man, all connected to computer diagnostics to measure his every step and punch (Oh yeah, and steroids too).  The moral of the story?  (SPOILER ALERT) Old school exercise equipment is superior to new school as Rocky prevailed, obviously, due to his Neanderthal-like training methods.

So, with the example of Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago fresh in our minds, here are three perfect examples of antiquated pieces of equipment that should be in every home gym.

  1. A heavy bag – Yes, I realize in Rocky I, that Rocky eschewed the heavy bag in favor of a side of beef. However, few of us have a future brother-in-law (Paulie) to provide us access to a meat packing company.  That being the case, a heavy bag will have to suffice.  This simple piece of equipment, if used properly, provides both cardiovascular and weight-training benefits, especially if you bring mixed martial arts into your workout.  And while most equate a heavy bag with just an upper-body workout, it can also provide a great core workout, which is all the rage in the training world.  For beginning heavy bag workouts, check this out: http://livehealthy.chron.com/heavy-bag-workout-routines-beginners-6313.html 
  2. Medicine balls – To my knowledge, there is no video evidence that Rocky ever trained with medicine balls, but perhaps that footage was simply omitted from his various training montages. Please notice that it’s balls, rather than “ball.”  Medicine balls come in a variety of weights in order to provide a range of workouts, from intense cardiovascular to weight training.  Here’s a list of 25 medicine ball workouts that will get your heart pumping and your core…well, doing what a core should do: http://greatist.com/fitness/25-must-try-medicine-ball-exercises
  1. An air bike – No, they haven’t invented a bike that can fly…yet. Air bikes have been around for decades, long before spinning classes became more popular than actually riding a real bike.  The concept is quite simple, the harder you pedal, the more resistance created by that huge fan that serves as the air bike’s front wheel.Combine the cycling motion with handle bars that oscillate in conjunction with the pedals and you’ve just incorporated your upper-body into your workout.  And they are generally much less expensive than a technologically advanced stationary bike.  If you must train with a screen, simply place the air bike in front of your console television set.  Again, there is no known footage of Rocky training on an air bike.  However, Rocky does pull his trainer, Mick, while Mick sits upon an adult tricycle in Rocky II.  Here’s some more info on air bikes: http://dailyburn.com/life/fitness/air-bike-hiit-workout/

So if you’re looking for some cost effective (cheap) exercise equipment that has seen a recent resurgence in popularity, due to their muscular and cardiovascular benefits, then look at any or all of the three above examples.  Yo, Adrian!

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