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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Are You Getting Enough Sleep? Simple Solutions for Beating Insomnia

GettyImages-469577750.jpgMatthew Walker, the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, has made it his career goal to reinforce the fact that 20 large-scale epidemiological studies have all reported the same relationship: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. Today, one in three Americans can be categorized as sleep deprived.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep deprivation is a condition that occurs if you don't get enough sleep. Not only does a shortage of sleep affect your productivity, but on less than seven hours of sleep, your body's natural killer cells work less effectively. Walker notes that between 1950 and 2017, the US obesity rate has risen from 13% to the likes of 35%.

“Sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body.”
—Dr. Matthew Walker, U.C., Berkeley

As obesity in America has steadily risen, the amount of sleep individuals are accumulating per night has decreased—almost two and a half hours, to be exact. Not only is sleep deprivation being glorified as an accomplishment in today’s society, extensive research has concluded that sleep deprivation puts unnecessary stress on the human body, including weight gain. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) outlines that both young adults (ages 18–25) and adults (ages 26–64) should aim for 7–9 hours per night consistently. Sounds easy, right? With the prevalence of social media alongside TV and cell phone usage at night, however, most Americans fall short.

Five Tips for Overcoming Insomnia

Here are some tips from the NSF to help you capture the ZZZs and start sawing logs in no time.

  • Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wakeup time, even on the weekends. This helps regulate your body clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
  • Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress, or anxiety, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep, or remain asleep.
  • Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
  • Evaluate your room. Your bedroom should be cool—between 60 and 67 degrees. Check your room for noises or other distractions. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, earplugs, “white-noise" machines, humidifiers, fans, and other devices.
  • If you can't sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers, and televisions out of the sleeping environment. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.

If you’re still having trouble sleeping after following the above tips, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to find a sleep professional in your area. Check out the following resources for more information.

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This blog was written by Ellyn Grant, Healthy Lifestyle Coordinator. To read more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: disease prevention sleep productivity heart disease obesity insomnia sleep deprivation

Fabulous Fall Recipes for Delicious Nutrition

ThinkstockPhotos-506243524.jpgThis is definitely my favorite time of year: football, cooler weather, and the return of all things apple and pumpkin. Not only are they chock-full of vitamins and other healthy goodness, but they are also delicious!

Apples: Benefits and a Recipe

The old quote “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” could not be more correct. This fruit is loaded with fiber (a typical tennis ball–sized piece has 4 filling fiber grams), which helps to keep you satisfied. They are also high in immune-boosting Vitamin C. One recent study found that eating apples was directly linked to having a lower incidence of death from coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease.

Another surprising benefit of this fruit is that they may boost your endurance during a workout. The antioxidant quercetin makes oxygen more available in the lungs, and one study showed that individuals who had this antioxidant prior to a workout were able to cycle longer.

Grab one for a snack or try this delicious dessert.

Baked Cinnamon Apples


4 large good baking apples, such as Rome Beauty, Golden Delicious, or Jonagold

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup raisins

1 Tbsp butter

3/4 cup boiling water


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Wash apples. Remove cores to a half-inch of the bottom of the apples. Make the holes about 3/4 inch to an inch wide.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and pecans.
  3. Place apples in an 8-inch-by-8-inch square baking dish. Stuff each apple with this mixture. Top each with a dot of butter (1/4 Tbsp). Add boiling water to the baking pan.
  4. Bake 30–40 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Remove from the oven and enjoy!
    Serves 4.

Calories: 230; Fat: 8g; Fiber: 6g. Recipe adapted from Simply Recipes.

Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

Pumpkins have just as much to brag about as apples do. Pumpkin is loaded with Vitamin A, which is essential for boosting your immune system, vision health, and bone health. You also get a significant amount of potassium from pumpkin. This helps keep your fluid and mineral balance regulated, which helps with heart function.

That bright orange color from pumpkin means it is high in the antioxidant betacarotene. This means it is heart protective and can help lower your risk for heart disease. Finally, just like apples, pumpkin is loaded with fiber. Each cup of pureed pumpkin has 7 grams of fiber. That’s one-third of your daily needs!

I like to use pureed canned pumpkin as a fat replacer in cake mixes, brownies, and muffin mixes. Just substitute the same amount of pumpkin for the oil called for in recipes and enjoy a lower-fat and nutritious treat. Here is a wonderful quick dessert to whip up, too.

Pumpkin Mousse


3 cups cold fat-free milk

2 pkg. (1.5 oz. each) vanilla flavor fat-free, sugar-free instant pudding

1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin

1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 cup thawed fat-free whipped topping


  1. Beat milk and pudding mix in medium bowl and whisk for 2 minutes.
  2. Blend in pumpkin and spice.
  3. Stir in whipped topping.
  4. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
  5. Makes 12 half-cup servings.

Calories: 60; Total Protein: 3g; Total Fat: 1g. Recipe adapted from Kraft Recipes.

Enjoy these fabulous fall superfoods while they are plentiful, and give your autumn nutrition a boost!

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition recipes disease prevention fiber antioxidants fall apples pumpkin spice

I Want a New Drug: Using Exercise as Medicine

ThinkstockPhotos-481324622.jpgWhat if I told you that I had a drug that could help cure the majority of your ailments, make your workday and life more productive, and help you sleep better? How much would you pay for this drug? But wait, there’s more! This drug can also

  • Increase blood flow to the brain, creating new blood vessels.
  • Help you withstand fatigue.
  • Decrease depression.
  • Improve memory.
  • Quicken learning time.
  • Increase bone density.
  • Help wounds heal faster.
  • Improve eye health.
  • Produce weight loss and fat cell shrinkage.
  • Slow the aging process.
  • Extend your life span by as many as 5 years.
  • Decrease the risk for heart disease, type-2 diabetes, COPD, CHF, and Alzheimer’s disease (that’s right, it’s currently the only known medicine to delay and even combat this disease).
  • Elicit feelings of joy and victory.

If I told you I had a drug that could do all that and more, would you consider it a wonder drug? I know I would! How much would you pay for that drug? Also, the most serious side effects of this drug are an increase in appetite and some muscle soreness from time to time. Now how much would you pay? What if I told you most forms of this drug are FREE? That’s right, EXERCISE is the drug I am referring to, but you figured that out already, didn’t you?

You may also be saying to yourself, that’s easy for a fitness professional to proclaim all those benefits of exercise, but it’s science, not my personal feelings about exercise. And if only the medical community and our society would listen to the science, Americans might not spend $3.35 trillion this year in health care, an all-time high! The U.S. spends more on health care than all other high-income nations, yet we are still the most unhealthy and diseased country. I’m not a scientist, but something doesn’t seem right about that equation.

But back to this drug that can do all the above and won’t even come close to touching that $3 trillion mark—EXERCISE! Here’s a quick rundown of what we know about exercise and its disease prevention impact.

The Science

In a recent special edition of TIME magazine, you can read about the science of exercise. It also tackles the idea of exercise as medicine, looking at the notion from several angles and different vantage points. Here is just a little of the science surrounding exercise and how it truly is a super drug.

  • In 2011 a team led by Mark Tarnopolsky studied genetically diseased mice that caused them to age prematurely. Half the mice were sedentary and the other half ran on a treadmill for 5 months. At the study’s end, the sedentary mice were barely hanging on, and the active mice were “nearly indistinguishable” from healthy mice, even though they were suffering from this genetic disease.
  • According to a 2006 University of Georgia review of 70 studies, it was found that regular exercise increases energy and reduces fatigue in adults of all ages with various health conditions and healthy ones as well—even those who suffered from ailments that cause fatigue, such as fibromyalgia.
  • Research shows that the less you move, the higher your risk for just about every health problem increases substantially.
  • Data from the National Weight Control Registry, which is an ongoing decades-long study, shows that people who lose a considerable amount of weight maintain the loss in part by exercising most days of the week.
  • A 1999 Duke University study found that adults suffering from depression who did 45 minutes of aerobic exercise three times per week improved their mood as much as individuals who took the antidepressant Zoloft instead of exercise.
  • In a three-month study, Martin Gibala tested how effective a 10-minute workout could be compared to the standard 50-minute session. The shorter workouts resulted in identical improvements in heart function and blood-sugar control.

The Prescription

The current guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend getting 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 120 minutes a week of moderate–vigorous aerobic exercise, or a combination of both. The ACSM, myself included, also highly recommend strength and endurance training as a part of a balanced exercise program.

A lot of activities count as exercise that many don’t realize, and people feel that they have to have an extensive exercise program and fancy health club to exercise. But we really just need to move. Now don’t get me wrong, I strongly recommend seeking the counsel of a fitness professional to help get you on your way to a healthier lifestyle or to redefine your current fitness level and aspirations. But until then, the prescription to stay healthy is simply to increase your movement throughout the day.

If you are unable to dedicate 30 straight minutes a day, break it up into three 10-minute sessions. We should all be able to spare 10 minutes to be able throw away the bottle of pills. Don’t forget that lawn work constitutes exercise, and so does taking the stairs.

Here are a few more physical activities that can allow anyone to meet the standard recommendations for exercise and physical activity: Walking, household chores, dancing, golf, basketball, tennis, volleyball, hiking, jogging, running, shoveling snow, raking the lawn, carrying heavy loads, biking, cross-country skiing, swimming, soccer… the list goes on and on! There are so many options to get the recommended amount of exercise for health. Choose the one that you enjoy and go do it!

The Takeaways

Until recently, the healthcare system was inching toward a model of value-based care as opposed to volume-based care, and docs and hospitals were essentially going to be penalized for longer patient stays and reoccurring patient visits. On the surface, that makes a great deal of sense to me; if you are not helping a person get back to being healthy, you shouldn’t be rewarded for it. I’m also not naïve enough to think there are not a lot of “hands in the pot” when it comes to healthcare, and many have a say as to the logistics of the current health care system. But the ACSM, with the Exercise Is Medicine initiative, have their heels on the ground marching toward the value-based system that will hopefully create real change in the health of our nation. I’m sure you can agree that a change of this magnitude will take some time, but there are some things we can be doing in the meantime.

First and foremost, talk to your doctor about how exercise can help you with any current conditions or battle future ones. If your doctor is unable to give you the advice you need, remember, they are not fitness experts. Seek out the assistance of a fitness pro to help. More simply, get up and move, and take someone with you! We can all help create change.

Hippocrates wrote many years ago that “Eating alone will not keep a man well. He must also take exercise.” We knew then what we should be practicing now: exercise is the true medicine for the ailments that plague mankind these days. So instead of looking at the next prescription drug label, let’s take a walk and talk about how we can be truly healthy by using exercise as medicine.

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This blog was written by Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: fitness disease prevention exercise as medicine drugs weight control

Is Chocolate REALLY Good for You? The Nutrition Behind the Treat

ThinkstockPhotos-71264413.jpegYou’ve seen it on the news and read articles in magazines, but is it really true? Can chocolate actually be good for you? Isn’t it too delicious and forbidden to be a food that can help with heart disease? Of course nutrition is confusing and things change all the time about what is good and isn’t so good for you, so what is the deal with chocolate?

The good news is that yes, chocolate is good for you; there have been plenty of studies proving that there are health benefits to chocolate. It does matter, however, how much and what type of chocolate you are consuming. So before you grab that king-size Hershey bar, read below to learn what to do and understand the benefits when it comes to eating chocolate in the appropriate amounts.

The Nutrition Science of Chocolate

The cacao bean, which is the base of chocolate candy, is loaded with nutrients called flavonoids. Flavonoids help protect from environmental toxins and repair damage to the body. They provide antioxidants that help the body resist cell damage from free radicals. The main flavonoids are flavanols, which can reduce blood pressure, improve blood flow, and make blood platelets clot more easily.

ThinkstockPhotos-510580190.jpegCocoa naturally has a very strong taste, so it has to go through many steps to form your favorite type of chocolate. And through this processing many of the flavanols are lost. Most commercial chocolates are highly processed, and therefore have the lowest amount of antioxidants. However, dark chocolate that has undergone minimal processing will have the highest amount of flavonoids. As far as cocoa goes, the best choice is one that hasn’t undergone Dutch processing, which is when they treat it with an alkali to neutralize the natural acidity. (For more about how chocolate is created and how to enjoy it, check out this book.)

Be careful about the type of dark chocolate you choose, though. Typically one that contains over 70% cocoa will give you more of the heart-healthy benefits. And watch out for the extras such as caramel, nougat, and pretzels that are added to the chocolate. Those can add a ton of extra fat and calories to the treat, and are not high in nutritional value.

How Much Chocolate Should You Eat?

There is currently no established serving size for the amount that is healthy for your heart. So the general recommendation is to stick to 1 oz. of dark chocolate per day. This is the equivalent of one square of baking chocolate, 54 chocolate chips, or 6 Hershey’s kisses.

Other Foods Rich in Flavonoids

Dark chocolate isn’t the only way to get in flavonoids, though. They can be found in many foods such as cranberries, apples, onions, peanuts, tea, and red wine. So make sure to enjoy chocolate a few times a week, but also incorporate other foods that have many of the same disease prevention benefits.

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers click here.

Topics: nutrition disease prevention antioxidants chocolate

The Health Risks of Carrying Excess Abdominal Fat

ThinkstockPhotos-147268279.jpgUnfortunately many people are not fully aware of the danger of carrying excess body fat around their waistlines. Most of us know that in order to get those beach-body abs we all long for, we have to first lose the excess abdominal fat. This is almost everybody’s only motivation for trying to lose belly fat. However, there are deeper and more serious disease prevention reasons to address excess fat in this area.

Two Types of Body Fat

Humans carry two different types of fat in their bodies:

  • Subcutaneous fat: The noticeable layer of fat that is just beneath the skin (the fat you need to lose to see your abs).
  • Visceral fat: Fat that is found deeper in the abdominal area under the muscles and surrounding the organs, such as liver, pancreas, and intestines.

The majority of people are mainly concerned with losing subcutaneous fat since this is the fat you will need to lose in order to let your abs shine through. If you are carrying excess visceral fat, however, there are more reasons to be concerned.

The Health Risks

Because visceral fat resides deep in the abdomen, it can be a huge health risk. Having excess visceral fat can lead to increased risk of the following health conditions:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Breast cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • High cholesterol
  • Metabolic Syndrome
Although genetics do play a role in the amount of visceral fat a person carries, your diet and physical activity level are also major contributors. A sub-par diet and exercise routine puts you at increased risk of carrying excess visceral fat.

Visceral fat can go completely unnoticed because you cannot see it with the naked eye. One way researchers detect visceral fat is through an MRI, which takes a picture of the inside of the abdominal area.

Tips for Losing Fat

Here are some simple tips to help you lose and prevent storing visceral and subcutaneous fat:

  • Use compound movements: Compound movements allow you to get the most bang for your fitness buck. Incorporate as many multi-joint movements as possible into your workout in order to use more energy and burn more calories. Examples are squats, dead lifts, pushups, bench presses, lat pull-downs, and lunges.
  • Try HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training): The purpose of HIIT is to alternate between short bursts of intense activity for a fixed period of time—for example, 20 seconds followed by a short rest period. Because of the fast-paced nature of HIIT, it will cause you to use great amounts of energy within a short time, causing a huge calorie-burning workout. Don’t believe me? Join one of our HIT classes at NIFS and see if it isn’t the best workout you’ve had in years!
  • Change up your workouts: Switching up your workouts periodically will keep your body from becoming too accustomed to your workouts. Once your body becomes too familiar with a certain exercise routine, it begins to decrease the amount of energy needed to complete the routine. By switching up your workouts every 4 to 5 weeks, you are constantly throwing new challenges at your body, forcing it to never reach a plateau. Work with one of our Health Fitness Specialists today to get new ideas on how to switch up your workouts regularly.
  • Improve your diet: NIFS new app, My Nutirition Coach, can help you get daily feedback on your eating habits. Nutrition plays an important part in health and fitness!

Storing fat can be a little more dangerous than you might have thought. When you actually take into consideration the harm you may be doing to your body, hopefully you will be more motivated to shed those extra pounds!

Ready to take the first step to better health and fitness? Schedule a free fitness assessment with us today!

Free Fitness Assessment

This blog was written by Darius Felix, Health Fitness Specialist at NIFS. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: weight loss workouts disease prevention excess fat metabolic syndrome

Never Give Up: Fighting Diabetes with Exercise and Diet

Diabetes is a very familiar topic for me. Being diagnosed with Type I diabetes in my early 20s (not far removed from being a collegiate athlete) has made a huge impact on my life and how I face every day.

Always being on the active side and loving the endorphins of exercise has been both a blessing and a curse. Exercise plays a huge role in fighting diabetes, not only in prevention but also in management. Some people who have diabetes are the unlucky ones with inherited genetics, while others develop it through lifelong lifestyle habits ranging from poor nutrition to inactivity. More often than not, we can take control of this situation and overcome the effects by following the guidelines set forth by our healthcare providers and by listening to our bodies. 

Countering the Effects of Diabetes

Covering serious health topics such as heart health and foot health, the negative effects of diabetes are vast. With limited options available, we must turn to good old Mother Nature. Healthy lifestyles consisting of proper nutrition mixed with a modest yet consistent workout routine provide your body the necessary tools to cultivate and sustain some resistance to the overwhelming complications of diabetes. From this, you can see that your best friends will soon be a good gym buddy or a personal trainer to help hold your workout routine accountable, and a myfitnesspal app or a registered dietician to help hold your nutrition plan together.

The Importance of Monitoring Glucose Before Exercise

You may say, “Thomas, this blog can’t be all sunshine and rainbows.” You are correct. There are underlying factors that make simple solutions to diabetes an even steeper hill to climb. Individuals with diabetes are affected by almost every food they eat and every rep and set of exercise they push through. High and low blood glucose levels from improper insulin dosage or other medication are extremely dangerous. The only way to ensure you are ready to work out is to utilize a glucose monitor multiple times throughout the day. This includes before and after meals, before and after workout sessions, and the first thing when you wake up in the morning (fasting) and right before you go to bed. That’s a lot of little finger pokes. 

Diabetic Neuropathy

Another diabetes-related issue is called neuropathy, which is basically the desensitization of nerves in the extremities. You may be thinking, “This is great; I won’t feel pain anymore!” But what you don’t know is that now you can injure yourself without knowing and make it even worse by not addressing the issue, which can lead to irreversible damage. From this, you’ll find that your new best friends are going to be your endocrinologist and your podiatrist.

We Are Here to Help

There are many other friends that you will make along the way, ranging from your optometrist to the friendly types encouraging you to stay on the wagon. My suggestion is to let them help you. Because diabetes is a road that is nearly impassible without the help of others, you will find each helping hand not only makes the journey easier, but lets you know you are not alone in your fight. 

For more information about how NIFS can provide you with the proper atmosphere and knowledge to succeed with diabetes, contact the track desk to speak with one of our certified and degreed fitness professionals. NIFS is also proud to offer a registered dietician who can help you make informed decisions regarding your diet plan.


What did you eat today? Don’t underestimate the role that proper nutrition plays in your health and fitness. Contact Angie Scheetz ascheetz@nifs.org or call 317-274-3432 to find out more about the My Nutrition Coach app

Learn MoreThis blog was written by Thomas Livengood, Health Fitness Instructor at NIFS. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers click here.

Topics: NIFS exercise nutrition Thomas' Corner diabetes disease prevention

Tips for Healthy Eating at Summer Barbecues

Summer is perfect for being active outdoors and grilling some healthy items for cookouts. Getting together with family and friends is a wonderful way to spend a weekend afternoon and evening. Unfortunately, some barbecues can turn into really unhealthy meals quickly. Here are some simple tips to ensure you keep up healthy eating while enjoying a cookout. ThinkstockPhotos-475200404

  • Better your burger. Consider topping your burger with fresh and flavorful veggies such as onions and tomatoes versus higher-fat options like mayonnaise and cheese. Also, grab a whole-wheat bun to increase the fiber, or a sandwich thin to keep calories lower. Seek out lower-fat ground beef to make your burgers, such as Laura’s Lean Beef, or grab a turkey burger to grill. 
  • Select sides wisely. Coleslaw, potato salad, and macaroni salad are typical staples of most cookouts. However, these mayonnaise-based options are loaded with fat and calories that aren’t necessarily the best for a balanced plate. Choose a serving the size of a tennis ball to keep portions in check, or choose oil-and-vinegar or yogurt-based dishes if available. 
  • Fill up on fruit. This time of year is full of almost every fruit in its peak season. Load up on filling berries, cherries, and melons. Make a giant fruit salad or kabobs, or toss some peaches or pineapple on the grill and top with nonfat vanilla yogurt. If fruit pies are on the menu for dessert, choose the option with a bottom crust only and stick to one slice!
  • Don’t forget the veggies. A lot of times veggies are completely forgotten at a barbecue, but these can be super tasty and easy to fix when done on the grill. Zucchini, squash, eggplant, mushrooms, and peppers are great on the grill and can easily be made into fun kabobs. Corn on the cob is technically a starchy vegetable, but it’s still a vegetable! Just be cautious with the amount of butter and salt that you load on top of it. Instead, try grilling it in foil with a touch of olive oil and squeeze a lime on it before eating. You won’t even miss the butter and salt!
  • Be careful not to burn your meat. Two compounds found in charred and overcooked meats are known carcinogens. Always make sure to clean your grill to get rid of preexisting charred food bits before you start grilling, or grill on top of foil or a grill mat. Another great idea is to marinate your meats before throwing them on the grill. Not only will it increase the flavor, but it can reduce the presence of the carcinogens. Grab a meat thermometer and make sure beef, pork, fish, veal, and lamb reach 145 degrees and poultry reaches 165 degrees.
  • When you are finished, go play. Challenge the kids to a game of cornhole or horseshoes. Start tossing the ball around or choose another outdoor game. The point is to not just to jump around and “burn off” dinner, but to get up and moving and away from the tempting chips and other snacks!

My-Nutrition-Coach-outline-no-backLooking for a simple way to keep track of your diet? Want more immediate help and feedback on food choices and portions? My Nutrition Coach is a new app that gives you the ability to track your nutrition and receive daily feedback, suggestions and information from NIFS dietitian, Angie Scheetz.

Learn More

This blog was written by Angie Scheetz, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating calories summer disease prevention paleo

Should You Be Buying Organic Fruits and Vegetables?

ThinkstockPhotos-86533186This is always a hot topic and a debate that many people have strong opinions about: should I be buying organic produce? Unfortunately, I don’t have the definite answer for you, either. What I can do is give you some facts and let you decide whether buying organic foods is right for you and your family.

  • Organic produce does not have more vitamins and minerals than non-organic produce. 
  • Organics have a 30% lower risk of pesticide residue than non-organic produce.
  • Organic produce typically costs three times the amount that conventional produce costs.
  • Purchasing fruits and vegetables from the local farmer’s market is an option for getting more cost-effective organic foods.
  • Small amounts of pesticides and other chemicals can have adverse effects on health, especially during fetal development and childhood. 
Pesticide Residue Rankings

Still confused? Each year the Environmental Working Group identifies foods that have the highest and lowest pesticide residues. Here is a list in order, starting with the highest level of pesticide from 2015:

  1. Apples
  2. Peaches
  3. Nectarines
  4. Strawberries
  5. Grapes
  6. Celery
  7. Spinach
  8. Bell peppers
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry tomatoes
  11. Imported sugar snap peas
  12. Potatoes
  13. Hot peppers
  14. Kale/collard greens

Here is a list of foods that are least likely to contain contaminants:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Frozen peas
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Papayas
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Grapefruit
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Sweet potatoes

When glancing at these two lists, you can see that items on the first list all have edible skins, whereas the skins of the majority of foods on the second list are discarded. 

Ways to Reduce Pesticide Residues

Thoroughly washing produce is one way to guarantee you are washing away remaining pesticide residues (pesticides absorbed through roots can’t be washed off, however). Peeling the skins off fruit is another way to decrease the amount of residue; however, you lose nutrients when you throw out the skin. 

Take all of this information into account when deciding between organics and non-organics, and then make the choice that best fits your beliefs and budget!

This blog was written by Angie Scheetz, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

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Topics: healthy eating disease prevention clean eating organic foods

Thomas’s Corner: Nuts About the Nutrition in Nuts

ThinkstockPhotos-178017024Nuts, basically one of the original food groups and predating even the most basic diet, have been a part of human existence since the beginning, and there is good reason. They taste good and are loaded with nutrients. The properties and benefits of nuts vary based on each individual nut, with some options being a little healthier than others.

Nuts Are Healthiest Without Embellishment

There are some ground rules that I would like to set regarding healthy nuts. 

Try not to add chocolate to the equation. Although chocolate has its good qualities, we also know that added calories would diminish our gains from the nuts.

Salt, like chocolate, has added value in taste but is not recommended for individuals who are heart conscious. For that matter, I don’t recommend added anything, whether it be chocolate, salt, sugar, etc.

Health Benefits of Nuts

“Now wait a minute, this sounds like a lot of work,” you may say. This is where you are mistaken. Eating nuts can be an enjoyable way to get variety in your diet and healthful nutrition. For instance, almonds, cashews, pecans, brazil nuts, macadamias, pistachios, hazelnuts, and walnuts boast tons of benefits, including but not limited to fighting inflammation, improving digestion, raising immunity, lowering LDL, fighting cancer, and even making coffee taste better.

Nutritional Information About Nuts

Nuts can differ in size, shape, texture, and taste, but overall, they are fairly similar in calories per ounce and fat. The pistachio weighs in pretty light on the calorie scale at about 160 calories and 14 grams of fat per 50 nuts, while the Brazil nut is 185 calories and 18 grams of fat for 5 to 6 nuts. The healthy properties of the Brazil nut, though, outweigh the difference in that they contain a fair amount of selenium (which, in recommended doses, has been linked to fighting certain cancers).

With all the benefits nuts pose for our health, it is easy to see why they belong in the Mount Rushmore of edibles. Do yourself a favor and accentuate your diet… because nuts are taking over!

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood. For more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition Thomas' Corner healthy eating disease prevention immunity protein heart disease

American Heart Month: Preventing and Living with Cardiovascular Disease

There is no better time to get your heart health on track than right now, during heart health month! February is American Heart Month, and a time that the CDC is trying to help us be aware that heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure are the number-one killers of men and women. Heart disease can be scary, and although not 100% preventable in all cases, it is reassuring to know that we can help ourselves to keep it away.

Who Is at Risk for Heart Disease? heart

Let’s start by taking a look at understanding who is at risk for heart disease and how it can play out in your life. First off, the number of preventable deaths has gone down in recent years, but is still at an alarming number. What most of us know is that if we have a close relative who has died from cardiovascular disease, it does put us at a higher risk for getting it later in life.

Here are some things maybe you didn’t know:

  • Men are more than twice as likely as women to die from preventable heart disease.
  • Health disparities based on geography also contribute to it (in previous years, deaths due to heart disease were highest in the south and lowest in the west). Race can affect your risk level.
  • Nearly half of African American men and women have some form of heart disease, and the American Heart Association also tells us that African Americans are more likely than any other ethnic group to have high blood pressure and to develop it earlier in life.

Many of these things can be prevented by healthier habits and management of conditions.

Preventing Heart Disease

The good news is that there are some things that we can do to help prevent heart disease. Being active and exercising on a regular basis is one of the biggest things that can help! Exercising for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and maintaining a healthy weight makes the payoff even greater. You want to have a healthy mixture of both cardiovascular exercise as well as weight training and strength training to keep yourself in tip-top shape.

Another big contributor that can help is to not smoke or chew tobacco. Chemicals in tobacco damage the blood vessels of the heart, narrow the arteries, and could lead to a heart attack.

Eating a diet that is heart healthy is also important. Foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help reduce your potential risk factor as well as keeping to a low-fat diet and eating good sources of protein like chicken and fish. Getting enough sleep and keeping a low level of stress is one of the most manageable factors in heart health.

And lastly, be sure to get regular health screenings to monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and sugar levels to steer clear of diabetes and other health issues.

Managing Cardiovascular Disease

FEAR NOT! If you already have cardiovascular disease, there are still things you can do to help slow down the progress of it. Though things may seem a bit more difficult after suffering a heart attack, coronary heart disease, a blocked artery, or other cardiovascular problem, it’s vital to your health to work on many of the things listed above. Even with heart disease, things like exercising on a regular basis, maintaining healthy eating habits, keeping a healthy body weight, not smoking or using tobacco, and watching those “numbers” at the doctor’s office can significantly aid in your heart health.

Be sure to consult your cardiologist before putting an exercise plan into place in case you have any restrictions, but get started on your new way of life ASAP! And most importantly, be aware of your condition, take time to learn about it so that you can manage it the best way possible.

This blog was written by Amanda Bireline, Health Fitness Specialist. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

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Topics: healthy habits heart attack disease prevention heart disease cardiovascular