NIFS Healthy Living Blog

The Best Foods to Help You Fight Off Cold and Flu Season

GettyImages-1186344506As the weather turns colder and we spend more time indoors, viruses will become more active among the population. Healthy eating can help you boost your immunity. Here are five of the top choices for fighting colds and flu with food.

Citrus Fruits

Oranges, clementines, lemons, and grapefruits are all excellent sources of vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps protect immune cells from oxidative stress during the early stages of an immune response. Research has shown that a deficiency of vitamin C can result in impaired immunity and a greater susceptibility to infection.

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish, such as sockeye salmon and rainbow trout, are often great sources of Vitamin D, a nutrient that plays a role in innate and adaptive immune responses. One study found that vitamin D supplementation resulted in a 42% decrease in the incidence of influenza infection, while another study revealed individuals with lower serum vitamin D levels were more likely to self-report recent upper respiratory tract infections when compared to individuals with sufficient vitamin D levels.

Nuts, Seeds, and Plant-based Oils

Nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils are high in vitamin E, an antioxidant that has been shown to enhance immune response and confer protection against several infectious diseases. These foods are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help strengthen your immune cells, although more research is still needed to fully support these claims.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes and other red or orange fruits and vegetables are typically high in vitamin A, which plays a crucial role in the maintenance of the human immune system. Vitamin A supplementation has been shown to have a therapeutic effect on diseases transmitted through the respiratory tract, such as pneumonia. For reference, one sweet potato contains 156% of your daily vitamin A requirements.

Oysters

Three ounces of raw oysters provides 291% of your daily zinc needs. Zinc helps the immune system function properly and also has wound-healing properties. Studies have shown that a zinc deficiency is associated with severe immune dysfunction.

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Eating the preceding types of foods can help you strengthen your immune system against the annual winter onslaught of colds and flu. If you’d like more help planning a healthy diet, schedule a NIFS nutrition coaching session.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Recker, MS, RD, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy eating immunity fruits and vegetables cold weather plant-based flu viruses

Saving Money on Groceries While Eating Well

GettyImages-517974394With inflation at a 40-year high and grocery costs up close to 11% compared to 2021, saving money at the store has become a priority for many. However, when trying to save money at the store, many individuals cut back on the pricier yet healthier items, such as fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources. But you don’t have to do that! Here are some tips and tricks for maintaining a healthy diet while shopping smart and saving money at the store.

  • Have a grocery store game plan. Make a list of the meals and snacks you plan to eat throughout the week and the foods you will need to make them. Sticking to this list will help prevent you from buying things you do not need, which often results in wasted food and money.
  • Join your store's loyalty or rewards program. Often these programs are free and automatically apply savings at checkout, requiring minimal effort from you.
  • Buy “in-season” and “local” fruits and vegetables when possible. Fruits and vegetables that are local or in season are typically cheaper to produce and ship, resulting in a lower price for the consumer compared to hard-to-find or out-of-season produce. See what produce is currently in season at the USDA website.
  • Buy frozen. If you have freezer space available, purchase frozen fruits and vegetables without added salt or sauces. Typically frozen fruits and vegetables are just as healthy as fresh and are a fraction of the cost.
  • Buy canned fruits and vegetables. When purchasing fruits, try to buy those that are packaged in 100% fruit juice. When purchasing vegetables, look for those that have “no salt added” listed on the label, or simply rinse prior to preparing/cooking to help wash off some of the salt added for preservation.
  • Grow your own! Grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs to cut back on packaging costs.
  • Buy fresh. Check the “sell by” or “best by” date to ensure you are buying the freshest items.
  • Compare your options. Compare and contrast different sizes and brands to find the most cost-effective option. Looking at the “price per unit” can help you find the best deal.
  • Buy in bulk. When you know a certain food or drink will get used, buy in bulk or purchase value- or family-sized items. For produce and meat, anything that isn’t used can be frozen for later use.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Recker, MS, RD, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy eating whole foods fruits and vegetables grocery shopping saving money frozen food

Tips for a Healthy Halloween

GettyImages-1267397092Halloween is a day full of fun, costumes, treats, friends, and family! With all the food and candy, is it even possible to be “healthy” and still enjoy the festivities? The answer is YES. Take a look at these SPOOK-tacular tips to keep you and your family in good health.

Find a Balance

Halloween comes around once a year. It’s a time to feed your social and mental health, which may require easing up on the physical health guidelines for a moment. Remember, any decision you make for your physical health that comes at the expense of your social and mental health may not be all that great after all.

Let’s be honest, Halloween is FUN. The candy is FUN. Trick-or-treating is FUN. All this feeds our mental and social health. Plus, think about it: daily nutritional choices consistently over time have the greater impact on your health than nutrition choices on one holiday.

What does this “balance” look like? Keep reading.

Use portion control and omit the “off-limits” mentality.

All foods in moderation can fit into a healthy regimen. Instead of making candy off-limits, work it into your established routine. Still have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Make those meals nutritious, including fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins. At each meal, offer one serving of Halloween candy to everyone. Instead of the full-size pieces, make them like the “fun-size” or “snack-size.” This allows everyone to enjoy a sweet, while filling up on the nutritious foods that are important for physical health.

Make festive, healthy options.

On the day that you all go trick-or-treating, really get into the spirit! Make nutritious meals that are Halloween themed. Some examples include:

  • Green-goop smoothie with Halloween straws: Include low-fat Greek yogurt, spinach, chia seeds, pineapple, and low-fat milk of choice. Try this recipe.
  • Monster teeth: Slice a green apple. Smear peanut butter on one side of a slice (bottom lip of the mouth). Stick yogurt-covered raisins in the peanut butter. Smear a little more peanut butter on another apple slice and place on top of the raisins for the top lip.
  • Boo-nana pops: Cut bananas in half and place a stick in the end as a handle. At the tip of the banana, add two chocolate chips as eyes. Serve frozen, cold, or at room temperature.
  • Devil spiders: Make deviled eggs. On the top, put an olive in the center for the spider’s body. Then put slices of olives around the outer edge of the egg for the legs.
  • Cute pumpkins: Peel Cuties/clementines/mandarins. Slice celery into small sticks. Place a celery stick at the top of each mandarin for the pumpkin stem.
  • Yo-yo graveyard: Scoop nonfat Greek yogurt into cups. Crumble some chocolate cookies on top (just a thin layer to cover the top) for the dirt. Write “Boo” on graham crackers for tombstones. Place one tombstone in each yogurt cup.
  • Spider sandwich: Make a sandwich of choice. Cut the sandwich into a circle. Place chocolate chips as the eyes (use peanut butter to help them stick). Use pretzels as the legs, sticking them into the bread or middle of the sandwich, with the tips sticking out.
  • Ghost cheese sticks: Get individually wrapped mozzarella cheese sticks. Take a sharpie and make black dots for the eyes and a block dot for an open mouth. These make perfect snacks while you are out and about trick-or-treating.

This ensures everyone is filling up on nutritious options high in fiber and protein, which leaves less room for tons of candy. Now, do not mistake this for “NO ROOM” for candy. There is still room, but not as much. You are just making sure everyone is properly nourished and still having fun in the process.

When you get home that night, enjoy a few pieces of candy with the kiddos, then put it in a non-accessible place. You are in control of when and how much the kids get. You are also in control of when and how much you get as well. Refer to what I said about portion control to plan your approach here. Remain consistent so that you and the kids both have a clear understanding of when candy will be served. For example, one individual piece will be served with each meal. It gives both you and the kids something to look forward to and does not make candy off-limits, but instead teaches proper portion control and provides a positive relationship with all foods. In the long run, this reduces binging or obsessing over any one food.

Stay active.

One of the best things you can do is to get everyone moving and active. Be sure to get in a workout on the big day, even if it is a quick 20-minute HIIT session at home, or try this spooky workout. Get the kiddos moving with you! Walk from house to house instead of driving during trick-or-treating. Go on a walk in your costumes if you are not trick-or-treating this year. Or just go on a walk in your regular clothes and enjoy all the house decorations. You can also play games:

  • Monster Tag: The tagger is a monster and anyone they tag becomes the monster.
  • Monster vs. Ghost Freeze Tag: If the monster tags you, you become frozen until one of your ghost teammates unfreezes you. The goal is for the monster to freeze all the ghosts!

ENJOY HALLOWEEN!

Have fun with your family. Soak in the moments. Laugh a lot. Feed your mental and social health, knowing it will benefit your physical health in the long run and that choices you make consistently over time matter the most. Stay safe.

As always, reach out to your NIFS Registered Dietitian if you need some holiday nutrition support.

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

 

Topics: staying active healthy eating holidays kids sugar halloween

Are You Eating Too Much Sodium?

GettyImages-525359720Sodium is a mineral and electrolyte that helps balance the amount of fluid and other minerals in your body. It also plays an important role in nerve and muscle function. The terms “sodium” and “salt” are typically used interchangeably; however, sodium is a mineral and one of the chemical components found in salt (also called sodium chloride). Sodium is found naturally in some foods, and added to others for flavor or preservation.

While some sodium is necessary for the body to function (~500 mg/day), over time consuming too much sodium can have undesirable health effects. One of the most notable consequences of consuming too much sodium is high blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, the two leading causes of death in the U.S., as well as kidney disease, loss of vision, and many more health complications.

Where Is Sodium Found in Foods?

Although most people believe their sodium intake mainly comes from salt they add to food by hand, only around 10% of the average American’s sodium intake comes from salt added while cooking or eating. Instead, more than 70% of the sodium consumed by Americans is from packaged and processed foods and food from restaurants. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the largest contributors of sodium in the American diet include sandwiches (including burgers and tacos), pasta and other grain dishes, soups, pizzas, and meat and seafood dishes.

How Much Sodium Can I Consume?

The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 2,300mg (1 teaspoon) of sodium per day; however, consuming less than 1,500mg is preferred, especially in those with preexisting high blood pressure. Despite these guidelines, the average adult in the U.S. consumes close to 3,400mg of sodium each day.

How Can I Reduce My Sodium Intake?

To help reduce your sodium intake and promote overall health, try some of the following suggestions:

  • Compare Nutrition Facts labels of various packaged foods and choose the one with the lowest sodium content.
  • Select canned foods, such as vegetables and beans, with “no salt added” or “low sodium” listed on the label.
  • Use herbs, spices, and other sodium-free seasonings to add flavor to food, rather than salt and salty seasoning blends.
  • Limit foods that are pickled, cured, or smoked, as these tend to be high in sodium. Foods that are grilled, poached, or roasted may be better options.
  • Choose whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods tend to be very low in sodium.
  • Minimize the amount of salt added during cooking and at the table.
  • If you currently eat a lot of salt/sodium, try gradually reducing your intake to give your taste buds time to transition.

Sodium and Exercise

The recommendation to consume less than 1,500mg per day does not apply to everyone, particularly individuals who lose excess amounts of sweat, such as competitive athletes or outdoor construction workers. Sodium and potassium are the two major electrolytes lost in sweat, although the amount lost varies from person to person. Typically, it is appropriate to replenish these electrolytes after intense exercise (typically >60 minutes) or excessive sweat loss.

When choosing electrolyte replacement drinks, select one with about 14–16g of carbohydrates and between 100 and 165mg of sodium per every 8 ounces for optimal recovery. And as always, it is important to talk with your physician or registered dietitian to determine how much sodium is appropriate for you based on your health status and other contributing factors.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Recker, MS, RD, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating sodium hypertension

Five Nutrition-Focused New Year's Resolutions That Aren’t About Weight

GettyImages-1358382035While having a New Year’s Resolution to “lose more weight” isn’t a bad thing, it’s not easy. And depending on how much you want to lose and in what time frame, it’s not always realistic. To benefit your overall health without focusing on your weight, try setting (and sticking to) some of the following nutrition-related resolutions going into 2022.

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

About 80 percent of the US population doesn’t meet their fruit intake recommendations, while close to 90 percent do not meet their suggested vegetable intake (source: CDC). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage adults to consume around 2–2.5 cups of fruit per day and 2.5–3 cups of vegetables per day. Although this may be a lot for some, simply aiming to eat one additional fruit or vegetable each day is still beneficial.

Drink More Water

Water is essential for the body. It aids in digestion, regulates body temperature, cushions joints, and helps remove wastes from the body. Not drinking enough water increases the risk for dehydration, which can cause dizziness, confusion, fatigue, headaches and dry skin and mouth (source: CDC). A general rule of thumb is to consume at least 1 milliliter of water for every 1 calorie consumed. For example, if you consumed 2,200 calories per day, you would want to aim to consume 2,200ml, or 2.2 liters of water per day.

Consume Less Alcohol

Excess alcohol intake has both short- and long-term health consequences. In the short term, drinking too much can result in risky behaviors, injury, or violence. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of high blood pressure and heart disease, certain cancers, weakened immune system, learning and memory issues, and social problems. Most professional health organizations such as the CDC and WHO agree that men should limit alcohol intake to less than two drinks/day, while women should aim for less than one drink per day (source: CDC).

Decrease Sodium Intake

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest consuming less than 2,300mg of sodium per day to promote optimal health and reduce the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death for adults in the US. However, in the US, the average sodium intake for individuals older than 1 year of age is ~3,400mg/day. Strategies for reducing sodium intake include cooking at home more often, using herbs and spices to season foods rather than salt, and consuming fewer packaged/prepared foods.

Limit Saturated Fat Consumption

Like sodium, excess saturated fat consumption is linked to an increased risk for heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10% of daily calories, while the American Heart Association recommends even less, at less than 5–6% of daily calories from saturated fat per day. Saturated fat is found in most animal-based foods such as beef, poultry, pork, full-fat dairy products, and coconut and palm oils. To cut back on saturated fat, reduce your intake or eat smaller portions of the foods listed above and replace them with healthier options, such as fat-free or low-fat dairy and lean cuts of meat.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Recker, MS, RD, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition resolutions weight loss healthy eating hydration goals new year's sodium alcohol dietitian fruits and vegetables fats healthy living

How to Make Favorite Thanksgiving Foods Healthier

GettyImages-621721636Although the holidays are meant to be a time of joy, they can be stressful for some, especially when you’re trying to lose or maintain weight, or just be more conscious of your eating habits. The best way to avoid these health-related stressors during the holidays is to prepare for them.

Following are seven of the most commonly consumed Thanksgiving foods and some suggestions for how to make them a bit healthier. Just by incorporating two or three of these simple swaps, you can reduce your intake of some not-so-health-friendly nutrients (like saturated fat and sodium), while still enjoying the seasonal foods you love and look forward to year after year.

 

Turkey

Opt for light turkey meat over dark meat because light turkey meat tends to have fewer calories, less saturated fat, and more protein per ounce. Removing all or some of the skin prior to eating can also help reduce total caloric and fat intake.

3 ounces of light turkey meat contains:

  • Without skin: 125 calories, 1.8g fat, 0.5g saturated fat, and 25.6g protein
  • With skin: 150 calories, 3.8g fat, 1.1g saturated fat, and 26.3g protein

3 ounces of dark turkey meat contains:

  • Without skin: 150 calories, 5.1g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, and 23.6g protein
  • With skin: 175 calories, 8.5g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, and 23.2g protein

Stuffing

Replace the bagged or boxed stuffing with homemade, which is typically lower in sodium and other processed ingredients. Use whole-grain bread in place of white bread to increase fiber content.

Incorporate more vegetables (celery, onion, carrots, broccoli, corn, mushrooms) and herbs (thyme, sage) to increase the nutrient content and overall flavor of your stuffing without adding too many extra calories and salt.

Use a reduced-sodium broth in place of regular broth, which can have several hundred additional milligrams of sodium per serving.

Green Bean Casserole

Use fresh steamed green beans, rather than canned, to decrease sodium content. Or you can choose canned green beans with “no salt added.” Use reduced-sodium cream of mushroom soup and add real sautéed mushrooms for additional flavor and fiber. Try air-frying onions rather than buying packaged fried onions.

Cranberries

Use fresh cranberries in place of canned cranberries or cranberry sauce to help reduce added sugar and total caloric intake. If you must use canned cranberries, select those that are naturally sweetened without added sugars.

Potatoes

Use low-fat milk, plain Greek yogurt, or low-sodium chicken broth in place of cream, butter, or margarine. Use real potatoes with the skin intact to boost fiber content. Limit the amount of butter, salt and gravy added to mashed potatoes.

Instead of sweet-potato casserole, try roasted sweet potatoes with brown sugar, chopped nuts, and a little bit of butter available for topping.

Beverages

Limit alcohol and other calorie-containing beverages, such as soda and juice. If you do choose to consume alcohol, opt for lower-calorie drinks (seltzers, light beer, dry wines) and calorie-free mixers such as seltzer water or diet sodas. As always, be sure to consume in moderation; alcohol may make you more inclined to overeat.

Dessert

Opt for 100% pure pumpkin and reduce the amount used (or consumed) as filling to help cut back on calories. Skip the whipped cream, ice cream, and other toppings that may add additional calories.

If you’re given a choice, pumpkin pie tends to be lower in calories than pecan pie.

For many people, Thanksgiving may be the only time a year they get to enjoy pumpkin pie. If that’s the case for you, it’s perfectly acceptable to indulge; just be sure to practice portion control.

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Don’t have any say over what you and your family are having for Thanksgiving this year? Check out these tips for a practical, healthy holiday. Additionally, be sure to stay active, practice moderation and portion control, and remember: Thanksgiving happens only once a year and is much more than the food we pile onto our plates.

For more great recipes from NIFS dietitian, Lindsey Recker, go to https://www.nifs.org/healthy-recipes-nifs.

This blog was written by Lindsey Recker, MS, RD, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy eating holidays Thanksgiving alcohol fruits and vegetables turkey

The Freshman 15: Is College Weight Gain Fact or Fake?

GettyImages-1276822901With the phrase “freshman 15” commonly tossed around, many students enter college with a fear or perception that they will gain weight. However, a meta-analysis of the available research showed that, while close to two thirds (60.9%) of first-year college students did gain weight, the average amount gained was only around 7.5 pounds. Of those who reported weight gain, only 10% gained 15 or more poundBased on these findings, not everyone experiences the “freshman 15”; however, it is evident that the majority of first-year college students do gain some weight. Increased stress levels, fewer hours of sleep, excess alcohol intake, and reduced physical activity are just some of the factors that may contribute to weight gain in college.

To prevent weight gain and maximize your overall health this semester, try some of the following suggestions:

Stick to a schedule.

College can wreak havoc on your preferred living, sleeping, and eating routines. It is important to establish a schedule and stick to it. Healthy habits to adopt include the following:

  • Eating at least three well-rounded meals each day (and minimize late-night snacking).
  • Going to bed and waking up around the same time each day.
  • Drinking plenty of water (a general recommendation is at least 2–3 liters [64–96oz] each day).
  • Getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.

Plan ahead and stock up on healthy staples.

A little preparation ahead of time will keep you from grabbing unhealthy snacks.

  • Keep healthy snacks and staples in your dorm room or apartment. Some examples include the following: Microwavable brown rice, oatmeal, and popcorn; yogurt, apples, bananas, peanut butter, hummus, cheese sticks, granola, bagels, nuts, whole-grain crackers, cereal, and protein bars.
  • Limit foods commonly consumed in college that are high in sodium and calories, such as ramen noodles, heavily buttered popcorn, and pizza.
  • Keep a knife and cutting board on hand to slice fresh fruits and vegetables.

Limit high-sugar, high-calorie beverages.

Reduce intake of soda, energy drinks, sweetened coffees and teas, and alcohol. If you do choose to consume these beverages, be sure to drink in moderation and to factor them into your total caloric intake.

Don’t overdo it at the dining hall.

With limitless options, including plenty of not-so-healthy ones, making smart and healthy decisions at the dining hall can be complicated. To start, aim to pair a high-quality, lean protein source (chicken, fish, turkey, beans, yogurt, eggs, etc.) with a fruit or vegetable at each meal. Other tips include the following:

  • Make use of the salad bar, if available, but be sure to limit high-caloric toppings such as nuts, seeds, cheeses, and dressings.
  • Allow yourself some “treat foods,” but don’t make this a daily habit.
  • Eliminate distractions while eating. Focus on the food you are eating, rather than your phone, laptop, or schoolwork.

Stay active.

Adults over 18 years of age should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days each week. In order to meet these recommendations, make use of your school’s recreation center or gym, walk to class when possible, or participate in intramural sports. (Here are some more tips for staying fit in college.)

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This blog was written by Lindsey Recker, MS, RD, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy habits healthy eating snacks weight management college

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. Healthy Eating at BBQ

  • 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 or a plant-based 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!

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

Topics: nutrition healthy eating calories summer disease prevention paleo

Practicing Self-Care: It’s More Than Just Healthy Eating

GettyImages-1238998139In today’s busy world, it’s easy to put self-care on the back burner. When there are seemingly endless deadlines at work that must be met, household chores to tackle, and a calendar that is jam-packed it can be extremely difficult to even think about taking time out for ourselves. This is why we must take just a few minutes out of our days. And, as Millennial as it may sound, we need to begin to give some love to ourselves so that we not only exist, but live life to the fullest.

Why Is Self-care Important?

There are many reasons to take care of yourself:

  • Increase self-worth: Confidence, self-esteem, and feeling positive emotions about yourself can do wonders for you and those around you.
  • Reduce stress: Constant stress can take a huge toll on your mind and body.
  • Achieve work-life balance: You may find taking small breaks out of the day to focus on yourself not only helps you focus better on the task at hand, but also puts joy back into life outside of work.
  • Improve physical health: There is no question that self-care is good for you mentally, but it’s important physically as well. Getting better sleep, eating more healthfully, being more active—all deliver numerous physical benefits.

As a dietitian, nutrition is one aspect of self-care that is extremely important to me. For some, this could mean eating a little dark chocolate every night, buying a new water bottle to drink ice-cold water all day, or making a smoothie every morning in place of the usual breakfast.

Ways to Care for Yourself

But what are some other ways you can practice self-care that aren’t nutrition-related?

  • Call a loved one to chat for a few minutes.
  • Practice saying “no” to avoid overextending yourself. (On the other hand, practice saying “yes” if you feel that a healthy dose of socializing would be good!)
  • Take a stroll midday or once you get home—no matter the weather—and listen to an audiobook.
  • Take deep, cleaning breaths—in through the nose, out through the mouth—before bed.
  • Journal at the end of the day, even if it’s just a few quick notes.
  • Sip a glass of hot tea and stare out the window.
  • Listen to your favorite music while you take a hot shower or bath.
  • Go get a massage.
  • Sign up for a painting class with a friend.
  • Book one of the less-expensive midweek flights to Florida for some sunshine.
  • Visit the new restaurant you’ve been wanting to try.
  • Take a drive with the windows down and music blasting (once it has warmed up).
  • Visit a library and get lost reading a good book.
  • Declutter your room and make your bed.
  • Work on a puzzle or a coloring book.

Try to think of easy ways to practice self-care on your own. Items on this list might be relaxing for one person but could be a total nightmare for another. There is no right or wrong way to go about self-care. Just do what makes you happy. And remember, self-care is not indulgent. It is a must and it matters. Make sure some of your self-care techniques are easy to start and just take a few minutes of your day so that you can incorporate them into your daily schedule consistently.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating stress relief self-care self-esteem work-life balance

Life’s Simple 7 for Heart Health

GettyImages-1280587810Did you know that cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death? According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease. About 655,000 Americans die from heart disease each year—that's 1 in every 4 deaths.

It’s because of this fact that the American Heart Association (AHA) has poured millions into heart research and producing guidelines to help people not only manage heart conditions but prevent them, too. One initiative by the AHA that has been around is the Life’s Simple 7 for heart health. Life's Simple 7 is defined by the American Heart Association as the 7 risk factors that people can improve through lifestyle changes to help achieve ideal cardiovascular health. Let’s take a look!

Life’s Simple 7

  1. Manage blood pressure. High blood pressure can put strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys, leading to heart disease and stroke. Both exercise and nutrition can help here. Nutritionally speaking, be sure to watch your sodium (salt) intake, keeping your intake at 1,500–2,300mg per day. Also, eat plenty of fruits and veggies to get fiber!
  2. Control cholesterol. When cholesterol levels are high, plaque buildup causes clogged arteries. This also leads to stroke and heart disease. For healthy cholesterol levels, it is important to manage total fat intake and eat a balanced diet. Fat intake should make up about 20–35% of total calories. Of those fats, be sure that the bulk come from unsaturated sources, such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds. 
  3. Reduce blood sugar. Everything we eat turns into sugar (aka glucose), but glucose is most readily available in the carbohydrates we eat. Our bodies use this glucose for energy. Now, carbohydrates and glucose are important! However, just like everything else, we want to find a balance. Chronically high levels of blood glucose can be damaging to the heart, eyes, nerves, and kidneys. If you struggle with high blood sugar, be sure to consult your Registered Dietitian, Primary Care Provider, and Endocrinologist. The team can come up with a care plan to manage your blood sugar.
  4. Get active. Living an active life comes with far more benefits than just heart health! But for heart health, it is recommended to exercise 150–300 minutes per week at a moderate intensity level. Outside of that time, be sure to stay active by going on walks, doing yard work, taking “standing breaks” from sitting down, and stretching.
  5. Eat better. A balanced and nutritious diet is always a game changer. The things we put into our bodies matter. When you eat a nutritious diet, you are giving your body one of the best weapons to combat cardiovascular disease. This goes both ways, though; when we eat junk a majority of the time, we are opening the gates to a plethora of chronic diseases.
  6. Maintain a healthy weight. To be honest, I wish this said “maintain a healthy body composition.” Current research shows that body composition (fat mass and lean body mass) is far more indicative of risk for chronic disease than total body weight. Maintaining healthy body fat levels and adequate lean muscle mass reduces the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and skeleton.
  7. Stop smoking. Cigarette smoking is one of the leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease. If you do smoke, consider sitting down with your healthcare team and coming up with a plan to quit. Like everything, this is absolutely your choice, but do be aware that smoking drastically increases your chances of heart disease.

Take It One Step at a Time

Now, if you are anything like me, you may be thinking “that is not ‘simple.’” Trust me, I agree. That is my only critique of these guidelines. It is not that simple. These things take work and time; I do not want to downplay that. My suggestion is to pick one at a time and work on it. Then, once you have that down, move on to another. Keep repeating this until you feel like all your bases are covered and heart-healthy lifestyle habits are in place.

NIFS Can Help

As always, NIFS professionals are here to help! We have certified personal trainers to assist in getting active (step 4); a Clinical Registered Dietitian who can assist with eating better (step 5) and blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol control (steps 1–3); a weight-loss program for step 6; and health coaches to help with navigating lifestyle steps to stop smoking. All of these can, in turn, lead to healthier cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels (steps 1–3). Please reach out if you need anything! We are here to help keep you and your heart healthy. 

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: exercise weight loss healthy eating personal training heart disease hypertension heart health blood sugar smoking cessation quitting smoking