Vegan vs. Vegetarian- What’s All The Fuss?

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about becoming a vegetarian as opposed to living a vegan lifestyle. What is the difference between the two diets? I did some research to find out the differences between the two lifestyle choices.

Vegetarian diets vary in what foods they include and exclude. For example, vegetarians do not eat meat, fish or poultry but they typically eat dairy products and eggs. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but not eggs, lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy products and ovo-vegetarians eat eggs as well as dairy products. Vegetarians do not eat products that contain gelatin or other meat-based products.

A vegan diet is a type of vegetarian diet but vegans do not eat any animal products- including dairy and eggs. People who follow a vegan lifestyle generally do not wear leather and avoid products made from animals such as wool, silk and down.  Popular foods eaten by vegetarians and vegans include kale, grains, nuts, legumes and beans.

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Whatever diet you follow, it is important to remember to get the proper amount of vitamins, protein and calcium. It is a good idea to consult a doctor and do your own research before eliminating certain food groups from your diet. Also remember that calories still matter and consuming too many- even if they are meatless- is unhealthy.

Whatever diet you follow; vegan, vegetarian, paleo or your own mix of whatever works for you, everyone can benefit from eating slower. I always eat fast and I know it’s a terrible habit. Although I am fully aware of this fact, at times, I am oblivious as to what I am doing when I eat.  I think I fell into this eating fast mode because I am always rushing. I rush to make the train, even though I always leave myself plenty of time,  I run to catch the subway and I even run to the street corners, anxiously trying to make the light. Yet I never feel good after I have eaten my meal fast. It is terrible for digestion and sometimes I eat more food because my brain has not had a chance to realize that my stomach is full.

Studies  have shown that eating slowly can actually curb hunger after a meal. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, focused on normal weight and overweight participants who were instructed to eat two lunches. During one lunch, both groups ate slowly and during the other lunch, both groups ate fast.  Notably, the researchers found that the normal weight participants consumed 88 fewer calories when they were told to eat slowly. While eating slowly, the overweight participants ate 55 fewer calories.  Both the normal weight and the overweight test groups did not feel as hungry one hour after eating slowly than they did after eating quickly.

Eating slower also allows you to properly chew your food, which leads to better digestion. Chewing breaks your food down into smaller particles which makes it easier for your body to absorb nutrients. An added benefit to slowing down at mealtime is that you may pay more attention to what you are eating. It is better to be in the moment than to be thinking about what you will be doing next. I probably should take my own advice and slow down.

As a healthy snack alternative, try these easy to make, no-bake protein treats.

Tina & Jay’s Chocolate-Chip Coconut Protein Snack

1 cup coconut flakes (I used sweetened coconut flakes-you can use unsweetened flakes with a few drops of stevia for sweetener)
1/2 cup Sunbutter
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup chocolate whey protein powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

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Blend the coconut flakes in a blender or mini-blender until it reaches a semi-smooth consistency. In a large bowl, place coconut flake mixture and the reminder of the ingredients. Mix all ingredients with your hands and combine into a ball. Chill the ball in the bowl for 30 minutes, uncovered in the refrigerator. Then brake dough into smaller balls and they are ready to eat. Store uneaten treats in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Gym Etiquette- Read This!!!

As you read this, I sincerely hope that you don’t see yourself in any of these scenarios. If you do recognize yourself- please stop whatever it is you’re doing! It’s wrong, it’s gross and people are probably talking about you.

1) Never do bicep curls in the squat rack. This has become a running joke at my gym but, seriously, dude/dudette. Don’t do it. The squat racks are for front squats, back squats and bench presses. That’s it. There are places to curl…….in your own home. No, seriously, find another spot in the gym to curl your weights.

2) Wipe up after yourself. No one wants to work out in the crime scene outline of your sweat. It’s disgusting and unsanitary. During the sweltering summer months, countless times I had to tip-toe through man-size areas of sweat, like a hopscotch game, just to get to a clearing where I could do burpees. I know that hurling myself onto the gym floor, face to face with the germ-infested mat is not exactly sanitary, but I want to believe that the gym floor may have been cleaned at some point. In my mind, if the mats are dry, at least that is some indication of cleanliness.

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3) Use deodorant before coming to the gym. Put on cologne if your workout odor is that bad. You don’t want to be that guy or that girl. There’s a guy at my gym who smells so bad that you can actually taste the stench that his body is emitting. We are all there to workout and a normal amount of body odor is to be expected but I shouldn’t smell you from across the gym. If you shower regularly and use deodorant, then maybe you have a medical condition, check it out.

4) If you belong to a gym where you shower, keep personal hygiene rituals at home. No one wants to watch you clip your nails, shave your body hair or pick at your skin. If people are waiting, don’t take a marathon shower. Don’t monopolize mirror, hair dryers or other accessories that everyone is supposed to share.

5) Put the weights back where you found them. After you finish lifting, put the bar and weights away. Don’t assume that the next person will lift the same amount of weight you can. The next person may not even be able to put your weights away. This rule applies even if you’re only using 10-pound plates. If the next person wants to use heavier weights, they shouldn’t be bothered with removing your weights.

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6) Put all gym equipment away where you found it. I don’t want to have to high jump over the kettlebell that you left on the floor. It’s dangerous and rude. Don’t assume the next class will use it. After you finish your sit-ups, wipe down the mat and back cushion. If I need one, I will get my own. Maybe I don’t want to use your warm, sweaty abmat. I’d appreciate it if you put your jump rope, wood box and weighted balls away when you’re done, instead of me having to leap frog through the random gym equipment left on the floor.

Everyone comes to the gym to de-stress, chill and have a positive fitness experience. Don’t ruin the mood. Rude gym members can disrupt the zen-like, inner calmness that the gym refuge brings.

Nuts About Nuts

Nuts- either you love them or hate them. Or some people are allergic to them. In that case, skip to the end of this post and read the recipe- nuts are optional. I hated nuts when I was a kid but through the years I have come to really like them. I eat most kinds of nuts; almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and circus (or Five Guys) peanuts. Except not that strange-looking Brazil nut (no offense to Brazil). Notice how that large nut always stands out in a bunch of mixed nuts? Anyway, I am always careful to portion out my servings because before you know it- I could scarf down 500 calories in minutes.

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A recent article in the New York Times touted the many benefits of eating nuts. “Studies finding that people who eat nuts (tree nuts like cashews, almonds and pistachios, along with their legume pal, the peanut) live longer and healthier lives, with less risk of chronic ailments like heart disease, respiratory problems and Type 2 diabetes.” Holy cow! There’s more- research has shown that nuts may actually help in maintaining a healthy weight. Studies have found that people can snack on small amounts of nuts without gaining weight, and that “nuts can even help in slimming down.”  This is particularly interesting since nuts contain anywhere from 160 to 200 calories an ounce (not a handful). Like I said- portion control is key.

A small amount of nuts can make you feel full. According to a recent article from the Mayo Clinic, nuts are high in protein, fiber and unsaturated fats- all instrumental in making your mind and stomach feel full. Another health benefits of nuts is that they contain omega-3 fatty acids that can help to lower blood pressure. Also, most nuts, especially almonds are good sources of vitamin E, an antioxidant. Snackers may be more satisfied eating nuts than other foods of similar caloric value due to the chewing aspect of eating nuts.

Are all nuts created equal? Well no, but the most popular ones; almonds, walnuts, cashews and peanuts are all good choices. The pistachio is a little different in that if you buy the ones still in their shells, you have to work harder to get your food. My Paleo readers will like this- pretend you are hunting for your food. If you actually have to shell your own pistachios, you will probably eat fewer nuts since you will get full during the effort.

To keep your portions controlled, you can buy the 100 calorie packs of almonds and walnuts or you can buy the big bags and portion it out yourself. To cut costs, I make my own snack bags. I count out 14 lightly salted almonds and 9 dark chocolate M&Ms for an approximately 120 calorie snack. Nuts store well and are easy to travel with. Just be careful when taking an international flight since there are certain travel restrictions when bringing food from one country to another.

Try using peanut butter, almond butter or sun butter as the protein source in your whole wheat sandwich. Be creative and add nuts to cold or hot cereals, salads and desserts.

This delicious, easy to make, low calorie snack or dessert can be made to be eaten immediately or stored in the refrigerator for another day.

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Maple Baked Pears

4 pears, cored and sliced in half, lengthwise
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup water
Optional- chocolate sauce and/or crushed cashews or pistachios.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a baking dish, place pears, cut side up and add 1/3 cup of water. Drizzle the lemon juice over the pears and sprinkle with cinnamon. Brush or spread with the back of a spoon, the tops of the pears with maple syrup. Cover the pears with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. When the pears are done, if you want, you can add a drizzle of chocolate sauce and/or crushed cashews or pistachios.

Rest Day- Love It or Hate It?

When we were kids, we hated to take naps. It’s as if resting our bodies was a punishment. Then we grew up and as teenagers, most of us couldn’t get enough sleep. When my teenagers get the chance, they can sleep until 2:00 p.m. As adults, some of us still like to sleep late and nap when we get the chance. While others hate to rest, nap or sit still.

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Adult athletes and fitness buffs fall into an entirely separate category. Some athletes do not like to have a built-in rest day in their workout routine. However, when it comes to your workouts, it pays to do less. Some people believe that if their body feels good everyday- then it is okay to lift weights every day. Wrong! Believe it or not, your muscles grow when you rest.  Lifting weights creates tiny tears in your muscles that can only repair when you are resting your body. It is during this repair process that your muscles become stronger than before. Just as it’s important to work your muscles hard when you train, it’s just as important to give your body enough time to recover. Generally, when your body is no longer sore, then you have given your body enough time to recover.

Geez- I’m sore after a lot of my workouts. It’s a good thing that I fall into the category of fitness buffs who know when it’s time to rest their body. Overtraining can also cause problems with your mood. Exercise can be an effective anti-depressant. However, too much exercise can have the opposite effect. Too much exercise can cause depression from being run down and it can cause anxiety over workout schedules. If you are exhausted all the time, it may be a sign that you are overtraining. If your workouts are consistently making you drag in the afternoon or throughout the night because you are so tired, then you are doing too much.

So what should you do on your rest day? How about nothing?! Or you can sleep more, nurse sore muscles with heat, ice, light massage or maybe stretch.  Overtraining can also lead to burnout. I know it’s difficult to understand overtraining. We want to believe that we can handle anything. It is ingrained in our brains that we can always handle more. Too little effort is always criticized but too much effort is never mentioned. We are constantly pushing ourselves and qualifying our actions when we push too hard. “I can handle this, I’m a crossfitter” or “I’m a triathlete” or “I just ran the marathon.” Fill in the blanks.

If you spend too much time exercising, then chances are, you are not balancing out the rest of your life. Exercise should be a part of life for the rest of your life and it should make you happy. Find a balance that works for you. Most important- listen to your body. If you are sore- rest! If getting into your car, washing your hair or walking steps becomes excruciatingly painful, maybe it’s time to skip a workout.

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Time away from the gym may give you time to reflect on the other things in your life that are important to you. Making time for family, friends and people you care about is crucial. Treasure every day and every minute with the people who are important to you. In a flash, it can all disappear. And when it does, you don’t want to be left with any regrets.

Is It Really Important To Drink Water?

Yes! It is really important to drink water. Water is the best choice for quenching your thirst. It contains zero calories and it’s easy to find. Water provides everything your body needs to rehydrate your system. Everyday you lose water through perspiration, breathing, urine and bowel function. In order for your body to function properly, you must replenish its water supply by eating foods that contain water and by drinking water or water-based beverages. It is recommended to drink 8 cups of water daily because your body is made up of 60% water.

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When my daughter was young, she did not like to drink water. She claimed that she didn’t like the taste of water. She never won that argument because technically, water has no taste. To spice up the taste of water, you can infuse your own flavor. Try adding sliced citrus fruits, such as: lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit; or sliced berries; cucumber; crushed fresh mint.

Personally, I do not love to drink water but I do it because I know it is important to maintain a healthy mind and body. The days that I drink at least 8 glasses of water, I find myself fuller throughout the day. Having a full feeling throughout the day, allows me to stay on the healthy eating track. Beware- if you are thirsty, your body is already on its way to becoming dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when the body does not have as much water and fluids as it should. So drink up! Your health depends on it.

What are some of the benefits of drinking water?

1) As I stated above, drinking water helps you to lose weight and maintain a healthy diet. Water cleanses your intestines by flushing out your system. Water suppresses your desire to eat because it makes you feel more full.
2) Drinking water prevents dehydration. Most headaches are caused by dehydration so indirectly, water helps to prevent headaches. (University of Rochester Medical Center study).
3) Water keeps your skin hydrated so that it looks younger and healthier.
4) Drinking water during exercise keeps your energy level up and fuels your muscles. Your muscles are made up of 75% water. According to an article in Men’s Health, a German study found that when you are thirsty, your body is slower to use protein to build muscle.
5) Drinking water keeps your limbs, joints and muscles lubricated which results in less cramps and sprains. (According to a study from the Mayo Clinic).
6) Drinking water flushes out waste products so it lessens the burden on the kidneys and liver. (According to a study from the Mayo Clinic).

Sometimes I sneak in a few cups of my daily water intake by drinking a fruit smoothie. I seem to post more smoothie recipes than anything else because I enjoy drinking them as a meal or as a snack. I know some people don’t like to drink smoothies because they don’t want to “drink” their meals. However, I find these fruity shakes filling and easy to make the night before to drink the following morning.

Basic Fruit Smoothie

Ingredients

1 cup of water + more if necessary
1 cup of ripe fruit (berries/overripe banana/mango/peach/pear)
2 cups of ice
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1 scoop of protein powder (optional)
liquid Stevia- to taste (optional)
1/4 cup fruit juice (optional)

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Blend all ingredients until smooth. These measurements are flexible. Experiment until you find exactly what works for you. For a sweeter smoothie, make sure all your fruit is ripe. If you use only frozen fruit, you will need less ice or none at all. It will also make the smoothie thicker. Enjoy!

How Do You De-Stress?

Have you ever had a really difficult day at work and waited in your car, listening to the radio or just taking in the quiet before you walked into your house?  Stress- for some, it may be a accompanied by a feeling of queasiness, a tension headache, a quickened heart rate or difficulty sleeping. At some point, all of us have experienced the symptoms of stress. Stress affects people differently but it is a normal part of life and we must deal with it. However, too much stress can overload our coping mechanisms so we have to learn to de-stress.

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De-stressing is when your breathing slows and your blood pressure decreases. How do you de-stress? Do you take deep breaths and count to ten to help you relax? Do you try to visualize your relaxation? Maybe you close your eyes and picture a peaceful scene or your favorite vacation. Next time you are feeling stressed, try these behavior modifications:

1) Turnoff the computer at least an hour before you go to bed. A study from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden found that late night computer use was associated with stress in both men and women.

2) Turn off your cell phone at night. Your cell phone is a mini-computer and its constant use can stress you out and raise your blood pressure.

3) Turn on classical music. Studies have shown that listening to classical music slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure and decreases levels of stress hormones. Any music you love will help to de-stress you while you are in the midst of stressful events.

4) Eat a banana. Potassium helps to regulate blood pressure which rises during stressful times. The American Psychological Association recommends eating a banana to fight the physical ailments of stress. Bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin. Serotonin helps the body relax, improve your mood and makes you feel happier.

5) Downward-Facing Dog. Yoga poses are known as stress relievers as they relieve neck tension and eliminate many of the physical symptoms of stress.

6) Hit the gym, lift weights, go for a run. When you are stressed out from a difficult situation or event, do whatever makes you happy.

When I am faced with a stressful situation, I love to escape to the beach and walk on the sand. Unfortunately, I do not live close to the beach and the weather in New York is not always conducive to a stroll on the beach. My second choice is usually to work out, whether it is lifting weights, biking or running- as long as I get a good sweat going, my anxiety usually disappears.

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“In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive”- Lee Iacocca

Small Changes = Big Change

get-attachment.aspx-15You don’t always have to make a sweeping change to see a difference. Sometimes it is the small changes that we incorporate into our lives that when taken together, add up to one major change in our diet, fitness routine or lifestyle. Baby steps. If you take a good look at your diet, you will find that swapping one unhealthy food choice with a healthier alternative will make a difference.

I try to limit my intake of carbohydrates but for the past year, if I do eat bread, pasta or rice- I only eat brown rice, whole wheat pasta or whole wheat/grain bread. It is only a small change but it is something that I make a concentrated effort to do.

Instead of non-fat or low fat blueberry yogurt try low calorie Greek-style yogurt with fresh blueberries. Greek-style yogurt has almost twice the protein of regular yogurt and fresh blueberries add antioxidants. Get rid of the regular mayonnaise in your chicken salad or tuna salad, try canola oil mayonnaise instead. Canola oil mayonnaise is loaded with omega-3 fats- great for your heart. Instead of a bagel with cream cheese try whole wheat toast with 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter. The “good fat” in peanut butter will keep you full longer.

When making burgers meatloaf or meatballs, use turkey meat instead of beef. Ground turkey has half the saturated fat of ground beef. Instead of pork bacon, try low-sodium turkey bacon to cut fat and sodium.  Red meat is a great source of protein and iron but it is also high in saturated fat. Once in a while try trading your steak for salmon- this will save about 8 grams of saturated fat. Salmon also is also loaded with Omega-3 fats which have been associated with better hearing and eyesight as you age.

Take a look at your favorite, fat and calorie-laden meals and see what you can swap to make them healthier. Not that you can’t have your fattening mac and cheese meal once in a while but an ingredient swap is on order if you want to eat it more often. Start with whole wheat pasta in your favorite mac and cheese recipe- it has double the fiber of regular pasta. Use low fat milk and reduced calorie cheeses for a delicious, healthier recipe.

One of my favorite snacks or a complimentary side dish to any meal is burnt broccoli or kale chips- it’s the same recipe.

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Burnt Broccoli/Kale Chips

One bunch of fresh, cut broccoli or
One bunch of chopped kale
2 teaspoons (or more) of olive oil (you can use the olive oil spray)
Salt- to taste

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet (it is easier if the baking sheet has raised edges) with foil. Line the baking sheet with broccoli or kale. Drizzle broccoli/kale with 2 teaspoons of olive oil (more if needed) and salt to taste. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or more, depending on how crisp you want the vegetables. I cook my veggies for about 30 minutes or more to get that burnt taste.