Fast food restaurants have been stepping it up lately by offering healthier fare like salads and fruit, reducing the fat in their meals and providing nutritional information so consumers can make informed decisions. However, is fast food really a healthy option? Since many of us talk about it guiltily each time we consume fast food, anybody's guess is that the majority of people would say no – there's always a healthier alternative. Though it can be convenient, there's even more evidence that fast food is both bad for our health and, increasingly, our pocketbooks.
Fast food follies
So, what's wrong with fast food? For starters, it is often laden with trans fats and very high levels of sodium – two things that are detrimental to heart health. Additionally, many of the foods are made with chemicals and more ingredients than should be in a single food item. For example, fries at most fast food chains typically contain more than just potatoes and oil; rather, they include preservatives, chemicals to maintain color and unhealthy hydrogenated oils. Meats are often mixed with other materials you wouldn't expect to find in your burger or chicken sandwich, not to mention that healthy whole grains are seldom used in fast food.
In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find any "real" foods - those that were produced, raised and grown in sustainable, organic and humane ways - at a fast food restaurant.
Eating fast food on the regular is definitely detrimental to your health. It's always better to know what you're consuming and exactly where it comes from. If you're craving fast food, find ways to make similar items at home in a healthier way. For example, if you're longing for fries, consider slicing and roasting your own potatoes. You can season them with olive oil, rosemary and a light dusting of sea salt for a healthier option.
Healthier fast food choices
If you do eat fast food, you can do your best to make the healthiest choices possible. Eating fast food as a special treat once a month – or even better: once every two months – isn't all that bad if you just can't break your cravings entirely.
Here are some tips for choosing a meal, whether you're in a fast food joint or any other restaurant:
- Avoid any foods labeled battered, deep-fried, pan-fried, breaded, crispy, creamy Alfredo, au gratin or batter-dipped, since this typically means the foods and their sauces are full of sodium, unhealthy fats and calories.
- Don't get anything that is super-sized. It's always much more food than a single person should eat in one sitting.
- Don't add salt to your food. A study by the NYC Health Department found that, of 6,580 fast food meals, around 57 percent exceeded the recommended daily intake of 1,500 milligrams of sodium – and that was for just one meal!
- Drink water rather than soda. Sodas have hidden calories – not to mention too much sugar – that our bodies just don't need.
- Order salad dressing on the side. That way, you can use only as much as you need and avoid the unnecessary fat and calories.
- Forego high-calorie, high-fat cheeses, spreads, mayonnaise and dressings in favor of bare items or lower calories options like mustard.
- Eat slowly and savor your food – you'll eat less this way.
But if you think you can do it, consider eliminating fast food entirely. Educate yourself on what exactly you're putting into your body each time you eat fast food, and chances are you'll never look back!
Aspartame and similar sweeteners were developed to provide people with a low-calorie substitute for sugar to improve chances for weight loss. There has been a lot of talk for many years concerning whether or not aspartame is bad for the health. However, according to the FDA and more than 100 clinical and toxicological trials of aspartame's effects, it is decidedly safe for human consumption at – and in fact, far above – suggested servings.
However, anything in excess can be bad for your health. In general, Americans eat far too much sugar – some research shows that we eat our body weight in sugar each year! Too much of the sweet stuff can cause various health problems, including:
- Weight gain – sugar means calories. However, some research shows that the prolonged eating of too much sugar can lessen the body's ability to know when it is full, causing people to eat more.
- Elevated blood sugar levels.
- Decreased brain function. Too much sugar consumption can impair memory and learning.
However, our bodies do need sugar to function, but we typically get enough sugar for energy from natural sources in our diets, including:
- whole grain products
Many people crave sugary drinks like soda or juice, as well as candy. But you can do a lot to reduce your sugar intake by ditching these products. Rather than reaching for soda or juice, add some lemon and mint to your water for a refreshing taste. Also, instead of candy, eat unsweetened dried fruit or fresh fruit to satisfy your craving.
Also, beware of hidden sugars. Many products like pasta sauces, yogurt and bread have added sugar that really isn't necessary. Be vigilant about your food choices to protect your health.
Not only does what we put into our bodies have physical effects like weight gain or building muscle mass, but it also has emotional effects that can either elevate or sink our moods. Basically, all foods are broken down into their chemical properties by our digestive systems to feed our cells, and can either raise or lower blood pressure. Here are the top mood-boosting foods to make you feel good every day:
Dark, leafy greens
Spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, kale and other leafy greens contain folate, which is needed by the brain to make serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine – the so-called "mood chemicals." Research has shown that a boost of folate can improve the mood. Also, leafy greens are bountiful with magnesium, a nutrient that can increase our energy levels and possibly stave off or reduce depression.
These shellfish have the highest naturally occurring levels of vitamin B12 of any food on earth. Many people are B12-deficient because this essential vitamin for brain health is only found in a small number of foods. But vitamin B12 is important for producing myelin, which protects the brain's neurons. Mussels also have iodine, zinc and selenium, which might be good for balancing your mood. Aside from eating these healthy mollusks, do an extra dose of good by choosing farmed mussels raised in the U.S. to ensure they're a good environmental decision too.
Salmon is an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are critical in both heart and brain health and can reduce the chance of depression. You can also find omega-3s in flaxseed, walnuts, sardines and olive oil, and milk, eggs and other foods are sometimes fortified with these important fatty acids.
Sure, you've heard that turkey has tryptophan, which can make you sleepy. But asparagus is one of the vegetables with the highest dose of tryptophan, which is very important for its role in serotonin creation. Serotonin is one of the main mood-regulators in the brain. Asparagus also has high levels of folate, which can improve the mood. An extra bonus: The enzymes in asparagus are good at breaking down alcohol in your system and preventing a hangover.
Sugar can be very damaging to the body because of its harmful free radicals, which are linked to various diseases. But honey makes an excellent substitute to flavor your tea or oatmeal with. It has quercetin and kaempferol – compounds that can banish free radicals and reduce inflammation. Much research has shown that inflammation is likely detrimental to brain health and may lead to depression in some instances. Honey could be a good food to potentially have an impact on brain health.
Other diet tips
Aside from enjoying these foods to boost your mood, there are foods you should avoid and eating rules you should follow to improve your emotional health:
- Eat regularly. Don't skip a meal or you'll risk feeling cranky. Eat a filling breakfast with complex carbs like oatmeal, which will help you stay full longer.
- Do your best to avoid processed foods. They usually have plenty of sugar and bleached white flour, which can give you an energy boost quickly but make you crash sooner too. If you're in the mood for cookies, it's healthier to make your own using whole grain flour, for example.
- When eating meat, opt for grass-fed if you can. Grass-fed meats contain a higher amount of omega-3s than grain-fed animals.
- Try to eat more veggies, fruits and whole grains.
- Limit the amount of caffeine you ingest – it gives you a quick boost but can leave you feeling anxious and irritable.
An expectorant causes your cough to be more productive. What does this mean exactly? At the risk of sounding crude, an expectoran causes you to cough up phlegm. Why in the world would anyone want to do that?
Well, for one expectorants help loosen chest and lung congestion. It helps people clear mucus more quickly than they otherwise would be able to, potentially reducing the length of their cough and alleviating discomfort by clearing away the mucus.
Many cold medications have both a decongestant and an expectorant, and basically, the expectorant is cleaning up the decongestant's dirty work. This is because decongestants reduce swelling in the nose – aside from relieving someone of a sinus headache, it also relieves a stuffy nose and improves hearing caused by excess phlegm in the sinus cavities. In turn, decongestants cause the mucus in the throat and nose to become runnier.
Expectorants can ease the symptoms of upper-respiratory issues by loosening phlegm further down in the lungs. Interestingly, an expectorant can also be used in combination with a cough suppressant. While a suppressant stops those annoying little coughs in the back of the throat, expectorants allow you to still cough productively.
It's important to know that though an expectorant can relieve some symptoms, it's not a treatment for an underlying illness.
One all-natural expectorant on the market to consider is Naturade Herbal Expectorant with Guafenesin. It includes naturally soothing herbs like red clover, rose hips and cocillana bark to calm the throat. It contains guaifenesin – a compound derived from the guaiac tree that is used in all expectorants sold over the counter. However, Naturade's product is made with all-natural ingredients, including honey and black cherry syrup for flavor.
Don't spend money on expensive face products that make dubious claims. Instead, do your best to improve your skin naturally through healthful eating! Here are some of the best foods for healthy, moisturized, clear and soft skin:
Who knew these sweet berries could have an impact on your face? Since blueberries are packed with antioxidants, they fight free radicals in the body. Aside from potentially causing diseases like cancer, free radicals also reduce collagen in the skin, making it more prone to wrinkles. You can slow down your skin's aging with just 1/2 cup of blueberries per day, which pack more antioxidants than most people eat in one day!
Though they often get a bad rap as the "butter of the vegetable world" due to their fat content, the omega-3 fats in avocados are actually very good for the body. Among a host of important functions, the alpha-linolenic acid in omega-3s also keeps skin soft and smooth, and it might reduce inflammation and prevent things like psoriasis. Plus, avocados have plenty of vitamin E, which can reduce dry skin, potentially reduce free radical damage and also protect against UV rays.
When you need a boost of protein, have a healthy handful of almonds, which are also good for the skin because they contain vitamin E. One study showed that people who ate about 20 almonds per day – which contain about 14 milligrams of vitamin C in total – experienced less sunburns than those who had not.
Chocoholics, rejoice! There's another good reason to enjoy your favorite treat. Research shows that cocoa is hydrating and firming. Dark chocolate is especially good for the skin because it contains high levels of flavonols, an antioxidant that can protect the skin from damage. For the highest dose of flavanols, choose a dark chocolate that is 70 percent cacao or higher.
Snack on bell peppers – especially the red ones – for a super high dose of vitamin C. The yellow and orange veggies also have carotenoids – antioxidants that protect your skin against the sun.
These tart, gourmet fruits have lots of vitamin C and even more antioxidants than both green tea and red wine. Pomegranates are good for skin health and can keep your face looking bright – but not shiny! If picking all of the seeds out of the bitter rind is just too tedious for you, splurge on a slightly expensive bottle of pomegranate juice to get the benefits without all of the work.
Kidney beans – the large red ones that are perfect for a hearty chili – are also a good face food. Kidney beans contain high levels of zinc, which has been shown to be particularly low in people who have more blemishes on their faces. 'Tis the season for a warm, spicy chili, and you'll also be doing your skin a world of good.
If you're not in your swimsuit soaking up the rays on the beach, it can't be necessary to wear sunscreen, right? Wrong. Even when you're covered head-to-toe in winter gear with only your face uncovered, it's a good idea to slather some sunscreen on before you head out the door, and this is especially true when it's snowing. For one, snow on the ground reflects the sun's rays, making it possible to get a sunburn.
Also, many times on really sunny days in the summer, we know we need to reapply the sunscreen because our skin starts to feel warm. However, in the winter, you're less likely to feel, well, warm. So you could get a sunburn without even noticing it after spending just a few hours outside. The sun's rays are especially dangerous during winter sports like skiing or snowboarding because the high altitude puts you that much closer to the sun.
During the winter, purchase a face moisturizer that contains SPF for every day wear, or if you're heading up into the mountains, slather on a more robust sunscreen, like SPF 50. Lip balm with sun protection is also recommended.
Maybe it's Monday afternoon and you're already exhausted but still have work to do. You think to yourself, "How am I going to make it through the rest of this week without falling asleep at my desk?"
Instead of overdoing it on coffee and fueling up on simple carbs like bagels, which give you a bit of energy before leaving you more tired than you started, fill up on healthy foods that give you long-lasting fuel to make it through the day energized and with your eyes open.
Here are the best energy-boosting foods and snacks to keep your energy levels high:
It seems overly simple, but it's important to stay hydrated. H2O is valuable for every part of the body – from brain function to digestion. Things like coffee and alcohol can dehydrate you, and dehydration often leads to fatigue and a feeling of sluggishness. Add some lemon and mint to your water for an extra kick.
Almonds, walnuts and others are a great on-the-go snack. They pack in protein, healthy omega-3 fats, fiber, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins E and B. Omega-3s provide energy to organs and muscles, and the protein in nuts is great for a boost. Almonds are an especially good choice because they contain iron, which can help maintain your energy levels. Just make sure to eat nuts in moderation – one handful should do the trick! You can keep a bag of trail mix or mixed nuts in your desk or purse for when you're feeling tired.
Rather than eating bagels, white bread or crackers made from refined white flour, opt instead for whole grains, which are full of complex carbs. Carbohydrates give our bodies 60 percent of the energy we need, making them essential; however, it's important to choose the right carbs. Whole grains take more time to digest, making you feel more full longer. Plus, they contain a whole host of minerals and vitamins that don't cause us to crash like refined carbs do.
It's a good bet that you won't be too comfortable snacking on just kimchi or cabbage during lunch time. But if you happen to have lunch at a Korean joint, get something with a side of kimchi. Or if you're in a deli, order something that comes with sauerkraut. These healthy fermented foods help your body maintain energy because they're packed with probiotics, which help the gut work more efficiently and need less energy to do the work of digestion.
Treat yourself to a moderate portion of dark chocolate in the afternoon. Besides being delicious and packed with antioxidants, dark chocolate also has theobromine – a natural stimulant that boosts both your mood and energy levels.
Fresh fruits like apples, pears, bananas, berries – you name it! – have vitamins, minerals and fiber. They give you a boost of energy from the natural sugars and good carbs.
Quick tips to keep energy high
Maintain your energy levels throughout the day with these easy tips:
- Smaller meals are better when it comes to having lunch. Research has shown that people who eat larger lunches have less energy just a few hours later. This is likely because eating increases blood sugar and can interrupt your circadian rhythm.
- It's better to eat small meals, but frequently. Rather than three meals per day, opt for up to seven or eight micro-meals. Our brains need a steady supply of nutrients, as they produce very few energy reserves on their own.
- Try not to drink caffeine after 2 p.m., which can interrupt your sleep, creating a vicious cycle.
- Limit your alcohol consumption. It's especially advised to avoid alcohol at lunch so you have energy later.
On November 7, the FDA announced that partially hydrogenated oils, which are responsible for trans fats, are not safe as a food product. After a 60-day comment period, it seems likely that makers of processed foods will be required to eliminate the use of all trans fats by a certain date.
The danger of these artificial products, which are often used to make processed foods last longer, is that not only do they raise your LDL levels – or bad cholesterol – but they also lower the HDL – the body's good cholesterol. Researchers have found that aside from having absolutely no nutritional value, trans fats – due to their effects on cholesterol – can cause the build up of plaque in the arteries, leading to coronary heart disease, blood clots, heart attack and other very serious cardiovascular issues.
Thankfully, trans fats have become minimized in American diets over the years as awareness of their dangers has grown. Trans fats information was required in 2006 to be on all food labels. The FDA reports that the average American's consumption of trans fats per day has decreased from 4.6 grams in 2003 to 1 gram in 2012.
Still, food producers often switch from trans fats to saturated fats, like palm kernel, palm and coconut oils, which are not considered healthy but rather a lesser evil than saturated fats. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats, which are found in peanut, olive and canola oils, are healthier options.
It's important to read the nutrition label on any foods that you buy. Here are the processed foods in which you will often find trans fats – at least for the time being:
- Frozen pizzas
- Microwave popcorn
- Processed desserts
- Coffee creamer
Have you heard of monk fruit? This small green fruit, also known as Buddha fruit, the longevity fruit, luo han guo in Chinese and la han qua in Vietnamese, is traditionally grown on steep terraces in southern China and northern Thailand. Monk fruit is likely nicknamed as such because it was cultivated by monks.
The bitter rind has been used for tea and the extremely sweet flesh used as a sweetener for hundreds of years in China as a form of herbal medicine. While there's been some exposure to monk fruit in the Western world, it's becoming popular here as an alternative sweetener.
Benefits of monk fruit sweetener
Two of the major benefits of monk fruit sweeteners are that they are calorie-free and 100 percent natural. This is in contrast to aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, which have been theorized to contribute to cancer. One thing to know about the sweetener made from the extract of the lemon-sized monk melon is that it is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. While you can substitute it for sugar in baking, you should adjust accordingly, as 1/4 teaspoon of monk fruit sweetener is often equal in sweetness to about 1 teaspoon of sugar - a little goes a long way.
For most of us, the holiday season, while wonderful, can be pretty tiring as we scramble to purchase gifts, plan holiday parties, and keep our sanity. If you're anticipating a busy holiday season, here are three natural ways to keep your energy high so you can enjoy the season to its fullest:
Maybe your morning coffee just isn't doing it anymore, but you're hesitant to up your caffeine intake too much more. Aside from the usual exhortations to eat well, here are a few more tips that might boost your energy reserves during shopping marathons and baking sessions:
- Don't eat high-fat foods right before bed. Though you might get a craving for ice cream or French fries, find something 150 calories or less to satisfy your cravings. You'll feel bloated the next morning, which can make you drag throughout the day.
- Eat a hearty breakfast high in protein, like low-fat Greek yogurt, an omelet or a meal replacement shake made with Naturade Total Soy. Protein will give your brain a boost, and a big – but healthy – breakfast will keep you full without weighing you down.
- As you're running holiday errands, keep a reusable bottle of water with you at all times. Being dehydrated can make you tired.
- For a little pick-me-up after lunch, have some peppermint candy. Research has shown that it might enhance both your mood and concentration.
Get pumped up
Sometimes you just need to change gears a little. If you've been wrapping presents, cooking or doing other holiday chores, re-motivate yourself with these tips:
- Turn on some upbeat music to avoid monotony and have some background beats.
- Watch a YouTube video that is so funny it makes you almost fall out of your chair.
- Do some energizing morning yoga or pilates for a burst of energy to start your day.
Aside for getting as much sleep as you can, there are some other things you can do to feel energized when you wake up:
- Do your best to hop out of bed right away. If you hit the snooze button frequently, put your alarm clock or phone in a place that you can't reach from the bed and turn the alarm on high so you'll be forced to actually get out of bed.
- Open the shades or turn the light on immediately in the morning. Light tells our internal clocks that it's time to wake up, so do yourself a favor and don't walk around in a dark room.