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.
The questions arise occasionally: How much running is too much? Is running actually bad for your health? Is it stressful on the heart? The questions aren't being asked by serious couch potatoes as an excuse to stay off their feet, but by health scientists, medical experts and long-distance runners who want to make sure they're making the right choices for their bodies.
Among the most curious are the increasing number of health- and fitness-minded individuals and groups attempting to return to our ancestors' roots. These people advocate a lifestyle based on how our hunter-and-gatherer ancestors supposedly lived thousands of years ago: Eating things like grass-fed meats, fish, nuts, seeds and fresh vegetables and fruits, which is the basis of the Paleo or "caveman" diet. In attempting to discern how our early relatives might have lived, people have turned their attention to distance-running and asked the question: Is it really natural? The reasoning is that our ancestors would have had no reason to run long distances – rather, they would need to run in short, intense sprints for the purpose of hunting.
So, is running actually bad for your health? That depends on who you ask. Most people agree that running reasonable distances is excellent exercise provided your body is well-fed and you're in good shape. But what about the endurance runners who seem to take it over the top? After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day – a far cry from the 10 miles a day that some people run. But getting exercise is very important – it reduces your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, Alzheimer's, obesity, heart disease and dementia, among other things.
However, according to Dr. James O'Keefe, the director of Preventative Cardiology at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, we must impose healthy limits on our exercise:
"Your body is designed to deal with oxidative stress that comes from exercise for the first hour," O'Keefe said. "But prolonged intense exercise causes excessive oxidative stress, which basically burns through the antioxidants in your system and predisposes you to problems."
Thus, the best answer is to consult with your doctor to determine what amount of running is right for you. If you have knee or back problems, consider trying other high-intensity exercises like swimming or skating, which are easier on the joints.
There are healthy foods, and then there are mega-super-fuelled foods, which are so good for your body in so many ways that you feel healthier as you eat them. Whether you're looking to maximize your calories or to find a way to make up for that donut you enjoyed earlier in the day, here is some information about the healthiest foods in each of the five food groups:
- Bulgar: It's made from pre-cooked wheat berries and is an awesome source of fiber and protein. Additionally, bulgar wheat keeps blood sugar levels stable.
- Oatmeal: Oats are heart healthy, chock-full of fiber and even have a good amount of protein.
- Eggs: They're packed with tons of nutrients and vitamins, many of which are difficult to get elsewhere. And don't just eat the whites – the yolks are where most of the nutrients are found, including choline – 25 percent of your daily dose – which can increase cell membrane functioning and reduce inflammation in the body. They also contain vitamins B6, B12, D and E, as well as iron, folate, zinc, phosphorus and riboflavin. While it's true that people with heart disease should limit their ingestion of egg yolks to twice per week, they're very healthy for everyone else to consume frequently.
- Beans: These perfect foods are packed with fiber, protein, calcium, magnesium and potassium. They've been shown to be very heart-healthy, and it's recommended that people eat at least 3 cups of beans per week.
- Salmon: It's packed with omega-3s, which have been shown to be good for heart health and brain function. One serving of salmon has nearly 50 percent of one's daily dose of niacin, which is good for memory. It's also a lean source of protein.
- Blueberries: These lovely little fruits are an amazing source of powerful antioxidants called proanthocyanidins, which can help protect the body and brain from environmental toxins. They also are a good source of vitamins C and E, niacin, folate and riboflavin.
- Kiwi: Kiwis combine a lot in a small package. They have nearly as much potassium as a banana and twice as much vitamin C as oranges, ounce for ounce.
- Figs: These perfect little California- and Mediterranean-growing fruits are good for cardiovascular health and have high levels of potassium and nearly as much calcium per serving as a half cup of milk.
- Broccoli: Along with other cruciferous veggies, like cabbage and cauliflower, broccoli has disease-fighting and heart-healthy benefits, vitamin C and the all-important sulforaphane.
- Avocados: They're filled with all kinds of healthy stuff, including mono-unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, folate and potassium. Also, they're downright tasty on a salad, sandwich or as guacamole.
- Spinach: The best part about this ultra-healthy veggie is that it can be added to nearly everything, from sandwiches to smoothies. It's an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important antioxidants for eye health, not to mention various vitamins and minerals our bodies need.
- Greek yogurt: It's the best, hands-down. Greek yogurt is packed with protein and calcium, and it tastes delicious even with very low levels of fat. The probiotics are good for digestion.
Even though they’re solid, bones are dynamic, living tissue, made mostly from collagen and calcium phosphate, a mineral that hardens bone exterior. But as you age, existing bone breaks down faster than new bone is made, increasing risk of osteoporosis, a condition that reduces bone density and raises chance of fractures. Support your skeleton at any age with these expert suggestions.
Pump up protein
Collagen, a certain type of protein, forms bones’ scaffolding, enabling them to withstand stress. If you’re protein deficient, bones can become brittle, leading to breakage no matter how much calcium they contain because the body makes collagen from amino acids, protein’s building blocks. Get 15 percent to 25 percent of your daily calories from various protein sources. Good choices include organic, grass-fed buffalo; free-range eggs; and sprouted legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Limit acidic foods
Foods common in poor diets (pizza, white bread, potato chips, sweets) promote an acidic body environment. To achieve and maintain a healthy, neutral blood pH, your body will scavenge important minerals like calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and silica from more alkaline tissues, such as bone, which weakens them. Limit acidic foods like processed foods, sugar, grains, dairy, and caffeine or alcohol, and increase pH-balancing vegetables like zucchini and cucumber.
Watch calcium intake
Calcium isn’t the only player in bone density; in fact, many people actually have too much calcium in their bodies, which can contribute to kidney stones, joint pain, and possibly heart disease. Vitamin K2 regulates excess calcium deposits and supports bone integrity. Try 100 mcg vitamin K2 per day.
Weight-bearing exercises activate bone cells called osteoblasts, which form new bones. Climb stairs, hike, bike, or run for at least 30 minutes every day. Walking uphill is also a safe alternative if you cannot do high-impact activity. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, exercise with a physical therapist’s guidance.
The hormones parathyroid, estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol all influence bone health. When one hormone is deficient, it causes a domino effect that imbalances other hormones, diminishing calcium absorption and deteriorating bones. If you’re a menopausal woman or a man with unusually low energy levels, work with an endocrinologist to get your hormone levels tested and develop a comprehensive hormone balance plan.[box]THE WRINKLES-BONES CONNECTION
Everyone gets wrinkles, whether from sun exposure, processed foods, or ageing. But research from the Yale School of Medicine shows deeper wrinkles may also indicate lower bone density, increasing fracture risk. Why? Skin and bones share the same building block proteins, including collagen, which keeps skin taut.
The Fix: Take 2,000 mg collagen (including types I and III) daily and eat foods containing lysine, an amino acid that helps your body build collagen and absorb calcium. Lysine-rich foods include fish, egg whites, and legumes. For overall skin health and wrinkle prevention, also opt for free radical-fighting fruits and vegetables, along with healthy oils such as alive oil and flaxseed oil.[/box] [hr]
Strategy #1 – Trim calories
Among the many strategies for living longer and avoiding disease, calorie restriction has perhaps the strongest scientific backing: more than 1,000 animal and human studies conducted during the past 80 years. Research shows cellular benefits from calorie restriction start to kick in with just a 10 percent cut. The hypothesis is that as calories are reduced—repeatedly exposing cells to mild stress—the body experiences what scientists call a hormesis effect: a generally positive adaptive response.
“The body believes it has an inadequate amount of food so it goes into more of a survival mode, where it strengthens its defenses at a metabolic level,” says Lisa Walford, coauthor of The Longevity Diet (Da Capo 2010), and curriculum director for YogaWorks Teacher Training.
There’s no rigid eating plan for calorie restriction. Some people graze on small meals throughout the day; others, like Walford, prefer to stave off hunger by eating a protein packed meal in the middle of the day, for example, 2 ounces of baked tofu with steamed vegetables in tomato sauce. Over 12 years, she gradually cut her calorie intake by 20 percent; she’s quite thin but has a clean bill of health, including low cholesterol and normal blood pressure and glucose levels.
CR diets may cause side effects, including bone thinning and lower libido in 10 percent to 15 percent of people. Some people go too far and get too thin, Walford cautions, and may get heart palpitations. (CR also isn’t recommended for children, people with eating disorders, or pregnant women.)
To keep bones strong, eat calcium-rich foods like dark leafy greens; supplement with calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D; and do weight-bearing exercises such as walking and weight lifting, says Walford. She also recommends 15 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes of yoga daily. “Yoga makes me more sensitive to the effect that everything has on my health,” she says.
Strategy #2 – Fight Free Radicals
The oxygen you breathe helps tiny cell components, known as mitochondria, produce the energy that keeps the body alive. But this process also creates free radicals. Internal or environmental stress also can fuel excessive free radical production. Several animal studies have shown that white blood cells produce more free radicals when you’re psychologically stressed. When you breathe or eat toxins such as ozone or pesticide residues, your liver works to neutralize them—again, creating free radicals. And ironically, even some things that are good for you, such as aerobic exercise, increase free radicals.
To help neutralize rogue free radicals, eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other antioxidant foods. Among the best are cloves, oregano, rosemary, and cinnamon; acaí and cocoa; raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries; pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts; artichokes; kidney and black beans; and raisins. Antioxidant supplements can help fill gaps.
To minimize toxin exposure, choose organic produce and chemical-free cleaning products when possible, and don’t use ozone-generating air purifiers, which can cause respiratory tract irritations.
As tempting as it may seem, don’t use exercise’s bad oxidative rap as an excuse not to work out. You can counterbalance aerobic exercise’s free radical effect by cranking up your antioxidant intake before or after workouts, Meletis says. And new research shows that weight training twice a week for an hour actually rejuvenates muscle mitochondria in men and women age 65 and older. “Over the course of time, your body becomes better at dealing with the oxidative stress, which means once you start working out, keep it going, because your body is literally becoming a better exerciser even at the mitochondrial level,” he explains.[box]THE PROBLEM WITH FREE RADICALS
Free radicals aren’t all bad—they fight infection and activate enzymes—but when they’re not busy with those jobs, they can go rogue, attacking and damaging cells throughout the body. This contributes to common aging indicators like poor eyesight and sagging skin, as well as diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.[/box]
Strategy #3 – Tame inflammation
It’s easy to tell when your skin is inflamed: It turns red. “But we don’t really have good measures of inflammation at the cellular level,” says Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, author of The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer (Fair Winds, 2010). “That’s a critical problem because inflammation is associated with every degenerative disease we know.”
Like free radicals, inflammation can be a good thing in small doses. Step on a nail and you want white blood cells and the body’s inflammatory chemicals to rush in. But these injury-fighting compounds also go into 911 mode in response to gradual cell damage by free radicals. The result of this damage, says Bowden, is chronic inflammation: in essence, inflammation that doesn’t know when to stop.
“Chronic inflammation is part of diseases as diverse as cancer, congestive heart failure, and digestive problems,” he says.
If you’re overweight, or have diabetes or dementia, “you definitely have chronic inflammation,” Bowden says. For everyone else, the best way to measure inflammation is to do a high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP) test. Studies show that CRP, which the liver produces as an immune response, can increase by 100 percent or more in response to inflammatory conditions. “The test isn’t perfect because it doesn’t tell you where the inflammation is in your body, but it’s the best we have,” Bowden says. Most doctors like to see a CRP score of 1 or less, he adds.
Balancing your ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids also helps. Bowden recommends eating two servings of fish a week, taking 1,000 mg daily of fish oil with EPA and DHA, and choosing olive oil or flaxseed oil over refined oils such as canola, corn, or generic “vegetable” oils. In addition, he says, “sugar turbocharges your inflammation-production pathways,” as do fried foods. Simmer or use a slow cooker rather than frying or grilling foods at high temperatures, which creates proinflammatory advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that can damage nerve and brain cells as well as DNA.
[box]ANTI INFLAMATORY FOODS
To fight inflammation, Bowden recommends eating foods rich in phytonutrients, such as flavonoids, and other natural anti-inflammatory agents, including onions, leeks, garlic, leafy greens, tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, green tea, red wine, flaxseeds, and chocolate. The herbs parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint, tarragon, and dill are anti-inflammatory, as are the spices ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon.[/box] [hr]
You know that feeling. You just had a very large, very filling dinner and you feel you couldn't possibly eat one more bite of anything. But slowly, you get the feeling that something's missing – something sweet. Even though you're stuffed, you practically need a piece of chocolate, or – even better – a slice of chocolate cake. This happens to many people, perhaps even most. But why? Here's some information on post-dinner sugar cravings and how you can beat them:
Why do I crave sweets?
We want sweet treats after meals for several biological, psychological and lifestyle-related reasons.
- Low serotonin levels cause us to want to eat sugar. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that elevates mood. Sugar can help the body absorb tryptophan, which helps produce serotonin. If you're feeling down, eating something sweet can boost your mood.
- Eating an unbalanced diet high in carbohydrates will cause your blood sugar levels to rise and then drop suddenly after dinner. Our bodies want this "high" again, so we look to sugar. We also experience low blood sugar when we're tired, which causes us to need more carbs for a pick-me-up.
- If your diet is low in fat, you could put too much strain on the body and cause insulin resistance, during which sugars are not being carried effectively throughout the body. This stress on our bodies leads to a need for sugar.
Even if you eat a healthy, balanced diet and have normal serotonin levels, you might still be feeling that you "need" sweets after dinner due to psychological conditioning: Dessert was always what rounded out and finished a meal, so you feel like something is missing if you don't have it.
Why should I avoid them?
Like you've heard hundreds of times, you really should do your best to eat sugar in moderation. The more sugar someone eats, the more their body becomes used to it and wants it – this sugar craving is a vicious cycle. Here are some foods with "hidden" sugars to watch out for:
- Protein bars
- Coffee drinks
- Teriyaki sauce
- Salad dressing
- Flavored waters
How can I resist?
There are many ways to resist sugar cravings and potentially avoid them altogether! Here are some tips:
- Eat a balanced diet – don't overload on carbs, but make sure to eat plenty of complex carbs that help us to stay full between meals.
- Get enough sleep each night because being tired makes us crave the quick – but not nutritious – pick-me-up that sugar provides.
- Check labels! You never know where sugar is hiding these days. It's even in foods we perceive to be savory and health foods.
- If you just can't resist, try a tactic like brushing your teeth immediately after dinner so you won't be tempted to eat sugar.
- Or, even better, substitute chocolate cake and candy for fresh fruit like berries that also pack an antioxidant punch.
- Take a walk after dinner. Exercise can boost serotonin levels too, making it less likely that you'll need to have sugar!
During the spring and summer, many people's motivation for hitting the gym or trails is to look healthy and toned on the beach. But when fall hits and it's time to put the shorts and swimsuits away, what's your motivation? Here are some tips for keeping the focus on exercise even after the cozy sweaters and skinny jeans are keeping you covered up:
- Set goals. If your summer goal was to look good in your bathing suit, pick something else to focus on. Did you plan a winter trip to Mexico? Do you want to tone up your arms? Do you just feel better when you get your sweaty boxing routine in every morning before work? It's important to have a central motivation, and then set several small and attainable goals along the way.
- Change it up. Fall weather calls for different activities than summer. Now that the weather is cool, maybe you can hop off the treadmill in the air conditioned gym and hit the local trails. Or instead of swimming you can switch to biking and the classes at your local gym. Workouts should be enjoyable while still challenging, so if you start to get bored, don't be afraid to venture out. If you're hesitant, invite a friend to try something new with you so you feel more comfortable.
- Keep a photo journal. Take a picture of yourself each month or every two weeks in the same workout gear. Note the differences between each picture – maybe you look a little slimmer and a lot happier! Take notes in your journal each week about what you did, if you've met your goals and what your plans for the following week are.
- Accessorize. It sounds strange when referring to exercise, but if you want to get serious, purchase gear that makes you feel seriously good. Also, if you're trying to build lean muscle, consider treating yourself to some high-quality, healthy supplements, such as VeganSmart All-In-One Nutritional Shake, which has a complete plant-based protein blend, probiotics, omega-3s and various vitamins and minerals for an excellent meal replacement.
Don't let exercise be something you dread. Try to build it into your daily routine – just as you would brush your teeth and get dressed every day, plan time to exercise every day.
If it's 3 p.m. on and you're trying to power through the last few hours of work, it can be tempting to grab another coffee. While caffeine is definitely an energy booster, it isn't always the best choice. You should also avoid candy and other simple sugars – they can give you a quick spurt of energy because they're converted more quickly, but they aren't the healthiest options and can leave you feeling tired later. The best option is to eat foods that give you a sustained energy reserve and are healthy to boot. When you need a boost, skip the coffee, cake and candy and go for one of these healthy snacks instead:
- Edamame: One cup of edamame has 8 grams of fiber, 15 grams of carbohydrates and 17 grams of protein, making it an excellent energy-boosting snack.
- Trail mix: Make your own trail mix with various dried fruits, seeds and nuts. That way, you can avoid the oils and sugars that are sometimes added to store-bought mixes. Some good options to include are almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, goji berries, raisins and dried cherries. The fats and oils in nuts provide a lot of energy, not to mention protein, and the fiber in all of the ingredients slows down the release of glucose to give you longer-lasting energy.
- Whole grain cereal: The high amount of fiber in whole grains means you'll have more energy during the day as it slows the release of glucose. For a tasty, healthy snack, layer your cereal with plain Greek yogurt and berries for a parfait that's probably easier to eat at work than a bowl of cereal and milk.
- Lentils: If you have very low iron in your body, you might frequently feel exhausted. For people with low iron levels – or anyone, really – lentils are an excellent option because 1 cup provides nearly 80 percent of your necessary daily iron intake. Iron carries oxygen through the body, which is vital in staying energized. Vitamin C maximizes your body's iron absorption, so try eating your lentils with red or green bell peppers, which are rich in vitamin C.
- Eggs: Egg yolks have been given a bad reputation, but they're rich in B-vitamins, which help convert food into energy, and also vitamin D, another important nutrient. Egg yolks do have saturated fat and cholesterol, but eating just one per day is fine. Bring a hard-boiled egg to work for a boost of energy and vitamin-fueled protein.
- Water: Staying hydrated is very important and has much to do with your energy levels. Because water transports all the nutrients in our blood and gets rid of waste, it's important for metabolizing our food and keeping us energized and refreshed. Keep a refillable water bottle on your desk at work so it's always in your line of sight. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water – typically 8 to 10 cups per day – is the basis for keeping energy levels high.
This is by far the most important and hardest skill to have when you are training the human body. Why is it so important? The body is a very complex system but it can do so much more than any of us can imagine. It does not happen overnight and it requires patience, time, consistency, proper intensity, nutrition, timing, and a great work ethic. Some people listen to their bodies and succeed and then some people listen to their inner voice and fall short of their fitness goals.
There is a certain skill that one needs to obtain to differentiate between “my body really is physically exhausted and it needs to stop working out so it can be repaired”VS. “I really just want to quit because I’m mentally tired and mentally ready to give up, but truthfully my body is not tired, it’s just in my head”. We can be our biggest hero, or biggest enemy, but self honesty and self awareness will help us accurately listen to our bodies and become mentally and physically tough. It may seem like a simple thing but you would be very surprised at how many athletes have absolutely no idea what is going on with their own bodies.
We listen to our bodies to:
- Identify injuries before they become serious.
- Figure out if we are working TOO HARD or NOT ENOUGH.
- Measure progress or decline in our fitness.
- Identify if our nutrition is adequate.
- Identify if our sleep / rest is adequate.
- Hey, you only get one body… So listen to it!
Here are some tools that can help you become more self aware of what is happening with your body.
Heart Rate Monitor (or HRM) – Helps to measure heart rate during exercise or to measure your resting heart rate. An HRM will help you maintain the proper intensity needed to obtain your specific fitness goals.
Weight Scale - Your weight is not the main factor of determining your health. BUT, a scale can provide raw data that can help you become more aware of how your body is reacting to the training you are putting your body through.
Calorie counter on your smart phone or computer - Try this! Don’t change anything and for one week and track every single calorie that you consume. Most people will be utterly shocked at the large number of calories they are consuming. Others will be shocked at the lack of calories they are consuming. Either way you can track the amount of food you are taking in and figure out if you need more or less food to increase your overall performance with your fitness goals.
I’ll leave you with this, more data equals a greater chance of success, period. Flying blind and constantly guessing will eventually lead to failure, decline, or inconsistency in your fitness performance. Inform yourself by learning to listen to your body.
Cheers and Happy Training!
I’m Dustin, and this is my son Boston… First, I’m a dad before anything else, after that I’m a 31 year old vegan expatriate Hoosier living right outside of New Orleans, LA.
On June 12th, 2011 I had a bit of a wake up call and began my road to the ironman 140.6 mile endurance event and after that I’ve got some big plans, so it won’t end there… This is my outlet to vent, rant, promote, and let everyone know what’s up.