Butter is Back, Baby!

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It’s been an uphill battle, but after bearing a bad reputation for over half a century, it appears butter is back. According to The American Butter Institute, last year butter consumption reached its highest level in 40 years here in the U.S, and the shift is being attributed to a change in consumer preferences for simpler ingredient lists and fewer artificial ingredients.

There’s a simple food movement happening.

When it comes to food purchasing, health-conscious consumers are looking for simpler ingredient lists. In recent years, less has become more when it comes to ingredients and processing as they relate to our health. And with just cream, or cream and salt, butter’s ingredient list fits the definition of simple.

We’re turning our noses up to trans fat.

The invention of artificial trans fats (also known as partially hydrogenated oils) once made margarine a lower-calorie, and therefore “healthier,” alternative at the height of the war against saturated fats. But as it turns out, those trans fats in margarine actually do more harm to cholesterol levels than their saturated counterparts, by increasing “bad” LDL cholesterol and decreasing our “good” HDL cholesterol. Talk about a double whammy! The evidence to support this has been so strong the FDA recently declared trans fats as “potentially unsafe,” which has many consumers demanding they be banned altogether.

As trans fats take a tumble, the evidence suggesting we go back to butter is mounting. Just last month, a study published in the Annals of Medicine* found that people who ate more saturated fat did not, in fact, have more heart disease. Also worth noting, the study did not find less disease in people eating more amounts of unsaturated fat, like olive or corn oil. This analysis looked at nearly 80 different studies and included more than a half million people, making it one of the most comprehensive dietary fat studies to date.

The latest research suggests butter can be part of a healthy diet (I certainly include it in mine), but this shouldn’t be interpreted as an excuse to eat butter with abandon. It’s best to keep your sources of fats balanced and to consume it in moderation.

Regardless of whether you’re going to stick with margarine or move back to butter, butter has certainly made a comeback.

What do you think? Will you be putting butter back on your table?

 

*Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014 Mar;160(6):398-406.

5 Pilates Moves for EVERYDAY!

myfitnesspal 5pilatesmovesforeveryday2static.squarespacePilates is for everyone. It can be modified and progressed to fit the needs of each individual’s body. I found Pilates after many years of sports, high intensity exercise, and lots of running. My body was in need of something a little more balancing that would focus on proper alignment, stretching, core strength, length, and better posture. Pilates is a perfect compliment to any exercise you are currently doing, and with these five powerful moves you can improve your overall posture and strength, and feel healthier and happier, too.

myfitnesspal Plank exercisePlank: Come into a position with your hands directly under your shoulders, your focus slightly in front of your fingers, legs engaged, shoulders broad on your back and down away from your ears. Engage your abdominal muscles by drawing up and in towards your spine, keeping a flat back. Keep your body in one long line, reaching energy out through the crown of your head and through your heels. Hold strong through your core, and continue to breathe!

myfitnesspal swan exerciseSwan: Begin by lying prone (on your belly) with your lower body relaxed, and your hands directly under your shoulders. Draw your shoulders away from your ears and engage your triceps. Then, lift your upper body by engaging your upper back muscles to extend the spine. If you feel compressive in your lumbar, lessen the range of motion. The purpose of swan is to engage the upper back and middle back muscles, and to stretch the front line of the body. Keep your head and neck in line with your spine, making sure not to strain your neck muscles.The

myfitnesspal Saw exerciseSaw: Begin by sitting up tall, right on top of your sitting bones, with your legs extended hip-width distance apart and feet flexed to stretch the back line of your legs. If you have tight hamstrings, bend your knees to allow yourself to sit upright.  Bring your arms out to a “T,” inhale turning to your right and exhaling to reach your left hand towards your right foot, while reaching your right hand behind you.  Take a breath into your rotation. Inhale while rolling up in your rotation, and exhale return to center. Repeat on the other side.  Make sure to take your gaze with you, and keep both hips heavy.

myfitnesspal Pelvic Press exercisePelvic Press: Begin with your feet hip-width distance apart, inner thighs engaged and upper body relaxed. Start by taking a pelvic tilt, and roll your lower back up towards you, rolling up all the way one vertebra at a time, and making sure to move through both sides of your spine evenly. Roll down, imagining your spine as a string of pearls, and place one vertebra down at a time. This is a nice stretch and massage for your entire spine.

HUNDRED: Start on your back with your knees in tabletop position (90/90). Reaching your arms along your sides, begin to curl up into an upper contraction. Begin to pump your arms, engaging your triceps, and breathing in for two counts, then out for two counts (for four counts); repeat 5x for a total of 20 counts, then extend your legs straight to the ceiling. Breathing just as you did for 20. Next, lower your legs a third of the way to the ground, and pump your arms for 20 counts. Then, lower another third for another 20 counts. Finally, lower the last third for 20 counts—for a total of 100! Only lower your legs as much as you can without feeling strain in your low back. You can complete this entire exercise with your head on the ground and your knees in tabletop if that feels better for you.

myfitnesspal TheHUNDRED

Ready to add these Pilates moves to your daily routine? Try them and tell us which one is your favorite!

 

jacquelyn-fitsouffleJacquelyn Brennan is a health and wellness expert who shares her knowledge daily at Fitsouffle. She holds a degree in kinesiology, and currently teaches Pilates, group exercise, and is a Certified Personal Trainer. Jacquelyn loves inspiring others to get moving, stay healthy, eat well, and learn how to exercise effectively. 

Slam Dunk Your Health Goals with TrackIt

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upwaveYeah, yeah, college basketball season is over, but we’re still in awe of the awesomeness of March Madness. If you paid attention to the tournament (who could have missed it? Go UConn!), you might have noticed ads for  TrackIt, a new health charting tool from upwave. Although our brackets busted early, those promos made us smile, because TrackIt is our newest partner in helping you achieve your health goals.

TrackIt is a unique, personalized health tracking system that gathers information from lifestyle apps, social networking sites, and personal fitness devices, and aggregates the data into a single online dashboard, featuring easy-to-read charts and graphs.

TrackIt allows users to set and monitor their activities and behaviors to help achieve life goals, such as losing weight, decreasing stress, increasing happiness, and improving relationships. The best part: TrackIt syncs with the services you’re already using to reach those goals, including Fitbit, Facebook, Twitter, Runkeeper, and now… MyFitnessPal!

But what does that mean, exactly? The company motto sums it up: “When you track it, you can change it.” Let’s say you want to drop 15 pounds. Using TrackIt you can create a 360-degree look at everything you do—from sleeping, to working out, to tweeting about happy hour. The system pulls in your nutrition information from MyFitnessPal and data from other sources, and then turns all of it (yes, even your tweets!) into fun info graphics. You’re then able to easily see patterns, like that spike in calories from those bar snacks, and then make adjustments. And seeing it all in one spot improves your chances of achieving your slim-down goal—bring on the skinny jeans!

OK, who’s ready to slam-dunk some goals with TrackIt and MyFitnessPal?

 

 

Is Your 3pm Coffee Habit a Cry for Caffeine or Camaraderie?

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Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngThe most common question I get asked about habits is, “How do I break a bad one?” Now, there could be a number of things right with your daily coffee break (I’m a big fan of walking breaks throughout the day!), but if you notice that your afternoon cup of Joe also comes with a cookie or has some other negative consequences, it’s worth doing some testing to find out exactly what you’re looking for when you leave your desk at 3pm.

Habits work on a simple loop of reminder, routine, reward. And even when we know what the routine is, like buying coffee every day at 3pm, it turns out many of us are really bad at identifying our own reminders and rewards. In fact, research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows we’re much better at making up stories about the rewards for our behavior than actually figuring it out the trigger.

Let’s take your 3pm coffee habit, for example. It could be triggered by low blood sugar, but it’s probably just seeing the hands of the office clock pointing to 12 and 3 that bring on the urge for coffee, and “low blood sugar” is the excuse you’ve made up to give yourself permission to buy an espresso and a cookie. Other habit studies show that when you take someone out of their scheduled routine, the habit is forgotten, leading researchers to believe the trigger is simply that we usually do the same things at the same time every day. Think about it: how many 3pm coffee breaks do you need when you’re on vacation?

Your 3pm-coffee-habit reward could be caffeine, that tag-along cookie you buy, the people you interact with along the way, the break from your desk, or the cute barista who remembered your name 3 years ago—and now you’re just on autopilot. However, once you pinpoint the trigger and the reward, you can piggyback healthy new habits onto them. Here’s a simple way to break down this:

Step 1. Simulate your coffee break Today at 3pm, get up and do everything you normally would, short of buying the coffee (and the cookie). Talk to all the same people, even walk into the café and take a look around. Then leave, walk back to your desk, and ask yourself, “How was that?”

Step 2. Repeat step 1 several times If you do this for a few days and still feel compelled to do it when the clock strikes 3pm, you’re still being rewarded, and it wasn’t just the coffee. Now you can start exploring other things that might be rewarding during your afternoon jaunt, like the refreshing walk itself, the people you talk to, or that cute barista.

Step 3. Assess the reward If you do the loop for a few days, and still find yourself craving the coffee, then the caffeine probably was the reward. If that is something that bothers you, start cutting back by ordering 1/2 decaf and 1/2 regular, or try switching to green tea.

Step 4. Do a little time change Take the break later than usual, but do the exact same routine you would have done at 3pm. When you get back, ask yourself the same question, “How was that?” If you found yourself staring at the clock for that extra hour, your trigger was likely the clock. That’s a very strong cue that you can now use it to trigger a new habit.

Why all this experimentation? Because something is “working,” and if you can find out what’s cuing and rewarding you, you can start using this loop to your advantage. Try inserting a new, ridiculously small habit you want to start in between your trigger and your reward—like an additional lap around the block, and watch that bad habit turn into a good one.

What’s driving your afternoon coffee habit? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012.  

5 Reasons to Eat Chocolate

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If it replaced your daily cholesterol and blood-pressure medications, you’d pop a chocolate pill, right? The idea might seem farfetched, but for an upcoming study by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Mars Inc., researchers will try to prove such tablets have a positive impact on heart health.

Before you get too excited, these pills won’t exactly be candy-coated. Instead, they’re filled with concentrated flavanoids, heart-healthy compounds found in the cocoa bean. Super-high in antioxidant activity, previous studies indicate flavanoids may play a role in improving blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin levels, artery health, and heart health factors. By putting these flavanoids in pill form, scientists will be able to study the effects of the compounds without the associated fat and sugar of chocolate that can lead to weight gain—a risk factor of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.

Still, when indulging your sweet tooth, you could do worse than a brick of flavanoid-rich dark chocolate. Need more convincing? Here are five good reasons to eat chocolate:

1. Portion (and weight) control When you buy individual bricks of dark chocolate, and eat just one for dessert after a meal, you’re less likely to overdo it than if you were scooping out ice cream or slicing into a cake. “A once-ounce portion of dark chocolate will cost you roughly 150 calories—much better than most cookies and cakes, and lower in fat, too,” says Jackie London, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian in New York City. “And as long as you stick to that one portion, individuals who eat chocolate with increased frequency are shown to have lower BMIs.”

2. Antioxidants Antioxidants abound in cocoa, and they have a laundry list of associated health benefits. Think: anti-inflammatory effects, better immunity, cancer-fighting properties, a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as well as better skin integrity and wound healing. What’s not to love?

3. Stress reduction You are not imagining it: your worries do melt away when you eat chocolate. At least, the associated symptoms do. “Some studies have demonstrated that an intake of daily dark chocolate can impact the physical effects of stress on the body,” says London. These range from reducing the urinary excretion of stress hormones to positively affecting the gut.

4. Caffeine It might not be a bad idea to have your daily choco-fix after lunch, possibly as an afternoon pick-me-up at work. “Dark chocolate can contain caffeine, which serves as a central nervous system stimulator, resulting in improved alertness and cognition,” says London.

5. Happiness Whether you’re having a rough day at the office or dealing with a breakup, chocolate really can help. “Dark chocolate, in particular 85% cacao, contains tryptophan, which is a precursor of serotonin—a neurotransmitter that serves as a mood-booster,” says London.

Go ahead: have a serving! Just remember to be choosy about chocolate. London explains the more processed the chocolate, the fewer health benefits, and the worse it is for you. So…

Look for a high percentage of cacao The fewer ingredients in the chocolate, the better. “The problem with a lot of commercial chocolate is food additives and ingredients that you may have otherwise not considered, such as soy lecithin,” London says. “The general rule of thumb is that the more heavily processed any food is, the greater the depletion of health benefits. Therefore, what you’re looking for are ones that are higher in cacao percentage, while still retaining a sweet and satisfying flavor that you will enjoy.” To nab benefits and get great taste, aim for the “sweet spot,” which is 70% (or higher) cacao.

Lose the add-ons There’s a reason Snickers and Twix bars, while chocolatey, are not healthy. “Add-ons rack up the caloric content and decrease the cacao content, thus decreasing the health benefits of the chocolate,” London says. “Avoid additional toffee, caramel, nuts and dried fruits to keep the caloric content at bay.”

Seek organic or fair-trade Seek out organic, fair-trade, and locally-sourced dark chocolate to get maximum health benefits. “These tend to be the ones with the fewest additives, and are essentially close to natural form as possible,” London says.

What do you think? Will this sweet treat land in your shopping cart this week?

 

Jenna BirchJenna Birch is a health and lifestyle writer. She has written for many web and print publications, including Marie Claire, Runner’s World, mom.me and WomansDay.com. As a nutrition and fitness junkie, she’s a lifelong athlete, major college sports fan and developing yogi — but still can’t resist the allure of an occasional chocolate lava cake. (Everything in moderation, right?) For more, visit her at jennabirch.com or follow her on Twitter.