Slam Dunk Your Health Goals with TrackIt

TrackIt

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?

 

 

5 Reasons to Eat Chocolate

myfitnesspal 5 reasons to eat chocolate

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.  

Veg Out! 7 Meat-Free Protein Sources that Satisfy

myfitnesspal seitan with capers

Lorimer Street KitchenIf you’ve checked your Twitter feed in the last few hours, chances are #MeatlessMonday has popped up at least once. The goal of this trend is to kick-start your week with veggies, and become more aware of what you are eating in general, so you can make healthier choices all week. Why go meat-free for the day? Cutting back on your meat intake comes with tons of healthy benefits—to name a few: it decreases your chances of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

If the idea of avoiding meat, even just for one day, leaves you wondering, “How will I get enough protein?” You’re not alone—it’s a worry plenty of people have. But it turns out getting enough of this important nutrient is easier than it seems. There are plenty of plant-based sources of protein that are easy to cook and taste amazing, too.

Tofu & Tempeh Tofu is probably the first food that comes to mind when thinking of vegetarian meat substitutes, and for good reason! Tofu and tempeh are made from soybeans, and they’re incredible sources of protein. Tempeh contains 15 grams of protein per half cup, while tofu offers 20 grams! Both have unique textures that easily absorb the flavor of whatever you are cooking, making them ideal in stir-fries, or seasoned and baked.

Seitan While not as well known as tofu, seitan is a versatile meat substitute made from wheat gluten that packs tons of protein—32 grams per half cup! It’s a great replacement for poultry, and is very simple to cook.

Quinoa Most grains are low in protein, but quinoa has more than 8 grams per cup! Quinoa is delicious as a side dish (try it in place of rice), and works well as a hot or cold breakfast. You can also toss a handful of cooked quinoa into soup or chili to thicken things up.

Beans Beans are little powerhouses of nutrition. High in both protein and fiber, they keep you feeling full longer and provide your body with tons of energy. How much protein are we talking about? 1 cup of kidney beans is loaded with 15 grams of protein, and 1 cup of black beans contains 42 grams! Keep in mind: canned beans tend to be high in sodium, so be sure rinse them before using.

Nuts & Nut Butters Nuts get a bad rap for being fattening, but they are packed with both healthy fats and protein. Most varieties have 5 to 6 grams of protein per ounce, which means you don’t have to eat too many to get a protein boost. To maximize the health benefits, look for unsalted, raw, or roasted nuts, and opt for nut-butters made without any added sugars or oils.

Seeds Like their nutty counterparts, seeds, such as sunflower, sesame and poppy, are filled with protein and healthy fats. Sunflower seeds, for example, have almost 15 grams of protein per cup. They’re delicious toasted and sprinkled on top of a salad.

Greens While green vegetables may not be the protein powerhouses that beans, nuts, and seeds are, ounce for ounce, they still hold their own. Packed with fiber to keep you feeling full, 2 cups of spinach (easy side salad!) contains 2 grams of protein, and a cup of broccoli has 3 grams.

Need help planning a plant-based meal? Try this easy Lemon & White Wine Seitan with Quinoa and Broccolini dish that I created just for MyFitnessPal. (The recipe is in the database for easy logging!)

What do you think of #MeatlessMonday? Are you planning a meat-free meal today?

 

Jennifer Pantin HeadshotWriter, lawyer, and healthy-eating proponent, Jennifer Pantin loves experimenting with new, healthy recipes in her Brooklyn kitchen. Her blog, Lorimer Street Kitchen, is where she shares this passion for food and the belief that healthy recipes can be good for you and delicious, too. Connect with Jennifer and Lorimer Street Kitchen on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

The 2 Running Workouts You Need to Drop Pounds Fast!

myfitnesspal 2 running workouts to lose weightPEAR Sports

Like most runners, I run first and foremost because I enjoy it, and only secondarily for the many health benefits that come with it. But those benefits are nothing to sneeze at. Running is proven to boost cardiovascular health, keep the brain youthful, and reduce the risk for chronic diseases, such as type-2 diabetes. Running also happens to be the most effective form of exercise for weight loss. Studies show men and women who run shed more pounds than those who spend an equal amount of time walking or swimming. Still, many runners don’t lose as much weight as they could because of one simple mistake: they’re not training at the right intensity. Fortunately, you can avoid this trap with heart-rate based workouts.

According to research, there are two types of runs that are especially effective for weight loss. The most powerful program is one that combines the two: fat-burning runs and high-intensity interval runs. Fat-burning runs are slow, steady runs undertaken at the intensity where the muscles rely most heavily on fat for fuel. This type of run torches more fat than any other type. High-intensity interval runs feature multiple short bursts of very fast running. These workouts promote weight loss by keeping the body’s metabolism elevated for hours afterward.

If you’re like most runners, you spend very little time running in either the low-intensity zone that maximizes fat burning or the high-intensity zone that boosts post-exercise metabolism. More than likely, you’re running between these zones, at a moderate intensity that is not as effective for weight loss. Why? It’s probably because most of us tend to run by feel, and it just so happens that the natural running pace for a majority of runners falls in the moderate-intensity range.

Heart-rate based workouts offer a way out of the moderate-intensity trap. With a heart-rate monitor, running in the maximum fat-burning zone or the high-intensity zone is as easy as targeting your correct heart-rate range. In the five-zone system I use as a coach, for example, the zones are based on lactate-threshold heart rate (not maximum heart-rate), and can be established by running a 30-minute time trial and noting your average heart rate during the last ten minutes, or by using the Pear mobile app. The zones break down like this:

Zone 1: 75-80% of lactate threshold (LT) heart rate (HR)—Very easy effort; use this for warming up.
Zone 2: 81-89% of LT HR—The fat burning zone! Comfortable enough to hold a conversation.
Zone 3: 96-100% of LT HR—“Hard-ish” effort; you can still speak in short sentences.
Zone 4: 102-105% of LT HR – Hard effort; the pace is sustainable, but talking is not.
Zone 5: 106%+ of LT HR—The high-intensity zone! This pace can only be kept for a few minutes.

Here are two simple workouts that tap into the power of heart-rate based training to add to your weekly routine:

Fat-Burning Run: Warm up with 5 minutes of easy jogging in Zone 1. Next, increase your effort slightly to Zone 2, which is where the maximum rate of fat burning occurs. Stay in Zone 2 for at least 20 minutes and then cool down for 5 minutes back in Zone 1

High-Intensity Interval Run: Warm up with 5 minutes of easy jogging followed by 5 minutes of comfortable running in Zone 2. Next, increase your effort to Zone 4. After 2 minutes, reduce your effort to Zone 1 and recover for 3 minutes. Repeat this pattern—2 minutes in Zone 4, and 3 minutes in Zone 1—four times. Finally, cool down with 5 minutes of easy jogging in Zone 1. [Note: Your heart rate will climb through at least the first half of each 2-minute interval, and it may not reach Zone 4 until near the end. Don’t try to run faster to get your heart rate into Zone 4 sooner. Instead, run at the slowest steady pace that is sufficient to elevate your heart rate into Zone 4 before each interval is complete. Likewise, your heart rate will steadily fall during each 3-minute recovery period. Don't worry if it doesn't get all the way to Zone 1 before the next Zone 4 interval starts. Just run slow enough so that your heart rate would reach Zone 1 eventually.]

What do you say, ready to try heart-rate based running? What’s your favorite running workout? 

 

Matt FitzgeraldMatt Fitzgerald is an award-winning endurance sports journalist and bestselling author of more than 20 books on running, triathlon, fitness, nutrition, and weight loss, including Brain Training for Runners and Racing Weight. His byline appears regularly in national publications including Men’s Journal, Outside, and Women’s Running. An experienced running and triathlon coach and certified sports nutritionist, Matt serves as a Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. His FREE One-Week Weight-Loss plan is available on the PEAR Sports app in the Channels section. Get the PEAR Sports app on iTunes or Google Play

An Important Update About Your MyFitnessPal Account

Dear MyFitnessPal Users,

You might have heard about a widespread internet security vulnerability called Heartbleed, and you may be wondering whether it impacts MyFitnessPal. Heartbleed is a bug that security researchers recently discovered in a core encryption library that secures most internet sites.

This issue is projected to be impacting as many as two-thirds of sites across the web. Fortunately, we have no evidence that any of our users’ data has been breached. Nevertheless, as soon as this disclosure was made public, we immediately upgraded all of our systems to mitigate any potential issues.

(Update 4/11/2014: To be specific, we patched the vulnerability and updated our SSL certificate with new private [and corresponding public] keys. We have since also requested and deployed an entirely new SSL certificate and revoked our old certificate, to eliminate any confusion.)

Due to the potential severity of this bug we would like to suggest that you take two simple steps:

1. Change your MyFitnessPal password. Here’s how.

2. Disconnect and immediately reconnect your connected accounts (like Fitbit or Runtastic). This will refresh your authentication tokens and increase your security.

At MyFitnessPal, the security and privacy of your data is important to us. Again we have no reason to believe that any data was actually compromised. We will continue to monitor this threat and will keep you informed going forward.

Thank you,
Vijay Raghunathan
Vice President of Engineering, MyFitnessPal