Archives for February 2014

What To Do With Kale and Why

At the market on Sunday when the checker scanned my extra-large bag of kale she asked what I was going to do with it.  “Do you eat it?”

I’m not sure what the look on my face was but I’m guessing it was surprise.

Oh yeah. I’m going to eat it.

I explained to her how nutritious it was and that I was so happy to find the large bags of pre-washed chopped kale at the grocery.

Kale

The conversation went on from there and she explained that at the last grocery she worked for she was in the deli and they used it on the trays for decoration. She didn’t really know that anyone actually ate it.

I wonder how many other people don’t know that kale is one of the healthiest vegetables and is a superfood with health benefits ranging from lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol to reducing the risk for certain cancers?

Kale = Superfood

What makes kale a superfood?  Here’s a list of just a few of the characteristics of the leafy green that puts it at the top of the healthy veggie chart.

  • Kale has over 45 different flavonoids that have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits  which play a role in reduced inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • The high concentration of two types of antioxidants in particular – carotenoids and flavonoids – are directly linked to cancer prevention.
  • The presence of glucosinolates found in kale provides even more anti-cancer benefits.
  • New research shows that kale provides support for the body’s own detoxification system and helps regulate detox activities in our cells.
  • Kale contains seven grams of fiber per 100 calories which provides support to the digestive system.

Kale provides an abundance of micro nutrients that many people are deficit in. It is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, copper and manganese. It is also a good source of vitamin B6, calcium, potassium, vitamin E, vitamin B2 and omega-3 fatty acids.

A one cup serving has about 36 calories.

Preparation Tips

If you buy kale whole rather than in the bag like I did you’ll need to rinse the leaves under cold water and chop the leaves into half-inch pieces and the stems into quarter-inch lengths for even cooking.  Pat dry with paper towels.

After the kale is rinsed and dry you can use it in salads and smoothies, drop it into soups and stews, or steam it for a quick side dish.

Below is a fuss-free sautéed kale recipe that uses a little garlic, olive oil, chicken broth and red wine vinegar:

Sauteed Kale with Red Pepper

Ingredients

2 large bunches kale
1 large red pepper, sliced in thin strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¼ cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

1. Cut the kale into bite-size pieces, removing any tough stems. Rinse and shake dry.
2. Warm the oil and garlic in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Remove the garlic as soon as it browns (don’t let it burn).
3. Add the slices of red pepper and stir fry until tender-crisp.
4. Add the kale and stir-fry 5 minutes.
5. Add the chicken stock, cover, and cook 8 to 10 minutes or until tender.
6. Uncover and add the salt.
7. Cook over medium-high heat until the liquid has evaporated.
8. Spoon into a serving dish; scatter the garlic over the top. Drizzle with the lemon juice. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sauteed Kale and Red Pepper

Nutrition

Serves 8:  One serving is 118 calories; carbohydrates 15 g; cholesterol 0; Fat 6g; Fiber 2g; Iron 2 mg; Protein 4 mg; Sodium 534 mg.

Do you have a favorite kale recipe?

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Black Bean and Guacamole Burritos

Finding new ways to use black beans and avocados is a win-win.  Both are highly nutritious super foods that are inexpensive to buy and provide some variety to the evening meal-time blues.

This recipe takes only a few minutes to prepare and will provide you with a healthy meal on a busy evening.

Black Bean Guacamole Burritos

Ingredients

2 Avocados
1 clove garlic, minced
½ red onion, minced
1 lime
¼ teaspoon Salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
½ cup Cilantro, minced
1 small Tomato, diced
6 – 8 large flour tortillas
2 cups brown rice, cooked
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups Moneteray Jack cheese

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the guacamole, peel the avocados, place in a bowl and mash. Add the garlic, onion, lime juice, salt, and cilantro to the avocados. Fold in diced tomatoes.

Guacamole
Spread two tablespoons of the guacamole in the center of each tortilla. Spread rice, beans and cheese on top of the guacamole. Roll into a burrito

Burritos with Black Beans

Place in a glass baking pan, cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes or until warm. Serve with salsa or low-fat sour cream or Greek yogurt.

Delicious!

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What You Can Learn From Star Trainer Michelle Bridges: Just Friggin Do It!

“Success is all down to how badly you want it.  Nothing will ever be handed to you, and if it is you never appreciate it anyway. Successful people are hard workers.  Period!”
— Michelle Bridges

There’s a lot you can learn from Michelle Bridges. Not just in relation to reaching your health and fitness goals, but about life in general.

Michelle has been a trainer on the Australian version of The Biggest Loser since 2007. She is the author of eight bestselling books including Crunch Time: Lose Weight Fast and Keep It Off, and Losing the Last 5 Kilos: Your Kick-Arse Guide to Looking and Feeling Fantastic.

Michelle Bridges

She started the on-line 12 Week Body Transformation program in 2012 and has helped people around the world lose over a million pounds.

Michelle has been a go-getter since she was 14 when she began teaching fitness to the other teenagers at her school.  At the age of 26 she realized that it was time to take her fitness career to the next level and moved to Sydney, Australia where, with $275 in the bank, she began her own personal training business, became a freelance group fitness instructor and a trainer for Les Mills.

The business that she began with $275 is now a multi-million fitness empire that reaches people across the globe.

Her enthusiasm for health and fitness is infectious and engages millions of people around the world. Much of her inspiration comes from her “don’t overthink it, just friggin do it” mantra.

Besides, “just friggin do it”, here are five things that you can learn from Michelle:

1.  Motivation Is Like A Bad Boyfriend – Michelle is shocked by the obesity epidemic that is facing many countries and says that people are eating their way to the grave.  She believes part of the problem is that people are hung up on motivation and if you’re waiting around for it, it may never come. Losing weight isn’t about motivation.  “No way.  Motivation is a crock, you see.  I’m in the motivation business; but motivation is like a bad boyfriend.  He’s never there when you need him.”  Michelle says being healthy is about forming good habits and practices.”

2.  No Matter What Exercise You’re Doing, Go Hard In the End – Michelle calls this the Final Blast and says it’s what you have to do at the end of every workout.  “Leave it all on the field.  Hold nothing back.  Go all in.”  Whatever you’re doing, whether it’s running, doing ab crunches or squatting, the final push at the end will help your fitness go up and your weight go down.

3.  Don’t Let Low Temps Keep You From Training – Michelle answers the age old question, “How do you stay motivated to exercise in the winter?” She says she likes to look at winter exercise as “a time of careful preparation for the coming spring and summer.” If you’re not sure how to approach exercise during the winter months, consult with a personal trainer who can help you put a plan in place. Whatever you do, don’t use the winter months as an excuse not to exercise.

4.  Unless You Change Your Mind Set Your Weight Loss Endeavors Will Fail – One of the biggest challenge Michelle faces in helping people achieve their weight loss goals is getting them to overcome the victim mentality and the blame game.  They say “It’s not my fault, it’s my children’s fault.” Or, “It my husband’s fault. When the truth is staring back at them from the fridge.” Her advice is to ditch the victim mentality and start accepting responsibility for absolutely everything you do. Everything.

5.  Accept Your Body For The Things It Can and Cannot Do – Comparing ourselves with others isn’t just bad.  It’s disastrous. You probably heard your parents tell you when you were young that there will always be someone better looking, smarter, and more athletic than you.  Michelle agrees.  “Put the work into your emotional self to get to a state of truly accepting your body as the gift that it is – the way it looks, and the things it can and can’t do.” It’s okay to be you.

Globe Trotter

Last year Michelle came to the United States to launch her 12 Week Body Transformation and is quickly becoming a fitness celebrity here too.  She is in the business of changing lives and works to help people conquer their mental barriers about weight loss, food and exercise.

According to Michelle, “The whole yo-yo—up-down, off-on, in-out is far more damaging than being overweight will ever be because that stuff messes with your head.  It’s almost like psychological obesity.  Then I come in with a sledgehammer and go, “Right. Let’s get real!”

For more information about the 12 Week Body Transformation, click here.

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3 Practical Weight Loss Tips, Not Tricks

Weight loss tips and gimmicks are never in short supply.  Figuring out which strategies to try and which ones are a waste of time and money can be tricky.

Here are three tips that have been in the news lately that are backed by research and can help you reach your weight loss goals.

Just say no to starvation diets.  Flickr photo by Gideon

Just say no to starvation diets. Flickr photo by Gideon

1. Healthy Gut Bacteria Aids Weight Loss – The theory that having ‘good’ bacteria in our gut keeps us healthy, improves digestion and lowers intestinal inflammation isn’t new.  Now, a couple of recent studies have tested the effects of probiotic yogurt on weight loss in women and show that healthy bacteria may also help reduce belly fat.

In one 24 week study, 125 obese men and women were divided into two groups.  During the first two weeks all participants maintained a low-calorie diet.  One group was taking a pill that consisted of one full serving of yogurt.  The other group was given a placebo. The women in the study that were taking the probiotic pills lost an average of 9.7 pounds during the two weeks.  Those taking the placebo lost approximately 5.7 pounds.

During the second half of the study all of the participants followed a specific diet regimen that helped them maintain their weight loss.  The average weight loss for women taking the probiotics was, on average, 11.5 pounds. The women on the placebo stayed at the same weight.  The men did not seem to be affected by the probiotics.

In a Japanese study 210 overweight people were divided into three groups.  For 12 weeks everyone drank a daily seven ounce serving of fermented milk.  Two of the groups had probiotics mixed in the milk. The participants that had the milk with the probiotics lost one to three percent of belly fat and eight to nine percent visceral fat.

Researchers say that to see a reduction in body fat, you will have to eat yogurt on a regular basis, maybe even every day as the subjects in the studies did.

Check the label to make sure the yogurt you buy has a graphic that says “live and active cultures” on the container and provides a list of the cultures.

Also, watch out for the added sugar that is in many yogurt brands. Your best bet is to buy plain Greek yogurt because it is low in sugar, higher in protein, and more filling.  Then add fresh or frozen fruit to sweeten it.  The active cultures found in kefir will also provide an abundance of probiotics.  Kefir can be added to yogurt, mixed into smoothies or eaten alone.

2. Structured Weekdays Can Un-do Weekend Splurges – Putting most of the efforts into staying on a structured eating plan Monday through Friday may improve your changes for weight loss even if you splurge a little on the weekend.

Dr. Brian Wansink, a researcher at Cornell University, says that there is a natural seven day weight cycle that is similar in all humans.  Almost everyone gains weight over the weekend and loses some weight during the week.  Typically people weigh the most on Sunday and the least on Friday.

Dr. Wansink and a team of researchers studied 80 adults ranging in age from 25 to 62.  He categorized them as weight losers, weight gainers, and weight maintainers.  The researchers  found that the difference between the weight losers and the weight gainers was that the ‘losers’ had a stronger compensation pattern after the weekend weight gain so their weight began dropping immediately after the weekend.

The weight ‘gainers’ had no clear decrease during the week which possibly indicates they weren’t able to recapture their discipline after the weekend.

If you’re someone that tends to overdo it on the weekend and feels depressed when you get on the scale on Monday morning the best thing to do is move on and focus on what happens next. That doesn’t mean that you can eat unabashedly every weekend  and still see many results.

But if you do have a piece of triple layer chocolate cake or a cheesy pasta entrée that’s loaded with calories, don’t beat yourself up over it. On Monday morning get your calories back under control and continue working toward you goal.

3. Lower The Thermostat To Increase Metabolism – When I first read about the theory that shivering can help you lose weight I laughed because it sounded so ridiculous. But it turns out that there may be some truth to this shiver-to-lose-weight stuff.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) claims that both moderate exercise and moderate shivering convert bad white fat into healthier brown fat. In a nutshell white fat stores fat and brown fat burns it.

The research done by the NIH found that both moderate exercise and shivering from being cold increases the level of the hormone irisin and FGF21.  Over a six day period irisin and FGF21 turned human white fat cells into brown fat cells.

This is exciting news according to Dr. Paul Lee, an endocrinologist from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia that conducted the study while at the NIH. “White fat transformation into brown fat could protect animals against diabetes, obesity and fatty liver. Glucose (blood sugar) levels are lower in humans with more brown fat,” Lee said.

Lee also says that people with more brown fat are thinner than those with less of it.

The good news is you may not have to stand out in sub-zero temperatures to reap the benefits of shivering.  A Japanese study found that people experienced a drop in body fat after spending two hours a day for six weeks at a temperature of about 63 degrees Fahrenheit.

Over To You

Do you have a weight-loss tip that has worked for you?

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Sugar Is Bad For Your Waistline and For Your Heart

Sugar doesn’t just make you fat, it also increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.  And, according to Quanhe Yang, a senior scientist with the Center for Disease Control, a recent study shows that the more sugar you eat the more your risk of death from cardiovascular disease increases.

Sugar

Flickr photo by Umberto Salvagnin

Yang was the lead scientist on the largest study to date that shows a link between sugar consumption and cardiovascular disease.  For the study, Yang and his colleagues reviewed data from more than 31,000 people that participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The goal of the survey was to look at trends in added-sugar intake and evaluate dietary habits based on personal interviews. According to the study, most adults (71%) consume 10% or more of their daily calories from added sugar.  Nearly 10% of adults consume 25% or more of their daily calories from sugar.  In a typical 1,600 calorie-a-day diet that amounts to 160 and 400 calories of sugar, respectively.

The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories a day (6 teaspoons) and men no more than 150 calories a day (9 teaspoons) of added sugar.

More Sugar Means More Health Risks

At the conclusion of Yang’s study, the following findings were published in the online JAMA Internal Medicine article:

  • People who consume more than 21% of their calories from added sugar are at twice the risk of dying from heart disease than people that consume less than 10% of calories from added sugar.
  • People who consume between 17% and 21% of their daily calories from added sugar have a 38% higher risk of death from heart disease than people who consume less than 10% of calories from added sugar.

The study also showed that even if you eat a healthy diet, and keep you weight under control, the extra sugar still takes a toll on your health.

“I could be eating a 2,000-calorie diet, not overeating, not overweight. But if I just drink a can of soda a day, I increase my risk of dying from [heart] disease by one-third,” said Laura Schmidt, a professor of health policy at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine who wrote an accompanying journal commentary. “I think people would assume one can of soda a day would not have that kind of impact over the course of their lives.”

But it does.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

You might not be washing down a Krispy Kreme with a McDonald’s sweet tea but that doesn’t mean you’re not consuming more sugar that you should.  Many foods and beverages are marketed and labeled as ‘healthy’ but aren’t.

An innocent looking 16 ounce bottle of Minute Maid orange juice has 48 grams (10 teaspoons) of sugar. One cup of Kellogg’s Smart Start Strong Heart cereal has 14 grams (3 teaspoons) and a 5.3 ounce container of Chobani blackberry Greek yogurt has 15 grams (3 teaspoons).

Sugar can add up very quickly so it’s good to get in the habit of reading food labels and tracking sugar consumption. The three items in the paragraph above could easily be consumed in one day which would supply a total of 16 teaspoons of sugar.  Then, eat  a couple of foods with minimal amounts of sugar and you’re way over the top and into the unhealthy range.

Need Help?

Some experts believe that sugar is as addictive as cocaine so kicking the habit is easier said than done.

Margaret Wertheim, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist and author of the book Breaking The Sugar Habit has 10 tips to help you break up with sugar. Giving up soda is the first step but beyond that there are many things you can do to limit sugar in your diet.

Below are some tips Margaret shared with me to get you started:

1. Never eat sweets on an empty stomach. This is a recipe for a “carb coma”: high blood sugar with an energy rush followed by an energy crash that leads to subsequent sugar cravings. The earlier in the day you start eating sweets, the more likely it is that you’ll continue to eat sweets throughout the day.

2. Always eat desserts from a plate instead of  the container. Eating out of the container is a surefire way to overeat desserts. Use small bowl and plates for small servings of desserts. If you use a large plate or bowl, your portion is likely to be too large.

3. Brush your teeth after eating. Sometimes the sweetness of the toothpaste is enough, and the act of brushing your teeth means that mealtime is over, helping you move on to other activities. Also, ice cream or a cookie just doesn’t seem quite as appealing when you have a minty taste in your mouth.

4. Get enough sleep. It’s more difficult to make good decisions when you’re sleep deprived, and inadequate sleep is associated with decreases in levels of the hormone leptin, leading to decreased satiety and increases in ghrelin, which in turn increases appetite.

Keeping your sugar intake within the recommended guidelines is the key to maintaing a healthy weight and heart so taking the steps to get the sugar out of your life will be worth it in the end.

Breaking The Sugar Habit is available for $3.99 at Amazon.com.

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Aloe Vera Juice: Does A Shot A Day Keep The Doctor Away?

Advertisements for aloe vera juice claim that it can do everything from cure cancer to get rid of unwanted belly fat. Here is the low down on aloe vera juice and some things you should know if you’re already, or thinking about, taking it.

Aloe Vera juice 2

Aloe Vera juice has been on the market for several years as a nutritional supplement that promoters claim will help with digestion, boost immunity, aid in weight loss and energy regulation, and increase our vitamin, mineral and amino acid supply.

Some web sites maintain that it is a miracle potion that halts the growth of cancer tumors, lowers cholesterol, eases inflammation and arthritis pain, cures ulcers, IBS and Crohn’s disease.

While aloe vera juice may not be the Holy Grail of supplements for ending every chronic disease, it may play a role in several areas that you could benefit from.

Health Benefits

1.  Control Blood Sugar – Two human trial studies have shown that consuming aloe vera juice has a positive impact on lowering blood sugar in individuals with Type 2 Diabetes.  Although the studies were small, one involved 36 people and the other 67, both showed promising results.  Of the 36 individuals that participated in the study, those that took aloe along with the oral diabetes drug glibenclamide, showed definite improvements in blood sugar levels compared to those taking glibenclamide and a placebo.

The second study had 67 participants with diabetes and high cholesterol and compared the impact that oral aloe vera gel versus a placebo had on those conditions.  All 67 patients were also taking the diabetes medications glyburide and metformin.  After the two month trial, aloe was associated with lowering fasting blood glucose and LDL (bad) cholesterol.

2.  Ulcerative Colitis – In a controlled study of 44 participants with ulcerative colitis, those that took a dose of aloe vera gel daily appeared to have improved symptoms compared to people that were given a placebo.

3.  Boosts Immune System – Proving that taking a supplement boosts your immune system is very hard to do.  Some people claim that taking aloe vera keeps them from getting sick, but there really is no way to know that if they weren’t taking it they would have come down with an illness. Aloe vera does contain vitamins, enzymes, minerals, sugars and amino acids. It has vitamins A, C, and E which are antioxidants.  It also contains B12, folic acid and choline and provides calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, magnesium, sodium and zinc plus 20 human required amino acids and seven of the eight essential amino acids.  Whether or not these compounds reduce inflammation and boost the immune system is inconclusive, however some small initial studies appear to have positive results.

Aloe Vera Juice

Aloe vera juice is derived from the succulent aloe vera plant that has been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of conditions, mainly those of the skin. The clear, jelly-like substance found in the inner party of the aloe leaf has healing properties that is typically used to treat burns, wounds and skin. Aloe vera has been used in herbal medicine practices since the beginning of the first century AD.

In 2009 clinical studies determined that there is some preliminary evidence to suggest that ingesting aloe vera might be effective in reducing blood glucose, and lowering blood lipids along with a whole host of other health benefits including alleviating symptoms of depression and improving learning and memory. But, larger studies will have to be done before there is sufficient evidence to prove these claims.

Safety Concerns 

All supplements can become toxic if they are taken in large doses.  A little bit of aloe vera juice goes a long way and can be toxic and have adverse side effects if taken in large quantities. It may also interact with other medications that you’re taking, so if you’re taking prescription medicines, please ask your doctor before taking aloe vera.

A little aloe vera juice may go a long way.  So maybe a little is all you need.

Have you tried aloe vera juice as a supplement?

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Shrimp Quinoa: A Hearty and Delicious One Dish Meal

I’m always trying new, healthy recipes.  I made Shrimp Quinoa last night and it was so delicious I have to share.

Shrimp Quinoa 2

Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked, quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 ½ cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup of onion, diced
  • 8 spear fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces (I used frozen asparagus and steamed it for about three minutes in the microwave first.)
  • 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • ¼ cup of raisins
  • Dash of ginger
  • 1 pound of uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (fresh or frozen will work)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

 

Directions:

  • Cook the quinoa in the chicken broth for about 15 minutes. Then, turn off the heat and let the quinoa absorb the remaining liquid.
  • While the quinoa is cooking, cut up the pepper, asparagus, and mushrooms.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Stir in the garlic, onion, and bell pepper.  Cook until the onion has softened.
  • Add the asparagus, mushrooms, raisins, and ginger.  Continue cooking until the asparagus and mushrooms are tender.

Shrimp Quinoa Skillet

  • Stir in shrimp and cook just until they have turned pink.
  • Stir the lemon juice into the quinoa, then toss the quinoa with the shrimp and vegetable mixture.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Shrimp Quinoa

It is so similar to shrimp stir-fry that we added a little soy sauce which was perfect.

Using quinoa in place of rice or other grains is a good way to take advantage of this super, superfood. This recipe for Shrimp Quinoa is one of my absolute favorites.  It is a meal-in-one that takes only a few minutes to make.

I hope you like it!

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Ten Healthy Strategies For Easing The Winter Blahs

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Sunday so that means we have six more weeks of winter to survive. The groundhog-sees-his-shadow thing might be a myth but the winter blues aren’t.  They can be very real, and even debilitating if you live in a wintery part of the world.

photo posted on post-gazette.com

When Phil sees his shadow it’s bad news for sufferers of SAD.  Flickr photo by Gail DuPont

If the winter blues are getting to you, it’s possible you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  SAD hits millions of people at this time every year and unless you’re fortunate enough to be able to travel to a place where you can drink in natural sun light you may find yourself a few weeks away from a remedy. At least that’s what Phil predicts.

If you plan to power through on your own and without the help of prescription medications to ease your symptoms, there are some things that you can do that will help.

Below are 10 tips for you to try that will push back the winter blahs, enhance your mood, and increase your energy level.

1.  Mood Foods – Researchers that have looked at which foods increase levels of serotonin (the mood enhancing chemical that regulates hunger and the feeling of well-being) haven’t come up with an exact list of foods proven to work. What nutritionists do know is that following a balanced diet of lean proteins and lots of colorful vegetables and fruits will help you feel better because your nutritional needs are met. This means you’ll have more energy and less dips in blood sugar. Chicken, fish, and an abundance of fruits and veggies will make you feel better and more energetic on the dreariest of days.

2.  Avoid Sugar – Eating simple carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, rice and pastries will cause a surge in blood sugar followed by the inevitable crash.  When your blood sugar drops your mood will go with it.  In fact, according to the Brain Bio Centre, poor blood sugar balance is often the single-biggest factor in mood disorders amongst the people that seek the center’s advice.

3.  Increase Levels of B Vitamins – The B’s play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Research shows that low levels of B-12, B-6 and folate is linked to depression. Foods high in B12 and folic acid are organ meats, legumes, wholegrain breads and fruits and vegetables like spinach, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and asparagus. Oranges, bananas, almonds, and egg yolks are also good sources.

4.  Limit Alcohol Consumption – Drinking alcohol is one of those things that often ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’.  But the after effects can be disastrous on our mood.  Alcohol is a depressant and many people have an unexplained feeling of lonliness and depression after a fun night of drinking. Plus, alcohol acts as a diuretic and flushes nutrients – like B vitamins – from our system which makes us worse off. If you like to socialize and drink alcohol, drink a large glass of water after each alcoholic beverage and limit your consumption to two or three drinks.

5.  Music – The American Music Therapy Association’s web site lists 57 pages of articles touting the research that proves that music is successful in treating depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and chronic pain. Music can boost your mood, make it easier for you concentrate, and assist with motivation to exercise.  What you put on the play list is a personal choice.  I like up-beat, rhythmic music but you may find that classical music or old rock-n-roll tunes works best for you.

6.  Exercise – This should probably be number one on the list because of the direct correlation between exercise and mental health.  The steady stream of endorphins that are released when you exercise helps reduce stress, anxiety and feelings of depression.  Plus it boosts self-esteem and makes you sleep better. So, beyond the positive physical benefits of exercise, the mental ones are just as important; maybe even more so when we’re in the middle of a cold, dark winter. Pick a physical activity that you like to do and aim for at least 30 minutes four to five times a week.

7.  Check Your Vitamin D – One of the primary causes of SAD is a lack of vitamin D. Our bodies create Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.  During the dark winter months, our supplies of the ‘sunshine vitamin’ diminish and lead to depression and a lack of energy.  Your doctor can take a blood test that will tell you where your vitamin D levels fall and prescribe a supplement if needed. You can, or course, self-prescribe by purchasing Vitamin D at the local drug store, but if your levels are real low, you still may not be getting an adequate amount.

8.  Light Boxes – I know more and more people who are purchasing light boxes and benefiting from their effects.  Light boxes come in various shapes, sizes and price ranges. The time you’ll need to spend in front of the light to get the desired benefits varies, but it is usually around 30 minutes a day.  Light boxes are a good investment if you have persistent SAD symptoms.  A quick Google search or a visit to Amazon.com will provide you with numerous options.

9.  Boost Your Colors – I wear black. A lot.  And when I’m not wearing black, I usually have on gray or neutral colors.  The colors that you wear can have an impact on your mood and wearing bright colors, as opposed to drabs or darks, can give you an unexpected boost.  The psychology of color show that blues are calming, purple is associated with wisdom and green is a symbol of nature.  Wear a bright blue, orange or purple and see if cheers you up.  It may even perk up those around you.

10.  Socialize (even if you don’t feel like it.) – Get out from behind your desk and chat with a co-worker for a couple of minutes, invite a friend to lunch, join a group fitness class at the gym instead of spending all of your time on the treadmill. Studies show that people that socialize live longer and are happier. The winter months leave many people feeling isolated and lonely.  Even short bursts of socialization can do wonders for your mental health.

Typical symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include tiredness, fatigue, trouble concentrating, body aches, irritability, overeating, weight gain, and depression.  The Winter Blues Coach dedicates her web site to helping people find remedies for the SAD and she has an abundance of ideas that can help.

If you’re unable to find relief for your symptoms using natural remedies, or you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or bouts of severe depression, call your doctor for help.

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