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10 of the Healthiest Restaurant Menu Items of 2011

Written on December 15, 2011 at 9:02 am , by

By Tanya Jolliffe for SparkPeople.com

We’ve seen many restaurants update their menus this year to provide patrons with healthier options. The new Kids Live Well campaign provides families with healthier choices when eating away from home to help kids maintain a healthy weight. While some reports suggest the new healthy options aren’t popular, many restaurant chains aren’t giving up and are striving to be on board with the First Lady’s anti-obesity campaign.

Here are 10 of the healthiest menu options we’ve seen this year:

1. Starbucks Chicken & Hummus Bistro Box
Calories – 270
Fat – 8 grams
Sodium – 520 mg
Carbohydrate – 29 grams
Fiber – 6 grams
Protein – 16 grams

The wheat pita, fresh cucumber, carrot sticks, and grape tomatoes with hummus and grilled chicken do provide a nutrient-rich meal away from home. We really like that this option contains a sodium level that easily fits in many meal plans. One negative is that not all Starbucks locations offer lunch while others only offer a few of the new box options so this one might not always be available.

2. IHOP Simple & Fit Spinach, Mushroom & Tomato Omelette with Fresh Fruit
Calories – 330
Fat – 12 grams
Sodium – 690 mg
Carbohydrate – 31 grams
Fiber – 5 grams
Protein – 29 grams

This protein rich omelet, made with egg substitute, is filled with fresh spinach, mushrooms, onions and Swiss cheese with diced tomatoes on top to offer a nutrient-rich breakfast with a reasonable sodium content. The fresh fruit side creates a well-balanced breakfast that will stick with you all morning long. To minimize sodium, remember to request “no added salt” when ordering.

3. Applebee’s Asiago Peppercorn Steak with Herb Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetables
Calories – 380
Fat – 14 grams
Sodium – 1,520 mg
Carbohydrate – 25 grams
Fiber – 5 grams
Protein – 44 grams

Though it’s a step in the right direction, this meal still has a day’s worth of salt! If you’re watching your sodium intake, choose another option. But at under 400 calories–with plenty of protein and iron–this meal is a big plus for this casual dining restaurant.

4. McDonald’s Hamburger Happy Meal with Apple Slices and Low-fat Milk
Calories – 390
Fat – 11 grams
Sodium – 650 mg
Carbohydrate – 51 grams
Fiber – 2 grams
Protein – 20 grams

Although any food can be incorporated into a healthy diet in moderation, offering a Happy Meal without fried foods and a serving of a fruit and milk is the healthiest meal possible. These new meals that focus on fruit and milk help families take small steps to new lifestyle choices.

5. Cheesecake Factory SkinnyLicious Grilled Chicken
Calories – 560
Fat – 2 grams saturated
Sodium – 1,252 mg
Carbohydrate – 20 grams
Large portion sizes at this restaurant are the norm, but with this dish they have maximized the nutrition. By pounding the meat so it is thinner, they create a plate-size meal without the plate-size calories. Add the fiber-focused topper that lends a bruschetta flavor and you get great taste for the right portion and calorie size where you wouldn’t expect to find it. This high sodium meal might not be right for everyone, but you can lower the impact slightly by asking for “no added salt” when ordering. 

More: Healthy Menu Items 6-10!

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The 10 Worst Foods of 2011

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3 Easy Ways to Break Out of Your Cardio Rut

Written on December 9, 2011 at 8:30 am , by

 

tired girl on stability ball

Photo courtesy of Spark People

By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor, SparkPeople.com

Are you bored with your cardio workout? Are you already dreading the stair stepper workout that you have scheduled for tomorrow morning? When you’re in a rut, it’s easy to fall off the fitness wagon because motivation and excitement are G-O-N-E.

So how do you get your aerobic mojo back? You shake things up! Here are a few super-simple ways:

1. Change Your Soundtrack.

New tunes: Downloading news song is a fast way to bust out of your cardio rut and get you happily moving. When you have your headphones on, no one else knows what tunes you’re playing, so play whatever you want! Studies have shown that music is motivating, but if you’re bored at the gym, it may be time to shake that playlist up.

OR…Try no tunes: If new music isn’t doing it for you, try doing your workout sans tunes. Listening to your own breathing and the sounds and sights around you can be an incredibly meditative experience that can turn your cardio from boring to darn near spiritual. And if quiet isn’t your thing, try downloading a podcast or an audio book. You can get through your to-read list and get in shape. Now that’s multitasking.

2. Change Your Location.

Avoid the gym: If you’re a gym rat and pretty sick of the first half of that nickname, maybe it’s time for a change of scenery! Move your workout outdoors or create your own home gym. Even a new DVD or two can mix things up!

OR…Go to the gym: If you always hit the great outdoors for your cardio or always walk on the treadmill while catching up on TV, moving your cardio sessions to a facility with other exercisers and a fitness-centered environment may be just what you need to re-spark the love of your workouts. Sure, a health club membership costs money, but if it comes down to not working out or paying a monthly fee, wouldn’t you rather cut a few costs in your budget and stay motivated?

3. Change Your Intensity.

Try a longer, less intense workout: If you can usually only set aside 10 to 20 minutes for exercise, make those minutes intense, switch it up by setting aside extra time to make your workout longer and less intense. By doing a longer, less intense workout, you’ll give yourself time to really enjoy the activity without rushing or trying to burn as many calories you can in a short amount of time. Pick an activity that you love—dancing, walking, hiking—and enjoy it!

OR…Try a shorter, more intense workout: If you’re the type of exerciser who would rather walk for an hour than run for 5 minutes, then maybe it’s time for you to swap your low-intensity sweat sessions for shorter, more intense workouts. This is an especially good trick if you spend most of your mental energy watching the clock wishing your long workout was over.

Get 3 More Ideas for Breaking Out of Your Cardio Rut!

 

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Hot Debate: Can You Be Fat AND Fit?

Written on December 2, 2011 at 11:28 am , by

overweight with dumbbells

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

By Ellen G. Goldman, Health and Wellness Coach, SparkPeople.com

Lori, a client of mine, recently called me angry, upset and discouraged. She had just returned from her yearly physical, which she had been eagerly anticipating.  Even though she hadn’t reached her weight-loss goal, Lori had made many lifestyle changes to promote good health:  She had begun exercising on a regular basis, made some subtle shifts in her dietary habits that made her feel better, and had even begun a weekly yoga/meditation class to manage stress.

The results of the physical demonstrated her efforts had been paying off.  Her blood pressure was in the normal level for the first time in years, her blood sugars had dropped, and her cholesterol profile had greatly improved. However, once the exam was complete and she was sitting with her physician in his office, rather than commenting on the improvements, he stated, “Lori, I was really hoping you would have dropped a lot more weight since our last visit.  If you don’t get serious about taking off the extra pounds, your risk of early disease will continue.  Have you tried dieting?”

There is a presumption that if an individual is overweight they are also unhealthy.  Research clearly supports that being overweight is a major health risk factor, contributing to an increase in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, and many types of cancer.  So can we assume that if you are hauling around extra pounds that classify you as overweight, it will destine you to a future filled with illness and disease?

Not necessarily. An intense debate has emerged in the last few years amongst obesity researchers, asking the question, “Can people be overweight but still be healthy?”  Is the number on the scale the only thing that counts, or should we take other factors into consideration?  Scientists are now dueling over the relative importance of “fatness vs. fitness” when it comes to determining the health of an overweight individual.

A small but vocal group of researchers have been…

Read the entire column here…

And then tell us below: Are you or do you know someone who is overweight but in better health than a skinny person? What are your opinions on if an overweight person can be healthy?


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5 Packaged Foods That Are Actually Healthy

Written on November 23, 2011 at 2:15 pm , by

food label reading

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

By Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian, for SparkPeople.com

You’ve probably heard this advice before: For a healthy grocery trip, shop the perimeter of the store. But if you stick to this advice completely you’ll be missing out on some of the nutritious items that do come in packages. These packaged foods—not to be confused with “processed” foods—can give you some great nutrients and make meal planning easier, saving you precious time.

Here’s a list of the healthiest convenience foods you can buy from the center aisles of the grocery store.

1. Canned Beans
Though dried beans are cheaper than canned, they can take a lot of time to cook. Canned beans pack an impressive amount of fiber and protein and can be a quick addition to many meals. Pinto, kidney, cannellini (white kidney), black, Great Northern—name any bean, they’re all great sources of nutrition for your body. When you’re choosing your beans, look for ones without added salt or seasoning. Before using your beans, drain and rinse them in a colander when you’re ready to cook. This will help wash added sodium down the drain–40% of the sodium to be exact.

2. Oats and Flaxseed
Prepare to have a heart-healthy breakfast by combining old-fashioned oats and ground flaxseed, both found packaged in either cartons or bags. One cup of cooked oatmeal with 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed will give you 8 grams of much needed fiber, as well as a dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which each protect the heart. Choose old-fashioned oats over quick oats or instant oatmeal to ensure you’re getting the maximum amount of fiber without added salt and sugar.

3. Brown Rice
For a boxed fare that is both versatile and nutrient packed, pick up brown rice on your next grocery trip. This fiber-rich grain is a great side for nearly any meat, bean, and vegetable–or combination of all three! Try it with kidney beans, diced tomatoes and cilantro, or top it with shrimp, streamed carrots and broccoli with your favorite low-sodium sauce.

4. Tuna Fish Packed in Water
When it comes to getting a bang for your buck out of canned food, this is almost as good as it gets. This convenient food is high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and also gives you a good amount of vitamins D and B-12, too. Top a bed of greens with tuna, veggies, fruit and nuts or scoop it onto whole wheat pita, crackers or bread for a healthy combo on-the-go.

5. Frozen Berries
When it comes to meeting your daily fruit requirement, you can’t beat frozen. Many frozen berries do not have added sugar, but some do. Double check that the ingredients list contains berries to make sure you’re not getting extra calories from refined sugars. Then, add them to oatmeal, cereal, yogurt or make a smoothie.

Continued: 5 More Surprisingly Healthy Packaged Foods


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5 Sneaky Habits That Sabotage Your Heart

Written on November 18, 2011 at 8:15 am , by

Heart Hands

Photo courtesy of Spark People

We all know that for optimum heart health we need to eat a healthy diet, exercise and not smoke. But little things you do every day can also have a big impact on the most important muscle in your body. Are you guilty of any of these seemingly innocent mistakes?

1. You fly off the handle. Do you suffer from regular bouts of rage or intense anger at home, at work or in traffic? If so, your angry temperament may be hurting more than the people around you. While moderate anger can be a good way to release tension, explosive anger or chronic bouts of rage can increase your risk of heart disease. Anger and anxiety have been shown to increase blood pressure, disrupt the electrical impulses of the heart and possibly speed up the process of atherosclerosis, a fatty build up in the arteries.

2. You sleep too much (or too little). Getting fewer than five—or more than nine—hours of sleep a night can hurt your heart because both extremes elevate blood pressure and levels of stress hormones. In fact, the Nurses’ Health Study of more than 71,000 women, ages 45 to 65, found that sleeping five or fewer hours each night increased the risk of coronary disease by a whopping 45%. Those who regularly slept nine or more hours had a 38% greater risk than those who slept eight hours—even after taking snoring and smoking in account.

3. You don’t floss regularly. You may think that regular flossing just helps keep your pearly whites in tip-top shape, but research shows that dental disease and cardiac health are correlated. Researchers believe that inflammation from gum disease allows bacteria to enter your mouth’s blood vessels, travel into the coronary artery vessels, and narrow their passages. This reduces blood flow, which hurts the heart. In fact, people with coronary artery disease are 38% more likely to also have gum disease. While research is still being done in this area, it’s best to keep that mouth healthy!

4. You see the glass as half empty. Looking on the bright side isn’t just about improving your mental state; it’s also a boon to your heart. In a groundbreaking 2009 issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation, researchers found that not only did optimism seem to protect against heart disease and death but also that pessimism seemed to increase the risk. Pessimists were more likely than optimists to have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and suffer from depression (which has also been linked to poor heart health). Cynics are also more likely to be overweight, smoke and avoid exercise. All reason to start focusing on what’s good in life, right?

5. You think secondhand smoke is no big deal. While the association between tobacco use and heart disease is undeniable, did you know that secondhand smoke also harm your heart? Constant exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace or at home nearly doubles a person’s risk of having a heart attack.

Continued: 3 More Bad Habits for Your Heart. Plus: How to Combat All of These Saboteurs!


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3 Myths About Toning Up vs. Bulking Up

Written on October 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm , by

don't want to bulk up

Photo courtesy of Spark People

When most women say that they want to “tone up,” what they usually mean is that they want to become leaner. Basically, they want to lose fat, and add a little muscle definition—but not so much muscle mass that they look like a bodybuilder. Here are some helpful guidelines for toning up without bulking up.

Myth #1: Lifting light weights will tone your body and lifting heavy weights will bulk you up.

The Truth: While there is some truth to the idea that lifting lighter weights for more reps does a better job of increasing the muscular endurance, lighter weights will not help you “tone” better than heavy weights. In fact, because heavier weights build the strength of your muscles–thereby helping to increase your metabolism and burn fat–lifting heavier weights with fewer reps (8 to 12 on average) and working until you’re fatigued is more effective at helping you reach your toning goals than lifting lighter weights.

Myth #2: Lifting light weights won’t help you get stronger.

The Truth: When it comes to lifting weights, the secret to really getting stronger isn’t about how much weight you’re lifting. Instead, it’s all about working your muscle to fatigue where you literally cannot lift the weight for another repetition. The August 2010 study from McMaster University that proved this found that even when subjects lifted lighter weights, they added as much muscle as those lifting heavy weights. However, the time it takes to reach fatigue with light weights is much longer than the time it takes to reach fatigue with heavier weights.

Myth #3: Certain forms of exercise build long, lean muscles.

The Truth: Many forms of exercise claim to lengthen the muscles or develop “lean” muscles, not bulky ones. But here’s a truth that may be shocking to some: To put it another way, no form of exercise makes muscles “longer” because your muscles do not—and will not—respond to exercise by getting longer. It’s just not how they work. Muscles are a certain length because they attach to your bones. A wide variety of movements and exercises can help you strengthen your muscles without necessarily making them bigger. In fact, you can develop a lot of muscular strength without your muscles ever increasing in size (girth).

That said, exercises such as yoga, Pilates, dance and barre classes can help to increase your flexibility (improving your range of motion at certain joints) and your posture, which can give you the illusion of feeling and looking longer or taller.

Read the complete article about toning up vs. bulking up


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Fitness Items: When to Splurge vs. When to Save

Written on September 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm , by

calculator

Photo courtesy of Spark People

We’ll admit it: Between the apparel, at-home equipment, and gadgets, you can spend a small fortune on working out. But—and this is a big but—you don’t have to! Follow these hard and fast rules for when you’re trying to decide if you can (or should) afford something or not.

Splurge: 5 Fitness Items Worth Spending More On
For many, money is tight. But when it comes to these items (assuming you’re in the market for them), skimping for a cheaper model might cost you more in the long run.

1. Shoes. If you’ve ever bought a pair of cheap sneakers and tried to run in them, you know a good pair of workout shoes is worth every cent. The proper footwear isn’t just a matter of comfort—it’s a matter of safety! Wearing shoes that don’t correctly support the activity you’re doing can lead to muscular imbalance, decreased performance and even injury or overuse.

2. Sports Bras. The difference between a cheap sports bra and a quality one is huge. Most department stores now have a sports section for bras, so try on a variety of options and find one that fully supports you and is comfortable.

3. Pedometer. Sure, you can buy a pedometer for $5, but it won’t be very accurate—and it will probably only work for a few months before you need to replace it. If you want to count your steps, plan to spend at least $25 on a more expensive pedometer that comes with instructions and requires calibration.

4. Gym Membership. Always ask for a 5- to 7-day trial membership first (which should be free). While some chains do have low rates that offer good-quality equipment, it’s best to shop around. From having old equipment that doesn’t get repaired, to not being clean to not being properly staffed, most of the time you pay for what you get. So pay for what you want.

5. Home Cardio Machines. Buying a good cardio machine the first time is far more cost effective than having to buy another model after the cheap one breaks down! And a high-quality model will last you for years and years to come, making its per-use cost much lower than a cheaper model. Do your online research, go to a fitness equipment store and try out a variety of models,  and check out consumer reviews at ConsumerReports.org.

Save: 5 Fitness Items Worth Buying on the Cheap
There’s no point spending extra money if you don’t have to. Look for deals on the following fitness items; you won’t go wrong, but will save a lot! Read more

8 Steps to Put Yourself on Your Priority List

Written on September 20, 2011 at 9:00 am , by

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

How often have you found yourself thinking or saying the following?

  • “I wish I had more time for myself.”
  • “I’m so busy! I don’t have a moment to breathe.”
  • “I need more hours in the day.”
  • “I don’t have time for that.”

We lead crazy, busy lives. And the one thing we never seem to have time for is ourselves. This problem seems even more pervasive as we work harder to meet the challenges of this new economy.

Creating more personal time tops the list of goals many people want to accomplish. Here are a few ways you can make “me” time a reality:

1. First, decide that you deserve some time to yourself each day. Stop feeling guilty for taking time out for you, and realize in the long run, it’s a win-win for everyone. When you are tired, stressed out and pulled in too many directions, it is hard to give your best to all you must accomplish. Remember, self-time is not selfish—it’s a necessary dimension of self-care!

2. Decide how best to spend “me” time. How each of us chooses to spend free time is as individualized as we all are. If you had an extra 15 minutes, a half hour, an afternoon or an entire day, what would you do to make yourself feel rejuvenated, relaxed and happy? Write a list and keep it handy when you begin scheduling time into your calendar.

3. Evaluate the things that are wasting your time each day. Do you check your emails constantly and end up spending more time on your computer than you planned? Run to the supermarket daily to pick up dinner rather than plan in advance and shop once? If this sounds like you, you must take the time to organize your responsibilities, and you will gain more free time.

4. Learn to say “no” to requests to do things that you don’t really want to do, don’t value, or don’t bring you satisfaction and joy.

5. Ask for help with chores that don’t necessarily have to be completed by you alone.

6. At the beginning of each week, take a few minutes to designate specific time slots for all that must be accomplished—including “me” time. Treat your personal time like you would any other appointment and make it non-negotiable.

7. Commit to a minimum of 15-20 minutes of “me” time every day. Do something (or nothing) that completely lets go of responsibilities and releases your mind, allowing you to be alone with your thoughts.

8. Create a daily ritual. This can be a bath, listening to music, taking a walk or meditating. You will find yourself looking forward to this time!

Read the entire Spark article here


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5 Natural Ways to Stop Cellulite

Written on August 19, 2011 at 5:01 pm , by

woman on beach

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Eighty percent of women report having at least a little cellulite. And even though it isn’t harmful, it’s not exactly welcomed. Here’s a round-up of some healthy lifestyle habits that have been shown to help reduce the appearance of cellulite. They seem obvious, but if you commit yourself to them they might help you see results…

    1. Lose weight. Although you may not be able to get rid of cellulite completely, when you lose body fat by exercising and eating a healthy diet, you can greatly improve the appearance of dimpled skin because you’ll have less fat pushing up against your skin.
    2. Resistance train. There is no such thing as spot training (losing fat in a specific body area by exercising it), but by strengthening and building your muscles—particularly in areas where you carry cellulite—you can give your skin a more even texture and tone.
    3. Do cardio. Aerobic exercise is a fantastic way to burn calories and burn fat, thereby reducing the size of fat cells under the skin.
    4. Eat a healthy diet. Eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grains can give your body the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to properly burn fat and keep your skin and tissues healthy. In fact, healthy proteins from nuts, beans and fish, and antioxidant-rich green tea, berries and garlic can help build up collagen—a connective tissue that helps plump up the skin and makes the signature peaks and valleys of cellulite less extreme. A healthy diet full of vitamin C, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids can also improve skin texture.
    5. Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is an easy way to improve the texture of your skin. It seems counterintuitive, but by drinking more fluid, your body actually releases excess fluid that you may have been holding onto (including in your cellulite-prone areas).

      Continued: Cellulite solutions like massage, liposuction, creams, and more.

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      Alternatives to Peanut Butter (and How to Make Them at Home!)

      Written on July 8, 2011 at 12:46 pm , by

      Peanuts

      Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

      Mmm, peanut butter. It has that ideal balance between sweet and salty, making it the perfect companion for everything from whole grain toast to celery sticks. And it’s an inexpensive source of protein and good-for-you monounsaturated fats. Generations of kids have gotten through the school day fueled by peanut-butter sandwiches and a carton of milk—you were probably one of them!

      But what about the other nut butters out there? How about spreads made from almonds, cashews, and even seeds like sunflower? As an alternative to the old standby, consider these other products most easily found in gourmet, natural and/or organic grocery stores:

      Almond butter: Like peanuts, almonds are a source of monounsaturated fats.

      Cashew, pistachio or hazelnut butter: Like the nuts themselves, these butters are rich and slightly sweet. They make good additions to Indian curries or Mediterranean dishes.

      Macadamia nut butter: Also rich and sweet, this type of nut butter is typically used with chocolate or fruit spreads, in desserts, or sweet snacks.

      Seed butters: Pumpkin and sunflower seeds can be ground into a smooth paste and used like nut butter; both contain beneficial nutrients like zinc, iron and potassium. Tahini, made of ground sesame seeds, is a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine.

      Unfortunately, truly natural butters are more expensive than most mainstream brands, which often contain additional ingredients (sweeteners, oils, etc). If you can find fresh-ground or grind-your-own nut butters (natural foods grocers carry them), you’ll find that the price per pound is somewhere in between major brands and natural, minimal-ingredient butters.

      If you really want to cut the cost of buying nut or seed butter by the jar–while knowing exactly what’s going into your nut butter–consider making your own at home! Keep reading for a homemade nut butter recipe… Read more