Winter Table Warm-Ups

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

As the temperature drops during winter, chances are you’ll spend more time indoors — with more time to cook. For amazing meals, use your time wisely and plan. Consider cooking and freezing portions for future use, and you’ll thank yourself later. 

Warm soups, stews and pasta dishes are classic comfort foods. As you plan these meals, keep the plate model in mind. That means you ensure half of your meal is filled with vegetables, a quarter with grains, and a quarter with protein-rich foods, such as beans, fish, tofu, poultry, eggs, dairy foods or meat. What it doesn’t mean is filling the entire plate with pasta with just a smattering of vegetables on top — that’s not a balanced meal.

To make healthy comfort food:

  • Add more vegetables or have salad as a side dish.
  • Choose brown rice instead of white rice to serve with meals.
  • Make sandwiches or subs with whole-grain bread.
  • Use oats instead of white bread crumbs in your meatloaf and burgers.
  • Substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream in recipes.
  • Bake instead of frying chicken or pork chops.
  • Try fish or poultry a few times a week instead of red meat every night.
  • Try brown lentils or tofu in place of ground beef and pork in tacos, lasagna, chili and soups.
  • Cut back on very salty condiments, such as soy sauce, fish sauce and BBQ sauce.

Winter is also the perfect season to put your slow cooker or pressure cooker to good use. Crockpot meals are hearty, easy and can be loaded with vegetables. Find recipes online for stews, curries, soups, casseroles and vegetable- and-protein-packed pasta dishes. 

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4 Forms of Exercise: How They Work for You

Here’s a well-known fact: Regular exercise can improve your health, your attitude and your odds against disease and disability. For specific fitness benefits, experts say we should focus on 4 primary forms:

1. Aerobic (cardio) exercise works your heart, lungs and muscles, helping to protect overall endurance and aid weight loss. Feel winded as you walk up a flight of stairs? Start regular brisk activities (walking, swimming, dancing, cycling). Start with good old-fashioned walking. It’s easy to do and can fit easily into your lifestyle.

2. Strength training maintains and builds muscle to power you through your days. Workouts help to protect your bones, control blood sugar, aid weight control and balance, and reduce stress and strain in your back and joints. 

3. Stretching aids flexibility, the key to staying mobile and working well without pain or injury. Simple stretching during your work day can reduce muscle fatigue and stiffness, restore energy and improve thinking. For calm, try yoga.

4. Balance training keeps you steady on your feet and strengthens your core to help prevent falls, especially important as we age or gain weight. Try this: Stand on 1 foot for up to a minute; practice it daily. Choose tai chi for mind-body benefits.

Minimum exercise for health: Aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity. Mix it up: Daily chores, formal workouts and sports all count. Even if you can’t get in 150 minutes a week, some activity is better than none.

Note: First get your health care provider’s okay before significantly increasing physical activities. 

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How to Cope with Less Daylight

By Eric Endlich, PhD

Unless you live near the equator, you experience fewer daylight hours in the winter, which can mean difficulties with sleep, energy and mood. What strategies work best?

Stay physically active — especially early in the day and outdoors, if possible.

Consider checking your vitamin D levels. With less sunlight, your body may not be making enough of this key nutrient.

Light it up. Sit near a window or add artificial sunlight with a full-spectrum lamp. Maintain a healthy diet. Resist the temptation to eat more carbs or sweets, or to use more caffeine or alcohol.

Get out of town. If you have the chance to take a break in a sunnier climate, it may reinvigorate you.

If you are still struggling to adjust, consult your health care provider about other possible treatments. Also ask about seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which occurs in winter. 

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Winterize Your Exercise

Don’t let chilly, dark days dampen your fitness goals. Your body needs year-round exercise, so start booking activities on your calendar every week. Try something new and have fun:

Pool classes provide a perfect warm-up plus excellent exercise routines, including lap swimming, shallow or deep-water muscle workouts, and yoga routines for improved flexibility, strength and vitality. 

Indoors? You can’t beat the convenience of at-home exercise to save time, money and fuss — and you’re more likely to stick with it. Get a floor mat for core exercises and yoga. Try tai chi workouts. Include strength-training options. Add some music.

Outdoors? Cold weather can pose risks, including darkness, frostbite and icy pavement, but exercisers can usually avoid trouble: Check the forecast. Warm up first indoors. Cover your head and hands and bundle up in windproof, layered clothing to combat wind chill. Use reflective tape for visibility. 

Partner up. Walk your dog, play soccer or ice skate with the kids. Ride a bike when the sun shines, or try snowshoeing, Nordic skiing or enjoy an invigorating jog. 

Added benefit: Exercise boosts your immunity during cold and flu season. Just a few minutes a day can help prevent simple bacterial and viral infections, according to the CDC.

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Staying Sane This Time of Year

Whether you have holiday plans or not, everyone faces pressure this season. Traffic, packed stores and social obligations can affect your health. Soothe body and mind 8 ways:

1. Calm your body and mind. Deep breathing, yoga and meditation reduce anxiety. So can watching a funny or heartwarming movie. Exposure to sunshine and exercise are stressbusters, too.

2. Don’t shop until you drop. Create a budget and stick to it when you buy. Shop online to skip traffic and crowds.

3. Beware of overindulging. Keep in mind that overdoing it at the buffet table or cookie plate can lead to unhealthy habits that endure past the season. 

4. Acknowledge your feelings. If you’re alone this time of year, you may feel down and lonely at times. If depression lingers, talk to your health care provider.

5. Don’t skimp on shut-eye. Sleep deprivation can trigger depression and exhaustion. 

6. Give up perfectionism. If you’re hosting company at your home, stop worrying about food and décor being perfect. Instead, enjoy seeing friends and family.

7. Learn to say No. Don’t feel pressured to accept every invitation. A simple “Thanks, but I won’t be able to come” is sufficient.

8. Move more, not less. Avoid the temptation to cut back on exercise this time of year. 

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Don’t Let Your Health Take a Holiday

The busy season ahead can quickly lead to a hectic schedule. To lessen your stress, maintain energy and avoid getting sick, treat yourself well:

Take time for basic needs. That means 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep and 3 balanced meals every day, plus 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (e.g., brisk walking) weekly — the best Rx for sustaining energy and feeling positive.

Watch for opportune exercise. Park in the back 40 of the shopping mall and walk to it.

Keep your hands clean. And keep your distance from sick coworkers and family members. 

You don’t have to do it all. You’re not being a Grinch if you need to say No to family and friends to relieve stress and recharge. 

Snack for energy. Have some fruit, nuts and seeds with you when working or traveling. 

Quiet your mind. Check out meditation apps to create mindfulness and help you to relieve stress or pain or quit smoking. 

Relax in the moment. Open your mind and your eyes to the warmth of your surroundings — listen to music or enjoy a wintry walk followed by a cup of hot tea.

Encourage others. Wear a smile, offer compliments, and be patient with those who appear stressed. When a friend seems upset or blue, lend an ear and just listen. That’s the spirit!

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7-Step Strength Training

Muscle workouts are key to maintaining everyday strength as we age. Strength and resistance training can help reduce body fat; protect bones, tendons and ligaments; and enhance your overall well-being. 

Don’t like rigorous exercise? A simple muscle routine at home or a club can provide speedy fitness results, which can be motivating. To start, follow the basics:

  1. You can use free weights, machines or bands. Or use your own body weight as resistance to perform core routines, yoga, tai chi or water workouts. Mix it up.
  2. Do your muscle workout 2 or 3 times a week. Exercise both your upper and lower body — each 20 to 30 minutes. 
  3. Do 1 set of 8 to 12 repetitions per muscle group, typically shoulders, arms, core and legs. Work the muscles to a point of fatigue. 
  4. Allow 2 days of rest between muscle workouts; on off days, fit in cardio exercise.
  5. Don’t do too much too soon — just enough to make it a habit and start enjoying your workouts and the results. 
  6. Warm up and cool down. Use proper form for best results and to avoid muscle strain. 
  7. Keep challenging your muscles. Use progressively heavier weights or other resistance stimuli to increase demand and results.

Don’t be intimidated by muscle workouts. They can be very rewarding. Enlist your health care provider’s help in identifying your exercise needs. A certified fitness trainer can provide personal instruction. Learn more at acefitness.org.

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Take Politics Out of Family Gatherings

When relatives gather for the holidays, something other than delicious food may be served up — political discussions. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 60% of Americans polled don’t mind political talk at family gatherings. However, 40% said they try to avoid the subject. And no wonder. 

Voicing political opinions with your relatives can often lead to arguments, causing tempers to flare — even if the host specifically requests that guests leave political views at home.

If you want to keep politics out of your holiday gatherings, plan ahead to use these strategies:

Be proactive. Focus on happy memories and what your relatives have in common. Don’t hesitate to steer the conversation from politics to other subjects, such as post-holiday shopping, sports or vacation plans for the new year.

Watch your own words and tone. Sarcasm can make a political disagreement worse, and so will trying to change someone’s views over dinner.

If tensions rise, stay calm. Take a deep breath and shut down political arguments with a gentle approach. Instead of being angry about the discord, try saying this: “I understand that’s your opinion, but I’d love to get away from politics at Thanksgiving. Now let’s talk about something else for a while.” 

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Let’s Talk Turkey

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

Succulent turkey is the perfect lean protein, filled with B vitamins, selenium and zinc. Is turkey on your holiday menu? These great tips will help you cook it perfectly.

If you’re buying a whole bird, you’ll need 1 pound of turkey per person. Serving 8 guests? Buy an 8-pound bird — or 10 pounds if you want leftovers. For time-saving convenience, you can also purchase cut turkey pieces (breast, thigh or leg), which are quicker to cook.

Fresh whole birds should be refrigerated and generally cooked within 2 days of purchase. Defrost your frozen turkey in the fridge for about 5 hours per pound of turkey. Example: An 8-pound bird needs nearly 2 days to defrost; plan accordingly. Do not defrost poultry or meats on the countertop, since bacteria can grow rapidly at room temperature.

To enhance flavor, butter your bird, and then add salt and pepper. You may choose to add herbs or citrus zest, too. One thing not to add? Stuffing. For food safety, cook stuffing separately, not inside the turkey. If it is a family tradition and you must stuff your turkey, ensure the stuffing reaches 165°F before you eat it. 

Cook your turkey at 325°F and calculate 20 minutes per pound. That’s almost 3 hours for an 8-pound bird. You’ll know it’s done when a food thermometer in the thickest part of the meat reads 165°F.

Enjoy your turkey for dinner, and then serve leftovers in lasagna, sandwiches or soup or on nachos.

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Diabetes: Facts and Myths

Diabetes is a complex disease that affects your body’s primary source of energy — glucose (sugar). By far, the most common form of diabetes is type 2. It’s caused by resistance to the hormone insulin, which is needed to get glucose into your cells. When this occurs, glucose accumulates in your bloodstream, leading to several serious complications. Learn the facts:

Myth vs. Fact

Myth: Type 2 diabetes only develops late in life.
Fact: More and more children and teens are now developing this condition.

Myth: A high-sugar diet is the primary cause of type 2 diabetes.
Fact: A diet high in calories from all sources, and a sedentary lifestyle, can lead to obesity, which is a primary risk. 

Myth: People with diabetes must follow a special diet.
Fact: A healthy meal plan for people with diabetes is generally the same as healthy eating in general; sweets and refined grains are allowed in moderation.

Myth: Smoking cigarettes does not affect blood sugar.
Fact: Smoking raises blood sugar levels and insulin resistance and increases the risk of most diabetes complications.

Myth: People with diabetes are more likely to get colds and flu.
Fact: Getting sick can elevate blood sugar and the risk for complications from the flu and other diseases. Flu shots and other vaccines offer protection.

Myth: The best treatment for diabetes is insulin.
Fact: When first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, many people can keep their glucose at a healthy level with a positive lifestyle and medication.

Myth: Most people with diabetes live a normal life span.
Fact: Many die prematurely from heart disease, heart attack or kidney disease.

Good news:People with type 2 diabetes can sometimes restore their blood sugar levels to normal just by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and losing weight.

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