- 10 Healthy Snacks for Couch Time
- Get Back to School and Back in Shape!
- Diet, Exercise, and Your Kids' Grades
- Test Your Strange Food Facts IQ!
Television is an invention that permits you
to be entertained in your living room
by people you wouldn't have in your home.
10 Healthy Snacks for Couch TimeBy Joe Wilkes
Fall is upon us, which means that the new TV season has begun, baseball is heading into the postseason, and football is starting up. The weather's getting cooler and the couch will soon call for you to lay down in it with a warm blanket. Now keep in mind, we're not encouraging any couch potato behavior. We'd prefer that you pop in a 10-Minute Trainer® video and use the couch as a towel rack. But we're all human, and it's almost impossible to resist the siren song of a playoff game or the return of Dancing with the Stars or Grey's Anatomy. Just because you're taking a couple of hours off to flatten your gluteal muscles and sofa cushions doesn't mean you have to stuff yourself with chips and cookies or other bagged diet killers. Here are 10 tasty and healthy snacks that are great for TV downtime.
- Popcorn. It's not just for the movie theater anymore. In fact, you're better off skipping it at the movie theater. A bucket of oil-popped movie theater popcorn can contain as much fat as three to five double cheeseburgers. But air-popped popcorn is a pretty benign treat. Three cups of popcorn have just 93 calories and 1.5 grams of fat. Air-popped popcorn doesn't have much nutritive value outside of the energy you may get from the calories and some dietary fiber, but it can satisfy your munchies without getting you too far off the diet path. The best popcorn comes from your own hot-air popper—offering no additional fat or salt, unless you add it later. If you're going for microwave convenience, make sure you read the label carefully. Even some of the "healthy" brands contain a fair amount of fat and salt. And many microwave brands contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been linked to cancer. You might be better off making your own microwave popcorn. Just put a 1/4 cup of popcorn into a brown lunch bag, fold the top over tightly, and microwave at your usual popcorn setting. Try to avoid salt and butter. Instead, enjoy your favorite herbs, or a squeeze of lemon juice with some garlic powder or cayenne pepper.
- Bean dip. Beans are a great source of protein and fiber and don't have tons of calories. One cup of canned pintos only has 206 calories; it also has 12 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber—almost half of your recommended daily allowance. And beans are incredibly filling. Even prepackaged bean dips are pretty decent (of course, always check the label for the fat and sodium contents). You can make your own dips, hot or cold, by food-processing canned black or pinto beans (my favorites are the ones canned with jalapeños). Add water to create your desired consistency, or you can also use fat-free refried beans. You could add some chopped bell or jalapeño peppers, green onions, or canned corn to add a crunchy texture or some chopped tomatoes for a little extra flavor and vitamins. Instead of fatty tortilla chips, use baked chips or, better yet, some raw, crunchy veggies, like carrots, celery, sliced bell peppers, broccoli, or cauliflower.
- Salsa. This is the perfect mix of tomatoes, onions, and peppers—all members of the top tier of
Michi's Ladder. And the great thing is that salsa is so low in calories and so high in fiber, you can basically eat it by the cupful and not gain weight. If you buy it at the store though, watch out for the salt content—that's the secret ingredient in most canned and jarred salsas. You're much better off making your own pico de gallo. Just dice tomatoes and onions and mix with as much minced jalapeño and/or garlic as you can stand. Add fresh cilantro, salt, and pepper to taste and toss the veggies in the juice of two limes. Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving. You can eat it with baked chips or the crunchy veggies that also go great with the bean dip. The salsa and the bean dip also complement each other well, for the double dippers among us.
- Crispbread crackers. These crunchy treats (including Wasa and Rykrisp brands) have around 30 calories a cracker (depending on the brand, flavor, and style) and a couple of grams of fiber in each one. For the Top Chef in you, they make great bases for some healthy ingredients from your refrigerator. Try a dollop of fat-free cottage cheese with a dash of hot sauce; a slice of turkey breast and roasted red pepper; a "schmear" of hummus and a couple of pitted olives; or a slice of tomato and a fresh basil leaf with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Even the pico de gallo recipe above with some shredded nonfat cheddar will make a tasty treat. By being creative with some wholesome ingredients, you'll forget all about the halcyon days of eating Ritz crackers washed down with aerosol cheese right from the can (sigh).
- Pistachios. Pistachios are a great heart-healthy snack full of antioxidants, fiber, and unsaturated fats (the good kind). A 1/2-cup serving (with the shells, assuming you don't eat them) only has 170 calories, with 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber; however, that serving also has 14 grams of fat, so don't go nuts chowing down on a whole bag. Walnuts, peanuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, and other nuts all have their nutritional upsides, too, but the reason I think pistachios make great snacks are the shells. The shells are difficult to open, so rather than shoveling handfuls of pre-shelled nuts down your throat, eat shelled pistachios so that you're forced to slow down. Keep an eye on the sodium content when you buy the nuts. Either buy unsalted or low-salt versions. And forget those disgusting pink ones that taste like lipstick. Who needs to leave hot-pink fingerprints all over the couch? A lot of stores also sell flavored versions that aren't too salty. Chili-lime is one of my favorite flavors.
- Edamame. The Japanese have one of the healthiest diets in the world and soybeans are a great staple of that diet. Edamame, the steamed or boiled soybean pods, contain all the essential amino acids, many essential fatty acids, and soy isoflavones. And a 1/2 cup of beans only contains 100 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 9 grams of carbs, with 8 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. Truly one of nature's perfect foods. And like pistachios, you can serve them in their shells, which slows down your face stuffing, giving you time to feel full before you've overeaten.
- Mini-pizzas. Forget the frozen food section. Anyone with a toaster oven or a broiler pan can be his or her own Mama Celeste or Chef Boy-ar-dee. Just take half of a whole wheat English muffin (67 calories; 2 grams of fiber), add a little tomato sauce or low-sodium pizza or spaghetti sauce and a sprinkle of low-fat or nonfat mozzarella cheese, and voilà—tasty and healthy pizza! As with the crispbread crackers, your imagination's the only limit for toppings. Fresh herbs like basil and oregano are delicious. Peppers, mushrooms, and anchovies are popular and fairly healthy. Just stay away from processed meats like pepperoni, which are often loaded with saturated fat, carcinogenic nitrates, and sodium.
- Pita chips and hummus. Now you can open a Greek taverna in your living room. While some stores sell pita chips now, you can easily make your own with very little fuss and muss (and usually with much less fat and salt). A large whole wheat pita has 170 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and less than 2 grams of fat. To make chips, cut around the edge of the pita with a small paring knife, so you have two discs. Then with a knife or pizza cutter, cut the discs into eighths or smaller chip-size pieces. Arrange the pieces on an aluminum-foil-covered cookie sheet, lightly spray with some olive oil cooking spray, and sprinkle with a little salt or low-fat Parmesan cheese or your favorite dried herbs. Cook in the oven or toaster oven until lightly browned and crispy and serve with your favorite hummus or dip recipe. (Read "4 Hearty and Healthy Dips" in Related Articles below for a hummus recipe and some other healthy dip ideas.)
- Relish tray. Some of my favorite snacks are pickled or brined anything—cucumbers, cauliflower, peppers, artichoke hearts, carrots, okra, baby corn, cornichons, cocktail onions, olives, sauerkraut, kimchi . . . even herring and hard-boiled eggs! Extremely low in calories, a plate full of pickled veggies on the coffee table is great for snacking. But watch out for the sodium! Certain store brands have more than others. The more ambitious might try marinating their fresh veggies in vinegar and a little heart-healthy olive oil, to control the amount of salt involved. If you use salty brands, you might consider rinsing them to get rid of some of the salt or mixing them on a plate with some fresh, unpickled vegetables to mitigate the salt intake.
- Deviled eggs. Eggs, having once been considered a scourge of the heart-healthy diet, are now getting a better rap (read "The Good, the Bad, and the Eggly" for more on the ins and outs of eggs—see Related Articles below). What's indisputable is the health value of the whites. If you take the yolks out of the equation, the egg whites can prove to be small, healthy, high-protein delivery systems suitable for all kinds of nutritious creamy fillings. Cut a bunch of hard-boiled eggs in half, lengthwise, and scoop out and discard the yolks. Try mixing some nonfat cottage cheese with your favorite mix of mustard, curry powder, garlic, paprika, pepper, salt, or other spices and blending or food-processing until creamy. Spoon or pipe the mixture into the egg whites where the yolks used to be and you'll have a high-protein snack without the fat and cholesterol. You can also use the empty egg whites as scoops for your favorite healthy dip or salsa.
Of course, you can enjoy even more snack food if you can work some exercise into your TV watching. During playoff season, don't just save the stretching for the seventh inning. Try some exercises like Debbie Siebers' Slim in 6® Slim and Limber throughout the game. Or if you're settling in for a night in front of the tube, make a deal with yourself—you can veg out and watch The Office and 30 Rock if you turn off ER (come on, you can catch the entire series on DVD soon enough) and do Shaun T's Hip Hop Abs® Fat Burning Cardio instead. If you watch a show like Heroes that motivates you to kick some butt, schedule some Turbo Jam® time immediately after the show while your adrenaline's still pumping. Or if, like me, you've become enslaved to your DVR or TiVo, use it to your advantage and do a cooldown stretch to your favorite show as a reward for a well-done workout.
Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this Thursday, September 4th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT in the Beachbody Chatroom!
Diet, Exercise, and Your Kids' GradesBy Steve Edwards
There's a lot more you can do for your kids' education than lock them in bulletproof SUVs and wait in smog-choked lines of other SUVs to drop them at the steps of their schools. Teaching proper eating habits and providing time for exercise will do more for your children's potential to excel than any other thing that you, as a parent, can do.
Unfortunately, you may not get support from your school in these matters. Lack of funding and programs such as the ill-named "No Child Left Behind" are making it more and more difficult for your kids to eat well and exercise properly at school, thus making your parenting decisions more vital than ever before.
A growing body needs to exercise to develop properly. There's no science to dispute this, yet schools have begun to cut PE classes to minimal levels. Lack of exercise not only makes it harder for children to concentrate on classwork during the day but it is a leading cause in the childhood obesity epidemic that's sweeping the nation. "Over the last 25 years, caloric intake in toddlers and young kids has gone up three or four percent, but the level of physical activity has dropped nearly 20 percent to 25 percent," says Ken Reed, Director of the Center for the Advancement of Physical Education.
When I was in school, I had five recess periods, and my memories are of swarms of kids charging all over our exercise fields. In a survey of parents, I found that most kids have three or less periods of PE these days. Plus, it's becoming increasingly rare to walk to school, something that provided me and most of my classmates hours of random muscle-building, calorie-burning activity 5 days per week.
While there are plenty of studies that show the connection between physical fitness and academic performance, it's still a challenge for school administrators who feel they must focus on academics. One researcher, Dr. John Ratey of Harvard, does brain research on physical fitness and calls physical activity "Miracle-Gro for the brain." Despite this, it's still an uphill battle.
"The situation isn't good and it's getting worse," says Reed. "Physical activity levels have dropped dramatically in the last 25 years and we believe there's a direct link there to childhood obesity, as well as a dramatic increase in type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels in children. PE cuts are primarily due to budget problems in schools. Also, the focus is on the educational assessment test that almost every state has due to No Child Left Behind and other factors. The assessment test has become the scorecard for administrators and teachers. The focus is on reading, writing, and arithmetic. Parents are also picking up on the state assessment scores as their scorecards on how their school's doing, so they put more pressure on schools to focus on those academic areas. Something's got to give, and it's usually PE, music, and art classes." Beachbody® and Shaun T also knew they had to respond to this dire situation of cuts and lack of exercise through the creation of Shaun T's Fit Kids Club.
Then there's your child's diet to consider, which most likely won't be improved at school. According to statistics cited in Eric Schlosser's book, Fast Food Nation, the worst-quality food goes to fast food restaurants, schools, and pets, in that order—a pretty scary thought when we consider that fast food restaurants and the school cafeteria make up a large percentage of what is forming the dietary pattern of our future generations.
It's easy to see the food/performance relationship among school kids. One example is Appleton Central Alternative High School in Appleton, Wisconsin; the school implemented a health food program in 1997 and saw a dramatic increase in student performance. By removing soda and candy machines and changing the cafeteria fare from the standard burgers, fries, etc., to salads, veggies, whole-grain breads, fresh water, and healthy recipes, they saw grades go up, truancies go down, and disciplinary matters nearly vanish.
"I don't want to say better than ever, because it's always worked," said Dean of Students Greg Bretthauer recently, "but we've made minor revisions, based on experience, to improve it. We've incorporated flaxseed and focused on the omega content of foods. Made fresh water even more available. We have monthly fruit smoothie days, and have really worked to incorporate more education about eating away from school—trying to get students to follow through at home. We've found that diet does play a major role in increasing the ability [of students] to concentrate."
Adds teacher Mary Bruyette, "If you've been guzzling Mountain Dew and eating chips and you're flying all over the place, I don't think you're going to pick up a whole lot in class. Now I don't have to deal with daily discipline issues; that just isn't a factor here." While there's little doubt that better food will increase scholastic performance, there's also little chance it's going to happen on a wide scale anytime soon. "Our district is so strapped for cash that all they can look at is the bottom line," states Reed Bartlett, a teacher in the Riverside, California, school district. So we get cheap, low-quality food, and I don't see it changing anytime soon.
It probably doesn't help that there's always a study out there for someone to fall back on and say things like, "See, it doesn't matter what the kids eat." Case in point: The infamous "sugar study" that came to the conclusion that diet played little to no role in children's behavior.
Since I can say, with 100 percent certainty, that I've never had a client who wasn't affected by what they ate, I'm pretty sure not many people will disagree with me that food can alter the way you feel, which can alter your behavior. Yet, according to Steven Pliszka, MD, professor of psychiatry at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, "The biggest myth of all is that food has any connection to behavior." Say what?
And there's more where that came from. Wesley Burks, MD, professor and chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at Duke University Medical Center states, "There haven't been any good scientific studies that show that there is an adverse effect on a child or adult's behavior chronically with the ingestion of foods." Perhaps not, but there's at least one school with thousands of real-world examples of diet playing a major role on behavior. In fact, the Appleton school tried an experiment where they served nothing but sugar-laced foods, caffeinated beverages, foods prepared with palm oils, etc., like "normal school kids get" and it had a significant effect. According to Bretthauer, "They ran around like hyped-up squirrels, felt sick, couldn't seem to concentrate. 'Pleeease,' they said. 'Don't have another one.'"
Your kids are likely to live less time than you, which is one of the most alarming statistics I've seen recently, if not in my life. And that's the big-picture stuff. On a smaller scale, we see studies on the negative effects of many things associated with the daily lives of children.
Kids are drawn to bright colors, so marketers love to change the way food looks—just look at any chain restaurant's kid menu for examples. Yet eating foods with artificial colors and preservatives can cause negative behavior changes in children, according to a study published in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood. And that's just one. In a review of two dozen scientific studies, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) contends that food dyes and certain foods can adversely affect children's behavior. In a 32-page report titled "Diet, ADHD, and Behavior," CSPI charges that federal agencies, professional organizations, and the food industry ignore the growing evidence that diet affects behavior.
And with researchers out there like Mina Dulcan, MD, head of child and adolescent psychiatry at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, it's hard to argue. She states, "The bottom line is that too much artificial food stuff isn't good for you, but I don't think you can believe that it's going to hurt your child's behavior or learning very much." Yet, in order for her statement to make sense, we would have to conclude that nothing you eat makes any difference in how your body responds. We know this to be false, making this statement—from a prominently credentialed professional—unequivocal nonsense.
It makes a lot more sense to listen to Reed, who states, "The country's decline in fitness levels, of adults and children, is negatively impacting productivity. This generation of kids is the first in 100 years to have a lower life expectancy than their parents. Fitness levels, as well as health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure, are much worse trend-wise than we've ever seen with teenagers and young children. The economic cost just in terms of health care costs is going to be dramatic. Then, when you factor in the loss in productivity, it's really going to be dramatic for our country if it's not turned around." What can you do?
Plenty. This isn't a red tape or lawmaker's issue. While those are factors, you are still the primary influence on your child's health. For one, make sure they have plenty of opportunities to exercise. The upside to the decline of PE is the availability of affordable extracurricular sporting activities. While your doctor may tell you that you can exist on 30 minutes of exercise three times per week, that ain't going to cut if for a healthy child. They need exercise and movement, and a lot of it.
Get 'em out there. "Even with the diets kids are getting in schools, if the kids were more active, they'd be better off," says Reed. But you're also a major contributor to your child's diet, which begins at home. If your school won't provide healthy meals, go on strike and utilize a lunch box. And remember that schools, both public and private, respond to public demand. As do politicians. Just because school menus are dismal and schools are cutting out PE and losing their funding doesn't mean this is the way of the future. If enough people demand that it changes, then it will.
Also, lobby government agencies and politicians. We live in a democracy. Take advantage of your rights.
"The Department of Health and Human Services should withdraw its printed and Internet documents that largely dismiss the effect of food ingredients on behavior. For starters, the FDA should halt distribution of a pamphlet on food additives that it co-published with an industry group, the International Food Information Council," said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI. "It's high time that the government—as well as doctors—provided the public with accurate information that might help many children."
The solution is for each one of us to keep trying. One person can—and always has—made a difference. Because one turns into two, which turns into three, and pretty soon you have an army on your side demanding change—take the Message Boards as an example of how unity can positively affect health and fitness. "If we could just get the soccer mom phenomenon working on physical education, we could rally parents and that would be a great advantage," says Reed.
Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this Thursday, September 4th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT in the Beachbody Chatroom!
Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.
Test Your Strange Food Facts IQ!By Joe Wilkes
- What vegetable burns more calories than it contains? Celery has about 6 calories per stalk. But your body burns more calories than that in the digestion process. It's not the chewing and crunching but the digestion of the high amount of cellulose in your stomach that burns the calories.
- What common bagel topping can show up as an opiate in drug tests? Poppy seeds are related closely enough to opium poppies that they can show up in a urine test as an opiate like heroin or morphine. The level is generally considered too low to be determined a "true positive," and most drug testing companies discount these results. However, just to be on the safe side, the federal prison system has banned its inmates from eating poppy seeds. And in case you were wondering, you could pretty much eat your weight in poppy seeds and not get high.
- Which U.S. state eats more ice cream per capita than any other? Despite living in one of the coldest states in the Union, Alaskans eat twice as much ice cream as any other state.
- What are the food additives cochineal and carminic acid made from? These scientific terms found in the ingredient lists of many foods, beverages, and cosmetics are fancy names for a red food coloring developed by the Aztecs, made of dried powdered beetles native to Central and South Americas. While their origins may be less than appetizing, they are perfectly safe to eat.
- What do the letters in the canned meat product SPAM stand for? Salted Porky Anonymous Meat? Guess again. Originally it stood for SPiced hAM, named in a contest wherein the winner was awarded the princely sum of $100. The people at Hormel Foods say that while it does include ham and spices, it doesn't begin to describe the product that is SPAM, and they now maintain that SPAM stands merely for SPAM.
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