The Benefits of Exercise Buddies

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When your motivation to exercise is low for any reason, it’s a good idea to enlist a buddy, or an entire group. Recent research suggests the company you keep can help you stick with healthier habits, including working out.

I wake up very early to attend kickboxing or weight training classes at my favorite studio, and I often wonder why I do it, especially when it’s cold and dark outside.  While I would love another hour of sleep, the people I work out with motivate me to exercise first thing in the morning.  Some of my exercise mates are good friends, but most of them are acquaintances. Whether or not I know them well, they make my life better.

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On days when my work outs are more solitary in the gym and there’s no hooting and hollering to energize me, I still feel supported because I am surrounded by people doing the same thing. I don’t always know the details of their lives, and they may not know much about me, but I feel like we are partners in crime, silently cheering each other on.

Life often gets in the way of my work outs, and I don’t always exercise as often as I should. Exercising with others helps me to stick to a schedule as much as possible. My buddies make it easier to get back into the swing of things when I’ve been away on business, or sick, too, and they never fail to make working out more fun!

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A Better New Year’s Resolution

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It’s that time of year when thoughts turn to self-improvement. Americans typically vow to eat better, exercise more, and quit smoking on January 1. That’s why I was struck by the results of a recent Marist poll that found the majority of those asked said being a better person was their top goal in 2017.

I’m not sure what being a “better” person actually means to the people who were polled. Maybe they intend to be more considerate of friends, family members, and co-workers, donate more time or money to people in need, or resist the urge to be rude when they’re in a bad mood. The meaning really doesn’t matter, however. The fact that people have a desire to live a more purpose-filled life or be kinder to their fellow human beings fills me with hope, and puts a new spin on new year’s resolutions.

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Being a better person is full of possibilities, unlike most January vows, including swearing off all of your favorite foods and going to the gym seven days a week when you don’t really want to.  Punishing resolutions sap your energy, and can leave you feeling frustrated when you don’t live up to your own drastic expectations.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with efforts to eat better, exercise more, and give up the cigarettes.  There is evidence that people who make resolutions at the beginning of the year to do something positive are more likely to stick with those vows six months later. All I ask is that you be forgiving of yourself along the way, because slip ups will happen (nobody is perfect!).  As my friend and colleague Rebecca Scritchfield, author of Body Kindness says, it’s important to have compassion for yourself on the journey to better living.

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Seems that you can’t go wrong with being generous with your time and money, or simply being kinder every day. Research shows giving back stimulates the reward center in your brain and relieves stress.

Doing good benefits your body and brain while helping others.  Sounds like the perfect resolution to me!

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No Added Sugar Fruit and Nut Quick Bread

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Kick off 2017 with this no-added sugar quick bread that’s perfect for a New Year’s day brunch, snack, or everyday breakfast. Dried fruit and bananas provide natural sweetness so there’s no need for sugar or other sweeteners.  Almonds and walnuts supply heart-healthy fat, and the recipe calls for oat flour instead of wheat flour to keep this dense, satisfying bread gluten-free and packed with whole grain goodness.

You can mix and match the types of nuts and dried fruits you use, and make 12 muffins out of the batter instead of a single loaf. Enjoy this better-for-you bread with peanut butter or cottage cheese, or pair with eggs or Greek yogurt. Happy New Year!

Fruit & Nut Bread
Makes 12 servings.

2 medium ripe bananas, broken into large chunks
2 large eggs
1⁄4 cup canola oil
2 cups oat flour*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup chopped almonds
3⁄4 cup chopped walnuts
3⁄4 cup dried unsweetened apricots, chopped into small pieces
3⁄4 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Coat a 1 1/2 quart loaf pan with cooking spray, and line with a sheet of parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas until no longer chunky. Using a whisk, add the eggs and canola oil and combine well. Add the oat flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine.

Add the almonds, walnuts, apricots, and raisins, and blend well.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

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Cool for 15-20 minutes out of the pan before cutting.

* To make oat flour, place 2 cups of gluten-free one-minute or old fashioned oats in a food processor and process on high speed until oats achieve a powder-like consistency, about 1 minute.

Per serving (1 slice or 1/12 of the loaf):

Calories: 253
Total fat: 14 grams
Saturated fat: 1 gram
Cholesterol: 35 milligrams
Sodium: 135 milligrams
Carbohydrate: 29 grams
Dietary fiber: 4 grams
Protein: 6 grams
Calcium: 64 milligrams
Iron: 2 milligrams

Healthier Holiday Chocolate Fruit and Nut Treats

With so much mindless eating going on this month, it’s especially important to think about making better food choices, including holiday splurges.  My recipe for healthier goodies – dried fruits and nuts coated in chocolate – is a big hit with family and friends who get the homemade treats as gifts.

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Dried fruits, such as apricots and raisins, provide natural sweetness as well as nutrients that help to keep you healthy.  Nuts, including peanuts, which are technically a legume, pack heart-healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, beneficial plant compounds.  Recent studies have found that whole roasted almonds have 25% fewer calories than what is listed on food labels, while walnuts supply 21% fewer calories.

Try these better-for-you chocolate treats and let me know what you think!

 

How to Survive the Holidays

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How was your weekend? It can be difficult to eat right, limit your alcohol and get enough sleep during December, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. We could all, including me, use some words of wisdom from nutrition experts about how to handle what the next few weeks have in  store, minus the guilt. Check out this updated post featuring 13 tips from 14 nutrition pros and make December better!

 

29 Ways to Use Up Holiday Leftovers

When you host holiday dinners, you have more than leftover turkey to deal with, and if you’re like me, you hate to waste cranberry sauce, vegetables, pie, and other festive food. Here are 29 ways to use up nearly everything you have in your fridge after entertaining.

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Cranberry Sauce/Cranberries

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• Stir into warm oatmeal that’s been microwaved with milk (milk for extra protein, calcium, and other minerals, and vitamins). Top with chopped walnuts or pecans.

• Add a tablespoon or two to fruit smoothies and eliminate sugar or other sweeteners.

• Combine with plain Greek yogurt and make a parfait with whole grain ready-to-eat cereal.

• Warm 2 tablespoons in the microwave for 10 seconds and put it on top of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

• Use in place of jelly in a peanut butter sandwich, and add to turkey sandwiches as a spread.

• Use instead of syrup on French toast, waffles, and pancakes.

Fresh Cranberries

• Top vanilla Greek yogurt with fresh cranberries.

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Stuffing/Dressing

• Prepare stuffing “pancakes” and top with a fried egg.

• Stir stuffing or dressing into turkey soup.

• Use as a topping on turkey pot pie.

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Vegetables

• Make a vegetable strata from leftover bread, chopped vegetables, eggs, and cheese, or make quiche.

• Puree cooked broccoli, cauliflower, or carrots and add milk or cream to make soup. Mix butternut squash and sweet potato together for soup, and add coconut milk for a change.

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• Add cooked sweet potato or beets to smoothies.

• Stir plain pumpkin or mashed or sweet potatoes into turkey soup for a thicker, more flavorful soup.

• Stuff a cooked baked sweet or white potato with 1/4 cup cooked diced turkey or 1/4 cup black beans, and top with cranberry sauce or salsa.

• Top turkey pot pie with mashed sweet or white potatoes instead of pastry crust.

• Smash (gently!) whole cooked small potatoes, roast in 400˚F oven for 10 minutes, and top with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt and fresh chives.

• Chop cooked veggies and add to omelettes along with leftover cheese or make into a calzone.

• Puree cooked cauliflower and mix with milk or cream and grated Parmesan cheese to the desired consistency for a side dish.

• Prepare potato pancakes with white or sweet potatoes.

Bread and Rolls:

• Make French toast, pancakes or scones with leftover cream or eggnog.

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• Make croutons from cornbread, rolls, or other leftover bread. Cut into large pieces and roast in oven.

Turkey

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• Prepare turkey pot pie with sweet potato, white potato, or stuffing for the topping.

• Make a white bean and turkey chili and include leftover vegetables.

• Prepare quick quesadillas using whole wheat tortillas, leftover cheese, and sliced turkey. Serve with cranberry sauce for dipping.

• Add chopped turkey to your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe.

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Sweets

• Eggnog: Use eggnog in place of milk when you prepare French toast, vanilla cake mixes, pancakes, waffles, and bread pudding.

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• Scoop pumpkin pie out of the crust and combine with plain fat-free Greek yogurt for a creamy pudding, or add some milk and make a smoothie.

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Wine:

• Freeze red wine in ice cube trays to use later in stews.

What’s your favorite way to use leftovers?

 

 

No-Bake Peanut Butter Cereal Bars

Recipes for energy bars with costly ingredients are a pet peeve of mine, and I thought I could do better making my own. These delicious 5-ingredient bars are a less-expensive alternative, and they are higher in protein than many bars made with whole foods only. Each portion provides 10 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and a serving of whole grains. Have a peanut butter cereal bar for a snack or as part of a balanced meal. See the serving suggestion at the end of this post. Enjoy!

 

dsc_0393A Word About the Ingredients

To keep this recipe cost-effective, I used store-brands, with the exception of the maple syrup. Use whatever maple syrup you have on hand. Honey is a suitable substitution.

Any nut butter will do, but store-brand peanut butter is probably the least expensive by far.  The chunky kind provides extra crunch.  Add 1/3 cup chopped peanuts if you only have smooth peanut butter in the house and you want a crunchier bar.

You can use sweetened cranberries or raisins or a combination of the two, or any other dried fruit. However, store-brand raisins are likely to be cheaper, and they don’t contain added sugar.

If you substitute a higher-fiber whole grain ready-to-eat cereal for what I use, the cost may go up, and it could increase the calorie count.

Need a chocolate fix? Toss 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips into the bar mixture. Using mini chips better distributes the chocolate flavor, so you use less and it costs less!

Peanut Butter Cereal Bars

Makes 12 servings.

1 1/2 cups crunchy peanut butter

1/2 cup raisins

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

2 cups old fashioned oatmeal, uncooked

2 cups store-brand equivalent of plain Cheerios

Coat a 8″ x 8″ baking pan with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients.

Press the bar mixture evenly into the pan.

Refrigerate for 2 hours. Cut into 12 squares. Keep refrigerated.

Per serving:
302 calories; 17 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat); 0 cholesterol; 191 milligrams sodium; 31 grams carbohydrate; 5 grams fiber; 10 grams protein.

Serving suggestion: Pair with eight ounces of milk and a banana to include a serving of fruit, dairy, and whole grains, as well as 20 grams of protein, the minimum amount of protein you should have at every meal.

 

 

 

 

 

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