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Fruits and Veggies – More Matters Month

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Health Observances calendar,  September is the month to remind yourself to increase your intake of fruits and veggies! This health observance is sponsored by the ‘Produce for Better Health Foundation.’ The significance of the health benefits gained by consuming a diet, rich in a variety of colorful fruits and veggies, is often underestimated. You cannot get the same benefits from pills and powders.

How are Americans doing? One in three adults eat the recommended number of fruit servings daily and only one in four consume the recommended number of vegetable servings daily. When you discount potatoes and fruit juice, the picture is grimmer. So let’s dispel common myths on…fruits and veggies:

Fruits and Veggies: Too Expensive?

They are NOT too expensive! Choose fresh (on sale) or frozen fruits and veggies (in bags without sauces or added sugars). Last choice: canned as they are processed and usually contain higher amounts of sodium and/or sugars. Plus there is the nutritive value to consider. Peaches, apricots, plums and apples (with skin) are good sources of soluble fiber, a type of dietary fiber that helps lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels. Tips to save $$$: shop in season for best taste, texture, quality and value and buy ‘bags’ versus by the lb. or ‘each.’ Such as? Bagged fruits and veggies such as avocados, apples, oranges, potatoes, sweet bell peppers, carrots, etc., are a better value and go farther in meals/snacks.

Fruits and Veggies: I don’t like ’em

Try them raw, cooked, plain, ‘doctored,’ and prepared in every way (including grilled) before you make that statement. Maybe you don’t like them mushy and overcooked…who does? Eating well-prepared and seasoned (especially for veggies) makes a huge difference in flavor and texture. Like smoothies? Invest in a high-quality blender that can turn even the toughest raw veggies and fruits into a creamy, delicious, filling drink. Just watch the sugar and calories. Investigate recipes online that balance the amount of fruits and veggies in the drink and keep calories at about 150 – 200 calories (snack) and 450 – 500 (meal).

Fruits and Veggies: No room in my diet!!

Not enough room in your diet for fruits and veggies? You just might find some extra room if you decrease the amount of full-fat ice cream, cheese, bread, bagels, pizza, pasta, cookies, wraps, scones, paninis, muffins, monster sugary coffee drinks and granola bars you consume. Consider this: In 2010, Americans consumed (and likely still do)about 109 lbs. of flour…that’s not much less than the average consumption before the low-carbohydrate diet craze, which was about 116 lbs. Remember those huge low-fat bagels?!

Stay tuned to upcoming posts for easy tips on how to increase your intake of fruits and veggies…painlessly!

Childhood Obesity Prevention: Healthier School Lunches...

Childhood Obesity: Significance

There are several national health observances for the month of September. Of these, childhood obesity awareness may be among the most significant and timely in our society today. In terms of numbers, or prevalence of childhood obesity, one in three, or approximately 1/3 of American children fall into an overweight or obese (weight) category.

Unfortunately, malnutrition is common in the U.S., includes both over- and under-nourishment. The most common form of malnutrition (‘mal’ means ‘bad,’ ‘wrongful’ or ‘ill’) is obesity. Malnourished children are not necessarily ‘thin.’ In a world full of extremes, there are many children, of all shapes and sizes, not eating well enough for optimal growth, development and disease prevention.

Childhood Obesity: Awareness and Education

A First Lady must have her cause … for Michelle Obama it’s childhood obesity prevention. By drawing attention to the topic and being a self-nominated spokesperson, she can use her influence to encourage funding/program development. Her claims to fame include the “Let’s Move” and “We Can!” campaigns.

Childhood Obesity Prevention: Healthier School Lunches

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is making some strides. Schools across the country are incorporating vegetarian meals (more veggies in general) into their lunch menus. The San Diego Unified district started a ‘meatless Mondays’ program. They offer garden veggie burgers, sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwiches and fresh salads.

In 2012, the USDA introduced new standards for American school lunch offerings to combat malnutrition and childhood obesity. School lunches should now feature whole grains, low-fat milk, more fruit and a healthier mix/selection of vegetables.

Based on results of a survey from 2005, serving more fruits and a healthier vegetable mix did slightly increase students’ vegetable consumption, although total consumption was still too low.  Availability of alternatives (choices) mattered in this survey – students at schools without à la carte options and those with only healthy à la carte options, had higher intakes of dark green vegetables.

Other good news: the percentage of school districts that allowed soda/soft drink advertising dropped significantly, 13%, from 2006 to 20012. In addition, the percentage of districts that prohibited junk food in vending machines (over the same time period) increased by about 14%. Soft drinks and junk foods in schools are less prevalent nationwide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the amount of nutrition-related information sent home to parents (on caloric content of foods available to students, etc.) is up as well as the overall nutritional standards in schools. Perhaps not ‘groundbreaking’ but certainly good news in the fight against childhood obesity.


Body Weight Exercises for Legs

Body Weight Exercises for Legs: Significance

Let’s move on to your lower body, specifically, to exercises for legs. We will cover body weight exercises for the hips, buttocks and core separately. Alternate upper– and lower-body moves to minimize rest periods, keep your heart rate elevated throughout your workout and save time. Engaging in resistance training and doing body weight exercises for legs regularly makes performing activities of daily living easier. General recommendations call for choosing effective exercises in a meaningful sequence (work largest muscles first). Working toward developing balanced strength amongst major leg muscles (quads and hamstrings, for example) may protect you from common injuries, such as pulled muscles.

There are dozens of effective body weight exercises for legs, for maximum efficiency, choose compound moves or those that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Best results come from working out smarter, not necessarily longer.

Body Weight Exercises for Legs: Specifics

You don’t need exercise equipment to get an effective, tough workout, even if you are already in great shape. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), squats, step-ups/downs, split squats/lunges and hamstring curls (standing or on all fours) are among the most effective body weight exercises for legs, in fact, for your whole lower body. First…squats. Start with a basic squat and build from there. Deep squats, self-assisted squats, one-legged squats, walking lunges and squats – the variations are virtually endless.

Always challenge yourself and vary your exercise choices. Advanced exercisers may progress to plyometrics, power exercises that involve explosive but controlled jumping movements. Golden rule for standing leg work: Never extend your knees beyond your toes, keep your weight mainly over your heels.

Don’t neglect your calves when performing exercises for legs. Best choice: calf raises (2-legged or 1-legged, balancing or assisted). Remember, if you are relying on body weight alone (for resistance), you must concentrate on really contracting the target muscle, imagining you are trying to move against resistance, such as water.

Exercises for Legs: Last Words…

Warnings: avoid over-training and using inconsistent, poor form. Always stop if you are experiencing unusual or sharp pain. Do not rely on exercise ‘lists.’ Watch them performed by a professional on or YouTube to read descriptions and view proper form through the full range of motion (video). Do step-ups on a box of an appropriate and realistic height. Step-up from behind a box/bench or from the side. Always push through the heel of your working leg to lift your body upwards while contracting your butt. Last word: don’t forget to do a warm-up and post-workout stretch!