Good Nutrition for a Beach-Ready Bod

We all want to firm up those tummies before hitting the surf this summer, but there’s much more to getting bikini-ready than just stopping by your favorite spin class three times a week. For all the hard work you put in at the gym, you’ll want to do the same in the kitchen with good nutrition at mealtime to maximize your results. Here are our top nutrition tips for slimming down and staying lean in time for summer, courtesy of Jenny Champion, registered dietitian and founder of Paleo Barbie.

Focus on Seasonal Produce

To trim down in the weeks just before summer, look for fruits and veggies in season, such as asparagus, artichokes, grapefruit and strawberries, says Champion. These low-calorie, high-fiber foods promote bowel health and a feeling of fullness. Additionally, asparagus is a natural diuretic which helps to shed excess water weight, while strawberries are high in vitamin C and antioxidants that help your body stay healthy while you’re working to slim down. Grapefruit is another vitamin C powerhouse which can help lower cholesterol levels and may, according to some research, aid in weight loss.

Take Your Vitamins

“An inexpensive nutrition insurance policy,” according to the Harvard School of Public Health, a daily multivitamin will help make sure your body’s getting all of the daily minerals and nutrients it needs by filling in the gaps you may not be getting from your food. If you live in a cool climate and don’t get much natural sunlight, Champion also recommends taking Vitamin D3 (ask your doctor about the recommended dosage).

Splurge in Small Amounts

As long as you regularly fill your plate with salads, grilled veggies and fresh fruits, you don’t have to deny yourself entirely. Go ahead and treat yourself to small portions of your favorite high-calorie foods and sweets. Champion also recommends pairing carbohydrates with both fats and protein to ensure maximum satiety; think tortilla chips with guacamole or pasta salad with grilled chicken and corn on the cob.

Think Before You Cook

You’ll get to your goal weight faster if you cut out the fried foods and switch to baking, broiling and steaming instead. Now that grilling season is here, take advantage of it by putting kebabs, shrimp, veggies, lean chicken breasts and even fruit on the barbecue for easy meals. Slim your foods down even more by opting for fresh herbs over sugary or fatty sauces, says Champion.

Get Everyone Motivated

You’ll find it easier to stick with a good nutrition eating plan if you don’t feel like the odd one out. “Get friends and family on board and make it a group effort,” says Champion. “Go outside for a game of flag football followed by a barbecue loaded with salad, veggies and grilled lean meats. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring or tedious.”

When It Comes to the Brain, Age Does Matter

If your keys keep playing hide-and-seek and you can’t recall the name of your daughter’s latest BFF, what should you do? Occasional memory blips are “extremely normal”, especially for busy moms, according to Barry Gordon, M.D., PhD, professor of neurology and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and author of Intelligent Memory. “Your memory’s probably not as bad as you think it is,” he says, and too much self-monitoring might only make it worse.

Besides, the latest research shows there are far more effective ways than worry to sharpen your wits. While we do lose brain cells past the teenage years, there’s accumulating evidence that we can also foster new ones. Some of these brain-boosters may surprise you; many are even fun!

Get a Move On

The evidence that aerobic fitness benefits your mind as well as your body keeps growing by, well, leaps and bounds. One recent study at the Mayo Clinic found that subjects who did moderate workouts (about 30 minutes) 5 or 6 times a week cut their later risk of mild cognitive impairment by 32 percent. Reformed couch potatoes did even better, reducing their risk by 39 percent.

You can also add weight training to your routine: Researchers at the University of Illinois reported that both aerobic and resistance training workouts keep your brain healthier in old age.

Eat Greek

“The best way to keep your mind and memory sharp as you age is to nourish yourself with a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods,” says Elisa Zied, a registered dietician whose new book, Younger Next Week, details many connections between diet and brain health.

Numerous studies show that regular consumption of a Mediterranean-accented diet -- including the fish and low-fat dairy, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and olive oil seen in the typical Greek menu -- can help reduce and even reverse cognitive decline (as well as other threats to brain and body such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes). The mental and physical benefits of omega-3, found in fatty fish used in these types of diets, have often been demonstrated. A 2014 study published in the journal Neurology found that postmenopausal women who maintained the highest blood levels of omega-3 kept more brain cells as they aged, especially in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that forms new memories. (A major clinical study on the effectiveness of fish oil supplements is now underway at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.)

Drink Up

Anyone who needs a jolt or two of java to get started in the morning already knows that caffeine spurs alertness. But a recent study at Johns Hopkins suggests that caffeine can enhance memory, too; participants who drank coffee retained more visual images when tested 24 hours later than those who didn’t.

The benefits of tea, hot chocolate, and wine have been supported by other scientific research too. According to one study published in the Journal of Nutrition, those who regularly drank all three beverages scored highest on verbal and visual tests.

Sleep on It

The National Institutes of Health reports that snoozing powers our memory before, during and after we learn something new. On the other hand, Finnish researchers found that sleep deprivation -- less than four hours in a night -- can impair attention, working memory, long-term memory and decision-making ability (as many new moms might attest).

Challenge Yourself

You’ve probably heard that crosswords or Sudoku can build a more agile brain. But if you’re not into filling out little boxes, says Dr. Gordon, try something new. “Get out of your rut” and find something you enjoy doing, he says. Learn to tap dance or do Zumba, study Spanish or juggling, take up meditation or sketching; there’s ample research indicating that mastering new skills can stimulate the mind.

Train Your Brain

Computerized brain-training programs have proliferated in the last few years. It’s “not clear yet” how well they work over the long term, Gordon notes, but go ahead and play them if you’ve got time and interest. But if you really want to remember a name, he adds, do what skilled politicians do: focus on the person, repeat their name aloud, and write it down when you get a chance. As for those elusive keys: Always drop them in a designated spot, such as a deep bowl on a hall table. And relax.

The 3 Simplest Ways to Take Charge of Your Heart’s Health

An old proverb says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” One of the best ways to strengthen your spirit is to keep your heart strong enough to carry you through life with cheer.

“And it is never, ever too late to take care of your heart,” emphasizes cardiologist and researcher Mary Ann Peberdy, MD, head of the post-cardiac arrest program at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. “There are simple things anyone can do, right now, to get on track.”

Here are the first three steps toward keeping your heart healthy for years to come:

If You’re a Smoker: Quit

You’ve heard it before, but now’s the time to kick the habit for good. Smoking increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, raises blood pressure and heart rate, and can cause blood vessel abnormalities that contribute to blockages.

Fortunately, says Peberdy, once you stop smoking, your body will quickly thank you for kicking the habit. “20 minutes after you put down your cigarette, your blood pressure and heart rate go back to normal,” says Peberdy. “Within 12 hours, your carbon monoxide levels drop. Within three months, you’ll be taking deeper breaths, and your shortness of breath will noticeably decrease. And within one year, you will have lowered your risk of cardiovascular disease by 50 percent.”

And whenever possible, stay clear of secondhand smoke, says Peberdy; it’s associated with a 30 percent higher risk of heart attack.

Get Active

The American Heart Association recommends two and a half hours per week of moderate to intensive aerobic exercise. (Sounds like a lot, but if you break it down, it’s only about 30 minutes a day!) To find your target heart rate, subtract your age from the number 220. The result is the number of beats per minute you should aim for.

“But you don’t have to be that compulsive,” says Peberdy. “Just exercise hard enough to break a sweat; you should feel like you’re actually doing something. You can accomplish that with brisk walking.” Has it been a while since you’ve gotten off the sofa? Start slow -- but do start. “The main point about exercise,” says Peberdy, “is that doing anything is better than doing nothing.”

Know Your Numbers

To get an idea of your overall cardiac health, it’s important to find out your body mass index (BMI), blood pressure and cholesterol and triglyceride numbers.

BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. (Find yours online at sites like this.) If your BMI falls in the overweight-to-obese range, it’s time to make some lifestyle changes. “Extra weight is closely linked with high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, all of which contribute to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Peberdy. And keep in mind: The higher your number, the greater the danger.

An elevated BP is one of the biggest contributors to coronary artery disease, says Peberdy. A normal blood pressure is considered lower than 120/80; if you’re at that level or slightly higher, you may have pre-hypertension -- a sign that you could develop high blood pressure if you don’t take steps to lower your number. While medication is sometimes necessary, Peberdy says that losing as little as 10 pounds may be all it takes to get your BP back to normal.

Cholesterol consists of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) --“bad” cholesterol -- which contributes to heart disease; and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) -- “good” cholesterol -- that protects against the disease. Knowing your cholesterol numbers will give you an indication of your cardiac risk. Get yours checked with a simple blood test. What you’ll want to see is an HDL rate greater than 50 mg/dL (above that is “awesome,” says Peberdy) and LDL levels lower than 130 mg/dL if you’re young and healthy. As for triglycerides, anything over 150 mg/dL could be indicative of diabetes, which is a big risk factor for heart disease in women.

True, sometimes heart disease risk is a matter of genetics. But making healthy choices can still make a difference even if heart problems run in your family. “The take-away here,” says Peberdy, “is that it’s never too late to take control." 

Your Best 20-Minute Workout

Ready to get in shape but not sure you’ve got the time? Between long workdays, packed weekends and family obligations, it can seem impossible to fit in an hour of exercise several times a week. Fortunately, there are a variety of routines you can add to your schedule that will help you get (or stay!) in shape in just 20 minutes. Bonus: You can do them anywhere.

We’ve asked Lesley Mettler-Auld, a running, triathlon and fitness coach in Seattle, to share a 20-minute workout she does. The exercise routine she gave us can be used as a supplement to your current routine or as a primary workout if you’re crunched for time. “It’s designed to use all the major muscles of the body in a different way [and is] very efficient,” she says. “Start with light weights until you get the motion down, then increase weight as your muscles are ready.”

Repeat each exercise for 50 seconds, taking 10 seconds to move on to the next exercise. Repeat the entire circuit twice.

Get Started:

Equipment needed: one set of dumbbells or a resistance band

  • Burpies: Begin in a plank position, with legs extended and feet hip-width apart. Rest your weight on your hands or forearms. Jump to a squat position. From there, reach your hands over your head and jump as high as you can. Return to a squat, step or jump back into plank pose and repeat.
  • Squat Combination: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet hip-width apart and weight on your heels. Lower into a squat while keeping your knees behind your toes. As you rise, curl the dumbbells into a biceps curl, then extend your arms and press the weights over your head with your palms facing inward. Lower and repeat.
  • Mountain Climbers: Begin in a plank position with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your right knee to touch your left elbow, then return to plank position and repeat with your right knee to left elbow. Continue alternating sides.
  • Narrow Hand Push-Up: Begin in a plank position on your feet or with your knees bent on the ground. Lower your body down into a push-up while keeping your elbows in and along your sides. Return to plank and repeat.
  • Boat Pose: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Raise legs to a 45-degree angle from your torso. Keeping your back straight, lean back slightly, forming a “V” shape with your body. Bring your arms out in a straight line, parallel to your legs, and hold this position.
  • Bicycle Crunch: Lie on your back with your knees bent and abs pulled tight toward your spine. With your hands behind your head, extend one leg out while lifting your shoulders off the floor and bringing the opposite knee toward the opposite shoulder. Switch sides and repeat.
  • Shoulder Press with Leg Extension: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bend your elbows to hold the weights at shoulder height. Raise your right leg to 90 degrees and, with your leg raised, exhale and extend your arms up with palms facing inward. Lower your arms and leg at the same time and repeat on the other side.
  • Bent-Over Fly: Bend at the waist, letting your arms hang down with a dumbbell in each hand. With a straight back and moving only your shoulders, lift the dumbbells up and out to the side until they’re even with your back. Slowly lower and repeat. 
  • Biceps Hammer Curl with band or dumbbell: Keeping your arms at your sides and bent at the elbows, raise and lower your arms into a curl.
  • Crunches: Lying on the floor with a flat back and bent knees, place your hands behind your head and use your abs to lift and lower your head and shoulders.

Got an exercise ball? You can incorporate it into your quick workout with exercises such as crunches and the “Superman” stretch (lying face-down on the ball, lift your right arm and left leg; hold and switch to your left arm/right leg).

Completing exercises like these in a circuit format allows you to do more with your workout in the same period of time, making the most of your routine.

Try These Foods That Reduce Stress

A rough day at work, a houseful of chores and bickering kids can leave you feeling frazzled. You’re tempted to reach for the pretzels or chocolate, but you know it’s not good to reach for something to eat when you’re totally stressed out, right? Not always! Nutrition experts say that certain foods can actually help us stay calm. Here are some of their stress-combating suggestions:

Start the Day With Breakfast
Missing meals, especially the first one of the day, can leave you with cravings and extreme hunger that actually fuel your stress, says Alison Acerra, RD, national manager of nutrition and wellness for Guckenheimer, a national food service organization. Tip: Reach for a balanced breakfast, complete with high-fiber carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fat. Try whole-grain cereal atop Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts.

Avoid Blood Sugar Spikes
“When your blood sugar levels are unstable, your stress hormones go haywire, as does your mood,” says Susan Barendregt, a functional nutritionist in Viroqua, Wis. “You want to reach for foods that will provide you with minerals and other nutrients needed to fuel the body’s natural processes that keep it in equilibrium.”

To keep blood sugar levels in check, avoid sugary refined-carbohydrate foods like cookies, cakes, white bread and muffins. Instead, go for foods with protein and healthy fats, which are satisfying without spiking your blood sugar. Have a salad with grilled chicken breast and sliced avocado for lunch, and snack on nuts and seeds instead of chips. Plan to eat small meals (every three to four hours) that include a good source of protein, fiber and healthy fats.

Sip Tea
If you’re stressed, skip the coffee and soda. In addition to giving you the jitters, the high level of caffeine in these drinks can interfere with your normal sleep cycles, which will only exacerbate the stress you’re already feeling, says Ivy Branin, a naturopathic doctor in New York City. Instead, turn to tea, a study-proven remedy for stress symptoms. Black tea has been shown to lower levels of cortisol, the brain’s “stress hormone,” while compounds in green tea can help lower blood sugar levels. And researchers have discovered that passionflower tea is as effective at curbing anxiety as a well-known prescription medication.

Think Vitamin C and B
Foods such as citrus fruits and leafy greens can help reduce the stress you’re experiencing because they support your adrenal glands. These are the stress-handling glands that often get taxed after repeated and chronic stress, says Jenny Westerkamp, a registered dietitian-nutritionist at CJK Foods, a Chicago-based chef-crafted healthy meal delivery service.

Stock up on Fish
Your seafood counter is another place to go for stress reduction. Salmon has high stores of protein and omega-3 fatty acids that help promote brain health and decrease production of cortisol. Meanwhile, tasty shellfish -- such as oysters, clams and crabs -- are a great source of zinc, which helps support the immune system and adrenal glands.

Choose Whole Grains
Whole-grain items, such as brown rice, oats and wheat contain L-tryptophan, the amino acid essential in serotonin production (an essential substance that helps with relaxation and happiness) and key B vitamins. Another great serotonin-boosting food: sweet potatoes, which are loaded with vitamin B6.