“Females who consume lots of fruit, vegetables and grains have a lower risk of stroke, even if they have a history of cardiovascular disease, compared to women who don’t, researchers from the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, reported in Stroke.”—High Fruit And Veggie Diet In Females Reduces Stroke Risk
“Substitute an occasional flavorful drink during your transition. Drinking juice or sweet tea isn’t a long-term solution to giving up your soda habit since these drinks can also have lots of sugar. But during your “withdrawal,” let yourself indulge a little. Just remember to ease back on these transition drinks after a week or so.”—Confessions of a former Coke addict | Grist
My back’s been a mess lately. I sit too much, I travel too much and I haven’t been doing enough yoga, as hard as I try. I recently splurged on a laptop stand and external keyboard (thanks, Black Friday!) to lessen the amount of leaning-over-laptop-at-desk that I do, but it’s pretty obvious I need some better self-care. (Now that I’m freelancing, massages have become so much more expensive – sigh.)
So when Toronto chiropractor Michael Cohen invited me up to his office near Lawrence West station to test out his Acuball, I was more than ready. Cohen developed the Acuball as a sort of upgraded version of rolling on tennis balls for relief of muscle tension. It’s a pretty cool little device – the small one is a couple of inches in diameter and softly spiky all around, while the larger one is like two semi-spheres stuck together with an extra band (which makes it easier to roll on your spine, something tennis balls won’t do.) The coolest part? The large Acuball can be heated in the microwave and will stay warm as you use it.
Cohen showed me how to use the Acuball in a number of different ways. First, he recommends placing it behind the lumbar spine as you sit at work (see picture) in order to preserve the natural curve of the back. (Did you know your spine is supposed to curve when you sit and stand?) Second, the small Acuball is a yummy self-massage tool for feet (roll it on the floor with the sole of your foot and some weight on it), arms and back (place between the sore body part and a wall and roll against it).
Best of all, the large Acuball – warm it first – makes lying on the floor a whole new experience. We started with it under the neck (another natural curve of the spine) while lying on our backs, with the knees bent and feet flat into the floor. At first, the Acuball seems invasive – the body kind of tenses against the pressure of the ball. But then, you release and sink into it, and the heat starts to penetrate the muscle. Cohen recommends lying in each position on the Acuball for three minutes before moving so that muscles have time to properly release. (Under the lumbar spine, as in the diagram, is another good position.)
After the session, I definitely felt my muscles were more relaxed, especially my glutes, which are constantly tight and hard to release in any way other than massage. There was a bit of residual pain in my upper back that I attribute to the fact that that’s my problem area right now – those muscles must have been especially tight.
You can buy the Acuballs individually or as a kit for $60 that includes an instruction book and DVD. They’re available from Cohen’s website or at various retailers and yoga studios. I for one will be heading to Noah’s or the Big Carrot asap to pick up a kit and give my back some more TLC.
Forget flashlights – for the loved one on your list who’s a fan of the outdoors or a frequent traveller, a headlamp is the way to go. For one thing, it can be used hands-free, whether it’s actually strapped around the head or hung around the neck. For another, the batteries last longer – and most models allow you to toggle between different settings, including red light, for various lighting needs.
This Cosmo model is available at mec.ca for $28, but you can certainly spend more: the Sprinter ($75), designed for running in the dark, has minimal bounce and a rear red strobe for visibility; Petzl’s Ultra Belt lamp, at $475, is for serious outdoor enthusiasts who’ll appreciate 120 metres of visibility – one online reviewer says that “even on the lowest setting this light is better than anything I have used.”
74 percent of Canadians say they would prefer to receive a gift that would help someone else, according to a 2011 Harris/Decima survey commissioned by World Vision – yet only 23 percent report having received one. Help the numbers grow by giving a gift that gives more than once to the people on your list, like these three picks. (Browse the organizations’ websites for more information and more ways to give.)
World Vision: Educate a Girl in Need, $60 This makes a perfect present for young girls and teens on your gift list, who have a keen sense of injustice and would be thrilled to help a girl in another country go to school rather than be forced to stay at home – often just because her family can’t afford books, supplies or a school uniform.
Kiva: Kiva Cards, $25 and up Kiva works with microfinance organizations around the world to lend people small sums of money to help them develop businesses and increase their earnings. With a $25 gift card, the recipient can visit kiva.org and choose who to lend money to, whether it’s a vegetable seller in Tanzania or a clothing salesperson in Kenya. Best yet? When the loan is repaid, your giftee can re-lend the $25 to another person who needs a hand up.
Women for Women: Wheelbarrow, $35 Women for women helps women survivors of war and other strife by giving them skills training, financial aid and education in rights and leadership to help them move forward for themselves and their communities. A wheelbarrow seems like a small thing, but it can help women grow more food for their families and for sale.
I round out a lot of meals with a smoothie. Grilled cheese and smoothie. Big salad and smoothie. Bowl of cereal and smoothie. Popcorn and smoothie. Smoothie and smoothie.
You see, popcorn and cereal, as much as we want them to, don’t make a healthy meal. But throw in a smoothie and suddenly it’s well-rounded – at least, that’s what I like to think. But especially if it’s a green smoothie – a blend of fruits with leafy green vegetables, such as kale.
And the thing about blending kale is you really need a good blender. I mean, a hardcore blender. I used to have a Braun blender that was very good for its price range, but couldn’t handle most greens – it blended baby spinach fine, but anything more than that ended up in little pieces rather than completely ground down. So I was super excited to upgrade to a BlendTec, one of two “high-speed” blender brands (the other is Vitamix) that dominate the market. (Some people have opinions on BlendTec vs. Vitamix, but all I know is the BlendTec, so I can’t comment on which may be better.) Now, I don’t know how I ever lived without it – I use it almost every day.
This is a serious blender. It sounds like it, too – you can’t exactly have a conversation while it’s running. But it’s amazing what it will blend. For one thing, you need a lot less liquid to keep a mixture moving, meaning it’s fantastic for puddings, dips and faux creams (like blending up almonds or cashews to make a whipped cream alternative). For another, it makes the best green smoothies ever.
My go-to recipe is half a pineapple, a cup or so of frozen mango, one or two bananas, a couple of cups of kale, stems removed, 1/4 cup of hemp seeds and a scoop of protein powder, with enough water to blend and make the right consistency. (It’s based on the tropical green at Rawlicious.) It comes out a vivid green due to the yellow fruit (green smoothies with darker/red fruit aren’t very pretty) and is a tasty way to get your greens.
I have a few more smoothie recipes on my food blog:
The season of gluttony is upon us, combined with dark nights and chilly days that make us want to curl up under a blanket till spring. (That’s not just me, right?) Do the math and for a lot of us, that adds up to a couple of extra pounds – not a big deal until you do it every year and don’t take them off again. (Two pounds a year times 10 years makes an extra 20 pounds 10 years from now. Scary, isn’t it?)
Losing weight is hard, so this year, let’s vow to avoid putting it on in the first place. Here are six tips from registered dietitian Jyotika Desai, nutrition specialist at Nestlé Canada, to help you stay on track with eating well.
1. Be picky "Choose quality over quantity," says Desai. "Choose a few of your favourite dishes and be mindful of portion sizes." Rather than agonizing over every treat you eat, make sure you fully enjoy everything you put in your mouth, and don’t waste calories on junk.
2. Go for the greens Start with a salad (light on the dressing) so you get some fibre and nutrients in your belly before hitting the heavier options on the table, and if you still feel like picking after your first plateful, stick with the bright-coloured vegetables. “Fill your plate with fruits and veggies, which are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fibre,” Desai says.
3. Bring a healthy option Heading to a potluck? Pack a super-healthy favourite dish that you know you can fill up on guilt-free. “If you’re looking for some healthy choices, it’s likely that others are, too,” says Desai. “This ensures you’ll have something tasty and healthy that you’ll enjoy.”
4. Eat a snack Instead of heading to a party when you’re ravenous, have a quick snack such as an apple or carrot sticks before you leave the house. “Snacking before you go out will keep you from feeling ravenous and overindulging at the party,” Desai says.
5. Use smaller dishes Always serve yourself on the smallest dish available – and this goes for glasses, too. “Studies have shown that the smaller the plate or cup, the less likely you are to overeat,” says Desai.
6. Get active "Planning in advance is key," says Desai. "If you know you’re going to be indulging, squeeze in a workout beforehand." Bonus: Research shows that working out helps you exercise better self-control – meaning you’ll not just burn calories, but eat better, too.
“Comparing blood samples from the 1950s to the 1990s, Murray found that young people today are nearly five times as likely to have celiac disease, for reasons he and others researchers cannot explain. And it’s on the rise not only in the U.S. but also in other places where the disease was once considered rare, like Mexico and India. “We don’t know where it’s going to end,” Murray says. “Celiac disease has public health consequences.” And therefore, it has a market.”—Should We All Go Gluten-Free? - NYTimes.com
I’ll go for runs by myself – and even run up and down stairs until I’m bright red. I’ll go to yoga classes as often as possible. But do you think I can do a single biceps curl at home, even though I have free weights, fancy Lululemon exercise bands and a yoga mat perpetually rolled out on the living-room floor? Nope. Doesn’t happen.
I just can’t self-motivate when it comes to strength training.
So when I was invited to join a backyard kettlebells class with instructor Deborah Brewster, I couldn’t say no. My muscles would have preferred that I say no, but my brain overruled them. And that’s how I ended up swinging a kettlebell around at noon on a Saturday until my entire body wanted to collapse on the ground.
I’m kind of lazy, but not generally in front of a group – my pride tends to keep me going. (If you believe in astrology, you can blame it on my being a Leo.) So group classes have always been my go-to for strength training. Not only do I not have to think, but the motivation’s built in – and unlike personal training, you don’t have to suffer under your instructor’s undivided attention. Best of both worlds.
And Deborah’s class was a good one. Since a few of us were new to the bells, she had us switching around for different exercises so that we used the perfect weight. We worked through drills with upper body, lower body and abs, along with some high-knees running in place and a few “suicide sprints” (don’t they sound like fun?). While some exercises involved moving the kettlebell around, like swinging it in circles from left hand to right hand around your body, others had it held in place as we did exercises like V sit-ups (the kind where you back doesn’t touch the ground) and lunges. Okay, we were meant to be pressing the kettlebell up as we did the lunges, but all I could do at that point was hold it at my shoulder and hope not to let go.
After about six months of not lifting a single weight (other than my body weight in a few light climbing sessions and in yoga classes), it’s not surprising that this workout completely wiped me out and had my muscles screaming the next day. As for how kettlebells compare to free weights, I think the biggest thing for a beginner is that you’re learning new moves, which challenges your muscles in new ways – meaning it’s definitely a better workout. The bells also allow you to do different kinds of exercises than you can safely do with free weights. And most important, they let you know how weak you really are, which is why I’ll be back for more punishment.
It’s no secret that when we’re tired, we look, well, tired. One major reason is that a good night’s sleep helps our skin regenerate – so when we don’t get enough, it shows. (I for one always break out when I’ve missed too much shut-eye.) “During sleep, the skin’s metabolic rate speeds up and many of the body’s cells show increased production and reduced breakdown of proteins,” says Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, medical director of Bay Dermatology Centre, assistant professor at the University of Toronto and a spokesperson for Jergens. “Therefore cell regeneration is enhanced and blood flow is increased, and this allows for better assimilation of cosmetic active ingredients.”
For your best skin, Skotnicki recommends at least eight hours of sleep a night, and suggests the following tips for better rest:
1. Go to bed at the same time each night if possible.
2. Don’t exercise before bedtime.
3. In winter, run a cool mist humidifier or increase the central humidity on your heating.
4. Moisturize your face and body at night as the skin is more receptive to cosmetic ingredients due to increase regeneration and blood flow. (Skotnicki recommends the new Jergens Overnight Fix Nightly Restoring Moisturizer on your body.)
5. Do not drink alcohol before bedtime.
How much sleep do you get every night, and is it enough? What do you do when you need more sleep?
“Enter the You’ll Never Forget It contest and take travel back from the socks-and-sandals tourist crowd. If you’re chosen, you’ll be one of three winners to embark on an unforgettable trip to one of the hundreds of destinations served by G Adventures. In the company of our award-winning creative team, you’ll be joined by a videographer and photographer who will chronicle your adventure—which will be featured in print and online as part of the next G Adventures campaign. To be considered, we’re seeking creative submissions featuring your own ‘unforgettable moment’—a time when you broke out of the typical tourist ‘bubble’ and made a real connection with the world at its boldest, brightest and most beautiful. Whether in words, pictures or video, make it a good one that we’ll never forget.”—Very cool contest. (G Adventures: You’ll Never Forget It)
The researchers’ conclusion? While about 65% of people of European or African descent and about 44% of people of Asian descent carry the “fat gene” – which some of them use as an excuse to give up on trying to lose weight – just an hour a week of moderate exercise helps combat the gene’s effects. From the article:
“Often people feel that obesity runs in the family or that obesity is in their genes, and therefore feel they have no control over their weight issues,” Dr. Loos says. “Our study shows that physical activity plays a role in weight control, even in those who are genetically predisposed.”
It’s not that we don’t have healthy foods in our Canadian backyards. But sometimes, it’s fun to experiment with nutritious ingredients from farther afield. Try these seven picks from Peru, Brazil and the rest of South America for a creative twist on your regular meal plans.
Knock on wood, I haven’t had a cold yet this winter, but it’s inevitable at some point. And while I used to pop the cold pills all the time, lately, I find that decongestants make me feel awful and I save them for the worst of days, when I have to be out and about.
But ditching the drugs doesn’t have to mean feeling awful – there are ways to feel better. Number one, in my books? Take care of yourself: take a day off, sleep in, have a nap, have your s.o. pick up healthy takeout. Here are some more tips from Ernest Chow, professional services manager at Walmart Canada. With, um, my comments in brackets, because apparently I have a lot to say.
• Take a steamy shower or use a cool mist humidifier to help keep your nasal passages moisturized. [Steam also is nice for a congested chest. I like to pour just-boiled water in a bowl and put my face over it under a towel and breathe the steam for a few minutes.]
• Drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated. [Fresh-made carrot-orange-ginger juice is my favourite.]
• Try saline nasal sprays or drops to help moisturize your nose and improve your nasal passages. [Has anyone tried this? I’m also working up the courage to try a neti pot – any tips?]
• For a sore throat, try gargling with warm salt water. Dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water and gargle four times daily. [This is the suggestion my parents always gave me as a teenager and I always ignored. Now that I’m older and wiser I’ve realized it really works.]
• Drink hot liquids such as herbal teas to help soothe the throat, chest and nose and prevent dehydration. [Try making ginger tea: Pour just-boiled water over grated fresh ginger and steep. It’s really nice mixed with the juice of a lemon and a spoonful of honey.]
• Chicken soup might have a mild anti-inflammatory effect, and can also help keep you hydrated. [I don’t eat chickens, but any broth soup makes me feel better. I love the vegetarian black bean soup at Tacos el Asador in Toronto.]
What are your tricks to feel better when you’re under the weather?
It’s hard to know what to believe when study after study comes out reporting one thing and then the other. My solution? Combine research with common sense and knowing your own body. If coffee really makes you feel good and you enjoy it, keep drinking it. If it’s a crutch to cover up sleep deprivation and makes you jittery or unable to sleep well (a vicious cycle), cut back or cut it out.