Defining the Core

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Anyone interested in fitness lingo, or has sustained a back injury, has likely encountered a therapist or fitness enthusiast who loves telling people about the importance of “the Core.”  This mysterious and powerfully functional aspect of the body has nothing do with eating apples, and everything to do with developing efficient & stable muscles.  Although professionals tend to overuse the word, the idea behind core stabilization remains significant, and understanding it can help individuals develop muscle strength, and reduce injury risk.  Today we’ll look at a basic “core” definition, explain some reasons for it’s importance, and provide a few basic exercises to help develop the area.

In Certified News of American Council on Exercise (ACE) June/July 2008, contributer Fabio Comana, M.A, M.S. describes the core as “the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk relative to the pelvis and legs (9). ” This means that the core of the body functions the same way as a building foundation; it provides stabilization for the major muscle groups (back, pelvis, legs).  The strength & efficiency of these major muscle groups contributes to postural control, balance, coordination and overall movement.   Incorporating core exercises into daily regiments can greatly enhance functional activities, as well as overall health.

The authors of the Second Edition of The Essentials of Strength & Conditioning define core exercises as those which “recruit one or more large muscle areas (i.e. chest, shoulder, back, hip, or thigh), involve two or more primary joints, and receive priority when selecting exercises because of their direct application to the sport.” This definition may appear somewhat vague, until compared with the idea of “assistance exercises,” exercises that recruit smaller muscles (neck, biceps) and involve only one primary joint (Baechle & Earle 398).  Single-joint exercises include some basics, like bicep curls, knee extensions, shoulder rows, ab crunches & neck circles.

Core exercises, on the other hand, involve the cooperation of 2+ large muscle groups, and can work in several planes.  A lunge, for example, is a core exercise because when performed correctly, it recruits the quadriceps muscles as the knee flexes, and also the glute muscles as the posterior hip extends.

Another component to core exercises involves the idea of stabilization, or developing supportive muscles.  The concept here is explained in the 3rd Ed. ACE Personal Trainer Manual as exercises that “challenge the abdominal and back muscles to hold the spine in the appropriate position during movement of the extremities (Bryant & Green 271).”  Basically this means that to develop the support of large muscle groups, there must be tests of muscular endurance, often in static positions, and involving more than one plane.

A few examples of this concept would be a single-leg balance pose, bird-dog pose (see below), and the basic plank position (see below).

The importance of core exercises comes into play when paired with daily activities, & common muscle functions.  How often, for example, do people go up & down stairs, putting their bodies through a modified version of a reverse lunge?  Or down to the toilet or chair & back up, for a squat?  Or reaching behind furniture to pick up something hard to reach, much like a single-leg deadlift?  Some of these basic movements often become difficult when the muscles become shortened, underused or injured.  Performing core strengthening & stabilizing exercises regularly reduces the pain and/or inability of basic tasks.

For fitness novices & experts alike, core exercises remain vital to the overall longevity and health of muscles.  Performing exercises like the ones below can help almost anyone develop a strong & stable foundation for the rest of their body to live in.  Individuals at any fitness level can perform core exercises, as modifications or challenges can usually be incorporated.  Start with the basics, and gradually progress to greater challenges.  And as always, consider it a joy that you have the ability to exercise!

All images are property of ACE Fitness.  Complete descriptions of exercises can be found at the ACE Fitness website.

Flexitarian Eating: Five Reasons to Hop on this Bandwagon.

Summer 2017 has officially started, despite the 90 degree days that already occupied much of June before the kickoff. Along with summer heat from above, we can expect plenty of heat from grills down below, as Americans cook up deliciously sauced and cheesed meats from all backgrounds…pigs, cow, chicken, lamb, bison, turkey and even goat.  Indeed, what would be a 4th of July celebration without grilled steak and burgers? And perhaps that is too grand of a thought to consider at this point…a summer holiday without meat? Perhaps we can scale it back a bit: how about a few days each week without meat?

Enter Flexitarian Eating. No, it’s not about flexing your biceps doing the beer can curl; nor is it about increasing your flexibility so you can reach forgotten food in dark corners. Flexitarian Eating involves an eating plan that focuses on increasing consumption of plant-based meals, while still allowing for consumption of meat on a periodic basis. For people who want to improve their eating habits, it provides a wealth of health benefits, and for people who desire to transition to vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, it makes the transition easier because it’s not a total sacrifice at one time. In a word, it’s flexible. 

And it’s resourceful. Even if you aren’t a believer in global warming at this point, it’s not hard to see why eating plants is more economical and much more energy efficient than raising livestock.

Consider, for example, that according to the USDA Energy Research Service, a whopping 95% of animal feed is composed of corn. In addition, more than 90 million acres of land in the US grows corn, primarily for use as feed and for ethanol. Even admitted by the Iowa Corn Growers Association in their “Corn Facts” website, a puny 1% of corn grown in the US is actually human edible. Sweet corn, the nostalgic summer food prominent at every reunion and cookout, is by no means the farmers’ cash crop.

Another important fact to consider is the volume of space and water supply needed to raise livestock and grow feed for them. For example, one acre of land can grow up to 61,000 pounds of potatoes (for humans), while it takes 1-2 acres of land to sustain one cow and calf for a year (approximately 1200 lbs). Furthermore, at least 30% of water usage in the US is for livestock production, with beef requiring 1847 lb/gal (in comparison, broccoli requires about 34 lb/gal).

All of this does not even include the energy costs of slaughter, transportation, processing and packaging. In comparison, production of fruits and vegetables requires much less energy and processing when sold as whole foods.

So it’s easy to see why eating plant-based makes environmental sense.

But if you’re like most of my family, those numbers barely fazed you as you munched on your beef jerky stick. So let’s talk about you. Why does plant based eating benefit you?  You might be surprised by the reasons.

  1. Weight Loss. If you resemble 70% of the American population, then you might have a few extra pounds to shed. Part of that problem is due to an over consumption of animal products and protein. According to Sanna Delmonico (MS, RDN), in “The Protein Shift: Plant-Based Options” from  Idea Fitness Food and Nutrition Nov-Dec 2016 Issue, “Evidence suggests that American’s protein intake ranges from 1-1.3 g/kg per day, well above the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) [of .8 g/kg].”

In addition, some research indicates that the average American consumes 62% of their diets from animal products, at more than 3x the global average. Consider that animal protein can often carry more calories per ounce than plant based products. For example, 3 oz of 85% lean ground beef carries about 197 calories, while tofu packs just 77 cal for the same amount (Robinson, Dorene. “The NEW Healthy Eating & Weight Management Guide.” 2012.)

So if you a person who eats meat at every meal, consider dropping to one meal a day, and substitute lower calorie plant products to decrease your overall caloric consumption, which may help with weight loss.
2. Live Longer. If you possess a competitive streak, and hope to outlive your peers, then here’s what you need to know: Compared with vegetarian eaters in various study groups, meat-eaters tend to die sooner, and part of that reason may be linked to chronic conditions often associated with eating animal products. In fact, I found in fascinating to learn that the people group in the US with the highest life expectancy are Seventh-Day Adventists, a Christian and vegetarian cohort, living approximately 10 years longer than their American counterparts.

3. Save Money. When I first got married in 2009 and finally started my own real grocery shopping (meal planning vs snack planning), the sticker shock of the meat section hit me fairly hard. At that time, my husband and I were also “broke as a Kenyan joke” (as my husband says), and living on a single, part-time income.  Fairly quickly I learned to start making meat-less meals, borrowing ideas from the Internet and also from international cuisine, from countries with people facing similar money plights as myself, where food had to go a long way.

Both of us cooked up some pretty stellar meals, and continue to do so, on a limited budget. So I’m usually somewhat perplexed when I hear, “It’s so expensive to eat healthy!” If you consider only organic food to be healthy, then that may be so. But when you shop for seasonal produce and buy from wholesale shops, that’s not necessarily the case.

4. Improve your Palate. Another memory from our first married year involves understanding my husband’s taste buds.  He grew up on fresh food from market and slaughter, and would frequently comment on the quality of food in a meal (old produce, cheap meat, cheap oil, etc). I grew up with a typical American quasi-healthy, mostly processed food, consumed the same meal with no complaints. Fast forward a few years, and I began to realize that (gasp!) my husband might actually be right. The same Sloppy Joe, Mac n Cheese or typical church potluck of ham buns didn’t pack the same satisfying punch as our multi-ingredient and spice laden meals at home. I began to experience a shifting palate in my mouth, heightening my awareness of quality food.

Interestingly, many restaurants noticed this type of consumer shift in reformed palates, and as such, have begun adding fresh and sustainable ingredients to the menus to enhance the dining out experience.

5. Improved Nutrient Profile. I think it goes without saying that fruits and vegetables improve your health…it’s an instinctive parental command to children: Eat your vegetables! But beyond those food groups, meat-less meals offer so much more to the eaters. As pointed out by Christopher Gardiner (PhD at Standford), in Delmonico’s article, “plant foods are also rich in fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and keep your microbiota and digestive tract healthy, and they’re rich in phytochemicals, the biologically active compounds found only in plants.”

Since fiber can only be found in plant foods, it makes sense to consume higher quantities of it, as fiber consumption is also linked to deceased risk for chronic conditions.

At this point, hopefully your interests shifted even slightly to consider meat-less meals. While I have a few recipes I can recommend, I think you may find increased benefit searching for some yourself, using ingredients you know that you like. But if you absolutely need suggestions, I’ll list a few titles from my recipe collection book that sparked a fire in my own kitchen. In the meantime, I hope this summer finds you firing up the grill to test out the latest garden and bean burgers on the market!

The Eat Clean DIET Cookbook, by Tosca Reno

Seven Secrets Cookbook, by Neva & Jim Brackett

Students Go Vegan Cookbook, by Carole Raymond

www.Tablespoon.com has also given several ideas for innovative recipes.
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Fun-tastic Fitness, Part 2. Indoor Fitness Fun

In my last post, I shared the grim statistics that most Americans are not getting enough daily physical activity to warrant health benefits, and also that most people see exercise as a chore, which decreases the likelihood that they will engage in it. In an encouraging light, research also confirms what we suspected was true… that “the health status of the parents is intricately linked to that of their children.” In other words, the health habits of children typically reflect the habits of the parents (with the exception of the bottomless intake of sugar a child can ingest, particularly after a parade).

The encouragement in this type of research reflects the power of influence that parents have over their children’s healthy habits.  Possibly more than education, income, zip code, peer influence and other factors, parents wield power to show children wellness by living it out for them to see on a daily basis.  Even if unhealthy habits are being practiced, the effect of seeing parents battle their habits and eventually win sends powerful and lasting messages to the child that individuals have control over their wellness.

So in light of that hopeful news, I want to continue to Part 2 of Fun-tastic Fitness Ideas. Last time I offered you some fun outdoor exercise ideas, and this time I want to highlight some indoor fitness ideas. These are some of my tried and true experiences with my kids and also with my siblings growing up. I would love to hear what other ideas parents, caregivers or babysitters have come up with!

  • Catch You: As mentioned in last post, this game works great inside also, often dispelling whiny toddler moods into giggles. Just use the cue words, “Catch You!” and start chasing the child. Once caught, tickle or toss the child onto the bed. This usually turns into the next activity…
  • Airplanes: Laying on a bed, have the child stand by your feet and you hold his hands and slowly lift him up, keeping your feet pressed up against his torso, til he is over you in the air, like a plane. Gently bring the plane down to either side for a landing. (Not a recommended activity shortly after eating!)
  • Dancing: Turn on some upbeat music and have a jam session. Actually even mellow music is fine too. I invented my own style of ballroom dance with my 2 year old to the tune of Pachelbel on our keyboard’s song list. Now he turns it on and dances on his own.
  • London Bridges: Classic game of London Bridge Falling Down…you rest your head, neck and shoulders on couch or stability ball while kids crawl under you as you hold the glute bridge position. When you finish the song, you drop (lightly) down on the unfortunate child caught underneath you. Variation: Do Marches in the bridge position.
  • Ping-Pongballoon
  • Balloon Volley-Wally-ball: Divide a room in half with pillows/blankets/scarves, and use an inflated balloon to play volleyball. All the rules of regular volleyball apply
    (except net rules, since there’s no net), in addition to playing the “ball” off of furniture & walls. Set one boundary in the back for service line and the out-of-bounds area. General rule of thumb, anything is a legit hit until it hits the floor!
  • Basket rides: Similar to weighted sled pushes for athletes, this variation puts the child (and likely stuffed animals) in a laundry basket and you push them around the house. Be prepared for tired hamstrings.
  • Jumping contests: Use a broom or yardstick to challenge children and adults alike to see how high they can jump over the stick. Another option is long jump contests..see who can jump the farthest.
  • Stability ball or Bosu bouncing and balancing: Bouncing—Place child on ball but hold it steady with your feet (if sitting) as you bounce them up and down. Balancing—Kneeling on the ball and using wall or couch for support as needed, compete to see who can kneel the longest without holding on or falling off (recommended for older kids).
  • Family Challenge Chart: Pick various exercises (squats, planks, pushups) and make a chart for daily or weekly challenges. Either on the honor policy or with a witness, record each performer to see how many he can do in a minute, or how long she can hold a plank.
  • Whippa!: A true home-spun game that will one day be patented…use two pieces of furniture (ideally couches) as the safe areas. One person is “it” wielding a winter scarf, and must be kneeling while she is it. Runners dash back and forth between couches trying to avoid getting “whipped” by the scarf. If tagged 3 times, the runner becomes it.

 

 

References: Vedanthan et al. April 12, 2016. Cardiovascular Health PromotionFamily-Based Approaches to Cardiovascular Health. promotionhttp://www.onlinejacc.org/content/accj/67/14/1725.full.pdf

 

 

Fun-tastic Fitness: Making Exercise Fun for the Whole Family (Part 1)

If you’re like many parents, a quiet house at the end of the day or for a few hours during nap time brings great delight that we can finally enjoy “me” time. That could mean a variety of things, such as checking in with social media or writing blogs, or catching up on the endless list of chores around the house. Rarely, this might be used as the time to get in an exercise routine.  But movin’ and groovin’ to our workout playlist might arouse the youngsters from their slumbers, and that’s not a risk most parents want to take.

Fortunately, for the many parents grieving the loss of their workout days, or for those wishing for extra time and energy to fit a routine into their day…hope exists. And even better news…for those who conjure up images of slow-motion minutes on the treadmill and weight-lifting boredom, exercising does not have to be a chore. Movement brings joy, and when you do it with kids, it usually brings some laughs too.

A recent article reminded me of how far we have strayed from this concept. “Embracing the Joy of Movement,” by fitness pro Ryan Halvorson (http://bit.ly/2qkCu2t), brings many thoughts together about why the vast majority of Americans don’t get enough exercise. Indeed 80% of the Americans don’t meet the physical activity recommendations (21 min/day or 150 min/wk) and only 55% are active enough to make health improvements. The bottom line reason for inactivity is that individuals don’t find it fun. As Halvorson quotes from Michelle Segar, PhD, MPH fitness expert and author at University of Michigan, “The core issue is that in our society, our prescription/lecturing perspective has turned exercise into a chore…the vast majority of people don’t exercise, and the reason they don’t is because we [fitness industry] have alienated them by limiting its purpose in their lives.”

Sadly, much truth rings from those words. We often feel guilty about missing “workouts,” rather than valuing the amount of movement we already put into a day.  And we lament each day that passes without exercise, dreaming of a period where free time comes in abundance.

Another challenge, as Halvorson points out, by quoting another expert, Katy Bowman (biochemist and author), “Traditional training programs require exercise to occur outside of your house. They require extra money, special outfits and shoes, arrangements for someone to watch our children, and an instructor or trainer.” Of course I don’t want to downplay the importance of trainers and fitness professionals (hello, job security!); yet it’s important to recognize the barriers that keep inactive individuals from engaging in movement. In addition, I want to encourage parents, especially of young children, that you might already be more active than you realize. (There’s a reason we don’t get enough sleep!)

So if you’re looking for simple and fun ways to add or enhance your physical activity levels, and perhaps bring it up to the moderate-vigorous intensity to warrant health benefits, I want to provide you some ideas that I’ve used, some from growing up with my many siblings (9!), where we invented cheap forms of entertainment by necessity; and others with my own two children (2 and 7 months). Hopefully you find yourself inspired to create new activities…you are only limited by your imagination! In Part 1, I will share outdoor fun fitness activities. Next week I plan to share successful indoor fun fitness ideas!

OUTDOOR FITNESS FUN

IMG_20170421_164629499Monkey bars–adult favorites at the park!
 

  • Parks: The obvious outdoor movement choice. Familiarize yourself with your local parks, many of them provide challenges for adults too (think Monkey bars). Plus the added bonus of enjoying nature will give you an energy boost too.
  • Biking: one word, Hills
  • Tee-ball, catch, Softball 500 game in park or back yard: 500: batter self-pitches, outfielders battle for the ball, 100pts for fly ball, 75 for one bounce grounder, 50 for two bounces, 25 for three or more. First to 500 pts becomes the batter.
  • Running bases: Two people throw a ball back and forth between “safe” areas; runners run back and forth avoiding a tag from person with the ball. Three tags requires runner to switch with tagger.
    IMG_20170422_112530494

    Creative park ideas—practice balance or jump over the bench.
  • Tag…so many variations of this game and the game is timelessly fun
  • Mother May I? “Mother” faces away from participants who start at a distance away. One at a time, each person asks “Mother may I [insert activity]? Options include run, skip, hop, etc. Mother approves or denies request (if denied, offers another option). Once approved, requester begins moving and Mother turns around at any moment to “catch” the person in movement. If caught, mover returns to start and next person makes a request. First person to reach Mother switches places.
  • Jump rope: Grab two ropes and make it a double-Dutch fun, or competitions of who can jump the most before snagging it with the foot. Use variations of two feet, single feet, backwards, boxer hop, eyes closed, double-jump and more!
  • Soccer/Kickball: Sprinting, kicking, chasing…heart’s racing in minutes!
  • Trampoline: Ok, I know it’s #1 on the pediatrician’s “Don’t get this Toy for Kids” list, but wow, we had a lot of fun on this as kids. And zero broken bones or serious injuries. Just a lot of good times. For
    10399290_15019257113_4692_n
    Perhaps a little extreme…but the fun on the trampoline is simply endless.

    liability purposes, of course, I am not responsible for any injuries you may incur on this device (it’s 2017, after all…gotta cover all my bases)!

  • Ladder/Hopscotch: The agility ladder is a great tool that conditioning coaches use for athletes, especially for sports that require quick reflexes (basketball, tennis, etc). But you don’t need to buy a ladder to get the same results. All you need is some sidewalk chalk to draw boxes on the ground and use your imagination for creating ways to get quickly through the ladder during various things (hopping, running, shuffling). Or you can get some ideas from YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67XP-AekUoA
  • Racing: Anything! Kids, especially little kids, are naturally social, so they consider most interaction, including competition, fun. You can make a game of just about anything. Few examples: We have two toy lawn mowers and my son would frequently ask me to “mow” with him. This was not overly appealing to me since I had to hunch over to use it, and pretend mowing is well, pretend. So I instead invented a new game…race the lawn mowers down the driveway! He loved it andIMG_20161125_140356562 so did I (for awhile, anyway).  Another example is our “Catch you” Game (explained more in Inside Fun). But the main gist is the cue phrase “Catch you” turns whatever we are doing into a game of chase, and we have to catch him as he runs. This is a great tool for pokey bike riders and daydreaming walkers.
  • Forest Preserves/Nature Centers: Often overlooked and underused (in my opinion), a serene getaway and nature hike is often only minutes away. Although maybe more ideal for walking aged children, I’ve hiked with the baby carrier also, which adds additional benefit for resistance training.
IMG_20170314_125028944.jpg
Bundle up and pull in the laundry basket! 
  •  Winter activities: Sledding, Snowmen (and women), forts…in fact just getting all the winter gear on and sweating from it seems beneficial. And I seriously forgot until this past year how much a snowman’s torso weighs.

Hopefully you benefit from some of these ideas and even create your own ideas from what you see around you. Come back next week to check out Indoor Fitness Fun Ideas! In the meantime, I would love to know what other ideas people have for outdoor family fun!

 

Back…with Babies!

Once again, my blogging ambitions took a lengthy hiatus, although I’m doubtful many people noticed. But this time I have a good excuse (at least that’s what I’ve been told…this excuse works for just about anything you avoid doing).

Yes, I’ve entered the world where babbles, coos, spit-ups, diapers, time-outs, messy floors, sticky fingers, child locks, car seats, and every thing else baby runs my life. I never imagined the real Little People could consume so much attention while simultaneously unearthing a full spectrum of emotions from the adults called parents. Yes, indeed, I continue to learn daily about my own emotional shortcomings, especially in the area of patience.

Yet I have to admit, most of the time I actually enjoy this life. True, it involves a lot of work and discipline. But I still spend more time laughin
g, smiling and playing than being annoyed. For me, the two words often on my mind

IMG_20170421_141919323

 

Free Entertainment: A walking blanket disguised as a child supposedly taking a nap.

 

watching these bambinos (as my husband calls them)…Free Entertainment! 

So with the change of lifestyle, I felt moved to change the direction of the blog, andgear it towards a specific audience that I’ve come to know better. As I continue personal training on the side, I am constantly hearing from moms looking for fitness help after baby. And let’s face it, parenting is overwhelming. A single day just doing chores and keeping kids alive would earn us a CEO ranking for work ethic in any corporate company. It’s no wonder we put our health on the back burner while we strive to raise responsible citizens.

Yet I believe it is possible (and even fun!) to live healthy and fit as a parent. And this lifestyle can be achieved even with infants who demand constant attention and sedentary positions for feeding. What makes success possible? Two things:

  1. Goals: Just like raising kids, we don’t expect them to perfect motor skills in one day, or even a week. Setting baby steps for achievable goals slowly transforms our wellness from periodic salads to intentional, nutritional meals.
  2. Education: When we bring home a baby, we have Google at our fingertips to advise us on every movement the baby makes. The same is true for health…the more you know, the more you grow (your mind), which in turn changes behavior.

So I hope as you read this re-branded blog, if you are a parent, that you find helpful advice for your home life. And if you are not a parent but reading this blog, I hope you find solid health tips, and maybe even an awareness to the challenges your parenting friends may be going through. We could all use a helping hand, right?

Tune in next week as I discuss how to put Fun into Fitness (kid involvement highly recommended)!

 

Simple, tasty stew for a Winter Night

Image

When the cold weather set in earlier in December, I told myself that this would be a good season to start experimenting with different soups and stews. I went through my crock pot recipes and organized the soups in a way that was supposed to motivate me to follow this endeavor. Unfortunately I have not gotten far in this new goal, but I did find a creative burst yesterday when perusing my pantry and trying to decide on the night’s dinner.

 So with a little guidance from Tosca Reno (author of “The Eat-Clean Cookbook”), I created a simple & tasty version of lentil vegetable stew that I think you will enjoy.

 Easy Lentil Stew (makes about 10 cups)

Ingredients:

1-2 tablespoons olive oil 

1-2 cups lentils (rinsed and sorted)

1 medium onion

5 garlic cloves 

1 large sweet potato, sliced

1-2 cups broth

1-2 cups vegetables of your choice (I used a 1/2 bag of frozen mixed veggies)

1-3 cups water, as needed

1-2 Tbsp tumeric seasoning

1 tsp. thyme

salt and pepper to taste 

Directions:

 1. Heat oil in pot  over low heat for about 1 minute. Add chopped onion and garlic and saute for about 2 minutes. Add in sweet potato, lentils, broth and spices and cook covered for about 10-15 minutes.  

2.  Bring stew to a boil and (if using frozen veggies) add those at this time. (If using regular veggies, add them in with the sweet potato.) Add water if needed at this time. Cook for an additionl 15-20 minutes, keeping an eye on the lentils, as overcooking them will make them mushy. Continue to add water to give it the soup texture, as the lentils absorb water as they cook.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Eat and enjoy! 

What is Trans Fat?

Part of the purpose of this blog is to help educate people about what they put into their

Crisco’s label boasts that it has “50% less Saturated fat than Butter,” but the fact is that shortening has partially-hydrogenated oil (trans fat), while natural butter does not.

mouths, and essentially, into their engines of energy (aka their bodies).  This post intends to clarify a bit about trans fat: what it is, why it’s harmful, what it look likes on an ingredient label, and what foods you would find them in.

Trans fat in its most basic definition is the addition of hydrogen to oil through a process called hydrogenation[1].  This creates a very stable substance that doesn’t spoil or break down, and it’s used to extend the shelf life of packaged food products.  Food manufacturers and bakers use ingredients with trans fat (i.e. shortening) because they produce foods with better baking qualities and enhanced flavors.[2]

The unfortunate part about trans fat is that the human body doesn’t recognize the difference between trans fat and saturated fat, and saturated fat is the healthy heart’s number one nemesis.  A diet high in saturated fat contributes to a variety of problems, including raising LDL levels (low-density lipoproteins, the “bad” cholesterol), and increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease.[3]  Trans fat, in addition to these risks, also decreases the levels of HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins), the “good” fat that provides essential amino acids to the body, and lowers the risk of heart disease.  Also, because trans fat contributes to elevated cholesterol, the risk of developing atherosclerosis increases.

Atherosclerosis is the hardening of artery walls due to buildup of blood waste products (fat, cholesterol, etc) called plaque. The accumulation of plaque makes arteries increasingly inflexible and narrow, and can contribute to strokes and heart attacks when blood is unable to pass through the narrowed chambers.

If you are a packaged food eater (and even if you think you’re not), you might be surprised to know where trans fat is hidden on the shelves.  It goes by the name of “partially-hydrogenated oil” and it can even exist in packages that say “0 trans fat.”  That’s because the FDA regulations allow for up to .5g of trans fat per serving for products to make the “0 trans fat” claim on their labels[4].  For that reason, it is absolutely critical for consumers to READ the ingredient labels of food products before buying it.  Below is a list of common food items that typically have partially-hydrogenated oil in the ingredients:

-Peanut butter
-Sweet treats (cookies, cakes, candy, doughnuts, icing)
-Packaged popcorn
-Crackers
-Vegetable shortening
-Fried foods
-Pie crusts, pizza dough, breads
-Pre-made cake and pancake mixes
-Snack foods
-Frozen dinners

Crisco vegetable shortening has both partially and fully hydrogenated palm oils in its ingredients, making it a source of saturated and trans fat.

And contrary to what you may think, if a product reads “fully” or “completely hydrogenated,” it actually does not contain any trans fat, although it is still has saturated fat.

Finally, I just want to emphasize again how important it is for consumers to be informed label-readers if they are going to buy packaged products. The best route in most cases is to buy whole, unpackaged foods, like fruits, nuts, veggies, bean varieties, and whole grains…then there’s nothing to worry about in the labels. But for people who do buy pre-packaged foods, you need to be your own health advocate and learn what your putting into your body, and how that affects you internally.

For consumers who don’t want to take extra time to read the labels, below is a list of a few companies I’ve found that avoid putting trans fat into some of their products and offer healthy, alternative & tasty foods to try.

Butter products: Smart Balance, Earth Balance, Land O’ Lakes (select varieties)
Snacks (cookies, crackers, Granola bars): Kashi, Newmans Own, Clif Bars, Nature’s Valley oat bars (i.e. Honey ‘n Oats)
Peanut Butter: Smuckers Natural, MaraNatha, Planters Natural, Skippys Natural, Smart Balance
Cake/cookie/brownie Mixes: Naturally Nora, King Arthur Flour (most mixes)

These represent just a small portion of the many health food companies & products out there, and I encourage you to find more as you shop.  But as always, the best meals are typically homemade anyway, so why not save money, put on your chef’s hat, and cook your way to healthier lifestyle? Everyone has a spark of creativity inside, and sometimes the kitchen is a wonderful place to feed that flame and make something tasty. I’d love to hear some of your stories of healthy food creations you’ve made in your kitchen.  Cheers!

FITNESS AGON

The place of struggle

“Run with endurance the race that is set before you.” Running the race is the culmination of months of sweat & struggle.

It’s tricky to come up with a title that embodies catchiness, meaning, thought, intrigue and relevance…all pre-requisites for an effective blog or book title.  “Fitness Agon” is my attempt to convey these traits for the purposes of this blog.
So what does it mean?  “Agon” represents a Greek concept, referred to in a few places in the Bible, that captures the idea of conflict or struggle. Used in Hebrews 12:1-2, “agon” is translated to race in English, so in many Bible translations, the verse reads something like this:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith….”
I don’t claim to be a Bible scholar or have much knowledge of Greek; I do however, own a book that makes up for my inadequacies.  If you are a Bible reader and desire to get a comprehensive look at Scripture passages, I encourage you to use a book like Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  This book shows where every word of text in the Bible is used, and also offers dictionaries for Hebrew and Greek words of the original words, with references to the English words.  My personal copy is based off the KJV version, but you can get other versions as well.

The start of a new endeavor can be thrilling and daunting at the same time, but to finish the race, starting is an must.

So as I looked into a new title for the blog, I simply referred to the concordance for references to “race” in the Bible, and looked at the Greek root.  That is where I learned about “Agon.”  In Greek context, it refers to the place where the national fitness contests took place, or the struggle that embodies the competition.  In English, “agon” refers a literary conflict between the protagonist and antagonist.
For my purposes, I am using “agon” to represent the struggles and challenges associated with living a fit and strong life.  As many of you know, this lifestyle is not easy; in fact, it’s a battle!  Daily we war against the temptations of food, depression, self-worth, pain, negativity and more as we pursue wholeness.  But if you are in the midst of that conflict, take heart.  The battle is not without a payoff.  While the external milestones (losing weight, getting off meds, finishing a contest, etc.) teach us valuable life lessons, the best lesson is that our successes will be remembered.  “Agon” used in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 gives us this promise:
 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
God sees your struggle and hears your cries of pain, despair and discouragement and he does not ignore you.  Keep fighting, and he will reward you better than you can ever imagine.

The pain and struggle of the race will always be worth the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when we cross the finish line.