Author Archives: Alison Stellner

  • Secret Ingredients in Everyday Food that Can Sabotage Your Diet

    InflammationYou may already know to stay away from excess salt, sugar and fat to stay healthy and manage your weight. But do you know all the places these taboo ingredients are hiding out? Avoid the obstacles to weight loss by educating yourself about hidden ingredients that can sabotage your weight loss success.


    While doughnuts, candy and cookies are obvious no-no’s, foods like yogurt, ketchup, spaghetti sauce and peanut butter may get the green light at your kitchen table. The problem is, these foods are often loaded with sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Watch out for products labeled “low-fat” as well. When food manufacturers reduce the fat content, they often use added sugar—which doesn't contain fat—to improve the taste. Low-fat salad dressings are a great example of less fat, more sugar.


    Sodium is necessary in a healthy diet, but too much of it can slow down your efforts to maintain a healthy weight, as well as lead to high blood pressure.

    The truth is, you don’t have to be a maniac with the salt shaker to get too much salt. The Mayo Clinic recommends less than 2,300 mg (or one tsp) a day for healthy adults. For adults over 51, African Americans and people who suffer from high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes, a mere 1,500 mg (3/4 tsp) is recommended. Hidden sodium in prepared foods like frozen entrees and canned soup however, can cause the average American to consume more than double the recommended amount of salt per day. Before you stock up on frozen "diet-friendly" entrees, check the label for sodium levels.


    Yogurt has to be healthy, right? While it can be great for your digestive system, just one serving of whole-milk Greek yogurt can contain the same amount of fat as 3 small servings of vanilla ice cream.

    According to the American Heart Association, you should limit your total fat intake to less than 25-35 percent of your daily calories, with 7 percent coming from saturated fat and 1 percent from trans-fats. For your waistline and your heart, get your remaining fats from healthy sources such as salmon, olive oil and unsalted seeds and nuts. And avoid foods that contain “partially hydrogenated oils,” another name for trans-fats that are believed to cause many health risks.

    When it comes to hidden ingredients, information is your best weapon—learn to read nutrition labels and avoid foods secretly loaded with these unhealthy ingredients.

  • How to Cure Winter Blues Naturally and Effectively

    Whether you call it “winter blues” or what doctors refer to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), feelings associated with depression that arrive with the colder, longer, grayer days of winter are not so uncommon. In fact, they are very real and there are estimates that up to 20 percent of the population suffer from some version of the disorder, ranging from mild blues to extreme depression—which in the most severe cases may require hospitalization.

    According to recent research from the Mayo Clinic, the culprit in this “down in the dumps” dilemma is a lack of sunlight. In addition to insufficient light, an increase of the hormone melatonin may also play a part in the onset of winter blues. Whatever the root of the disorder, the symptoms are fairly consistent and include weight gain, changes in sleep patterns, carbohydrate cravings, irritability and lack of energy.

    Although you can’t exactly chase the gray clouds of winter away, there are ways to alleviate this seasonal disruption to your mental wellness.

    If you or someone you know is experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, consider following these five recommendations for a happier, brighter winter season:

    Increase Your Exposure to Natural Light

    Your first line of defense is natural light. Every morning when you wake up, open the curtains, get outside--whatever it takes to spend a few minutes in the daylight. If you’re not able to get outside and walk, the next best thing is to sit by a window to do your work, read a book or eat your mid-day meal. People dealing with more serious cases of SAD may want to consider investing in a light therapy system.

    Maintain a Well-Balanced Diet

    A well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, vitamins and minerals is a crucial part of your daily protocol. According to the Vitamin D Council, vitamin D may play a key role in mental health and depression—that’s why foods naturally rich in vitamin D like salmon, milk, eggs, beef liver and mushrooms are a must during the winter. If those don’t sound appetizing, there are other ways to get your daily dose. Sunlight is always the best source, but if you can’t soak up enough of that during the shorter days, supplements can be a good alternative. The standard recommendation of vitamin D for adults is about 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily, but please consult your physician regarding your specific needs before beginning a supplement regimen.

    Try Supplementation with B Vitamins

    Symptoms of SAD can include lethargy, anxiety, change in appetite and general depression—symptoms also linked with a deficiency of vitamin B. Intake of B vitamins has been linked to a decrease in mood swings and stress, and increased overall emotional wellbeing. The proper dose of B vitamins does vary from person to person, so consulting with your physician is recommended. In addition to B vitamins, natural mineral supplements should also be included in your battle of the blues program. Iron, selenium and magnesium are three important minerals to look for in your essential mineral supplement, since these three specifically help alleviate mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and constant mood changes.

    Explore Herbs

    Natural herbs are also an integral part of the beat-the-blues regimen. According to a systematic review published in Science Daily, St. John’s wort can be effective in alleviating symptoms of depression. Other herbs such as milk thistle, rose and lavender also top the list of natural depression fighters and may help elevate your mood and enhance relaxation.

    Get Your Exercise

    Exercise can make a huge difference in your mood and sense of wellbeing. Although the exact link isn’t entirely clear, regular workout sessions have been shown to help ease depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, oxygenating your body with regular moderate exercise helps release feel-good chemicals and provides numerous positive psychological effects. As part of your anti-blues plan, get outside and take a brisk walk whenever possible. Yoga is also an ideal exercise program because of its meditative, holistic approach towards breathing, stretching and relaxation.

  • Natural Ways to Get Through Cold and Flu Season--Without OTC Meds

    Unfortunately, cold and flu season is upon us. Whether or not you choose to get a flu shot this year, you can definitely arm yourself and your family with smart preventive measures. While OTC meds can be helpful, it's worth trying some natural supplements and strategies to boost your immunity.

    Eat Organic
    Stock up on organic veggies and fruits, especially those naturally packed with vitamin C. Fruits like strawberries, papaya and kiwi are loaded with the cold-combative vitamin C. Superfoods like kale, red peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts also pack a powerful punch of “C” and will boost your immune system to fight off influenza’s unpleasant symptoms naturally.

    Use Supplements
    According to the National Institutes of Health, when taken in adequate amounts, vitamin D produces cathelicidin, a virus-killing protein. In general, 600 IU daily is the recommended adult daily dosage, but always consult your physician before adding any vitamin D supplements to your daily routine.

    Drink Water
    As always, in warm or cold weather, keep yourself hydrated to strengthen your body and boost your immune system. Generally 6-8 glasses of water per day is adequate, but you’ll know you are drinking enough water when your urine is clear or very pale yellow.

    Practice Preventive Hygiene
    One of the most effective ways to get through the cold and flu season without using OTC meds is to take preventive action by washing your hands frequently and thoroughly. Mayo Clinic health experts recommend scrubbing your hands vigorously for at least 15 seconds or use a hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available. During peak flu season you can also reduce your risk of getting the flu or a cold by avoiding large crowds or places where people congregate in small spaces.

    Use Natural Alternatives
    Natural products such as essential oils are not only pleasant to the senses, they also serve as a natural antihistamine. Grade A essential oils can be applied as a soothing therapeutic rub or added to a diffuser to bring restorative elements into the air you breathe. And at the first sign of a sore throat, soothe it with a dose of elderberry syrup or brew a cup of elderberry tea, both a great source of vitamins B, C and A.

    Last but definitely not least, bolster your immune system with daily exercise, a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables and wash your hands throughout the day. Be your own best advocate!

  • Simple Superfoods That Boost Energy and Brain Power

    Exactly what are “superfoods” and why do we need them? The answer is quite simple--superfoods are natural, nutrient-rich, power-packed sources of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes that contain fewer calories than processed foods. These foods should be a part of everyone’s regular diet, as study after study shows that diets rich in superfoods can help boost our energy and brain power as they strengthen our immune system.

    Natural Energy-Boosting Recommendations

    Go a Little Nuts
    On those days when you just can’t get your “get-up-and-go,” energize yourself the natural way. Start out with a handful of almonds. It only takes 20 almonds to give you more than 40 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin E, a powerful immune-bolstering antioxidant.

    Be Fruity
    For a quick mid-day energy boost, have a serving of fresh pineapple--nature’s pick-me-up. Pineapple is filled with fructose, fiber and water, exactly what your body needs to get going. In addition, the bright yellow fruit contains manganese, thiamin and B6 which help in carbohydrate metabolism and serotonin production for a natural “high.”

    Get Your Grains On
    Whole grains are not only filled with energizing nutrients like B vitamins, sinking your teeth into a piece of whole wheat toast supports you with manganese, protein, iron, fiber and magnesium. Complex carbs found in whole wheat absorb slower than simple carbs, allowing your blood sugar to remain stable for several hours, providing a longer, gradual release of natural energy.

    Natural Brain-Boosting Recommendations 

    Go Fishing
    Two recent studies, one published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, and the other in the European Journal of Nutrition, both emphasize the importance of omega-3 fatty acids. The research suggests that consuming nuts, grains and fish containing omega-3s may potentially slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Foods like pumpkin seeds, soy beans and oily fish give you a dose of DHA and EPA, the essential fatty acids your body needs to enhance brain function and improve general wellbeing.

    Go Green
    According to the AddNeuroMed-Project, a study conducted by at the Karolina Institutet in Stockholm Sweden, vitamin E may have a positive effect on cognitive decline, especially for senior citizens. Feed your brain with leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and radishes for a natural dose of vitamin E. If veggies are not your thing, consider adding greens to juices and smoothies, or invest in a quality vitamin E supplement.

    Say Tomato (or To-mah-to)
    When it comes to your brain, there’s nothing rotten about tomatoes! In fact, tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene that may help protect brain cells from the damage of free radicals.

    Bonus Booster

    In addition to a eating a diet filled with fish, veggies and fruit, you can do your body and your brain good with a treat every now and then. The occasional chocolate splurge, cup of coffee sprinkled with cinnamon or a bowl of berries topped with grated coconut will make both your brain and your palette happy!

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