Archive for February, 2016

Decoding your digestive health

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Digestive health plays a major role in achieving overall health and wellness, and according to digestive health expert and author, Dr. Steven Lamm, understanding how to manage digestive health issues is the best way to achieve long-lasting relief and overall health and wellness.

Take care of your gut and it will take care of you
The digestive system, also referred to as the gut, is a unique and perfectly created system that, when impaired, can increase risk of developing infectious, inflammatory and functional GI diseases, as well as immune-mediated and metabolic disorders. Good digestive health is also recognized by many as being a requirement for overall good health.

“When we take care of our gut, we take a step toward achieving overall health and wellness,” says Dr. Lamm. “However, many modern day triggers, such as stress, medication and foods low in nutrients, can cause problems that affect our day-to-day lives.”

These triggers disrupt the balance of the digestive system and manifest as many of the issues people experience, including:

* Heartburn/frequent heartburn
* Gas/bloating
* Irritable bowel syndrome
* Diarrhea
* Constipation
* Nausea/vomiting

According to Dr. Lamm, it is also important to know that some digestive health issues can be caused by underlying conditions or even genetics. If digestive health issues are persistent, worsen, or are accompanied by blood, unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite, a physician should be consulted.

Getting to the gut of the problem
For many, navigating the world of digestive health can be overwhelming. How do you determine what your specific problem is and what might be triggering the issues? And how do you figure out which available treatment may help manage the issues?

When trying to understand and seek the best course of action, Lamm suggests keeping in mind the following tips:

1. Be aware of the existence of issues; your digestive health should be seamless
2. Pay attention to your body and triggers; know how to identify and self-diagnose
3. Establish an easy fiber routine, such as including Benefiber(R) in your diet, to help maintain a healthy digestive system
4. Use appropriate over-the-counter medications to help manage digestive health issues, such as Prevacid(R)24HR for frequent heartburn, Gas-X(R) for gas and bloating
5. Consult a physician if issues are persistent, worsening, or if there is bleeding, unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite

For more on Dr. Lamm’s digestive health information and tips, visit

Simple steps to perfect slow-cooker meals

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

“This isn’t your mother’s slow cooker,” says Ginny Bean, publisher and founder of Ginny’s catalog and “Beyond coming in bright colors and stunning designs, many of today’s models are programmable, with digital timers that start automatically, and a self-adjust feature that switches the temperature to ‘keep warm’ at the end of cooking.”

While replacing your 20-year-old slow cooker with a newer model may be a logical place to start, Bean offers these additional tips for preparing perfect slow-cooker meals.

* Plan ahead. If you want to use your slow cooker first thing in the morning, cut and trim meat, chop vegetables, measure out dry ingredients and prepare sauce the night before; then refrigerate ingredients in separate containers. Don’t refrigerate in the slow-cooker insert, as a cold insert takes too long to heat up, affecting cooking time and, potentially, food safety. In the morning, add ingredients to the cooker according to the recipe. Reheat any sauce to a simmer before adding.

* Size matters. Slow cookers are available in sizes from 1 quart to 8 1/2 quarts. If you’re using a different size cooker than that called for in the recipe, adjust your ingredient quantities proportionately. Most manufacturers recommend filling a slow cooker one-half to two-thirds full. Foods will not cook properly if the pot is filled to the brim. Conversely, if the food and liquid level is too low, meals will cook too quickly.

* Keep a lid on it. Resist the urge to lift the lid to stir or peek at your meal. Each time you remove the lid, enough heat escapes to lengthen cooking time by 20 to 30 minutes. Only open it once, within the final hour of cooking, to check doneness.

* Check your temperature. For safety, food being cooked needs to reach 140 F. If you’re at home while your meal is cooking, use a meat thermometer to check that food temperature is at least 140 degrees, after four hours of cooking on low. If it isn’t, there’s a problem with your slow cooker and you should get a new one. Also, don’t put frozen ingredients into a slow cooker, as it takes too long for them to escape the food safety “danger zone” between 40 and 140 F.

* Use cheaper cuts of meat. Not only do you save money, but these cuts are actually better suited to slow cooking, because they have less fat. Fat causes slow-cooker meals to cook too quickly, and can carry an unpleasant texture. So remove skin from poultry and trim excess fat from other meats for optimal slow-cooker results.

* Brown when you can. While not necessary, browning meat and vegetables before adding them to a slow cooker provides color and a richer flavor to finished dishes. Time permitting, Bean likes to “deglaze” her browning pan with the recipe’s liquid and add the flavorful, caramelized bits into her slow cooker.

* Follow layering instructions. Vegetables do not cook as quickly as meat, so they should be placed in the bottom of the slow cooker, where food cooks fastest.

* Stir in spices in the final hour. Most spices lose flavor when cooked for a long time. Cayenne pepper and Tabasco sauce actually become bitter, and should be used sparingly.

Just as slow cookers themselves have changed over the decades, so has the quality and quantity of recipes available. There are dozens of slow-cooker recipes on, including one of founder Ginny Bean’s personal favorites for melt-in-your-mouth pot roast.

Gourmet beef pot roast


3 potatoes, sliced thinly

2 carrots, sliced thinly

1 onion, sliced

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 package instant onion soup

3-4 pounds beef brisket, rump roast or pot roast

1/2 cup dry red wine


Put vegetables in bottom of a 6 1/2-quart slow cooker. Salt and pepper the meat and place on top of the vegetables. Mix tgether the onion soup mix and wine and pour over the meat. Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours, or on high for 5 to 6 hours.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

How to maximize the flavor and nutrition of snack mixes

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

When deciding between your favorite snacks, there’s no need to sacrifice flavors and seasonings often reserved for main course dishes. Instead, look to combine different food groups to create unique, delicious snack mixes. A mix can not only pack a lot of flavor but also can be full of nutrient-rich vitamins and whole grains.

The perfect snack mix combines flavors, textures, seasonings and tastes.

* Whole grain crackers add heartiness to your snack leaving you deliciously satisfied.

* Adding vegetables such as leafy greens adds vitamins and minerals – a perfect low-calorie addition.

* For extra crunch, popcorn or nuts are flavorful ingredients to add to your mix for a wholesome, appetizing snack.

Chef Rocco DiSpirito, known for his best-selling healthy comfort foods series Now Eat This!, created Brown Rice Triscuit Sea Salt & Black Pepper Crumbled Snack Mix, a tasty mix of popcorn, kale and the new Brown Rice Triscuit, which is baked with 100 percent whole grain brown rice. This snack mix is one great way to reap the benefits of whole grains in a distinctive new way.

Brown Rice Triscuit Sea Salt & Black Pepper Crumbled Snack Mix

Yield: 9 servings, about 1 cup each

Prep time: about 10 minutes

Processing time: about 10 minutes


Olive oil cooking spray

3 tablespoons popping corn kernels

1/8 teaspoon each salt and crushed red pepper flakes

1 bunch of Tuscan kale (about 15 leaves), or 4 loosely packed cups of leaves only (remove tough center stem with knife or kitchen shears)

20 Brown Rice Triscuit Sea Salt & Black Pepper Crackers, quartered


1. Spray a medium-sized saucepot with 1 second of cooking spray; add the popcorn kernels and place over medium high heat. Cook, covered, shaking occasionally until the kernels have popped, about 2 minutes. Turn off heat; place popcorn in large bowl and season with salt and crushed red pepper flakes.

2. Lay the kale out in batches in single layer on microwave-safe plates. Spray each plate with 1 second of cooking spray and microwave on high for 1 minute. Flip the leaves, then microwave on high until the leaves are dried and crisp, about 1 minute. Continue microwaving, if needed, turning every minute until crisp. Repeat with remaining kale.

3. Break the kale crisps into bite-size pieces. Toss with the crackers and popcorn and serve.

Nutrition Information Per Serving: 80 calories, 2g total fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 90mg sodium, 14g carbohydrate, 2g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, 2g protein

How to blast through your weight loss plateau

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

If it seems like you work out regularly only to continue to struggle losing weight, you’re not alone. But losing weight in order to improve health may be the wrong approach. First you need to fix what’s holding you back on the inside, so you can see the transformation you want on the outside.

Cliff Edberg cringes every time he hears someone say: I want to lose weight to get healthy. In my opinion that phrase is backward, says Edberg, a registered dietician, personal trainer, and certified weight loss coach at Life Time Fitness, The Healthy Way of Life Company. People need to get healthy first in order to lose weight. Weight gain or being unhealthy isn’t directly caused by a lack of exercise, it’s a side effect of metabolic dysfunction.

Generally people refer to having good metabolism (someone who burns calories quickly) or bad metabolism (a slow caloric burn with leftovers stored in body fat). But metabolism is much more than the rate at which calories are burned. Metabolism is the process of breaking down food into smaller molecules for various uses in the body. Certain foods or ingredients might interfere with a person’s metabolism, as can a lack of nutrients, high blood sugar or an overabundance of stress hormones. This metabolic disruption is often behind a person’s inability to lose weight, even when they are taking steps to eat right and exercise.

Michelle Stork, 43, from Chanhassen, Minn., had resigned herself to creeping weight gain, despite diligently working out for years. As time went on it was easier to gain than lose weight, she recalls. Exercise alone wasn’t taking it off.

She accepted the weight gain as a normal part of getting older, but Edberg, her personal trainer, didn’t. He encouraged her to take a simple blood test to check for underlying metabolic issues. I could see on paper what the problems were and it motivated me to try what my trainer suggested, Stork says. She slowly added recommended supplements, including vitamin D, probiotics and fish oil, which increased her energy, but didn’t affect her weight. The next step was to change her diet.

We discovered a high likelihood that she was sensitive to gluten and dairy, Edberg says. Unlike an allergy, a sensitivity means the hormones derived from the metabolic process of such foods send confusing messages to the brain, which can cause various symptoms, including weight gain. Within a month of eliminating gluten and dairy from her diet Stork lost more than 10 percent body fat and dropped 12 pounds and two sizes.

If someone has a thyroid issue, nutrient deficiency, sex hormone imbalance, etc., they will gain weight Edberg explains. As a certified weight loss coach, he knows that unless the true underlying metabolic issue is addresseda person will not sustainably lose weight. All the exercise in the world will not fix a thyroid issue or nutrient deficiency. In some cases it might make the underlying problem worse.

This inside out approach to personal training is the standard at Life Time Fitness. New members take a comprehensive assessment, called myHealthScore, to measure six metabolic markers – cholesterol ratio, triglycerides, blood pressure, body fat ratio, glucose levels and nicotine use – in order to first set goals based on their internal health.

With information from myHealthScore Edberg says he can make precise exercise, nutrition, lifestyle and supplementation recommendations to support each client’s individual metabolism needs.

Stork is impressed with her results, but the implications go beyond a smaller waist line. Her father suffers from Parkinson’s disease, which looms large in her mind. The steps she is taking now she hopes will prevent a dependence on medication later. I know what may be ahead of me as I get older, and I know I need to start doing things to improve my overall health and fitness to help counter any disease I may develop later in life.

DIY ways to get the season’s hottest looks

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Do-over your denim

Shorts are a fashionable warm weather staple – and a great way to show off your tan. Make a personalized pair by repurposing old jeans – just trim them at your desired length for a cool, casual pair of cutoffs. Or, embrace the bright color trend by transforming colored khakis or denim into capri pants or Bermuda shorts. Add a bit of pop to your jeans by adding fabric panels at the sides – open the side seams and sew in some fabric all the way down. For a simpler touch, add lace or ribbon down the side seams for a chic effect, or cover the back pockets in a unique design.

Transform a T-shirt

The classic summer tee is the perfect medium for some do-it-yourself fashion flair. Give new life to a favorite T-shirt by transforming it into a halter top. Start with a crew neck T-shirt, remove the sleeves, cut a v-shape in the front and back, then trim straight across the back at the bottom of the v-shape to create straps. To embrace another fun trend, add some fringe to the bottom of a t-shirt. For best results, start with a T-shirt that’s a bit longer. Mark where you want the fringe to start; next, use a ruler to measure even strips. Then, snip, snip.

Stick to it

Father’s favorite fix-all isn’t just for home repairs anymore – duct tape clothing and accessories are everywhere. A recent episode of the popular fashion design program “Project Runway” even featured an Unconventional Materials Challenge asking the designers to create dresses using Duck Tape brand duct tape.

“What is great about making a dress out of Duck Tape is that you can always change as you go – the -dress is never set in stone, because it’s tape,” says Michelle Lesniak Franklin, winner of the Duck Tape Unconventional Materials Challenge and Season 11 of “Project Runway.”

Flexible and fun, Duck Tape can be used to create entire garments or to simply add a bit of color and pattern to existing clothing and accessories. For instance, cut out a personalized monogram using Duck Tape Sheets to add some style to a handbag or backpack, make a funky flower ring or create colorful waterproof flips flops using a few of the hundreds of colors and prints available.

Embellish away

Stenciling or painting on fabric is another easy way to turn basic clothing into sophisticated styles. Create your own customized stencils using contact paper, or find plenty of options at your local craft store or on websites like Etsy. Just pick up some fabric paint, lay out your stencil and get to work. For a super simple – but definitely eye-catching – transformation, try replacing the buttons on a favorite sweater or jacket with new buttons in an unexpected color, fabric or texture. Adding beads, ribbon or lace are additional options for making your clothing your own.

Not ready to make over your favorite existing pieces? Experiment with finds from a local consignment store, Goodwill or Salvation Army shop – you’ll often discover gently used or like-new clothing for just a few dollars, and you won’t have to worry if your design goes awry. For more fun fashion do-it-yourself ideas, check out Pinterest, crafting websites like Craftster, or try to recreate styles from the pages of your favorite fashion magazine.