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Best Sugar Substitutes

October22

A big myth about diets is that they force you to eat less tasty food. But when you make the choice to cut your calories by cutting sugar, don’t think that you have to cut out the sweetness. Here’s a rundown on sugar substitutes: what they are, how they taste, and why you should use them.

1. Stevia. Originating from subtropical South America, stevia is grown throughout the world from China to New Zealand to Canada. Also known as sweetleaf or sugarleaf, and primarily marketed as a dietary supplement, one form of this plant – called Rebaudiaside A – has been recently granted Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status by the FDA and can now be used in food. This is great news, as stevia is nearly 300 times sweeter than sugar. Because it is so much sweeter than traditional sugar, it should be taken in smaller doses. It is prized as a sugar substitute because it has a negligible effect on blood sugar, making it a favorite of those who are on a carbohydrate or sugar-restricted diet. Even more encouraging, recent research shows that stevia has promise in helping treat obesity and hypertension.

2. Xylitol. A naturally occurring sugar alcohol, xylitol in its purest form looks like a white crystalline substance. It has a similar look and taste to sugar, although it is a little less sweet. Xylitol is found in beets, berries, mushrooms and corncobs. Despite its exotic name, our bodies produce small amounts of xylitol from the foods we eat. In fact, it’s an essential part of our everyday metabolism. Many types of gum contain xylitol and when chewed, this sugar substitute stimulates saliva production, which helps guard against tooth decay. Like stevia, xylitol does not raise blood sugar the way traditional sugar does, although it has been known to give people gas if consumed in larger quantities (more than 15 grams per day).

3. Agave Nectar. You may have heard of agave nectar in a context outside its use as a sugar substitute. Agave nectar is the plant used to make tequila, a drink responsible for some of the worst hangovers in history. But the agave plant also provides a natural sugar substitute that is great for teas, coffees and other hot beverages. As a low glycemic sweetener, it doesn’t cause a sharp rise and fall in blood sugar and is ideal for diabetics or those on a low glycemic diet. Learn more about the glycemic index.

Agave is much sweeter to the taste than regular sugar, so the amount used should be adjusted accordingly. For baking, agave nectar makes a nice lower-calorie alternative to liquid sweeteners such as honey. However, use caution because the nectar tends to brown at higher temperatures. Check out Nature’s Agave, featured in the Organic Liaison Store.

4. Brown Rice Syrup. One of the most distinctive sugar substitutes, brown rice syrup has a butterscotch taste, while others have detected caramel flavors as well. With only 13 calories per teaspoon, this sugar substitute is less sweet than sugar, making it a good sweetener for baking goods. (Coffee and tea drinkers may find it a little too bland, however.) Although less sweet than sugar and most other sugar substitutes, do not overindulge with this rice-based sweetener because it contains a fair amount of glucose.

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For more information on natural sugar substitutes, please see the below links:

University of Nebraska Lincoln: Stevia

Xylitol.Org – Xylitol on the Web

All About Agave – What is Agave Nectar?

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For regular tips and advice on health, fitness, diet, and weight loss, register for a free Organic Liaison account today!

Eating Healthy on a Budget

October19

If you browse the self-help section of any bookstore, you will likely see that two of the most prominent topics are weight loss and money! Since today’s economy is pretty lame, it’s easy to understand if you’re wondering how you can eat healthy on a budget. Here are a few tips for saving money AND eating RIGHT so you keep both your waistline and wallet slimmer than ever:

Shop local and buy seasonal foods. Local and seasonal fruits and vegetables don’t travel as far as their counterparts, taste better and cost less. This is a win-win-win! Seasonal organic produce is usually the same price as regular produce that’s not in season. Scour your local farmer’s market and grocery store for the best deals. Check out more reasons why you should eat local!

Shop bulk bins, perimeters and frozen foods aisles. Some health food stores have bulk bins where you can bag your own beans, grains and nuts for less money than if you were to buy them bagged. If you shop the perimeters of the grocery store you can also save money by buying more fruits and vegetables than costly packaged foods (they’re costly at the register AND overall in their effect on your health!). Frozen produce is another good option since it’s usually cheap or on sale, and many are flash frozen in their peak so that they maintain all their nutrients. Check out the top 10 foods you must buy organic!

Plan ahead. If you spend time planning BEFORE you go grocery shopping, you’re more likely to save on groceries. Planning out your meals ahead of time prevents you from buying extra items you already have available at home, while sticking to a plan keeps you from getting overwhelmed at the market and buying everything in site (also a good tip: eat BEFORE you shop!). Try planning to cook large meals on the weekends and freezing leftovers for lunches and meals throughout the week!

Stock up on nutritious staples. Keep a stash of healthy meal basics such as whole grains, beans and canned tomatoes so that you always have the essentials around in case you’re in a hurry – this way you don’t feel forced to eat out if you did not plan a meal ahead of time. These staples also happen to be less expensive and HEALTHIER than packaged or frozen meals.

Give up fatty and unhealthy extras. While soda, chips and cookies have a special place in my heart, they also have a hand in our fat pants, and frankly, we don’t need ‘em! Ditch the soda and sugary drinks and get your water intake in check. Substitute salty foods with something lower in sodium, such as switching whole wheat crackers for chips. Applesauce can make a great substitute for oil when baking.

Grow and make your own. You can start your own vegetable garden or simply grow herbs if you don’t have a backyard or enough room. Also, learning to make your own restaurant favorites saves money and calories! Use the Organic Recipes database to find recipes for your favorite dishes. And see tips on how to grow your own organic garden!

Ditch the ego and embrace your wallet. Being frugal is the new black, so don’t hesitate to clip coupons, shop at warehouses (you can split membership costs with a friend), bring your own healthy snacks to the movies, follow sales, and buy generic versions of your favorite staples.

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Additional Resources

• U.S. Department of Agriculture – Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals

• The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity – “Dietary and physical activity behaviors among adults successful at weight loss maintenance

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For regular tips and advice on health, fitness, diet, and weight loss, register for a free Organic Liaison account today!

Recipe Picks: Which Pancakes Jump Start Your Day?

October15

Exclusive organic recipes from Kirstie’s Kitchen!

Nothing says “Good Morning!” like pancakes! Enjoy your own tasty, healthy version of this breakfast staple – in three different ways.

Note: All 3 recipes are included in the Organic Liaison Recipe collection, accessible to Organic Liaison members. Learn more about how to begin your Organic Liaison weight loss journey today.


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4814835195_322907db2c_z1. Blueberry Flax Pancakes

This yummy blueberry pancake recipe combines rich taste with the added healthy fat and high fiber content of the mighty flax seed.

Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Servings: 12. Each serving: 1 pancake.

Ingredients:

1 cup organic whole wheat flour
1/2 cup 100% organic unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup organic oatmeal
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups organic skim milk
1 cup fresh or frozen organic blueberries
Garnish: raw agave nectar (try Nature’s Agave Nectar)

Nutritional Information: 203 calories per serving

Fat: 2.9
SatFat: 0.4
Trans Fat: 0
Cholesterol: 1
Carbs: 37.5
Sugars: 6.1
Sodium: 221
Protein: 8.8
Fiber: 5
Vitamin A: 190
Vitamin C: 4
Iron: 2.3
Calcium: 240.5.5

Directions:

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add milk and stir until smooth. Fold blueberries in gently.
Lightly spray a large 12-inch nonstick pan with cooking oil spray. Heat over medium-high heat. Spoon four circles, 1/4 cup each. Cook until the batter bubbles then flip over with a spatula. Cook until golden brown. Garnish with raw agave nectar.

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3679512023_28a7b6f6c5_z2. Whole Grain Pancakes

Substitute traditional pancakes with the taste of whole grain and less calories. This leaves room for a little garnish indulgence.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4. Each serving: 3 pancakes.

Ingredients:

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup rolled organic oats
1/3 cup 100% organic unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1-1/2 cups organic vanilla soy milk or organic skim milk

Nutritional Information: 236 calories per serving
Fat: 3
SatFat: 0
Trans Fat: 0
Cholesterol: 0
Carbs: 43
Sugars: 1
Sodium: 254
Protein: 9
Fiber: 5
Vitamin A: 32.2
Vitamin C: 0
Iron: 2.9
Calcium: 141

Directions:

Mix the dry ingredients together in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add milk and mix until the batter is smooth. The amount of milk is variable according to how thick or thin you like your pancakes.

Lightly spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking oil and heat over medium-high heat. Spoon the batter into the skillet so it forms 3-inch pancakes.

When the pancakes bubble, it is time to turn them over. Brown them well on the other side, then remove them from the pan. Continue in this fashion until you have used up all the batter.

We recommend serving these pancakes with organic pure maple syrup and fresh organic fruit.

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4334573247_544527cfd5_b3. Oatmeal Pancakes

Another favorite healthy alternative to traditional pancakes.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4. Each serving: 3 pancakes.

Ingredients:

1 cup organic white whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup organic oatmeal (not instant)
1 teaspoon raw agave nectar
2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch ground cinnamon
1/4 cup organic 100% liquid egg whites
1 cup organic skim milk
2 tablespoons organic safflower oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Nutritional Information: 257 calories per serving
Fat: 8
SatFat: 1
Trans Fat: 0
Cholesterol: 1
Carbs: 35
Sugars: 0.6
Sodium: 261
Protein: 10
Fiber: 5
Vitamin A: 132.2
Vitamin C: 0.1
Iron: 0.7
Calcium: 57

Directions:

Place all dry ingredients in medium-sized mixing bowl. Add wet ingredients and mix well. Spray a large nonstick skillet lightly with vegetable cooking oil and heat over medium heat. Spoon batter into pan to make 4 small pancakes. Flip them over when they start to bubble and brown evenly on both sides. Repeat until all batter is used.

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Happy, healthy eating! If you like these recipes and would like more sneak peaks into the Organic Liaison Recipe Collection, sign up for a free account to receive our updates!

[Image: Blueberry pancakes from step1network's Flickr Photostream/CreativeCommons]

[Image: Whole grain pancakes from magro-family's Flickr Photostream/CreativeCommons]

[Image: Oatmeal pancakes from notahipster's Flickr Photostream/CreativeCommons]

Empty Calories and How to Avoid Them

October11

As you’ve sifted through the mountain of articles on dieting, health and fitness, you’ve no doubt come across the term “empty calories.” This term refers to calories that come from foods with little or no nutritional value, usually made up of processed carbohydrates or fats. Think soda, potato chips, candy bars, jellybeans and other tasty treats. Beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages also fall into this category, as do butter and margarine and refined grains such as white bread.

Despite their taste, these foods are a nutritional zero. In general, foods like the ones mentioned above contain a lot of calories from sugar and not much else. In other words, they are seriously lacking in nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids and fiber. They also leave you hungry after consumption, so that later in the afternoon you’ll be wanting more. Soda is a classic example. Some people drink soda as a thirst quencher, only to end up just as thirsty as before and now craving even more.

Without moderation, empty calories can quickly lead to weight gain. When you eat foods with a lot of empty calories, you also experience a quick blood sugar spike, which falls almost as quickly as it rose. This is why people have that well-known “crash” right after consuming a chocolate bar. These swings in blood sugar can be dramatic, leaving people tired and needing another boost from – you guessed it – another source of empty calories. This creates a classic “vicious cycle,” which can be very hard to break.

Part of the reason why people overindulge in these types of foods is that they are fast, easy and convenient to eat. In some cases, you don’t even have to get out of the car! However, there are steps you can take do to avoid the temptation.

Read the label. Know what you’re eating. Everyone knows about the typical culprits (marshmallows, soda, jellybeans, etc.), but even “healthful” food items such as energy drinks, protein bars and flavored water have a lot empty calories. Look for high-fructose corn syrup, enriched and bleached flour, artificial colorings, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrate and nitrites. All of these are to be avoided if possible. Also, a good rule of thumb is to avoid anything with more than 10 ingredients as well. Learn more about ingredients to avoid in processed foods.

Cut the soda habit. You’ve heard it a million times, but it is essential if you want to cut out those excess calories that aren’t doing anything for you. They provide no nutritional value and are loaded with calories, so if want something to satisfy your thirst, water is the first, last and BEST thirst quencher there is. If you want to refresh with something a little more fun, you can also try unsweetened iced green tea, which is loaded with antioxidants and other healthful nutrients. Learn more reasons why you quit drinking soda.

Sweet food swap. We all want something sweet from time to time. Cutting down on empty calories doesn’t mean you have to give up on sweets though. Instead of chocolate chip ice cream after dinner, try plain yogurt with cherries, blueberries, peaches, raspberries, a banana or any rainbow of delicious fruits mixed in. These sweet foods not only taste good, but they actually provide you with vitamins and nutrients essential for good health. There are also great sugar substitutes worth trying. Learn the about the best sweeteners for you.

Avoid alcohol. There are more reasons to quit alcohol than can be listed here, but cutting calories is near the top of the list. Beer, wine, hard alcohol – all of these contain a lot of calories. An average 12 oz beer has about 150 calories; a glass of wine, 250 calories; and hard liquor (whiskey, scotch, vodka) has around 100 calories per shot glass. They don’t call it a “beer belly” for nothing.

Remember, just because you cut out empty calories doesn’t mean you have to cut out the taste – or fun – in your diet. With a few creative swaps and a little moderation, you can significantly reduce your caloric intake.

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Additional Resources:

Soft drink “pouring rights”: marketing empty calories to children

Too much sugar, too much carbohydrate, or just too much?

American Heart Association Statement on Sugar and Cardiovascular Disease

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For regular tips and advice on health, fitness, diet, and weight loss, register for a free Organic Liaison account today!

Maintaining Weight Loss for the Long Haul

October5

Losing weight is like dating – it’s a lot of getting to know what works for you and what doesn’t. Maintaining your weight is like getting married – it’s meant for the long haul. If you’ve ever lost weight only to regain it (ahem!), you know how frustrating it can be. For many, it often seems like the real challenge when it comes to health and weight is not necessarily achieving weight loss, but maintaining the results. So, to put it in a new-age figurative sense, the biggest challenge on the weight loss journey begins after losing the weight.

The following tips will help us say, “I do!” to weight loss for the rest of our lives:

1. Eat organic foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are full of fiber and make you feel fuller quicker and longer. They are nature’s miracle weight loss food! Here are ways to add more vegetables to your diet.

2. Think of it as a lifestyle – this is forever. If you think of the Organic Liaison program as a lifestyle change and not just a weight-loss plan, you will see better results over a longer period of time. Commitment to a healthy lifestyle means committing long-term and not abandoning your good diet and exercise habits the second you hit your goal weight on the scale.

3. Plan your meals. Meal planning is just as important for maintaining weight-loss results as it is for working towards weight-loss goals. Planning your meals ahead of time leaves out any guesswork involved in how you should plan your week, activity level, and splurges. It also saves you time, money and hassle! If you’re a member, continue to use the Organic Liaison meal planner to help you out.

4. Keep track of what you eat. It seems like a no-brainer, but some of us know all to well how it feels to lose weight and then feel like the honeymoon stage is over and it’s time start eating crap and not track calories again. Before you know it, you have to break out the fat pants once more. You use a meal and exercise planner even after you’ve met your weight loss goal, until you can manage to track your intake intuitively. Remember, a healthy lifestyle is meant to keep you healthy forever.

5. Exercise. According to the National Weight Loss Registry (they keep tabs on people who’ve maintained a loss of at least 30 pounds for at least a year), successful “maintainers” exercise over 200 minutes a week. That’s about half an hour, every day.

6. Stay accountable, stay connected. Support is important: The National Weight Loss Registry also found that people who had a support system were more likely to maintain their weight loss.

If you’re a member, lean on the Organic Liaison online community and your Chubby Buddy to keep each other accountable and honest. If you are not a member, you can still connect with peers on Phitter, a 100% free micro-blogging service brought to you by Kirstie and Organic Liaison, focused on health, fitness, diet, and weight-loss talk.

7. Motivate yourself. At the end of the day, you have access to countless people and resources to keep you on track, but the only person who can make you do anything is you. Be empowered by that.

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Additional Resources:

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For regular tips and advice on health, fitness, diet, and weight loss, register for a free Organic Liaison account today!

Top 10 Myths About Fitness and Exercise

October1

4176896135_1e61fd4e57_zWe all know there are certain weight loss myths that people still believe, whether it’s thinking a miracle diet will work or believing that fat-free means it’s free of calories (hint: not true!). Yet did you know that when it comes to fitness and exercise, there’s an abundance of misinformation out there? Here’s the top 10 myths about fitness and exercising you should know:

1. Just isolate your abs to get a six-pack. Working out one part of your body is not going to guarantee a six-pack. To get visibly toned abs, you need to reduce your overall body fat, which means a healthy workout routine that combines cardio with strength training.

2. Lifting weights makes you bulky. If you haven’t been strength training with weights because you think you’ll end up looking like a bodybuilder, think again. Strength training actually helps you lose weight faster and keep it off in the long run. Combine lifting weights with cardio exercises, and it’ll help you retain your muscles as you burn off fat.

3. If there’s no sweat during my workout, I’m not exercising hard enough. The amount of sweat you produce is based on way more than your exercise routine – your body temperature, genetics, even your clothes! Sweating is how your body cools off. Don’t focus on the sweat, but rather on the amount of physical activity you’re doing, such as talking walks every day.

4. No pain, no gain. Feeling sore the day after you work out is normal, but if you’ve developed a fitness routine, you should not feel like you can’t move your arms. Fitness should be fun, not painful! If your body hurts, stop and take a break.

5. You can turn fat into muscle. This is probably one of the BIGGEST lies about working out. Muscle and fat tissues are totally different parts of your body. It’s impossible to turn one into the other! And for the record, your muscle will never turn into fat. Muscle can atrophy and weaken, however, thereby reducing lean muscle mass.

6. Running on a treadmill is less stressful on your knees than pavement. Running is a great way to exercise, but it can impact your knees, no matter what kind of surface you run on. If you’re worried about causing stress to your knees, vary your workout. Mix it up by testing the elliptical machine, riding a bike, or going for a swim.

7. If I can’t work out often, there’s no point. Workouts don’t necessarily need to be intense to burn fat. Even moderate physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Focus on doing something every day for 30 minutes. If you don’t have a 30-minute chunk of time to spare, break it up into three 10-minute segments. Get creative with your physical activity: go for a short walk at lunch, take the stairs instead of the elevator or tend to your garden.

8. If you exercise longer at a lower intensity, you will burn more fat. It’s not about the percentage of fat calories burned so much as it’s about the total calories burned during exercise. In other words, the faster you run, bike or swim, the more calories you burn per minute. This allows you to burn more total calories as opposed to just “fat calories.”

9. Once your body gets used to one type of exercise, you will burn fewer calories. Your body is still going to burn calories by jogging, swimming or cycling, no matter how many times you’ve done it before. Finding a workout you enjoy will help you stay motivated towards losing weight, so if all you like to do is run, then keep running! Of course, don’t be afraid to try new things, but the most important thing is that you stay physically active.

10. If I’m working out, I can eat what I want. Remember, just because you’re exercising regularly doesn’t mean you can stop watching what you eat. Stick to your diet plan, eat well and stay away from junk foods. To keep it simple, here are the top 5 foods to avoid while you losing weight. If you feel ravenous after a session on the treadmill, drink plenty of water and wait an hour to eat a healthy snack that’s acceptable within your calorie limit.

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For more information on how fitness and exercise really work to burn fat and calories:

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Effects of exercise intensity on cardiovascular fitness, total body composition, and visceral adiposity of obese adolescents.”

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For regular tips and advice on health, fitness, diet, and weight loss, register for a free Organic Liaison account today!