5 "Super" Foods You MUST Eat to Live Healthy

Incorporating the following "super foods" into your day-to-day meals provides an easy way to create a healthy lifestyle.  Th
ese super foods are full of health promoting benefits and incorporating them into your eating plan makes it easier to lose and manage your weight.

1.  Leafy Green Vegetables

These super foods consist of broccoli, spinach, bok choy and kale.  Green vegetables are packed with vitamins A, C, and K, folate, potassium, magnesium and iron. You can eat most of these vegetables raw, but they work into meal planning best by preparing them steamed or stir-fried.

2.  Berries
I'm talking about strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. These fruits are loaded with antioxidants and are high in fibre. Blueberries are the best source for antioxidants. Berries are easy to incorporate into your eating habits because you can usually find them fresh, frozen or dried. They can be used as an easy addition to salads, cereals, protein shakes and yogurt.

3. Citrus Fruit
Grapefruit, oranges, lemons and limes.  
Most people know about the benefits of Vitamin C and how it helps to maintain a healthy immune system.  Citrus fruits are also a good source of fiber, which will help keep blood sugar levels under control as well as keep you feeling full longer for easier weight management.  Grapefruit and oranges are great options to incorporate into breakfast meals, but try and eat them fresh as often as possible to maximize the nutritional benefits.

4.  Kefir
Kefir is relatively new on the scene, but has been rapidly gaining popularity over the past couple years.  You may have to find it in a recognized health food store, but most "big box" grocery chains will carry it in their organic section.  It has been documented that kefir has the ability to stimulate the immune system, enhance the digestion of  lactose, and combat the bacteria that causes most ulcers.  My favorite way to consume kefir is on its own as a morning drink, but you can add to smoothies, shakes or juices to mix things up.

5.  Fish
Salmon, tuna and mackerel are among the three most popular cold-water fish that contain oils rich in omega-3 fatty acid. This "good fat" protects your arteries against plaque build up and is effective in lowering the "bad" cholesterol. Fish is also high in protein which makes it an excellent source for creating healthy meals for effective weight loss.

For additional information on even more "super" foods I recommend picking up "The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth" by Jonny Bowden (PH.D.).  It's packed with tons of great information on making educated food choices.

Our Biggest Enemy...Sugar

We are fatter than we’ve ever been.  The United States is facing an epidemic with respect to the level of obesity in our country.  Based on data from the National Centre for Health Statistics, 34% of American adults over the age of 20 are obese (2007-2008).  Today, the average American consumes approximately 180 pounds of sugar annually compared to the 1800’s when that number was only about 18 pounds a year.  It's pretty scary to think where we are, but it's even scarier to think what this will mean for the future if we don't get educated on the dangers of this potent provision.

Over the years I've come to understand that sugar is the most misunderstood food item we consume.  Most of the struggles we encounter in trying to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle have to do with this misconception about sugar. Most people associate sugar with highly sweet food products.  Donuts, ice cream, candy bars and chocolate chip cookies are obvious examples of food products that contain sugar, but what if I told you that your body doesn't know the difference between that donut you had for breakfast or the baked potato you had with dinner.  In fact, whether you consume a couple slices of whole wheat bread, a bowl of pasta or a chocolate bar your body breaks it down to the exact same substance.  Sugar can take many forms in the food we eat (sucrose, fructose, and maltose to name a few), but through our body's digestion and absorption process it all breaks down to the same thing…glucose.  Glucose is the simplest form of sugar and it’s what our body needs to ensure we receive the energy we require to go about our day.  Glucose is an important nutrient when it comes to fueling our bodies, but once your body has processed all the sugar it needs to function it stores the extra as fat.  By eating a balanced diet from natural sources such as meat, vegetables, fruit and dairy you are getting more than enough of the glucose your body needs to function at its best.  It's important to realize that your body has a limited capacity to store excess sugar after it converts to glucose, but it can easily convert it into excess body fat. 

The major challenge in controlling our sugar intake today is that excess refined sugar is hiding in most pre-packaged foods on the market.  Advertising labels on processed foods makes it difficult for the average consumer to know what they are actually buying.  Messaging on food packages such as “fat-free” and “less than 200 calories” are misleading if you aren’t aware of the dangers of sugar.  Processed foods are loaded with sugar and other chemicals that work to prolong the shelf-life of the product and make it taste appealing after the manufacturer has removed most of the essential nutrients.
So how do you start to eliminate, or at the very least, reduce the amount of sugar you are consuming on a daily basis?  

It’s really just about getting back to the basics.  Getting away from packaged food products and frozen entrees and introducing real, whole foods back into your diet is the only way to be successful.

Now it’s important to note that sugar is a drug and as with any drug if you have been consuming a lot of it over an extended period of time, your body has most likely become addicted to it.  That being said, getting off sugar is not an easy feat.  If it were, we could jump into just about any commercial diet plan on the market and see lasting weight loss results. But, if you’ve ever been on a diet you know that is simply not the case.  If you think of sugar the same as nicotine, caffeine or dare I say even narcotics, you will be better equipped to understand this process will not happen overnight.

A good place to start is to try and eliminate something from your diet that contains refined sugar about once a week and replace it with something natural, but enjoyable.  For example, if you regularly eat frozen dinners, stop!  Fresh or even frozen fish fillets are easy to prepare. There are tons of varieties to choose from so ask the guy behind the seafood counter to recommend something that’s not too “fishy”.  Couple that with some fresh or frozen cooked veggies.  If that's all you change for the next 3 months...congratulations!  You’ve just cut about 3 inches from your waistline.  How "sweet" is that!

Great Tips for Reducing & Eliminating Debt

Late or missing debt payments can result in a negative credit history. This decreases your credit worthiness with financial institutions and eventually your ability to borrow money.  Access to credit is essential if you want to develop and keep your financial independence.

Balance Transfers
Balance transfers are only a good option if you have discipline.  This is essentially moving your existing high-interest credit card debt to a new credit card provider or line of credit facility with a lower interest rate. Many financial institutions will offer promotions which feature anywhere from 0%-5% interest on balance transfers of existing debt for a limited period of time. If used correctly, this is option can save you tons of interest considering the average credit card charges upwards of 20% on existing balances. Just remember to NEVER make a purchase with the card if you are using it to pay off a balance under a promotional interest rate.  Any purchase made during the promotional period will incurr interest at the regular rate until the balance is paid off in full.  The trick is to ensure you can pay off the balance before the 0% interest period expires.

Refinance Your Home
Another way of saying "refinance" is actually "remortgage".  It entails either changing your mortgage terms with your existing provider or swapping your mortgage from one lender to another. The objective is to use increased equity from your home to pay off debts and get a lower interest rate than what you are currently paying. When negotiating this type of debt restructuring its important to make sure to check if there are any charges or additional fees for switching which can eat up the benefit of this strategy. Remortgaging to pay off unsecured debt is only a good option if you have borrowed the money for things like home renovations and repairs.  Refinancing your home to pay out consumer debt is usually a bad idea unless you are planning to cut up your credit cards and change your spending habits!

Fixed Loan Consolidation
If you are having difficulty keeping up with your monthly debt repayment obligations, consolidation is the usually a viable option to consider.  By consoldating lines of credit and/or credit card balances into a fixed loan you will not only reduce the amount on your monthly payments, but you will also have an amortization term that will tell you when your debt will be paid off in full.

Paying off Debt With Savings
This is my least favorite option, but in some cases it is the only one that works.  If you've gotten yourself in over your head you will never get out of debt if you can only make the minimum payments on your credit cards.  Under these circumstances you will be better off to use your savings to pay off debt, especially since the interest on savings accounts is always much less than the interest you pay on unsecured debt.  If you are able to pay out all your consumer debt using your savings you can always set up a monthly auto-savings plan in the amount you were paying to your credit cards.  By having it come out of your bank account automatically, you can replenish your savings over time.

The above four strategies are my suggestions on ways to maximize credit and manage your debt.  Remember, debt is not your problem...it's either over-spending, over-borrowing, under-saving or all three that gets you into trouble!

It's important for me to say that taking on new debt to pay off old debt is a strategy for people that are ready to take responsibility for their financial situation. Trying to borrow your way out of debt without making a decision to discipline yourself could possibly lead to even greater financial difficulties down the road.  You need to change your habits around borrowing, spending, saving and investing to truly get on top of your finances and live free from financial worry and anxiety.

In closing, here's a great quote to inspire you:

"We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.
The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons."  ~ Jim Rohn

3 Secrets to Eating More and Dieting Less

Unhealthy hang-ups over food are most common among women.  Yo-yo dieting, calorie obsession and overexercising are just to name a few.  The worst part is these food-relating habits are ultimately considered socially acceptable in our culture today.

The trouble with our relationship to food is that media sends a lot of mixed messaging. 
We are lead to believe that convenience can be healthy when in fact the fusion of cheap, quick-to-prepare meals often translates into over-processed, empty calories that creates a prescription for gradual weight gain.  We become trapped in a never ending cycle of compulsive self-control, followed by deprived overindulgence and  finally a day-to-day sense of guilt over what we can and cannot not eat.

So what can you do to break the cycle?

Get back to the basics.  Our relationship with food is actually over-complicated because many companies make meals too simple.  If you tend to gravitate to ready-to-serve food choices, chances are it is full of preservatives and additives that eventually pack on the pounds.  Processed foods remove nutrients and replace them with sugar, salt and other chemical additives to help to increase shelf-life. Good for the grocer, bad for the consumer.  An easy rule of thumb is to do all your meal shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store.  Processed foods tend to be found down the aisles, so if you stick to the borders you will be able to create meals from healthy sources (meat, veggies, eggs and dairy) and prevent adding extra sugar and salt to your diet which are key contributors to weight gain and other related health problems.

Eat breakfast.  This one sounds simple, but its not always easy.  What's important to remember is that eating breakfast is a habit that pays off.  We burn more calories early in the day and eating a well-balanced breakfast prevents unhealthy snacking throughout the day.  You are also more likely to make better food choices later in the day if you haven't deprived yourself within the first few hours upon waking up.

Stop dieting!  Healthy happy women are far less likely to go on diets.  It seems so funny to me that there is more than enough evidence to show how calorie-restricting diets never result in lasting weight loss and yet dieting is a multi-million dollar industry!  But then again we also know that smoking cigarettes causes cancer and tobacco companies are still making money so perhaps we never learn....
The bottom line is this, if you want to stay slim for life you don't need another diet, you need to change your lifestyle.  Weight loss should be the result of smart food choices everyday, not a goal you set for yourself every couple of months.  Adopting healthy eating habits won't transform your body overnight, but the lasting results are worth the wait...no pun intended :)