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A 15-Minute Vinyasa Flow That Eases Neck Pain and Tension

A bad night's sleep, a killer upper-body workout, a long day hunched over your desk—whatever causes your neck pain and tension, you need relief fast. This 15-minute vinyasa flow will help soothe the sore muscles in your neck and around your upper spine. 

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You'll flow through a sequence of seated poses—that's right, you don't even need to stand up for this one. Just sit back, relax, and use your breath to guide you through each stretch and pose for relief. This practice is gentle and calming, making it a perfect choice for when you wake up with a stiff neck or before bed after a stressful day. All you need is a mat; then hit play to get started. 

Looking for more short and effective at-home workouts? Grokker has thousands of routines, so you’ll never get bored. Bonus: For a limited time, Greatist readers get 40 percent off Grokker Premium (just $9 per month) and their first 14 days free. Sign up now!

7 No-Bake Chocolate Desserts You Can Throw Together in 20 Minutes or Less

The next time you have a hankering for chocolate (probably right now), you can make an easy homemade treat without ever turning on the oven. Because, really, who has the patience to preheat when it's a chocolate emergency? This week's featured foodie, Megan Gilmore of Detoxinista, has tons of ideas for no-bake cookies, brownies, crumble bars, and puddings that we're drooling over. If the recipes in her newest cookbook, No Excuses Detox, are anything like these, then we'll be ordering ASAP. After one look at these seven chocolate recipes, you’ll have no excuse not to dive in tonight.

1. Vegan Almond Butter Buckeyes A healthier twist on the popular chocolate-covered peanut butter balls, these naturally sweetened almond butter truffles are cloaked in a quick 3-ingredient homemade chocolate shell. Feel free to use sunflower butter as a nut-free alternative too.  2. Vegan Mini Peanut Butter Cups These bite-size candies call for just five ingredients and are lower in sugar than the store-bought variety. If you have more time, Meghan suggests stuffing them into these Peanut Butter Temptation Cookies for an ultra-decadent treat—we're definitely doing that. 3. No-Bake Brownie Bites Calling for just four main ingredients, these chocolate bites taste like the rich brownies from the bakery next door. They're ready in half the time it would take to bake a batch and are sweetened with fruit... and that's it. 4. Vegan Cookie Dough "Ice Cream" You only need about 15 minutes and a mini-food chopper to make this quick and easy dairy-free ice cream. It's almost entirely sweetened with fruit, depending on whether you choose to add some mini dark chocolate chips or not (and we highly recommend that you do).  5. No-Bake Chocolate Pecan Crumble Bars Buttery pecans and sweet dates? Dream. And in these bars it's a double dream because they make up the crust and the crumbly top, with a layer of homemade chocolate in-between. These bars only take about 15 minutes of prep work, but you will need to let them set in your freezer for an hour or two before serving for best texture.  6. Creamy Chocolate Chia Pudding Most chia puddings have a tapioca-like texture, but when you blend it, the outcome is super-thick, smooth, and creamy. We'll take two for breakfast, thanks. 7. Easy Dark Chocolate Avocado Truffles If you needed one more reason to worship the avocado, here it is: These truffles get their creaminess from a ripe avocado, not heavy cream. And all you’ll taste is the chocolate.

You can find Megan on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Detoxinista.com. For exclusive recipes and meal plans, check out her cookbooks, Everyday Detox and the latest, No Excuses Detox, where she shares crowd-pleasing healthy recipes that are fast and affordable, using ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. (Available on amazon.com for $10.70.)

Popular Guarantee For Young Adults’ Coverage May Be Health Law’s Achilles’ Heel

The Affordable Care Act struck a popular chord by allowing adult children to obtain health coverage through a parent’s plan until their 26th birthday.

Now, seeking broad support for their efforts to repeal and replace the ACA, House Republicans have kept that guarantee intact. But it’s not clear whether that provision will be successful or a destabilizing force in the insurance marketplace.

The policy has proven to be a double-edged sword for the ACA’s online health exchanges because it has funneled young, healthy customers away from the overall marketplace “risk pool.” Insurers need those customers to balance out the large numbers of enrollees with chronic illnesses who drive up insurers’ costs — and ultimately contribute to higher marketplace premiums.

Joseph Antos, a health economist with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank, said the ability for young adults to stay on family plans represents a “critical mistake” within the health law, cutting off insurers from a large, healthy demographic that likely would be able to afford a health care plan.

“This is essentially an ideal group for an insurance company,” he said. “They’re not going to use many services, and they’re going to pay their bills.”

The young-adult provision went into effect in September 2010 and families put it to use quickly, with many young adults leaving their own insurance plans. A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013 found the percentage of adults ages 19 to 25 with personal plans fell from nearly 41 percent in 2010 to just over 27 percent in 2012, while the ratio of those covered through a family member’s plan rose by 14 percentage points.

And the Department of Health and Human Services said last year that final 2016 marketplace enrollment numbers showed more than 6 million people ages 19 to 25 gained insurance through the health law, including 2.3 million who went onto their family health plan between September 2010 and when online marketplaces began operating in 2014.

Cara Kelly, a vice president of the health care consulting firm Avalere Health, said the provision’s effect must be understood in the context of the law’s implementation. Affordability and the selection of plans available in the marketplace also could have influenced the decision among young adults to buy or shirk insurance, Kelly said. Even if the provision had not been included in the law, she said, one can’t assume that the young adults would have signed up for coverage.

A little more than a quarter of marketplace customers in 2016 were adults ages 18 to 34, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. But federal officials and insurers had hoped for higher rates, noting that the group made up about 40 percent of the potential market.

Public support for the young-adult provision makes it difficult to take away. A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in December 2016 found that 8 in 10 Republicans and 9 in 10 Democrats favored the benefit. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

[caption id="attachment_713549" align="alignright" width="443"] The young-adult provision went into effect in September 2010 and families put it to use quickly, with many young adults leaving their own insurance plans. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)[/caption]

“It has been extremely popular,” said Al Redmer Jr., the Maryland insurance commissioner and chairman of the health insurance and managed care committee within the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. “So with that being the case, I don’t know if politically there’s an appetite to unwind it.”

Republicans have opted for different measures than the ACA to attract increased numbers of healthy, young customers and make the risk pools vibrant. To keep prices lower for these customers, the bill allows insurers to charge older people up to five times more than young adults. Under the ACA, that difference is 3-to-1, and Republicans say that made prices too expensive for younger customers.

It would also replace the health law’s individual mandate — the requirement that almost everyone have health insurance or face a penalty — with a 30 percent surcharge on their premium for late enrollment or allowing your insurance to lapse for more than 63 days within a year.

The overall effect, according to an analysis conducted by the Congressional Budget Office, would be a more stable market with a larger number of healthy enrollees. The report also estimated the bill could result in 24 million more people being uninsured.

But the bill also has disincentives for those young people. To help pay for premiums, low-income people will get tax credits based on age and household income. Older people would get $4,000 per year, twice as much as younger customers.

Insurers have reacted cautiously. The insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield Association released a statement this month expressing its support for increasing affordability for younger enrollees. But it also raised concerns about the Republicans’ tax credit proposal. A benefit based on age alone “does not give healthy people enough incentive to stay in the market, especially in the absence of an individual mandate.”

The insurance trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans sent a letter to House Republican committee chairmen voicing support for the 5-to-1 age-band rating and tax credits based on age.

“We have stated previously that there is no question that younger adults are under-represented in the individual market,” the letter said. “Recalibrating and reforming the way in which the premium assistance is structured will encourage younger Americans to get covered.”

KHN reporter Mary Agnes Carey contributed to this article.

Late Move To Dump ‘Essential’ Benefits Could Strand Chronically Ill

A last-minute attempt by conservative Republicans to dump standards for health benefits in plans sold to individuals would probably lower the average consumer’s upfront insurance costs, such as premiums and deductibles, said experts on both sides of the debate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

But, they add, it will likely also induce insurers to offer much skimpier plans, potentially excluding the gravely ill, and putting consumers at greater financial risk if they need care.

For example, a woman who had elected not to have maternity coverage could face financial ruin from an unintended pregnancy. A healthy young man who didn’t buy drug coverage could be bankrupted if diagnosed with cancer requiring expensive prescription medicine. Someone needing emergency treatment at a non-network hospital might not be covered.

What might be desirable for business would leave patients vulnerable.

“What you don’t want if you’re an insurer is only sick people buying whatever product you have,” said Christopher Koller, president of the Milbank Memorial Fund and a former Rhode Island insurance commissioner. “So the way to get healthy people is to offer cheaper products designed for the healthy people.”

The proposed change could give carriers wide room to do that by eliminating or shrinking “essential health benefits” including hospitalization, prescription drugs, mental health treatment and lab services from plan requirements — especially if state regulators don’t step in to fill the void, analysts said.

The Affordable Care Act requires companies selling coverage to individuals and families through online marketplaces to offer 10 essential benefits, which also include maternity, wellness and preventive services — plus emergency room treatment at all hospitals. Small-group plans offered by many small employers also must carry such benefits.

Conservative House Republicans want to exclude the rule from any replacement, arguing it drives up cost and stifles consumer choice.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump agreed after meeting with members of the conservative Freedom Caucus to leave it out of the measure under consideration, said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. “Part of the reason that premiums have spiked out of control is because under Obamacare, there were these mandated services that had to be included,” Spicer told reporters.

Pushed by Trump, House Republican leaders agreed late Thursday to a Friday vote on the bill but were still trying to line up support. “Tomorrow we will show the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it’s collapsing and it’s failing families,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “And tomorrow we’re proceeding.” When asked if he had the votes, Ryan didn’t answer and walked briskly away from the press corps.

But axing essential benefits could bring back the pre-ACA days when insurers avoided expensive patients by excluding services they needed, said Gary Claxton, a vice president and insurance expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

“They’re not going to offer benefits that attract people with chronic illness if they can help it,”said Claxton, whose collection of old insurance policies shows what the market looked like before.

One Aetna plan didn’t cover most mental health or addiction services — important to moderate Republicans as well as Democrats concerned about fighting the opioid crisis. Another Aetna plan didn’t cover any mental health treatment. A HealthNet plan didn’t cover outpatient rehabilitative services.

Before the ACA most individual plans didn’t include maternity coverage, either.

The House replacement bill could make individual coverage for the chronically ill even more scarce than a few years ago because it retains an ACA rule that forces plans to accept members with preexisting illness, analysts said.

Before President Barack Obama’s health overhaul, insurers could reject sick applicants or charge them higher premiums.

Lacking that ability under a Republican law but newly able to shrink benefits, insurers might be more tempted than ever to avoid covering expensive conditions. That way the sickest consumers wouldn’t even bother to apply.

“You could see even worse holes in the insurance package” than before the ACA, said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University. “If we’re going into a world where a carrier is going to have to accept all comers and they can’t charge them based on their health status, the benefit design becomes a much bigger deal” in how insurers keep the sick out of their plans, she said.

Michael Cannon, an analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute and a longtime Obamacare opponent, also believes dumping essential benefits while forcing insurers to accept all applicants at one “community” price would weaken coverage for chronically ill people.

“Getting rid of the essential health benefits in a community-rated market would cause coverage for the sick to get even worse than it is under current law,” he said. Republicans “are shooting themselves in the foot if they the offer this proposal.”

Cannon favors full repeal of the ACA, allowing insurers to charge higher premiums for more expensive patients and helping consumers pay for plans with tax-favored health savings accounts.

In an absence of federal requirements for benefits, existing state standards would become more important. Some states might move to upgrade required benefits in line with the ACA rules but others probably won’t, according to analysts.

“You’re going to have a lot of insurers in states trying to understand what existing laws they have in place,” Koller said. “It’s going to be really critical to see how quickly the states react. There are going to be some states that will not.”

Mary Agnes Carey and Phil Galewitz contributed to this story.

Break Out of Your Food Rut!

What's for dinner? What are you eating for breakfast or lunch tomorrow? If you aren't feeling excited about your meals, or if your kids are complaining about eating chicken again, you may be in a food rut.   It happens easily; between work obligations, social plans, and kids' soccer practices, we tend to fall back on easy-to-prepare staple meals that don’t require much thought or effort. And for some of us, cooking doesn’t come easily or isn’t a pleasure, so we rely on a handful of recipes we can confidently prepare.   While it's wonderful to have a few go-to meals you can rely on in a pinch, it can get old when you rely on the same meals too often. And that lack of excitement about what's on your plate could lead you to reach for additional snacks or sweets to bring more pleasure back to your eating—which can be a problem if you're trying to manage your weight or eat healthier.   We recently asked SparkPeople members if they were stuck in a diet rut, and we were surprised by how many people replied. Member CHOUBROU summed it up this way: ''The food rut is my biggest problem! I fall into it because eating the same go-to meals is convenient and easy. But eventually I get tired of eating the same thing, and that leads me to the temptation of eating out more, eating more frozen/processed meals, etc.''   SparkPeople member KALENSMOMMY5 asked for help: ''One of the main reasons I fall off the healthy eating wagon is that I get caught in a major food rut! As I am a full-time working single mom to a toddler, I have very limited time to cook, so I end up buying the same grab-and-go foods week after week. The unhealthy choices start to look more and more attractive as I get more bored with my standard foods. Help would be much appreciated!''   Lots of folks told us they’ve hit the wall, cooking-wise. What’s more, they shared great advice on how you can break boring food habits, no matter what causes them.   5 Signs You're Stuck in a Food Rut (and What to Do about It)   Sign #1: You Don’t Enjoy Cooking For many folks, getting dinner on the table is a chore, not a pleasure. If you don’t love to cook, or you’re not confident in your culinary skills, then it's normal to feel like you're in a food rut for awhile—at least until you develop a few basic meals that you can prepare quickly and easily. Here’s how:

  • First, think about what you enjoy eating. Sandwiches? Burritos? Breakfast for dinner? Salads? Consider how you can make those into healthy dinner options.  
  • Settle on three to five things you like, and find simple recipes for those meals. SparkRecipes is a great resource for quick and healthy meal ideas.  
  • Get comfortable with the basics. Once you’ve mastered an essential technique like sautéing boneless chicken breasts, then you can move on to experiment with different sauces or add-ins to change things up over time and prevent yourself from getting bored.  
  • Accept that you don’t love to cook, but don’t let that be your excuse for not eating healthy. If you master a few basic recipes, you’ll gain confidence—and you’ll be making a commitment to yourself.
Sign #2: You’re On Auto-Pilot Even accomplished home cooks tend to get stuck in a rut preparing the same go-to dinners over and over. Katie, a mother of two, posted: ''[My son] calls me on my food ruts—I know I've got problems when my garbage disposal of a kid complains about what I'm cooking.''   Like many folks who commented on our question about food habits, Katie says she refers to cooking magazines (her favorite is Food and Wine) for inspiration when she’s stuck in a routine. Cooking Light magazine and the books ''Cook This, Not That'' by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding, and ''Fast Food My Way'' by Chef Jacques Pepin were also recommended as great resources for quick and healthy meals.   David posted about different ways to find culinary inspiration: ''I realize [I’m in a food rut] when I’m on auto-pilot preparing a meal that usually gives me joy to cook. I break it up by shopping somewhere new for groceries, or getting a new cooking gadget, or sharpening my knives or getting a new spice.''   A simple strategy for busting out of the auto-pilot cooking rut is to find alternate ways to prepare those go-to meals—in particular, look to different ethnic cuisines for interesting takes on your standards. If spaghetti with meat sauce is in your repertoire, try linguine with spicy shrimp sauce instead. Not feeling that leftover chicken? Turn it into something new, like a tostada. Sometimes simply swapping a few ingredients within a go-to recipe can give you a whole new flavor and make your meals interesting again. Same with sides: If you're always steaming broccoli or brown rice, experiment with other healthy veggies or whole grains such as whole-wheat couscous, millet or quinoa instead.   Sign #3: You Always Eat the Same Meals This food rut often shows up at the start of the day, when we’re so busy getting out the door that we neglect a healthy breakfast, or we choose convenience foods over healthy ones. SparkPeople member LINDSAYHENNIGAN commented that she found herself eating high-fiber breakfast cereal every day: ''I got too focused on how much fiber they added, and failed to notice the 40 grams of sugar I was consuming each morning. My trainer caught it, and switched me over to bread with 2 or less grams of sugar with peanut butter, and I feel so much better.''   SparkPeople member FLUTTEROFSTARS, a vegetarian, shared a bunch of great ideas she enjoys to start her day: ''I’m fighting to get out of my food rut! I’ve been 'Sparking' for two months now, and have come up with several winning mini-meals.'' Some of her favorites include:
  • Salad with Morningstar veggie crumbles and low-fat cheddar cheese
  • Omelets with frozen vegetable blend
  • Greek yogurt with strawberries and flaxseed
  • The ''one-minute microwave muffin'' recipes for breakfast sandwiches from SparkRecipes
We all go through busy periods in our lives—a hectic few weeks at work, an extra-busy sports season—and getting a healthy dinner on the table every evening is even more challenging. Creating a weekly meal plan and then shopping for all the ingredients you’ll need helps avoid the food rut. When you know in the morning what you’re making for dinner that night, you can avoid grabbing quick and not-so-healthy items on that emergency trip to the grocery.  And planning dinners that can be repurposed into lunches avoids brown-bag boredom.   Sign #4: You’re Bored with Brown Bagging We’ll congratulate you for committing to bringing a healthy lunch instead of heading to the nearest fast food joint. But the contents of your brown bag need an overhaul if you’re stuck in the PB&J or turkey sandwich routine day in and day out.   Turning dinner into lunch is a great way to vary your midday meal, especially if you plan ahead and prepare extra food in the evening for the next day’s (or week’s) lunchbox. A dinner of grilled steak and veggies can become a lunchtime salad, and a pasta supper easily transforms into a chilled pasta salad a day later.   SparkPeople member FELIFISH26 posted: ''I usually eat the same boring thing for lunch (half a turkey sandwich on sandwich thin bread, cottage cheese, low-fat chips). BLAH, right?! After awhile your taste buds start to get used to it all, and I could probably be eating cardboard and not know the difference!'' She solved her lunch dilemma by combining some cooked chicken from dinner the night before with fresh pico de gallo that she made with chopped tomato, onion and cilantro. New lunch idea: chicken tacos.   Sign #5: You’re Stuck on ''Diet-Safe'' Foods Several SparkPeople members commented that their commitment to weight loss means they have a limited number of meal options that meet their calorie limits. Member STACYD16 wrote, ''I do believe that I'm in a food rut. I eat the same things daily because I know their caloric contents. I do have a cheat day about once a week that I really enjoy—and I thought that would throw me off, but it has really helped. I realized my issue is more portion control vs. the actual foods that I eat.''   While eating within a calorie range can be a challenge, portion control can help. You can also search for specific recipes within a certain calorie range by using the Advanced Search on SparkRecipes.com. So if you want slow-cooker dinners that contain fewer than 400 calories, simply edit your search options and voila! You'll be surprised just how many delicious and easy meals you can find within your calorie range for any meal.   When All Else Fails: Embrace the Rut Here’s one final strategy for breaking out of your food rut—know that you’ll get into one. Steve posted about exactly that: ''Another thing I'll do is the mid-week ‘king's food’ omelet—where, no matter what, I'll cook an omelet using the leftovers of previous meals. This does two things: It creates interesting flavors with combos I’d normally never think of, and it motivates me to cook good stuff early in the week because it's potential omelet fodder.''   Just as you can't expect perfection when it comes to eating within your calorie range, losing two pounds per week, or exercising as much as you'd like, you can't expect to be perfect in the kitchen, either—or to love every bite you eat. Accept that we all go through ruts with our food. But instead of allowing it to throw you off track, use it as a sign to change things up and find creative ways to make your food fun and delicious again. And remember, this (food rut) too, shall pass!   Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1759

8 Tips for Deciphering Diet Claims

Though food is supposed to be one of life's simple pleasures, few things cause more angst and confusion. It's no wonder why. We're constantly being told which foods we should eat to be healthy, which diets we should follow to be skinny, which preparation methods we should use to be safe, and which chemicals and contaminants in food we should shun to avoid illness. It's enough to give anyone indigestion. If you're confused about what to believe, you've come to the right place. In "Coffee Is Good for You," I'll give you the bottom line on an array of popular diet and nutrition claims in a quick, easily digestible way. Research about diet and health rarely yields the equivalent of DNA evidence, which provides incontrovertible proof. All types of studies come with caveats. However, if interpreted properly, a body of research can allow us to make sound judgments about how believable a claim is. Trying to make sense of the seemingly endless stream of food and nutrition claims can be overwhelming. Remembering the following 8 rules will make the task easier and allow you to stay focused on what’s really important:

  1. Don’t fixate on particular foods. Be wary of lists of miraculous “superfoods” you must eat or “toxic” foods you should never touch. Rather than worrying about squeezing one food or another into your diet, focus on your overall eating patterns, which should include plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, legumes, and good fats, and limited amounts of refined carbohydrates, junk food, red meat, and trans fats.  
  2. Look beyond narrow categories like carbs and calories. Many diet books and seals of approval on foods emphasize one or two factors, such as the calorie or carbohydrate count, while giving short shrift to other important things, like fiber, sodium, or trans fat. The fact that a hamburger is lower in calories than a salad doesn’t necessarily make it a better option. Likewise, just because fruit punch or cereal has added vitamins doesn’t mean it’s healthful. What’s important is the overall nutritional profile. You can get this from comprehensive food- scoring systems such as NuVal, which ranks the healthfulness of foods based on more than 30 factors.  
  3. Forget about fad diets. A plethora of weight- loss plans promise to melt away pounds quickly and easily. But in the long run, they rarely work. About 95 percent of dieters eventually regain lost weight. Instead of searching for the secret to skinniness, which doesn’t exist, try to eat more healthfully and be mindful of how much you’re consuming. Combined with exercise, this approach can prevent weight gain and, over time, lead to weight loss. And unlike dieting, it’s something you can stick with long term.  
  4. Recognize the limits of vitamin pills. While vitamin and mineral supplements can help make up for deficiencies of nutrients, they generally don’t live up to their billing when it comes to preventing disease, boosting energy, or improving your overall health. Supplements pack far less nutritional punch than food, which contains multiple nutrients that interact with one another and with other foods in a variety of complex ways. As a result, vitamin pills can’t compensate for an unhealthful diet. And they can cause harm if you take too much of certain nutrients.  
  5. Ignore health claims on food packages and in ads. A few such claims, such as those related to sodium and high blood pressure, are officially approved by the FDA, but most aren’t. They fall under a loophole that allows companies to use sneaky language like “helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels” or “helps support a healthy immune system.” Because these phrases don’t explicitly say that the food prevents or treats disease— even though that’s what any normal person would infer—manufacturers don’t have to provide any evidence. What’s more, there are no strict definitions for frequently used terms such as all natural, low sugar, and made with whole grains or real fruit. Because it’s virtually impossible to distinguish between legitimate and misleading claims by manufacturers, the best approach is to disregard them all and get your information from the Nutrition Facts panel on the package.  
  6. Verify emails before forwarding them. The vast majority of emails about food and nutrition are half truths or outright hoaxes. If someone forwards you an email claiming, for example, that canola oil is toxic or that asparagus cures cancer, assume it’s not true, no matter how scientific it sounds. Check it out with a reputable source like Snopes. com or Urbanlegends. about. com. Forwarding unconfirmed claims only adds to the hype, misinformation, and confusion.  
  7. Don’t be influenced by just one study. When you encounter news reports about the latest study, don’t jump to conclusions based on that alone. Remember that it’s just one piece of a puzzle. What matters is the big picture— what scientists call the totality of the evidence. For a credible overview of the science, check out online sources such as the Nutrition Source from Harvard School of Public Health, or newsletters such as Nutrition Action Healthletter, the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, and the Berkeley Wellness Letter. Or go to www. pubmed. gov and look up the research yourself.  
  8. Enjoy eating! As I said at the beginning of this book, all the admonitions about which foods we should and shouldn’t consume can make eating a stressful chore. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Using science as your guide, focus on the claims with the greatest credibility and relevance, and tune out the rest. That way, you’ll feel less overwhelmed. While following sound nutrition advice is important for good health, it need not spoil your dinner. Bon appétit!
   Adapted with permission from "Coffee is Good for You" by Robert J. Davis, PhD, by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2012 by Robert J. Davis, PhD, MPH. Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1725

How to Grow Your Own Herbs for Cooking

The next time a recipe calls for fresh basil, skip the poor substitute of dried basil, forgo the last-minute dash to the supermarket for some overpriced wilted basil, and just pluck a few tender leaves off of the basil plant you have growing in your very own herb garden.  What? You don't have fresh basil growing in your garden? Well consider this your invitation to start. Growing your own herbs is a simple and inexpensive undertaking that pays off big for your taste buds and your budget.  If you can keep a houseplant alive, you can sustain an herb garden.  Here’s how. Decide what you want to grow.  Some popular choices from home cooks are listed here along with their care instructions.  Start with just a few that you know you’ll use regularly, and then branch out from there. Herb Special Care How to Harvest How to Use Basil Pinch off any flowers that appear. This preserves the plant’s flavor, and will also help increase the leaf density of each stem. Harvest the upper leaves first, taking just a few leaves from each stem at a time. Add raw to salads, sandwiches and wraps, cook into soups and sauces, chop and sprinkle on pizza, make pesto. Parsley Parsley has a longer than average germination period of three to four weeks, so extra patience is required. Cut the outermost stalks just above ground level, which will encourage further growth. Both the leaves and stalks can be eaten in salads, soups, and Mediterranean dishes like Tabouli. Chives If you don’t intend on eating the flowers, pinch them off as soon as they begin to appear. Cut the leaves with scissors, starting with the outside leaves first, allowing about 2 inches of the leaves to remain. This entire plant can be eaten from top to bottom— the bulbs taste like mild onions, the leaves can be used in salads and other dishes, and even the flower heads can be tossed into salads. Cilantro Cilantro does not like hot weather. If the soil temperature reaches 75 degrees, the plant will bolt and go to seed, making this a short-lived herb. Aggressive pruning will extend its life, so be ready to use or store it. Save the seeds to use in cooking (the seeds are called coriander) or to plant. There are two methods of harvesting cilantro. When the plant reaches about 6" in height, you can remove the outer leaves with a scissors, leaving the growing point intact for new growth. Or you can wait until the plant is almost completely grown and pull it from the soil by its roots to use the whole bunch at once. Salads, wraps, dips, and many Mexican recipes. Rosemary This plant can be difficult to start from seed, so you may wish to buy a mature plant. And be careful not to overwater—rosemary likes its soil on the dry side. Simply cut off pieces of the stem as you need it. Many culinary and even medicinal uses. Thyme This plant can take awhile to start from seed, so you may wish to buy a mature plant. Drought-tolerant thyme is extremely easy to care for, and prefers drier soils. Simply cut off pieces of the stem as you need it. Often used to flavor meats, soups, and stews. Dill Drought-tolerant dill is extremely easy to care for, and prefers drier soils. Don't start harvesting dill until it's at least 12 inches tall, and never take more than one-third of the leaves at any one time. Great flavoring for fish, lamb, potatoes, and peas. Mint Mint is an invasive plant so stick to container gardening with this one. Pinch off sprigs as you need them. Mint is extremely versatile, and can be used in salads, desserts, drinks, and many other recipes. You can even chew it by itself for a pleasant, refreshing flavor.   Decide where to plant your herbs. Many herbs grow well indoors and outdoors in the ground or in containers.  If you have a little space with at least 5 hours of direct sunlight a day, you may prefer to grow them indoors, as the herbs will be much more accessible for cooking and watering, and not subject to threats of pests, weeds, or variations in temperature. Decide whether you’ll start from seeds or seedlings.  Seedlings are very young plants that you can transplant into your own garden. They are typically only available in the spring and summer from gardening centers and farmers markets.  Seeds cost less, but take more time and resources to grow from scratch (here's how). Gather your materials.  You’ll need a few gardening tools, like a small shovel or spade, some gardening gloves and pots or containers (optional since herbs can also be planted directly into the soil). You’ll also need some fertilized soil.  If you have a compost pile, you can use some fully decomposed compost to fertilize the soil.  Otherwise, you can use a general purpose compost solution, available in any gardening store.   If you’re container gardening, use a packaged potting soil mix, which will be free of pests. Start planting.  If you’re starting from seeds, sow into moist soil and cover with 1/2 inch of soil on top.  The seeds should germinate in about one week.  If you’re using a pot or container for seedlings, follow these steps.

  1. Ensure proper drainage by filling the pot with a shallow layer of course gravel.  
  2. Fill the pot about 1/2 of the way full, and place the plant, still in its original container, into the new pot.  Add dirt around the plant, gently packing it into place, so that the top of the new soil is at the same level as the top of the plant’s original soil.   
  3. Remove the plastic pot, tap it so you can easily slide the plant and all of its soil out, and place the plant and all of its soil into the hole in the soil of the new pot.
Care for your plants. Water at the base of the plant when the soil begins to feel dry, at least once per week.  Pull weeds that appear near the plant, because they will steal the nutrients from the soil.  If growing outdoors, bring them in before the first frost. Harvest the herbs.  Most plants will grow new leaves if you don’t pick the stems bare. You can pick the leaves with your fingers or snip them with kitchen shears. Use or store the herbs.  Many recipes call for fresh herbs, so simply pick your herbs, wash them and pat them dry before using in your favorite recipes. To store, you can preserve your herbs for future use by freezing them or drying them.  In either case, you must first prep them.  First, remove any soil or bugs by rinsing in cold water.  Then, remove flowering stems and flowers and gently remove excess water by patting with a paper towel.  Once your herbs are prepped, you can choose your method of storage:
  • Air drying:  Cut the stems at soil level and hang upside down in bunches (so that the flavorful oil travels into the leaves) to dry for one to two weeks.  Once dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store in a dry, airtight container for up to a year.  
  • Freezing:  The benefit of freezing, as opposed to drying, is that the herbs retain more of their just-picked flavor.  Place clean herbs directly into freezer bags, or try the cube method: Place a few teaspoons of chopped, fresh herbs into each cell of an ice cube tray.  Fill the trays with water, and freeze.  When cooking, just pop out a cube and add it to the pot like you would fresh herbs!
Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1739

How a 'Bad Food' Attitude Can Backfire

Do you struggle with cravings and wish you had the will power to cut out certain foods completely? When we work toward a healthy diet, so many of us think that making a list of food culprits and calling them off-limits will help us to succeed. However, if you take a deeper look at the psychology behind this flawed method, you’ll see so many reasons why adopting a ''good food'' or ''bad food'' attitude will never work.  Restricting certain foods won't just make dieting miserable--it can also ruin your good intentions of getting healthy and losing weight. Making arbitrary rules about good and bad food isn’t the answer to lasting lifestyle change. Instead, use the tips below to build a better relationship with food, learn to master cravings, build self-control and enjoy all foods in moderation.   Stop Labeling Foods as 'Good' and 'Bad' For decades, behavior analysts have studied the effects of deprivation on people’s preferences for food, tangible items and activities. The majority of literature on this topic says that, when we’re deprived of something, we’re more likely to select that particular item from an array of choices. In a recent study conducted at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, researchers found that participants who were asked to restrict either high-carb or high-protein foods for three days reported higher cravings for the banned foods. So, if you label chocolate as evil and forbid it from your menu, you’ll be more likely to want it in any form.   The good news is that some level of satiation (satisfying your craving for a particular food) can actually help you to avoid overindulging more often than not. If you can be conscious about your eating and have just enough of your favorite chocolate bar to satisfy that craving, you’ll be much less tempted to dip into the candy jar on your co-worker’s desk or buy a sweet snack from the vending machine.   This information about deprivation seems like common sense, but you’ve probably heard from friends or fellow dieters that the first step in avoiding high-calorie foods is putting them out of your mind altogether. Not true! Researchers are realizing that suppressing thoughts about a particular food can cause an increase in consumption of that food. In a 2010 study, 116 women were split into three groups. The first group was asked to suppress thoughts about chocolate, the second group was asked to actively think about chocolate, and the third group was instructed to think about anything they wished. Afterward, each of the participants was given a chocolate bar. The women who had suppressed their thoughts about chocolate ate significantly more chocolate than the others, despite identifying themselves as more ''restrained eaters'' in general. This just goes to show that ''out of mind'' doesn’t necessarily always mean ''out of mouth.''   Dump the Idea of 'Diet Foods' Often, when people are trying to eat better, they start to categorize foods into those that are on their diet plan and those that are not. However, banning specific foods from your weight-loss plan may just make you crave them more.  According to an article published this year in the journal Appetite, a UK study of 129 women measured the cravings of those who were ''dieting'' to lose weight, ''watching'' to maintain their weight, and not dieting at all. The researchers found that, compared with non-dieters, dieters experienced stronger, more irresistible cravings for the foods they were restricting.   Noticing the difference between healthy and unhealthy options is definitely key in establishing a pattern of better eating. And, when you’re starting a weight-loss program, it does help to read food labels and menus carefully so that you can choose wisely. However, when you start to categorize specific foods such as candy, baked goods, alcohol and fried chicken as foods you can’t have, you’re setting yourself up for a backfire. The issue with labeling a food as a forbidden substance is that your thoughts immediately center on that particular item... and then you inadvertently start bargaining and rationalizing to get more of it. (How many times have you broken your ''diet rules'' to reward a trip to the gym with chocolate or a long day at work with a cocktail or two?)   There are some diet plans out there that advocate choosing a particular day of the week as your ''cheat day''--a day when you can indulge in all the foods you’ve cut out during the week. But listing certain foods as ''cheats'' or ''treats'' can set up a scenario where you’re depriving yourself all week long and constantly looking to the future, waiting on the moment that you’ll be showered with your favorite forbidden goodies (like those commercials where fruit-flavored candies fall from a rainbow).   Besides causing you to crave, labeling certain foods as ''forbidden'' makes it really difficult to be mindful of and content with the healthy food you’re eating most of the time. Instead of worrying about restricting foods, try to redirect your focus on creating the most delicious salad, grilling a succulent chicken breast or munching a juicy piece of fruit. If you turn your attention to the abundance of healthy options in front of you instead of weighing the pros and cons of particular foods, you’ll be more likely to really relish and rejoice in your everyday choices.   Make Sense of 'Moderation' You’ve heard the line a thousand times: Everything in moderation. But what does this phrase really mean and how can you apply it to your healthy eating plan? Usually, people hand this advice out when they’re indulging in unhealthy food and drink and trying to get you to join in, say at a wedding or birthday party. So is it just peer pressure? Or is there something to this age-old saying?   Choosing to eat all foods in moderation works just fine for some people. If you have a healthy relationship with food (e.g., you have no trouble putting away the bag of chips after just one serving), then eating a little bit of your favorite food may satisfy your craving and leave you full until the next healthy meal.   However, for some people, it just doesn’t work that way. Sweets, salts and alcohol all cause biological reactions in the body that are hard to ignore. And, if you’re someone who responds strongly to these reactions, even one small bite can trigger you to continue sampling similar goodies. If you’re one of these folks, you’re definitely not alone, and it is important to know which foods affect you in these ways. Perhaps you’re a person who can have a bite of a sundae and pass the rest on to your spouse, but a fun-size candy bar can unravel your motivation and spark unhealthy choices for the rest of the day. Noting which tempting foods are your triggers can help you arrange your environment so that you don’t overindulge.   Rearranging your environment for success is the easiest way to change your behavior. If you do decide to indulge in a ''trigger food'' in moderation, opt to eat it in a place where there aren't any other snack options for you to munch on afterwards (a food-filled party would not be the best environment!). Choose snacks that you like, but don't love, so you're not tempted to eat too much but are still satisfied. Understanding which foods are likely to lead you down a slippery slope and preparing your environment and schedule for success will help you keep cravings at bay and keep your overeating under control.   Keep Cravings in Check Cravings are a good thing. On a basic, biological level, cravings tell us when we’re hungry, thirsty, sleepy and even when we need some human attention. The problem is that, because we’re so accustomed to having easy access to eat whenever we want and we’re able to choose from many unhealthy foods, the ratio of our wants and needs are all out of whack! It is time to step back and become aware of what we’re really craving and why. When we can look objectively at our yearnings for soda, chips, cake and cookies, we can make much better decisions about what we put in our mouths.   One of the best ways to get back in touch with your true cravings is to keep track of them.  For a few days, keep a journal of the time of day, what you’re craving, and whether you’re at work, at home, on the road, with your kids, etc. You can still give in to temptation—this exercise will simply give you a clearer picture of how often you crave, what you crave and in what settings those cravings occur.   In behavior science, before we try to change any habit, we do an assessment like this to look at the person’s current patterns so that we can set goals for small, stepwise changes. You’ll likely notice a pattern quickly (e.g., I always want something sweet with my 10 a.m. coffee). Then you can put some measures in place to deter this craving or make a healthy choice before it happens (e.g., I’ll start bringing a piece of fruit to eat with coffee so I don’t grab a muffin from the break room).   With a little mindfulness, you can ditch the ''good food, bad food'' attitude! Plan carefully and stay in tune with your body to make sensible decisions that will satisfy your cravings and promote weight loss.        References:   James A.K. Erskine & George J. Georgiou. 4 February 2010. Effects of thought suppression on eating behaviour in restrained and non-restrained eaters. Appetite 54, 3 (2010):499-503.   Jennifer S. Coelho, Janet Polivy, C. Peter Herman. 16 May 2006. Selective carbohydrate or protein restriction: Effects on subsequent food intake and cravings. Appetite 47, 3 (November 2006): 352-360.   David B. McAdam, Kevin P. Klatt, Mikhail Koffarnus, Anthony Dicesare, Katherine Solberg, Cassie Welch, & Sean Murphy. The effects of establishing operations on preferences for tangible items. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 38 (2005): 107-110.   Anna Massey & Andrew J. Hill. 18 January 2012. Dieting and food craving. A descriptive, quasi-prospective study. Appetite 58, 3 (June 2012): 781–785. Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1770

14 Must-Try Recovery Tools for When You're Crazy Sore After a Workout

It’s often a killer workout that leads to lounging around on the couch (hey, you earned it). But when you can't stop your thighs from wobbling, you’re reminded that there are probably better ideas.

If you want to wake up for tomorrow’s workout and not waddle around like a duck—or someone with a stick up their a$s—then you’re going to need at least one of these recovery tools. Some of them (foam rollers, sticks, and balls, for example) provide deep-tissue massage that helps increase blood flow, in turn speeding up recovery; others (wraps and salts) decrease inflammation to reduce post-workout soreness. Regardless of which you choose, you’re looking at better fitness results in a shorter amount of time, because when you’re not feeling sore AF, you’re ready to get after it that much sooner.  

1. SKLZ Barrel Roller Consider this your introduction to foam rolling, a form of self-myofascial release you want to get in the habit of doing after every tough workout. Roll it over your quads, hamstrings, IT bands—basically anywhere that feels tight—and when you feel that hurts-so-good sensation, release as much bodyweight onto the roller as you can bear. The more you sink into it, the more you’ll feel it, but trust us, the relief is all kinds of worth it. ($55.99; amazon.com) 2. RolFlex Endorsed by the head trainer for the L.A. Lakers, this kinda-wacky-looking recovery tool actually works. The obvious use is for larger muscles of your lower body, but thanks to the ergonomic design and interchangeable attachments, you can target hard-to-roll spots like arms, neck, and wrists with ease.  ($59.95; amazon.com) 3. The Stick Travel Stick When your main objective is to pack nothing but a carry-on for that out-of-state race, the first thing to go is a foam roller. (Or, let’s be honest, it’s not even making it into the suitcase on the first try.) That’s why the Travel Stick is ideal: It takes up very little room—you can even throw it in an oversize purse or backpack—and you can customize how deep of a massage you want based on how much pressure you apply. ($27.42; amazon.com) 4. The Pressure Positive Backnobber II Nearly 800 customers give this an almost perfect score on Amazon, so you know it’s gotta work. The curvy accessory is designed to get at hard-to-reach places in your neck, shoulders, and back: Hook one end over your shoulder and apply as much pressure as you can handle to those sore areas. While it does break down into two parts for easy travel, it may look like you’re trying to shank someone if you pull this thing outta your bag…so maybe save it for the hotel room. ($29.95; amazon.com) 5. Moji Foot PRO If there’s one area that doesn’t get enough love, it’s your feet—and the more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments found within them. But a little TLC can prevent a lot of injuries, so pop this little guy in the freezer before you head to work or for a long run. By the time you get back, the stainless steel spheres are ready to give your barking dogs a cold, muscle-relieving massage. ($31; amazon.com) 6. TriggerPoint MB2 Massage Roller If back issues wreak havoc on your workouts (or your life), this roller is your new go-to recovery tool. Designed to be adjustable, it can extend to target the larger muscles of your back or shrink down to work the tiny muscles along your spine. This can help improve flexibility; release tightness; and support good, upright posture. (You know, to combat all that hunching over you do at your desk all day.) ($24; amazon.com) 7. TheraBand Stretch Strap Stretching always feels better when you have someone there to help you push a little farther, but let’s be real—how often is someone actually nearby to stretch you out? Tossing this strap into your gym bag is a better bet. It helps you move deeper into a stretch, and it even has numbers spaced across the loops so you can easily track improvements to flexibility and range of motion. Use the toe loops to address heel pain and prevent plantar fasciitis, and the big ones for hamstring, quad, and lower back movements. ($16.30; amazon.com) 8. Gaiam Athletic MaxStrap When reaching up (or over) to touch your toes is damn near impossible, a cotton strap can give the stretch support you need without digging into your skin. This one is extra long, so tall athletes aren’t left to deal with tight muscles solo. ($12.98; amazon.com) 9. Dr. Cool Large Wrap Ice packs are a solid part of the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevate), but more often than not they slide off and refuse to stay put. This wrap stays in place and offers compression, knocking out two steps in one. ($27.26; amazon.com) 10. Dr. Teal’s Epsom Salt Soaking Solution If you can’t stand the thought of an ice bath—or simply don’t ever feel the need to torture yourself—opt for a relaxing hot water soak instead. Toss in two cups of epsom salt while you’re at it (fragrant varieties offer up ~aromatherapy spa~ vibes), so the minerals can absorb into the skin, providing much-needed relief for sore muscles. ($4.89; target.com) 11. 2XU Refresh Recovery Tights Whether compression works during a workout is debatable, but research shows donning tight gear after may help speed up post-recovery results. Lower-leg compression, running mechanics, and economy in trained distance runners. Stickford AS, Chapman RF, Johnston JD. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 2014, Jun.;10(1):1555-0265. And while the price point is a bit high, these babies help increase blood flow and reduce muscle stiffness and swelling after a killer leg day. Worth it. ($99.95; amazon.com) 12. EC3D Crew Twist Sock Not everyone wants to alert the world that they’re wearing compression gear. These crew socks go unnoticed, but the benefits don’t. You can twist the material to help correct pronation or supination and ease plantar fasciitis pain—finally, a neutral stride that doesn’t leave you feeling weak in the knees. ($25; ec3dsports.com) 13. Zensah Compression Ankle/Calf Sleeves It’s nice when recovery gear looks cool, but it’s even better when the design elements actually serve a purpose. The fold-over cuff on these sleeves slides over the arch of your foot to provide structural support that fights plantar fasciitis pain, the chevron ribbing helps relieve shin splints, and the pin-point compression gives targeted calf and ankle support. ($39.99; amazon.com) 14. Lorpen Compression Light Calf Sleeves These medical-grade calf sleeves aren’t your average slip-on socks. With 30 mmHg in the ankle and 20 mmHg in the calf (the higher the mmHG, the tighter it feels), the graduated compression helps send de-oxygenated blood back to your heart (for a quick pick-me-up), and it may reduce calf-muscle vibrations so you feel less sore after a day of sprints. ($34.99; amazon.com)

 

9 Portable Breakfasts You Can Make in a Muffin Tin

We know we're supposed to eat breakfast every morning, but on the days when we're already scrambling (so, every day), we tend to push it off. What we really need is a breakfast that can rush out the door with us, and these bite-size meals prepped in a muffin tin fit the bill. Simple, healthy, and totally transportable, they’ll make your mornings easier—and tastier. 

1. Egg and Hash Brown Cups Frozen hash browns bake into perfect “nests” for eggs, veggies, and cheese in these individual mini meals. Throw a few in a tupperware box for a balanced, on-the-go option.  2. Frozen Yogurt Granola Berry Bites These cool and crispy treats could stand as a dessert recipe or a snack recipe, but since they're full of granola, yogurt, and berries, we think they’ve got breakfast written all over them—especially if you swap store-bought granola for homemade and regular yogurt for Greek. 3. Mini Ham and Cheese Quinoa Cups Don’t be fooled by their size: With eggs, veggies, cheese, and ham in each serving, these cups pack a impressive nutritional punch. They're like a smaller, healthier quiche. We like it. 4. Banana and Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cups Baked oatmeal is a wonderful thing, but we usually only see it in the casserole dish. This recipe transfers it over to muffin tins and we're kiiiinda obsessed. Each muffin is studded with chocolate chips to make breakfast feel just a bit more special, but the banana base keeps it mostly healthy. 5. Vegetable Egg and Toast Cups Sometimes you just need to stick to the basics, and this recipe is like that, but better. Good ol’ whole-wheat bread forms the “cups” here, and those are filled with vegetables and eggs. It's a reliable way to get in a nutritious, meatless breakfast. 6. Grab-and-Go French Toast Cups French toast that you don't need a fork and knife for? Pretty much a dream come true. The recipe calls for homemade bread, but go ahead and use any thick toast you’d like to hold in all of that buttery, eggy filling. 7. Paleo Egg Cups Even if you don’t follow a Paleo diet, these five-ingredient, low-carb cups are likely to appeal to you (because bacon). Since they're pressed into muffin cups, the meat crisps up to hold the eggs and asparagus in each protein-packed serving.  8. Apple Banana Quinoa Breakfast Cups This is one of those glorious recipes that can be taken more as guidelines than specific instructions—it's perfect for customization based on your favorite fruit, spices, and other fun add-ins. But if that's not your thing, the original is pretty dang good as is. 9. Make-Ahead Frozen Oatmeal These are frozen instead of baked, so you have a choice: Pop them in the microwave for a really quick bowl of oatmeal or eat them frozen for a refreshing meal on the go. 

Originally published June 2016. Updated March 2017.

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