10 Healthy Holiday Treats

There’s a certain chill in the air, stores are marketing their sales like crazy and Christmas music is playing almost everywhere you go — the holiday season is here!

Traditional holiday treats are so tempting!

Traditional holiday treats are so tempting!

During this festive time, families gather and celebrate the bonds they have. It’s truly a beautiful time. But, often during this time of year, one simple yet vital thing tends to go by the wayside: your health.

The champagne is flowing and buttered ham is roasting on the spit and unhealthy habits are waiting for the opportunity to hijack your fitness progress or push back your future fitness goals.

Don’t let this time of year compromise your health! Make these 10 holiday treats and cut back on your holiday splurging!

  1. Whole-wheat sugar cookies: With less than 300 calories per serving, whole wheat flour can take you a long way with sugar cookies! So when you bake Santa’s cookies, you’ll be doing him a huge favor by making this healthier alternative.
  2. Chocolate-covered strawberries: 57 calories? Who knew? Get that fruit serving in while on break and indulge a little. After all, 57 calories is nothing — but be careful to not have to many of these delectable delights!
  3. Avocado chocolate mousse: This might sound repulsive, but I promise, it’s not. Using avocado as the main ingredient in mousse is one of the most ingenious ideas out there. You can’t taste the avocado replacing the chocolate mousse filling, and it’s so much healthier than regular chocolate mousse.
  4. Oatmeal toffee cookies: Adding oatmeal to almost anything makes it a lot more nutritionally friendly to your body, and especially when it comes to toffee cookies. Throw a handful of oats into your cookie dough, savor the amazing taste and relish in the fact that you’re actually being healthier this holiday season.
  5. Sugared cranberries: Avoid those other confections that are loaded with everything unhealthy. Try a sugared cranberry instead! Yes, it’s sugared, so it’s not the healthiest possible option, but it’s certainly better than the piece of candy you might be tempted to eat.
  6. Cardamom-coconut creme caramel: Creme caramel is a holiday classic for my family, and the way that it’s prepared is anything but healthy! Try adding cardamom and substituting coconut milk for the cream, and you have a concoction that is extremely unique and way healthier than the traditional recipe.
  7. Dark-chocolate orange cake: A derivative of chocolate cake will probably be at every Christmas party you attend. If you host a party or just feel inclined to eat chocolate cake one day, try making a dark-chocolate orange cake. Dark chocolate is much healthier than milk chocolate, and fresh oranges to top the cake add great flavor and nutritional value.
  8. Gingerbread pumpkin bars: Gingerbread is a traditional holiday food for many families. While it’s not the worst thing in the world for you, there are ways to make it a healthier indulgence. Try mixing gluten-free gingerbread with bits of pumpkin! It’s an interesting taste that will have you coming back for more — and at little cost to your waistline.
  9. Gingered cranberry-pear cobbler: Cobblers are a must; everyone knows this. Try marinating cranberries and pears in ginger puree and making cobbler out of it. It’s divine. Also, it’s a lot better for you than a traditional cobbler, because ginger extract is actually full of many nutrients the body uses.
  10. Light eggnog: You can make your own eggnog with reduced-fat milk to cut back on a slew of calories traditional mixes contain. Just mix low-fat milk, eggs, nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon, then boil. Serve over ice. Adding alcohol to the mixture just increases the calorie count without adding any nutritional benefit, so avoid it.

As you can see, these 10 items are fairly easy to make, and each of them has a unique flair. Be that person who has the “cool” food. Be unique and be conscious of what you’re eating.

Well, friends, I wish you an absolutely delightful holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Have a joyous time this last month of 2013, and make good choices!

Stay healthy!

The Perils of Abusing Energy Drinks

When a sizable amount of the student body is wearing yoga pants, UGGs, and that signature messy ponytail, you know finals are approaching.

Don't be deceived by the hype! Avoid these at all costs.

Don’t be deceived by the hype! Avoid these at all costs.

Finals are just around the corner for college students, and holiday season preparation is beginning to peak! Many people may look to less-than-kosher stimulants to ensure their assignments are completed — energy drinks being one big potential culprit.

People often forget just how bad abusing energy drinks is at any time, but especially at this crucial time in the year.

Energy drinks might give you the buzz you’re looking for in a short-term sense, but continued consumption of energy drinks can negatively impact your health in a way that’s just not worth the one night you’re trying to bust an all-nighter.

Drinks like Monster, Full Throttle, Amp, Rockstar and Red Bull may give you a temporary boost in energy, but they can result in symptoms like nervousness, irritability, insomnia, rapid heartbeat and increased blood pressure.

So what exactly is an energy drink and what makes it bad for you? Energy drinks are stimulants, meaning that they provide both mental and physical stimulation. They contain stimulants such as taurine, ginseng, and carnitine.

However, while these drinks may stimulate your senses in the short term, they can cause harmful neurologic and cardiovascular damage in the long run. Also, they can be very dehydrating if adequate water isn’t consumed.

Additionally, energy drinks are usually very high in sugar! Stay away from them as much as possible. They can cause weight gain, and nobody wants that right before the holiday season!

So maybe you already know just how bad energy drinks are for you — but do you know how to stay energized without them?

Can you say green machine? Green machine is usually a blend of dark green vegetables and some fruit. It’s high in fiber, protein, vitamins and energy! It’s literally all you need to get through those tough days of studying and holiday prep.

Green tea is also a great alternative to sugary energy drinks. It contains a smaller, healthier amount of caffeine and is also known to improve mental clarity.

Protein shakes are also a good substitute for energy drinks. They will boost your energy levels in no time and have the carbs you need to sustain long-term satisfaction.

Last, but certainly not least, get a decent amount of sleep and stay hydrated. Don’t write off sleep and water! They are the ultimate energy boosters and should be an integral part of your routine.

Be sure to avoid abusing energy drinks this year and in years to come! Like many other stimulants, they might help you now, but you’ll regret the effects they’ll have on your health in the future.

Have a safe, successful and simply wonderful holiday break!

How to Stay Moderately Healthy this Thanksgivukkah

A week from today, we will experience something extremely rare — the intersection of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah!

Budget your calorie intake this Thanksgiving!

Budget your calorie intake this Thanksgiving!

So how are you celebrating this holiday anomaly?

Whether you’re having a romantic, candlelit Thanksgiving for two or you’re enjoying the company of your jubilant extended family, one thing’s for sure — this Thanksgiving has to be celebrated on epic proportions.

And no, I don’t mean pig out. This Thanksgiving, I challenge you to control your portions and eat smartly.

This doesn’t mean miss out on your holiday favorites! It just means that you’ll make a few adjustments that shouldn’t affect your overall Thanksgivukkah experience.

Follow these eight steps for a healthier Thanksgivukkah celebration:

  1. Practice portion control: Even though Thanksgiving only comes around once a year, and you might have this raging urge to just eat and eat and eat some more, don’t. Take a little bit of everything at the Thanksgiving buffet, and eat with moderation.
  2. Use low-calorie substitutes: If you’re making any sort of sweet delight this Thanksgiving, cut back on a lot of calories by using a sugar substitute or honey! Any way you can cut back is beneficial to your health, even if it’s as simple as a sugar substitute.
  3. Eat a meal early: Most people think that if they starve themselves all day and “save” up for the big Thanksgiving meal, they will somehow be budgeting calories in an efficient way. This couldn’t be more false! Make sure to eat a meal before the huge feast. That way, you won’t binge later. High-fiber meals in the morning are highly recommended.
  4. Avoid eating seconds: Yes, I know this one may be hard, but try your hardest! Even though everything is going to taste so good, you don’t need more than one serving in one sitting.
  5. Go for the veggie options: Be sure to eat your veggies! Whether they’re boiled, steamed, baked or fresh, eating veggies as part of your Thanksgiving meal will only make your diet that much more balanced.
  6. Try to stick to water as your primary drink: Thanksgiving is one of the many holidays with delicious drinks everywhere, and whether it’s an aged wine or a nice glass of sparkling apple cider, be careful not to drink too many calorie-filled drinks. In fact, if you can stick to water as your main drink, you will be even healthier in the long run. Think of this as calorie budgeting.
  7. Savor your food: Really take your time when chewing. Research has shown that when you chew slower, your digestive processes work better. So be sure to slow down and really enjoy what you’re eating.
  8. Stay away from turkey skin: Turkey skin is a huge no-no! While it may taste delicious to some, it is extremely high in fat. Instead, you should eat the white meat of the turkey.

Ultimately, it’s about sacrificing a little in order to be your healthiest this Thanksgiving. Making a few of these small changes will benefit you immensely! So try them. Give them a shot and notice how much better you’ll feel.

Well folks, now you know how to have a healthy, happy Thanksgivukkah! Follow these eight steps and you won’t feel bad when you’re trying on that new pair of jeans on Black Friday!

Happy Thanksgivukkah – make the most of this special time!

10 Ways to Stay Healthy this Halloween

It’s almost Halloween! Have you thought about how you’re going to keep those candy corn calories off?

Make moderation key this Halloween.

Make moderation key this Halloween.

If not, you need to follow these 10 steps so you can successfully stay healthy this Halloween!

Every Halloween, thousands upon thousands of people fall prey to synthetic fillers and high-fructose corn syrup as they enjoy their Halloween candy. They fail to realize how much damage certain Halloween candies can do!

Don’t let Halloween hijack your fitness progress or make future fitness goals even harder to achieve. Follow these 10 steps, and you’ll be golden.

10 Ways to Stay Healthy this Halloween:

  1. Eat three distinct meals. Eating distinct meals, especially dinner before trick-or-treating or attending a party, will help you refrain from binge-eating items that have less nutritional value than a balanced meal.
  2. Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated will not only help you stay alert this Halloween, but it will also fill you up to an extent.
  3. Provide healthier treats if distributing snacks to the trick-or-treaters. They say it takes a village to raise a child — they’re not lying! It starts with you.
  4. If you’re throwing a party, have a few veggie trays as snacking options. You’ll be surprised how far munching on veggies instead of chips or other salt-filled munchies  will take you.
  5. Serve low-calorie drinks at Halloween parties. Everyone knows there will be drinks at a Halloween party. Do yourself a favor and indulge in lower-calorie options — and drink with moderation.
  6. If you’re going to eat a chocolate Halloween treat, eat dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.  Dark chocolate is actually full of antioxidants, unlike its lighter counterpart.
  7. Buy Halloween candy at the last minute. That way, you aren’t tempted to eat it before distributing it that night. It’s also cheaper when bought closer to Halloween.
  8. If you’re trick-or-treating, take the long route around the neighborhood to get in a few extra strides and ultimately more exercise for a healthy heart and fit body.
  9. Set boundaries as to how many candies you or your loved ones can eat a day. Fun-size candy is always a good option!
  10. Never, ever fill up a whole pillowcase with candy. That’s just asking for trouble.

With these 10 steps in mind, you’re sure to have an amazing Halloween your body won’t regret partaking in!

Get out there, be active, make good choices and have a great Halloween!

Ramadan Retrospective: A Health Boost in Disguise

For the past seven years, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to partake in one of the five pillars of Islam: Ramadan.

Sunset signals the end of a day of fasting.

Sunset signals the end of a day of fasting.

I started fasting when I was 12 years old, as do many other Muslim kids around the world.

Boy, was I stoked!

Not only did this mean I was practically grown-up, it also meant that I actually got to reap the benefits, both spiritual and physical, of the holiest month of the year.

During the month of Ramadan — the ninth month of the Islamic calendar — from sunrise to sunset, Muslims are required to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and engaging in any sort of sexual activity.

The thing about Ramadan is that it’s not all about abstaining from activities we consider essential to healthy living. It’s about purifying the body and soul by focusing on others rather than just yourself. It’s about becoming closer to your creator and doing so as if nothing in your daily life has changed.

The whole point of Ramadan is to forget about the worldly objects that consume our everyday existence. It’s about focusing on having less. It’s about empathizing with those who are less fortunate. It’s about sharing the experience of those who really live every day not knowing whether they’ll have food to eat or water to drink.

While this spiritual stuff is nice and all, you might be wondering how fasting benefited my physical health alongside my spiritual health.

What are the pros and cons of fasting? What happens to about 23 percent of the world’s population one month out of the year?

Pros:

  • A shrunken appetite. Fasting dramatically shrinks your stomach size. So, when it comes time to break your fast, it’s pretty difficult to binge. This helps you eat smaller portions and still feel satisfied. Personally, this is the greatest health benefit I reap from Ramadan. Fasting really jump-starts my metabolism and sets me up for a healthy fall — until Thanksgiving rolls around. Mmmm… rolls.
  • Nicotine control. Smoking is not permitted while fasting. Instead of stopping cold-turkey or with the help of patches, this is a great opportunity for those who are trying to quit naturally to gradually ween off of cigarettes. While I am not a smoker, I know people who have successfully quit smoking after Ramadan. All you need is a little faith!

Cons:

  • Increased stomach acidity. When you keep your stomach empty for so long, it’s easy for acid to build up and for acid reflux problems to develop. In order to avoid this, I make sure to have some yogurt before sunrise. The yogurt not only keeps me from being thirsty all day, but it also helps the acid levels in my stomach remain normal.
  • Decreased desire to work out. When you have to fast every day for 12 hours, it’s hard to get hydrated enough to hit the gym. While fasting all day is an exhausting practice, there are those who chug their coconut water and work out until sunrise – props to them! The amount of potassium in coconut water makes it one of the best drinks to have when trying to get hydrated.

For me, Ramadan is a rejuvenating experience where both my spiritual and physical health is restored. It’s like it recharges my body to take on another year filled with so many choices.

Every time I go into sajda — the bow Muslims do when they pray — I pray that I’ll get to experience yet another Ramadan. I pray that I’ll get to experience this time full of community get-togethers, where I can give back and feel one with God while feeling physically cleansed as well.

Make SMART goals this New Year

It’s a new semester! We can’t believe we’re back at school already. This New Year seemed to have appeared out of the blue and if you’re like me, you probably wanted another two weeks to sleep in and enjoy the comforts of home.

It’s a week past the initial New Year, but we still have those pesky New Year’s resolutions tacked up on our Facebook timelines. And if you’re like most people, the resolutions center around getting healthier, trying to lose weight and becoming a happier person overall.

Photo via Blogspot.com

It’d be great if life worked like this, but posting a status about getting fit or eating better isn’t the only step you need to take to a healthier lifestyle. Get rid of those “resolutions” and start making goals.

SMART Goals

Since acronyms make everything easier to remember, start your goal planning with SMART.

Photo via youandmeworld.com

Specific: If you want something done right, you’ve got to be specific. The same goes for making your goals. Be specific about what you want to accomplish, where you’re going to accomplish it, who is involved, when you’ll be done and why you’re doing it.

For example:

What do you want to do? Lose 10 pounds and be able to do five pull-ups. Where will this happen? At the YMCA. Who is involved? My best friend is coming to the gym with me to hold me accountable. When will you be done? Graduation! Why are you doing this? I want to feel better about myself and feel stronger.

Measurable: Measuring your progress is important. If you make a vague goal, there isn’t really any way to measure it for success. When you set a numerical value for your weight loss, like 10 pounds, you can calculate your progress. You need to be able to know when you’ve accomplished your goal.

Attainable: Remember sitting in your elementary school classrooms with those motivational posters on the walls? “You can do it” and “Dare to be different?” Take some advice from Eleanor Roosevelt and “believe in the beauty of your dreams.” When you make goals, only you can realize them. They are your own. When your attitude toward your goals changes and you become motivated, nothing can stop you from attaining them.

Realistic: Getting everything you want isn’t always what you need. Do I need a Lamborghini? No. Do I want one? Yes! Set your goals with reality in mind. What can you achieve in your time-frame realistically? I’m signed up for the Chicago Marathon in October. I realistically have enough time from now until then to reach 26.2 miles as long as I stay on track with my training.

Timely: As with everything, timing is essential. If you’re working 40 hours per week and taking 19 credits, chances are you don’t have enough time during the day for a three-hour workout. Make a schedule for your goal and stay on track. It’s not about spending the most time to reach your goal, but making the most of your time to get there. Sneak in quick workouts, plan for meals the night before and stay on schedule.

Try these SMART goals for a change, Devils, and see how much you can achieve!

Keeping holiday stress at bay

Christmas trees are lit, semi-cooler weather is upon us and stress levels are so high we feel like quitting. Happy Holidays, right? This time of year is supposed to be merry and bright, but with finals, group projects and traveling home, the holidays can be a bit gloomy. Stop stressing about what you need to do before Winter Break and take some time to enjoy the days leading up to it.

Photo via Active.com

Follow these tips to help you stay stress-free

  • Take a minute to breathe. This is one of the most important things you can do for your body and mental health. When the world around you is in disarray, take Rumi’s advice and “Sit, be still and listen.”
  • Go holiday shopping. Make a list of what you need and where you can find it. Simplify your life with online shopping from sites like Amazon where you can get free shipping and customize the order for a gift. When buying for your friends, get creative and make something unique they’ll love. Check out websites like Etsy or Pinterest for some good ideas.
  • Budget your time and your wallet. It’s easy to overspend this time of year whether it’s through time commitments or with shopping for gifts. Plan out how much you can afford to give in both scenarios and stay strict with it!
  • Start a new tradition. It’s easy to get hung up on perfecting and maintaining traditions and forget why you’re doing them in the first place. Simplify traditions and start something new.
  • Keep exercising and eating well. When stress levels rise, your body goes into the “fight or flight” mode which means your body is working overtime to compensate for your high stress levels. When you keep up with your regular exercise and diet routines, your body realizes it doesn’t need to enter the fight or flight stage because it’s just a normal day.
  • Spend time with the people you love. The Holidays are here only once a year and now is the time to enjoy it. Be thankful for the people in your life and share some quality time with them. Watch a holiday movie, bake some holiday cookies and celebrate the wonderful life you’re living.

Stop stressing, Devils. Enjoy the holidays instead!