The Building Blocks Of A Better Salad

woman eating salad smiling( – If you think that heading to the salad bar is a healthier choice, then you better think again, because when it comes to watching your waistline, all salads are not created equal. Low in calories but loaded with fiber and vitamins, salads are one of the healthiest meals you can have — that is if you make the right choices. Adding too many high-calorie toppings can actually cause you to gain weight.

Here are a few guidelines to help you keep your salad healthy and free of unwanted calories.

1. Start with a strong base. If you haven’t already, ditch that anemic-looking iceberg lettuce. Instead, try the fabulous (and far more nutritious) greens available at local farmers’ markets, produce stands and many supermarkets – a great choice is a spring mix, which includes frisée, oakleaf, red chard and radicchio. Even romaine lettuce is far more tasty and nutrient-rich than iceberg.

2. Load on the veggies. As with greens, the sky’s the limit. Choose a variety of colors and keep them raw or lightly steamed (overcooked vegetables taste bland in salads). Brightly colored veggies also have major health benefits: The rich red in bell peppers, bright orange in carrots and deep green in broccoli are courtesy of phytochemicals, natural plant chemicals that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and macular degeneration, among many other conditions. The best-known phytochemical is beta-carotene, which is found in orange, yellow, red and even some green vegetables. Others include flavonoids (broccoli, onions, celery) and chlorophyll (green beans and sugar snap peas).

3. Don’t forget the protein. This is what makes your salad a meal. Choose lean sources of animal protein, such as skinless chicken or turkey, canned or fresh salmon, chunk light tuna (it has less mercury than white albacore), hard-boiled eggs or egg whites, and sirloin steak or other lean meat. Vegetarian options include tofu, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans and other legumes (canned is fine; just rinse and drain). Choose one (or two if you’re extra-hungry) of the following:

• Chicken breast, skinless, 3 oz: 20 g protein, 100 cal
• Turkey breast, skinless, 3 oz: 26 g protein, 115 cal
• Salmon, grilled, 3 oz: 19 g protein, 175 cal
• Whole egg, 2: 13 g protein, 160 cal (have no more than six egg yolks per week)
• Egg whites, 4: 14 g protein, 65 cal
• Chunk light tuna, water-packed, 3 oz: 22 g protein, 100 cal
• Sirloin steak, broiled, lean only, 3 oz: 26 g protein, 160 cal
• Tofu, ½ cup cubes: 20 g protein, 180 cal
• Chickpeas, ¾ cup: 11 g protein, 200 cal (and 9 g fiber)

4. Add tasty extras. Extras are more caloric than greens, veggies or protein, so use them sparingly. That shouldn’t be an issue, though, because a little goes a long way. Choose one, or smaller portions of two, of the following:

• Cheddar, shredded, 2 Tbsp: 55 cal
• Parmesan, grated, 2 Tbsp: 45 cal
• Feta, crumbled, 2 Tbsp: 50 cal nuts
• Walnuts, chopped, 1 Tbsp: 50 cal
• Almonds, sliced, 2 Tbsp: 65 cal seeds (kernels only)
• Sunflower, 1 Tbsp: 45 cal
• Pumpkin, 1 Tbsp: 45 cal other add-ins
• Avocado, 1 oz: 45 cal
• Croutons, ¼ cup: 45 cal
• Olives, canned in water, 10 small: 40 cal
• Raisins or dried cranberries, 2 Tbsp: 55 cal

5. Dress it up. This is where an otherwise healthy salad can go all wrong. Many restaurants will top salads with 3 to 6 Tbsp worth, which can add up to 500 calories! Order dressing on the side and limit it to about 1½ Tbsp for an entrée salad and 1 Tbsp for a side salad.

If you buy bottled dressings, look for low fat rather than fat-free ones. A little fat is good, because it helps your body absorb the beta-carotene, vitamin E and other fat-soluble nutrients from the veggies. Or make your own light vinaigrette with 1 part oil and 3 parts vinegar, then flavor with mustard, pressed garlic and spices.


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Blast That Belly – Fast!

woman doing crunches on workout ball( – Most people just aren’t crazy about their mid-section. How about you? Are you ready to do something about it?

Right now, wrap a tape measure around your belly button. The goal is to be below 35′. Now wrap it around your lower ab pooch (the area between your belly button and your pubic area). Write that number down as well.

Now, stand in front of the mirror and tighten up your abs. You’ll probably see any combination of the following:

• A Jelly Belly. This occurs from repeated yo-yo dieting which includes pregnancies. You might notice less skin elasticity, loose skin and excess fat predominantly underneath the surface of the skin (subcutaneous). This fat lies on top of the ab muscle and you can pick it up with your fingers or hands.

• A Bowling Ball. This means that in addition to excess subcutaneous skin, you also have too much fat underneath the ab muscle, pushing it out to make you appear to be pregnant when you’re not. This fat distribution is common after the age of 40, or can earlier if you have a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome or if you’re obese.

• A Muffin Top. Excess belly fat produces the not-so-attractive muffin top which is belly leakage over the rim of your jeans, and, of course, your swimsuit. As you dare to stare into the mirror and scrutinize your mid section, you may also see belly rolls – strange collections of fat that can collect under your breasts extending to your belly button (very common after the age of 40), as well as the usual love handles eyesores on your sides. Viewing all of this either can send you to the fridge in despair, or on a desperate search to find a suit that will hold it all in as you hit the pool and the beach this summer.

Okay, you now know what you’re up against, you need to understand something: while the newer spandex fabrics may promise hope, the bottom line is you’re better off just getting rid of enough belly fat to reduce the angst and have more summer fun.

Here are some tips and tools to help you achieve your belly-blasting goal:

• Knock out some good nutrition. You need to pay close attention to the quality, quantity and frequency of your eating. Excess belly fat is caused by sedentary behavior, as well as overeating. Rein in the calories and you’ll rein in your belly. You can do a million crunches a day and you’ll still have those rolls if you overeat.

• What you do from 3pm on each day determines your waist size. Most people overeat from the mid-afternoon on because they’re tired and overwhelmed and not paying attention. You need to be prepared and plan ahead to have a substantial snack in the mid-afternoon, enough to carry you to dinner and to quell your afternoon appetite and hunger. Combine lean protein (your choices include low fat or skim dairy, 2-4 oz chicken or turkey or fish, peanut butter on a multi-grain cracker or a veggie pattie) with fiber (your choices include a piece of fruit or veggie) for the greatest satisfaction. An easy way to remember what to eat is have half of what you had for lunch. That way you’ll be in better control of appetite at dinner and beyond.

• Whatever you overeat after dinner will add pounds to your middle. Be careful of just sitting and watching TV while you munch away. If you’re truly hungry before going to bed, have a 100-150 calorie whole food snack, like blueberries and a little yogurt or a small fruit.  An easy rule to remember is if you don’t wake up hungry for breakfast, there’s a good chance you overate the night before.

• Focus on your abs throughout the day. In addition to eating better and exercising, think more about your core muscles. Throughout the day, suck in your belly and contract your ab muscles. You’re doing ab exercises all day when you contract and expand and this leads to a stronger core. In addition, the stronger the abs, the stronger the back. They support one another. Watch out for slouching as you walk or sit. Too many people do this and it would even make Naomi Campbell look like she had a ton of belly fat. Sit up right now and roll your shoulders forward, then up to your ears and then back. Where they settle is the backbone for your posture.

• Take better care of your core. Achieving and maintaining your core is easier than you think. It just takes consistency. Below are some baseline exercises you can do anywhere – they’re guaranteed to help you get tighter, meaner abs. If you have any medical condition or disability, talk to your doctor before doing any exercise.

• Floor Crunch. Lie on a floor (preferably a carpeted floor or a pad of some kind), put your hands beside your head, bring your knees together and place your feet flat on the floor about a foot from your hips. Now, push your lower back down, almost like you’re trying to make a dent in the floor. Then begin to roll your shoulders up, keeping your knees and hips stationary. Continue to push down as hard as you can with your lower back. When your shoulders come off the ground a few inches, hold this position and flex your ab muscles as hard as you can for a count of one. Then slowly lower your shoulders back down to the floor. Push down with your lower back for the entire exercise. Perform 10 reps, rest 60 seconds and repeat for a total of 3 sets. Beware: don’t lock your hands behind your head. Your hands should be cupped at the sides of your head and should not be used for leverage.

• Ball Crunch. Lie on your back on an ab ball with your hands behind your head, your feet flat on the floor and your legs at a 90-degree angle. Using your abs, raise your head and shoulders and crunch your rib cage toward your pelvis. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position. Perform 10 reps, rest for 60 seconds and repeat for a total of 3 sets. Beware: Don’t relax your abs when you return to the starting position. Keep them contracted throughout the whole exercise. Do not pull on your neck muscles during the contraction. Instead, hook your hands directly behind your ears, and keep your elbows wide. Your lower back should maintain contact with the ball.

• Reverse Crunch. Lie on your back with your legs and hips bent at 90-degree angles, and your arms relaxed at your sides, palms facing down. Pull your abs in, and lift your hips as if you were tipping a bucket of water that’s resting on top of your pelvis. Perform 10 reps, rest for 60 seconds and repeat for a total of 3 sets. Beware: Do not lift your hips to more than a 30-degree angle from the floor. Also, do not use your hands to help tilt your hips.

• Twist Crunch. Lie flat on your back, your knees bent and your hands beside your head. Let your legs fall as far as they can to your right side so your upper body is flat on the floor and your lower body is on its side. Press your lower back down into the floor while you roll your upper body slightly up until your shoulder blades clear the floor. Concentrate on your obliques (the muscles on the side of your waist), and contract and hold the crunch for a count of one. Slowly lower to the starting position. Count one, and then perform your next rep. After you complete 5 reps on our right side, switch to your left and fo
llow the same instructions. Perform 10 reps, rest for 60 seconds and repeat for a total of 3 sets. Beware: Don’t lock your hands behind your head. Don’t worry how far your knees can drop to the ground. Everyone varies in flexibility. Most important, keep your shoulders square to the ceiling and contract your rib cage to your hip bones.

Getting better abs isn’t just about exercise. It’s not just about eating differently. Because your core muscles are at the heart of just about everything you do (this includes what you should and shouldn’t be doing), it takes a healthy balance of diet, exercise and little everyday improvements to give you the svelte shape you’ve been dreaming about.