Choosing a Healthy Breakfast Cereal

The cereal aisle is a hallowed space, a sanctuary lined with brightly colored boxes all calling our name.  Around 7:00-7:30 every morning (and night for that matter) they call our name, the time at which we are most vulnerable. They beg us to pour them into our bowls and cover them in milk.  Oh how we love this aisle and it’s brightly colored boxes.  In fact we love it so much the average American eats about 160 bowls of cereal a year.  And if we are not careful the contents of those colorful little boxes could add 15 lbs. to our waistline over that same time! 
So how do you find a cereal that is good for you?  Here are three simple rules you can follow to make sure you’re choosing healthy cereals for you and your family:

Beware of the label lingo:  Those colorful boxes come with some colorful health claims too!   “A good source of calcium!” “Now made with whole grains!” “Smart Choice!”   Well, guess what, Fruit Loops – yep that’s right Toucan Sam’s favorite cereal, was once labeled a “Smart Choice” but has 12 grams of sugar per serving and less than a gram of fiber.  That does not sound like the smartest choice to me!  So skip the front of the box and head for the nutritional facts on the side.  Choose cereals that meet the following criteria:

First ingredient is whole grain:  Check the ingredients list and make sure the first ingredient is preceded by the word “whole” (whole wheat, whole grain corn, etc.). You can assume oats and brown rice are automatically whole grain. If the first ingredient is bran (oat bran, corn bran, wheat bran, etc.), that’s fine too.

At least 3 grams of fiber per serving:  A high-fiber diet has been shown to protect against heart disease and may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Choosing cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving helps you get a good start to your day and keep you fuller longer.

No more than 8 grams of sugar per serving:  So you have a cereal that meets the first two criteria, you have a healthy cereal right?  Wrong, put that box back down. Whole grains and other healthy ingredients do not alone make a healthy cereal.  Most of the sugars in breakfast cereals are added sugars but cereals can also contain natural sugars from raisins and other dried fruits. Too much sugar in the morning — regardless of the source — is not a good way to start off your day, and can pack on the pounds!

So next time you take a trip down that hallowed aisle, lined with all those brightly colored boxes, make a smart choice!  You and your waistline will be happy you did!

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no its superfood! – Better Health or Just Hype?

Perhaps you woke up this morning and made a smoothie with agave-nectar and a host of other ingredients you are not sure how to pronounce?   How many of us even knew what flaxseeds and agave nectar were a few years ago?  Acai? Goji?  Yeah I didn’t think so, yet these names are common place now appearing on the front of packages claiming to be superfoods!   “Super food” refers to a food that has a high abundance of certain nutrients and touts significant health benefits.  It is easy to see why they sell so well, why eat an ordinary food when you can eat a SUPER one.  But is the food really that super?
Rather than emphasizing individual foods as keys to good health, we should look at our total diet and focus on eating a range of healthy foods. Whole grains, dairy, protein, and fruits and vegetables. It is more important to eat a ’super diet’ than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
So, what is a “super diet”?   It’s one that emphasizes whole foods not processed. It includes colorful fruits and vegetables like blueberries and sweet potatoes and leafy greens, as well as high-fiber foods like whole grains, nuts and seeds, Lean meats and low-fat dairy.  In other words, nothing mysterious–just a healthy diet.
What about goji, acai, and other exotic fruits that are being added to beverages, cereals, snack foods and supplements? In their natural form, these superfoods do contain powerful antioxidants that may be useful in preventing disease ( just like all fruits and vegetables), but there is little evidence that adding them to processed foods is advantageous to health. The term superfood really means nothing scientifically. There is no official definition of what a makes a superfood.  And the use of the term superfood is unregulated by the FDA. For example, you could lable a candybar a superfood and not have the FDA restrict such labeling.
Eating superfoods won’t reverse a lifetime of bad habits. Superfoods are not magic bullets. While they offer benefits, they won’t fix an otherwise unhealthy diet but they will put a dent in your wallet. Superfoods are super expensive! It’s all about total lifestyle–a single food alone just isn’t going to do it. It’s a superfood, not a superhero.

Running is fun.

Ok, before you roll your eyes and yawn, read on and let me repeat and explain. Running… is… fun. Not fun in the loud partying with your friends’ kind of way. No, the fun of running comes quietly, almost slyly. It sneaks up on you when you least expect it.  It comes on its own terms.  It can’t be manufactured.  It must come to you. And it will, if you’re patient.
Running IS fun. It’s so simple. And so easy to forget.
My latest reminder came Wednesday afternoon when I went out with some of my friends for a run.  We often run together as they are training for a marathon and I am training for a half marathon.  They were planning to run 7 miles that night, and I was going to run 5. As we started our run, I was feeling a little sluggish. I just wanted to get it over with so I could go home, take a shower and put on my PJ’s.  I was feeling OK  a couple miles in, moving along at a even pace like normal.  And as I kept running I began to feel better and better, and before I knew it I had passed my turn around point.  Looks like I will be running the whole 7 miles with my friends, I thought. Then I smiled. I think I actually laughed out loud, a little bit.  That’s when it hit me: Hey, this is fun.
Here’s the thing: the fun had nothing to do with how fast I was running or how slow. The fun was merely in the consistency, and in knowing that I’ve managed somehow to train my body to “know” what a 7 mile run feels like and then to be able to run it and know it won’t kill me.  All I know is that on that day, out on the trail running with my friends, a feeling washed over me that could only be described as “fun.”
A little nerdy? Sure. But I think you know what I am getting at. You don’t always have to run your fastest time, or be the first to cross the finish line to have fun and ejoy it. The fun comes when you least expect it, like out on a  7 mile  run that you didn’t even want to go on!

-Amanda Reichert, Health Educator II

Avoid those extra calories.

Working out to burn off calories is a great way to maintain your healthy weight but what about avoiding those extra calories in the first place!

By serving family style meals with platters and bowl of food on the table, it encourages people to easily go back for seconds and thirds. Filling up plates and taking them to the table while leaving the extra food in the kitchen makes it not as easy to scoop another portion of food on your plate. Out of sight, out of mind is a great way to save on calories.

Leave at least one or two bites of food on your plate each meal. It is time to no longer belong to the clean your plate club. How many times have you finished the last of something even though you were already so full? All those extra calories and you weren’t even still hungry ! Be okay with leaving those extra calories on your plate. Think of it as leaving extra future pounds on that plate or know that those last few bites are less calories you have to work off later.

Pay attention to how full you feel and put down that fork when you feel satisfied. Eat slow and wait for your body to catch up with your mouth. Our bodies have a built in system to cue us when we are full, years or overriding those cues can lead to overeating. Slow down, and get in tune with your tummy!

Think outside of the gym.

When people talk about wanting to exercise more or start working out again, those words are often followed by talk of needing to go to the gym more or needing to join a gym. We often associate exercise with the gym.  The gym is a great place to be active and provides many many ways for people to achieve their fitness goals, but the gym is not the only answer. It’s time to think outside of the gym!  There are many opportunities to reach your fitness goals outside of the gym.

Hit the pavement. Exercising outside is probably the best and most simple way to exercise without a gym membership. There are no fees and contracts with the outside world and the hours of operation are pretty good. Instead of walking on a treadmill, take a walk in your neighborhood. Take note of how different your perspective of your neighborhood is on foot verses your car. You notice things you don’t normally pay attention to in the car. If walking or running is not your thing, take a blast from the past and ride a bike. It was fun when you were a kid and great news it is still fun! The bonus is that you can have fun riding and be active.

Forget the borrowed and the blue, try something new!  Spice up your workout with something that you have not tried before. A great new activity suggestion is yoga. Thanks to the internet we can try yoga for free! Check out to sign up for a free weekly yoga class. Just typing in “yoga” on YouTube will bring a million videos for you to try as well.

Check it out. The library is not just about books these days, its a great free tool when it comes to workout DVDs. Visit your local library to see what workout videos they offer. Being able to checkout and return the videos makes it so you never get sick of the same one.

These are just a few ideas of how you can think outside of the gym, what are some things you do?