Eat These Vitamin-Rich Foods for a Healthy, Balanced Diet

vitamin d

 

Whether you’re trying to lose weight or just eat a more balanced diet, it’s important to get enough vitamins every day in order to maintain your health. Vitamins help your body grow and function optimally by boosting immunity, maintaining eye health, keeping your bones strong, raising your energy levels and much, much more.

When your body doesn’t get the vitamins it needs, however, your health can suffer and your risk of developing health issues can increase.

Getting vitamins from food vs. supplements

You may be wondering, “What about supplements? Isn’t it just easier to take a vitamin supplement every day than try to get the right daily intake of vitamins from food?”

Although supplements can have their place in a healthy diet — especially for people who suffer from vitamin deficiencies — they’re not a replacement for a varied, well-balanced diet. Whole, vitamin-rich foods supply the optimal balance of compounds that your body absorbs and uses.

6 essential vitamins and foods that contain them

All the essential vitamins work together to maintain your bodily functions and promote optimal health. However, each vitamin also has its own role in assisting the body with specific functions. Below are the main functions of six of the essential vitamins, as well as examples of good food sources for each one.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is extremely important for healthy eyesight, red blood cell production, immune function, skin health, bones and teeth. It can be found in fortified milk, organ meats, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe and apricots.

B vitamins

There are eight B vitamins — B-1, B-2, B-6, B-12, pantothenic acid, niacin, biotin and folic acid — and they have an important role in your body’s ability to create energy and release it when needed. They’re essential for proper nerve function and the formation of red blood cells, as well as a healthy metabolism, brain function, heart function and hormone production.

B vitamins can be found in meat, poultry, fish, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, yogurt, seafood and eggs.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is especially important when your body is under stress because it helps maintain a healthy immune system and repair damage. It also works as a disease-fighting antioxidant that keeps your cells healthy, improves your body’s iron absorption and promotes teeth and gum health.

Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, orange juice, kiwis, guavas, papayas, strawberries, red and green bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes and dark leafy greens.

Vitamin D 

Vitamin D is critical for the bone health, calcium absorption and proper immune system function. It can be found in milk, eggs, shiitake mushrooms and some seafood, including salmon, trout and oysters.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect your cells from damage. It also works with the B vitamins to create red blood cells and helps your body use vitamin K and repair muscle cells.

Foods that contain vitamin E include bell peppers, asparagus, sunflower seeds, almonds and dark leafy greens like Swiss chard and spinach.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is essential to forming blood clots, and without it, a person could bleed to death from a small cut. It also helps maintain bone health. Foods containing vitamin K include dark leafy greens, asparagus, parsley, broccoli and brussels sprouts.

Eating a well-balanced diet full of whole foods is the best way to ensure your body is getting all the vitamins and nutrients it needs to stay healthy and function at its optimal level. Incorporate a variety of the foods listed above into your daily diet — your body will thank you!


The Relationship Between Stress and Weight

Stress

Everyone deals with stress at some point their lives, but people who experience high levels of perceived stress or long-term stress often end up suffering real physical and emotional consequences. Stress can negatively impact mood and cause people to make poor decisions, including unhealthy eating choices.

April is Stress Awareness Month, so today we’re digging into the reasons why it can be so hard to lose weight when you’re chronically stressed.

The relationship between stress and weight

When we’re under a lot of pressure or have been experiencing a certain amount of stress, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode (a.k.a. survival mode). This often results in overeating, because our bodies think we’ve used calories to deal with stress and falsely thinks those calories need to be replenished.

Stress causes the levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) in our bodies to increase. Higher levels of cortisol can lead to higher insulin levels, resulting in a drop in blood sugar and cravings for sugary and fatty foods. While eating these comfort foods can temporarily lower stress, it doesn’t last long. The stress-eating cycle continues, literally feeding an overeating habit that eventually leads to weight gain.

This connection between cortisol and weight has been examined in various scientific studies. One study performed by researchers from University College London analyzed longitudinal health data from more than 2,500 men and women older than age 54 and found a connection between cortisol and being overweight.

Other studies have shown that changes in appetite may cause weight fluctuations during stressful periods. One study of 1,355 people found that stress was associated with weight gain in overweight adults. While these studies show an association between stress and changes in appetite or weight, medications, hormonal shifts and psychological conditions could also be influencing these changes.

Healthy ways to cope with stress

If you’ve experienced weight gain as a result of overeating due to stress, use these are some helpful tips for handling stress in healthier ways.

1. Get some casual exercise. Take a brisk walk or go for a light jog. More high-intensity workouts can work against you by raising cortisol levels.

2. Establish a regular mindfulness practice. Incorporate prayer, meditation, breathing exercises or a yoga or tai chi practice into your day to help clear your mind. You’ll be able to handle stress better and avoid poor coping mechanisms, like overeating, more often.

3. Get support. It’s always good to have someone to talk to or lean on so that the stress you’re facing doesn’t continue to build up. Whenever you’re feeling tense, speak with a close friend or family member you trust and can rely on.

4. Read. Reading, especially works of fiction, can be a great distraction and help get your mind off your problems for a while. Next time you feel the urge to grab some cookies, grab a book instead and take it to a relaxing spot to unwind for a bit.

5. Listen to music. Music is a wonderful mood changer. Just be sure you listen to uplifting music that you can sing along with and/or dance around to rather than music that will get you into a deeper funk. The combination of listening to happy music, singing and dancing is one of the best ways to naturally relieve stress. Create some playlists that are ready to go when you need them!

Keep these healthy stress management tips in your back pocket and be prepared to use them the next time you have the urge to overeat. Before you know it, you’ll be more equipped to handle life’s stresses in ways that better serve you — and find yourself reaching for the chips or cookies less often.


The Importance of Sleep and How it Can Affect Your Weight

sleep

 

With National Sleep Awareness Week during the week of March 11, now is the perfect time to talk about the importance of sleep and its connection to weight. The amount of sleep you get can directly impact your health, both mentally and physically, for better or worse.

The Importance of Sleep

When you get enough sleep every day, your overall health benefits — you have the energy you need to get through the day and perform at your best, you feel mentally alert and you experience a more balanced emotional state.

Consistent lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep, on the other hand, can result in energy depletion, decreased productivity, a foggy mental state, imbalanced emotions and even weight gain.

The Connection Between Sleep and Weight Gain

Recent studies have shown a connection between the number of hours a person sleeps and weight gain. These studies suggest that the chances of weight gain increase when an individual gets either less than five hours of sleep or more than nine hours of sleep.

Why the correlation? According to one study, men who were continually deprived of sleep had an increase in their desires for high-calorie foods and their overall calorie intake increased. In another study, women who slept less than six hours or more than nine hours a night were more likely to gain weight compared to women who slept seven hours a night. Yet another study found that sleeping too little prompts people to eat bigger portions of all foods, resulting in weight gain.

Two theories as to why this occurs are:

1. Sleep duration affects hormones that regulate hunger and stimulate appetite. Basically, when we don’t get the proper amount of sleep, we’re hit with a double whammy: our brains crave junk food and lack the impulse control to say no to those cravings.

2) Those who lack for sleep are always fatigued and, therefore, get less physical activity. This can lead to weight gain or interfere with one’s efforts to lose weight.

Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

Unfortunately, the number of people getting insufficient sleep and/or not getting the quality of sleep their bodies need to function optimally seems to be increasing. If you fall into the camp of those who need to get a good night’s sleep consistently, try the tips below for improved sleep.

  • Follow a sleep-wake schedule by going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time each day. Be consistent, sticking to it even on weekends. You’ll notice that you feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours during different time frames each day.
  • Exercise during the day. People who exercise regularly sleep better at night and feel more awake during the day. Regular exercise can also improve the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual that avoids screens for at least an hour before going to bed (this includes the TV, computers and cell phones). Doing so tells your brain that it’s time to wind down and relax. A few ideas to try are reading a book by soft lighting, taking a warm bath, listening to relaxing music or doing simple stretches.
  • Avoid heavy meals and alcohol in the evening, particularly close to bedtime. Spicy or acidic foods can cause heartburn and alcohol can interfere with your sleep cycle.
  • Be aware of when you consume caffeinated beverages and foods such as tea, coffee, soda and chocolate. Try not to consume them after 2 PM because caffeine can stay in your system for several hours, negatively affecting your sleep.
  • Set a peaceful environment that’s conducive to sleep. Turn out the lights, as darkness signals your body to release melatonin, the natural sleep hormone, while light suppresses it. Also, keep the temperature around 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature is too hot or too cold, it can interfere with sleep patterns.
Sound a bit overwhelming? Take it one step at a time. Pick the tip that’s most appealing to you or that you feel you can easily incorporate into your daily routine and start with that one. Once you’ve successfully implemented it, pick another one and continue adding one at a time at your own pace.Before you know it, you’ll be getting a great night’s sleep every night and reaping the positive mental and physical benefits.

How to Avoid the New Year’s Slump to Reach Your Goals

reach goals

 

At this point in January, you may find that you’ve lost motivation and have gotten off track in sticking with the health resolutions you set for this year. Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up over it. You are far from alone! According to U.S. News, 80 percent of goal-setters drop their New Year’s resolutions by February.

So how do you pick yourself back up and stop yourself from throwing in the towel completely? Below are five tips to get you back on track so you can feel good about accomplishing your goals come December.

1. Revisit your “why”

There will be plenty of days when you don’t feel like doing what it takes to get healthy. The couch may be calling you to stay cozy instead of lacing up your sneakers and getting outside for a walk in the cold. When this happens, you need to know your “why” — the true, deep reason you want to achieve your goal.

For example, are you looking to lose weight? While looking better and being able to wear certain clothes are certainly good benefits of losing weight, they may not be strong enough reasons for you to commit to healthy eating and exercise over the long term. Getting healthy so you can be around to enjoy your grandchildren or to have the energy to give back to a cause you truly care about are some deeper reasons that may pull you off the couch time and again.

In a nutshell, when you have a strong connection to the reason for your goal, you are much more likely to be successful in reaching it.

2. Be realistic

Make sure your goals are attainable and avoid an “all or nothing” mentality. For example, don’t resolve to NEVER eat ice cream or French fries again. Instead, avoid these foods most of the time but allow yourself to mindfully indulge (and enjoy doing so without guilt) from time to time.

3. Break down big goals into small steps

Set small, attainable goals to work on each week that will help you work toward your larger goals. For each goal, write down every possible action you can think of that you will need to take to reach that goal. Then put the first few actions, or steps, on your calendar. Once those are done, add the next few steps and so on.

4. Track your progress

Keep track of and celebrate each small success to help you stay motivated. If your end goal is to lose 25 pounds, focus on 5 pounds at a time. Each time you lose 5 pounds, acknowledge and celebrate this smaller step toward your larger goal. Some ideas to celebrate might be going to the movies with a friend or buying yourself some new fitness gear.

One great way to track your progress is by keeping a food and/or exercise journal. You’ll be able to look back in your journal to remind yourself of all your hard work and see how far you’ve come. This is a great tool to keep you moving forward whenever you feel you’re losing steam or getting frustrated.

5. Enlist help

Decide how you will deal with the temptation to skip your workout or grab a few cookies before dinner. Think about what works best for helping you to stay on track.

It may be as simple as reminding yourself of your “why” and thinking about how giving into temptation will derail you from the better future you want to create for yourself. If you need outside support and accountability, have a trusted friend or family member who you know you can call to help you when you’re facing temptation. Have a friend who is also working toward health resolutions? Propose that you’ll be each other’s accountability partners!

The key is to not let yourself get down when you occasionally get off track — life happens! Take it one day at a time and do the best you can each day. Remember, you still have 11 months to work toward your goals. Apply these tips and you’ll find yourself making great progress in no time.


Smart Healthy Eating Strategies to Get You Through the Holidays

healthy eating

 

The holidays are quickly approaching, which means it’s time to plan your healthy eating strategy for the season. Because most holidays are food-focused, they can cause a large intake of calories and throw your otherwise-healthy lifestyle off track.

Prevent the holidays from sabotaging your healthy lifestyle by putting a plan in place for handling all the extra food and drinks that will come your way during the season. Follow the tips below to celebrate guilt-free!

Plan activities that don’t center on food

Whether you’re hosting a holiday gathering or going to someone else’s house, keep some activities in your back pocket to take you away from the snack table. For example, bring a few favorite board games or set up some simple physical activities that children and adults can enjoy, like a bean bag toss or a relay race.

If you enjoy running or walking, sign your family up for a local 5K event. There are always a ton of turkey trots, jingle bell 5Ks and other holiday-themed races at this time of year. If you’ve never done one, you’ll be hooked after your first race!

Not only will these ideas get your mind off food, but they’ll give everyone something fun to do together. And isn’t that really what the holidays are about?

Avoid skipping meals

Many people make the mistake of skipping meals on the day of a holiday party to “save” their calories for the event. Skipping meals is unhealthy, however, as it leads to poor food choices and often results in overeating.

Instead, eat small meals and snacks throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels stable and your appetite controlled. When you get to the party, you won’t risk derailing your diet because you’re starving.

Practice mindful eating

The most important thing to practice is being mindful about your food choices and portion control. When you’re mindful about selecting your food, you’ll choose a satisfying portion instead of piling your plate high. You’ll take a small amount of an “indulgent” food to enjoy and balance it out with healthier foods, rather than filling your entire plate with unhealthy choices.

The best part of mindful eating? When you pay attention to what you eat, you’ll actually taste and appreciate your food! Eating mindlessly, on the other hand, always results in the realization that you didn’t enjoy the ton of calories you just consumed.

Make food swaps

As you make your holiday cooking plan, choose your ingredients carefully to keep your dishes on the healthier side. For example, prepare traditional stuffing with whole wheat or whole grain bread rather than white bread. Make a cauliflower mash in place of the traditional mashed potatoes. Substitute whole-wheat flour in place of all-purpose flour in your favorite baking recipes.

Limit your cocktail consumption

The empty calories in alcoholic beverages add up. If you want to enjoy your favorite cocktail occasionally throughout the season without overdoing it, add some mineral water or seltzer to it to keep it light.

 

While food and drinks are certainly a great part of the festivities, holiday celebrations are not just about eating. Focus on the joyous, giving spirit of the season and enjoy spending time with your family, friends and colleagues.


Which vitamins and minerals does your body need?

vitamins and minerals

We all know that one of the most important parts of any weight loss program is diet. Eating healthy, whole foods in the right amounts is crucial to weight loss.

It’s very important to make sure your body is getting the vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly and stay healthy. Below are the top vitamins and minerals you need to maintain good health.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is extremely important to the health of your eyes, as well as red blood cell production, immune function, skin health and embryonic development.

Vitamin A can be found in fortified milk, organ meats, dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes and carrots.

B vitamins

B vitamins include B-1, B-2, B-6, B-12, pantothenic acid, niacin, biotin and folic acid. These vitamins play a critical role in your body’s ability to create and release energy. B vitamins are also responsible for creating red blood cells, which allow oxygen to move throughout your body.

B vitamins can be found in leafy green vegetables, whole grains, yogurt, seafood and eggs.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is particularly important when your body is under stress, including the type of stress that can often come with dieting: food deprivation, calorie reduction and cravings. Vitamin C helps your body maintain a healthy immune system and correct any damage done to your body by stress. It also works as a disease-fighting antioxidant that keeps your cells healthy.

Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruit, orange juice, kiwis, guavas, red and green peppers, cabbage and tomatoes.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E helps maintain the tissues in your body, such as your liver, skin and eyes. It also prevents the pollution in the air from causing damage to your lungs and works with the B vitamins to create red blood cells.

Vitamin E can be found in egg yolks, sardines, nuts, seeds, wheat germ, almonds, peanut butter and some oils.

Calcium

Calcium is essential for bone health. As a matter of fact, 99 percent of its role is to keep your bones and teeth strong, supporting skeletal structure and function. Calcium is also important for cell signaling, blood clotting, muscle contraction and nerve function.

Calcium can be found in dairy products, dark leafy greens (such as spinach and kale) and some fish (like sardines, salmon and rainbow trout).

Magnesium

Magnesium helps develop and maintain bones, maintain normal nerve and muscle function, support a healthy immune system and maintain a steady heartbeat. It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aid in the production of energy and protein.

Magnesium can be found in nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, milk, bananas, dried apricots, avocados, halibut and other fish.

Potassium

Potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure, reduce the effects of salt and maintain regular digestive and muscular functioning. It may also reduce the risk of recurrent kidney stones and possibly decrease bone loss.

Potassium can be found in tomato paste and puree, white beans, yogurt, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, soybeans, bananas, potatoes and fish (such as flounder, sardines, cod and salmon).

Regardless of what type of diet you’re following, be sure you’re getting sufficient amounts of these vitamins and minerals every day to avoid deficiency and keep your body healthy and functioning at its best.

If your specific diet doesn’t allow some of the food sources mentioned for a specific vitamin or mineral, talk about taking supplements with your doctor.


Preparing yourself for surgery with 5 easy to follow steps

If you’re feeling nervous about your upcoming surgery, don’t worry — there are a few things you can do to get yourself ready for surgery and the recovery process. Going into surgery feeling relaxed and confident will help you have a better experience and an easier recovery.

5 helpful pre-surgery steps

Following the five steps below will help you prepare for surgery and the recovery process. Putting in this effort beforehand will be worth it when you’re feeling calm and prepared on the day of your surgery.

1. Learn about the surgery

As early you can, get good information about your surgery from reliable sources, including Dr. Dirk and his team. Make sure you understand the expected outcomes, success rates for the surgery, the risks that are involved and the average recovery time. The more you know about your surgery, the better you’ll feel going into it.

2. Get some exercise

People who are active tend to handle surgery better and are more likely to have less pain, fewer complications and a faster recovery.

Talk to Dr. Dirk to find out which specific activities you can do before surgery. Depending on your current health condition and activity level, Dr. Dirk may suggest activities like yoga, stretching or walking.

3. Eat the right foods

Talk with Dr. Dirk about which foods you should be eating as you get ready for surgery. You may need to stay away from certain foods or drinks before surgery. You may also need to fast (stop eating) for a certain number of hours before surgery.

For certain surgeries, including weight loss surgery, you will need to change to a healthy diet after surgery to get the best results.

4. Stock your pantry and freezer

Be sure to fill your home with plenty of healthy foods and drinks before the day of your surgery. Not only will this keep you from having to shop during your recovery, but it will also help you stick to your new healthy diet after surgery.

If you run out of time to do this step, don’t be afraid to ask family or friends for help. They’ll be happy to pitch in, and you’ll feel good knowing you have people in your life you can rely on.

5. Arrange for help during your recovery

Whether or not you end up needing help stocking up on food before surgery, you’ll definitely want to line up family and/or friends to help get you through the recovery process.

Depending on the type of surgery you’ll be having, you may need a ride home or help doing daily tasks, such as cooking and cleaning. It can also be very helpful to have someone stay overnight with you on your first night home after surgery.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be surprised at how positive and in control you’ll feel on the day of your surgery.


Eating healthy and exercising works?

Finally, Dr Dirk is vindicated! An O.K. article is coming out in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Feel free to read the summaries of this study on your own
(http://www.medicaldaily.com/articles/14822/20130422/diet-exercise-starting-strong-both-key-keeping.htm  /   http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2013/april/diet.html) but allow me to summarize it for you.

People who ate healthy AND exercised did better than those who only changed their diet, only changed their exercise routine or did nothing. By better they mean at the end of 1 year, the study subjects were still eating healthy AND exercising.  Unfortunately, the study did not track weight loss. They plan to follow-up the same study tracking weight loss.

This falls in line with what I have been saying to my patients for years. Change your exercise routine AND change your eating.  I do not agree with how the study recommended the subjects change their diet ( 5-9 servings a day of fruits and vegetables – ancient worthless advice), but at least at the end of 1 year they indicate that the subjects doing healthy eating AND exercise were still doing just that.  I also do not agree with the 150 minutes per week, but that is a different debate. I ask all my patients to work towards 1 continuous hour every day of aerobic exercise.

The study showed that personal computers and hand held devices help motivate people to exercise and track their nutrition.  I liked the fact that they study included health coaches that contact the subjects on a frequent basis to help answer questions and keep them on track.

This is just like NuVita®  program on Dr Dirks website.  NuVita partners with Dr Dirk to help my patients with just this. A personal coach to help obesity surgery patients stay on track with their nutrition and exercise program. NuVita creates a personal web page for each individual person. On this page they download their exercise directly from a cardio monitor. They can track their nutrition, too. The coach is available online, via phone or email. NuVita has an app for Android ®  phones, iPhone® and tablet devices.

Take away message is clear. Obesity surgery patients who change their nutrition AND exercise have better results, get healthier and lose more weight than those who don’t.  Dr Dirk is vindicated and once again must live with the burden of being right!

To find out more about weight loss surgery in Dallas, visit Dr. Dirk’s website!