Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well

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How Carb Smart Are You?

Carbohydrate-food-shot-carbsWhat do breads, cereals, fruits, juices, milk, yogurt, pasta, rice, potatoes, beans, vegetables, soda and desserts all have in common? If you didn’t already guess it from the title, it’s Carbs. When asked what foods contain carbohydrates, bread, pasta and potatoes are the most commonly identified. Many people do not realize that carbs are actually found in almost our entire food supply with the exception of meats, cheeses and fats.

As Americans, we generally consume way too many carbs throughout the day. Most breakfast meals include toast, Poptarts, pancakes, biscuits or cereal followed by sandwiches, pizza, spaghetti and burger and fries for the rest of the day. These foods are also highly processed menu items that often contain preservatives and other added chemicals.

Do I feel that carbs are contributing to many of our current diseases and illnesses? Absolutely. Does that mean that in order to be healthy, one must cut out all carbs? Not at all.  In fact, many athletes actually need to increase their carbohydrate intake to ensure optimal performance. Research has shown that vegetarians, who are known for having high-carb diets, tend to have reduced risks for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.1

Going “low-carb” is a very popular diet trend to lose weight. While consuming fewer carbohydrates can help decrease circulating levels of insulin, which in turn can help the body switch to a fat-burning mode, weight loss is typically more attributed (but not conclusive in all studies) to the combination of consuming fewer calories, better food choices, less processed foods and improved physical activity habits. Researchers in a 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that low-carb diets may give individuals a “metabolic advantage” meaning that more weight loss may be achieved per calories consumed (versus the same amount of calories consumed from a standard high-carb meal plan).2  

This is a very controversial subject since these findings somewhat violate the laws of thermodynamics. Since there is no consensus on what low-carb actually is (for some studies it’s a mere 5% of total calories and for others it’s defined as 45% of total caloric intake), the term smart-carb has become more popular.


Today, research is investigating the health benefits of low-moderate carb meal plans:

  • Following a “smart-carb” diet in addition to exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity and assist in weight reduction in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • A Duke University study found that obese individuals with type 2 diabetes who ate a low-carb diet versus a low-glycemic diet experienced greater weight reduction and greater reduction in HgbA1C. In this same study, most of the subjects (95.2%) in the low-carb group were able to reduce or eliminate their diabetic medications compared to only (62%) in the low-glycemic group.3
  • There also appears to be some variation in low-carb meal plans. A group of Swedish subjects showed greater benefits in waist circumference reduction and improved blood sugar control when following a diet based of meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, eggs and nuts (paleo diet) when compared to a subjects who followed the Mediterranean diet.4
  • The obvious concern with consuming a low-carb diet is the increased fat intake and potential increased risk for heart disease. Fortunately, studies are confirming that higher fat intake when associated with a low-carb diet may not be as big of a problem as once thought.

Low-carb meal plans may not always be the best, but choosing smart-carb lifestyles such as the Mediterranean and Paleo lifestyles are much more suitable for day to day living. Here are a few ways to smarten up your carb choices.

  • Nix pretzels, crackers, chips and granola bars and opt for healthier carb and non-carb snack food choices such as fruits, vegetables, yogurt and nuts.
  • Vary up your breakfast meal. Swap sugar-sweetened cereal and refined white bread for a veggie omelet, turkey sausage frittata or fruit with Greek yogurt.
  • Serve vegetables with a side of vegetables. Many people state that they always have to have a starch with their dinner meals. Why not swap the rice and pasta for vegetable starches such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash or spaghetti squash?
  • If choosing grains, consider whole grain choices such as oatmeal, quinoa or wild rice.

Remember, limiting carbs is not the only way for improved health. The mere reduction of processed foods in one’s diet can have positive health effects.

  1. American Heart Association. Vegetarian Diets.
  2. Westman, E., et. Al. (2007). Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 86(2), 276-284.
  3. Westman, E.C., Yancy, W,S, Jr., Mavropoulos, J.C., Marquart, M. and McDuffie, J.R. (2008).The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes. Nutrition and Metabolism, 5, 36.
  4. Lindeberg, S., Jönsson, T., Granfeldt, Y., et al. (2007). A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia,50(9):1795-1807.

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Don’t Slack Over the Holidays

It’s important this holiday season to remain on your same exercise schedule between enjoying delicious treats.Woman Stretching

Do NOT skip your workouts. The stress of the holidays can make you feel like you’re being stretched in all directions, but try not to sacrifice your workouts. The benefits of exercise go far beyond physical changes. Exercise can help elate one’s mood and help you better handle stress and deadlines.

Regularly perform body-weight exercises at home. You don’t need a gym membership to stay fit. All you need is proper form and dedication. Try to perform 3 sets of 20 squats, 20 lunges, 15 push-ups and 1:00 minute plank holds at least 4-5 days/week. You can perform the sets consecutively, or perform one set during each commercial break of your television program.

Find the stairs and always use them. Whether you’re at work or power shopping at the mall, know where your stairs are and take advantage of a free leg workout. What I love about taking stairs is that they provide both a cardiovascular benefit and strengthen the quads, glutes and hamstrings muscles.

Squat challenge. You’ve seen them on Facebook and maybe have even pinned them on pinterest, but have you actually started any of the fitness challenges? Begin with performing 30 squats and try to add 2-3 squats each day. Keep good form by keeping your back straight, chest lifted, weight in your heels and knees in line with your toes.

Did somebody say dance party? Take advantage of the kids’ gaming system. Dance-based video games have completely changed the once sedentary nature of gaming. Dancing can burn lots of calories and what’s best about it is you can do this in the comfort of your own home, without an audience.

 Invest in some home equipment. Some of my favorite home equipment pieces are my BOSU ball, yoga mat and pull-up bar. With the pull-up bar, I can work on strict upper body strength. My BOSU ball provides opportunities for quick, intense cardio and core stabilization exercises. Having a yoga mat at home helps remind me the importance of daily stretching and mobilizing.

Park farther away. We’ve heard this recommendation time and time again, but do you actually do it? Whether you’re out shopping, going to church or an appointment, try to park further back in the parking lot to help increase the amount of steps you take each day.

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Figge’s Favorite Things (Part One)

Julie Andrews has her raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Oprah endorses her list of goodies and gifts to give during the holiday season. Here is my personal list of favorite things to keep you happy and healthy this season.

pigeon pose1. Yoga Mat Back Pain. Does it need any more of an introduction? After years of putting up with my chronic back pain, I decided to see a physical therapist. I learned that I have extremely tight quads, hamstrings and hip flexors (mainly from sitting all day long at work) and my remedy was a simple, daily stretching routine. Since that visit, I am now stretching those muscles on a regular basis and my back hasn’t been complaining since. Using a yoga mat, my favorite stretches to perform are the couch stretch, pigeon pose and a deep runner’s lunge which all target my hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps muscles. You can usually find yoga mats for a cheaper price at stores like TJ Maxx or Gordmans.

2.Garlic Press This is a kitchen utensil that is used quite frequently in our household. It’s a quick, convenient way to add flavor to meat and vegetables dishes. In addition to flavor, garlic provides health benefits such as reducing cholesterol, helps prevent blood clots and has anti-cancer benefits.

ch-4dcFood processor I love my Cuisinart food processor. It’s a fantastic way to puree nutritious vegetables into soups and sauces.  

LW6A33S_011432_14. Lululemon Journey Crop  The Lululemon journey crop pants are by far my favorite workout pants I’ve ever had and they are perfect for any type of workout. The quality of the fabric far surpasses other brands of fitness attire and I’ve had some of my Lululemon pants for as long as 6 years.

bbcl_28_bk_15. Blender Bottle This is a perfect way to consume your protein shake after a great workout. I purchased my blender bottle from Bed Bath and Beyond and was able to use my 20% off coupon on it.

51BMhLEFqwL._SX258_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_6. Against All Grain cookbook  This is one of my favorite cookbooks  and  my favorite website to go to for grain-free and dairy-free meals. These meals are great for individuals with food allergies to dairy or gluten or for those looking to create dishes that use minimally processed food ingredients.

Check out Part 2  of Figge’s Favorite things on Thursday, December 12th!


Holiday Edition Part One

Watch this video as Amanda Figge, Springfield Clinic registered dietitian, walks through some healthy alternatives for your Thanksgiving holiday in Springfield’s local County Market.

Don’t forget to click the links below to view the recipes and make them for your family this holiday season!

Garlic Butternut Squash


Funfetti Cake Dip


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How to Get Your Beach Body

iStock_000014575855MediumYou’ve been waiting all year for it and it’s finally here. Flip flops, sunglasses, SPF, backyard BBQs, boating, baseball, country music, fairs, festivals…it’s summertime. Summer can mean several different things. It means longer days providing more opportunities to be active in the evening hours. It means fresh fruits and vegetables make their way into our homes for a much cheaper price. It also means wearing fewer layers of clothing. If those stubborn winter pounds are overextending their welcome, here are a few quick tips to rev up your diet for the tank top and cut-off shorts season.

  1. Cut back on processed foods. That includes chips, crackers, pretzels, cookies, granola bars and everything else from that aisle in the grocery store. Items that are stored in boxes or bags require a lot of sodium to help preserve the shelf life of that food item. High sodium intakes can contribute to abdominal bloating.
  2. Protein. Consuming lean protein sources, especially at breakfast helps keep us feeling fuller longer between meals. Don’t forget about protein sources at snacks too!
  3. Non-starchy vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables are Mother Nature’s free weight loss medicine. Try to include a serving or two with every meal. Add spinach, mushroom, onions and tomatoes to an egg omelet for breakfast, a dark green side salad at lunch and roasted zucchini, peppers and mushrooms with dinner.
  4. Limit soda. Whether it’s regular or diet soda, both of these carbonated beverages can lead to excess bloating around the waistline.
  5. Remember, it’s okay to snack. Snacking is a chance to refuel your body and keep your metabolism burning bright. Try to keep snack options to 200 calories or less. Try a handful of almonds or one tablespoon of peanut butter with a small apple.
  6. Mind your alcoholic beverages. Many summertime beverages come with a hefty caloric price. Five ounces of margarita contains 370 sugary alcoholic calories and most restaurants will serve you double this amount. Alcohol also weakens our decision-making skills which may lead to unwanted consumption of late-night pizza.
  7. “Eat less, exercise more” is not always the best mantra to follow. Consuming too few of calories also adversely affects one’s metabolism which can make weight loss even harder. Try improving the type of calories you are consuming by choosing lean proteins, fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts/seeds and small portions of heart-healthy whole grains.
  8. Change up your exercise routine. We often hit weight-loss plateaus after doing the same workouts week after week, month after month. Try adding some tabata training one to two times per week to provide variety and a new challenge for your body. Tabata is essentially the grandfather of high intensity interval training. The method is simple, yet highly effective. Do as many repetitions as possible for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and then repeat seven more times. A complete tabata sequence is four minutes, or eight rounds long. A great application to download is the Tabata Pro app. It syncs with your music and gives you bells and whistles on when to start the exercise and when to rest. Below are some great workouts to try whether you’re at the gym or in the comfort of your own home. Try to limit rest between exercises to just 60 seconds.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3


Squats (no weight)

Goblet Squats

Squat Jumps

Push-ups on knees

Push-ups on toes

Push-up+ knee tucks

Stationary Lunge
(switch legs after each set)

Alternating Lunges

Lunge Split Jumps

Plank on forearms and knees

Plank on forearms and toes

Plank push-ups

Remember to always consult with your physician before starting a new exercise program.

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To Gluten or Not To Gluten…

Going “gluten-free” was one of the top diets last year and the trend is still going strong. More and more individuals are being diagnosed with gluten intolerance and need to follow a gluten-free diet for medical purposes; however, people are also voluntarily going gluten-free. Before you decide to try any new diet or meal plan, it’s always best to first inform yourself with the facts.

gluten-free-infographic-purebarWhy is a gluten-free diet recommended?

Gluten-free diets are recommended for individuals with gluten intolerance or who suffer from celiac disease. Celiac disease is an immune-mediated disorder, meaning it causes the body to attack its own cells. Individuals with celiac disease often experience inflammation in the intestinal tract that can lead to intestinal villi atrophy, malabsorption and a variety of other clinical manifestations (like bone disease or iron deficiency anemia). Gluten-containing products activate an abnormal immune response that induces this tissue damage. Strict elimination of gluten from one’s diet can help heal the intestinal mucosa and improve nutrient absorption. Individuals with celiac disease are recommended to follow a lifelong strict gluten-free adherence. For more information on celiac disease, please refer to this video from Dr. Ted Paradowski.

What is gluten and where is it found?

Gluten is a dietary proteins found in wheat, barley and rye.  Gluten-containing products include breads, cereals, pastas, crackers, beer, cakes, pies, cookies and anything else containing wheat flour as an ingredient, which may include sauces, gravies and some soups. Gluten can also be found in non-food products such as medications, lipsticks even the adhesive part of a stamp or envelope. Here is an excellent article on tips from a pharmacist on medications with gluten.

What is safe to eat?

Naturally gluten-free products include fresh proteins, fruits, vegetables, milk, some yogurts and eggs. Individuals with celiac disease are encouraged to consume high-nutrient grains and non-grains including quinoa, amaranth, flaxseed, beans, legumes, nuts, wild- and jasmine rice and gluten-free oats.

Will a gluten-free diet help me lose weight?

Maybe. Some people experience weight loss by going gluten-free because they are no longer consuming heavily-processed, high-calorie, gluten-containing products such as: pizza, beer, crackers, most restaurant menu items, dessert cakes, cookies and brownies to name a few. They replace these items with more nutritious items like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts/seeds, low-fat dairy products and gluten-free whole grains. However, some people do not experience any weight loss at all. Gluten-free does not always mean “healthy.” For example, most Doritos varieties are gluten-free and chips do not necessarily make the” health-food” cut.

Is a gluten-free diet nutritionally adequate?

As you can see, gluten is found in many of our grains products, which happen to be good nutrient sources. It’s important to get enough B-vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate), iron and fiber when following a gluten-free diet. Thiamin and niacin can also be found in pork, legumes, nuts and fish. Legumes and leafy green vegetables are sources of both riboflavin and folate. Iron is best found in animal products like lean cuts of beef, poultry and seafood but is also found in legumes, dried fruits, dark leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds. Fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, wild rice, quinoa and nuts/seeds can help contribute to adequate amounts of fiber in the diet.

For more information on gluten intolerance, gluten-containing ingredients and recipes please refer to the following websites:



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