The Health Benefits of Avocados

Avocado, health

Ironically, healthy food is sometimes high in calories. For instance, avocados are very calorically dense, but are actually a good weight loss option-when eaten in moderation! Native to Mexico, the avocado is an key ingredient in party foods like guacamole, but it can be a key ingredient in your weight loss diet as well. 

Admittedly, avocados contain a surprisingly large amount of fat-30 grams in a medium-sized avocado. But avocados contain mostly monounsaturated fats, which lower "bad" cholesterol and promote weight loss. Moderation, however, is critical-a little avocado goes a long way. Avocados have a creamy, rich taste, which makes them a natural pairing with many foods, from a delicious burger to a smoothie.

For breakfast, try avocado with eggs, and for lunch, in a delicious salad. Avocados even provide ample fat for baked goods. Try using avocado in a vegan cake recipe in place of butter. Start out with whole-wheat vegan chocolate avocado cake recipe. You won't even be able to tell what's missing!

What's your favorite way to use avocado?

Here are some of our favorite recipes:

Avocado and Banana Smoothie

Avocado Chocolate Pudding

Bacon Chickpea Avocado Salad

8-Week Health Challenge to Drop Pounds and Beat Stress

There are so many different reasons why we struggle with our weight– family, heartbreak, hectic work schedule, a love for ice cream with chocolate sauce– but they all revolve around the same thing: Stress. Tense emotions make it difficult to feel like yourself, let alone lose weight.

By making simple changes to your lifestyle one step at a time, you can escape the vicious cycle of stress and start reshaping yourself for the better immediately. Weight, stress and sex are all affected by one another, so this plan addresses all three at once.

Start by writing down everything that you eat – it will surprise you to see it on paper. This plan will work for you if taking baby steps is more your speed. If you’re interested in giving these weekly challenges a shot, you could start at the beginning or go in your own preferred order. You could also build each week on top of the next or simply tackle one weekly challenge at a time.

Check out our eight week-long “healthy living and stress reducing” challenge...Description: http://stg.marcuspopfood.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wordpress/img/trans.gif

Week One: Make smart swaps – Finding healthier alternatives to fattening foods is less of an uphill battle than it seems. Instead of potato chips, munch on organic kale chips that can be bought in stores or even made at home. Love tuna or egg salad sandwiches? Mix either with Wildwood garlic aioli instead of mayo and use Ezekiel bread or organic English muffins for bread.

Eliminate energy drinks and sodas that are high in sugar and limit beverages to coffee, tea, water, milk and only one cup of natural juice during the week. Drinks this week can only be naturally sweetened with a little honey or 100 percent pure maple syrup. This also means no artificial sweeteners in your coffee. Wine, preferably red, is allowed in moderation — an average of one drink per day. Drink plenty of water and if you are craving some juice, squeeze a little fresh lemon or lime into your water.

Week Two: Add two fruits and/or vegetables to each meal – Eat a minimum of two different fruits or vegetables with every breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal. Hopefully all that extra produce will bump some of the highly-processed food off your plate. Be sure to buy organic produce since it is more nutritious (due to the fact it is grown in a more nutritious soil), and you won’t be consuming chemical pesticides and fertilizers along with it.

Week Three: Participate in 30 minutes of exercise five days a week – The best way to look and feel good is to exercise regularly. Thirty minutes of exercise is a realistic way to lose weight and fit in fitness on a regular basis. There are so many ways you can do body-weight moves anywhere and fast-paced cardio intervals. This way of working out is simplistic, but has a powerful side effect: Checking off multiple workouts a week instills confidence and makes exercise part of your lifestyle, which is the secret to lasting weight loss. After a week of hitting your goals, you will feel amazing. Try this one for two weeks, and you will feel unstoppable. Whether you have 10 pounds or 100 pounds to shed, this challenge will get you started.

Week Four: Give yourself non-food rewards when you’ve reached certain goals – Keep your thighs on the prize. When you set new goals and have reached them, give yourself non-food rewards like a 30-minute massage, a new nail polish or a good book.

Week Five: Avoid processed foods – This means nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle or package that has more than 5 ingredients listed on the label. Read the ingredients label before buying anything. Most people review items for information such as fat grams, calorie count and sugar content. While this is important, the best indicator of how highly processed a food is can actually be found in the list of ingredients. If what you are reading includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable items, you may want to reconsider before buying.

Week Six: Sharpen your mind games – Make a mental fitness plan to boost memory, amp creativity, and fine-tune focus. Exercise your intelligence with fun activities that also grow some gray matter. Dancing, for example, uses numerous brain activities including planning, coordination, and judgment. Meditation has been shown to affect parts of the brain associated with learning and memory. Other good ideas to bulk up brainpower are to learn a musical instrument, do yoga, take college-level advance courses, take a cooking class, be artistic every day and take on a complex skill, such as painting, play chess, or study a foreign language.

Week Seven: Stop eating when you feel full – Practicing portion control is easier said than done, but it is necessary and it works. Super model, Marisa Miller tells Women’s Health Magazine that one of her stay-slim strategies for practicing portion control is to eat naked. Sounds kooky, but she may have a point: “Eating smart is all about having awareness of your body. The most obvious way to do that is by seeing it. So when you’re trying to lose weight, spend more time wearing less. I don’t think I could eat an entire plate of nachos naked--could you?”

It is not only important to focus on what we are eating, but also how much we are eating. Ignore what your parents told you when you were a kid– don’t clean your plate and instead listen to your internal cues and stop eating when you feel full.

Week Eight: Try two new whole foods that you’ve never eaten before – In this pledge, you get to add something to your diet instead of taking something away. A whole food is something that has one ingredient and is not refined. The following food choices are nutrient dense and have been scientifically proven to fill you up, shrink your appetite, rev up your sex life, or help you drop pounds: artichokes, pears, asparagus, walnuts, and watermelon.

If you’ve had all of these foods, you may want to try quinoa, lentils, bok choy, spaghetti squash, chili peppers, saffron, goji berries, or Brussels sprouts. During the challenge it does not matter how you eat these foods; they can be raw, cooked, or even ordered at a restaurant. You simply need to try at least two new whole foods by the end of the week.

With these easy-to follow tips, you’ll be on your way for a healthier and less stressful lifestyle.

What are some ways you stay stress-free?

Why Grocery Stores are Making Us Fat

By: Melaina Gasbarrino

When you walk into the grocery store do you ever notice how each one is created the same? The milk, meat and eggs are in the back corner, flowers at the front, candy at the checkout, produce at the start and all the processed foods you can think of in between.

As you start off your grocery shopping adventure, you'll notice the produce is where it all begins. Of course, this is where you want to purchase almost all of your food to ensure you're leading a healthy lifestyle. But little did you know that by beautifully displaying those bright colored fruits and vegetables actually creates a 'strong psychological impression on you'. After picking out your produce you'll pursue the aisles with a happy hop in your step, as produce is placed at the start of your journey to ensure you'll continue to fill up your cart.

Of course you've probably already guessed this, but throughout the aisles is where foods with little nutritional value are found. Grocery stores, amongst other things, are adding to our waistline because of the bright lights, sweet smells and rows upon rows of high calorie foods. Next time really stand there in the cereal, cookies, or crackers aisles and see how even the very best double chocolate chip cookies are strategically placed on the shelves. Of course the ones with extra sugar or fat taste the best, and are most likely the most famous brand, so they're at eye level. Did you know that companies actually pay more if their shelf space is at eye level?

Not only does it matter where things are placed on the shelf, but in reading "Stuffed, An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat" by Hank Cardello and Doug Garr, I found that grocery stores even cater towards our needs. The authors go on a grocery store journey through America. In one, they noticed on one-side boxes and boxes of high calorie cereal for kids were right across from the slimming drink for adults. This shows how stores know that one day those kids that are buying those sugary cereals today, will need to purchase the slimming drinks, just as their parents are today, too. So as you walk through the aisles, steer clear from those processed foods, or better yet, don't even walk through the aisles unless you're low on oatmeal, rice pasta or whole grain rice!

One of the most noteworthy things in a grocery store for many people is the bakery. If you'll notice it's at the very back of the store. One of the sneaky things here, is that even if you don't buy anything in the bakery section, the sweet, freshly baked bread smells will entice you to purchase more goods than you need.

Each and every grocery store slyly places the milk, butter, eggs and meat at the back. Why you many ask? Oh, well it's just their sneaky way to ensure you walk through each and every aisle, purchase as many things as you do, or don't need, and finally make it to the few items that were actually on your list. It's about getting the maximum product exposure and ensuring you come out with a full cart.

If you're one who wants to work on shedding a few pounds for summer, then follow Dr. Oz's 'Roadmap To The Grocery Store'. In using this roadmap, you'll purchase the freshest foods money can buy, and you won't succumb to the grip the processed foods and sweet smells your grocery store has in store for you. One of the easiest ways to ensure that grocery stores don't continue to make us 'fat' is to shop along the perimeter of the store. By doing this, you won't be tempted by all the processed foods found throughout the sly aisles.

Melaina is from a small town in Ontario, Canada and as an avid environmentalist with a passion for focusing on healthy living. Having traveled the world and written about it every step of the way, she one day hopes to develop unique environmental educational programs for kids.

Photo: I-5 Design & Manufacture 

For more recipes and tips from Melaina, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Is Smell a Factor in Portion Control?

Photo: Stephanie Vacher 

Have you ever heard of, or experienced, "sensory overloads?" Phenomena like these are no longer restricted to psychedelic artwork or IMAX films. WebMD's Cari Neirenberg recently discussed a study that suggests that even though you eat with your mouth, your nose may serve as a significant gauge as to how much you will eat.

In the study, ten volunteers were served vanilla custard, while the researchers rigged the setup in order to determine exactly how much the volunteers ate at one time, in addition to how much "vanilla essence" they could perceive through their noses. By picking a relatively "safe" food, the experimental design clearly avoided two traditional biases against sizes of bites, namely that people naturally eat less of unfamiliar and undesirable foods. This alone does not address the subjects' hunger, which would also be a variable. For this, it should be reasonably assumed that nobody was starving during the experiment. Through this experiment, it was determined that highly concentrated smells (as opposed to "low"-intensity aroma and none at all--the control) resulted in a five to ten percent reduction of each bite of custard.

It is widely accepted that dining experiences involve more than just taste and texture. For instance, while white tablecloths yield an aura of prestige, red drapes are said to increase customers' appetites, or at least encourage them to order and eat more aggressively. In the meantime, it is interesting to postulate how restaurants may use this new scientific finding to their advantage. Could increased ambient scents help facilitate smaller portions, which would undoubtedly help save costs? Most importantly, these are significant findings for those trying to also control their weight. If a stronger food aroma calls for smaller portions, then perhaps the more aromatic the meal, the less calories you'll ingest. Since other studies also recently found that adding extra spices to your meals can help cut risk for heart disease, this could just be another reason to eat more exotically-spiced foods. May we suggest Indian food perhaps?

For more on food news and tips, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

8-Week Health Challenge To Drop Pounds and Beat Stress, Part II

By: Michele Wolfson

If you tuned in yesterday, you would've seen that we started an 8-week health challenge to help you drop those extra pounds and beat stress. Click here for Part I of the 8-week health challenge. Below is Part II of our challenge, with advice for weeks 5-8 of tips to help you lose weight, reduce stress, and live and overall healthier life.

Read on to see how you can live healthier...

Week Five: Avoid processed foods - This means nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle or package that has more than 5 ingredients listed on the label. Read the ingredients label before buying anything. I have been a vegetarian for years, so I am accustomed to reading the ingredients in everything to make sure the food is something I can eat. Most people review items for information such as fat grams, calorie count and sugar content. While this is important to some, the best indicator of how highly processed a food is can actually be found in the list of ingredients. If what you are reading includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable items, you may want to reconsider before buying.

Week Six: Sharpen your mind games - Make a mental fitness plan to boost memory, amp creativity, and fine-tune focus. Exercise your intelligence with fun activities that also grow some gray matter, according to some top brain doctors. Dancing, for example, uses a bunch of brain systems including planning, coordination, and judgment. Meditation has been shown to affect parts of the brain associated with learning and memory. Other good ideas to bulk up brainpower are to learn a musical instrument, do yoga, take college-level advance courses, take a cooking class, learn to juggle, be artistic everyday and take on a complex skill, such as painting, play chess, or study a foreign language.

Week Seven: Stop eating when you feel full - Practicing portion control is easier said than done, but it is necessary and it works. I KNOW how challenging this rule can be. I will go shopping at Whole Foods and say "NO" to all of the unhealthy choices, but then I get to the register and I see bars of chocolate and I can't help myself and I grab 4 or 5. Also, my bill comes to $15 just for my purchases at the food bar where I pile up all of the food into a box and proceed to eat my way through 2 lbs. of deliciousness.

Super model, Marisa Miller tells Women's Health Magazine that one of her stay-slim strategies for practicing portion control is to eat naked. Sounds kooky, but she may have a point: "Eating smart is all about having awareness of your body. The most obvious way to do that is by seeing it. So when you're trying to lose weight, spend more time wearing less. I don't think I could eat an entire plate of nachos naked- could you?"

It is not only important to focus on what we are eating, but also how much we are eating. Ignore what your momma or your dad told you when you were a kid- don't clean your plate and instead listen to your internal cues and stop eating when you feel full.

Week Eight: Try two new whole foods that you've never eaten before - For the first seven weeks, we have asked you to give up things like fast-food, soda, and artificial sweeteners even in your cup of Joe.  In this pledge, you get to ADD something to your diet instead of taking something away. A whole food is something that has one ingredient and is not refined. The following food choices are nutrient dense and have been scientifically proven to fill you up, shrink your appetite, rev up your sex life, or help you drop pounds:

  •  Artichokes- A great choice if you are bored of a more typical leafy green and one just has 60 calories and all of the fiber that they contain will help you consume fewer calories during the rest of your meal. Therefore, they make a great appetizer.
  • Pears- An apple a day isn't the only thing that keeps the doctor away- a pear a day is a good idea too. Pears have high levels of pectin, which is known to promote weight loss. My favorite way to enjoy a pear is poached as a healthy alternative for dessert.
  • Asparagus- Studies have found that this vegetable buffers against the harmful affects of stress and is loaded with folate, a B vitamin essential. Steam some spears and add to salads or stir-fries. They are also tasty baked.
  • Walnuts- The healthy fats in these wonder nuts can also tame some of the craziest stress, so get crackin'! This is because they contain alphalinolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid that has been proven to reduce stress and memory loss.
  • Watermelon- This juicy favorite could put your sex life back on the menu. It has unusually high levels of an amino acid called citrulline, which your body uses to pump out another amino acid, arginine, that's related to vascular health. It has been linked to increased libido according to research from the University of Hawaii.

This is by no means a complete list, but just something to get you started. If you've had all of these foods, you may want to try quinoa, lentils, bok choy, spaghetti squash, chili peppers, saffron, goji berries, or Brussels sprouts. During the challenge it does not matter how you eat these foods...they can be raw, cooked, or even ordered at a restaurant. You simply need to try at least two new whole foods by the end of the week and that is it! SO EASY!

Take our eight-week challenge and let us know if you feel amazing inside and out!

Photo: Tom Mooring

Michele Wolfson is a graduate of The Natural Gourmet Institute and is passionate about all areas of food, from writing about it, to photographing, growing, cooking, and consuming it. A vegetarian since she was seven years old, Michele knows the ins and outs of enjoying a healthy vegetarian lifestyle in Manhattan, which she writes about for Examiner.com as its Manhattan Vegetarian Examiner.

For more stories and tips from Michele, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)