How to Choose the Best Sunscreen

Remember Magda from There’s Something About Mary? Yeah, I’m thinking she could have used a bit (or a boatload) of sunscreen . . . .

Summer is here, which means hot, sunny, sticky days (if you’re on the East Coast, that is. In Vancouver? We’re getting there . . .). But even if your summer is clouded by rain and grey skies, ultraviolet (UV) rays are still in force; in fact, up to 80 percent of UV rays bypass clouds. That’s why it’s vital to wear sunscreen every day (yes, all 365), to help prevent skin cancer and ward off wrinkles. The problem? Navigating the sunscreen aisle practically requires a PhD: so many choices, so many claims. Since my skin is fair (my family calls me Casper, if that’s any indication) and super sensitive, and I love to be outdoors, I am serious about sunscreen use. As such, I’ve made it a priority to learn the lingo and decode the labels—no easy feat!

Armed with the criteria below, you can head to the drugstore with confidence—and play safe in the sun (or lack of it!) year round.

Top 3 Tips to Choosing Sunscreen

Tip #1: Choose sunscreen labelled broad spectrum.

Products labelled broad spectrum contain active ingredients (see Tip #3) that protect against UVA rays (which increase skin cancer risk and premature aging but don’t cause burning) and UVB rays (which increase skin cancer risk and cause sunburn). So even if you aren’t prone to sunburn, it’s important to choose broad spectrum sunscreen. Given that skin cancer is the most common cancer among Canadians (81,300 new cases of nonmelanoma skin cancers are expected in 2012, and 5,500 cases of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, were diagnosed in 2011), UVs are no joke. Wrinkly, spotty skin is no fun, either: experts say 90 percent of skin aging (bye, collagen and elastin; hello, lines and sagging) is from UV radiation.

Tip #2: Pick products labelled SPF 30 (or higher).

SPF stands for sun protection factor. The number next to the SPF (e.g., SPF 15, SPF 30) indicates the product’s effectiveness at blocking UVB rays and preventing sunburn (there is no protection rating for UVA rays). So, if your skin normally becomes red in 10 minutes in the sun, an SPF of 30 would offer 30 times that protection, meaning you could theoretically be in the sun for 300 minutes without burning.

Keep in mind that no sunscreen blocks 100 percent of UV rays (SPF 30 blocks 97 percent, SPF 15 blocks 93 percent and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent), if they’re adequately applied in the first place: studies show most people apply less than half the amount needed to reach the listed SPF. And note that all sunscreens wear off, so reapply frequently (ideally every two hours) and avoid prolonged sun exposure, especially between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest. (Check the daily UV forecast for your city—above 5 is high.)

Tip #3: Opt for mineral sunscreens, if possible. 

Chemical sunscreens, such as those with avobenzone (Parsol 1789), oxybenzone, ecamsule (Mexoryl SX), salicylates, cinnamates or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), work by absorbing UV rays, thereby reducing UV penetration. Mineral sunscreens, which contain the minerals titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, reflect rays away from the skin. I find the latter, often called physical blocks, less irritating and more effective (studies show several chemical ingredients, such as PABA and oxybenzone, may actually cause sun sensitivity and allergic reactions). Plus, both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide offer UVA and UVB protection, unlike chemical ingredients. Moreover, I’d rather not put chemicals on my skin (which then get absorbed into the body). The only downside to physical blocks is the whitish “glow” they cast on skin (on second thought, maybe that’s why my family calls me Casper . . .), though newer formulations, particularly those labelled micronized, are more absorbent and clear.

My favourite sunscreen is Isa Sunguard, an SPF 30 mineral sunscreen suitable for ultra sensitive skin. It has no chemicals, parabens, lanolin, dyes or fragrance. Light and thin, it spreads and absorbs really well, with no white tint. It also contains green tea extract, which has been shown to protect against UV damage. (Interested in ordering? Email me for details.) It’s affordable, too–a 4-ounce tube is $20. (Just think of the cash you’ll save on Botox!)

Sunscreen Dos and Don’ts

  • Don’t skimp: use about two tablespoons to cover all exposed areas, including ears, hands, feet and lips.
  • Apply to dry skin at least 15 minutes before heading outdoors.
  • Even if a sunscreen is labelled water resistant (sunscreens can no longer be labelled waterproof), reapply after swimming, towel drying or heavy sweating.
  • Driving or flying? Slather it on! UV rays can penetrate glass, and solar radiation is more intense in flight (studies show pilots are at increased risk of skin cancer).
  • Note the expiry date: sunscreens’ active ingredients lose effectiveness over time. Store in a cool, dry place to ensure maximum efficacy.
  • To know the safety of your sunscreen, head to Skin Deep, Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic and skin care database.

Grammar Girl: Three Tips to Better Writing

Although I love writing about health and nutrition, I have lots of other interests, grammar among them. This is expected, considering my job, but even if your writing consists of Facebook updates only, it’s still important to write well. That said, between texting and tweeting (oh, the verbs of the digital age . . .), it’s easy to forget (or even learn) grammar rules. I myself took a refresher course last year, and I’ve since become slightly grammar obsessed—I now notice errors everywhere, such as in ad copy, blog content, magazine articles and even media releases penned by “communications professionals.”

I often see the following grammar (and usage) faux pas, which are personal pet peeves (though I was once guilty of them, too!). The good news? A few tweaks are likely all it takes to transform your writing from sloppy to superb . . . in 140 characters or less.

Top 3 Grammar Gaffes

Gaffe #1: The Comma Splice 

When you use a comma (and only a comma) to separate what could be two sentences, it is a comma splice. For example: 

To separate the clauses correctly, insert a comma plus a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) OR a semi-colon OR a period. For example:

  • My coco-chia balls are a healthy sweet snack, and my protein bars are tasty and nutritious, too. (Comma + Coordinating Conjunction)
  • My coco-chia balls are a healthy sweet snack; my protein bars are tasty and nutritious, too. (Semi-colon)
  • My coco-chia balls are a healthy sweet snack. My protein bars are tasty and nutritious, too. (Period)

Tip: Use a semi-colon to link two closely related ideas, making sure each clause could be a sentence on its own. For example, the following sentence should take a period rather than a semi-colon as the two clauses aren’t really related. 

  • My coco-chia balls are a healthy sweet snack; kale is a superfood. (Not great)
  • My coco-chia balls are a healthy sweet snack. Kale is a superfood. (Best)

Gaffe #2: Jargon

Mignon Fogarty, the original Grammar Girl, refers to jargon as blechyuckyness, which is rampant in business and government writing. You know the words: facilitate, utilize, impact, communicate . . . ugh. I call them “big shot” words, used by people to appear smart or important. Most often, these words replace short, simple words (help, use, affect, tell) that better convey what you mean. For example:

  • She facilitated the cooking class. (Big shot)
  • She led (or taught) the cooking class. (Bingo!)

Although “big shot” usage is sometimes allowable (for example, stakeholders, jargon-y as it is, doesn’t really have a synonym), usually a shorter word can and should be used. (However, I object to utilize in any circumstance. Please, let’s banish that word altogether.)

Gaffe #3: The Misplaced Colon

The colon, my favourite piece of punctuation, is often called the “mark of expectation”: what follows the colon describes or explains what precedes it (see how I just did that?). Whether you use it in a sentence or a vertical list, make sure what comes before the colon could be a complete sentence. If not, don’t use a colon.

For example:

  • Plant foods high in iron include: lentils, spinach, tahini and tofu. (This is incorrect because what precedes the colon is not a complete sentence.)
  • Plant foods high in iron include these: lentils, spinach, tahini and tofu. (This is correct because what precedes the colon is a complete sentence. However, the next example is preferable.)
  • Plant foods high in iron include lentils, spinach, tahini and tofu. (Correct)

The same rule applies to a vertical list. For example:

Plant foods high in iron include

  • lentils
  • spinach
  • tahini
  • tofu

Because what precedes the list is not a complete sentence, no colon is used. (Yep, you can start a sentence with because. I know, it’s crazy!) Note that I did not use commas after each listed item nor did I insert and after tofu. This is a style thing; I think lists look cleaner without them.

Better Writing Resources

Bitten by the grammar bug and want to learn more? Of course you do! For a fun (that’s right, fun!), easy guide to all things grammar, I highly recommend Grammar Girl’s book Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (or any of her books). Check out these great websites, too.

Nutritional Yeast 101: The Superfood You Should Be Eating

Doesn’t nutritional yeast look appetizing? I promise it is tasty. I bought this at an IGA supermarket, but I’ve mostly seen it at health food stores (ask if you can’t find it).

Ever tried nutritional yeast flakes? Are you thinking, Why the heck would I want to eat yeast? I get it—nutritional yeast sounds gross (hence its nickname “nooch,” though I inexplicably hate that word, too). I first tried nutritional yeast while in nutrition school (we nutritionists love to try weird-sounding superfoods—the more obscure, the better) but had forgotten about it until a few months ago, when I went to make a recipe calling for it. Since then, it’s been a pantry staple, for its flavour (savoury and slightly cheesy) as much as its nutrition.

I’ve been forcing encouraging all my friends to try it, and I suggest you do, too. Find it at health food stores, in packages (Bob’s Red Mill is a common brand) or in bulk, where it’s often sold for cheaper. (It’s a bit pricey, but a couple tablespoons is all you need.) Still not convinced? Here’s the lowdown on what it is and why you should add it to your diet—stat!

Nutritional Yeast 101 

What is nutritional yeast?

Like baker’s and brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast is cultivated from the Saccharomyces cerevisiae species and grown in a lab. But unlike the others, nutritional yeast is rendered inactive through pasteurization (heat). More nutrients are often added to nutritional yeast during pasteurization, and then it’s dried, cut into flakes and packaged. Note: Nutritional yeast cannot cause a yeast infection nor is it related to the Candida albicans strain.

Why is it so nutritious?

As its name suggests, nutritional yeast is grown for its nutrient content. Most brands contain added nutrients, but check the ingredient list to be sure.

Protein: A quarter-cup of nutritional yeast boasts 24 grams of protein, and it’s a complete protein, meaning it contains all the amino acids needed for muscle growth. Plus, nutritional yeast is easily digested (many people can’t digest or are allergic to animal proteins, such as milk or eggs. Remember, you can’t use what you can’t digest!).

Fibre: Forget boxed cleanses; fibre is the best detox tool, pushing waste, cholesterol and toxins, including harmful estrogen, from our bodies. We need at least 25 grams of fibre per day; a quarter-cup of nutritional yeast provides one-third that amount (plus it’s far tastier—and lighter—than a bowl of All-Bran!).

B vitamins: Nutritional yeast is high in B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12, which is otherwise only in animal foods (meat, fish, milk, cheese, etc.) or fortified cereals. Vitamin B12, which gets depleted during periods of stress, supports nerve health, fights fatigue and boosts metabolism. In fact, many people, not just vegans, get vitamin B12 shots for these benefits. Also, as we get older, our stomachs produce less hydrochloric acid, resulting in reduced absorption of vitamin B12 (from animal proteins); however, we still can absorb B12 from fortified plant sources, such as nutritional yeast.

Minerals: Nutritional yeast contains calcium and magnesium, which together strengthen bones. It also contains a host of other essential minerals, including potassium, zinc, iron and manganese.

Antioxidants: Nutritional yeast is high in the antioxidant glutathione and contains 30 percent of the daily recommended intake for selenium, the antioxidant mineral shown to help prevent some cancers, including colon cancer. Glutathione and selenium form glutathione peroxidase, the mother of all antioxidants. Free radicals, watch out!

Healthy fats: Nutritional yeast has lecithin, a fatty substance which keeps cell membranes strong and pliable, so nutrients can enter cells. Lecithin also helps to carry fats and cholesterol throughout the body so they don’t stick to artery walls.

What else? Nutritional yeast is low in fat, sodium and calories and is dairy-, gluten-, wheat-, and sugar-free. Unlike supplements, nutritional yeast is considered a food and may be added to all types of recipes, including my low-carb sandwich thins, crunchy kale chips and no-bake chocolate chip balls.

How to use nutritional yeast:

  • Add ¼ cup to casseroles, meatloaf or meatballs; lentil loaf; or beef, bean or salmon burgers.
  • Add ¼ cup to muffin, cookie or protein bar batter (you won’t be able to taste it).
  • Add a spoonful to a smoothie.
  • Mix with ground flaxseed and breadcrumbs for a coating for chicken or zucchini sticks.
  • Sprinkle on popcorn, salad, pasta, pizza, potatoes, cooked vegetables and scrambled eggs.
  • Stir into peanut butter; spread as usual!
  • Stir into dips (I like it in hummus), salad dressings and soup.
  • Whisk into eggs before making an omelette or a frittata.

For more recipes with nutritional yeast, check out these sites. 

Now go and get some nutritional yeast!

Want to Stay Young? Go Okinawan.

I recently read and was inspired by The Blue Zones, which describes the lifestyles of the world’s healthiest, longest-living peoples. Unfortunately, Canadians aren’t among them. In fact, if you want to feel youthful for longer, it’s best not to live like the average Canadian, who is 60 percent likely to be overweight or obese. Rather, you’d be wise to adopt the health habits of the Okinawans of Japan. Not only do Okinawans boast the lowest rates of disease worldwide, including cancer and heart disease, but more healthy, independent centenarians live in Okinawa than anywhere else.

There’s no need to bid adieu to the Great White North, however, to tap the fountain of youth. Adopt the Okinawans’ long life secrets, and repeat after me, “Hara hachi bu”!

Okinawans stay lean:

The scale doesn’t fluctuate much for the Okinawans, who keep a stable weight through adulthood. Although it’s no surprise they eat healthfully (no drive-thrus there), they don’t diet; however, Okinawans consume more food (by volume) yet fewer calories than other populations. Their diet mainstays are veggies, fruit, fish, seafood and legumes, all high-fibre, low-calorie foods. Add to this a philosophy of “hara hachi bu,” which translates to “80 percent full”: they eat enough to feel satisfied, not stuffed. This makes sense, since it takes the body 20 minutes to register satiety.

Okinawans stay fit:

Okinawans aren’t beholden to arduous workout regimes (no boot camp classes for these folks); instead, they weave activity into their day and do activities they enjoy, such as walking, gardening and tai chi. For them, exercise isn’t an end in itself but a chance to connect with nature and others.

Okinawans also tend to do some sort of exercise in the evenings, to prep the body for restful sleep. Speaking of sleep (my favourite topic!), Okinawans hit the hay earlier and have fewer sleep problems than other peoples.

Okinawans go (mostly) meatless:

Okinawans’ seasonal, plant-based diet is a definite key to their longevity. Rich in fibre and antioxidants, plant foods, such as veggies, grains and beans, fortify immunity and prevent free radical damage. Okinawans favour whole soy foods (think tofu, not soy “nuggets”) for protein, and a higher soy intake is thought to be one reason why Okinawan women have an easier menopause, a better bone density and an 80 percent reduced risk of hormone-driven cancers, such as breast cancer. (Okinawan men have 80 percent less incidence of prostate cancer.)

Okinawans rarely eat red meat or chicken, but they eat a lot of fish and seafood, which contain heart-healthy, brain-boosting omega-3s.

Okinawans don’t sweat the small stuff:

Resilient and adaptive, Okinawans don’t stress over much (though I bet most Okinawans don’t have a neighbour with state-of-the-art subwoofers, but I digress). Okinawans’ positive outlook, strong spiritual beliefs, and sense of community and purpose—all determinants of health—are credited for their low rates of depression and dementia. (Or perhaps their blissful attitudes owe to higher-than-normal levels of the sex hormones DHEA and testosterone . . . .)

And in what is perhaps the greatest difference between Okinawan and Western culture, Okinawan elders are revered for their wisdom, and the aging process is celebrated. Here’s to healthy aging, Okinawan-style!

P.S. Needless to say, Okinawans don’t smoke!

How to Make Your Own (Sugar-Free) Nutella + No-Bake Coco-Chia Balls

A friend recently posted on Facebook that she was shocked (well, more like bummed out) to learn Nutella contains partially hydrogenated oil, aka trans fat. (“Tell me it ain’t so,” she sighed.) Yep, it’s true, but more troublesome is Nutella’s sugar content: 11 grams per tablespoon! In fact, sugar is the first ingredient listed. (FYI: Ingredients in packaged foods and drinks are listed from most to least.) However, it’s not my friend’s fault for thinking Nutella is healthy; after all, it’s marketed as a wholesome spread for children (hyperactive, irritable, cavity-ridden children?) when it’s really a glorified sugar spread. I mean, a tablespoon of Nutella (and who has just one tablespoon?) packs a third more sugar than a spoonful of chocolate chips or a snack size Snickers.

The point of the story is that, coincidentally, I had made a Nutella-type spread a couple of nights prior. (Cue weird music.) Since then, I’ve made it a lot. In fact, I frost pretty much everything with it—bananas, sliced apples, rice cakes, toast (grilled banana chocolate sandwich, anyone?), hotcakes, cardboard—it’s good.

Feel free to play with the consistency (add more milk for more of a dip or sauce, which I bet would be delicious warmed and drizzled over fruit or Greek yogurt) and to use any nut or seed butter. I also tried it with coconut butter, but since coconut butter hardens in the fridge, my spread turned into fudge (not a bad thing, mind you).

Meg’s Sugar-Free, Better than Nutella Spread

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup hazelnut butter or peanut butter (if you’re frugal like me)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup almond milk (use less for a thick spread; add more for a thinner consistency)
  • 1 Tbs vanilla
  • 4 packets stevia blend (equal to 3 Tbs sugar or so), or to taste (I used Krisda Caramel stevia.)

Directions: Whisk ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Refrigerate. (It will thicken slightly in the fridge.)

Per Tbs: 41 calories, 3g fat (0g sat, 0g trans), 7mg sodium, 1g fibre, 0g sugar, 1g protein

(Per Tbs of actual Nutella: 100 calories, 6g fat (2g sat, 0g trans), 5mg sodium, 1g fibre, 11g sugar, 1g protein)

For another easy snack, make my No-Bake Coco-Chia Balls. If you close your eyes and try really hard, they kind of taste like brownies. Kind of.

So many ways to use “Not-Nutella”: as a dip for sliced pear, as a filling for banana-wiches, as frosting for muffins (these are actually protein pancakes baked as muffins). My No-Bake Coco-Chia Balls are on the right. Cocoa overload!

Feel like procrastinating some more? Me too.

  • Grey skies wearing you down? Take more vitamin D: studies link vitamin D deficiency to depression. (I take 4000IU daily.)
  • Socca, chickpea flatbread, is on my to-make list. Lebovitz’s or Bittman’s recipe—you can’t err with either.
  • Foam rolling helps to ease muscle tension and speed recovery; one of these days I’m going to use mine!
  • Spring clean, save money and breathe easier with DIY eco-wise cleaners.
  • Noise pollution: A pitfall of urban living (hi, 3am sirens), it can affect us mentally and physically.
  • Bored of sweet potato fries? Try green bean “fries”: low in carbs and calories!

How to Make “Pookies” (a.k.a. Protein Cookies) + Bonus Baking Mix

In my opinion, the key to eating healthfully (and for less money!) is to plan and to make your own meals and snacks. Just think, how many times have you been caught—at work, on your commute, while travelling—with only drive-thrus and vending machines to choose from? Suddenly, a Starbuck’s scone (or worse) is the only thing standing between you and a hunger-fueled meltdown. Friends and family members will confirm (eyes rolling) that I’ve always got snacks on me. Weddings, the airport, the mall, Costco . . . wherever I am, I’ve likely stashed an energy bar, a Vitamuffin knock-off, an apple or a “pookie,” a.k.a. protein cookie, in my purse. Preventive measures, people!

Are my pookies on par with grandma’s oatmeal cookies? Hell, no. But they’re pretty tasty, packed with protein, fibre and omega 3s, and easy to make. Although using protein powder, particularly whey isolates, in baking typically yields dry, hockey puck-like goods, these are fairly moist (do not omit the oil, however!). Though you can make smaller pookies, I prefer giant pookies—the larger size is perfect to wrap and grab on the go. Plus, each boasts 11 grams of protein, 3 grams of fibre and only 175 calories and 4 grams of (naturally occurring) sugars, making them ideal for breakfast (pair a couple pookies with iced coffee for a speedy, satiating meal) or after a workout.

Meg’s Pookies (a.k.a. Protein Cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups oat flour*
  • 1 cup vanilla whey protein powder (I like IsaLean Shake in Creamy Vanilla or IsaPro in Vanilla)
  • ½ cup ground flaxseed (use golden flax–not dark brown–for a lighter taste)
  • 6 packets stevia blend (equivalent to 4 Tbs sugar)
  • 1 Tbs cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ cup mashed ripe banana (1 medium banana)
  • 1 Tbs vanilla
  • 4 Tbs vegetable oil (e.g., olive, walnut, coconut)
  • ½ cup water or milk
  • 1/3 cup raisins or chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk flour, protein powder, flax, stevia, cinnamon and baking soda. Add banana, vanilla, oil, water and currants; stir to combine. Place six 1/3-½ cup mounds of batter on each baking sheet, spacing each at least an inch apart. Use wet fingers to flatten and shape. Bake 8 minutes (do not overbake!). Let cool; store in an airtight container (or in plastic wrap) in the fridge. Makes 12 BIG pookies.

Per pookie: 175 calories, 8g fat (1g sat, 0g trans), 119mg sodium, 3g fibre, 4g sugar, 11g protein

Tips & Variations:

  • *To make oat flour, grind oats in a blender or food processor to a flour-like consistency.
  • Don’t do dairy? Use rice protein powder (or other type), but you may need to use more or less liquid (banana, oil, water, etc.), depending on your powder.
  • Substitute canned pumpkin or unsweetened applesauce for banana (you may need to increase the amount of sweetener to ½ cup).
  • Use different extracts, such as almond or coconut.
  • Substitute chopped nuts, seeds, chocolate chips or other dried fruit for raisins.

Bonus: Meg’s Protein Pancake Baking Mix

Check out my protein baking mix to make delicious pancakes (or muffins) in a flash!

See, I told you I like ’em big! Wrapped and ready to eat, my pookies are on the left and my protein pancakes are on the right. As the saying goes, “fail to plan, plan to fail”!

Easy Chickpea Tomato Soup

It’s hardly gourmet fare, but this soup is perfect for cold, snowy (or rainy, in Vancouver’s case) winter nights.  Besides, why resort to (preservative- and sodium-laden) storebought soup when you can make a tastier, healthier version in minutes?!

Bonus: Studies show that eating canned tomatoes may protect skin from UV damage, thanks to a high concentration of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. In fact, cooked and canned tomatoes (e.g., tomato paste, tomato sauce) contain more lycopene than fresh.

Ingredients:

  • 1 32-oz. carton (4 cups) low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes (regular or with basil; salt-free variety preferred)
  • 1 cup low-fat milk or unsweetened non-dairy beverage
  • 1 19-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 Tbs basil pesto or fresh, slivered basil, optional

Directions:

In a large pot, bring broth and tomatoes to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat; stir in milk and chickpeas; simmer over low heat 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle soup into bowls; stir 1 tsp pesto into each or garnish with slivered basil. Serves 6.

Per serving: 202 calories, 3g fat (0g sat, 0g trans), 431mg sodium, 9g fibre, 6g sugar, 10g protein

Yes, it's tomato soup. I added a couple handfuls of baby spinach during cooking, just for fun. (And don't mind the white-ish bits; I had stirred in some feta prior to taking the photo.)

Super (Simple) Salmon Burgers

These easy, tasty burgers combine some of my favourite foods: salmon, squash, oats and mustard (mustard is a food in my book). Ultra low in calories and carbs, they’re packed with fat-burning protein and omega-3s; heck, you could eat the batch in one sitting if you like. They may even rival my favourite Costco find: Trident Seafoods wild salmon burgers.            P.S. I haven’t yet made these with canned tuna, but I plan to, as I bet they’d taste great. For a vegan option, sub mashed cannellini beans for salmon.

Ingredients:

  • 1 213-g can wild salmon (no-salt variety preferred, e.g., Goldseal No-Salt Pacific Pink Salmon)
  • 1/2 cup cooked, mashed butternut squash or sweet potato
  • 1 Tbs whole grain mustard
  • 3 Tbs oat bran (or oats or bread crumbs)
  • 2 Tbs fresh chopped parsley, if you have it
  • Pepper and/or no-salt seasoning blend, to taste (e.g., Spike Salt-Free Magic)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F. In a bowl, combine ingredients. Shape into 4 patties and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes; flip; bake 10 minutes more. Alternatively, cook over medium heat in a lightly oiled non-stick skillet, about 3 minutes per side. Serve over shredded cabbage, rainbow coleslaw or salad greens; top with salsa, avocado or guacamole, hummus or more mustard!

Per burger: 99 calories, 4g fat (1g sat, 0g trans), 84mg sodium, 1g fibre, 0g sugar, 12g protein

Yes, I love mustard! (For a quick, light dressing, whisk mustard, oil and lemon juice; drizzle over burgers/salad.)

“Secret Ingredient” Blender Brownies—Gluten- and Dairy-Free!

Black bean brownie recipes have been floating around the Web for a while, but I’d never tried them till recently. Based on my other dessert-type “experiments” with beans (such as my banana chickpea bars—fail), I’d figured they’d taste, well, like beans! But, and I kid you not, these brownies, which were inspired by this recipe, are moist and delicious and have no “bean-y” taste. And they take mere minutes to whip together. Gluten-, dairy- and totally guilt-free, they’re high in protein and fibre and low in carbs and sugar. If your New Year’s resolution is to eat better (and whose isn’t?), these are perfect. Try them!

Ingredients:

  • 1 398-mL can black beans (1½ cups), well rinsed and drained
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil (e.g., olive, canola or walnut oil)
  • 1 Tbs vanilla
  • 6 Tbs cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 15 packets stevia (equivalent to ½ cup +  2 Tbs sugar) OR ½ cup + 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder (*Adding baking powder yields a more “cake-y” brownie; omit for more “fudge-y” brownies.)
  • ¼ cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8-inch baking dish with parchment paper (or spray with cooking spray). Blend beans, eggs, applesauce, oil, vanilla, cocoa, cinnamon, stevia (or sugar) and baking powder in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer batter to prepared dish. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over batter. Bake 25 minutes. Let cool, then slice into 16 squares. Keep refrigerated.

Per square (using stevia): 65 calories, 3 g fat (1 g sat, 0 g trans), 19 mg sodium, 2 g fibre, 2 g sugar, 3 g protein

Meg's Black Bean (but Delicious!) Blender Brownies

How to Make SMART Resolutions—and 8 Motivation-Boosting Websites

So it’s “resolution time,” huh? The time to resolve to do the things we resolved to do last year, such as get in shape, save money, climb a mountain, strengthen relationships, quit smoking, stress less or sleep more. Statistics are stacked against success—by January 31st, most gyms are as empty as the Kardashian brain pool. Why? Most people make too-general resolutions that require an immediate, radical shift in behaviour; few take the time to define goals and to create step-by-step plans to meet these goals. For example, resolving to lose weight is noble, but without a plan, it’s just a wish. Goal-setting gurus, such as Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy and Chalene Johnson, advise making SMART goals, meaning specific, measurable, achievable, rewarding and time-sensitive goals. Experts also recommend writing goals down; studies show putting goals on paper hugely increases the likelihood of achieving them.

My health goal for 2012 is to become more flexible. My hip flexors, which have always been tight, have become increasingly so, and this tightness is turning into pain and affecting my daily life and athletic pursuits (how ironic is it I am finding it difficult to do yoga because of tight hips!). Though I’m reasonably fit and strong, I now feel how important it is to be flexible. I always think of a former client who often said, “First you get stiff, then you get old.” So true. However, “become more flexible” isn’t a SMART goal, so I’ve made it SMART by considering the following principles. I encourage you to make SMART goals, too. Here’s to meeting our goals in 2012!

MEG’S SMART GOAL: DO THE SPLITS BY JULY 1st

S = Specific

Just like the goal of “losing weight,” my goal of “increasing flexibility” is too vague. So I’ve made my goal specific: do the splits (on one leg at least!). The “S” in SMART can also stand for “small”: as I work toward my goal, I’ve given myself mini goals of increasing my hamstring flexibility each week, which will enable me to hit my target goal. For those looking to shed pounds, mini goals could include losing a pound a week or 2% body fat a month; for those wanting to run a marathon, mini goals could include running 10 minutes longer twice weekly; for those seeking 8 hours of sleep a night, it could be to go to bed 15 minutes earlier. Small changes add up, and accomplishing mini goals boosts motivation to hit target goals.

M = Measurable

Can I assess my progress in some way? Yes—by not being the least flexible person in yoga class! And, more importantly, by being able to stretch further (without wincing!) and by having less hip and hamstring stiffness. It’s also important to identify your starting point before creating an action plan. For example, just like knowing your current financial situation is critical to improving it, those wanting to lose weight should measure their body weight, fat and inches at the outset. This will help you gauge your progress, and tracking your progress will help you stay on course.

A = Achievable

Is my goal attainable? I think so, considering I was “this close” to doing the splits last year, when I was doing hot yoga a few times a week. To reach my goal, I’ve committed to doing a yoga class, either at a studio or at home, four times a week and to stretching/foam rolling for 10 minutes daily. Ask yourself whether your goal is not only possible, but probable. That is, do you have the time, resources, and above all, the desire and determination to commit to your goal? If not, consider setting a smaller goal or revising your goal. Maybe your goal isn’t as important to you as you thought. I mean, just because others have resolved to run a marathon doesn’t mean you should, especially if you have bad knees or (c’mon, admit it) hate running!

R = Rewarding

Will reaching my goal positively affect my life? Yes. I’ll have less pain and stiffness, and increasing my flexibility will safeguard against injuries. It’ll also allow me to do my favourite activities (and try new ones) with more ease. To determine whether your goal is rewarding, ask yourself how achieving it will benefit you. As children we learn to expect rewards for our efforts, and this “eye on the prize” mentality doesn’t disappear in adulthood! Without a reward, it’s tough to put in the work and discipline necessary to achieve challenging goals, gratifying as the end result may be.

T = Time-Sensitive

Ask any editor: most of us work best (that is, we quit procrastinating and get s*it done) with a deadline, so be sure to attach timelines to your mini-goals and target goal. Just make sure they’re realistic, since failing to meet impractical deadlines is a sure set-up for abandoning your goals altogether. For example, giving yourself a month to lose 20 pounds is not realistic (nor healthy), but losing a pound a week is. Again, I’ve set a goal of doing the splits by July 1st, with mini goals of improving my hamstring flexibility each week.

Note: As we often hold ourselves accountable to others more than to ourselves, consider telling people (lots of people!) about your goal. And know it’s okay to change or refine your goals at any time. Manage your expectations and—pardon the pun—be flexible!

Need more motivation? Check out these websites for ideas. Best of all, they’re free!

  • Yoga Download: No time (or money) for yoga? No problem. YD has amazing classes, and most of the 20-minute sessions are free! My favourite 20-minute classes include Detox Yoga #1 and Core Yoga #1. I’ve also heard rave reviews of My Yoga Online.
  • Spark People: This site is more of an online weight loss community; register to access tracking tools and calorie counters, support groups, recipes and more.
  • All Recipes: The mother of recipe databases, this site features thousands of reader-tested recipes and tutorials. Be sure to scan readers’ reviews for tips and modifications.
  • 8Tracks: Music is a powerful motivator, and this site features tons of awesome playlists.
  • Oxygen Magazine: The magazine is pricy, but the website also features great workouts, recipes and articles.
  • Jamie Eason’s LiveFit Trainer: Fitness competitor Jamie Eason has designed a comprehensive, 12-week training program. It’s like having a personal trainer! (Read a review of the program here.)
  • Fitness Magazine: This site features easy, healthy recipes and exercise slideshows and videos. I recently bookmarked Brooke Burke’s and Alison Sweeney’s workouts.
  • Meditations for Women & Meditations for Weight Loss: Sign up to receive inspirational quotations and articles. (These apply to men, too!)