How to Prevent a Hangover (& Fat-Burning Detox Shake Recipe)

‘Tis the season . . . for the hangover. Though I feel most people use the “It’s the holidays!” excuse to scarf shortbread, swap cookies (“I’ll trade you four dozen rum balls for rugelach”), spike everything with Bailey’s, and take a month-long hiatus from any exercise that doesn’t involve trolling the liquor store for more Cabernet, chances are good this free-for-all, “holidays are but once a year” attitude ain’t gonna change anytime soon. I mean, Jesus would want us to celebrate his birth with chocolate martinis, right?

So to keep feeling festive through January 1, use these preemptive strategies during the holidays (and throughout the year). And if—despite your best intentions, of course—you overimbibe, I’ve included some “morning after” remedies.  Hey, it’s the holidays!

Meg’s No-Hangover Tips

Before the Party:

  • Eat a nutritious meal or snack containing lean protein and healthy fats (e.g., turkey and hummus wrap; Greek yogurt with chopped apple, cinnamon and almonds; my Skinny Egg Muffin or Detox Shake) before imbibing will help you metabolize alcohol more slowly; fat- and oil-containing foods (e.g., nuts, nut butter, flaxseed, avocado, olive oil) also buffer the stomach lining, helping to prevent intestinal irritation and nausea. (Bonus: A preparty snack will help thwart a buffet binge.)
  • Drink . . . water. Or eat water-rich fruits or veggies, such as apples, oranges, cucumber and celery. A hangover is primarily caused by dehydration, thanks to the ethanol in alcohol which increases urine output (layman’s terms: makes you pee). Keeping hydrated will offset most of alcohol’s inevitable aftereffects (cue dry mouth, fatigue and a POUNDING headache . . . ).

Party Trivia: The ethanol in alcohol breaks down in the body to acetaldehyde, a potent carcinogen more toxic than alcohol itself. Congeners, toxic byproducts of alcohol fermentation, can also affect the severity of a hangover. Red wine (especially cheaper plonk) and dark liquors (e.g., bourbon, scotch, whiskey, tequila) have more congeners than white wine and clear spirits (e.g., vodka, gin, white rum).

At the Party:

  • Pace yourself and—wait for it—don’t drink to excess. Remember, the key to avoiding a hangover (aside from not drinking!) is to stay hydrated, so alternate an alcoholic drink with a large glass of flat or sparkling water.
  • Nibble wisely: for every drink, nosh a few nuts, a couple of cheese cubes or a smoked salmon crudite to moderate alcohol absorption.
  • Keep it clean. That is, mix spirits with club soda or sparkling water only; not only are juices, pop, punches and drink mixes laden with sugar and calories, but many contain artificial preservatives, sweeteners and other additives, which can cause or exacerbate headaches, nausea and allergies.

More Trivia: Many alcohols, including wine and beer, contain preservatives such as sulphites, which Health Canada ranks as one of the nine allergens most likely to cause a severe reaction. So if you’re sensitive to sulphites in foods, you’ll likely react to sulphite-containing alcohols, notably red wine.

After the Party:

OK, so you didn’t take my advice, and twinkling tree lights now resemble a spinning disco ball. Seek relief (and relieve your liver) with these hangover remedies:

  • Rehydrate with water first thing. (Sorry, the “hair of the dog” “cure” is anything but!) Skipping coffee will probably exacerbate a throbbing head, so drink an extra glass of water to counter caffeine’s diuretic effects.
  • Pass on greasy breakfast fare, but make it sunny-side up: eggs are full of cysteine, a protein that binds to and removes hangover-inducing acetaldehyde from the body. Or sip my detox shake, which contains whey (also high in cysteine) and mineral electrolytes.
  • Get out for a walk and fresh air; exercise and oxygen raise the body’s metabolic rate, which will assist the liver in eliminating alcohol’s toxic metabolites. Sweating in a sauna or hot shower or bath will also speed detoxification.

Hangover No-No: Don’t take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for a hangover; the combination (alcohol + acetaminophen) can cause liver damage.

Drink Responsibly: Alcohol can be addictive, and it may raise the risk of some cancers; the maximum recommended intake is one to two drinks per day. (A standard serving is five ounces of table wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1½ ounces of spirits.)

Megan’s Detox/Fat-Burning Shake

This delicious shake is full of alcohol-depleting mineral electrolytes, including calcium, magnesium and potassium. It also contains vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, and metabolism-boosting B vitamins, including vitamin B12 and vitamin B1 (thiamine), which may reduce brain accumulation of glutarate, a compound linked to headaches. Bonus: Studies find whey protein is a proven fat burner.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup filtered water
  • ½ cup frozen peaches or strawberries (can also sub ½ cup ice)
  • 1½ scoops vanilla whey concentrate powder (I used 1 scoop IsaLean Shake and ½ scoop Isapro)
  • ½ tsp orange-flavoured powdered vitamin C/electrolyte powder (I like Energenix by Isagenix)

Directions: Add ingredients to blender in order listed. Blend until smooth. Drink immediately. Serves 1.

  • Delicious and detoxifying - give that liver a break!

    Delicious and detoxifying – give that liver a break!

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Meg’s Deep Chocolate VitaMuffin Knock-off Recipe (Ready in Two Minutes!)

Homemade for the win. My VitaMuffin knock-off has more protein and less sugar and is much cheaper, too!

Have you seen VitaMuffins in the freezer section at the grocery store? I’ve been tempted to buy them, but at roughly $6 per package (for four tiny muffins!), I’ve resisted. I knew I could make my own for less, and I knew I could make a more satisfying (did I mention VitaMuffins are tiny?), lower-sugar, higher-protein version. In two minutes. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve made this mini cake at least once a day every day for two years. I vary the ingredients all the time, using different extracts, flours, etc.—experiment to your heart’s delight. (Cocoa powder happens to be good for your heart, as if you needed another reason to make this . . . . )

Meg’s Single-Serve Deep Chocolate VitaMuffin Knock-off

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbs oat flour*
  • 1 Tbs cocoa powder
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 2-3 packets stevia (equivalent to 1.5-2 Tbs sugar) (I prefer things slightly bittersweet and use 2 packets of Sugaresque, my favourite sweetener. Here’s a $1 coupon!)
  • 1 egg white or 2 Tbs liquid egg whites
  • 2 Tbs plain Greek yogurt or regular plain yogurt
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Mix ingredients in a small bowl. Transfer batter to a lightly sprayed ramekin, coffee mug or small dish. Microwave on high 90 seconds. Remove cake from dish; split in half and “frost” with cream cheese, mashed berries (cream cheese + mashed berries = delicious), ricotta, yogurt, peanut butter whip, nut/seed butter or a few dark chocolate chips.

Per cake: 205 calories, 5 g fat (2 g sat, 0 g trans), 65 mg sodium, 4 g fibre, 6 g sugars, 11 g protein

Tips & Variations:

  • *To make oat flour, blend oats in a food processor to a flour-like consistency. I like oat flour because it lends a slight natural sweetness and, unlike whole wheat flour, doesn’t have a “wheat-y” taste, but you can swap it for other flours (e.g., brown rice, whole wheat pastry, half white/half whole grain flour).
  • For even more fibre, replace 1 Tbs flour with 1 Tbs wheat bran or oat bran.
  • Make it more fudge-y by using more cocoa powder and less flour; add extra sweetener.
  • Substitute canned pumpkin, unsweetened applesauce, ricotta or mashed banana for yogurt.
  • Add ¼ teaspoon cinnamon for natural sweetness and antioxidants. (Studies show cinnamon helps to lower blood sugar levels, which helps with weight loss.)
  • Sub other extracts for vanilla (e.g., almond, maple, coconut, peppermint).
  • Swap carob powder for cocoa powder. When using carob powder you can usually add less sweetener, as carob powder has a slight natural sweetness.
  • No microwave? Oven-bake 15 minutes at 350F.
  • Peanut butter cupcake: Spoon half of the batter into dish; top with a teaspoon of peanut butter, then top with remaining batter. Bake as directed.
  • Coconut cupcake: Add 1 Tbs unsweetened flaked coconut. Sub coconut extract for vanilla. Bake as directed.
  • Oat doughnut: Omit cocoa altogether; add 1 tablespoons oat flour (or 1 Tbs oat bran or ground golden flaxseed), ¼ tsp cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg. Bake as directed.

A just-baked "Vita-not" muffin and one halved and topped with yogurt & shredded coconut. Delicious! (Note to self: Register for a photography course.)

Big-Batch Recipe:

In a large bowl, mix 1¾ cups oat flour, ½ cup cocoa powder, 2 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp cinnamon, 16 (or more) packets stevia (equivalent to 2/3-1 cup sugar), 8 egg whites (1 cup liquid egg whites), 1 cup plain yogurt, 1 Tbs vanilla extract and 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips. Bake in parchment paper-lined muffin cups for 15 minutes at 350F. Freeze for when the chocolate craving strikes . . . .

How to Save Money on Food—Part 2

Warren Buffett laments he could have been even richer . . . .

I know everyone has been eagerly awaiting the follow-up to How to Save at the Supermarket—Part 1 (no doubt you’ve endured a few sleepless nights in excited anticipation . . . sorry about that). Though not all of the following tips apply to supermarket spending, each will trim your overall food spending (and might help shrink your waistline, too!).

Meg’s Top Tips to Cut Your Food Spending

Buy “Bulk”*

Having manufactured a retail product, I know that packaging can cost more than the goods themselves, and this is a cost consumers pay for. Since I’d rather pay for the food and not the packaging, I often buy “bulk” foods: items in supermarkets’ or health food stores’ bulk bins or aisles, such as rice and grains, flours, dried fruit, nuts, lentils, even nut butters, spices and chocolate. Yes, you might have to scoop the item into a bag and label it yourself (how dare they!), but you’ll be rewarded with big savings and the exact quantity you need. For example, yesterday I bought spelt flour, cinnamon, flaxseed, dark chocolate chips and organic raisins from bulk bins; equal-weight packages of these foods were at least twice the price. Tip: Before you buy bulk, check that bins and surrounding areas are clean.

*Note this doesn’t mean buying bulk quantities. No doubt the 5-litre barrel bottle of olive oil at Costco is a great price, but unless you’re Mario Batali, it’ll only take up valuable cupboard space and go to waste.

Don’t Be Wasteful

The above note leads me to my next tip: use up what you have. Not only is it wasteful to let food go bad or stale, it’s akin to throwing hard cash in the trash. Take stock of what you have before heading to the grocery store, and don’t overbuy if you’re not going to use it up (Costco shoppers, are you listening?). After all, even if something is priced low, it’s not a good value if it goes to waste. Omelettes, chili or this chickpea sweet potato casserole are a few dishes I make to use up soon-to-spoil food.

Make It Yourself

It’s hardly breaking news that dining out or getting take-out costs more—a lot more—than preparing food at home, but it’s easy to forget that seemingly inexpensive grab n’ go meals and snacks, such as subs, smoothies, scones and protein bars, add up; financial gurus coined this the “latte effect.” There’s no need to forgo restaurant meals altogether, but it’s far more wallet-wise to savour the occasional meal out and prepare everyday meals and snacks yourself. Exhibit A: An iced coffee and fruit n’ nut bar from Starbucks costs $6.14. My knock-off (but equally delicious) iced coffee and protein bar? A mere $1.05 (iced coffee: approx. $0.27; protein bar: $0.78). So if you choose homemade over Starbucks just three times a week, you’d save $733 a year (ticket to Europe, anyone?). Bonus: Studies show people who prepare their own meals are slimmer, too.

Go Meatless More

Meat is the priciest food in the grocery store, so by opting for eggs or plant proteins (e.g., beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh) even a couple times a week, you could easily shave hundreds of dollars off your annual grocery bill. Not only is this a budget-friendly swap, but it’s a health-smart one, too: studies show eating red meat increases heart disease and colon cancer risk. Plus, plant proteins are low in saturated fat and contain essential nutrients (e.g., calcium, magnesium, fibre) that animal proteins don’t. Satisfying meatless meals include my lentil loaf, frittata and bean burgers.

Be Brand Savvy

When you buy name brands, such as Heinz®, you’re paying a premium for packaging and marketing. Store brands (a.k.a. “house” or “private label” brands) adhere to the same manufacturing practices as name brands, but they can cost 30% less. In fact, store brands are often produced by big-brand companies. What’s more, some supermarket chains, such as Loblaw, feature tiered private-label branding. For example, Loblaw’s first-tier brand, President’s Choice®, is (strategically) cheaper than the big-name brand, but Loblaw’s second-tier brand, no-name®, costs less than President’s Choice®. However, a can of beans sold under the President’s Choice® and no-name® labels are manufactured at the same plant; they’re just packaged (and priced) differently. Bottom Line: If a house brand is tasty and has nutrition stats that are comparable to its name-brand competitor’s, I buy the less pricey private label product.

How to Save at the Supermarket—Part 1

Has anyone else noticed food prices are skyrocketing? Honestly, what with a 4.3% increase in food prices this year and a rumour peanut butter prices will jump 35% (what the heck?), I might have to start shopping at Valu-Mart instead of Whole Paycheck Foods. Or not. Even though I consider myself a savvy shopper and love a good deal, I’m admittedly a grocery store snob; big, shiny markets with pretty displays, cheerful employees and free samples of brie on 7-seed baguette make me happy. (Dear Trader Joe’s: Please come to Canada. Thanks.) But since my bank account prohibits frivolous food spending, I use these cost-cutting measures to shop in style—and for healthy foods—while saving money. Here’s Part 1 of Meg’s Grocery Saving Strategies. Stay tuned for Part 2.

MEG’S GROCERY SAVING STRATEGIES

Use coupons—wisely

This month’s Self features an article with Sarah Michelle Gellar, who, in offering tips on buying good food for less, says, “I clip coupons all the time. Why should you pay more for something that someone else is paying less for?” Well said, Buffy. I use coupons, too, and I love the show Extreme Couponing. Seriously, with the calculating and strategizing “Extreme Couponers” invest in building their stockpiles of Fanta, Bengay and paper towels, they could likely negate the national debt in no time. (Jim Flaherty, take notes.) Coupons aren’t as plentiful in Canada as in the U.S., especially for fresh foods, but the Healthy Shopper offers significant savings on natural products (check the website to find out where to pick up a free copy or to download coupons). Remember, the key is to use coupons on (healthful) things you’d buy anyway (or want to try)—$1 off a jumbo box of Pop-Tarts doesn’t qualify as healthy downsizing.

Sign up for your supermarket’s discount card

Having lived in three cities this past year, I now tote a wallet weighing five pounds, stocked with rewards cards from Safeway, Save-On-Foods, Choices, Urban Fare, Sobeys, Shoppers Drug Mart, Co-op . . . . I’m convinced it’s all a scam—obviously, the item’s full price isn’t really the full price but the “price we charge people who are too lazy to sign up for our discount card.” Whatever. Just get yourself a card, or 10.

Check your bill

Every month I get at least a couple free things at the grocery store or drugstore. Last month, it was an $8 block of cheddar, a cucumber, shaving cream and Band-aids. How? The Scanner Price Accuracy Code, a voluntary retailer policy (most major Canadian retailers abide by it), requires retailers to refund your item if it scans higher than the shelf price or other displayed price, as long as it’s $10 or less. So check the advertised price and your bill, and if you notice you were overcharged, head to customer service to get your refund. I usually have to ask for it, and it does take a few extra minutes, but more money in my pocket means more money to spend at Sephora put in my RRSPs.

Know that $10 for 10 usually means $1 for 1

Here’s a sneaky supermarket pricing strategy I only learned of recently: when items are “bundle-priced” (I have no idea what the actual term is), for example, 10 cans of chickpeas for $10 or 2 yogurts for $5, you often don’t have buy multiples to get the discounted price. That is, one can of chickpeas will ring up as $1 and one yogurt will be $2.50. This policy applies to most stores, including Loblaws, Safeway, Save-On and Whole Foods, but not all; when in doubt, ask the cashier. The point is you don’t need to buy more to save big (unless you aspire to build an “Extreme Couponer” stockpile).

Shop selectively for organic foods 

I buy organic when I can, but I don’t sweat it when I can’t, such as when it’s too pricey or when organic produce looks as though it’s been sitting on a shipping truck for weeks. I do try to buy organic (or pesticide-free) varieties of the “dirty dozen,” those fruits and veggies, such as apples and spinach, with the most pesticide residues. (Don’t forget to wash all produce well. Organic doesn’t mean E. coli free!) And though I always get free-range eggs, I don’t worry about buying organic milk or dairy products. When I wrote on article on milk for Chatelaine, I learned that, unlike the U.S., Canadian regulations prohibit dairy producers from giving hormones to cows or from selling milk containing antibiotics or preservatives. There’s no evidence, either, that organic foods, including dairy, are more nutritious than non-organic, and studies show it’s better to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables than avoid them because they’re not organic.

When couponing goes too far . . .

How to Make Skinny Coffee Drinks

If you know me, you know I am frugal (which means using coupons at Whole Foods, so it’s all relative) and I hate spending money on things I could easily make myself, such as protein bars. As such, I almost never buy coffee drinks, but I am, unashamedly, a coffee addict. I got into drinking iced coffee last summer, when I got my teeth whitened (coffee, black tea and other acidic drinks can weaken and stain enamel, so my hygienist advised sipping coffee through a straw), and now I prefer it to hot coffee, even as temperatures plummet. Though coffee has bonafide health benefits (studies show caffeine may protect against stroke, some cancers and Alzheimer’s disease), to sleep easy, I drink one (huge) glass in the morning, then switch to decaf green and herbal teas.

Making your own coffee drinks is super easy and will save you buckets of cash and calories. Exhibit A: A 16 oz. Starbucks frappuccino (no whipped cream) can pack 300 calories and 60 grams of sugar—14 teaspoons worth!

Meg’s Skinny Iced Vanilla Almond Coffee

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups cold brewed coffee*
  • ½ cup unsweetened almond milk (or other milk) (I prefer Almond Fresh; the Almond Breeze brand tends to curdle in drinks.)
  • ¼ tsp vanilla or other extract (try peppermint or almond)
  • 1 packet stevia, or to taste (I like Sugaresque—it tastes and mixes like sugar and has no aftertaste)
  • few shakes cinnamon, optional
  • coffee ice cubes*

Directions:

In a shaker bottle or jar, add coffee, milk, vanilla, stevia and cinnamon. Shake! Pour into a tall glass over ice.  Enjoy with my 2-Minute Banana Bread or Pumpkin Spice Pancakes for a better-than-Starbucks breakfast! Serves 1.

Per serving: 25 calories, 2 g fat (0 g sat, 0 g trans), 97 mg sodium, 1 g fibre, 0 g sugar, 1 g protein

Tips & Variations:

  • Keep a pitcher of brewed coffee in the fridge. I use 1 heaping tablespoon dark roast ground coffee to 1 cup water.
  • Fill ice cube trays with cold coffee and freeze. This way you won’t dilute the coffee.
  • Mocha version: Use chocolate almond milk or add 1-2 teaspoons cocoa powder before blending; sweeten to taste.
  • For a pumped-up shake, add ½ scoop vanilla or chocolate protein powder before blending.
  • Like it hot? Whisk hot coffee, steamed almond milk (heat in microwave) and desired extras.

Meg's Skinny Iced Vanilla Almond Coffee

Meg’s 2-Minute Banana Bread

I created this recipe for an article I wrote on healthy breakfasts, and it was a hit dish in my kids’ cooking classes. Full of fibre, protein and omega-3 fats, with no added sugar, it also makes a great snack or dessert. (I always sometimes add a few chocolate chips to the batter when making this for dessert. Banana chocolate chip bread, anyone?)

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbs quick oats
  • 2 Tbs ground flaxseed (use golden flax—not dark brown—for a lighter taste)
  • ½- 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 2 egg whites (4 Tbs liquid egg whites) or 1 egg
  • ¼ cup mashed ripe banana (½ medium banana)
  • ¼ tsp vanilla or almond extract, optional

Directions:

Spray a microwave-safe ramekin, small dish or coffee mug with cooking spray. Add ingredients; mix thoroughly. Microwave on high 90 seconds. To remove bread, invert dish/mug over a plate. Enjoy plain, or slice in half and spread with nut butter or cream cheese. Serves 1.

Per serving: 232 calories, 8 g fat (1 g sat, 0 g trans), 107 mg sodium, 8 g fibre, 8 g sugar, 13 g protein

Variations:

  • Substitute unsweetened applesauce or canned pumpkin for banana; add stevia to taste.
  • For a chocolate version, add 1 Tbs cocoa or carob powder and omit 1 Tbs flaxseed.
  • Add a few chopped walnuts or raisins to batter.
  • Substitute 2 Tbs oats, oat bran or wheat bran for flaxseed.
  • You can also bake this in a regular oven (about 15 minutes at 350F).

Health Chair Reform: Stand Up to Lose Weight and Live Longer

Stand to work! A standing desk may help you lose weight and live longer.

You may want to sit down stand to read this. It turns out sitting is a serious health hazard, raising the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even death. Here’s why you should stop sitting—and start standing!

Sitting can make you fat.

Sitting not only replaces calorie-burning activities (we burn one-third fewer calories sitting than standing), the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL), stored in our muscles, is released upon standing, capturing and annihilating fat. When we sit, LPL activity slows way down, leaving fat in the bloodstream to accumulate. But won’t regular workouts offset sitting’s sluggish effects? Nope. Research finds it’s not how much we eat or exercise that determines weight, but how much we sit. In a Mayo Clinic study, participants followed similar health-wise diets, but obese participants sat 2.5 more hours each day. Our bodies are meant to move, and small, constant movements boost metabolism—and fight flab—the most.

Sitting strains your body.

Desk jockeys know prolonged sitting yields stiff backs and poor posture. The reason? Sitting dumps body weight onto the spine and pelvis, forcing the spine’s natural S-curve into a C-shape, which puts pressure on spinal discs. Sitting also shortens the hip flexors and weakens the glutes and hamstrings, causing back strain. Given the average eight-hour workday and other seated “activities” (e.g., eating, commuting, watching TV), it’s no wonder nearly 10% of Canadians have chronic back pain and over 60% of Canadians are overweight or obese.

As if a sore back and bigger butt aren’t enough, sitting may shorten life span, too.

A study of 17,000 Canadians, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, found that, after adjusting for factors such as smoking, age and body mass index, those who sat the most had a higher risk of mortality from all causes, including heart disease and cancer, regardless of other physical activity. Similarly, a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who sat more than six hours daily were 37% more likely to die, particularly from heart disease, than women who sat fewer than three hours. So, when people tell you to get off your butt, don’t be offended: they’re looking out for your health!

Five ways to sit less

To prevent “corporate butt,” my oh-so-technical term for the 9-5 posterior spread, try these stand-up tips.

  • Fidget! Putter! Notice how little kids can’t sit still, whereas adults can sit for hours? Well, the official term for the energy expended on everyday movements is nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Research finds lean women stand, move and fidget more than heavier women, burning 300 extra calories daily.
  • Move around after eating, when blood fat levels are highest, to stimulate LPL release.
  • Stand or walk while on the phone (I use headphones) and when doing things such as sorting mail, scanning the paper/magazines/memos or chatting with colleagues. Make seated habits standing ones.
  • Get your Venti to go: sip and stroll instead of sitting.
  • Stand and stretch at least once an hour. Set your computer or phone alarm to remind yourself, or download the iPhone app Alarmed. Better back stretch: Stand and place hands on lower back (fingertips down). Gently push hips forward and arch back, gazing upward. Hold for a few moments; repeat.

Chair-free seating ideas

Listed from least to most expensive, these “seats” are better for your body.

  • $: Sitting on an exercise ball forces the body to shift and engages core muscles. Bonus: Recline over the ball for a full body stretch.
  • $: Construct a stand-up desk: place wooden bed risers or blocks under your desk, install a wall shelf or build/buy a crate, box or tiny table to put on your desk. Search the Web for DIY stand-up desk ideas, then source home improvement stores for cheap fixes.
  • $$: Place a TrekDesk or laptop holder over your treadmill. Studies show that walking at just 1-3 mph can double your metabolic rate. Work—and work out!
  • $$$: A sit-to-stand desk is pricey, but proponents say it relieves wrist and back pain and improves productivity, thereby boosting your bottom line (and your bottom!). A worthy investment, in my opinion. After all, we spend as much time sitting at a desk as we do sleeping—likely more!

Have you tried a stand-up desk? Do you have any DIY stand-up desk ideas? I recently put my laptop on a phone book on my mantle. It’s not pretty, but my back and hips are reaping the rewards!

Meg’s Low-Carb, Cheesy Tuna Bake Recipe

My cheesy tuna bake is a great go-to dish: easy, quick, economical and delicious. Plus, each serving boasts 36 grams of protein, 5 grams of fibre, over 30 per cent of the daily value for calcium and almost a quarter of the daily value for iron. I usually make it in a casserole dish (or halve the recipe and bake in large ramekins), but you can also bake the mixture in bell peppers or use the unbaked filling as a sandwich/wrap spread.

Raincoast Trading No-Salt Albacore Tuna

My favourite canned tuna is Raincoast Trading No-Salt Albacore Tuna; find it in health food stores or supermarkets’ natural foods section. This brand tastes great and uses sustainable farming practices. Albacore tuna, fresh or canned, is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are king among unsaturated fats; studies show regular omega-3 intake may alleviate arthritis, reduce heart disease risk, relieve dry, itchy skin . . . and more!

Meg’s Low-Carb Cheesy Tuna Bake

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup 1% or 2% cottage cheese
  • 1 tsp dried basil and/or no-salt seasoning blend
  • 2 300-gram packages frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 2 large cans (120-150-grams each) solid white albacore tuna in water, drained and flaked
  • ¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (or substitute ¼ cup tomato paste)
  • ¾ cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease an 8-inch (2-quart) baking dish; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine cottage cheese, seasoning, spinach, tuna and sun-dried tomatoes.
  3. Transfer to prepared baking dish, smoothing top with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake, uncovered, 25 to 30 minutes, or until heated through and cheese is melted. Serves 4.

Nutrition Information:

Per serving: 225 calories, 5 g fat (2 g sat, 0 g trans), 570 mg sodium*, 5 g fibre, 4 g sugar, 36 g protein (*To lower the sodium content, use low-sodium varieties of cottage cheese and canned tuna.)

Stuffed Peppers Variation:

  • Slice tops off 8 bell peppers; remove ribs and seeds from each pepper. If pepper bottom is uneven, slice a little off the bottom so it’s level.
  • Fill peppers with tuna mixture; sprinkle with cheese. Place peppers upright in a lightly greased 8-inch (2-quart) baking dish; bake as directed above. Serves 4 (2 peppers each).

Sandwich/Wrap Variation:

  • Spread the unbaked mixture on whole grain bread, wraps or crackers.

How Music Can Boost Endurance–and Brain Power

If you’ve ever been in a spinning class with an instructor who played ABBA (or Rascal Flatts, Nickelback . . . pick your musical poison) non-stop, you know the right music can make or break your workout. Now studies find that listening to uptempo music during exercise increases endurance, and it might make you smarter, too!

Uptempo Music Increases Exercise Endurance

Science points to music’s kick-butt powers (that’s a technical term, right?) on both a psychological and physical level. That is, the brain responds to the beat and various bio-mechanisms—heart rate, breathing, muscle movement—correspond to make the body move faster, lift more weight, etc. It also distracts us from the fact that we could be watching a Real Housewives marathon rather than running one. A study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Physiology found treadmill walkers not only logged 15 per cent more miles when listening to music, but they enjoyed exercise more. Clearly, endorphins aren’t enough.

Though it seems obvious, it seems uptempo tunes are key to maximizing athletic performance. A study conducted at the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences found that cyclists significantly increased their distance, cadence, heart rate and effort when they listened to higher-tempo music than when subjected to the same songs at a slower tempo. The fast-paced tracks didn’t make the workout easier, but participants were more inclined to push themselves, and they liked the music 36 per cent more.

Exercise + Music = Smartness?

Yep, listening to music while exercising might boost your IQ. A study published in the journal Heart & Lung found exercisers’ mental acuity was more than twice as high after exercising with music (in this case, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” though the researchers believe any appealing music would work). Apparently, listening to music activates the brain’s frontal lobe, which controls complex mental functions such as decision making and problem solving.

Whatever your musical fancy, if you can’t hear ambient noise when rocking out, dial down the volume, not only for the health of your ears and for your safety, but out of respect for your treadmill neighbours.

For inspiration, check out Billboard’s Hot 100 chart or these top running songs. Then try not to freak out about how much you’ve spent on iTunes (way too much, in my case).

These songs are making me move this week. If you have a favourite, please share!

How to Sleep More—and Make More Melatonin

I repeated this mantra to myself on many a night . . .

Sleep. Like another bedroom activity that starts with “s,” when you get enough, you take it for granted. When you don’t, it’s all you think about. I fit the former category . . . until I didn’t. Earlier this year I started tossing and turning and waking at 5 a.m. every morning. Even the birds were still snoozing. Was I stressed? Only about this.

Consequently, sleep, and how to get more of it, became my all-the-time reading. I surfed the Web, scanned studies, took notes, tore articles from magazines, checked out books from the library, and started a “sleep” folder. (Huh, it didn’t seem that obsessive at the time . . . .) I already knew about research relating lack of sleep (less than six hours or so) to weight gain; sleeplessness suppresses leptin, the hormone that curbs hunger, and activates ghrelin, the hormone that revs appetite. It also doesn’t take a PhD to know that when we’re sleep deprived, we crave sugary carbs to boost energy and alertness and have less energy and desire to exercise. Plus, there’s simply more time to eat: breakfast at 5 a.m. meant I was starving by 9. (How do morning news anchors stay slim?) Then, while writing an article on snoring, I read studies that linked lack of sleep to premature death. Great, not only was I cranky and tired, I was going to get fat and die. Sweet dreams.

I tried meditation, magnesium, vitamin B6, valerian, yoga, hypnosis . . . fail. Then I read an O magazine story on melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone produced by the body in darkness. (Even more enlightening, research suggests melatonin is a powerful cancer and disease fighter. A study found that women who lived in bright neighbourhoods and were exposed to late night electric lights were 73 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer; another found that night shift work raised heart disease risk.) Some people take synthetic melatonin as a sleeping aid, but it’s not always effective, and I discovered it can cause heart palpitations. (Fact: Thinking you’re having a heart attack does not promote sleep.) The Hormone Diets tips on sleeping habits and melatonin were also helpful, particularly on sleeping in total darkness—the littlest amount of light, such as a nightlight, blinking phone or LED clock, can enter the eyelids and disrupt melatonin synthesis, causing wakefulness or poor quality sleep. So before you check into a sleep clinic, try these first.

Melatonin-making tips:

  • Sleep in darkness—think pitch black. This has hugely improved my sleep. Between the city lights, smoke/CO detectors, and the fact that I’m too lazy to fix my broken blinds, my room is lit like a call centre, so I use an eye mask. I tried on several (to the joy of friends I was with) until I found one (Shoppers Drug Mart—$4!) that was comfortable, stayed on, blocked all light and didn’t strangle me. Black-out blinds would also work.
  • More melatonin is produced as the body temperature drops, so keep your bedroom cool—about 20˚C is ideal. Ditching my heavy comforter made a big difference. Or try showering before bed; as your core temperature drops afterward, you’ll get sleepier. (If you sport footed flannel pj’s, consider new sleeping attire.)
  • Dim the wattage in the evening, that is, use soft lamps, not fluorescents, and power down the laptop/TV/gadgets earlier than later. Keeping electronics out of the bedroom is best; studies indicate EMFs may inhibit melatonin production.
  • Keep the lights off if you get up at night; a short burst of light can hinder melatonin output. Use a flashlight or nightlight to navigate to the washroom, and keep a glass of water bedside if you wake up parched.
  • Have a small snack containing complex carbohydrates and protein about an hour before bed. (All-protein, all-carb and sugary snacks will hamper sleep.) Calcium-rich foods will further help the body convert the amino acid serotonin to melatonin. Try oatmeal, yogurt or rice cakes with tahini or almond butter. (And no, eating at night won’t make you gain weight provided you stick to your daily calorie quota.)
  • Open the curtains or head outside first thing in the a.m.: exposure to natural light helps regulate the body’s sleep/wake cycle.

Other sleep-more strategies:

  • Turn in and rise at the same time daily, including weekends.
  • Limit caffeine. (Caffeine metabolism slows with age—another perk of aging.)
  • Practise deep breathing before bed; this will help lower cortisol, that pesky stress hormone.
  • Skip the nightly news. (Relax, you won’t miss anything: the economy will still be in the toilet tomorrow.)
  • Avoid alcohol. It might make you sleepy, but it’ll likely result in subpar slumber—and a hangover.

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” – Ernest Hemingway