When you're constantly plowing through mile-long to-do lists and putting out family fires (the kids are fighting...again; the dog left you a "present" in the living room; you're out of OJ), it's easy to blame stress for whatever ails you. But consider pointing a finger at your breakfast, lunch or dinner first. Many health problems, from exhaustion to head pain, are caused by the foods we eat—even nutritious options. Look for your symptoms here, then follow our expert advice to eliminate whatever has your body feeling down.
The Trigger: Too much fiber eaten too fast
Get your recommended 21 to 25 grams a day and you can lower your cholesterol, improve digestion and increase weight loss. (Plus, your doctor would be so proud.) The new crop of high-fiber yogurts, protein bars, drinks and even ice creams may seem like a priceless convenience when it comes to hitting that number. Unfortunately, they can make you clutch your stomach in despair. They're packed with a type of fiber called inulin. In small amounts these products are fine, but it's all too easy to scarf down too much inulin too quickly, which can cause bloating, stomach cramping and gassiness.
The Fix: Slowly increasing your consumption of fiber and getting it from whole foods like veggies, fruits, whole grains and legumes will be kinder to your digestive system than pumping up your intake through artificial sources. Try these five great natural sources of fiber:
Navy beans 19 grams per cup
Lentils 16 grams per cup
Artichokes 10 grams per medium choke
Whole wheat spaghetti 6 grams per cup
Pears 5.5 grams per medium fruit
The Trigger: A high-fat meal
"There's a relationship between what you eat and alertness," says registered dietitian and busy mom Cassie Dimmick. "Research shows consuming fatty foods can leave you mentally fatigued." Your body has to work overtime to digest the food. And if you go carb crazy, your insulin levels increase, which causes drowsiness, she explains. That's why after Friday Pizza Night, you bring the family back home, plop down on the couch and watch Journey 2: The Mysterious Island with one eye shut.
The Fix: The ideal meal is a mix of fiber-rich carbs and moderate amounts of fat. For instance, on pizza night, eat one less slice and fill the rest of your plate with a big salad. Picking up fast food? Forgo the burger and fries and grab a turkey sub with a side of hummus and veggies (instead of baked chips). Or order a salad with lean protein, like salmon or chicken, and a bean-based soup or chili.
Already over-dined? Being active will get your blood pumping so you feel more alert and energized, says Melissa Paris, a certified personal trainer at Reebok Sports Club in New York City. Try these sneaky moves—all can be done while sitting:
Tone calves. Slide your feet out of your shoes, then point and flex feet to raise them off the floor. Do three sets of 10.
Stretch tight hips. Position right leg over left knee at a 90-degree angle; hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs.
Work abs. Engage ab muscles by drawing your belly button into your spine. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds; do three reps.
The Trigger: A calcium and magnesium deficiency
"Poor eating habits—like dining on the go—can put you at risk," says gynecologist Sara Gottfried, M.D., founder of the Gottfried Center for Integrative Medicine in Berkeley, California, and author of the forthcoming The Hormone Cure (Simon & Schuster). A lack of calcium leaves you more vulnerable to the unpleasant effects of premenstrual syndrome, like cramping and moodiness. Gottfried also notes that a woman in her mid-30s or 40s is more likely to have problems with bloating. Getting enough magnesium decreases that significantly, she says.
The Fix: Consume 1,200 mg of calcium daily. Studies show that this amount decreases PMS symptoms by 50%. Skim milk, sesame seeds and dark leafy greens are all good sources of calcium. Up your magnesium intake by eating foods rich in it such as lentils and pumpkin seeds.
Another way to put a stop to PMS? "Research shows deep breathing helps to balance hormones," Gottfried says. When you're in the car or sitting in a high-backed chair, push your head into the headrest so your spine is straight. Breathe in for five seconds and exhale for five seconds. Repeat until the stress melts away.
The Trigger: Sugar's the one you know. MSG is the one you don't.
"Monosodium glutamate is still frequently added to soups, processed meats and fast food," says Ashley Koff, R.D., author of Mom Energy (Hay House). "It's often hidden under other names, such as autolyzed yeast and hydrolyzed protein." The FDA says it's safe, but research shows that people who consume high amounts of the flavor enhancer are nearly three times more likely to be overweight than non-users. It may be that MSG interrupts appetite regulation, causing you to overeat.
The Fix: Ask if your favorite delivery dishes contain MSG, or cook up fast substitutes like this single-pan stir-fry from Philadelphia-based personal chef and registered dietitian Katie Cavuto Boyle.
Makes: 4 servings
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
1 package (8 ounces) brown rice noodles
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
4 cups assorted raw vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots and snow peas, cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup San-J Szechuan Sauce stir-fry sauce
- Cover rice noodles with cold water and soak for 15 minutes.
- In a sauté pan, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Sauté chicken until cooked through, about 5 minutes.
- Add vegetables and sauté for 3 minutes until tender.
- Drain noodles, add to pan with sauce and toss to combine.
Per Serving: 408 cal; 7g fat (2g sat); 24g pro; 61g carb; 8g fiber; 618mg sodium; 45mg chol
Originally published in the August 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.
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