All Posts By

Kelsey Jesaitis

Get The Most Bang For Your Buck From Your Food

We all know how important it is to eat nutrient dense foods to reach our bodies’ daily micronutrient needs. But are you actually absorbing everything your fruits and veggies have to offer?

Bioavailability: the term used to describe this degree to which food nutrients are available for absorption and utilization in the body.

You may think that your body absorbs the full nutrient profile of the foods you are eating, but this is usually not the case. Digestion depends on a variety of factors: foods have all different kinds of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that each individual can utilize given the right factors.

Despite what most people think, digestion actually starts in the mouth with chewing and the release of salvia enzymes. Then, the food enters the digestive tract where it is broken down into micro and macronutrients. These nutrients are then absorbed into the intestinal lining, and passed into the bloodstream where they are either used immediately, or stored for later use. 

Absorption of vitamins and minerals from whole foods can range from as low as 20% to as high as 98%. Thankfully, RDA allowances take into account that not all of the nutrients are put to use, so there’s no need to worry, but everyone could benefit from some more micronutrients, right?

So what can you do to make sure your body is utilizing 98% of the nutrients from the foods you eat?

The Ultimate Debate: Raw vs. Cooked Vegetables

You may think that raw vegetables give your body more nutrients since they’re more fresh, but cooked are actually much easily absorbed. This is because the process of cooking breaks down the tough, fibrous outer layers of the vegetable, so by the time it reaches the intestines, the food is already partially broken down. Elimination of this step of digestion allows your body to be much more efficient, and doesn’t make you as bloated (Yay!). Carrots in particular yield significant higher beta-carotene levels in the bloodstream if they are cooked. Other veggies that are important to cook are broccoli, kale, and brussel sprouts, as they yield much higher mineral levels as well like calcium, magnesium and iron.

But here’s a heads up for the method you use to cook: the most beneficial method is usually steaming, NOT boiling! Boiling causes water soluble nutrients like vitamin C, B1, and folate to be lost into the water, which ends up going down the drain and not into your body. 

Soak grains and legumes before cooking them. 

These foods contain phytic acid which bind to minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc leaving them entirely inactive for absorption. Soaking for 12-24 hours before cooking allows this anti nutrient factor to be broken down in water, virtually eliminates its possible effects in your digestive system. 

Learn more about food synergy!

Different foods can interact together to amplify each other’s nutrient bioavailability. Definitely don’t stress yourself out about making sure every food in your meal work together, it’s all about learning what different foods can do for your body and experimenting with them! There’s so many cool properties some foods contain, it’s totally worth taking a little time to research what benefits you want along with which foods you enjoy eating most. Here’s the two major interactions to start you off: 

  • Vitamin C and Iron: Vitamin C enhances non-heme plant iron absorption by almost six fold! The most iron rich greens include kale, bok choy. spinach, and collard greens. Try squeezing lemon juice over your next salad! Or if you’re eating a bowl of cereal/oatmeal, add a piece of fruit like berries, a peach or an orange. Not only do these fruits have vitamin c but they also have a high water content to help process fiber. 
  • Healthy fats and greens: Fats like nuts, seeds, avocado and omega 3 oils act essentially as a sponge to the vitamins and minerals in vegetables. Try roasting vegetables with coconut oil or adding a crunch to any dish with  a sprinkle of nuts and seeds! 

So venture out of your usual routine and try some of these methods- I can guarantee your body will thank you for it!

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Natural Sweeteners and the Health Halo: Do Your Research

I’m sure many of you have heard about using agave nectar as a natural sweetener, especially you vegans out there (it’s a good honey replacement). But is this sweet stuff derived from the agave plant actually healthy? It sure sounds like it would be, because anything from nature must be healthy, right?

Wrong.

Health experts are now backpedaling on their initial praise of agave, warning all consumers of its dangerously high fructose levels and potential health consequences.

Agave was initially thought to be a good sugar substitute because since it has a low glycemic index, it doesn’t cause a blood sugar spike. But this doesn’t mean it’s healthy – just that it’s low in glucose.

Agave is made from the agave tequiliana plant grown in Mexico, which is why it was given the “natural” health food label. The problem is that to get from the plant to the grocery store shelf, agave nectar undergoes extensive processing that completely strips the nutritional value from the original agave juice of the plant. All that is left is a product comprised solely of fructose, the most damaging form sugar can take. Agave has double the amount of fructose that high fructose corn syrup has.

Excessive fructose consumption wreaks havoc on our bodies. Since it can only be broken down by the liver, as it digests free radicals are formed causing an inflammatory response and ultimately damages cells. The dangerous final products of fructose breakdown are triglycerides, which directly contribute to plaque build up in the arteries, greatly increasing future risk of cardiovascular problems. Other potential health issues include metabolic distress, hormone disruption, and adrenal fatigue. 

The good news is, there are so many other nutritious, natural sweeteners out there! Here’s a quick list of a great alternatives:

  • Organic raw honey: antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, provides many essential vitamins, minerals, and enzymes
  • Maple syrup: rich in antioxidants, provides manganese, calcium, potassium
  • Black strap molasses: highest antioxidant activity, provides calcium, iron, potassium, vitamin B6

And hey, some agave is totally fine, but enjoy in moderation. That media-given health halo doesn’t tell the whole story.

The big picture lesson? Don’t trust every new health food fad that comes out. Wait out the initial craze to make sure it’s something worthwhile. 

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Your Deodorant Might Be Making You Sweat More

We’ve all been there: you just had a killer workout, head into the locker room and are horrified to see dark, sweaty pit stains staring back at you in the mirror. 

I used to not have much of a problem with getting sweaty underarms, but suddenly I found that not only was I sweating excessively during workouts, but they were pretty wet during most of the day too. Gross, right?

I started wondering, why was this happening? Shouldn’t my deodorant prevent this from happening? I knew something wasn’t lining up, so I dug into a little research and what I found was pretty surprising, and definitely something I never thought about.

Ever wonder what’s actually in your deodorant? What do they put in there that makes you stop sweating? 

First of all, deodorant doesn’t actually stop the sweating process like we are led to believe. Aluminum compounds in the product plug up your eccrine sweat glands. The aluminum ions are drawn into the cells that line the sweat ducts, causing those cells to swell and squeeze the ducts shut. This means that all the sweat you produce is trapped under your skin, which causes a build up of bacteria

What I also found was that our bodies can adapt to the presence of aluminum and find ways to unplug the ducts, or produce even more sweat through other glands, which I think is what started happening to me. This can be avoided by switching up deodorant brands every six months to prevent resistance.

After making the switch to a natural deodorant I almost immediately noticed a difference. Not only were my underarms much drier, but they didn’t smell at all – not even after a long day or hard workout.

Don’t settle for a deodorant that’s not doing its job. You won’t regret making the switch.

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A DIY Cycling Class For When You Can’t Make It To The Studio

spin workout

All the perks of a studio cycling class. On your schedule. For free.

If you’ve ever tried an indoor cycling class, you know it’s a great workout. And if you’re a busy college student, you know it’s tough to find time to get to a studio and take one. As long as your gym has a bike, though, you can get the same awesome workout on your own schedule.

Bring a friend to do this workout next to you for some extra motivation! 

Before we get to the workout though, check out this video so you know how to set up your bike properly and then watch this video for proper form. Proper form = no injuries. 

spinning

Time:  30-40 minutes 

Type of Workout: Indoor Cycling

Sh*t You Need: Bike and a towel (you’ll sweat like crazy!)

Intensity: High

Body target: Lower body, cardio

Perks: A studio-style workout, anytime you want

The Workout:

Repeat 3-4x:
5 min seated flat (RPM 90-100)
*1 min seated climb (RPM 75-85)
*30 sec standing climb push 
1.5 min seated climb (RPM 65-80)
*30 sec standing climb push 
2 min seated climb (RPM 60-70)
*30 sec standing climb push 

Notes:
- The asterisk (*) next to an interval indicates you should add resistance.
- RPM zones are just suggestions, but feel free to go at whatever speed feels good to you!

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Improve Your Workouts With Dark Chocolate

I’ve got some great news for all you chocolate lovers out there: consuming one serving of dark chocolate daily can improve your athletic performance.  

Yes, you read that right, eating chocolate is actually good for you! A study from Kingston University in London published last year shed some light on the intriguing health benefits of dark chocolate. The results are especially exciting for us fitness enthusiasts. 

The study consisted of 9 amateur cyclists who were split into 2 groups. The first group was given one serving of dark chocolate and the other was given one serving of white chocolate to serve as the control. The researchers tested participants’ heart rate and oxygen consumption while they completed endurance and time trial exercise tests on stationary bikes. After 2 weeks of daily testing, the groups switched which type of chocolate they consumed before exercise. The results clearly showed that the athletes who consumed a serving of dark chocolate daily covered more distance in their 2-minute time trials and their bodies consumed less oxygen at a moderate, sustained pace than those who consumed white chocolate. 

Sports analysis lecturer James Brouner, who was involved with the study, suggested that these results offer benefits specifically to endurance athletes.

Why exactly does this happen? 

In dark chocolate, there is a flavanol (antioxidant that gives the cocoa flavor) called epicatechin. The percentage you find on dark chocolate labels is the percentage of epitechin present. The higher the percentage, the more benefits you reap. Research suggests you consume 70% or higher dark chocolate. Anything less does not have enough epicatechin present to be beneficial. 

When dark chocolate is digested in our stomachs, epicatechin is metabolized into smaller molecules by healthy gut bacteria. This breakdown allows much more efficient absorption of the nutrients into our bodies and facilitates the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide increases the widening of the veins and arteries which improves blood flow. This improved blood flow allows muscle cells to take in more blood sugar and energy due to the high oxygen passage. In simpler terms: it lets you exercise longer and harder.

Not only can eating dark chocolate as a pre-workout snack improve performance, but you can also eat it after a workout to  fight muscle fatigue. The same antioxidants that energize you during a workout can decrease muscle soreness by 30% because of their strong anti-inflammatory properties. 

Do you drink a post-workout shake after the gym? Try adding a spoonful of raw cacao powder to it! Or if you don’t like eating plain dark chocolate, add cacao powder to a smoothie or oatmeal to mask the taste. 

So, next time you’re planning on heading to the gym, pop a few squares of dark chocolate and crush that workout! 

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A Partner Ab Workout You Can Do with Your Valentine

partner ab workout

Why hit the gym alone? Get in a great sweat session and spend time with someone you love with this ab workout.

Planning to hit the gym with your special someone on Valentine’s Day?

Or maybe you’re feeling a little more like this:

Whether you’re in a relationship or not, I promise you can have some fun with this ab workout. Just grab a partner and get ready to feel the burn!

Time: 16 minutes 

Type of Workout: Abs 

Sh*t You Need: A partner, timer, medicine ball (preferably 8+ lbs)

Intensity: easy-high, depending on how much you push each other

Perks: Strengthen your core and have fun with your significant other (or just a friend!)

The Workout:

Complete each exercise for 45 seconds on, 15 seconds rest, 2x through: 

Partner bicycles. Slow and controlled movement is the most effective. Make sure your shoulder blades stay off the ground, so that your abs stay fully engaged. 

Medicine ball toss sit-ups. Chest passes are a little safer and easier to catch. If you choose the overhead pass, keep the throw light so you don't hit your partner with too much force.

Partner leg raises. 

Oblique medicine ball pass. Perform this standing for better range of motion. 

Partner plank taps. 

Throw Downs. Alternate between the two of you for each type of throw down (center, left side, right side).

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Why I Moved On After Being a Competitive Athlete For 12 Years

Why I Moved On After Being An Athlete For 12 Years

Some things just aren’t meant to be. It’s one of the biggest cliches in the books, but nothing sums up how I got to where I am now better. 

Why I Moved On After Being an Athlete for 12 Years

I was a competitive swimmer starting at age 6, when I started on a small summer swim team. The team was about creating a fun atmosphere rather than a competitive one, and it is the reason I fell in love with the sport. In the years following, I started taking the sport more seriously, joined a club team, and began swimming year round. I joined my high school’s varsity team in eighth grade and carried on for five seasons.

Especially in the last 2 years of high school, swimming was a huge part of my life. I almost never missed a practice. I loved being in the water and pushing myself to the limit day in and day out. Even when I wasn’t in practice, my goals were always lingering in the back of my mind. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was no extraordinary athlete. I was, though, one of the most dedicated and hard working people on my team. Swimming made me constantly aim higher and dream bigger, and this determination didn’t just apply in the water, but carried into many other aspects of my life as well. It brought out an inner drive in me I don’t think I would have ever discovered had I not been an athlete.

As senior year came, I couldn’t imagine going to college without swimming. I had high hopes for what college swimming could do for me. I always wondered if maybe something would click and I would get really fast. In December of 2014, I committed early decision to a Division 3 athletics school that I believed was the perfect fit for me, both athletically and academically. I do not regret making this decision because in that moment it was what I truly thought was right for me. 

Why I Moved On After Being an Athlete for 12 Years

Well, freshman year of college came, and so did endless hours in the pool. I knew college swimming would be a step up in intensity, but I didn’t realize how much of a toll it would take on me. We practiced two and half hours a day, 6 days a week, with extra morning practices Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for an hour and a half. On top of all of that, we did cross training (either weightlifting or running) daily. This was upwards of 5 hours of training in one day, and about 20-25 hours per week, plus more on the weekends we had meets. 

The first month or so, I thought I loved it. It was a new, refreshing environment, and I was excited to see what I would be able to do in races. I was killing practices every single day and felt unstoppable.

By halfway through the semester, fatigue and anxiety set in. It became especially visible at meets. Almost every race I swam went poorly. They usually ended with me trying – and often failing – to hold back tears of frustration. I was thinking about swimming all the time, but not in a healthy way like I had in high school. Instead of building myself up and creating goals, I was tearing myself apart.  I started criticizing myself for not competing well at meets, and was dreading every single practice. Even athletes don’t fully look forward to every workout, but this was more than that. I felt constantly anxious and on edge. I was always worried about if I would have a good or bad practice that day, if I would be too physically fatigued to perform well again for an upcoming meet, if I would let my coach down, if I would let myself down. I knew what I was feeling wasn’t normal but I still struggled to admit it to myself. I was afraid of needing to move on without something that had always played such a major role in my life. 

Why I Moved On After 12 Years of Being an Athlete

In the beginning, only the meets upset me. Soon, however, my anxiety started affecting practices. I could barely get through them. I kept feeling that no matter what I did my hard work wasn’t paying off. One of the worst practices of my entire swimming career was toward the end of the semester. I fell behind in the set we were doing, stopped halfway through and lost it at the wall. I couldn’t stop crying because I was just so physically and mentally exhausted. My assistant coach comforted me and helped me finish the set, but at that point I knew that swimming no longer had a positive role in my life. It no longer brought me happiness or created the fiery drive within me like it had in the past. It was breaking me. 

I ended up leaving that school after the first semester – before the season ended. I knew I didn’t have it in me to finish out the season and if I stayed it would have hurt me more. So, I took my second semester, went home and then went on to take summer classes to stay on track. This may seem dramatic, but I can’t put into words how much of an emotional toll that first semester of college took on me. Something I had looked forward to for so long turned out to be a failure. When I left, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt free after having been locked into the commitment of being an athlete for years. I applied and was accepted to Binghamton University, which was one of my top choices in my initial college search had I not decided to swim. I was so excited for a completely fresh start, and a new chapter of my life as a “retired” swimmer, or as I like to think of it now: just a normal college student. 

I spent the beginning of 2016 experimenting in the gym. I didn’t have to lift weights to build strength for swimming, or swim x amount of yards to stay in shape during the off season. I just did what made me feel good – and let me tell you, I absolutely loved it. Exercise, which was always a huge stressor in my life, finally became my stress relief.

Now, working out isn’t about following a strict plan to be a certain kind of strong or fast. I don’t plan workouts or set a certain time limit. I just go to the gym and enjoy myself. Working out is my favorite part of the day because it’s an hour that I don’t have to worry about anything. I can just get into my zone and sweat away any frustrations. I’ve found that switching things up from a strict routine makes living a fit lifestyle so much more enjoyable and maintainable. Working out was my form of therapy to move on from that disappointing first semester of college, and I believe it is why I have come out of it stronger. 

I am so happy with where I am now. I wouldn’t have had it play out any other way. I am in the best place I have ever been because of what I went through in the past year. I learned that being strong doesn’t just mean having physical strength. You can’t be a truly strong person without being mentally strong too. Although I am not in the kind of shape I was in when I was training for hours on end as a competitive athlete, I know I am stronger than I have ever been. 

Why I Moved On After Being a Competitive Athlete for 12 Years

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Here’s the Scoop on Going Dairy-Free

Here's the Scoop on Dairy

Recently, Khloe Kardashian came out with her secret to weight loss: completely cutting dairy out of her diet. She claimed doing so without changing anything else in her lifestyle made her lose 11 pounds within a month.

Khloe is not alone in this new dairy-free craze. A number of other media sources are citing this dietary switch as the cause for weight loss, clear skin, decreased risk of disease, and much more. Many people, myself included, have wondered if going dairy-free is really as magical as some make it seem.

I’ve found that these anti-dairy articles neglect to address the type of dairy the person was eating previously. Were they consuming conventionally- or organically-produced dairy? There is a big difference between the two, and the effects each has on the body are important to take into account before making any major dietary changes. For individuals who are intolerant to dairy, cutting it out entirely is definitely beneficial, but for those who have no symptoms, is it worth it? 

The difference between organic and conventional dairy

Here's the Scoop on Dairy

Organically-raised cows produce milk with a strikingly different nutritional profile than conventionally-raised cows. This is largely due to their diets. Organic cows are fed a grazing (grass) diet, compared to genetically modified corn and soy feed fed to conventionally-raised cows.

The unnatural feed given to conventional dairy cows alters their gut flora and in turn the entire nutritional profile of the milk they produce. The difference is the fatty acids produced. Conventional milk contains omega-6 fatty acids which is the type of fat that comprises vegetable oils and highly processed junk food. Organic dairy only contains omega-3 fatty acids which are very beneficial fats. Some other omega-3 rich foods you may have heard of are chia seeds, flaxseeds, fish oil, avocado, and salmon.

Another important factor is the usage of antibiotics and growth hormones on conventional farms. Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) is a growth hormone given to dairy cows to increase their milk production beyond natural levels. When digested in the human body, rBST stimulates another hormone with insulin-like properties called IGF-1 which has been explicitly linked to increased risk of cancer. Cows given this hormone often become ill with mammary infections, so they are pumped with antibiotics. These antibiotics carry into the milk those cows produce, and when consumed can develop into drug-resistant strains that are able infect humans. Certified USDA organic dairy is prohibited from the use of any growth hormones or antibiotics, which shows the overall healthier nature of the cows and their milk. It’s also important to note that in order to reap the full benefits that organic dairy has to offer, it’s better to buy higher fat options rather than fat-free. 

Some common arguments for going dairy-free:

1. Dairy causes diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Articles that have linked cancer to dairy consumption talk about the stimulation of IGF-1 that occurs when dairy is consumed which is linked to increased risks of cancer, but neglects to address that organic dairy does not contain rBST, and therefore does not stimulate the production of this cancer-causing agent. Organic dairy does contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is an omega-3 fatty acid with cancer-fighting properties. CLA also prevents cardiovascular disease, whereas omega-6 fatty acids in conventional milk has been linked to increased cardiovascular disease risk. 

2. Dairy is inflammatory and will make your skin break out.

The omega-6 fatty acids in conventional milk do cause inflammation because they inhibit proper functioning of cells in the body. Organic dairy actually has been shown to improve inflammation, not cause it. Calcium and vitamin D work together to enhance each other’s anti-inflammatory properties. Organic dairy also contains bioactive peptides that suppress any inflammatory responses the body may be creating. Although I will point out that there are studies that have shown that the simple sugar galactose (found in even organic milk) can produce low grade inflammation, but this can be avoided by consuming fermented products such as yogurt or cheese in which this sugar is absent. 

3. Dairy causes weight gain.

This claim fails to address the bigger picture. Dairy is just a small part of an individual’s diet. Dairy alone will not make a person gain weight, and it shouldn’t be a reason to cut high quality sources of dairy out of your diet. Cutting dairy products means cutting out a rich source of fat and protein with relatively few calories, making it hard to replace. The ratio of fat to protein in higher fat dairy products keeps you fuller longer because it digests slowly. Often, people will replace dairy with foods not as nutrient-dense, which is more likely to cause weight gain. If you are going dairy-free, it is important to replace your usual serving with something with similar nutrients such as nuts, avocado, eggs, or beans, not simple carbs. 

4. Adults cannot digest dairy because it is unnatural for human consumption.

Almost every article I have read urging people to go dairy-free has stated the same fact: 60% of the world does not digest dairy. Now, this is true in the sense that after the ages of 2-5 years old, most of us stop producing the lactase enzyme which is responsible for breaking down the sugar in dairy products. However, there is something called lactase persistence that occurs in adulthood because our bodies have adapted to the consumption of dairy. In fact, it has been confirmed by a study that there is a specific genetic mutation which accounts for this. This mutation allows adults to continue to digest dairy with a low amount or absence of the lactase enzyme. If you can’t quite wrap your head around that, another thing to note is organic dairy products are chock full of probiotic bacteria. Organic yogurt and cheese products can have over 60 types of digestive enzymes. They also contains immunoglobulin antibodies, vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and iron, which have enhanced absorption in the presence of the active bacteria. Studies have found that all of these components improve your gut health by helping regulate “gut transit time.” 

5. Dairy will make men develop female attributes.

Gynecomastia is related to excessive estrogen consumption. Consuming conventional dairy on a regular basis is linked to gynecomastia because of the dangerously high levels of rBST hormones. People who struggle with this medical condition are advised to avoid dairy and meat products treated specifically with growth hormones, not dairy entirely. Organic dairy does contain hormones, but they are naturally occurring and not at dangerously high levels. Also, when people eliminate dairy, many turn to soy alternatives which can also cause an upset in hormone balance (in men and women) if consumed in large amounts. Soy contains phytoestrogens, which are plant-based hormones that act just like estrogen when digested in the body. The most important takeaway from this point is to ensure you are consuming dairy not treated with growth hormones, and if you are not eating dairy products, be wary of what you are replacing it with. Anything in excess can create problems.  

The scoop: Every body processes dairy differently.

I am not going to tell you what you should do. It’s an individual choice, just like meat consumption. There’s not a right or wrong answer. There are people out there that will benefit from going dairy-free, but the key is that it will not affect everyone.

Listen to your body and make smart, quality choices when grocery shopping. If you’re eating conventional dairy and experiencing acne, maybe try switching to organic dairy products and see if there is improvement there first. If that doesn’t work, then try eliminating it for a few weeks. People who are experiencing digestive problems may try cutting dairy but find that dairy is not actually the problem. Those individuals shouldn’t continue to restrict it just because some are deeming it a healthier lifestyle. It is not a miracle diet; a lifestyle that is dairy-free is not objectively better than one that includes it, and vice versa.

Experiment and see what works for you. If that means trying a dairy-free diet to see how it affects you, then go for it! Who knows, you might have low-grade intolerance symptoms you never noticed and feel much better afterwards. That said, don’t cut out dairy for no reason or to follow trends. That may be hurting yourself more than helping. 

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