4 Ways to Improve Your Smoothie

Healthy Smoothie

Smoothies are an everyday part of life for most of us, but they can quickly become sugar bombs loaded with empty calories if you’re not careful. Below are our top 4 ways to make sure your smoothie stays a positive part of your diet!

Choose fruit that has a lower sugar content

Fruit is absolutely good for you, but too much of anything can have a negative impact. If you’re gonna load up on fruit, make sure you’re not also loading up on calories. Most berries, such as blackberries, raspberries, and even strawberries, are low in sugar. So are grapefruit, cantaloupe, and papaya, so stick with these smoothie fruit friends.

Avoid store-bought juice

Often the juice we buy in the store is loaded with added sweeteners. Instead, juice your own fruit, or use another liquid. You can try water or coconut water. The liquid from young coconuts is quite sweet. Unsweetened almond milk, flax milk, soy milk, and hemp milk are great nondairy substitutes. Regular milk can work, too. Just be mindful of the additional calories.

Go Green

Green smoothies are all the rage for a reason. A few handfuls of spinach, kale, or Swiss chard make your smoothie look virtuous without negatively impacting the taste. The blended flavor of these greens is very mild and usually masked well by the taste of the fruits you add. Plus, you’re getting the benefit of less sugar and lots of antioxidants, fiber, and other essential nutrients. If you decide to add more greens, tartness from fresh lemon or lime juice can help mask the bitterness without relying on sugar.

Sweeten Wisely

It doesn’t make any sense to choose low-sugar fruits and then dump in spoonfuls of honey or table sugar. Use a very light hand when adding sweeteners, or try using spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, or a dash of vanilla extract. You can also use a high-quality, flavored protein powder.

How to Recognize Signs of Teen Anxiety

Teen Anxiety

As we all have more and more distractions on a daily basis, it’s increasingly easier for parents and teachers to miss signs of anxiety among teens.

Here’s a list of symptoms you should notice and consider if they’re related to anxiety. They include:

  • headaches

  • stomachaches

  • physical distress (when they can’t put words to how they’re feeling)

  • not wanting to go to school

  • talking frequently about not feeling well

  • withdrawing from social opportunities

  • trouble sleeping

  • excessive fears

  • excessive worries

  • restlessness

  • hypervigilance

  • always being on the lookout for what might go wrong

  • performance anxiety

    If any one you know appears to be struggling with anxiety that interferes with school, friendships, family relationships, or other areas of daily functioning, it’s important to get an evaluation from a licensed mental health practitioner. Anxiety is treatable, and most teens can learn to cope with and manage their anxiety independently.

Hydrogenated Oils: What Are They and How to Avoid Them

Hydrogenated Oil

Food companies began use hydrogenated oil to help increase shelf life and save costs. Hydrogenation is a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat (e.g. olive or peanut oil) is turned into a solid fat by adding hydrogen. During this processing, a type of fat called trans fat is made.

While small amounts of trans fats are found naturally in some foods, most trans fats in the diet come from these processed hydrogenated fats.

Partially hydrogenated oils can affect heart health because they increase “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol. On the other hand, a fully hydrogenated oil contains very little trans fat, mostly saturated fat, and doesn’t carry the same health risks as trans fat.

Still, food manufacturers continue to use partially hydrogenated oils to save money, extend shelf life, add texture and increase stability.

5 Easy + Healthy After-School Snacks

5 Easy and Healthy After-School Snacks

The hours between the end of school and dinner can be tough for healthy eating. Pizza, Chipotle and subway are all easy after-school options that are loaded with calories and processed carbohydrates. Below are VarCity’s favorite quick and healthy after-school snacks.

1. Hard-Boiled Eggs

Eggs are one of the healthiest and most weight loss-friendly foods you can eat.

They contain protein, vitamin K2 and B12, to name a few.

Although their high cholesterol content gave them a bad reputation for years, new studies show that eggs don't have any effect on your risk of heart disease.

Two large, hard-boiled eggs contain about 140 calories and 13 grams of protein.

2. Turkey Roll-Ups

Turkey roll-ups are delicious and nutritious.

Turkey contains high-quality protein, which helps you feel satisfied, preserves muscle mass and burns more calories during digestion than fat or carbs.

3. Healthy Beef Jerky or Beef Sticks

Beef jerky or beef sticks make great high-protein, portable snacks. But make sure you choose the right type.

Some jerkies are loaded with sugar and preservatives. Beef sticks generally don't contain sugar, but many aren't made from high-quality meat and may contain other questionable ingredients.

Look for jerky and beef sticks made from grass-fed beef and salt, with as few ingredients as possible. Grass-fed beef contains more healthy omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef.

Most beef jerkies and sticks contain about 7 grams of protein per ounce (28 grams).

4. A Piece of Fruit

Healthy snacks don't need to be complicated. Just a single piece of fruit can be incredibly satisfying.

Examples of fruit that are portable and can be eaten with almost no preparation include bananas, apples, pears, grapes, grapefruit and oranges.

5. Mixed Nuts

Nuts are an ideal nutritious snack.

They've been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and may help prevent certain cancers, depression and other diseases.

Despite being relatively high in fat, they are very filling. Several studies suggest that eating nuts in moderation can help you lose weight.

Nuts contain the perfect balance of healthy fat, protein and fiber. They contain about 180 calories in a 1 oz (28 grams) serving, on average.

They also taste great and don't require refrigeration, so they're perfect for carrying with you when away from home.

Keep an Eye out for Added Sugars: Part II

Added Sugar

While there are times that it’s clear that we’re consuming added sugar, such as the teaspoon of sugar in your bowl of cereal, there are numerous other ways added makes its way into our diet.

For example, starting off your day with something like low-fat yogurt, fruit juice, cereal, or a granola bar may sound like a smart choice, but these healthy sounding foods can pack loads of hidden sugars. A 6-ounce container of Dannon All Natural Plain Lowfat Yogurt contains 12 grams of sugar while an 8-ounce glass of Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice contains 22 grams of sugar.

Below are a few names to look out for on your nutrition label when trying to avoid a diet loaded with added sugar.

Other Names for Added Sugar

How to Keep an Eye out for Added Sugars

Starbucks Sugar

From marinara sauce to peanut butter, added sugar can be found in even the most unexpected products.  Many people rely on quick, processed foods for meals and snacks.  Since these products often contain added sugar, it makes up a large proportion of their daily calorie intake.

In the US, added sugars account for up to 14% of the total calories for teens. Dietary guidelines suggest limiting calories from added sugar to less than 10% per day. Experts believe that sugar consumption is a major cause of obesity and many chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

The FDA just announced changes to its labeling guidelines and one of the biggest changes to the Nutrition Facts label is the inclusion of added sugars. These are the syrups and sugars added to beverages and foods during preparation.

Before this label change, different types of sugars were lumped into a total sugars category on the Nutrition Facts label. For example, many fruit yogurts contain sugars from three sources: lactose from milk, natural sugars from fruit, and added sugars. All of these were tallied as one figure under total sugars.

The new labels will distinguish added sugars to help people understand exactly how much they’re eating, which shouldn’t be more than 10 percent of their daily calories, according to the FDA’s dietary guidelines.

Added Sugar

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Who Knew Dieting Like a Caveman Would Be the Next Health Trend?: Tiffany Jiang

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If you have stumbled across a health junkie’s Instagram post, you probably have seen them following a new (and, quite possibly, extreme) diet trend that is blowing up on the Internet. The two seemingly popular diets that are invading mostly everyone’s Instagrams are the Paleolithic diet, which is also known as the paleo diet. 

I happened to come across the paleo diet during one of my lunches at the Whole Foods’ hot bar, which specifically had a paleo-friendly section that was labelled with a few trays of hot foods. Based on what was displayed, nothing about the paleo-friendly foods seemed to be quite different from the other hot bar selections. The lack of contrast has definitely intrigued me to look more into what the paleo diet really was. 

So, what is the paleo diet? The paleo diet is based off of the Paleolithic or “caveman” diet that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate from. Compared to our modern diets, the paleo diet consists of foods that were readily available for humans to eat that dated back to millions of years ago such as lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts and seeds. Rather than our regular consumption of processed foods, followers of this diet are limited to whole and healthy foods that range from salmon and tuna to fruits and vegetables to grass-fed animals and wild game. The paleo diet is all about cutting out all sugar and fat that are commonly found in processed foods because of the little nutritional value and the high caloric count provided by these processed foods. With all diets, it is surprising how we take for granted the little things that we eat regularly. In this case, the paleo diet strays away from grains, dairy products, refined sugar, salt, and even potatoes. 

Why should anyone follow this diet if it cuts out salty potato chips? Following a paleo diet is claimed to be linked to a lower risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In fact, studies show that a paleo diet hold many short-term benefits such as increased weight loss, better blood pressure control, and better appetite management. 

Although this diet may limit many foods like ice cream and potato chips, the paleo diet is, overall, a great diet to follow for those that are willing to take on a challenge in curbing weight gain or to try a new lifestyle that may provide many health benefits!