Nutrition

Our Favorite Smoothie Recipe

Blue and Green Smoothie

Here’s one of our favorite smoothie recipes to try for a nutritious boost. 

Blue and green smoothie

This blueberry and spinach smoothie whips up quickly and comes in at under 300 calories. It also has a good mix of macronutrients. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (plain, full fat)

  • 1/4 cup frozen blueberries

  • 1/3 cup almond milk (unsweetened)

  • 1 cup loosely packed spinach

  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder

  • 1/3 cup ice

Blend after adding every two ingredients. Add ice last. Serve cold. Enjoy with friends.

6 Reasons to Drink More Water

Drink More Water

1. Perform Better

Hydration is directly linked to athletic performance. So, if you’re looking to improve your time on the track or take your soccer game to the next level, make sure you’re drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water each day. Don’t forget 75% of our muscles are made of water. 

2. Eat Healthier

Often times when we’re in that after-school lull and we’re craving a slice of pizza or a quick burger, we can actually quench that craving with a few glasses of water. Making a conscious effort to drink a glass of water before you raid the pizza stand can help you avoid bad food choices before dinner.

3. Be Less Cranky

Dehydration can affect your entire day, especially because dehydration can cause you to feel sick. Drinking more water will help you think more clearly and even improve your mood!

4. Prevent Headaches

One of the most common symptoms of dehydration is a headache. Next time you have a headache, instead of reaching for the Advil, drink a couple of glasses of water and see how you feel. If you feel better without medicine, this is a good way to know that you can prevent at least some headaches by drinking water before turning to the medicine cabinet.

5. Naturally Cleanse

What if I told you that you don’t need to spend a fortune on a store-bought cleanse? That’s because water has naturally detoxifying benefits. Add a little lemon and you’re good to go! Bacteria and waste can live in our stomach and intestines and this is exactly why the digestive system needs water to function and clear you out.

6. Help Your Skin Glow

Water helps the skin rebuild cells more successfully. Not only does proper hydration make your skin more healthy; hydration can also make your skin glow. Skin is our largest organ, so isn’t it about time we take better care of it?

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.

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

Think Twice Before that Morning Juice

Sugar Juice

Starting your morning with fruit juice is often perceived as a healthy way to start  your day.  That's understandable, given that it is natural and has the word "fruit" in it.

However, what many people fail to realize is that fruit juice is also loaded with sugar.  In fact, fruit juice contains just as much sugar and calories as a sugary soft drink... and sometimes even more.

Even if juice is labelled as "100% pure" and "not from concentrate”,  after being squeezed from the fruit -- the juice is usually stored in massive oxygen-depleted holding tanks for up to a year before it is packaged.

The main problem with this method is that it tends to remove most of the flavor, so the manufacturers need to add so-called "flavor packs" to the juice, to bring back the flavor that was lost during processing.

So even if you're buying the highest quality juices at the supermarket, they're still far from their original state.  Some of the lowest quality ones don't even resemble fresh-squeezed fruit juice at all...they are basically just fruit-flavored sugar water.

BOTTOM LINE:
Fruit juice isn't always what it seems, even the higher quality types have gone through processing methods that remove the flavor, making it necessary to add "flavor packs” (whatever those are!) to bring them back to their original state.

What is a Microbiome and Why Is It Important?

The human body carries trillions of bacteria, viruses, and other tiny microbes.  Think of your body as a living/breathing rain forest.  Scientists call these resident bugs and all of their genes the “human microbiome.”

Some of these microbes can be harmful, but most have lived and evolved with humans for thousands of years.  They help train our immune systems to attack only foreign invaders, not our own joints and organs, and they pull essential nutrients out of the food we eat.

Today, people in the Western world have far fewer kinds of these helpful bacteria than their cousins in developing countries and that might be connected to rising rates of autoimmune diseases, such as asthma, and metabolic ones, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.  

Throughout our lives, we help shape our own microbiomes — plus they adapt to changes in our environment. For example, the foods you eat, how you sleep, the amount of bacteria you’re exposed to on a daily basis and the level of stress you live with all help establish the state of your microbiota.

Microbiome
Microbiome

Ten Nutrition Tips That We (Almost) All Agree With: Part 5

When Is the Royal Wedding

Between the Pinterest boards full of protein diets, the endless weight loss tips we see online and the countless low-carb diet foods we see in the grocery store, it’s getting more difficult to determine what we should and shouldn’t be eating.  VarCity HQ did a little leg work for you and scoured the internet for the common themes we saw from nutritionists throughout the internet. 

Below is VarCity’s top 10 list of nutrition rules that almost all experts agree with: 

9. "Diets" Don't Work — a Lifestyle Change Is Necessary

"Diets" are ineffective. That is a fact.

They may provide short-term results, but as soon as the diet ends and you start eating junk food again, you will gain the weight back. And then some.  This is called yo-yo dieting and is extremely common.

Most people who lose a lot of weight on a diet end up gaining it back whenever they "stop" the diet.  For this reason, the only thing that can give you actual long-term results is to adopt a lifestyle change.

SUMMARY
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the only way to ensure long-term weight loss and a lifetime of improved health.

10. Unprocessed Food Is Healthiest

Processed food is generally not as healthy as whole food.

As the food system has become more industrialized, the health of the population has deteriorated.  During food processing, many of the beneficial nutrients in the food are removed.

Not only do food producers remove healthy nutrients like fiber, but they also add other potentially harmful ingredients like added sugar and trans fats.  Additionally, processed foods are loaded with all sorts of artificial chemicals, some of which have a questionable safety profile.

SUMMARY
Basically, processed foods have less of the good stuff and a lot more of the bad stuff.  The most important thing you can do to ensure optimal health is to eat real food. If it looks like it was made in a factory, don't eat it!

Ten Nutrition Tips That We (Almost) All Agree With: Part 4

When is the royal wedding

Between the Pinterest boards full of protein diets, the endless weight loss tips we see online and the countless low-carb diet foods we see in the grocery store, it’s getting more difficult to determine what we should and shouldn’t be eating.  VarCity HQ did a little leg work for you and scoured the internet for the common themes we saw from nutritionists throughout the internet. 

Below is VarCity’s Part 4 of our top 10 list of nutrition rules that almost all experts agree with: 

7. Refined Carbohydrates Are Bad for You

There are a lot of differing opinions about carbs and fat.  Some think fat is the root of all evil, while others believe carbs are the key players in obesity and other chronic diseases.

But what pretty much everyone agrees on is that refined carbohydrates are not as healthy as unrefined carbohydrates.

Unrefined carbs are basically whole foods that are rich in carbs. These include whole-grain cereals, beans, vegetables and fruits. Refined carbs, on the other hand, are sugar and refined flour.

Whole foods contain numerous beneficial nutrients and antioxidants.  However, when high-carb foods such as grains are processed, the most nutritious parts are stripped off. What is left are massive amounts of easily digestible starch.

Those who base their diets on refined carbs may be lacking in fiber and many other healthy nutrients. As a result, they are at an increased risk of chronic disease.  Eating refined carbs will also cause rapid spikes in blood sugar. While high blood sugar levels are unhealthy for all people, they are a much greater concern in people with diabetes.

It is clear that whole grains and unrefined carbohydrates are a lot healthier than their refined, processed counterparts.

SUMMARY
Refined carbohydrates like processed grains are unhealthy. They are lacking in nutrients and eating them may lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin, which can cause all sorts of problems down the line.

8. Supplements Can Never Fully Replace Real Foods

"Nutritionism" is the idea that foods are nothing more than the sum of their individual nutrients.  But it’s also a trap that many nutrition enthusiasts tend to fall into.

Nuts, for example, aren't just shells loaded with polyunsaturated fat. In the same way, fruits aren't just watery bags of sugar.  These are real foods with a massive variety of trace nutrients.

The vitamins and minerals, the ones you can also get from a cheap multivitamin, are just a small part of the total amount of nutrients in foods.  Therefore, supplements cannot match the variety of nutrients you get from real foods.

However, many supplements can be beneficial, especially those that contain nutrients that are generally lacking in the diet, like vitamin D.  But no amount of supplements will ever make up for a bad diet. Not a chance.

SUMMARY
It is much more important to eat real, nutritious foods than to count on supplements to provide the nutrients you need.