Wellness

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.

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

Summer Tips: Tips for Running at the Beach

Beach Running Tips

Running on sand—while it definitely has lots of benefits—can be tricky.  On the plus side, the unstable surface provides extra strength training for your lower leg muscles, which have to work harder to stabilize your feet.  And when you sink into the sand, it makes it even tougher for your body to lift up for each step, amping up the intensity of your run. 

Thicker sand exaggerates each step making you feel like you’re climbing, so your calves are working that much harder to propel you forward.

But like any new activity, using your muscles in that different way can leave you super sore. Follow the below tips to enjoy your surfside run—and still feel good the next day.

Pick the Right Pack
Tighter, more packed sand (or even better, wet sand) is preferable to a dry, looser surface.  It’ll still be soft, but you’ll sink in less and be less likely to overuse your muscles while trying to stable.

Keep it Short (and Less Frequent)
Even though your muscles are working extra hard, you might not feel the impact of an hour-long beach run until the next day…when you wake up achy and barely able to enjoy your vacation, let alone fit in another run.  Start with just 20 to 25 minutes at a time (or even less) to make sure you don’t overdo it.  And if you live near the ocean, don’t start doing all your runs at the beach.  Once a week would be ideal.

Go Barefoot (if You Want)
If you’re prone to injury or require a very supportive shoe, you might want to keep them on.  Not sure?  Try walking a mile on the beach.  If your calves hurt the next day, you probably shouldn’t run barefoot.

Go Flat—and Out and Back
Shorelines are sloped, which can mess with your form.  Run on the flattest part of the sand that you can, and make sure you run back on the beach the way you came to even out any imbalances.

Stay Safe!
Wear extra sunscreen, since water and sand reflect rays.  And check the tides so you don’t get stuck in a situation where you’re far from home and can’t run back.

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.

VarCity Lifehacks: Breathe Away Your Anxiety

Tips for Dealing with Anxiety

Anxiety.  We all feel it and when we do it can paralyze us in the most important of times.  Aside from working out, there are a few techniques that can significantly improve anxiousness.  One technique that is used by a lot of professionals in high pressure situations is “box breathing”.

Benefits of box breathing

According to the Mayo Clinic, there is sufficient evidence that intentional deep breathing can actually calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system. This system regulates involuntary body functions like temperature. It can lower blood pressure and provide an almost-immediate sense of calm.

Box breathing can reduce stress and improve your mood.  It can also help treat insomnia by allowing you to calm your nervous system at night before bed.

What is box breathing?

Box breathing is a technique used in taking slow, deep breaths. This can heighten performance and concentration while also being a powerful stress reliever.

Also called four-square breathing, this technique can be beneficial to anyone, especially those who want to meditate or reduce stress. It’s used by everyone from athletes to police officers, nurses, and yoga practitioners.

The steps of box breathing

Before you get started, make sure that you’re seated upright in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor. Try to be an a stress-free, quiet environment where you can focus on your breathing. Keeping your hands relaxed in your lap with your palms facing up, focus on your posture. You should be sitting up straight. This will help you take deep breaths.

Step 1
Sitting upright, slowly exhale, getting all the oxygen out of your lungs. Focus on this intention and be conscious of what you’re doing.

Step 2
Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four. In this step, count to four very slowly in your head. Feel the air fill your lungs, one section at a time, until your lungs are completely full and the air moves into your abdomen.

Step 3
Hold your breath for another slow count of four.

Step 4
Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen. Be conscious of the feeling of the air leaving your lungs.

Step 5
Hold your breath for the same slow count of four before repeating this process.

Tips for beginners
If you’re new to box breathing, it may be difficult to get the hang of it. You may get dizzy after a few rounds. This is normal, and as you practice it more often, you’ll be able to go longer without the dizziness. If you get dizzy, stay sitting for a minute and resume normal breathing.

To help you focus on your breathing, find a quiet, dimly lit environment to practice box breathing. This isn’t at all necessary to perform the technique, but it can help you focus on the practice if you’re new to it.

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