The Perfect Diet

We seem to hear about new diets almost on a weekly basis. Many of these diets will come and go, but here are some that have been around for a very long time. There are also heated debates around what diet is the best: Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo, Low Carb, High Carb, Low Fat, etc. Most of the research around diets is confusing and conflicting. One study might show that it’s beneficial and the next study will show that it’s not. There are many issues around researching diets in humans. They are very difficult to do logistically, and can take years if not decades to get good data from. But that’s a whole other story.

So, how can we figure out what the "perfect diet" is? Obviously there are ethical and religious reasons someone might choose a specific diet; this is not what I’m talking about here. I’m referring to diets, or eating patterns, people choose because they think it is healthy.

Earlier this year, I was at the annual conference for the Institute for Functional Medicine in San Francisco and one of my favorite parts of this whole conference was the food panel on the first day. They had 3 of the leading nutrition experts present on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, Paleo diet and a primarily vegetarian diet.

They talked about all the research that backs up their claims around how beneficial their "diets" are. Pick any topic and I can almost guarantee that you can find studies that both "prove" it’s beneficial and that it’s not. Confusing isn’t it?

First of all, one thing to keep in mind is there is no ONE Mediterranean diet or paleo diet or vegetarian diet. There are many variations of these diets, and when someone says they are vegetarian or paleo you can’t assume you know what they are eating. I’ve known plenty of vegetarians that lived on cheese quesadillas and French fries, or those that think they are eating Paleo by going to Wendy’s or McDonalds and just not eating the bun.

One thing this expert panel all agreed on is that we should eliminate processed foods from our diet. More specifically we should take out trans fats, refined sugar, and refined flour. They also agreed that we all need to be eating much more vegetables than most of us do.


Why is it that the research is so conflicting? Because THERE IS NO ONE PERFECT DIET. We are all different. Our bodies respond to nutrients differently. This fairly recent revelation is what the field of Nutrigenomics is all about. Nutrigenomics is the study of how food affects our genes and how our individual genetic differences can affect the way we respond to nutrients. You will hear more about this in the future.

So what should you eat? Start out with real food. Ditch the processed junk and stick to real whole foods. Increase your intake of non-starchy vegetables. These are loaded with all sorts of amazing nutrients! Try new ones; try them cooked in different ways. Get a good variety on a regular basis. Then from there it might take some trial and error to find out how much meat works for you, if dairy makes you feel good or crummy, how do whole grains make you feel, etc. We all have our own "Perfect Diets" and that might even change overtime as well. Paying attention to how food makes our body feel can lead you in the right direction when choosing what to eat. Of course, we are here to help as well.

One of my favorite quotes that sums it all up:
"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto


Sheet Pan Roast Chicken Dinner
Recipe adapted from Cook’s Country
Serves 6

This is one of my favorite dinners!  It's simple, easy and really tasty!  You can use different vegetables and herbs, too.



2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
½ cup onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled
4 tsp minced fresh thyme
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
2 Tbsp butter, melted
3 ½ lbs bone-in chicken pieces
(thighs or leg quarters work well)


1. Arrange oven rack to upper middle position. Preheat oven to 475°F.

2. Toss vegetables with thyme, oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Spread vegetables in an even layer in a large sheet pan.


3. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season lightly with salt and pepper. Place chicken on top of vegetables in sheet pan, arranged skin side up. Stir rosemary and melted butter together and brush evenly over chicken pieces. Roast approximately 35 minutes or until chicken is approximately 165°F. Rotate pan once halfway through cooking.

4. Remove from oven, loosely cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.


Nutrition Information per Serving: 300 calories, 13g fat, 4.5g saturated fat, 160mg cholesterol,480 mg sodium, 18g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 34g protein

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Relax with Yoga this holiday season

Like many strong relationships, Yoga and I did not hit it off right away. I was in college enjoying strenuous exercise.  I’d run, take step, and get in some abs all in one day.  I was cardio crazy.  There was nothing better than heading out on the trails for a challenging run after sitting in class for several hours.  I loved to work out.  I loved to run.  I still do.  But, for some reason or another, my mind was calling for something else.  I was studying -  A LOT.  Something I never had to do before.  It was stressful.  I was really busy and always on the go.  My brain was begging for a break.  My migraines were progressively getting more frequent and more debilitating.  So, I walked into a yoga studio one afternoon.  “I’ll try yoga.”  I thought.  Can’t be that hard.  I can workout for hours.  I love fitness.  I hated yoga.  It. was. so. slooooowwww.  And it was hard to go that slow.  I wanted to like it.  I really did.  I tried again.  And again.  And again.  Somewhere along the 4th or 5th time I walked into that yoga studio, I finally found a class that moved.  I got sweaty as we flowed and then magic happened when we ended this hard workout with a long Savasana complete with lavender oil.  It was beautiful.  Perfect.  So relaxing.  I walked out of the studio that knowing that I found IT.  On my yoga mat, I have to stop. To listen.  To respect and love my body.  To relax.  Fast forward, many practices and hours of teacher training and I still find my mat one of the most relaxing places on earth – even when it’s hard.

It’s only October, but if you’re anything like me, you’re already making plans for the holidays. In a couple weeks, we’ll be packing up our two little guys and dog for a couple of long car rides.  There will be lots of food, little time to exercise, and a lot to orchestrate. To put it simply, it will be busy.  If you’re finding yourself needing to de-stress, there’s nothing that will boost a tired mind and body like a restorative yoga practice.  So grab a couple blankets, tune into Pandora’s Yoga Radio, and RESTORE you mind and body with Yoga!

Restorative yoga uses the support of props and gravity to passively stretch the body, calm the mind, relieve tension and stress, relieve muscle aches, and improve sleep. Even practicing one pose can help calm your mind and body.  I also enjoy adding some gentle movement between each posture.

To begin your practice, gather your props and find a quiet space.  Gentle music is not required buy can help set the mood.  If you are concerned you will fall asleep, set an alarm for the time you must awaken so you don’t have to worry about missing your next appointment.  Set up your props and move into the pose.  Begin with 5-10 deep breaths, noticing your breath as you inhale and exhale.  As you feel ready, surrender to your natural breath and the support of your props.  If you find your mind continues to wander, come back to your breath stating to yourself “inhale” as you inhale and “exhale” as you exhale.  When you are ready to move out of the pose, do so slowly and allow your body time to awaken.

Here are some of my favorite restorative poses to get you started:

Supported Forward Fold  Salamba Paschimottanasana

Forward folds help bring your attention inward and cultivate a sense of calm.  This version is a gentle hamstring, calf, and low back stretch.

Supported Forward Fold


Supported Child’s Pose Salamba Balasana

In a supported version of this relaxing pose, allow yourself to melt into your props. Salamba Balasana stretches the back of your body and neck. Be sure to repeat this pose with your head facing both directions. If this is uncomfortable to your neck, cross your arms and rest your forehead on your forearms or hands. To relieve achy knees, place a blanket in behind your knees in between your upper and lower legs.

Supported Child's Pose


Crocodile Makarasana

This one makes me smile.  Yes, it's just laying on your belly with your arms folded and forehead resting on your arms, but this gentle back bend helps release your low back and stretches your chest, neck, and possibly your hip flexors, making it a great pose to reverse the effects of sitting at your desk or in the car or plane for hours.  Be sure to open your legs wide enough that you don't feel like you have to hold your legs up with your toes.  Breathe deeply in the beginning of this pose to find some length in your body and help you release your muscles.



Legs Up the Wall Varparita Karani

After shopping, cooking, and wrapping presents or really, after any busy day, Varparita Karani is a great way to unwind.  This inversion can help bring calm and perspective into your day as it stretches your hamstrings and low back and provides relief to tired, sore legs and feet.  The blanket (or sandbag, pillow, or block) on top of your feet is not necessary, but a little weight on your feet can add some nice grounding and gentle support to an achy back.  This pose is recommended by many yogis as the go-to for ailments:  headache, back ache, leg/foot aches, digestive issues, insomnia, menstrual pain, menopause, high and low blood pressure...and the list goes on.

Legs Up the Wall U


Supported Fish Salamba Matsyasana  

This powerful heart opener, like Crocodile, is a great way to reverse the effects of sitting by stretching the front of the body, chest, and shoulders while releasing your low back.  It's said that heart openers help regulate emotions, so what better way to sort things out than to relax!  It's important, as with all restorative poses, to be properly and comfortably set up and supported in this pose, so add as many blankets as you need under your hips or head and neck to create a relaxing lumbar and/or neck support(s).  You may also enjoy a rolled blanket or pillow under your knees to make this even more lovely.  (See Supported Corpse Pose below for blanket/pillow placement.)

Supported Savasana


Supported Corpse Pose Salamba Savasana

A variation of the traditional final relaxation pose of any yoga practice, this pose is all about relaxing and letting go. Your arms and hands should be where ever is most comfortable for you. If you need more grounding, lay a blanket, pillow, bolster, or sand bag on your belly. Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Let go of all thoughts and allow yourself to just "be." This or a combo of Supported Fish and Savasana are my go to when I need to press "reset" on my body or my mind (or both!) 5-10-30 minutes and I'm ready to tackle chasing my sons after a full day of work, long workout on the weekend, or cooking Thanksgiving Dinner.

Supported Savasana Version 2

"Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment." — Thich Nhat Hanh

May you have a wonderful holiday season this year full of love and the smiles from the people that make your heart shine!


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Artificial Sweeteners...Friend or Foe?

sweeteners_introArtificial sweeteners have been a controversial topic since they came into the market decades ago. There has been an ongoing debate over the potential health benefits and risks of artificial sweeteners, which are among the most common food additives and are consumed by hundreds of millions of people around the globe.

While some past studies have found that they pose no health risks and might help people cut calories, other research has suggested that certain artificial sweeteners might actually increase hunger and sugar cravings, contribute to obesity, diabetes and other problems, including birth defects and cancer.

Most recently we are seeing more research around artificial sweeteners and diabetes. Some studies are showing that certain ones could actually increase your risk of developing glucose intolerance and metabolic disease. Some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can provoke an insulin response (just like when we eat carbohydrates/sugar). While other studies have found that artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the composition of our gut microbiota (or microbiome).

One particular study on Splenda found that not only may it disrupt your gut microbiome and increase your risk of intestinal permeability (leaky gut); it could also alter your body’s natural detox capabilities. Not good.

The researchers in this particular study, published just a few weeks ago, stated that the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in drinks and food may be contributing to the obesity and diabetes epidemic. There were several parts to this study, looking at both mice and humans, but basically they found that the artificial sweeteners were in fact altering the gut microbiota in such a way that it increased the subject’s glucose intolerance in as little as four days of consuming the artificial sweeteners.

"These results indicate that non-caloric artificial sweeteners may exacerbate, rather than prevent, metabolic disorders such as glucose intolerance and diabetes," the researchers wrote. Now that’s something to pay attention to. Dr. Elinav, one of the researchers, believes that certain bacteria in the guts of those who developed glucose intolerance reacted to the chemical sweeteners by secreting substances that then provoked an inflammatory response similar to sugar overdose, promoting changes in the body’s ability to utilize sugar.

The participants in one part of the study (who weren’t already consuming artificial sweeteners) were given artificial sweeteners on a daily basis. Over half of them developed glucose intolerance, but the others didn’t. Why?

According to Dr. Elinav,"The results of our experiments highlight the importance of personalized medicine and nutrition to our overall health. Our relationship with our own individual mix of gut bacteria is a huge factor in determining how the food we eat affects us. Especially intriguing is the link between use of artificial sweeteners-through the bacteria in our guts-to a tendency to develop the very disorders they were designed to prevent; this calls for reassessment of today’s massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances."

We are all different. What works for one person doesn’t mean it’s going to work for another. The researchers are figuring out that our highly individualized gut biomes determine our responses to many things, including artificial sweeteners.

According to this study, some of us, and our bacteria, will respond poorly to artificial sweeteners. Some of us won’t notice a thing.

My recommendation is if you have digestive issues, glucose intolerance, or problems losing weight, then you may want to stay away from the artificial sweeteners just like you’re trying to limit your sugar intake.

If you want something sweet, stick with whole fruit, because the fiber and water in fruit make it more difficult to over-eat, while promoting healthy gut bacteria.

Whole Leaf Stevia has actually been used traditionally as a treatment for diabetes, and some studies indicate that it can have therapeutic effects in diabetic patients.

I would suggest trying to obtain stevia closest to its natural form, but that’s true for just about any food. Look for whole leaf stevia in liquid or powder (it should be green).

There is a lot of research out there around artificial sweeteners and how they affect our body. Many of them are done in mice or rats because it’s easier, and cheaper. Those results may or may not translate to us humans. Hopefully, in the future we will have more studies that look at artificial sweeteners in humans. Anybody interested in signing up for a study that will take years, and may lead to digestive problems, weight gain, and other side effects? Yep, I didn’t think so.

*Regardless of the source, it’s always best to minimize your intake of sweeteners.*


Oatmeal Honey Sugar Baked Apples
Recipe adapted from
Serves 4

Here is a naturally sweet, super easy dessert.




4 apples, like Jonagold, Fuji, or Honeycrisp
2 Tbsp honey
¼ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
Pinch cloves
1 Tbsp butter, divided in four
1 cup hot water

Optional extras: orange zest, lemon zest, grated ginger, chopped nuts


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F with a rack in the lower-middle position.
  2. Remove the core of the apples, cutting to within a half inch of the bottom of the apple and creating a well roughly ¾-inch wide. This is easy to do with an apple corer, but can also be done with a melon baller, grapefruit spoon, or a paring knife. oatmealapple_step1
  3. Mix honey, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and any optional extras in a bowl. Divide this mixture between the apples, packing the wells firmly.
  4. Arrange apples in a baking dish (like an 8x8 Pyrex dish), and top each one with a pat of butter. Pour the water into the bottom of the dish and cover loosely with aluminum foil.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes and remove foil. Continue baking uncovered until the apples are soft, an additional 20 to 30 minutes. You can test the apples by poking a paring knife through the oatmeal mixture and into the interior of the apple; it should slide into the apple easily with no resistance. The skin on the apples will also become wrinkled and soft by the end of cooking.
  6. Leftovers will keep for up to a week and can be reheated in the microwave or eaten cold.

Nutrition Information per Serving: 170 calories, 3.5g fat, 2g saturated fat, 10mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 37g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 1g protein

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Shades of Pink – Honoring Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Celeste Shades of Pink - Honoring Breast Cancer Awareness Month was written by Celeste Cooper-Peel.

Some things you never forget.  I remember my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis like it was yesterday.  She was only 42.  Who would have thought?  My mom found the lump herself and although it was cancer, she was lucky!  It was removed via lumpectomy instead of mastectomy.  At the time, this was a relatively new procedure and because her cancer was small and slow-growing, this was the best approach for her.  Throw in a little chemo (that definitely comes with side effects) and radiation, she has been cancer-free for 25 years.

A decade after my mom’s diagnosis, both her sisters were diagnosed with breast cancer.  In fact, after creating a visual family tree in 2007, I realized that cancer was splashed on my family canvas in colors of pink and teal (breast and ovarian).


As a wellness professional, my job is to promote education and prevention, but there is also a personal connection that creates a passion for bringing more awareness to breast cancer and even ovarian that unfortunately receives very little observance.

Breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer in women.  About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will receive a breast cancer diagnosis. The good news is that many women survive breast cancer especially if it’s found and treated early, like my mom.

Monthly self-exams are the first step.  About 15 years ago, I started a program that received a following.  I am continuing to encourage the same concept this year.  This October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’m encouraging women to choose a date and find a “bosom buddy.”  On this date, your buddy reminds you to perform your self-exam and you can remind her as well. This helps bring awareness to any possible changes in your body.  Here’s a link to properly conducting your monthly self-exam.

We can’t promote awareness without mentioning mammograms.  Mammograms are recommended beginning at the age of 40 or earlier depending on your personal or family history.  A mammogram can help find breast cancer early when it’s easier to treat.  Although this screening device is great in women, I learned several years ago that it’s more difficult to detect cancer in women who have dense breasts.  The question to ask is… “Are you dense?”  Funny question, but it’s important to know your density.  Talk with your provider to know what this means and other screenings that can complement a mammogram.  Learn more at

Regarding ovarian cancer, only 1.3% of women are diagnosed.  That doesn’t sound like much which is why awareness for this disease often goes unnoticed.  There still is not a reliable routine test for detecting this cancer in the early stages.  My family has certainly learned this over the years.  Only 15 percent of women with this disease are diagnosed early.  For those with a family history or known BRCA 1 or 2 genetic mutation (that could be another blog itself), it’s important to speak with a provider about certain screenings that can be performed annually since those with mutations make someone more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancers.  I lost both my maternal grandmother and maternal great aunt to this disease.  To learn more, visit

So as the pink ribbons flow in the autumn breeze this October, I encourage you to honor yourself by nurturing prevention and cultivating awareness.  I have found some great apps that can make anyone’s life easier.  Visit these links. – prevention at your fingertips with monthly breast self-exam reminder, self-exam guide and wellness contentPink Lotus Tatoo 063-1024x768 – 15 free and cheaply priced apps aimed at prevention – free apps for detection, chemo reminders and more

Share this information and these links with your family and friends and have a “pink” October, but remember that awareness does not end after Halloween!  SAS Employees may visit the Wellness Section of the RFC Newsleter for more information and resources.

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How Much Sugar is Too Much?

Jelly Beans









Do you crave sugar?

For me, the answer is "Yes"! I was born with a sweet tooth. I call it "The Beast".

What I have learned about The Beast over the years is the more sugar I feed it, the more it wants. I used to think, "Hmm, that’s interesting. You would think The Beast would eventually find some level of satiety!" Umm, nope!

As a nutritionist, I manage my calories well for weight maintenance and I love eating loads of nutritious foods but I commonly used sweeter foods as my "discretionary calories", the extra 10 – 20% of the calories in the 80/20 Rule of Eating*.

Recent research, however, has changed my attitude towards sugar. A new documentary called FED UP produced by Katie Couric and Laurie David, featuring prominent family physician Mark Hyman, MD, discusses the addictive quality of sugar. According to Dr. Hyman, the MRI of a brain addicted to sugar looks just like the MRI of a brain addicted to cocaine. Sugar is addictive! Just like other addictive substances, the more you consume, the more it takes to get the same level of satisfaction. We don’t over consume sugar because of a lack of will power, it’s a chemical reaction in our brains driving us to constantly want (need) more.

Wow! That explains The Beast! This was just the kick in the pants I needed to change my relationship with sugar.

* Eat 80 – 90% of your calories from nutrient dense
foods and then have fun with the other 10 – 20% of your calories.


So, How Much Sugar is Too Much?

Research about the link between sugar and diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity has lead the World Health Organization (WHO) to propose a new sugar guideline. The proposed WHO Sugar Guidelines, drafted in March 2014, recommend that individuals limit "added sugars" to less than 5% of total calories. That's half of the WHO's previous recommendation from 2002. A final ruling will be released later this year.



How does 5% of total calories translate to grams of sugar?

Calories per Day           Max. Grams of Added Sugar per Day
1200                                                                      15
1500                                                                      19
1800                                                                      23
2000                                                                      25
2200                                                                      28

Here are a few points of reference to put this in perspective:

Food Item                                Grams of Added Sugar
1 tsp sugar                                                          4
1/2 cup name brand pasta sauce                     14
1 oz. M&Ms                                                       18
Deluxe cinnamon roll                                        36
12-oz. iced mocha,
white chocolate coffee                                      41
16.9-oz. soft drink                                             56
16.9 oz. sweet tea                                             66


Assess Your Relationship with Sugar

Be aware of your personal relationship with sugar. If you look closely at your current daily intake of sugar, you may be surprised (either pleasantly or unpleasantly). Even if your sugar intake is not excessively high, you can likely find ways to decrease sugar and still feel happy. If your sugar intake IS really high, educate yourself about the negative impact sugar can have on your body and become committed to reducing or eliminating sugar from your diet.


Know yourself

Some of my clients recognize the tiniest amount of sugar turns them into the Cookie Monster so they choose to avoid it completely. Other clients have found their sugar threshold, the point at which they can have just a little to avoid feeling deprived but below the point that triggers their Beast.

Take steps to develop your sugar reduction game plan so you can:

  • achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • maximize your energy all day
  • help prevent conditions that are linked to sugar consumption like heart disease, diabetes, obesity and gut imbalances.


6 Tips for Reducing Sugar in Your Eating Plan

1) Drink unsweetened beverages and plenty of filtered water daily.

2) Nix the fruit juice and eat whole fruit instead. Though fruit juice is natural sugar, it has the same negative impact on your body as processed sugar.

3) Eat lots of fresh, whole foods and less processed foods. (80% of the foods in the supermarket have added sugar.)

4) If you buy processed foods, read labels and choose foods that contain less than or equal to 3 grams of sugar per serving.

5) Choose fruit for dessert. It may sound hard to believe, but fruit becomes amazingly sweet and satisfying when you reduce your sugar intake.

6) Avoid artificial sweeteners because they trick your brain into thinking you are still eating sugar which contributes to the "addiction". If you must add something to make your coffee and tea palatable, add a few drops of honey or pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup) or a small pinch of stevia. Then continue reducing the sweeteners until the "black" version is enjoyable.


NEW Nutrition Facts Label to Include "Added Sugars"

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a New Nutrition Facts Food Label which will be finalized by the end of this year. One new feature of the proposed food label is Added Sugars listed separately from Total Sugars making it much easier to determine how much sugar has been added to the food. Once the new food label is finalized, foods companies will have two years to implement the changes.

In addition, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has urged the FDA to go a step further and define 25 grams as the Daily Value for Added Sugars and display it on the new food label. This would at quick glance reveal that a 16.9-ounce can of soda is 225% DV.


Apple and Peanut Butter Sandwiches
Source: 31 Delicious Low-Carb Breakfasts for a Healthy New Year
Makes 4 sandwiches

Sink your teeth into your favorite fall apple with this low carb, low sugar breakfast that will provide hours of energy and satiety.



- 2 medium-sized fresh apples (choose your favorite in season)
- 8 Tbsp natural, no-sugar-added peanut butter (creamy or crunchy)
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup chopped walnuts



- With a sharp knife, carefully slice apples across the horizon in 1/3 inch slices. Remove seeds from center slices. Match slices in pairs according to diameter. You should get 2 pairs from each apple (and have a little left over from the top and bottom which you can chop and toss on a salad at lunch.).

- Spread 2 Tbsp. peanut butter across one apple slice. Place the other matching slice on top and press so that peanut butter smashes out the edges. (You may need to add a little more peanut butter depending on the diameter of your apple slices). Repeat with the other 3 pairs.

- Roll the edges of each apple and peanut butter sandwich in chopped walnuts.


Approx. Nutr. Info per Apple Sandwich (using medium apples)
Cal: 299, Prot: 9 gm, Carb: 18 gm, Tot. Sugars (all naturally-occurring sugar) 9 gm, Tot. Fat: 22 gm, Sat. Fat: 2.5 gm, Trans Fat: 0 gm, Chol: 0 mg, Sod: 121 mg

Chef’s tip: If you are preparing these in advance, brush the apple slices with lemon juice and store in an air tight container and the apples will not turn brown.


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Happiness and Gratitude

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Today, I'd like to introduce Celeste Cooper-Peel, the RFC's Wellness Supervisor.  CelesteCeleste has been in the health and wellness field for twenty years. After receiving her Masters in Health Education from East Carolina University, she ventured into the mind/body world receiving training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Yoga. Shortly after, she received the 2003 Wellness in the Workplace Award for a large health system in the state of Virginia. In 2004, Celeste joined SAS and continues to be passionate in her position as Wellness Supervisor. She loves working with her team members, teaching yoga and meditation, presenting seminars and nurturing healthy lifestyle changes to the SAS community. Celeste is a wife of a fun-loving husband, mother of a high school daughter, yogini and professional front porch meditator. She is a nationally Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES), an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) with the National Yoga Alliance, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Instructor and Certified Wellness and Health Coach (CWHC).

And now, a word on Happiness & Gratitude from Celeste:

Trees for GratitudeScience has consistently found that gratitude can increase levels of happiness and well-being, but we don’t need research to prove that cultivating gratitude is beneficial. Being grateful just feels good. The beauty with gratitude is that there are so many ways to express it. The first expression for me is that I’m grateful for my family, my job, my health and so on.

Once we experience appreciation for those close to us, we can begin to expand our gratitude to those items we may take for granted. This can include modern conveniences that make our lives easier or maybe it’s “self-care” time. When I take a yoga class, I always end my practice thinking of someone or something I’m grateful for. This is precious time that’s all mine. I also take this attitude into the classes I teach, always ending class asking students to do the same. It only takes a minute, but this form of appreciation has benefits that take root and grow into our days.

The next branch on the giving tree is to find thanks in items that aren’t so pleasant, such as hitting every red light as you drive somewhere. It’s difficult to nurture this side. Believe me, I know. It seems as if you get stopped when you’re in a hurry. I always wonder what the world is trying to tell me when this happens. Maybe it’s time to learn patience. Now, I take this time to drink in some deep breaths. Perfect time to do it and I won’t get to my destination any quicker by being angry. There’s always a silver lining. Try to discover it the next time you’re sitting at a light.

Now, let’s grow the practice to the top of the tree. I’ll give you an example. It seems as if yoga and gratitude go hand in hand, right? Well, I love yoga, but recently found myself in a weekend yoga class where the instructor moved into my most nemesis of poses. I took a deep breath and wondered what I could learn from this. Not just physically getting into the pose, but looking deeper. I guess my theory is I can learn something from each experience. I was thankful that I’m healthy enough to be in class and attempt the pose, although not so graceful. I discovered that this attitude helped deepen my practice and I left with a smile on my face.Natl Yoga Month Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude for the little things, the larger items and the most difficult has the potential to change your perspective in a very positive way. With September recognized as National Yoga Month, the SAS yoga staff wanted to express their gratitude. We all have contributed to a collection of 108 things we are grateful for. I smiled as each card of gratitude was attached to the suspended strings, allowing them to reflect in the mirrors of the studio. It is our hope that participants will catch a glimpse as they move into their pose and feel grateful for those they have in their life. It’s all about spreading the message and nurturing happiness.

Take a couple of minutes a day to let your branches grow towards the glow of gratitude. It can be something as simple as keeping a gratitude journal, thinking of one thing or more you are grateful for each day. This is a great way to close the day.

It’s also fun to get your family involved. Maybe during Thanksgiving you and yours can celebrate gratitude. My family started the tradition of each family member writing down something they appreciate and each person reads their item and then places them in a bowl on the table. As we eat, we are mindful that our gratitude lies before us. It’s a great way to start a meal and tell your loved ones what you appreciate.

Think of a way you can cultivate gratitude every day and share your ideas with others!

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Gaining the Most from Your Garlic

IMG_3436We’ve all heard the tales about garlic protecting against evil and warding off vampires, but garlic is much more than an accessory to be worn around your neck at Halloween! Garlic provides numerous health benefits and is one of the most popular seasoning ingredients around. It goes well in almost any savory recipe and in my opinion, you can never have too much garlic!

This pungent bulb is a member of the allium family along with onions, shallots, chives and leeks. It is arranged in a head called a bulb that is made up of smaller, separate cloves.

Garlic has a long history of medicinal use, dating back over 5,000 years. Records indicate that Hippocrates prescribed garlic for a wide range of medical conditions. The original Olympic athletes also used it as a performance enhancer!

Studies have found that garlic:

  • Has antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiviral properties
  • May help manage high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Can reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Helps reduce inflammation.


Whether or not you get all the powerful health benefits of garlic depends on how you prepare and cook it. The best known compounds of garlic are allin and allicin:

  • Allin gives garlic its characteristic taste
  • Allicin is the main active ingredient in garlic and gives garlic its infamous aroma

IMG_3441Allicin is created when the protein allin and alliinase come into contact. These compounds are isolated from one another until you slice, press, or chew garlic. Heating garlic immediately after slicing destroys the heat sensitive enzyme, alliinase, which is responsible for triggering the reaction. Therefore, NO allicin is created.

Heating garlic immediately in a frying pan for 2 minutes or in a microwave for 60 seconds reduces garlic to little more than a flavoring ingredient. Bye, bye powerful health benefits!

So how can you reap all the benefits of garlic? Simply make a few changes in the way you prepare it: chop, mince, slice or press garlic then keep garlic away from heat for 10 minutes. It’s as easy as PRESS and REST!!

By doing this, you maximize the amount of allicin that is created and the health benefits that are associated with garlic.

For more information on garlic, check out the video below.


Choose Fresh

In the culinary world, there is simply no comparison between the flavor of fresh and pre-minced garlic. While the squeeze bottles of pre-minced garlic may seem very appealing, peeling and mincing your own fresh garlic at home really isn’t as bad as many people think.

Check out this trick for peeling an entire head of garlic in less than 20 seconds. And it won’t leave your hands smelling like garlic the rest of the day!

Now that you have the garlic peeled, invest in a good garlic press and press away. The press will give you the same perfectly minced garlic you would get from the jars at the store (but with a ton more flavor!).

Roasted Garlic




2 heads garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
Aluminum foil


  1. Pre-heat oven to 425° F.
  2. Slice the top off each head of garlic to expose the individual cloves.
  3. Place heads of garlic on a piece of aluminum foil.
  4. Drizzle with olive oil to coat.
  5. Wrap foil tightly around garlic.
  6. Place in oven and roast for approximately 45 minutes, or until cloves are lightly browned.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool.
  8. Gently squeeze garlic to remove individual cloves. You can also use a small fork to pull the cloves out if you prefer.
  9. Eat as is or make into a paste by mashing cloves with a fork.


Click here for a printer-friendly version of this recipe.

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“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.”  ~Dale Carnegie

It seems like these days, as Americans rush around from task to task, with a “to do” list a mile long and never enough hours in the day, we’ve started looking for ways to find happiness much like one looking for the Fountain of Youth.  What makes us happy?  How can two people with very similar lives, rate their overall happiness completely different?  Research of happiness shows that positive reflection and gratitude, optimism, mindfulness, exercise, and even forcing a smile can increase your overall happiness, even for a moment.

But how?

Physically smiling.  Using the muscles to smile causes a chemical reaction in your brain that can boost your mood.  Similarly, frowning, can ignite sadness.  This is a great one to try, and if not anything else, you may find yourself laughing at your expressions in front of a mirror.  Smiling causes dopamine and serotonin (our brain’s happy chemicals) to be released.  So, take a couple minutes to smile, even if it’s fake, to improve your mood.  Read more about smiling on the .

Exercise.  Sounds bizarre, especially if it’s not your forte, but exercise causes endorphins (yay more happy chemicals!) to be secreted.  Endorphins are the body’s natural pain relievers which, when secreted, reduce pain within the body and bring about feelings of well-being.  Commonly called the “runner’s high,” this beautiful occurrence can happen for any exerciser.  In addition, exercise helps boost self-esteem and confidence, maintain healthy weight, increase strength and endurance, reduce stress, you feel overall better, reduce your risk for disease, and increase your immunity.  Increasing your happiness is just one more reason to tie up those laces and sweat!

Mindfulness.  Mindfulness is feeling more and more like a buzz word these days, but what does it really mean?  Being mindful is the state of actively observing what is going around you as well as internally.  How does mindfulness help with happiness?  A couple of ways.  Mindfulness increases gratitude (see more on gratitude below).  It also allows us to see deeper into our thoughts and feelings improving our emotional intelligence.  Being more in tune with your emotions helps you to sort out your feelings, love and laugh longer and recover faster from the not so great moments.  How might all that help with happiness?  By helping you keep thinngs in perspective. Which brings us back to gratitude and as some might say “counting our blessings.”  I could go on and on about mindfulness, but for now, if you’d like to learn more, check out #7 on Action for , start practicing yoga and/or meditation, or check out Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and/or Relax and Renew at the RFC.

Optimism.  Yay for happy thoughts!  Similar to smiling, you can actively think happy thoughts, and by doing so you can “force” endorphins to be released in your body.

Think happy thoughts --> Release endorphins -->Feel happier --> Think happy thoughts --> Release endorphins -->Feel happier (...And the cycle continues on and on, until something happens to break it, but the great news is that you can start it again at any time!)

For those that are not naturally optimists, optimism can be learned, created, and made into a habit. To do so, start small, but spend a few minutes each day......

.....Reflecting on positive experiences in your life and/or gratitude.  According to Amit Amen from Happier Human there are more than 26 studies about how gratitude can positively change your life including improving overall health, increasing overall wellbeing, and increasing happiness.  Check out Amen’s breakdown of some of the studies in The Science of Gratitude: More Benefits Than Expected; 26 Studies and Counting.  Christine Carter of Raising Happiness suggests to spend time each day reflecting and sharing with your family the best part of your day/week/etc. to help generate optimism and positivity.  So, I thought I’d share 3 of my positive thoughts today:

  • My husband’s love, acceptance, and support of me.  He’s really awesome and I’m so blessed to have this amazing man in my life.  Even when I unleash the crazy, he’s right there, full of love and ready to reel me back in.
  • My 3 year old dancing in the kitchen, randomly, as we cook together.  I frequently ask him if he has to go to the bathroom when this starts.  (In case you don’t have toddlers/preschoolers, wiggling around is one of the signs that they need to pee.)  His reply is an earnest “no Mommy, I’m just dancin’”.  I LOVE IT.  Of course, you know the food tastes better when you shake your hips while you cook.  Try it!
  • My 10 month old has the best smile.  He has 8 teeth; 4 on top, 4 on bottom. He has a huge gap between his two front teeth, but when he laughs and smiles, it’s AMAZING!  So bright, so innocent, so truly joyful that it could break the “silence” of even the roughest day.

Baby Selfie, Chris Pack, Sept. 2014

What makes you happy?  Take a moment to think about it.  Share it below, if you’d like. We could all use another smile today!  Key Pharrell Williams – Happy…..

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Lunchbox 101 - Fresh Ideas for the School Lunchbox


It’s back to school time which brings a flurry of emotions – sadness that the precious days of summer are over, joy that order and routine may be restored to your household and relief that you don’t have to figure out where your kids will be next week and beyond.

And, then there's the dreaded school lunch box. Such a yawner of a task!! How can you possibly face another year of packing school lunches when your lunchbox creativity expired a few years ago???

Well, relax, because here are some tips that will put the happy back into your lunchbox creations. To help you re-master the skill of lunch making, take this quick course in Lunchbox 101. In these pages, you’ll find simple strategies for streamlining the lunch making process while bringing excitement and nourishment to your child’s day. Hey, and how about getting the kids involved in this crusade!

Quick Tip: Print these pages and attach them to the inside of a kitchen cabinet between the pantry and the fridge for quick reference.

5 Basic Tips for Lunch Box Packing

1. Include these food categories in each lunch:

  • Protein
  • Vegetable
  • Fruit
  • Grain
  • Healthy dipper (opt.)
  • Healthy sweet treat (opt.)

Check out these tables for a variety of choices in each food category and get your children’s input into which options they would like each week.


2. Have a schedule of lunches for each day of the week.
Create enough ideas for 2 weeks of lunches and rotate these 2 weeks the entire school year. That’s more variety than most humans eat!

Struggling with creative ideas for lunch menus? Be sure to check out the lunch box menu web links and iPhone apps at the end of this blog!

Here are a few fun lunch themes:

All foods are round


Vanilla Greek yogurt with fresh or frozen blueberries
Individual Cheese Balls
Peanut Butter Pinwheels (recipe)
Grape tomatoes, carrot pennies and cucumber slices with ranch dressing for dip


All foods are square


Turkey chili in a thermos (recipe) – served in square bowl
Cornbread square
Cheese cubes
Pineapple, kiwi and watermelon cubes


All foods are stars


Star shaped bread, ham and cheese
Star fruit and/or apples cut on the horizon to expose the star in the middle


All foods are on sticks or shaped like a stick


Fruit kabob with grapes, strawberries, pineapple (on coffee stir sticks instead of wood)
Carrot and cucumber sticks
String cheese
Grilled chicken breast sticks
Bread stick


Includes all colors of the rainbow


Red – Spaghetti with meat sauce in a thermos (recipe)
Orange – Carrot sticks
Yellow – Pineapple spears
Green – Salad greens with ranch dressing
Blue/Purple – Blueberries and/or purple grapes


3. Freeze your child’s water bottle overnight and use it to keep cold foods cold in the lunchbox. It will be thawed by lunch so it then becomes the lunch beverage.

Or, buy thin ice packs and slide them inside the top of your child’s lunchbox or lunchbox tote. See link below.

4. On Sundays, pre-package any foods that can be proportioned in individual servings and keep in containers. Line the kids up on Sunday and pre-assemble lunches with any non-perishables. Store them, then grab and drop in the perishable items the day they are needed. This can cut lunch prep time in half during the week.

5. Also on Sundays, grill chicken, turkey and/or shrimp in large quantities to include in lunch boxes for the week. This gives your kids a break from processed luncheon meats.


Need More School Lunch Menus?
Check out these websites and apps for a goldmine of school lunch menus.

Blogs and websites
“What the Girls are Having” - Bento Box Blogger Mom and photographer, Dina Berlo, has prepared and posted 500+ healthy school lunch box menus for her 2 daughters.

Laptop Lunches® Bento Menu Library – 365 lunch ideas with seasonal healthy lunches for your kids.

Lunch Ideas by Laptop Lunches® - FREE
Easy to make lunch menus, enlargeable photos, step by step menu instructions and shopping lists.

52 School Lunches by - $1.99
Delicious, nutritious, quick and fun menus. Includes photographs, ingredient lists and recipes.


Tools of the Trade
Here are some new tools that can inject the fun factor into your child’s lunch while also protecting the planet:

Eco-Friendly Bento Lunchboxes
Planet Box® Stainless Steel Lunch Boxes with carry bag – part bento box, part TV tray. Quality stainless steel, No BPA, No plastics.

LunchBots® Stainless Steel Food Containers – Three and four section bento containers - No BPA or plastics.

Eco Lunch Box – Stainless steel lunchboxes with carrying cases – plastic free, waste-free, BPA-free, PVC-free, petroleum-free and vinyl-free.

Laptop Lunches™ by Bento Ware™ - BPA-free, phthalates-free, lead-free, PVC-free.

Yumbox® Leakproof Bento Box – Large one for older kids and adults – 6 compartment one for little kids

Silicone baking cups for placing into bento box lunch boxes
Silicone Baking Cups - Round
Silicon Baking Cups – Square
Silicon Baking Cups – Rectangle

Vegetable cutters – for making fun shaped vegetables, luncheon meats and cheeses
Stainless Steel Vegetable Cutters

Ice Packs
Slim Lunch Ice Packs

Water Bottles
Kid Zinger – lets your child make their own orange or lemonade directly into their water bottles. You get to control the amount of sugar (if any) that goes in.

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Finding time for health and fitness

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If you’re anything like me, you are busy. Busy at work, busy at home, busy on the so-called weekend.  It never stops.  Even as a fitness professionals, my husband and I are right there with you in the constant struggle to find time to exercise and eat healthfully.  Here are a few things that work for us:

  1. Organize your pantry and refrigerator with the healthy options front and center.  For me, complete deprivation of treats simply does not work.  While there are some foods I do not keep in the house, we always have some variety of chocolate and for my husband, chips or pretzels.  The chocolate is stashed in my baking cabinet, only to be found when I'm looking for it.  Chips and pretzels are on the second shelf, below eye level, in our pantry.  When we’re ready for a snack, the first visible items are fruit in a basket on the kitchen counter, yogurt in the fridge, and when you open the pantry, you see rice, quinoa, and other items that must first be cooked.  Moving “treats” out of site, makes making a healthy choice easier.
  2. Plan out your workouts for the week and put them on your calendar.  While I am lucky enough to have a built in workouts as part of my work week, I don’t always carve out the time I need to workout on my own, especially if I go in with the thought/plan that “I’ll do it sometime today.”  Those frequently end up being the days I miss or get in less than what I was hoping.  What does work: on Mondays (and sometimes even the Friday before), I open my outlook and schedule my workouts.  For me, the earlier in the day the better.  On Friday night, my husband and I work out a plan for Saturday’s workout so we both get it in.Workout Plan
  3. Pack your snacks and plan when to eat them.  This keeps me energized throughout the day and ready to tackle that lunch time spin class or after work run.  It also helps me make it to dinner without the post-work munchies.
  4. Take some time to dig deep – Why do you want to eat better, exercise, and/or improve your health?  I’m talking about those reasons that truly motivate you like playing with your grandkids or making it through the evening as you run around after your toddler while carrying your baby.  Exercise, nutritious foods, and sleep give us the energy and keep us healthy to do the things we enjoy and spend time with the ones we love.  I exercise because it makes me happy, keeps me healthy, balances out the insanity being a full time working mom, and gives me energy and strength to take care of my family.
  5. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy (or at least tolerate).  I love running and cycling outside.  I love practicing yoga.  I love classes with good loud music.  I tolerate swimming because I enjoy participating in triathlons.  If you ask me Cycling in Chattanoogato join you for any of these, I’m in (if it’s on my calendar - see #2 ), but if you ask me to hit the elliptical 3x a week for 30 minutes, it’s not going to happen.  [Please note: I’m not in any way saying the elliptical is a bad thing. It’s a great cardio workout and some people enjoy it, it’s just not the cardio that gets me moving.]  If you’re new to exercise or getting bored with your routine, take a month to try it all: classes, nautilus equipment, get in the pool, or go for hike.  Note what you like and add it to your routine.  If you don't enjoy exercise (which you don't know, unless you try, right?), find something you can tolerate and refer back to #2 and #4 to get it done.

There will always be something that needs to be done – projects at work, laundry, bills, etc. By putting health on the top of your To Do List, you’ll feel good and be able to conquer those tasks and better yet, enjoy your life!  What do you do to make sure you get in your workout and/or eat healthfully?

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  • About this blog

    The Employee and Family Services group at SAS includes the Health Care Center, Recreation and Fitness Center and Work/Life. Check this blog to find interesting recipes and nutrition facts, information on staying healthy and how to keep your work life and family life balanced.
  • Health Care Center Events & Services

    To view the Health Care Center's upcoming Corporate Health Services Seminars & Events schedule, visit us here.

    SAS Health Care Center has three registered dietitians to assist employees and covered dependents with their nutritional needs. For more information on our nutrition services, please call the Health Care Center at 919-531-8809.

  • Recreation and Fitness Center

    To view the Recreation and Fitness Center's upcoming programs, events and class schedules, visit us here.
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