The A to Zzz's of Sleep

With Turkey Day coming up in a couple days, one thing I know I'm looking forward to is help from my parents, so my husband and I can catch up on some much needed sleep....oh the joys of being parents of little guys!  This week, I'm pleased to introduce Brittany Skillman, Senior Recreation and Fitness Program Coordinator and mother of two sweet little ones and sleepless nights as well.  A chronic lack of sleep is not just for parents of young children!  According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), "it is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from a disorder of sleep and wakefulness, hindering daily functioning and adversely affecting health and longevity." 

 And now, The A to Zzz's of Sleep from Brittany:

Brittany Skillman

I’m literally yawning as I write this. And no, not because it’s boring, but because I, like many others, am sleep deprived. As a mom of two young kids, one of whom hates to sleep, I feel I am in a constant state of fatigue.  Yet here I am writing about sleep. Consequently, I’m also dreaming about and longing for it! While I know my situation is temporary, for many, sleep is an on-going battle. Whether you’re a night-owl by nature, lover of the snooze button or wild dreamer, we all have two things in common when it comes to sleep – we all do it and likely don’t get enough of it.

Besides knowing we need to sleep, we don’t necessarily realize all of the benefits sleep provides.  Our mental and physical health are linked to quality sleep (more on the quality part in a bit).  Regarding our physical health, ongoing deficient sleep has been linked with an increased risk for heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and stroke. Our immune system also relies on sleep to stay healthy. From a mental and emotional standpoint, our brains don’t work properly if we are sleep deprived. That much should be obvious. Think about how you feel after a night of poor sleep—sluggish, moody, irritable, to name a few of the nicer things. We can struggle to concentrate, cope, problem solve, communicate well, and even learn. Essentially every body system and function is impacted by our shut-eye time.  Have I convinced you yet that you need to sleep more?! Great! Now, we need to understand that when it comes to sleep, quality and quantity matter.

On average, Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep each night; however, most of us actually need between 7.5 and 9 hours for optimal functioning and performance. But just because you rocked out 10 hours Saturday night while your kids slept at Grandma’s, doesn’t mean you’re all caught up either. We repay our “sleep debt” over time, not all at once. And throwing in an occasional sleep binge might throw us off even more, as it interferes with our circadian, or body’s, rhythm. One thing we know for sure is that not all sleep is created equal. Sleep happens in stages throughout the night and we cycle through each stage several times. When we are awakened will determine how rested (or not) we feel the next day.  Ensuring we get into all stages of sleep (light sleep, deep/restorative and REM/dream sleep) is key. So let’s talk about ways to help you (and me) get better, and more, sleep.

  1. Make it a priorityscreen-shot-169x300

Sleep is often one of the first things we forego in our never-ending attempt to do it all. We stay up late to finish working and wake up early to cross more off our to-do lists. Think about what we might accomplish, and how amazing we’d feel, if we had gotten that extra hour of sleep and been refreshed and energized to tackle our day. Give yourself a bedtime. We do it for our kids for this same reason—so they’re not a ‘cranky pants’ the next day. Do yourself that same favor.


  1. Limit caffeine

I know, I know; it sounds counter-intuitive. But that 4pm triple latte stays with you and can make falling asleep that much harder. Needing caffeine and needing sleep make for a vicious cycle.  After a few days without your constant flow of caffeine, you’ll adjust. While you’re at it, drink more water so you’re better hydrated and give yourself some natural energy!


  1. Exercise

For those without serious sleep issues (such as insomnia and sleep apnea), exercise and sleep go hand-in-hand. You exercise to fatigue your body and mind and then sleep more soundly at night. And for those who exercise a lot or withExercise greater intensity, sleep becomes that much more crucial for your body to recover so that you can kill that next workout. However, for those who struggle with underlying sleep disorders, exercising doesn't always help sleep in the short-term. It often takes making it a habit for a few months in order to reap the sleep benefits. Why? Research is still working on that one...  What we do know though, is that habitual exercise is good for our minds, bodies and our ability to sleep better (eventually).  So come see us at the RFC for a class, swim or workout session. We’re good at tiring people out!


  1. Chill out

Our typical go, go, go mentality can make it hard to turn off our brains at night. Taking time to unwind at the end of each day can do wonders for helping you fall asleep and stay asleep. Try reading a book instead of watching TV, meditating for a few minutes instead of playing on your iPad or even doing a few gentle stretches (see Amanda’s Relax with Yoga this holiday season post). Reducing sensory input cues our brains to slow down, which makes it easier to relax.


I hope you’re able to implement these tricks and will “sleep like a baby” tonight. (Side note: I much prefer the phrase “sleep like a husband” because mine is the soundest of them all. My baby, not so much!) So until next time, good night.


Personal Training Coordinator, Brittany Skillman has worked in the RFC at SAS for 8 years.  She holds degrees in both Exercise and Sport Science and Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and holds multiple professional certifications. A Raleigh native, Brittany spends her free time with her family, including husband and fellow SAS employee, Shawn, daughter Tatum and son Penn. 


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Cream of Something...Or Other


When I think of Cream of Something Soups, I immediately envision iconic 1950s ads of creamy casseroles made by happy, smiling home cooks in aprons and pearls. My second thought then quickly turns to: what are those cream of...something or other...soups really made of?!

The answer:

This is the why I have avoided any recipe that includes "cream of" in the ingredient list for years. However, I have now discovered that you can easily make your own Cream of Something Soup at home with just 7 ingredients- all of which you can recognize and pronounce!

To make Cream of Mushroom Soup, follow this simple recipe:


The beauty of making homemade cream of something soups is you can control the ingredients. Once you get a hang of the base recipe, you can make Cream of Just About Anything Soup by swapping out ½ cup of whatever main ingredient you need: cooked chicken, mushrooms, celery, asparagus, etc.

Can’t consume gluten? No worries, simply substitute cornstarch for flour. Use this table as a guide for modifying the original soup base to meet your dietary needs.

Soup Base Substitutions

No "Cream Of" Green Bean Casserole
Makes 6 Servings


Try this fresh twist on the classic green bean casserole at your next family gathering using your own cream of mushroom soup and homemade french “fried” onion topping.


3 cans (14.5oz each) green beans, no added salt, drained*
1 batch of homemade "cream of" mushroom soup (see recipe above)

French "Fried" Topping:
1 ½ onions, thinly sliced into rings
¼ cup flour
2 Tbsp panko bread crumbs
Salt, to taste


  1. For the topping, preheat oven to 475°F. Combine onions, flour, panko and salt in a large mixing bowl. Toss to combine.
  2. Cover a sheet pan with foil and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Evenly spread onions on the pan in a single layer. Place pan in oven and bake until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Toss onions 2-3 times during cooking. Remove from oven when done and set aside.
  3. Turn oven down to 350°F. Combine "cream of" mushroom soup, green beans, and half of the cooked onions.
  4. Pour into a casserole or glass baking dish.
  5. Bake 20-25 minutes or until bubbly. Top with remaining half of onions the last 5 minutes.


*If you choose to use fresh green beans, first blanch them for 5 minutes in boiling water.

Nutrition Information per Serving: Calories: 160, Total Fat: 8gm, Saturated Fat: 5gm, Cholesterol: 20mg, Sodium: 300mg, Carbs: 18gm, Fiber: 4gm, Protein: 5gm

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Feed Your Skin

When we think of acne, we typically think of teenagers and raging hormones. However, there has been an upsurge of adult acne over the last 50 years. Why, you ask? Well, one probable cause is changes to our food supply and dietary habits.

Nutritional voids and dietary excess can have a significant impact on the degree of acne a person experiences. Research has proven time and time again that there are strong causal connections between certain kinds of food and acne. Inflammation, oxidative stress, hormonal imbalance and spikes in blood sugar fan the flames of acne. Some foods promote these processes while others suppress and regulate them.

The Clear Skin Diet

The Clear Skin Diet by Drs. Logan and Treloar summarizes current research on acne and ways to protect the skin through diet and lifestyle. The 4 main principles of the Clear Skin Diet are sleep, relaxation response, exercise and diet.

Clear Skin Diet Action Plan_compressed

*Click the image above to view larger.

Acne-Friendly Foods

Michael Pollan pretty much hit the nail on the head with his advice to: "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants." If you can follow this mantra, you’ll be well on your way to consuming an acne-friendly diet. To help lessen the severity of acne, incorporate the following foods into your diet:

  • Produce: aim for a minimum of 5 servings of deeply colored fruits and vegetables daily. Studies show acne patients are less frequent consumers of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables. More color equals more antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals- all of which help fight inflammation and, in turn, acne!
  • Protein: choose fish (especially oily wild caught and small fish), lean meat and poultry (preferably grass-fed or free range; consider limiting red meat to once a week), eggs (from free range, cage-free chickens which produce eggs with higher omega-3 content), and soy in moderation (choose non-GMO products).
  • Carbohydrates: opt for whole grains like quinoa, bulgar, barley or brown rice. Breads and pastas should be limited and enjoyed in their whole grain form.
  • Fats/Oil: reach for extra virgin olive oil, canola oil or omega-3 rich oils like flaxseed or walnut.
  • Herbs and Spices: try adding ginger, turmeric and cinnamon to your recipes.
  • Nuts: experiment with different types and be cautious of potential allergies, exacerbation of acne and indigestibility. This is very individualized. Some nuts may actually cause breakouts while others have no effect. Also consider the way nuts are prepared. For example, peanuts in their natural shell may be okay while prepackaged versions fried in vegetables oils may be a problem.
  • Beverages: green tea (the real thing, not the sugar laden, ready-to-drink bottled varieties), tomato juice, 100% vegetable juices and water.

Check out this Clear Skin Diet Foods List for suggested foods to include, limit and exclude as well as a shopping list. Experiment with a wide variety of foods! You may find that certain foods on the okay list are absolute acne aggravators for you and need to be moved to the Foods to Exclude category.

Clear Skin Prescription

saladLess processed foods

More colorful antioxidants

Greater intake of omega-3 fatty acids

Increased consumption of fiber

More lower glycemic foods that won’t spike blood sugars


Okra and Brown Rice with Salmon
Recipe Adapted from: The Clear Skin Diet by Drs. Logan and Treloar
Makes 4 Servings


3 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp tomato paste
20 pieces fresh okra, caps removed, sliced into 1-inch rounds
½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup brown rice, dry
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 large tomato, diced
4 salmon fillets, cooked (4oz each)*


1. In a saucepan, heat water, oil and tomato paste over medium heat.

2. Add okra, salt, and pepper and sauté 5-7 minutes or until okra begins to caramelize.

3. Cook rice according to package directions.

4. Flake cooked salmon with a fork into small pieces.

5. Once rice is done, stir in okra mixture, basil and diced tomato and mix well.


6. Stir in flaked salmon.


*Choose wild caught Pacific salmon when possible as opposed to farmed salmon. Wild caught salmon is higher in omega-3 fatty acids. For a time-saver, you can use canned wild caught salmon instead of fillets.

Nutrition Information per Serving: Calories: 420, Total Fat: 13gm, Saturated Fat: 2gm, Cholesterol: 70mg, Sodium: 460mg, Carbs: 42gm, Fiber: 5gm, Protein: 34gm

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Thanksgiving and Giving Thanks

PamMeet Pam Cole, Senior Manager of the Recreation and Fitness Center and this week's contributor to the Inspirations blog.  Pam has been at SAS Institute for over 20 years and has worked in fitness for over 25 years.  An avid Tarheel fan, Pam graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a double major in Communications and Radio Television Motion Pictures.  She began teaching group exercise classes while in Chapel Hill and still loves it.  In addition to teaching group exercise, she is a certified personal trainer with the National Sports Performance Association as a Pre and Post-Rehab Exercise Specialist.  In her spare time, she likes to garden, do rehab projects on her home and cook.

....and now a word from Pam on Thanksgiving and Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving Did You KnowThanksgiving is just around the corner.  This time of year causes me once again to ponder how we arrived at our modern traditions of rushing to get the house cleaned, giant balloons at the Macy’s Day parade, hours of cooking to prepare the turkey, stuffing and all the fixings, followed by football and  perhaps a few well-deserved hours of lying on the couch or recliner.   And did I mention the shopping?!  Don’t get me wrong – I look forward to it every year.

We generally think of the thanksgiving holiday having its roots back in the time of the Pilgrims and a celebration for a good harvest.   While that is widely accepted in the US, the holiday goes back further than that. In English tradition, Puritans wanted to get away from church holidays and replaced them with Days of Fasting or Days of Thanksgiving.   Days of Fasting would represent a disaster such as a plague or flood, whereas a Day of Thanksgiving might be celebrated following a victory.  In Canada, the tradition might be traced back to an explorer, Martin Forbisher, who celebrated a successful journey from England.

There are many other Thanksgiving celebrations held throughout the world, with a wide variety of origins as well.  All seem to go back to a celebration or observation of giving thanks for some event.

Research has proven that giving thanks or gratitude can increase our happiness and well-being.  (See more in the inspirations blog on Happiness and Gratitude.)  One of the quickest ways to improve our emotional energy is to simply list the things we are grateful for.  Go ahead and try it now.  Take one minute to write or name those things or people you are thankful for.  Was it easy?  Could you have listed more?  Do you feel any differently?

Here are just a few of the things I am thankful for this holidays season and throughout the year.

*  Family and loved ones.  I know it’s cliché, but Bath Creek Stables Turkeys by Carol PrestonI am more grateful for these people in my life than words can express.

*  A great place to work, awesome co-workers and the wonderful participants at the RFC!

*  All our modern conveniences, technology, medicine and the  like.

So what are you thankful for? And how do you spend your Thanksgiving?


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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?

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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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