The second leg of the Triple Crown, the 137th running of the Preakness Stakes, takes place this Saturday. With Memorial Day right around the corner, it's also the "home stretch" as you get yourself healthy for the summer season.
Vegetables and fruit
It's no secret that vegetables and fruits are good for you, though many people don't achieve the recommended intake. (For a 2,000-calorie diet, one should consume two cups of fruit and 21/2 cups of vegetables per day). Increasing vegetable intake is a great goal for anyone looking to improve their health or lose weight.
Non-starchy vegetables (think mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, asparagus) are low in calories, yet rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Starchy vegetables, which include potatoes, corn, yams and peas, are still good for you but are comparable in calories to starches such as rice or pasta.
When trying to lose weight, an excellent goal is to make half your plate non-starchy vegetables. Fiber in vegetables helps keep you full, even though you are eating fewer calories. Try to incorporate vegetables into other foods as well: Mix shredded zucchini into lean ground beef or turkey dishes, or toss grilled peppers, onions and tomatoes with a cup of whole-wheat noodles.
Plan the course
Picking portions wisely is the key. Any healthful food, such as almonds, quickly can become a deterrent to weight loss when the portions aren't on point.
The first rule of thumb in portion control is to read the food label. Pay attention to the portion size as well as the calories. When looking at the bag of almonds, you'll see that 20 almonds provide 160 calories; portion out those 20 almonds and include them as a healthy snack. Many "small" bags of nuts that you might assume are low in calories actually have well over 300 calories. While they are a great source of healthful fats and protein, that may be more calories than you want for a snack. A good way to keep you from eating larger portions of snacks is to portion out a few servings in bags.
Fruit is another nutrition powerhouse, yet even with fruit, portion control is important. Some prepackaged fruit salads can contain up to four cups of fruit; instead, choose a small piece of fruit or up to one cup of berries or melon. Be vigilant on portions of dried fruit because they are denser in calories. A cup of raisins packs in more than 400 calories, while a cup of grapes is around 60 calories.
When planning meals, the culprit often is starches. Starch choices include rice, pasta, corn, potatoes, peas and bread. For meals, try to limit starch portions to about one-quarter of your plate, or no more than one cup. When you are dining out, it is difficult to accurately measure portions; one cup will look to be about the size of a baseball.
A wonderful visual for portion sizes can be found at http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/portion/servingcard7.pdf
Be like a horse: run
Challenge yourself to sign up for a 5K or a half-marathon. Check out http://www.active.com for local events. If running isn't your thing, try to find activities and exercise that you enjoy and can consistently do. Exercise is easier to maintain when it is fun.
As in horse racing, competition can be good. Most of us know a few friends or co-workers we could team up with for a friendly weight-loss challenge or a walking group after work or at lunch.
Biking is an excellent option, whether it is a 20-mile ride or just wheeling around the neighborhood for a few loops each evening. Everything counts.
Do you enjoy dancing? That can be great exercise too. A popular dance-oriented exercise class is Zumba, offered at many local gyms or available on DVD. Make it a goal to include at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week.
Now you're at the finish line. One last thing to remember when racing to good health: Always stay hydrated. Aim for at least 64 ounces of water a day. By incorporating more vegetables and fruits, being mindful of portions and becoming more active, you'll end up in the winner's circle.