Tea leaves are full of phytonutrients that protect against disease. When freshly brewed and sipped regularly, tea is not only a part of a daily ritual that can calm you and reduce stress, it provides unique plant chemicals that can change your health for the better.
Beneficial flavonoids and antioxidants in tea have been found to protect against cancer and heart disease, reduce blood cholesterol levels, and reduce risk of stroke.
Polyphenols in tea may increase insulin activity improving insulin sensitivity, a characteristic that is especially beneficial to those with type 2 diabetes.
Some studies show that drinking tea can boost calories burned contributing to an increased metabolism and weight loss.
The polyphenols in tea may help strengthen bones, reducing risk for fractures.
Research shows that drinking tea can improve mood, alertness, relaxation, and concentration.
Tea provides a healthy alternative to high-calorie, high-sugar beverages.
What to Drink
When choosing a tea, look for green, black, white, oolong, or pu-erh (a pressed black tea) as they are all well recognized for their ability to improve health. Processing tea reduces the content of beneficial plant nutrients like polyphenols, catechins, and flavonoids. As a result, bottled teas and instant tea powders will give you very little, if any, nutritional benefit when compared to a cup of freshly brewed hot tea.
Removing the caffeine from tea is also a form of processing and it leaves decaffeinated teas with fewer polyphenols that caffeinated varieties. Freshly brewed tea chilled in the refrigerator does provide some benefit, but because iced tea is often made in larger quantities with fewer tea bags, it’s phytonutrient content is less concentrated. Fermentation slightly reduces the phytochemicals in black and oolong teas to levels below that of green tea, but fermented teas still maintain plenty of health benefit.
Flavored and herbal teas can be a good drink option, but check labels carefully. Be sure that green, black, white, or oolong tea appears in the ingredient list. Some herbal teas contain no actual tea leaves and some flavored teas contain artificial ingredients and added sweeteners.
How to Prepare It
Everyone has their preferred way of brewing tea to bring out what they feel is the best flavor, but studies suggest a few guidelines for obtaining the most health benefit. Researchers have analyzed green tea and found that small, loose leaf tea leaves may be the best for extracting the most phytonutrients. Contrary to tips for brewing tea for flavor, boiling water has been found to help extract more polyphenols than water at cooler temperatures. The tea should also be steeped for two to five minutes. The longer the tea steeps, the higher the polyphenol content of the drink.
Research shows that consuming sugar, salt, or fat causes the body to release a feel-good hormone called dopamine. This response is what makes some foods and drinks comforting, but it also leaves you craving more. It’s okay to satisfy these cravings occasionally, but if you find that your desire for unhealthy choices is hard to control, it’s time to find some healthy substitutions. By figuring out what you are really craving and finding healthy foods that satisfy you, you can stay on track to reach your health and fitness goals.
It can be difficult to tame a sweet tooth, but there is evidence that gradually reducing your sugar intake reduces cravings for it. Cutting out sugar altogether at once may work for some people, but others need to slowly reduce sugar to lessen the cravings and make long-term changes. The first step is to reduce added sugars such as those in processed foods and drinks like soda and baked goods.
Natural sugars can help satisfy your sweet tooth more nutritiously. Fruits like melons, berries, and pineapple are sweet while providing fiber and phytonutrients. Dairy and nuts also provide a slightly sweet flavor that can satisfy cravings. A light drizzle of raw honey or pure maple syrup can add sweetness to drinks. It also dissolves more easily than granulated sugar, which allows you to use less. If you are still craving a special treat, a small piece of chocolate with 65 percent or greater cacao content continues to show potential for protecting heart health.
Cravings for salt often lead to overeating snacks like potato chips. Few foods are naturally salty, so looking for foods that are lightly salted, but that also provide nutrients is the best option to satisfy cravings. Lightly salted nuts provide plant protein and healthy fat. Olives contain phytonutrients that act as antioxidants and reduce inflammation associated with chronic disease. Homemade air-popped popcorn with a light sprinkle of salt provides fiber and antioxidants and is low in calories and fat.
Often the desire for carbonated beverages like soda comes from a craving for something fizzy. Carbonation can be filling and often serves as a substitute for snacking. Regular sodas contain empty calories, and according to an article from Harvard Medical School’s Health Blog, artificial sweeteners may interfere with the natural physical and mental responses to sweet foods. There is also evidence that these drinks, both regular and diet, could lead to weight gain. Unsweetened, carbonated waters with natural fruit flavors are now widely available. If you still need a little sweetness, try adding a tablespoon or two of fresh fruit juice to club soda or serve plain club soda with fruit floaters like fresh berries or orange slices. Homemade sodas are also becoming more popular. By experimenting with making your own, you can reduce the sugar and calorie content of your drink while still satisfying your cravings.
Hydration is always a concern during exercise, but it deserves special attention during the summer. Hot and humid weather can quickly turn thirst and fatigue into a dangerous situation and the need for medical attention. With a few simple steps and by paying attention to warning signs, you can stay safe and hydrated during your summer workouts.
Focus On Fluids
Drinking fluids hydrates cells and replenishes the fluid and electrolytes lost through sweat. Most health experts agree that water is sufficient to keep you hydrated when exercising at a moderate intensity for less than one hour. A sports drink that replenishes electrolytes can be beneficial when exercising for longer periods, at a high intensity, or in hot and humid weather.
According to the Mayo Clinic, drinking when you are thirsty is adequate for most healthy adults to stay hydrated throughout the day, but don’t wait for thirst to start hydrating during exercise. The exact amount of fluid you need varies from person to person. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests monitoring both body weight and urine color to determine your hydration level. If your body weight fluctuates by one pound or less after exercise, and your urine is light in color, you are well hydrated.
After assessing hydration status, the ACSM suggests general guidelines for staying hydrated during your workout.
Drink 16-20 ounces at least four hours before exercise.
Drink 8-12 ounces 10-15 minutes before exercise.
During exercise, drink 3-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes.
After your workout, drink 20-24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost.
Other Factors in Hydration
During exercise, hydration is related to your sweat rate. Sweating is the body’s way of cooling itself. The harder you exercise, or if you are exercising in a hot environment, the more your body is going to sweat and quickly become dehydrated. On hot days, work out in the early morning or in the evening when the sun is less intense and the temperature is cooler. Choose a route or location that is shaded. On days when the heat or humidity reach dangerous levels, take your workout indoors.
Wear light-colored clothing that will reflect sunlight and choose moisture-wicking fabrics. Clothing made of this material helps the sweat to evaporate, cooling the body. Thick fabrics like cotton can trap sweat, become heavy, and cause you to overheat.
Dangers of Dehydration and Overhydration
When your body loses more fluids than you take in, dehydration occurs. Aside from extreme thirst, the first sign of dehydration is often muscle fatigue. If you do not replenish fluids the symptoms of dehydration become more dangerous and include headache, muscle cramps, dizziness, confusion, and unconsciousness. If you suspect you are becoming dehydrated, take a break, go to a cooler environment, and drink fluids.
Unfortunately, dehydration is not the only concern when it comes to fluid balance. When you take in more fluid than your body is losing in sweat, or you take in too much water without replacing lost electrolytes, blood sodium levels drop. This condition, called hyponatremia, causes symptoms similar to, and as dangerous as, dehydration. The ACSM recommends not
consuming more than one quart of fluid per hour during exercise to prevent overhydration.
A salad, baked sweet potato, or grilled chicken breast makes a great base for a healthy meal. Ensure that your nutritious meal doesn’t take a turn for the worse by watching out for these things that quickly make healthy food unhealthy.
Loading up on sauces
A drizzle of your favorite condiment is a good way to add flavor to food, but don’t use so much that it’s dripping. Cheese sauces and mayonnaise-based spreads can be loaded with calories and unhealthy fat. Ketchup, barbecue sauce, and pickle relishes may not pack the same calories, but they can be full of added sugar and sodium. If you prefer saucier foods, stick with lighter options like brown mustard or those that use fresh vegetables like pico de gallo.
Choosing a fat-free dressing
Fat-free salad dressings may be low in calories, but they can reduce the nutritional potential of your salad. Research shows that adding heart-healthy fat to a salad helps the body absorb the valuable fat soluble vitamins in the vegetables. Skip fat-free dressings and add a drizzle of olive oil with balsamic vinegar or a few slices of avocado.
Too many toppings
Cheese, butter and margarine, sour cream, dried fruits, and mayonnaise-based dressings are just a few of toppings that cause the calories and unhealthy fat to pile up. Sprinkle and drizzle lightly and try swapping them for healthier options like salsa, fresh herbs, olive oil, Greek yogurt, and fresh fruits.
Ignoring portion sizes
Controlling portion sizes is one of the best ways to enjoy your favorite foods and satisfy cravings without getting off track. One small cookie after dinner will likely only add 100 extra calories to your day, but an extra-large cookie is like eating a fourth meal. A grilled burger at the neighborhood cookout can work into a healthy eating plan, but a ½ pound restaurant burger loaded with toppings can contain a whole day’s worth of calories.
Store-bought sauces, marinades, and seasoning packets often have added sugar and excess sodium. It only takes a few minutes and a few extra ingredients to make your own. Whether it’s a sauce for a stir-fry, marinara, or a rub for grilled meats, making your own allows you to control ingredients that contain salt, sugar, and trans fat.
Passing up plain
Frozen and canned vegetables can be a healthy option, but added flavorings can ruin the nutritional benefits. Some frozen vegetables contain sauces and seasonings that add unhealthy fat and sodium. Canned foods can be high in sodium and sugar. Check to make sure that the vegetables are the only thing listed on the ingredient list and look for “low sodium,” “no salt added,” and “low sugar.” This allows you to season the food to your tastes, often reducing excess calories, fat, sodium, and sugar.
All berries are rich in antioxidants, but blackberries are gaining attention for their full nutrient content. They contain gallic acid, rutin and ellagic acid, which are all associated with protecting against cancer as well as having anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.
All types of cherries do their part to protect health. Sweet cherries provide potassium that helps control blood pressure. Tart cherries are associated with reducing pain and inflammation. One study showed that tart cherries may help reduce post-exercise pain. Another study found that drinking two, eight ounce servings of tart cherry juice daily improved the pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis. Tart cherries also contain melatonin, which has been found to lower body temperature and improve sleep.
Cucumbers contain plant lignans, which are associated with reduced risks for cardiovascular disease and some cancers. They also contain phytonutrients called cucurbitacins that may work to block the development of cancer cells.
Research shows that eggplants contain the phytonutrient nasunin that has been found to protect cell membranes from damage. In animal studies, juice made from eggplants reduced blood cholesterol and improved blood flow. These results were attributed to the nasunin and other phytonutrients in the vegetable.
Lycopene is well known for its cancer-fighting properties, but it was once thought that this phytochemical was only found in red tomatoes. New research has revealed that tomatoes in varying shades of orange also contain beneficial amounts of lycopene. This is good news as more varieties and colors of heirloom tomatoes grow in popularity. Tomatoes also have the potential to improve heart health. Studies have shown that consuming fresh tomatoes and tomato extracts may reduce total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Capsaicin is an antioxidant responsible for the heat in hot peppers. A hotter pepper indicates higher antioxidant levels. Capsaicin has been found to produce endorphins, or feel good hormones. Some research shows it may also help fight cancer. Capsaicin has also been found to reduce appetite and raise body temperature, which could be beneficial for weight loss.
Purple or blue potatoes are full of flavonoids that have been linked to fighting heart disease and cancer. One study found that eating plain, microwaved purple potatoes two times per day lowered blood pressure. These results have been attributed to the colorful potato’s high concentration of antioxidants.
Red Bell Peppers
While bell peppers contain very small amounts of capsaicin, they are rich in vitamin C and carotenoids that act as antioxidants. Research has revealed that bell peppers are also a source for the cancer-fighting sulfur compounds most often associated with cruciferous vegetables.
Like tomatoes, the red flesh of watermelon is rich in the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene. The more ripe and red the melon, the greater the concentration of the phytonutrient. Watermelon also contains citrulline. Citrulline is converted to arginine in the body, an amino acid that is important for cardiovascular health.
A summer squash, zucchini is loaded with carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin, which are associated with eye health. In addition to providing vitamin C, zucchini supplies B-complex vitamins, zinc, and magnesium, which all help regulate blood sugar levels.