The night shift. It is a mystery to all those 9-5 business types out there, but usually no stranger to nurses. Many of us have started off as new nurses on this shift because it's all that was available, yet others prefer to stay on this shift for years and years because it fits their lifestyle. It might be better for child care, or maybe they just aren't morning people. If you have been a nurse for any period of time, most likely you have done nights for at least some of your career. Let's face it, it definitely has it's perks - usually free parking, more money, less noise and less doctors around to interrupt your flow - it can be very appealing to many for good reason!
But what about the downfalls? Especially when you're trying hard to take good care of yourself and be healthy and well? You often hear of people saying they gained a ton of weight working nights, or their sleep was all messed up, or they just felt rundown all the time with no energy to spare for exercise. Sometimes you get so messed up you can't even remember what day it is! These can all certainly be stumbling blocks for someone trying to stay healthy and well.
Let's be honest, our bodies are designed to be active during the day, and need rest and repair at night. Our blood sugar and hormones are regulated differently at night than they are in the daytime. Our body thinks we are supposed to be shutting down during those hours and it makes adjustments accordingly. Our muscles are not supposed to require energy during these hours, so they can become less receptive to insulin. Our digestive system would like some rest at night and does not want to be working. All of these things can potentially lead to glucose intolerance, weight gain and possibly issues with our digestive system. It can get ugly! Not to mention, sleep is vital for good health. If you're working nights and not getting any good quality sleep, you will get into trouble.
So I am proposing some strategies to help those of you who do work nights to stay as healthy as you possibly can. Avoiding health issues that can sneak up on you is vital to surviving well on the night shift. Let's look at what we can do:
1) Try to stay as closely as possible to a normal day/night pattern of food intake. Minimize eating between 12-6 am as much as possible. This gives your body and vital organs that normal night time hours of rest that they need. The liver is very busy rebuilding the body during the night. Studies show that the liver is most active between the hours of 1-3 am. It gets to work healing and cleansing the body of toxins that have accumulated during the day. If we eat large meals during this time, we can disrupt this important and healthy process the liver is trying to accomplish. So I would propose that if you work 12 hour nights (7p-7a), try to be done eating before midnight if you can take your break before then. If you start at 11pm, maybe try to eat right before you go in so you can leave the overnight hours without eating. Then, if you have time, maybe eat something right before leaving work in the morning, or maybe eat as soon as you get home before going to bed. Please avoid the temptation to snack all night long!
2) Meal prep and choose whole foods! This is key. You absolutely must have a plan for your food intake. Prepping your food at home and making sure you are bringing fresh whole foods to work with you is a life saver. Don't leave it to chance. Don't be victim of eating whatever is in the cafeteria, whatever is sitting at the nurses' station, or whatever someone decided to order out for the unit. Plan your food, and stick to the plan!
3) Exercise - get it in. This is non-negotiable. Yes, I know you might feel like crap and have no energy - even more reason to exercise. You need to rely on the energy you will get from exercise to get through your night shifts (and keep you healthy!). I used to find it helpful to exercise in the late afternoon before heading into work. That workout would give me the boost of energy I needed to get through the night. Even if it's just a brisk walk! Do something to get you going. I know it is tough if working back to back 12 hour shifts. If exercise is not possible to fit in on those days, just make sure you are not backing down on your days off. It is a MUST. And if you have any down time at night, take a brisk walk or do some stairs to help keep you awake and get in a little exercise!
4) Sleep patterns - find what works best for YOU! This is such a grey area. There is no perfect one way for everyone to get the right sleep on this shift. Some do best with staying on somewhat of a night schedule even when they are off (maybe staying up until 3am on a night off to mimic work), and some prefer going to bed as usual on a night off, then maybe napping before work the next night. The most important thing here is that you are GETTING sleep. How and when is really a personal preference. Just make sure you are getting some quality sleep! Personally, I found that napping before work screwed me up more than helped, but that's just me. I know many nurses who counted on those naps and they had to have them. Do what you need to do!
5) Use caffeine strategically. This means don't drink coffee around the clock! I know I relied on caffeine pretty heavily on nights, but I always tried to keep it to the beginning of my shift. Drink water during your shift to stay alert and hydrated. Try to avoid drinking too much caffeine at the end of your shift when you're trying to get ready for a day of sleep (unless you are one of those people who can drink a pot of coffee and go right to sleep - that's certainly not me!).
6) Make your daytime sleep as good as possible. You want your daytime sleep to be good sleep, not just feel like a little cat nap. Rule #1, turn off the ringer on your phone! Please don't forget that ever so important rule (and turn volume down or off on your answering machine!). I hear about nurses getting mad that someone called them during the day when they are sleeping. Well why is your ringer on??? You should have no idea someone tried to call you. ;-) Noise machines are also helpful for some people to drown out the daytime noises outside. If necessary, get room darkening shades and curtains to block out as much light as possible. Dark is GOOD! And be careful with regular melatonin use. I know it is popular for many, but just be aware that you can eventually train your body to no longer produce it on it's own if you are constantly taking it in a pill form.
7) Get your vitamin D levels checked. This is something most people don't think to do. Working nights or not, many of us are deficient in vitamin D. Night shift workers especially, are not getting exposure to natural sunlight as much as the rest of us. Your body must have enough vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone proper bone health. A lack of vitamin D can lead to misshapen and fragile bones in adults. Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to mood swings and irritability. We don't need any more of that since we're already over tired and cranky from being awake all night anyway! Supplementation is certainly okay if you're not able to get enough vitamin D from sunlight, but good food sources to be aware of are things like fatty, cold water fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, herring), milk, cheese and eggs.
8) Last but not least - GET HOME SAFE! This might sound obvious, but it's a serious concern for night shift workers. Falling asleep at the wheel is no joke and should not be taken lightly. Make plans accordingly if you know you have issues with this problem. Carpool, use public transportation, get a taxi or an Uber! Saving your life, and potentially the lives of others, is way more important here. And if you find yourself falling asleep at the wheel, please pull over. Take a nap to shake it off, or call a friend to come get you.
Bottom line, if working nights fits your lifestyle without compromising your health very much and you are able to get plenty of quality sleep, then good for you. However, if you are someone who just cannot get sleep or find yourself really feeling awful despite trying all of the above suggestions, you may want to consider a different shift. Nights are not for everyone. I know at times you need to do what you have to do, but just make sure your own health is not taking a serious hit in the meantime. Pay attention to what your body is telling you, and be kind to yourself!
Have you noticed the buzz over the last couple of years with the term grass-fed? You may see it on labels at the grocery store or hear about it in health and fitness circles or see it in a health magazine. It's out there, and for very good reason. Let's get into the "meat" of why this term has gained such favor in recent times.
We are all familiar with the saying "you are what you eat". And we know as humans that trying to live a healthy lifestyle and take good care of ourselves has a lot to do with what we put in our mouth. It just makes sense that the person who eats fresh salads on a daily basis will be much better off than someone who eats Twinkies all day. This is not hard to figure out. The person eating salads every day will probably have much less health problems over time than the person eating Twinkies every day. They will feel better, live longer, and be less sickly.
Not that cows are ever fed Twinkies (at least that I know of!), but I am just using that as an extreme example of how two animals who eat very differently will be in much different states of health over time. There can be a significant difference in the quality of red meat based on how that cow was fed. Cows who are able to graze and eat grass (which is what they were meant to do) will always be much healthier than cows who are fed grain and corn. Meat from grass-fed cows tends to have a better Omega 6:3 ratio (grass-fed meat can have up to 5 times more omega 3's!), is higher in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid - one of the two major fatty acids that helps increase metabolic rates, boosts immune system and keeps cholesterol levels in check), is higher in beta-carotene and vitamin E, and tends to be lower in overall fat content. Check out more on that HERE. And in my opinion, it tastes better!
A big deterrent for people buying grass-fed beef is the cost. Yes, it definitely is more expensive. If you choose to be vegetarian, then none of this matters to you... but I like some meat sometimes like many other people do too. Also, it can be tough to always find grass-fed beef in a grocery store where conventional meat trumps. I will buy grass-fed whenever possible and when I feel okay with spending a little more in the grocery store. Other options are going to a local farmers market or buying direct from a farm (this is my hope sometime soon!). Is it necessary to always buy grass-fed 100% of the time? Not necessarily, and it depends on your preference. Try it out, see what you can afford, and make your own decision.
One other major thing to consider is the treatment of the animals, which is something vegans are very concerned with, and I agree wholeheartedly. All calves start out eating grass and drinking milk. But eventually, conventionally raised cows are moved to feed lots to be fed grain and soy based feeds. These cows are often given antibiotics, drugs and hormones to grow faster, and only live a few months before going off to slaughter. Not much of a life. On the other hand, the grass-fed cows are able to continue to roam free in the sunshine, and eat grass, shrubs, or whatever other plants they find. That sounds a lot kinder to me, and a lot more enjoyable for the cow.
And aside from eating grass-fed beef, what about the difference in dairy products from grass-fed cows? Is there a difference there as well? Let's check that out.
Butter from grass-fed cows is significantly higher in omega 3's, and also vitamin K2. Vitamin K1 is found in plant foods like leafy greens and helps with blood clotting. K2 is found in animal products and may help keep calcium out of your arteries, making this a possible heart healthy option (after all those years of being told not to eat butter). Not only that, but a good intake of both vitamin K1 and K2 can help decrease risks of osteoporosis and bone fractures. In countries where cows are generally grass-fed, there seems to be a much lower incidence of heart disease as well.
So what does this all mean? I am not saying everyone should go out and buy tons of grass-fed beef and butter from grass-fed cows and be sure to eat it every single day. I am simply pointing out the health benefits of these products coming from cows that are grass-fed vs. those who are not. I enjoy eating beef on occasion and I am not afraid of using real butter from grass-fed cows in recipes and on my food. They are healthy options, and better for the life of the animal as well. In the end, I would always prefer an animal to live the way it was supposed to and eat the things it was created to eat. This just makes sense and is better for everyone all around. Hope this was helpful!
Applesauce. It's one thing to like store bought applesauce, but when you can make it fresh at home, there is just no comparison. What a delicious, simple, healthy treat that can be used in so many ways. A nurse I work with gave me this idea a while back, and I am forever grateful! I make this all the time now, and I can't believe I never did this earlier in life. So here is the simple story!
Start with somewhere around 8 small-medium apples. You can do less for a small batch, or more if you have a large family. I like to use organic gala apples for this. First I start by peeling all the apples. Next, slice all the apples in half, then core and cut them into chunks. Add enough water your crock pot just to cover the bottom, maybe 1/2-3/4 inch deep. Add the apple chunks and sprinkle with your desired amount of cinnamon and maybe a little nutmeg. I like a lot of cinnamon in mine, so I probably use about 1 1/2 - 2 TBSP, and then around 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg.
Heat on low for about 4 hours, or high for 2 hours. At that point, use a whisk and stir the apples to break them up once they are soft. I like to mix it just enough so it still has some chunks left.... sooooo yummy. :-)
Divide servings into containers and store in fridge for up to one week. You can also freeze some for several weeks... this works out fine if you want to make a big batch and save some for later!
This is so delicious just as a snack by itself, or you can use it in the ways shown below.
-Top with some cottage cheese or Greek yogurt and sprinkle with some crushed pecans
-Make waffles or pancakes using the 2-ingredient pancake recipe and top with homemade apple sauce and some crushed walnuts
-And if you're REALLY treating yourself, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top (gasp!) :-) (This pic not shown so I don't temp anyone with a weakness... haha!)
What is the number one fear nurses usually have when it comes to injury at work? Hurting their back. It's pretty common to hear nurses say that they have back pain or have strained their back at one time or another while at work. Because of the physical demands on nurses, back injuries are a major concern. Today I want to share a few ways to help protect your back by showing a few strength, mobility and stretching techniques that can be very helpful in taking care of your back for the long haul.
This first one is called a cat/cow stretch. It is great for mobility of your entire spine and can feel really good if your back has been stiff for any reason. Get on your hands and knees, knees about hip width apart, and hands directly under shoulders. Inhale as you arch your back and look up, then exhale as you round your back and tuck your chin into your chest. Repeat several times.
Next we have child's pose. This is such a relaxing pose to rest in for a while. Start on hands and knees, and simply shift your hips all the way back and rest your head against the ground. You may feel more comfortable if you spread your knees out further apart here. This is a great stretch for your entire back. Rest here for 5-10 full breathes.
Next up is downward facing dog with heel pumps. I like to get into this pose from a plank position first. Push your hips up and back and press your hands firmly into the ground pressing your chest towards your thighs. Pumping your heels is a great way to stretch the calves and hamstrings, and you are stretching out your upper back with pressing your chest to your thighs. Rest in child's pose if desired when done with this stretch.
Supine twists are great for stretching, increasing rotation through the rib cage, and they just feel good! Start by lying on your back. Pull one knee into your chest and pull across your body with opposite hand. Stretch your other arm out to the side and breathe deep into the stretch. Repeat other side.
Bird dog is a great way to strengthen the stabilizing muscles in your back. This may not look like much, but this is a great exercise to do on a regular basis. Take note, it is important to keep your spine stable during this exercise... I am not flexing and rounding my back with this movement. The spine stays neutral as I move opposite arm and opposite leg.
And last, we can add in some forward folds. Stand tall with feet together. Take a deep breath in as you lift your hands up, then breathe out as you fold forward letting your hands hang. You can have a slight bend in the knee if it feels comfortable, or legs all the way straight. Take a breath in and come to a half lift (back straight and hands on shins), exhale again as you fold down. Slowly roll up one vertebrae at a time until standing tall. Repeat.
Try incorporating these stretches and exercises into your daily life, especially if you suffer from any tightness or weakness in your back. Warning: if you have lower back pain, forward fold may not feel good to you. Never force a stretch that does not feel good to your body. Start slow and work your way into deeper stretches as time goes on. Doing these regularly can make all the difference in the world when it comes to good back health. Give them a try!
This recipe actually came from a mistake. Yes, sometimes mistakes make great discoveries! I messed up a recipe I was following for banana bread, and I accidentally left out the butter. I was sure it would taste gross or have some awful texture... but, no. It was still really good! So I made some other small changes and now I call this one my own. :-) Now I have no problem with using real butter in any recipe (I usually prefer butter from grass-fed cows), but if you're really looking to cut the calories and have something a bit lighter, yet still have a baked good that tastes great, this recipe is for you. It is 30 Day Reset approved, Paleo approved, wheat-free, no added sweeteners, and just plain yummy. :-)
Ingredients for this recipe:
-4 ripe bananas
-1/2 cup almond butter
-1/2 cup coconut flour
-1 Tablespoon cinammon
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-2 Tablespoons ground flax seed
-pinch of sea salt
-Option - add in 1/3 cup Bob's Red Mill whey protein
powder for added protein! Although, this is considered
a dairy product, so this technically would make this recipe
not 30 Day Reset or Paleo approved - but that's only if you CARE
about being super technical... and I certainly don't all the time :-)
First, start out with your 4 ripe bananas. They don't have to be super ripe either - this still comes out good as long as they have no green left on the peel (although you may want to use a blender or some kind of mixer if the bananas are not easy to mash well by hand). Mash the four bananas in a bowl and mix in the 4 eggs with the bananas. Then add in the almond butter and mix well. I really love this Trader Joe's almond butter. I find it works better in recipes than the thicker ones out there. I don't mind mixing it up first before using it and I think it tastes great!
Next, slowly add the coconut flour, stirring well the entire time to prevent any clumping. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. I like using this ground flax seed right here.
Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. I hope you enjoy my mistake as much as I did! :-)
Life isn't easy... at all. In fact, some parts of it are a very serious struggle. All the way back to being a kid, there were difficult things to overcome. Friendship drama, figuring out what path to take with our lives, relationship difficulties, career choices, marriage, kids, jobs... and the list goes on the older we get. None of that is easy! But have you ever noticed that the things you have worked the hardest at are usually the things that have been the most fulfilling parts of your life?
Many of you are nurses like myself. Nursing school certainly was not a breeze, am I right? It was hard work. But we did it. Just think of the accomplishment you felt when you graduated and got that degree! All that hard work suddenly felt so worth it now that you were done. No matter what you studied in school... that hard work was a struggle at times... but it WAS worth it after all.
How about marriage? Wow, now that's tough. Ask any married couple who has survived married life for 50 plus years. I guarantee you that every single one of them would agree that it was HARD work to make it where they are. It's not all roses and candle light dinners. It's tough, exhausting, frustrating, and even painful at times! But is it worth it? Absolutely. The relationships we work the hardest at and invest our whole being into are the most rewarding relationships we can have. If there is no effort, it will not last. It takes WORK. It takes COMMITMENT. It takes DISCIPLINE.
Any parents out there? Need I say more. Parenting is the toughest job on earth. But is it worth it to see your child grow into an amazing human being right before you eyes? No doubt. There is no greater feeling than being part of that kind of miracle. It changes us so deeply from within. The love a parent has for their child is so unique and beautiful. But it's HARD work, for sure.
Putting in the effort to take the very best care of ourselves is hard too. Yet so many of us don't want to bother with that. Getting to the gym? That takes effort and discipline to get there. Making healthy meals rather than takeout, meal planning and thinking about what I put in my mouth? That takes too much time and a lot of effort! Taking the necessary steps to take care of your emotional health and decrease your stress level? That takes commitment to do what is necessary and get it done. Self care is hard. It takes effort, discipline, commitment and a whole lot of work. But guess what? Yes, just like all those amazing rewarding life situations listed above, it is so WORTH IT! :-)
So I'm seeing a pattern here. If it's hard, it's probably really worth it in life. Look back on your own life. What have been the most rewarding parts? Certainly not the things that came easy to you. Where is the reward in that? I can bet it was all those times that caused the blood sweat and tears that gave you the greatest satisfaction.... the times that really showed you what you are made of.... the times that helped you become more of who you were meant to be in this life.
We put aside exercise because it's hard. We don't want to make homemade food because that takes too much time. Yes, it is work. It is hard to commit to doing something that takes effort on our part. But that is where the gold is!!! Don't back down and lose out on what was meant for you because it's hard. Hard work paves the road to beautiful satisfaction and great reward. And the benefits that come from taking the best care of ourselves are amazing! There is no easy way out for success. Your marriage, your kids, your career, self-care.... all hard work. And all great rewards. Put in the work... commit... be disciplined.... it will be worth it!
I get asked pretty often why I take collagen powder on a daily basis and what the benefits truly are. So I figured it was time I write a quick blog post about this! Let's start from the beginning. What is collagen? Collagen makes up about 30-40% of the protein in our body, and about 70% of the protein in our skin alone! We've all seen beauty products claiming to be good for your skin because they contain collagen. Our body produces collagen on it's own, although as we age, production steadily declines. This is what is partly to blame for sagging skin and added wrinkles we see as we age.
When we consume collagen powder, our body breaks down these proteins into useful amino acids that are helpful in collagen production throughout the body. Collagen helps heal our body from within. I love to use this collagen powder every day. It mixes easily in hot or cold liquids and is tasteless. Not to mention, it is a protein source in and of itself, so it helps keep you full! There are many benefits and we will touch on the major ones so you can get an understanding of why collagen powder is a great choice for your health. You can also buy in bulk (6 or more) and save... click here!
Collagen powder is rich in the amino acid glycine. This amino acid is super beneficial for helping build muscle mass and also preventing muscle loss. Glycine also supports metabolic function, can help increase your metabolism, and also aids the body in detoxification. Arginine is another powerful amino acid present in collagen powder. This boosts the body's ability to make protein from other amino acids, thus helping assist in repairing muscle tissue and also healing wounds. Some research even suggests that arginie may help increase blood flow in the arteries of the heart.
Collagen also supports joint health. Since collagen is the major component of connective tissue, it makes sense that ingesting collagen would benefit the longevity and health of our joints. Ingesting collagen may even help decrease some of the discomfort caused by conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. This is great news for those who may have sore joints yet desire to continue exercising into their later years.
Healthy skin - here's a big one. Collagen is responsible for strengthening, plumping, smoothing and giving elasticity to our skin. This is why people like to buy face creams with collagen in them. But why not ingest it and get the benefits from the inside out? Some research argues that enzymes in the stomach break down collagen and prevent it from ever reaching the skin, but there is conflicting data on this. I personally find that ingesting collagen has had positive effects on my skin, and I am a fan. It can even help diminish cellulite and stretch marks. This is why collagen is one of the best natural skin care products you can invest in!
Collagen has also been said to help heal "leaky gut" - this is when toxins and large protein molecules are able to pass through the lining of the digestive tract causing unpleasant symptoms in some people. This can cause inflammatory reactions to occur. Collagen can help soothe the gut lining and heal the damaged cell walls from within, thus preventing further damage.
Some research claims that ingesting collagen can help thicken hair, give you better nails, boost immune system, help balance blood sugar, regulate sleep, assist in wound healing and even help decrease inflammation. That sounds like a whole lot of positives! What are the drawbacks? Not really much that I can see! A small amount of people do complain of some GI upset when taking collagen powder, but not many. To me, it is an easy way to get some great benefits from an all natural source. I put 2 Tablespoons in my coffee each morning, and some days add another dose to a smoothie later in the day. It is said that vitamin C works well together in the absorption and use of collagen in the body, so for best results you may want to ingest collagen with some form of vitamin C.
I love these. These muffins are not only delicious, but they are protein packed, energy boosting, nutritious, and also filling. They are a great way to start the day when you need to grab-and-go, or they also serve as a great snack option when you're hungry. This recipe makes a lot of muffins!
Ingredients for this recipe:
-1 banana, mashed
-2 cups unsweetened apple sauce
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1/2 cup raw honey
-4 cups Old Fashioned oats ( I like Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Oats)
-1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
-1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill Whey Protein Powder
-1/4 cup ground flaxseed
-1/4 cup chia seeds
-1 Tablespoon cinnamon
-3 teaspoons baking powder
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 1/4 cups milk
-1/2 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix eggs, banana, vanilla applesauce and honey together in a bowl. Add in oats, coconut, protein powder, flax, chia seeds, cinnamon, baking powder and salt and mix well with wet ingredients.
Then pour in milk and combine. Add raisins last, and divide batter into greased muffin tins. I love this recipe because it makes a large batch. I usually make 6 large muffins and about 9-10 small with this recipe. I keep some out in the fridge (lasts about 3-4 days in fridge) and freeze the rest for later!
Bake 30-45 minutes (depending on size of muffin tins used) or until toothpick comes out clean.
Let's face it. I think we all know by now that sugar isn't great for us. But there is a lot of confusing information out there about what is okay, what sweeteners are "healthy" and how much we are supposed to have. So let's try to break it down right here.
First, let's look at regular table sugar. Sugar is a disaccharide made up of a 50/50 combination of fructose and glucose and usually comes from sugar cane or sugar beets. The disturbing thing here is that most of the sugar that we eat here in the U.S. comes from genetically modified sugar beets. I prefer to stay away from anything that has been genetically modified anyway, let alone the fact that sugar itself is not good for you. Excess sugar intake, as we know, will clearly lead to weight gain. Not to mention, heart disease, tooth decay, accelerated aging, increased risk for certain cancers, can cause insulin resistance which can eventually lead to Type II Diabetes, has no nutritional value whatsoever, and can be highly addictive. This causes a downward spiral of bad health. Clearly not a great option.
So what about sugar in the RAW? This may sound like a more natural option, yet the differences in processing are very minor. Raw sugar does not undergo bleaching so it is darker in color, but the result on your health is pretty much the same. No winner here.
How about raw honey? Now here's one of my favorites. Now don't get me wrong, honey is still a source of sugar, and all sources of sugar will cause an insulin spike and have the potential to cause weight gain if over consumed. Honey contains more fructose than table sugar, but not by much. But let's look at some of the benefits of raw honey for why it could be a better sweetener choice for you. Raw honey contains antioxidants, has antiviral and antibacterial properties, contains phytonutrients that can be anti-inflammatory, has potential to alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms (I am proof of this!), can help a relieve a cough or sore throat, and can even help you sleep better. It works great in baking recipes, and it just tastes good! And why raw honey as opposed to processed honey? It is pure, unheated, unpasturized and unprocessed. This protects all the nutritional elements in the honey.
Let's look at pure maple syrup. Pure maple syrup contains some vitamin B, zinc, calcium, riboflavin and magnesium as well as some antioxidants... but only tiny amounts in a spoonful. You would likely need over 1/4 cup of maple syrup to get any real nutritional benefits (which is probably more sugar than you need!). It has the same number of calories as table sugar with an equal ratio of fructose to glucose. But PLEASE do not buy imitation maple syrups found on grocery store shelves. Most of them are filled with high fructose corn syrup which is NOT natural or good for you. If you are going to use maple syrup, make sure it is PURE.
Agave syrup - Heard of this one? It was pushed as being a "healthy sweetener" for a while, but if we look closely at the facts, we will see why this is not true. Agave syrup is derived from the agave plant. It is higher in calories than white sugar and it is 84% fructose rather than 50% as in white sugar. This was originally thought to be a good thing since fructose itself is less likely to cause insulin spikes in the short term, thus making this a supposedly better choice for diabetics. However, fructose can only be processed by the liver, and if the liver is overloaded with more fructose than it can handle, the extra gets turned into fat, and this could eventually lead to "fatty liver disease". Fructose disrupts normal liver metabolism. This is similar to how high alcohol consumption can disrupt the liver. This is not something we want, nor is this good for us. Plus, the way this is processed from the agave plant, all of the "natural" health benefits of the plant are stripped away before it ever gets to you.
Coconut sugar - This is made from the sap of coconut palm trees. It has a taste similar to brown sugar and contains less fructose than white sugar (making it easier for liver metabolism and has less potential to turn into fat). However, this is higher in sucrose so it will still cause a significant rise in blood sugar. It does contain trace minerals like potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium. Certainly not a health food, but not a terrible option to keep in mind.
Sugar alcohols -What are these? You may recognize the names xylitol, glycerol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, or erythritol. These are most commonly found in foods and candy labeled "sugar free". Sugar alcohols are naturally occurring in plants like berries, other fruits, corn husks and birch. These are supposed to pass through the body unmetabolized, causing no sugar imbalance whatsoever. Are they harmful for us? The short answer is no. However, sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect if consumed in large amounts, and if it comes from corn husks (like most xylitol does) it could very likely contain GMOs. Just to be aware....
Then there is Stevia! This seems to be a popular one right now. This is derived from the leaves of the stevia plant. The concentrated extract is filtered into a powder or liquid form. It is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar! A little goes a long way here. It is a natural zero calorie sweetener, but also contains no nutrients at all. Using the dried leaf form would be the most natural choice, and always try to look for organic. The white powdered stevia usually goes through much more processing and bleaching making it not so natural anymore. So since it causes no blood sugar spikes at all, it sounds good... BUT. There is the question being raised that because it is so sweet, this causes the body to expect a blood sugar change, yet it doesn't happen. Some question whether this could actually be stressful to the body and actually cause some harm.. yet I have not seen any studies yet proving this. Just something to think about...
Now here's the big NO-NO!!! Artificial sweeteners are NEVER a good choice. These zero calorie sweeteners may seem like a good idea for weight loss, yet it is one of the WORST mistakes you can make for your health. The risks of these dangerous chemicals far outweigh any benefit you think you might be getting. And the kicker is, most people who become addicted to these sweeteners (and yes, they make you want more and more) actually end up GAINING weight in the long run. Why? Because foods or beverages with these sweeteners provide zero sense of appetite satisfaction. How often do we see someone order a diet soda and then drink it down with one of the most heavily calorie dense items on the menu? These sweeteners can also cause you to have an increased craving for carbohydrates. They have been linked to multiple adverse health effects and are just a bad choice.
So what can we take away from all this information? The bottom line here is that no sweetener is a health food. All sugar of any form will have some negative affects on your body, so they are to be used sparingly. However, I hope that this information helps you to be able to make some informed decisions next time you think about sweeteners you may choose to use. I personally love using raw honey and pure maple syrup for sweeteners at home in certain recipes. I am okay with that, and I make sure to keep the amounts in check. As long as you are careful with how much and how often, make your own choices based on the above information and be smart about it! And what about sugar in fruit? Simple sugars from fruit are not as concerning simply because you are also getting a high amount of antioxidants and fiber along with it. Free sugar that is not bound to fiber in fruit is what can lead to inflammation, blood sugar instability and possibly even Type II Diabetes. Hope this helps!
Planks are an awesome body weight exercise that will always and forever prove to be beneficial. They will never go out of style, do not require any equipment, do not take long to do, and are one of the most effective exercises you can do.
Why are planks so great? They are one of the best exercises for strengthening your core. And why is that so important? Because your core is the foundation of all movement. When your core is strong, you move better... in ALL things. You will lift weights more safely, you will balance better, you will throw a ball with more accuracy, you will protect your back in everyday activities, improve chronic back pain, you will tone your belly, and you will have better posture.
For nurses, having a strong core is essential. Think of all the physical movement necessary in one shift. If we can improve core strength by doing plank exercises, this can be so beneficial in the life of a nurse for work safety and protecting yourself in everyday life. The most common injury feared by nurses at work is usually hurting their back. Strengthen your core! Planks can play a vital role in preventing injury.
Planks engage your rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques and glutes. Not to mention, you will certainly gain upper body strength from holding these positions longer and longer each time.
So how do we do planks? Here are several variations to try:
Go down onto both forearms, keeping elbows directly under shoulders. stretch legs out behind you and go up onto the balls of your feet. Keep your body in a straight line from your head to your heels. Hold your core muscles tight, and think of pulling your navel up into your spine. Hold this position for 30 seconds to start, and try to increase how long you can hold each time you do this.
Straight Arm Plank:
Same as above, but place hands on the ground instead of forearms, keeping arms straight and directly below shoulders.
Come onto your right hand or forearm with elbow directly under your shoulder and stack your feet (or you may place one foot in front of the other if stacking is too difficult). Other hand may be placed on your hip, or raise your arm up straight, in line with other arm. Keep your hip lifted so you create a straight line from your head to your feet. Keep core muscles engaged the entire time. Try to hold for 30 seconds each side.
To increase difficulty if desired, you can always try lifting one foot or one hand while holding your plank. This will create much more of a challenge if that's what you're looking for!
So let's see. Planks require no equipment, can be done just about anywhere, do not require much time at all, yet provide huge benefits with little effort. I'd say that's a win-win! If you're not doing planks, you may want to think about starting!
Terri Wentzell is a registered nurse with more than 20 years of experience. She is also a certified personal trainer, wellness coach, fitness nutrition coach, and sport yoga instructor.