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Why and How You Should Eat Beans

(The following report is based on several sources, given in and below the article.  In some cases I have completely quoted the sources, being too far removed from school, I have lost my discipline for such things, but I take no credit for any of the following work and encourage you to follow the links to read the works by the authors.)


Beans can help you lose weight, reduce your chance of getting cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Although a serving size of beans and meat contain about the same calories, the beans have fiber (meat does not) and higher water content than meat. The fiber is beans means the beans are digested more slowly and provide the fiber most of need to have more of in our diet.  One cup of beans contains about 12 grams of fiber which is ½ female RDA of fiber and 1/3 male RDA of fiber.  Fiber helps increase satiety, reduce hunger and help control appetite. (Kovacs)

Beans are low in sugar (have a low glycemic index) and that along with the fiber prevents insulin in bloodstream from spiking and causing hunger. They are good for managing insulin resistance diabetes and hyperlipidemia. Beans contain both soluble which helps to lower blood levels of LDL cholesterol without compromising the level of good HDL.  And insoluble fiber which helps to attract water and enhance transit time of waste through the color.  This may help with constipation, colon cancer and other conditions that affect the digestive tract.  (Raatz)

Beans are a source of low-fat protein (less than 2% of content) and contain primarily unsaturated fatty acids (less than 15% of the fat is unsaturated). They are cholesterol free. Beans are sodium-free, contain copper, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium.  Most beans are a rich source of iron. They also contain thiamin, folic acid, riboflavin and vitamin B6. (Raatz)

Here are some study results.  Bean eaters weighed on average 7 lbs. less and had slimmer waistlines than bean-avoiders, even though the adult bean-eaters on average consumed 200 more calories. (Kovacs) A multicultural study showed than bean consumption was the only dietary component related to longevity. (Kovacs citing Darmadi-Blackberry)

Beans also contain phytochemicals, which meat does not.  Phytochemicals include antioxidants which incapacitate cell-damaging free radical.  Free radicals are associated with aging, cancer, lignans may play a role in preventing osteoporosis, heart disease and certain cancers.  Flavonoids may help reduce heart disease and cancer risk.  Plant stenol esters may help reduce blood cholesterol levels. (Raatz)

Beans are also a low cost food.


The latest dietary guidelines increase the recommended bean consumption from 1 cup to 3 cups per week. (Kovacs)

Dr. Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live, recommends 1 cup per day at lunch and says that they blunt the desire for sweets and prevent mid-afternoon cravings.

You can buy canned or dried beans. It is best to use either within one year of purchasing.


Canned beans contain sodium, but you can reduce the sodium by 40% if you drain and rinse them.

Canned are more expensive than dried but require less work.

Canned beans at Traders Joes contain no BPA.


Dried beans contain no sodium.  Dried beans are cheaper than canned, but require more cooking time.

To prepare dried beans, first, you must sort through them.  You are looking for pebbles or other non-bean elements.

Second, and there’s a controversy—soak or not?  Recipes almost always say to soak, but one article (“Don’t soak your dried beans!” By Russ Parsons advocates not soaking.  (The article did refer to some analysis that said that most Central and South American cooks do not soak beans.)

According to this cook, not soaking the beans results in more flavor and only increases the cooking time from about 1 hour 15 minutes to 2 hours.  Additionally, this cook found that cooking beans covered in water and in a covered pot in the oven at 250 degrees was the least labor-intensive method.  You only need check the beans every 30 minutes to make sure there is sufficient water.  (Also, increasing the temperature to 350 degrees reduces the total cooking time.)

Soaking also does not reduce flatulence-producing qualities, according to the same cook.  More on this topic later.

Salt or not salt during cooking? Again, the same cook said that salting during cooking requires about 1 teaspoon per lb. if you salt at the beginning but required more than 2 times that if you wait to salt after cooking.

Other cooking tips: using acid, such as vinegar, lemon juice, tomatoes, molasses or wine after beans have been cooked fully increases the depth of flavor.  Onions, herbs and spices (oregano, thyme, garlic, parsley, and any other herbs) enhance the flavor and can be added any time during the cooking, but these flavors diminishes the longer they are cooked.

Beans and Flatulence

Beans cause flatulence because of two things: fiber and complex sugar called alpha-galactoses (mainly raffinose and stachyose). Anyone who has added fiber to their diet knows this has to be added gradually. The sugars, however, are different.  Humans do not produce enzymes to digest these sugars.  They pass undigested until they reach the large intestines then ferment there, causing flatulence. Some say that soaking the beans will reduce these sugars, but it doesn’t.  There is a complicated blanching/soaking method, but it doesn’t completely eliminate it and reduces the flavor.  (Parsons)

If you eat beans regularly, the microflora which ferment the sugar-causing gas adjust.  One study looked at adults 26-57, giving them ½ c of beans per day for 8-12 weeks.  Less than ½ reported increased flatulence in the 1st week.  Of those who reported it, greater than 70% said the increased flatulence has gone away in the 2nd week.  AND 3-11% of the control group who did not have flatulence-producing foods reported increased flatulence.  Of the bean-eaters, after 2-3 weeks, flatulence returned to normal levels. (Hutchins) So the takeaway from this is to east small portions of beans at first, 2-4 tablespoons per day, to let the microflora adjust, and make sure you drink enough water because of the added fiber.

Bean recipes

Here’s a cute article on the recipe site, epicurious:

Two of the more interesting recipe ideas on the Bean Institute site are a smoothie containing berries and great northern beans and a black bean brownie recipe.  I’ve included these below

The most common recipes at that site are appetizers (for example, dips using mashed beans or salsas with beans), soups both with and without meat, salads, and beans added into often non-bean fare, such as pasta, shrimp, omelets.  Try some out and report back to the Healthy Lifestyles Group. I am going to make the brownies first.

I’ve also included a recipe from Lisa Leake’s 100 Day of Real Food site for slow cooker baked beans.  She mentions that soaking is optional.

Fudgy Black Bean Brownies

Categories: Easy Recipes

Recipe by Liz Weiss, MS, RD and Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD

Our flourless fudgy brownies are gluten free, and we’ve never met a child yet who didn’t love them. No one has to know they are made with black beans, though if you choose to reveal your secret, they’ll still disappear the second you serve them. Our kids are especially fond of these brownies after school with a tall glass of low-fat milk.


One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract, optional
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil or coat an 8 X 8-inch baking pan or dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Place the black beans in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth and creamy.  Add the eggs, oil, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, peppermint extract as desired, baking powder, and salt and process until smooth.  Add ¼ cup of the chips and pulse a few times until the chips are incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top with a rubber spatula, and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup chocolate chips.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan before slicing into 2-inch squares.

Yield: 16 Servings
Serving Size: One brownie (2” by 2”)

Nutrient Information per Serving: 120 calories, 5g fat (1.5g saturated, 0.3g omega-3), 95mg sodium, 18g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 3g protein

Berry Bean Smoothie

Categories: Appetizers

Featured at the 2013 Beans For A Better Life seminar in Dallas, Texas.
Yield: 8 servings, 6 oz. each

  • 15 oz. cooked and cooled Great Northern beans (substitute a can of beans, drained and rinsed, if desired)
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 cups quartered strawberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 8 oz. can crushed pineapple with juice
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 6-8 ice cubes (crushed works best)

In a blender or food processor process all ingredients, except ice cubes.
Add ice cubes and blend until smooth.
Serve in glasses.
Tip: Add a banana for thicker, smoother texture.

Nutrient information per serving: Calories: 127.13; Fat: 0.41g; Protein: 4.84g; Total Fiber: 5.68g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Calcium: 51.85mg; Iron: 1.41mg; Sodium: 3.07mg; Carbohydrates: 27.84g


Slow Cooker Baked Beans



  • 2½ cups dried navy beans (optional, but recommended: soak beans in water in the fridge for 6 to 8 hours and then drain)
  • 8 oz bacon, cooked and diced (organic and/or local recommended)
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 – 15 oz can plain tomato sauce
  • ¾ cup pure maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • black or red pepper, to taste


  1. Place the beans, bacon, bell pepper, and onion in the bottom of aslow cooker. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the tomato sauce, syrup, mustard, vinegar, chili powder, salt and pepper. Pour over top of bean mixture and then add 3½ cups of water. Turn the slow cooker onto high and cook for 10 to 12 hours. Discard onion pieces and serve warm.


*To make this recipe Vegetarian, omit the bacon.
We recommend organic ingredients when feasible.

Works Cited

Darmadi-Blackberry IWahlqvist MLKouris-Blazos ASteen BLukito WHorie YHorie K.. “Legumes: the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities”

Fuhrman, Joel, MD. Eat to Live.

Hutchins, Andrea, PhD, RD. “Beans and Flatulence: Unfounded Fear or Fact of Life,” handout on the Bean Institute site

Kovacs, Jenny Stamos. “Beans: Protein-Rich Superfoods,” WebMD the Magazine

Leake, Lisa.  “Slow Cooker Baked Beans,” on the 100 Days of Real Food site

Miller, Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RD. “Beans 101,” slideshow on The Bean Institute site

Parsons, Russ. “Don’t soak your dried beans! Now even the cool kids agree” LA Times

Raatz, Susan, PhD, MPH, RD. “Nutritional Value of Dry Beans,” handout on the Bean Institute site

Stockwell, Anna.  “7 Things You Can Do with That Lonely Can of White Beans,” from Menus, Cooking Articles & Food


Free and Helpful Resources from the National Institutes of Health

At our December meeting, besides having some delicious and healthy snacks, JoAnn Suthill, who works for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spoke to us about New Year’s resolutions (which can be made at any time, not just New Year’s) and about some helpful and free resources available from the NIH website.

JoAnn highlighted two specific resources from the site:

Be Active Your Way, A Guide for Adults

Changing Your Habits: Steps to Better Health

Their website has many more resources, so please check it out and let the group know of any that you found helpful.  Click here to go to that site.

100 Days of Real Food Pledge

As discussed in our Sunday HLG meeting, we have an opportunity to participate in a “real food” pledge.  The duration of the pledge is up to you – there are 10 day pledges, 100 day pledges, and mini-pledges.  The information listed below is from the website  I encourage you to go to the website and learn more about the author (Lisa Leake) and the various pledge options.  Have fun!

We invite you to read along and hopefully join in as our family seeks out the real food in a processed food world. Our hope is since our family (that does not live on a farm, has two young children, and a husband that travels frequently) went 100 days without eating a single ounce of processed food or refined ingredients that you will consider taking our 10 Days of Real Food pledge. To make the boundaries clear we set some ground rules. If we did it for 100 days, then I am absolutely convinced that anyone can do it for only 10 days! And in case you need some more convincing, check out our list of 10 reasons to cut out processed food. If you would like to make some changes without going “cold turkey” also check out our 100 Days of Real Food Mini-Pledges, a 14-week guide for slowly cutting out processed food.

Our original 100 Days of Real Food pledge ended September 4, 2010 and boy was it a wild journey. You can start reading the blog from the beginning on “Day 1” if you’d like. During that pledge, one piece of feedback we heard often was…isn’t real food expensive? And the honest answer? Yes. So we decided to set out on yet another real food journey by taking a 100 Days of Real Food on a Budget pledge. This one began on October 4, 2010 and allowed us to spend only $125/week on food for the four of us. That is less money than a family would have on full food stamp benefits! You can read more about the rules for this second pledge by starting on “Budget Day 1.” Thanks for stopping by!

A little more about our family and why we are doing this…

At the beginning of 2010 our eating habits were just like those of any other average family. We thought we were making fairly healthy food choices, although we certainly weren’t following any special rules. Then came along the Oprah show “Food 101 with Michael Pollan”. After the show, Jason and I (Lisa) both decided to read Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food” which ended up being life changing for us. As it turned out, a lot of what we thought were “healthy” food choices were actually just highly processed and what the food industry was labeling as “healthy.”

Jason’s background is fairly different from mine. As a young child he lived with his parents and aunts and uncles on a hippie commune in Oregon. They grew and raised all of their own food. Jason and his parents have since become more industrialized when it comes to eating, but that doesn’t change their basic understanding of where our food comes from. On the other hand, as a child I had both Doritos and Kraft macaroni & cheese as staples in my diet, and I barely stepped foot on a farm. This shaped my views as an adult. As most other wives and moms can relate, I do most of the meal planning and food shopping, therefore I was (and still am) the biggest influence on our family’s food choices. And after reading “In Defense of Food” I decided it was time to make some big changes to those food choices.

So it wasn’t easy at first, but we slowly revamped everything from what we bought, to where we shopped, to how we cooked. It’s been such an eye opening experience for us that we didn’t want to keep all this exciting information to ourselves. So soon after we started making changes I launched a blog called The Food Illusion (which has now been moved over to this site) and began to build an audience. After a few months of blogging I decided it was time to do something big, something bold, and something that would get as many other people as we can to not only read about eating real foods, but to also make a commitment to this important change. Which is when the original 100 Days of Real Food pledge was born. You see, every time we food shop or eat a meal we are voting for either processed food-like substances or real food. If all of us make the right choices together then we can make a big impact, which will help change our country’s food system for the better.

Take 10-Day Pledge

We would like to ask you to join our mission by taking the 10 Days of Real Food pledge. Taking the 10-day pledge means following our same real food rules (that we followed during our 100-day pledge) just for a shorter amount of time. Thousands of people all the way from Austin to Australia have signed up so far! Check out the blog post with their feedback to see how much the 10-day pledge has impacted their lives. As you’ve probably noticed, this website is about our family taking the 100 Days of Real Food pledge. If all four of us did it for 100 days, I am convinced that absolutely anyone can do it for only 10 days. And what harm is there in trying?

On the other hand, if you feel the need to ease into things then check out our weekly “real food” mini-pledge series or our list of suggested pledge alternatives on the rules page. These may help you get ready for the 10-day pledge or simply help you make some general changes for the better.  However, if you want a true wake up call to just how pervasive processed foods are in everyday life, we believe there is no substitute for the 10-day pledge!  We promise that your new-found perspective will be worth the effort.

Benefits of Taking the 10-Day Pledge

Upon completing your goal we predict you will gain the following:

  • A first-hand, eye opening experience of how to identify the real food in our processed food world.
  • At least one improved health benefit such as having more energy, losing weight, improving regularity, or just feeling healthier overall.
  • The realization that some of those pre-packaged processed “food-like substances” don’t even taste that good compared to real food.
  • The opportunity to teach your children (if you have them), by example, the healthiest way to eat and enjoy the food mother nature has given us.
  • A congratulatory letter and complimentary gifta silicone wristband debossed with “10 Days of Real Food” which you can wear to make sure all of your friends know what you accomplished!
  • The ability to continue on with your life however you chose, but with the new knowledge of how and why to avoid processed foods. Hopefully your 10-day experience will convince you to consider making at least a few changes for life.

How to Take the 10-Day Pledge

  1. Review the rules that you must follow for the full 10 days. In case you need some more convincing you may also want to review 10 reasons to cut out processed food.
  2. Complete the form below including your start date. We recommend that you take at least a few days or longer to plan and prepare your kitchen with whole foods so you have enough to eat once your mission starts. Also, consider boxing away the stuff that might tempt you to break the rules – we want you to succeed!
  3. We also recommend that you spend a few moments reviewing our concise list of real food meal ideas (that link directly to recipes) on the Recipes and Resources page of this site.
  4. Don’t forget to update your facebook or twitter status to let your friends know that you are starting the 10 Days of Real Food pledge so they can provide you with support and accountability!

Once you have completed your 10-day pledge visit the Real Food Graduates page to tell us about your experience.  We want to know how it went, keep track of how many people have come this far, and be able to send you your free gift.


What you CAN eat:

  1. Whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry
  2. Lots of fruits and vegetables (we recommend that you shop for these at your local farmers’ market)
  3. Dairy products like milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs, and cheese
  4. 100% whole-wheat and whole-grains (find a local bakery for approved sandwich bread and check the Understanding Grains post for more info)
  5. Seafood (wild caught is the optimal choice over farm-raised)
  6. Only locally raised meats such as pork, beef, and chicken (preferably in moderation)
  7. Beverages limited to water, milk, all natural juices, naturally sweetened coffee & tea, and, to help the adults keep their sanity, wine and beer!
  8. Snacks like dried fruit, seeds, nuts and popcorn
  9. All natural sweeteners including honey, 100% maple syrup, and fruit juice concentrates are acceptable in moderation
  10. Also check out the Recipes & Resources page for a more detailed list of meal options including links to recipes

What you CANNOT eat:

  1. No refined grains such as white flour or white rice (items containing wheat must say WHOLE wheat…not just “wheat”)
  2. No refined sweeteners such as sugar, any form of corn syrup, cane juice, or the artificial stuff like Splenda
  3. Nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle or package that has more than 5 ingredients listed on the label
  4. No deep fried foods
  5. No “fast foods”


How to Avoid Processed Food in General

If you feel that you have the will, but not the skill to do the 10 Days of Real Food pledge then here are some general lifestyle changes to consider instead…

  1. Read the ingredients label before buying anything. For years, if I even looked at food labels, I was reviewing items such as fat grams, calorie count and sugar content. While this may be important to some, the best indicator of how highly processed a food is can actually be found in the list of ingredients. If what you are buying contains more than 5 ingredients and includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable items you may want to reconsider before buying.
  2. Increase your consumption of whole foods especially vegetables and fruits. I am sure you’ve heard similar advice a thousand times, and I hate to tell you that it couldn’t be more true. This will help to displace the processed foods in your diet, and will actually make your food selections in general very simple. No more counting calories, fat grams, or carbs when your only concern is selecting whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry.
  3. Buy your bread from a local bakery. I actually used to eat white bread, but what I bought for my husband from the grocery store was what I thought was whole-wheat bread. When we finally checked the ingredients and found 40 different items on the list, including white flour and sugar, we decided it was time for a change. Why would there be so many on the list if it only takes a handful of ingredients to make bread? We since started buying our bread from Great Harvest Bread Company. Not only do they grind their own wheat every morning, but their honey whole-wheat loaf only has five ingredients – whole-wheat flour, water, yeast, salt and honey.
  4. In addition to your bread choice, when selecting foods like pastas, cereals, rice, and crackers always go for the whole-grain option. And don’t just believe the health claims on the outside of the box.  Read the ingredients to make sure the product is truly made with only 100% whole grains – not a combination of whole grains and refined grains which is unfortunately how a lot of “whole grain” products are made. The white flour or other refined grain alternative is simply high in calories and low in nutrition.
  5. Avoid store-bought products containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and those “that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients” according to Michael Pollan. Despite the mixed research on if HFCS is really worse for you than good ol’ white sugar, it just happens to be “a reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed”.
  6. Don’t order off the kids’ menu. The next time your family is out to dinner try to avoid the kids menu. Those selections are most often things like pre-made chicken nuggets, fries, and pasta made with white flour, among other things. Instead try assembling some sort of side item plate (like baked potatoes and whatever else your kid will tolerate) and/or try sharing some of your meal.
  7. Visit your local farmers’ market the next time you need to restock your fridge. According to Michael Pollan not only will you find “food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious”, but you will also find a selection of pesticide-free produce and properly fed meat products. It is also better for our environment to purchase locally grown products as opposed to the supermarket produce, which travels on average 1500 miles from the farm to your plate.

Lastly, to once again quote Michael Pollan, he says to “eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” If you had to peel, chop and deep fry potatoes every time you wanted French fries then you might not eat them very often. Only eating “junk food” such as cakes, sweets, and fried foods as often as you are willing to make them yourself will automatically ensure the frequency is appropriate.

Dietary Influences on Various Cancers

At our November meeting, Tony Segreti presented a summary of an interesting article on nutrition and cancer, giving us six areas where dietary guidelines can help prevent cancer.  The evidence, while not always conclusive, is substantial of the influence of these dietary guidelines on cancer risks. The six dietary areas and their impacts on various cancers are:

  1. Eliminating or reducing dairy products can help prevent prostate cancer.
  2. Alcohol can increase the risk of oral and colorectal cancers.
  3. Red and processed meat can increase the risk of colerectal cancer.
  4. Grilled, fried, and broiled meat can increase the risk of color, rectum, breast, pancreas and kidney cancers.
  5. Soy products consumed in a non-processed form (tofu, edamame, tempeh, soy milk, for example) can reduce the risk of breast cancer.
  6. Fruit and vegetables can reduce the risk of a variety of cancers.

To read the entire study, which includes more data, click here .


Buddy System Options

If there were a way to double your chances for fitness success, would you be interested? How about a technique to make exercise more fun? A tool that automatically creates space and time in your busy schedule for workouts? A proven way to help you out of a rut or through a plateau? Countless fitness seekers have found that the right workout buddy can do all this and more.

“In my 10 years of evaluating what creates long-term health-and-fitness success, the single most important factor is having a support system,” says Wayne Andersen, MD, cofounder and medical director of Take Shape for Life, a nationwide health and lifestyle coaching program. Exercise partners provide a powerful combination of support, accountability, motivation and, in some cases, healthy competition. “They can play the role of teammate, co-coach and cheerleader — all while working out,” says Michelle Maidenberg, Clinical Director of Westchester Group Works.

Maidenberg says finding the right workout partner (someone you care about and click with) dramatically increases your chances of success. “A buddy can motivate you to do one more set, continue when you feel like you have just had enough and want to give up, or when you are feeling hopeless.” The need for interpersonal support is primal, says Andersen. “We are social animals. We seek the company and positive reinforcement of others, especially when we are doing work.”

A 2011 study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that the exercise habits of people you know have a positive influence on your exercise habits. Another study, from the Department of Kinesiology at Indiana University, surveyed married couples who joined health clubs together and found that couples who worked out separately had a 43 percent dropout rate over the course of a year. Those who went to the gym together, regardless of whether they focused on the same type of exercise, had only a 6.3 percent dropout rate.

Ready to partner up? Great! But before you recruit the first warm body you see, keep in mind that not all workout buddies are created equal. “If you choose someone who does not share a similar commitment to fitness, that can be a distraction or even a deterrent,” Andersen says. “And if your partner is at a radically different level of health, fitness or ability, you could be held back, pushed too hard or even injured.”

Another key factor: Emotional connection. Your workout pal doesn’t have to be your best friend, but he or she has to be someone you like and whom you wouldn’t want to disappoint, Maidenberg says. “Psychologically, if you feel like you have a responsibility and commitment toward another person, you are more likely to follow through on that commitment.”

The most successful fitness partnerships fall into one of three categories: the pal-based buddy system, the small group and the coupled pair. Take a look at them all, then consider which collaborative arrangement (or arrangements) might work best for you.


The Buddy System

A dynamic duo, typically friends or colleagues, who train together one-on-one or have developed a regular routine of connecting for fitness activities.

Best for: Those who shy away from gyms and fitness classes when solo, or who tend to be more introverted. Great for those focused on specific, shared or complementary goals (e.g., losing weight or training for an event). Ideal for pals who want to spend more time together and be more active. Also great for coworkers or stay-at-home parents. “Finding time to work out around your job or the kids’ schedules can be challenging,” says Kara Thom, coauthor of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom. It makes sense to recruit the people you see on a regular basis. Have a coworker join you for a lunch hour workout or exercise with fellow parents waiting around during a child’s music lesson or sports practice.


Why it works: “Having a reliable workout buddy increases your chances of sticking with your program,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, MS, PT, psychologist, and physical therapist. It can be hard to push yourself during solo workouts, she notes, and it’s dangerous to lift heavy weights without a spotter. A workout buddy can provide healthy competition while keeping you within safe limits. Plus, there’s a huge emotional benefit. “During a workout, more than our pores open up,” Thom says. “We find ourselves connecting with our workout buddies more intimately than we might if we were just meeting over coffee. Workout partners not only get us through a challenging workout, but can help us through life challenges as well.”


Potential pitfalls: “If your workout partner is down all the time, complaining, you will eventually lose motivation,” Lombardo says. Likewise, if he or she is too competitive or is jealous of your success, it will bring you down. You don’t have to be perfectly matched fitness-wise (in fact, it can be helpful to exercise with someone who is a little fitter than you), but if you have dramatically different personality traits and divergent fitness goals, it can derail you,


Success story: “From past experience, I know that I am more likely to go to the gym when someone is expecting me,” says Brandi Frommelt, a mother of three girls. Initially, Frommelt used a personal trainer for motivation, but one-on-one training was never her long-term plan. Frommelt then tried recruiting girlfriends to go to the gym with her. “I found out pretty quickly that although many women say that they will go to the gym with me, few ever do.” She eventually discovered the best place to meet a reliable gym buddy is at the gym. “I realized that the people I saw there regularly already had the motivation to be healthy and active.” And, she knew their schedules aligned because she saw them consistently. So last year, Frommelt gathered her courage and asked one of the regulars to join her for a workout. The women have met faithfully three times a week ever since. “Our fitness goals are slightly different — she wants to lose weight and I want to build strength — but it gives us a nice variety of routines and exercises,” Frommelt says. The women also meet with separate personal trainers once every few months and use that information to develop new routines. “Partnering up has helped me to try different exercises that I would not normally do, which has pushed my fitness forward.”


The Group Effort

A small group of people whose membership may vary by the day, but who generally work out at the same time and place — as a group, with a trainer, or simply in the same vicinity as one another.

Best for: People who like to combine social time with exercise; coworkers, students or parents whose schedules align; cyclists, walkers and runners, or any group of fitness-minded friends. Also great for people who like the interaction of a group but may not want to participate solo in a bigger group fitness class.


Why it works: Whether you’re jogging shoulder-to-shoulder with buddies or simply glancing across the fitness floor at familiar faces, there’s a strong motivation in the feeling that “we’re all in this together,” Maidenberg says. “A group normalizes the need to maintain effective health-and-fitness behavior and promotes a feeling of community.” If you’re feeling challenged or losing steam during a workout, you can look around and find a bit of empathy or encouragement from your peers to pull you through. “The group provides a vehicle for support, for problem solving, or to gently confront and hold one another accountable if an individual is straying from the goals,” she says. Partnering with more than one person also acts as a safety net; if one person bails, there are others who will still show up.


Potential pitfalls: It can be more difficult to schedule workouts with multiple people, so you’ll want to develop a reliable system (e.g., phone tree, group texting or an online calendar). Pick regular workout times and stick to them, even if one group member doesn’t show. It can be a challenge to find or design workouts that meet everyone’s needs; good communication and periodic goals evaluation are key.


Success story: Mathew Kasel, CPT, assistant personal-training-department head at Life Time Fitness, has witnessed several small-group success stories over the years. Kasel says small groups (three or four friends or coworkers) will often hire one trainer to save money and make training sessions more fun. “A good trainer can adapt a routine so it meets a group’s needs, even if everyone’s at a slightly different level,” he says. You can perform circuits with varying free weights and kettlebells or use cardio machines side by side. It’s easy to vary resistance and modify certain moves for each person, he says. And it allows you to pair off and do two-person exercises with resistance bands or medicine balls that you can’t do alone.


The Couple Collaborative – A romantic twosome who pursue their fitness activities together. They may or may not do the same workout, but they block off time and space for being active as a couple. 

Best for: Romantic partners who support each other’s goals; couples who need more quality time together and have trouble fitting it in their schedules; parents who can take advantage of childcare at the gym; anyone looking for a fun, active date.


Why it works: You’re most successful at reaching your goals when the people closest to you are on board — or, better yet, an integral part of the team. Scheduling is often easier with a partner, since you can carpool to the gym. All those endorphins and pheromones work to increase your attraction, too. “When you’re empathetic and praise your partner during a workout, it spills over into your relationship,” says Lombardo. You learn you can tackle anything as a team, and that makes for a stronger relationship.


Potential pitfalls: If either of you is given to bickering, bullying, pouting, or competing too aggressively, the arrangement won’t work. Before you start a workout routine with your sweetheart, discuss how you’ll handle situations such as one person bailing or pushing too hard. Talk about your goals (shared and individual) and how you can best encourage one another. You might also make a “no criticism” rule during your workouts.


Success story: Shelagh Hodson, a writer in Rochester, N.Y., has always walked to stay fit, but she took a fairly casual approach to her routine. “If I wanted to skip my daily walk, my excuse had to satisfy only me — and I was easy,” she says. When her husband’s joints became less tolerant of running a few years ago, he switched to walking with her. But he wanted to maintain a more rigorous pace. “Not only does he encourage me to go faster and farther than I might have, but he doesn’t make many excuses.” As a result, she skips fewer workouts and works harder than before. “I’m a lot fitter now than when I was walking alone!”


For other couples, like Stephen and Susann Paige of Tucson, Ariz., exercising together has built trust, respect and attraction. They’ve been married for 26 years and find time to exercise outdoors together several times a week, usually running, hiking or mountain biking. “Stephen is assured in his outdoor skills and I’ve learned to trust his instincts,” Susann says. “I bring a light-hearted approach and find what’s funny in situations. We rely on each other’s strengths.”


Keep in mind, whether you’re currently working out with your spouse, a buddy or a whole passel of fitness pals, there’s no need to limit yourself to just one fitness partnership. You can hit the gym with your sweetie a couple of evenings a week, walk with a colleague over the lunch hour and ride trails with your cycle club on the weekends. The more people you have actively engaged in supporting your fitness efforts, Andersen says, the more likely you all are to enjoy the process, and the results.

Your Gut Matters

There have been several research efforts to determine the relationship of microbes in your gut and your weight.  This report on a study, Gut Microbes and Diet Interact to Affect Obesity on the NIH website, inspires me to take my daily probiotics and to try to eat well.

Eat Healthier Foods Through Education

One of the goals of our Healthy Lifestyles Group is to identify obstacles and find solutions to eating healthier foods through education. There are many books and studies which will increase our knowledge. Food Rules by Michael Pollan falls into this category.

In his 2009 book Food Rules (An Eater’s Manual), author Michael Pollan establishes 64 rules to improve our diets.  The book’s preface reminds us that science knows much less about nutrition than we would expect (hence all the competing diets).  However, two important facts are not in dispute:

  • Populations which eat a “Western diet” (processed foods and meats, lots of added fat and sugar, and few vegetables) suffer from high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
  • Populations eating a wide range of traditional diets generally don’t suffer from these chronic diseases.

The book has three sections – what should we eat, what kind of food should we eat, and how much should we eat.  His short answer to these questions is Eat Food, Mostly Plants, and Not Too Much.  The book translates these seven words into rules or personal policies.  He suggests we adopt at least one rule from each section.

I’ve selected 10 rules from each section to include in this post.  You may want to read the book – it is an easy (and fun) read and the book is available at our local Wake County libraries.

What Should I Eat (Eat Food)

  1. Eat real food not highly processed products referred to as “edible food like substances” by the author. These products contain chemical additives and other ingredients created by food scientists.
  2. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother (or grandmother) wouldn’t recognize as food – for example, a tube of Go-GURT Portable Yogurt.
  3. Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human being would keep in their pantry. If you wouldn’t use Cellulose or Calcium Propionate when you cook, why let others use these ingredients?
  4. Avoid foods that have some form of sugar or sweetener listed among the top 3 ingredients. This includes cane juice, dextrose, sucrose, barley malt, and beet sugar (to name just a few).
  5. Avoid food products with the wordoid “lite” or the terms “low-fat” or “nonfat” in their names. We’re better off eating the real thing in moderation than bingeing on “lite” products packed with sugar and salt.
  6. Eat only foods that will eventually rot – real food is alive and therefore will eventually die. Highly processed foods are often stripped of key nutrients to increase shelf life.
  7. Get out of the supermarket whenever you can and buy your food at a farmer’s market.
  8. Avoid foods advertised on TV. Over two thirds of food advertising is spent promoting processed foods and alcohol.
  9. Don’t ingest foods made in a place where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap.
  10. It’s not food if it arrived through the window of the car.

What Kind of Food Should I Eat (Mostly Plants)

  1. Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food. For example, rather than a meal composed of an eight ounce steak and 4 ounces of vegetables, serve four ounces of steak and eight ounces of veggies.
  2. Eat your colors. Vegetables of different colors contain different antioxidants which protect against chronic disease.
  3. Eat animals that have themselves eaten well. The diet of animals strongly influences the nutritional quality of the food we get from them (whether it is meat, eggs, or milk).
  4. If you have the space, buy a freezer. This will enable you to buy produce in bulk at the height of its season when it will be most abundant and cheapest.
  5. Eat well-grown food from healthy soil. Research shows that soils rich in organic matter produce more nutritious food.
  6. Don’t overlook the oily fishes (sardines, anchovies). These fish are abundantly available and packed with nutrients.
  7. Sweeten and salt your food yourself. You’ll use a fraction of the quantity used by corporations.
  8. Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of milk. These cereals are highly processed and full of refined carbohydrates.
  9. Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. Chances are you won’t have French fries every day if you have to make them.
  10. Be the kind of person who takes supplements – and then skip the supplements. Supplement takers are healthy for reasons that have nothing to do with pills. They’re more likely to exercise and eat whole grains.


How Should I Eat (Not too much)

  1. Pay more, eat less. The American food industry has focused on quantity not quality.  It will cost more to eat better but the health benefits may outweigh the additional cost.
  2. Eat when you are hungry not when you are bored. One old wives test – if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re not hungry.
  3. Eat slowly. If you eat slowly and savor the food, you’ll need less of it to be satisfied.
  4. Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.
  5. Buy smaller plates and glasses. The bigger the portion the more we will eat – upwards of 30%. Don’t supersize portions when eating at home.
  6. Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper. Front loading your calories may lead to fewer calories as people tend to be less hungry in the morning.
  7. Eat meals – studies show we’ve added a 4th meal to our daily routine. This 4th “meal” consists of day long snacking and sipping while we watch TV, drive our cars, work, etc.  This results in higher calorie consumption than eating 3 healthy meals a day.
  8. Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods – fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
  9. Treat treats as treats. There is nothing wrong with special occasion foods (cakes, pastries, ice cream) as long as every day is not a special occasion day.
  10. Cooking for yourself is the only way to take back control of your diet from the food scientists and to guarantee you’re eating real food.


Healthy Lifestyles Group Has Kick-off Meeting

There were 18 attendees including the leaders, Allison Connors and JoAnn Sutthill.

Allison opened the meeting by stating that the group’s overall goal is to pursue healthy lifestyle changes for ourselves and hopefully eventually for our congregation. She also asked everyone to think about what “healthy” means. Regarding a healthy lifestyle, she said, “My hope is that we will accomplish this by pursuing, reading and sharing evidence-based information about healthy lifestyles, that we will share individual results and successes, that we will encourage, support and provide ideas for each other, that small successes will encourage our paths to larger successes, and that our successes will inspire others within the congregation.”   Lastly, she offered prayer support for the group and for any individual prayer requests.

Everyone introduced themselves and answered the question, “What does healthy mean?” JoAnn recorded the responses and, as a group, we consolidated our answers and chose four group goals:

1) Eat Healthier Food (includes better understanding of nutrition, supplements, and organic options).

2) Balance all elements of our lives (physical, spiritual, emotional, work, stress, medication, and other demands) to maintain a healthy lifestyle

3) Increase Physical Activity 

4) Learn & Share information about healthy lifestyles


We briefly discussed how our group can meet these goals, leaving some of these decisions as homework for the next meeting.  We did decide:

 –        Instead of a common curriculum, to individually read evidence-based information related to our group goals and share this information with the group

–        To recruit speakers on topics we want to know more about.  (The Kirk has members who have already offered to help.)

–        To help each other with accountability.


 Other ideas to be discussed further:

–        Whether to develop a buddy system within the group

–        Whether to have a group progress tracking method (Fitbits, MapMyFitness and My Fitness Pal were mentioned as helpful individual methods that might offer group options)

–        Whether we would like to have a K Group-like covenant

–        Planning group physical activities

–        Planning group cooking experiences

–        Whether to help plan a Kirk-wide dinner menu

–        Establishing an Eat with Eight Healthy Option


 We determined how to stay connected:

–        Meet in two-three weeks to finish up our planning, Sunday, September 7 or 14, at 2 pm, using a doodle poll to pick the best date

–        Establish ongoing monthly meetings, perhaps Sundays at 2 pm, polling to establish best day and time

–        Establish a blog to which we can all contribute and comment on, to be hosted on the Kirk site so that the whole congregation can also see

–        Email as needed


Lastly, attendees were encouraged to set a healthy intention for the week (something not overwhelming).