Tips and Tricks for Dining Out

Eating out shouldn’t be considered as an excuse to sabotage your whole diet, especially if you eat out regularly. Eating out can still be a fun experience filled with delicious, but healthier, choices. Here are some tips and tricks for staying healthy at the restaurant:

 

Have the right mindset

Take some time to prepare before going out to eat. The first thing you want to do it’s create the right mindset. Don’t think of it as one big ‘cheat night.’ I like to allow myself a small treat every day, rather than dedicating a whole meal or day to binging. Surly you can enjoy yourself, but instead of choosing to most unhealthy meal you can think of, choose a balanced meal that is still healthy, but can also be considered a treat.

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Plan ahead

Choose your restaurant ahead of time. Most restaurants have their menus available online. Check it out and make your decision before you even get there. This way, you don’t have to look through the menu while you’re hungry and ready to eat. Not only telling yourself you will make a smart choice, but committing to a meal before you get to the restaurant will make you more likely to stick to that goal.

 

Don’t starve all day

Many people make the dire mistake of skipping meals before a night out to eat. They think they can make up for missed times. Skipping meals will only make you hungrier and more inclined to crave the fattier options. Think about it; you’re starving and you’ve been waiting for a good 30 minutes for your food to come out…would you be excited for a grilled chicken salad? Not so much. Eat like you normally would any other day. Try to plan it out so that your last meal is a light snack about 2-3 hours before going to the restaurant.

 

Control portions

Make sure to control your portions, especially if you decide to treat yourself with your meal. Here are a few tips for portion control at a restaurant:

  • Order from the kids menu if they have one
  • Split a meal with a friend
  • Turn an appetizer into a meal with a side salad
  • Ask the waiter/waitress for a to-go container so you can put half of your plate out of sight to take home
  • Ask the waiter/waitress not to bring bread to the table

 

Substitute

Make substitutions when necessary. If you’re going to treat yourself to a cheeseburger, you probably don’t need the fries on the side. Order a side of salad or veggies instead and order a vinaigrette dressing, or oil and vinegar, over creamy salad dressings.

 

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Dessert?

The most important question, should I have dessert? If are out to dinner for a special occasion, and you don’t do it often, I say go for it…only if you have room for it of course! If you ordered a healthy meal and were good with your portion sizes, a little piece of dessert on a special occasion is perfectly fine. Be sure to split it with at least one other person. On the other hand, if you tend to eat out often, and/or you decided to treat yourself with your main meal (maybe you ordered a cheese burger or a creamy pasta dish), then I would say skip the dessert for the night.

 

Remember that healthy eating is all about balance. Going out and treating yourself to a delicious dinner is fine,  just find your balance by choosing a meal that is well-balanced (meaning it contains protein, carbs and fats), watching your portion sizes, and substitute with healthier options when you need to.

 

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Sticking to Your New Years Goals Part 4/4: “I want to stop overeating.”

OK, here is the last post of this series. Many people who decide they want to eat healthier don’t realize that it’s not just about what you eat, but about how you eat.

The biggest factor in weight gain is calories. Eating more calories than your body is burning in a given day will result in excess weight, whether those calories come from healthy foods or not-so-healthy foods.

Granted, this does not mean I promote eating McDonald’s everyday! Healthy food provides us with the nutrients we need, promotes higher energy levels and aides in bodily processes. Thus, the majority of our diet should come from wholesome foods where about 10-20% of our diet should come from the foods we really enjoy.

Still, we must remember the importance of portion sizes regardless of what we are eating. Here are some quick tips to help you to control your portions.

 

Drink before you eat

Drinking a lot of water throughout the day, particularly right before mealtime, can help you feel full faster. It’s also a good idea to sip on water in between chewing. This can not only help to fill you up, but will aid in slower eating.

 

Fuel up every 3-4 hours

Don’t hold on to the old mindset of only 3 meals a day. If that really does work for you then there is nothing wrong with it. But, in general, people have long days and three meals simply isn’t enough. Snacking in between meals prevents you from extreme hunger which often leads to overeating. If you are going to be out all day, make sure to pack a piece of fruit or a protein bar in your bag.

 

Eat smart

Eat high volume meals that contain the right nutrients. Let’s compare vegetables with crackers as an example. Vegetables have a very high water content, which allows you to eat a lot with very few calories. Crackers, on the other hand, have low water content so a small amount has more calories. Thus eating a lot of vegetables are a great way to add volume to your meals because you can eat a lot and feel full for a lot less calories.

 

Along with high-volume you also want to ensure you are eating the right types of foods. Eating foods that are high in protein and fiber will fill you up until your next meal. Be sure to include protein with each meal, and eat a lot of fiber-rich foods throughout the day like vegetables and whole grains.

Smaller plates

If you are feeling very hungry and decide to eat a bowl of cereal, you are likely to fill that bowl all the way up. Use smaller plates and bowls when portioning out your food to avoid overdoing it.

 

Know your portion sizes

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I always like to tell people to spend one or two weeks measuring out food portions to get an idea of what they look like. From there, you will be able to eyeball it. You can also use your hands to measure the size of food. Here is a general set of food portions:

  • Meat – 3 oz or the size of the palm of your hand
  • Carbohydrates (pasta, beans, rice, etc.) –  ½ cup or the size of a clenched fist
  • Fats (oil, nut butters, nuts) – 1 tablespoon or the size of two thumbs
  • Vegetabels – 1 cup or the size of two clenched fists

This is a general list so always check labels for portion sizes.

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Keep the right mindset

Always ask yourself if you are actually hungry or if you are just thirsty or bored. Eat when you are hungry and find other ways to entertain yourself when you are bored. Also, keep the thought that you can always have seconds. Even though it’s important to follow correct serving sizes, it’s also important that you are not still hungry after eating. Having the idea in your mind that you can have seconds will make it easier not to overfill your plate. Many times we think we can eat more than we actually need so you may surprisingly find that one plate is enough.

 

I hope these tips were helpful. I really enjoyed writing this series.  Many times people tend to hit the New Year hard and then lose momentum as they go.

The key is to remember that healthy living is a lifestyle and you will grow and learn with time. Take small steps and don’t think that you have to do everything in January. You have a whole lifetime ahead of you and everyday is a chance to be better than the day before. No single day will be perfect and that is OK. Keep striving and you will get there, inshallah.

Keep Going

 

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Thank you all for reading. Please feel free to comment below with any questions or ideas for articles you would like to see. I’d love to bring you valuable content that can help you learn how to live a healthy life; mind, body and soul.  

 

 

 

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Sticking to Your New Years Goals Part 2: “I want to cut back on sugar.”

If you’re looking to cut back sugar this year, then you are on the right track. Excess sugar, particularly added sugars, can not only lead to weight gain but also diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. In fact, even if you are thin and eating reasonably, you may still be consuming too much added sugars without even knowing it, which can harm your health regardless of being at a healthy weight.

Before we get started on how to cut back our sugar intake, let’s make a distinction between added sugars and natural sugars. Natural sugars are found in healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. These foods are healthy and contain water, fiber and various nutrients. Added sugars, on the other hand, are those that are added to foods; foods which typically have little nutritional value.

Thus, in order to lose weight and optimize health you should do your best to avoid foods with added sugars. However, some sugar in your diet is unavoidable. According to the American Heart Association, men should get about 150 daily calories from sugar (9 teaspoons), and women should get about 100 daily calories from sugar (6 teaspoons).

Here are some ways to start reducing sugar:

1. Don’t add it to foods

The easiest way to cut back on sugar is to simply not add it. The biggest targets for adding sugar is cereal, coffee and tea. Instead, try to substitute with natural sugar substitutes. Use things like organic honey, agave or stevia in the raw.

2. Eliminate fruit juices and soda

Juices and sodas can seem harmless, but they contain tons of added sugars that benefit you in no way. While a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice may be OK once in a while, for the most part you want to eliminate soda and fruit juices. If plain water isn’t your thing, buy some all natural crystal light packets, or add some fresh fruit or even vegetables and herbs like cucumbers and basil, to your water to add a fresh flavor.

3. Limit fruits

While fruits contain fiber and good nutrients, they also contain quite a bit of sugar. Therefore, fruit should not be eliminated from the diet but rather limited to 1-2 servings per day. Go for lower-glycemic choices like grapefruit, apples and berries.

4. Read food labels

If you want to reduce sugar consumption, a good place to start is by knowing where all that sugar is hiding in the first place. Start reading food labels and avoid foods that have a lot of added sugars.

You may want to consider tracking your sugar intake for a few weeks. You will start to realize how much sugar you have actually been consuming and where you need to cut back. You will learn which types of foods are better and which should be limited or avoided.

5. Cream over milk

Believe it or not, milk is filled with more sugar than cream. Whole milk has 12 grams of sugar per cup, which is equal to 3 teaspoons of sugar (that’s half of the recommended daily sugar intake for women!).

And don’t be fooled by skim milk. Once all of the healthy animal fat is taken out, skim milk is essentially a sugary water. It may have less fat but it doesn’t have less sugar. Next time your drinking coffee or tea, add cream instead of milk. Unsweetened almond milk is also a good choice but may not give you the sweet taste you are looking for.

6. Contemplate complete avoidance

Some people are great with moderation. Other people have a hard time exercising willpower and can’t stop at just one. If you are one of these people, you may consider completely avoiding sugar altogether.

Sugary foods stimulate the same areas in the brain as drugs do. For this reason, people who would consider themselves ‘sugar addicts’ may lose control upon consumption. Instead of cutting back, consume healthy versions of your favorite sweets. You can use things like cocoa nibs, mashed banana, whole wheat flour, nuts and dark chocolate to make up healthy desserts.

7. Reduce or eliminate processed carbohydrates

Most processed carbs – like white bread, pasta, rice, crackers etc. – are loaded with added sugars and spike blood sugar levels quickly. Complex carbohydrates – things like brown rice, sweet potato, and whole grains – have less sugar content and release a longer lasting energy, so you don’t see that spike in blood sugar. Replacing simple carbohydrates (processed carbs) with complex carbohydrates will help reduce overall sugar intake.

8. Kick out trigger foods

Stay away from foods that will make you lose control! Nutella and ice cream are my triggers and I cannot keep them in the house. 1 tbsp of nutella turns into half of the jar and a bowl of ice cream turns into 4 heaping scoops. Get these foods out of your house and stay away from them at all costs.

9. Cut back slowly 

Unless you are a sugar addict who can’t control themselves, your best bet is to cut back slowly, otherwise, your cravings may worsen. For example, if you can’t imagine life without soda, start by drinking half regular soda and half diet soda. As time goes on increase the diet soda until that’s all your drinking, then start cutting back on that until soda is eventually eliminated from your diet altogether.

If you like your coffee sweet, start by using half of your normal sugar amount and half stevia or truvia. Use the same process with the soda and eventually you may even come to enjoy a sugarless cup of coffee.

In conclusion

While sugar may taste delicious and give you a temporary feeling of pleasure, it’s not worth the health risks. Cutting back on sugar and getting as close to the recommended daily servings as possible is one of the best things you can do for your health.

7 tips to gain weight the healthy way

The words “fitness,” “health,” and “dieting” are often associated with weight loss, although they do not apply only to those who want to drop pounds. Fitness and health refer to keeping the body and mind in a state where it can function optimally, and dieting is defined simply as the types of foods one eats, whether healthy or not-so-healthy.

Whether one wants to lose weight, gain weight or simply maintain their current state, these goals can all be reached through the fundamentals of a healthy diet and exercise.

 

1. Define your why

The first thing you want is to identify your why. Why do you want/need to gain weight? Some people are naturally thin and want to increase their weight, while others may be recovering from an eating disorder or other disease.

Do you want to put on muscle? Do you want to reach a healthier weight? Are you trying to overcome a bad relationship with food? Defining your reason will give your journey a purpose and thus make it more meaningful.

If you suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or any other medical condition, you should always consult a professional first. These are tips that are meant to be used as a general guideline.

 

2. Set small and realistic goals

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Setting small and realistic goals can help you to stay on track without overdoing it. Acknowledge each goal you reach by giving yourself a reward.Gaining weight may not be as easy a task as it seems. Just as with weight loss, weight gain can be a  slow process. Take everything step by step and rather than trying to reach one big goal, set small, reachable goals along the way.

Don’t try to go from eating 1200 calories to 2,500 in one day. Increase your calories slowly and overtime you will reach the larger goal.

Setting small and realistic goals can help you to stay on track without overdoing it. Acknowledge each goal you reach by giving yourself a reward.

For example, your goal might be to increase your calorie intake by eating 200 more calories everyday for a week. Once you hit this goal you might ask some friends out to dinner or go shopping and buy yourself the outfit you’ve been wanting. This will help you to stay motivated and keep going.

 

3. Supplementation

I’m not a huge advocate of supplements. Sure there are some out there that are great, and individuals who experience nutritional deficiencies can certainly benefit from supplementation. But in general a healthy individual can usually get what they need from their diet.

However, for individuals who are underweight supplements can be a great tool to start with until you build up your diet. For example, many people who are under-nourished often experience iron, potassium and calcium deficiencies.

I recommend getting a check up from your doctor to identify any nutritional deficiencies, if any. From there decide if you need to take any supplements until those levels get back to normal.

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4. Exercise

To exercise or not to exercise? Depending on your starting weight, you may want to hold off. If your body is quite weak I would suggest starting with a few days a week of exercise. Definitely stay away from any high-intensity cardio as that burns a lot of calories.

I am a huge advocate of yoga as it is low-impact and works on strength, flexibility, relaxation and endurance all at once. Start with some easy beginners yoga workouts. If you’re not a yoga fan then start with some light weight-lifting and/or bodyweight exercises.

Once you’re body starts getting used to the extra calories you may feel your strength is improving as well as your energy-levels, sleep, skin, hair and mental state. Once you get to this point, maybe after about one or two months, you can begin to add to your workouts. Start to do more intense versions of yoga such as ashtanga yoga or power yoga, or begin lifting heavier weights.

Make sure you are still taking it slow and work your way up over time. It’s still a good idea to stay away from high-intensity training or long bouts of cardio.

 

5. Eat frequently

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Eating frequently, about 5-6 meals a day will help ensure you are getting in enough food. There will be times when you don’t feel hungry but want to make sure you are eating enough calories. Eating every 3-4 hours is a great way to not only get all of your calories in but also to get your body used to eating regularly.

Here is a sample meal plan:

  • Breakfast: 2 whole eggs, oatmeal with all natural nut butter, piece of fruit
  • Snack: whole fat Greek yogurt, sprinkle of granola, some berries
  • Lunch: lean beef, sweet potato, side salad
  • Snack: handful of nuts with fruit
  • Dinner: salmon, brown rice, vegetables
  • Snack: glass of milk and a dark chocolate bar

6. Go for full-fat

In weight loss diets you are always hearing about “low-fat” “non-fat” and “sugar-free” options. Remove these words from your vocabulary for the time being and focus on full-fat yogurt, milk and cheese. If you enjoy juice go for the sugary variations rather than the chemically altered, sugar free drinks.

 

7. Healthy but dense foods 

Although you want to nourish and repair your body with healthy foods, you always want to get the best bang for your buck. Choose healthy foods that are rich in calories and pack a lot of protein, carbohydrates and fats into a small amount.

Here are some options:

  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Healthy oil
  • Dried and fresh fruit
  • Starchy vegetables

For a quick and delicious snack make a homemade trail mix by combining some nuts, seeds, coconut flakes and dark chocolate chips.

 

A few last words

Weight gain will take time. The best advice I can give is to go slow and let the process happen with time. Listen to your body and never move onto a bigger goal until you’ve mastered the smaller one.

If you end up gaining a little too much weight, just cut your calories back by about 200 until you get where you want. You can also add in some HIIT training and cardio if too much weight gain occurs.

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7 Principles of Healthful Eating

The key to maintaining a healthy diet is understanding how to eat right in the first place. The diet industry could not be more confusing with its conflicting views, fad diets and continuous altering of information.

In reality, a healthful diet is actually quite simple. Once you know the basics you can alter it to fit your lifestyle and your taste buds. Here are 7 principles of healthful eating.

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Eat Real Food

In general, you want to be sure you are consuming whole, nutritious foods such as in-season fruits and veggies, whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.), whole grain bread/pasta, lean meats, Greek yogurt, hummus, nuts and seeds, all natural nut butters, organic eggs, beans, and water.This is not a definite list but a general idea of good foods to consume.

For the most part try to avoid processed/boxed foods, sodas and other sugary drinks, fast food, fried food, white bread, refined pasta, canned foods, chips, and candy.

The 80/20 rule

While it is important to get the majority of your calories from clean foods, there has to be some room for treats, otherwise you will be miserable and probably won’t last too long on the diet. A general rule of thumb is to eat clean 80% of the time and treat yourself the other 20% of the time. Allow a small treat every day or every other day, or allow for a big treat a few times per week.

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Eat Less Meat

While meat offers a good source of protein, iron and vitamin B12, it also packs a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol. For this reason, meat should make up a small majority of your diet. For the most part the baseline of a healthful diet should consist of grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables; think Mediterranean diet. Nuts, beans, and whole grains are all great replacements for meat as they contain a lot of protein with better (or no) fats and a lot of fiber.

Reduce Sodium and Sugar Intake

While both sodium and sugar are essential parts of the human diet, it is safe to say that most people get more than enough. How can we avoid eating too much? First of all, staying away from the boxed foods is a start. These foods typically contain a huge amount of added sodium or sugar, especially if the labels read “low-fat” or “non-fat.”

Try to avoid adding extra salt while cooking; remember that a little bit can go a long way. Use flavorful spices and a lot of fresh herbs to count for a lack of salt.

It is also wise to limit fruit intake to 1-2 servings per day, as many fruits contain a lot of sugar. Instead of reaching for an apple, go for a serving of berries as they are known for their low sugar content.

Wholesome Grains

Replace refined grains such as white bread, white rice, white potato, white pasta with whole grains. Whole grains are foods like steel-cut or rolled oats, brown rice, sweet potato, whole wheat bread/tortilla/pasta, quinoa, couscous, whole grain barley, lentils, etc.

Instead of white toast in the mornings try having some oatmeal and berries with your eggs. Instead of croutons add some quinoa to your salad. Try some brown rice on the side for dinner.

Healthy Fats

245470Many people are confused about fats. Fats are an extremely important energy source for the body and the brain. There are two important things to know about fats.

1) You want to know which fats are good for you. The “bad” fats are saturated and trans fats which are found in foods like dairy, beef products, palm and coconut oil, butter, and fried foods. The “good” fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats which are found in foods such as nuts and seeds, nut butters, vegetable oils, oily fish like salmon, avocado, olives, etc.

2) You need to know that fats contain more calories per gram than do carbohydrates and protein. So, although fats are extremely beneficial, you need to ensure you are not over-eating them. I will discuss this next.

Watch Portion Sizes

The easiest, and really only, way to gain extra unwanted weight is by eating too much. While unhealthy foods may be the culprit of various diseases, calories are the one and only culprit of weight gain. No matter what you are eating you need to have an understanding of healthy portion sizes. Does that mean you need to measure everything you eat? Certainly not. Here are some general tips.

  • Women should have about 3-4 oz of meat or a portion of meet the size of your palm
  • Carbohydrates (rice, beans, quiono, etc.) should be between ½-1 cup or a portion the size of one cupped-hand.
  • Because they are so low in calories yet high in nutrients, there is no limit of vegetables. In general about 2 cups, or two cupped-hand sizes is recommended. Shoot for a lot of leafy green vegetables.
  • Have 1 medium sized whole fruit or 1 cup (or size of a cupped-hand) of berries
  • Consume about 1 oz, or a serving the size of your thumb, of nuts/oils.
  • The portion size for nut butters is 1 tbsp per serving.
  • Listen to your body: eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full.

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To sum it up 

The majority of your diet should consist of real, whole foods

Limit processed and junk food but do not completely cut it out. Follow the 80/20 rule.

Try to consume less meat and more beans and whole grains.

Be aware of your salt and sugar intake.

Replace refined grains with wholesome grains.

Pay attention to the type and amount of fats you consume.

Be conscious of portion sizes.

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Spice It Up! 8 herbs and spices that are good for your health

All too often we hear the complaint that healthy food is boring. It’s true. Healthy food, on its own, can be quite bland and flavorless. But I have a trick for you that will get your food tasting delicious without added fat and calories (for the most part). Welcome to the world of spices and herbs.

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Surprisingly enough, many spices and herbs are packed with nutritional benefits. Historically, many were celebrated for their medicinal benefits even before they were put to culinary use. Not only are they great for your health but they pack the punch that your food might just need.

 

Here are 8 of the healthiest herbs and spices that will bring your food from dull to delicious.

1. Cinnamon

 

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A fall favorite, cinnamon has a warm and spicy flavor that works well with cloves, nutmeg, all spice, nuts and fruits. Studies have shown that cinnamon may help people with type 2 diabetes to control their blood sugar level. Adding up to 1 tsp of cinnamon to food can lower spikes in blood sugar after that meal.

2. Sage

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Sage tea can be great to sip on if you have a sore throat or upset stomach. Current research also suggests that it may help to improve brain function and memory, particularly the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. In one study, college students were given sage extracts in a capsule for before performing a memory test. These students performed significantly better than those who did not take the capsule and they also experienced improved mood.

3. Rosemary

 

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Rosemary is most often used in marinades and in cooking meets to add flavor. It pairs very well with lamb, potatoes and citrus flavors. It has anti-inflammatory effects that can help to relieve allergies and nasal congestion symptoms. Rosemary oil also has some stress-relieving benefits and is often used in aromatherapy.

4. Turmeric

 

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With its beautiful yellow color, turmeric has a peppery and warm flavor and pairs well with curry and ginger dishes. Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Its anti-inflammatory trait is so strong that it actually matches some anti-inflammatory drugs. It can help to relieve pain from arthritis and injuries, and may play a potential role in managing heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

5. Cayenne Pepper

 

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Cayenne pepper is a type of chili pepper used to spice up dishes. But be careful…you only need a little bit! This spice is very popular for reducing appetite and inducing fat burning. It is commonly used in tea as a weight loss method. Although it is true that cayenne pepper revs up the metabolism, it is not significant for long-term weight loss. Studies have shown that those who are accustomed to spicy foods often don’t experience this effect, indicating that a tolerance can be built up. There are links to possible anti-cancer benefits in animals but this has not been proven in humans.

6. Ginger

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Ginger pairs well with curry dishes, citrus, soy sauce and spice. 1 gram or more of ginger can help to treat nausea and upset stomach, including nausea caused by chemotherapy. It also has strong anti-inflammatory effects and may help with reducing arthritis pain and some cancers. One study found that ginger extract injections helped to relieve osteoarthritis pain of the knee.

7. Saffron

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One of the most expensive herbs in the world, saffron is actually the dried stigmas of flowers. Its deep auburn color is often used to add color to dishes. It has a sweet flavor and pairs well with rice and shellfish. Saffron can be used to uplift mood and can even help treat mild to moderate depression. It can also help to regulate periods for women who experience irregularity and a saffron herbal supplement can help with menstrual pain and cramps.

8. Mint

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Mint leaves are wonderful, particularly during the warmer weather, as a refreshing burst of flavor that can be added in beverages or summer salads. It can also help brighten up a dense dessert. Aside from providing a wide range of traditional nutrients, it can not only relieve stress with its scent but can also help with easier breathing in people with asthma and allergenic rhinitis. Peppermint is also a stomach soother and can help alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

 

Tips on how to use spices and herbs

I will leave you with a few quick tips on how to incorporate herbs and spices into your healthy dishes.

  • Avoid overwhelming a dish with too many seasonings, rather use seasonings to bring out the foods natural flavor
  • Never use two very strong spices/herbs together. Always mix a strong with a mild
  • Use dry herbs early in the cooking process and use fresh herbs at the end
  • Don’t randomly use seasonings; do a little research and find what works well together
  • Don’t overuse salt; use healthy spices and herbs to flavor your dishes