Can’t find time to get to the gym? Slip into your comfy shoes and take a 15 minute stroll after each meal. According to a new study from George Washington University, this habit can help normalize blood sugar levels for up to three hours after eating, and slash the risk of developing type 2 diabetes better than a sustained 45-minute walk.

In the study, scientists recruited healthy adults age 60 and older who were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to inactivity and high fasting blood sugar levels. Researchers found that three short post-meal walks, at an easy-to-moderate pace, were as effective as one 45 minute walk at regulating blood sugar over a 24 hour period. What's more, the post-meal walks were found to be more effective in normalizing blood sugar after meals - the "riskiest" time, when blood sugar spikes the most.

To reap the benefits yourself, try out these techniques:

  • Build a post-breakfast neighborhood walk into your morning routine
  • Spend the last 15 minutes of your lunch break walking, either indoors or outside
  • Recruit a family member or neighbor to join you in post-dinner walks 
  • If you have a canine family member, plan to walk your furry friend after meals whenever possible
  • Keep your walking gear, like shoes, a light jacket, and perhaps a flashlight, in a designated location so you can just ‘grab and go’
  • Try a new path or route around your neighborhood so your walks feel fun and ‘fresh’

For more about the benefits of walking, check out my previous post: Walking How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

I’m often asked, “Is all sugar bad, including the sugar in fruit?” The answer is no – as long as you don’t go overboard.

Presently, the strictest guidelines about sugar only refer to “added sugar,” which is sugar that's been added to a product by the manufacturer, like sweetened yogurt, baked goods, and candy, or the sugar you add to your own morning cup of Joe, not the kind added by Mother Nature, like the sugar in fruit. The American Heart Association has stated that we should limit our intake of "added sugar" to no more than 100 calories per day for women, and 150 for men, which amounts to 25 and 37.5 grams respectively. To put that in perspective, 25 grams of sugar equals about 6 level teaspoons of granulated sugar and 37.5 equals about 9 teaspoons. 

Hitting the target is entirely doable, but doing so would be a big change for many Americans, considering that the average intake of added sugar is currently 22 teaspoons daily, an amount that snowballs into 35 two pound boxes per person each year! Here's the tricky part: right now, Nutrition Facts labels don’t distinguish between added sugars (the type that should be limited) and naturally occurring sugar. That’s why you’ll see 13 grams of sugar on a label for canned pineapple, when the only two ingredients are pineapple and 100% pineapple juice. The best way to tell if a food contains added sugar is to scan the ingredient list. Look for words like brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, maltose, malt syrup, and sucrose. Seeing one of these terms means sugar was added to the product, and every 4 grams per serving is equal to a teaspoon. Another trick you can use to scope out the amount of added sugar in a product is to compare an unsweetened version to its sweetened counterpart. For example, a single serve container of organic, nonfat plain Greek yogurt contains 6 grams of sugar, all naturally occurring, since the only ingredients are milk and cultures. The same sized portion of vanilla, which lists sugar in the ingredients, contains 11 grams of sugar, 5 more than the plain, which means just over a teaspoon of sugar has been added.

As for fresh fruit, because fruit is high in water, the sugar is less concentrated. For example, one cup of sliced strawberries naturally contains about 8 grams of sugar, compared to about 40 grams in a 12 ounce can of cola. Plus, that naturally occurring sugar is bundled with lots of good stuff, including vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. The antioxidants in fruit are one of the reasons why I believe veggies alone don’t cut it. Banning fruit would drastically narrow the spectrum of nutrients your body is exposed to, including many tied to the pigments responsible for their vibrant hues. One Colorado State study found that eating a wider array (18 botanical families instead of 5) of the exact same amount of produce daily for two weeks resulted in significantly less oxidation, a marker for premature aging and disease. And some research shows that fruit lovers weigh less, even more so than veggie eaters. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but it may be because unlike veggies, fruits tend to replace less healthy foods - you’re much more likely to eat a pear in place of cookies rather than reach for carrots over a cupcake.

But this doesn’t mean you can eat unlimited amounts of fruit. Yes, they’re superfoods, but fruits pack about three to four times as much carbohydrate as veggies, so your daily fruit intake should be based on your body’s fuel needs. In other words, while the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can’t get turned into fat, the carbs can, which is why most women should aim for about two serving of fruit daily (one serving equals one cup fresh, about the size of a baseball).

In my newest book S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches, none of the recipes include added sugar, and the eating plan includes two daily servings of fruit, one at the breakfast meal (like the Dark Chocolate Oatmeal with a Side of Minted Blueberry Yogurt) and one in the snack meal (like my Cherry Almond Green Tea Smoothie). For most of my clients, this is the perfect amount to reap fruits’ nutritional and health rewards, as they work towards achieving, then maintaining, a healthy weight.

Are you still confused about sugar? Have you been struggling to cut back? Do you tend to overdo it on fruit? Please share your thoughts and questions by connecting with me on Twitter or Facebook.

Remember the phrase, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach?” Well, new research from scientists at the University of Bristol puts an interesting twist on that saying. In the study, researchers showed volunteers either a small or large portion of soup just before lunch, then altered the quantity of soup the diners actually received, using a pump that secretly refilled or emptied the bowls.

Immediately after the meal, the soup slurpers’ self-reported hunger levels paralleled the amounts they had actually consumed, rather than the amounts they were shown. However, two to three hours later, those who had previewed a larger portion reported feeling significantly less hungry. And a full day later, more of the subjects shown the bigger quantity believed that their soup serving was enough to satisfy their hunger.

I love this study, because I’ve often seen, for both myself and my clients, that larger portions tend to trigger greater satisfaction. And the good news is, you can fill up without filing out.

It’s actually a myth that bigger portions always mean more calories - it just depends on what you’re eating. Within each food group, the portion that corresponds to one serving can vary widely. For example, three cups of popped popcorn, about the size of three baseballs, counts as a serving of whole grain, the equivalent to one slice of 100% whole grain bread (size of a DVD), ¼ cup of uncooked oats (about a golf ball), or ½ cup of cooked quinoa (half a tennis ball). Sometimes when I’m craving volume, I’ll leave the whole grain out of a recipe, then leisurely munch on organic popcorn after the meal, one flake (the technical term for a popped kernel) at a time.

If your eyes tend to rule your belly, use these savvy strategies to create large, healthy meals, that won’t result in nutritional overkill:

Rely on raw veggies. I built two veggie servings into each S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim lunch and dinner meal. One serving of raw veggies is a full cup, so two servings can be used to create generously sized salads or stir fry meals.

Choose fresh fruit. To offset smaller portions of foods like bread or nuts, add fresh fruit to pump up your meal portion, like this Berry Almond French Toast or Open Faced Pesto Egg Sandwich. Because fresh fruit is filled with water, an ideal serving is about three times larger than that of dried fruit or juice.   

Use popcorn and “fluffy” whole grains rather than compact options. Even with its small portions of dried fruit and cheese, this Cranberry Parmesan Herbed Popcorn is a substantial snack. A cooked, chilled and fluffed serving of wild rice or quinoa can also bulk up a garden salad. And an ideal portion of a puffed whole grain cereal is about three times bigger than a serving of dry oats.

Opt for beans or lentils as your lean protein. In addition to being hearty and loaded with fiber, beans add the illusion of volume to any meal, like this Mediterranean Lentils Over Couscous dish or California Sunshine Salad snack. This may be one reason why regular bean eaters have a 22% lower risk of obesity.

Think solid over liquid plant-based fats. In S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim, one tablespoon of oil, or one quarter of a ripe avocado are a few of the plant-based fat options in the "5 piece puzzle" meal building strategy. Choosing the avocado creates more bulk in a meal, and allows you to enjoy a sizeable dollop of guacamole on your lunchtime tacos.

With few simple swaps, you can eat larger portions (without consuming extra servings), to create meals that are substantial enough to feel indulgent, but are secretly sensible! What’s your take on this topic? Have you struggled to eat enough to feel satiated without going overboard? Please tweet your thoughts @CynthiaSass

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