Baking Your Way To Healthier (Yet Still Tasty) Holiday Treats

By Sandra Huskey, First Mile Care DPP Coach

The temptations of the busy holiday season make it the toughest time of the calendar year to maintain your wellness goals and eating plan. One way for people with pre-diabetes to get through this period is not to deny yourself all temptations, but to find healthy —or healthier— substitutes when you need a little sweet indulgence.

I recently gave a demonstration on healthy baking as part of the webinar series on “Diabetes Prevention in Action” that First Mile Care is offering in its curriculum for the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP).

During the holidays, we’re baking for family and friends as part of celebrations. We don’t want to sacrifice taste and flavor. Luckily, there are many options to standard white flour made from nuts and plants which add interesting flavors to cookies, breads, and pie crusts — for example, coconut, almond, chickpea, buckwheat and whole wheat are common alternatives. You can also find flours based on oat, quinoa, pistachio and even kale! However, some can be a tad grainy and dry, like almond flour, and some may produce crumblier dough than others. Or others may add a distinct taste, like whole wheat, that may not pair as well with a fruit pie as with a savory one.

For baking sweeteners, there are also healthier alternatives to white granulated sugars. A rule of thumb on reducing sugar in a recipe is to cut it by no more than one-third or you may notice the difference in taste. My favorite white sugar substitute is coconut sugar, but I also use agave syrup, honey, and maple syrup. Almond extract, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg also add sweetness to baked goods.

The most important thing to keep in mind when swapping ingredients is not to be afraid to fail. It may require some trial-and-error to determine which flour substitute you like best for which recipe, or when it’s OK to swap out butter or eggs. You may want to practice using a quarter-recipe as a test. Experiment, and have fun doing it!

Watch my video for more healthy baking tips. For example, did you know that applesauce can be combined with other ingredients to make an awesome butter substitute as well as an egg alternative?

Please also download my sample recipes for a whole wheat flour pie crust, an almond flour pie crust, and a healthy “swap” cookie using nut or plant-based flours, alternate sweetener, and even flax meal as an egg substitute.

Happy baking!

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take the prediabetes risk test and get started today!

How Good Sleep Habits Are Linked to Weight Control

By Karalyn Cass, First Mile Care DPP Coach

We spend a third of our lives asleep. While the recommended amount of sleep varies with age, seven hours is considered the minimum for adults over age 18. Yet, according to the CDC, 30% of us are not getting enough sleep at night. This lack of sleep on a regular basis can lead to severe health consequences, including an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. Sleep is also critical for optimal mental health: It enhances mood, reasoning and problem solving abilities, coping mechanisms, attention to detail, and memory.

As a health education specialist with a master’s degree in public health, I know the value of sleep. I’ve suffered from sleep deprivation myself and have developed several tricks to ensure I get enough deep, restful sleep. I shared a few of my strategies as part of the webinar series on “Diabetes Prevention in Action” that First Mile Care is offering in its curriculum for the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP).

It’s not enough to get the right quantity of sleep. You also need good quality of sleep. There are some key indicators for quality sleep as reported in Sleep Health:

  • Being sound asleep at least 85% of the time you spend in bed
  • Falling asleep in less than 30 minutes
  • Waking up no more than once during the night (and then falling back asleep within 20 minutes)

The endless loop between sleep deprivation and weight gain

Sleep also has a powerful connection to weight gain, and loss. Sleep affects two hormones, leptin — which tells your body that you’re full — and ghrelin — which tells you when you’re hungry.

While you sleep, leptin increases. It tells your brain that you have plenty of energy and there’s no need to trigger feelings of hunger or to burn off calories. But when you don’t get enough sleep, you end up with too little leptin in your body, which makes your brain think you don’t have enough energy for your needs. Then your brain tells your body that you’re hungry, even if you’re not.

The purpose of ghrelin is to tell your brain when you need to eat, when it should stop burning calories, and when it should store energy as fat. While you sleep, the level of ghrelin decreases in your body because sleep requires less energy than a waking state does. But if you’re short on sleep, you’ll have too much ghrelin in your system. Your body thinks that there’s a shortage of calories and that you need to eat, so it stops burning calories.

Sleep deprivation also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood sugar, and causes your body to release less insulin after you eat. A higher-than-normal blood sugar level will increase your risk for diabetes.

Stress can also interfere with sleep. The more sleep-deprived you are, the higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, you have in your body, which in turn increases your appetite. You’ll crave more “comfort” foods high in fat, sugar, and starchy carbohydrates, while your body is prompted to store that energy as fat, especially in the abdomen area. (Read the article by First Mile Care Coach Irazema Garcia on the deadly connection between stress and diabetes, and also Coach Jenny Fowler’s tips for relieving stress.)

Your body restores many functions during sleep that play a role in how much energy you have, as Coach Kathy noted in an earlier article on working out. Lack of sleep can make you feel so tired that you don’t have the energy for exercise or other physical activities. As a result, you don’t build muscle mass or burn enough calories to lose weight. It’s a vicious cycle.

To sleep, perchance to dream

Watch the video of my webinar to learn more about how to develop good sleep practices, or “sleep hygiene.” These can include keeping a sleep routine; setting the right sound, light and temperature; getting comfortable in bed; developing sleep cues or triggers; relaxation suggestions; and when to get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep. Some people may need a combination of practices — they will be individual to you.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for overall wellness to get adequate amounts of quality sleep. Your sleep hygiene practices may vary, but the results will be a healthier YOU.

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take the prediabetes risk test and get started today!

Won’t you be my neighbor: How lifestyle change programs for diabetes prevention evolved during COVID-19

For people addressing prediabetes, a move to virtual coaching hasn’t eclipsed the powerful pull of community-based programs.

Our experience shows that taking DPP to the neighborhood level, where programs are available within 10 minutes of a participant’s home, is the most effective method to promote long-term success. Many aspects of life have moved online, but the power of the neighborhood persists. Read this article by First Mile Care COO Daphne Li at Medical Economics >

How to sustain independent physician practices

Even before the pandemic, independent physician practices were facing challenges. The greatest issue that must be addressed is also the elephant in the room: reducing the administrative burden on physicians. Read this article co-authored by First Mile Care COO Daphne Li at MedCity News >

Menu-Planning and Preparing for Healthy, Balanced Meals

By Irazema Garcia, First Mile Care DPP Coach

As a personal fitness chef with a master’s degree in health education and holistic nutrition, planning menus and preparing meals is something I am asked about a lot. For many people, it’s a real challenge. Sometimes it’s the time commitment that’s involved in developing menus; for others it may seem overwhelming to estimate how much food to buy and make, or decide what you’re going to eat on Wednesday when it’s only Sunday.

Learning to plan your meals is an important part of the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). By doing most of the prep in advance, you’ll find it easier to be more aware of what you eat, thereby reducing the risk of your prediabetes developing into type 2 diabetes.

Meal prepping was a recent topic in our webinar series on “Diabetes Prevention in Action” where we discussed several major benefits to preparing meals in advance.

Budget-friendly: You’ll save money when doing your food shopping, because you’ll make more conscious purchases. You’ll be focused on buying the items essential for your menus and not make as many spontaneous purchases that end up spoiling in the back of the fridge.

Time-saving: If you do your food preparation “in bulk” ahead of time, the way a restaurant does, you’ll save time preparing every single item for every meal. There are many meal ingredients that you can wash, chop, grill, and roast in advance. For example, soups, sauces, and salad vinaigrettes can be made one time to cover the week. Vegetables can be chopped and roasted. You can bake chicken in advance, or roll ground meat into meatballs or flatten into burger patties so they’re ready to cook. Then when the time comes to prepare a meal, you can just pull the prepared dishes out of the fridge, heat up if needed, and mix ‘n’ match all your prepared options on your plate.

Versatility and seasonality

Look for meal inspirations by reviewing your cache of favorite recipes, see what recipes catch your eye online, and glance through any advertisements for sale items at your grocery store. Choose ingredients for versatility and seasonality.

In-season items are usually more flavorful so will need fewer additional ingredients for a dish, thereby requiring less prep time. When it comes to proteins, it’s also perfectly okay to include some canned items on your menu, such as tuna, salmon, or chicken. Their shelf life will help you save trips to the grocery store.

You want to look at items for their versatility so that you can include them in multiple dishes during the week — for example, a head of cauliflower can be eaten raw in a salad, steamed, mashed, or riced up. (See the blog post with my recipe for delicious roasted cauliflower with lemon tahini sauce.)

Your aim is to ensure that every meal has the ideal balance of 50% produce, 25% starches and fibers, and 25% protein. It’s also essential to include some fats in the form of nuts, olives, avocados, coconut oil, and olive oil. Proteins and fats are what help you feel full, so if you notice you are still hungry after a meal, you may need to bump up your protein and fat intake at each serving.

Take note of your menu

Planning your meals in advance can take some time — expect to spend up to 3-4 hours to plan and prepare a full week’s menu. If meal planning for a week seems overwhelming, break up the week in smaller chunks. Start out prepping two days at a time, and then gradually extend your menu plan. You could also try preparing just one daily meal in advance — for example, plan out your breakfast for the week, while making lunch and dinner as you go.

No matter how many meals you plan, writing down your menu will help you not only overcome challenges, but remember your favorite recipes. It will also help you with maintaining your food journal, the subject of an earlier webinar with Coach Karalyn Cass.

My webinar includes more planning and shopping tips and reviews a sample menu for the week. I hope it helps you determine the type of meal planning that works best for you.

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take our prediabetes risk test and get started today!

Pièce de Résistance: How to Use Resistance Bands for Easy Strength-Building Exercises

By Sandra Huskey, First Mile Care, DPP Coach

As a certified group fitness instructor as well as a National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) coach, I help DPP participants create physical activity habits to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A few months ago, I led a session on how to do resistance training at home with household objects as part of the First Mile Care DPP webinar series on “Diabetes Prevention in Action.”  Recently, in a follow-on session, I demonstrated how to use resistance bands and light hand weights.

Resistance training is when you use force against your own movement. You can create resistance through your own body weight or by using free weights like dumbbells and barbells, machine weights, and resistance bands. Resistance bands come in multiple forms and degrees of resistance, depending on your level of strength. You can buy them in sets that are colored-coded to go from light to medium heavy to extra heavy. Some come with hooks for a door handle so you can change your resistance depending on the exercise you’re doing. And others even come with a doorstop so that you can leverage a sturdy door as part of your exercise routine.

Flexible and portable

Resistance bands are flexible enough that anything you do with a dumbbell or weight, you can also do with a band. The other great thing about resistance bands is that they’re not only inexpensive, but portable. You can take them anywhere — to the park or the gym, or on your next road trip. You may not take dumbbells on the road, but you can throw resistance bands into your car or suitcase. Whether you’re staying in a hotel room or a friend’s house, you’ll have a fitness aid so it’s easy to stay physically active while away from home.

Resistance training helps build muscle as well as strength and flexibility. And since muscle burns more calories than fat, it helps you with your DPP goals. Keep in mind that you can do strength workouts every day, but you should vary the part of the body you’re exercising. If you focus on your upper body one day, you may want to switch to legs the next day.

The video below shows my short demonstration on using resistance bands from our recent webinar. I show a variety of easy exercises that you can do while seated, standing, squatting, and using a door.  You can also find a lot of useful workout videos on YouTube for even more ideas.

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take our prediabetes risk test and get started today!

Stress-Busting Activities to Stop That Midnight Fridge Raid

First Mile Care DPP Coach Jenny Fowler shares some tips on calming activities that can help to break the deadly link between stress and unhealthy eating habits that can lead to prediabetes.  Read more on Thrive Global >

Stress-Busting Activities to Stop That Midnight Fridge Raid

By Jenny Fowler, First Mile Care, DPP Coach

This year is like no other in recent memory. And, all too often, you find yourself reaching for that bag of potato chips or that second glass of chardonnay.

First Mile Care Coach Irazema Garcia wrote a few months ago on the deadly connection between stress and diabetes. As a certified holistic nutrition consultant and wellness coach as well as a National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) coach, I help DPP participants determine strategies to break the link between stress and unhealthy eating habits that can lead to prediabetes. I recently gave a presentation on stress-relieving activities as part of the First Mile Care DPP webinar series on “Diabetes Prevention in Action.”

Read on for some tips on calming activities that can reduce stress and help you avoid nervous eating.

How stress affects you

You have two different parts of your nervous system, the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. Your body moves between the two systems. When you’re calm, the parasympathetic nervous system is in control and allows your body to do necessary maintenance and repair. But when you get into a situation that produces stress, your adrenaline kicks in and your heart rate increases and your blood pressure rises. That’s your sympathetic nervous system taking over.

When you experience acute, temporary stress in a “fight or flight” mode, it suppresses your appetite temporarily. But if the stress is chronic and ongoing, it causes a release of cortisol which, in turn, affects your appetite and causes you to want to eat even if you’re not really hungry. Your body is programmed to want more food when you’re experiencing ongoing stress and high levels of adrenaline. Your body is designed to have that acute response to stress for survival, but it becomes a health issue when the stress is chronic.

How stress affects your food choices

 So, you’re feeling stressed out, and you want to eat even though you’re not especially hungry. Do you crunch on a celery stalk? Probably not. Your body wants foods that are high in fat and sugar and quick carbohydrates. There’s a reason we call those “comfort foods,” as those foods help dampen that stress response. When you’re in that “fight or flight” mode, your body wants extra glucose for quick energy to deal with the adrenaline boost. And so you automatically veer toward something sugary.

If you’re experiencing long periods of high stress, your body is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. To help your body get back into the parasympathetic nervous system, you need to figure out how to calm yourself with stress-relieving activities.

Identifying your stress-busters

 Has the COVID-19 pandemic caused you to discover the pleasure in baking sourdough bread? Have you created a “COVID garden” on your apartment balcony? Whether it’s playing with a yo-yo or watching “Escape to the Chateau DIY,” it’s important to identify enjoyable activities that cause you to relax and free your mind of negative thoughts and energy.

Stress-relievers aren’t the same for everyone. An amateur chef may find a creative outlet in preparing elaborate meals for family and friends, while someone who dislikes cooking will find serving even a simple meal as high-stress an experience as Thanksgiving dinner. Jogging may be a stress-buster for one person but a stress-inducer for someone who is only doing it under doctor’s orders.

Some common stress-relieving activities include:

Be careful about screen-related activities or using electronics. These can be more numbing than calming and may engage the brain in such a way that it triggers stress or excitement. Stress-relieving activities should be calming, leaving you feeling more grounded afterwards.

Write down your top stress-busters

Create a list of your top stress-busters. Keep it somewhere you’ll see it, like on your fridge or mirror, and decorate it or use colored paper or stickers to make it “pop.” The next time you reach for the freezer door handle, looking for that comforting tub of ice cream, you’ll see the list of activities instead. And be sure to move the list around, so that you don’t get so accustomed to seeing it in one spot that you become blind to it.

Watch my presentation on stress-relieving activities in our recent webinar and then make your own list!

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take our prediabetes risk test and get started today!

Eat, Drink, Sleep: Preparing for Your Workout

By Kathy Gregory, First Mile Care DPP Coach

When you exercise, you feel the effects of what you eat and drink more than usual. Therefore, it’s important to recognize the connection between what you are consuming and how you feel. High quality fuel equals improved performance in all areas of your life and can help reduce your risk of developing pre-diabetes. When you fuel your body with what it needs to function properly, you create an environment for optimum performance during each workout as well as faster recovery.

Ideally, you eat balanced meals throughout your day that include high quality proteins, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Experts affirm you’ll recover more slowly from an intense workout, and experience more soreness, if your diet is full of sugar and other ingredients with low nutritional value.

A simple formula with good timing

Use the following formula when attempting to properly fuel your body for a workout: Carbohydrate + Protein + Healthy Fat. Each element plays its part in your workout preparation:

  • Carbs aid in maximizing glycogen stores which is good for high-intensity exercise.
  • Protein improves muscle performance, increases strength, promotes lean body mass, and aids in muscle recovery.
  • Fats help fuel your body for longer periods of time and are good for less intense workouts.

Try to eat about 2-3 hours prior to exercising. If this timeframe is not possible, eat easily digestible, simple carbs and a smaller portion of protein.

Some people like to use protein powders before a workout. My advice is to educate yourself on reading labels, be wary, and choose wisely. Take note of added sugar as well as the ingredients, as you do not want to pollute your body with harmful chemicals or dyes.

Wet your whistle

In addition to nutrition, there are two other major factors that increase performance and aid in workout recovery as well as injury prevention — water and sleep.

When you’re well-hydrated, you’ll have more energy, be more agile, think more clearly, and recover faster from your workout. Staying hydrated reduces the risk of injuries and helps physical performance, as hydrated muscles simply function better than dehydrated muscles. Hydration improves blood flow and circulation, thus increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles. And your heart won’t have to pump as hard during exercise to maintain normal blood pressure if you’re well-hydrated. A rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water on a daily basis.

If you struggle with muscle cramps, ensure you are keeping the electrolytes in your body balanced. A great natural source is coconut water. Again, choose wisely when consuming electrolyte replacement drinks and read the labels carefully!

Get your zzzzzz

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 3 adults do not get enough sleep. During high-quality sleep, your body restores many functions it calls on during daily life, such as temperature regulation, a strong immune system, steady hormone levels, and good appetite. All of these factors play a role in how much energy you have. To operate at your peak potential, you need to maintain these functions through quality sleep. You should try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night at a minimum.

You know your body best. Maintain a food log or journal to track how you feel after you eat certain pre-workout meals. You’ll quickly find out what’s right for you and what is not. Keep it simple and stick with what works — but always with the magic combination of nutritious food, adequate liquids, and quality sleep.

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take our prediabetes risk test and get started today!

Eat, Drink, Sleep: How to Prepare for a Workout

First Mile Care DPP Coach Kathy Gregory gives her tips for preparing for a workout. When you exercise, you feel the effects of what you eat and drink more than usual. Therefore, it’s important to recognize the connection between what you are consuming and how you feel. High quality fuel equals improved performance in all areas of your life. Read more at Thrive Global >