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Nutrition

Independence from the modern world’s drug

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Independence from the modern world’s drug

There are certain things you and I are attached from in a regular basis – work, family, responsibilities, etc. Those are things we actually need to either survive or live the day by day. But there are many things we make ourselves dependent from without actually needing them for anything other than pleasure. Unfortunately, this oh so-called “pleasure” has a ton of not-so- desirable consequences that come with it whether we see them immediately or not.

 

Addiction to food is something that we believe don’t exist because it involves that, food. Food is not only legal but also actually needed to stay alive. However, the kind of foods we are talking about here is the kind of food that you, in fact, can live without and the lack of it will not, by any mean, kill you in the long run – I am talking about sugars!

 

It’s been a minute since we all realized the grand problem we have in our hands worldwide. Obesity is not something new nor it will end anytime soon. But little has been done to fix the problem. Years ago, the school of thought that fat was making the population overweight is now kind of obsolete. Today, sugars are what we need to be alarmed of. However, not many seem to be very aware of the problem.

 

Just like cigarettes and recreational drugs, sugar will not fail to give you the short term effects that you are looking for – taste buds happiness, excitement to life and energy that will make you see the world though a more “positive” advantage point. But then what? Whether this effect last a couple of minutes or an hour, this “high” will eventually run off and bring you back to a “crashing” reality – tiredness and lethargy in the short term, and overweight and obesity in the long run.

 

Chemically speaking, sugars have been shown to have the same effects as any other addicting substance. Sugars affect the “reward system” of our brain, which is located in the nucleus accumbens, exactly where dopamine works conveying the feeling of pleasure. When we eat sugar repeatedly, which is a way to give pleasure to the body, we over stimulate this reward system producing the down regulation of dopamine receptors making them fewer in number.

 

Another system that regulates satiety and controls the amount of food we eat preventing us from overeating is the hormone leptin. This hormone signals the brain when the body has received enough food and is satisfied. However, when this system does not work properly, the consequence is overeating because we are constantly reacting to a “starvation” state. Studies have shown that obese people actually experience less pleasure from food than their normal weight counterparts. Therefore, like any other drug, they keep craving more and more sugar looking for that “pleasure” feeling that is now decreasing. This is called tolerance.

 

Tolerance and withdrawal is what makes a drug so powerful. It can take over our control and it can eventually become an addition. It is a chemical and biological transformation in our brain that cannot be easily controlled. Sugar is the “legal drug” of the modern world, which creates a need that people are constantly satisfying with processed foods making us more and more addicted everyday. No one can exert cognitive inhibition over a biochemical signal that keeps going off every minute of everyday. This is the big issue with any addition.

 

Now, how to overcome sugar addiction? Unfortunately there is not a easy way out for this. Like any other addition, sugar addiction should be addressed by cutting down the substance. This simply means cutting down the refined kind of sugars.  

 

Now, the nutritional spiel on sugars - Basically, addicting sugars come from the refined kind. Carbohydrates are all mistakenly commonly referred as sugars. However, carbohydrates can be divided in two main kinds: Complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates not only provide steady energy but they also help keeping you fuller longer due to its high fiber content which will, in the long run, help you lose weight besides many other benefits. These are the good kind. Simple carbohydrates are those coming from refined sugars and involve foods that do not have any nutritional value. These are the bad kind. 

 

You cannot cut sugars completely out of your diet because they are needed in a balanced diet. But a balanced diet involves the intake of the good kind of sugars, complex instead of simple carbohydrates.

 

So, instead of cookies, candy bars, cakes, ice cream, whipped cream, and all other crazy sweet treats out there, here are the kinds of carbohydrates you need to maintain your waistline while keeping steady energy throughout the day:

·      Vegetables: all of them… it does not matter the time a day, you can always eat veggies!

·      Whole fruits: any kind of fruits. Go ahead and make them your go-to sweet treat as they are packed with flavor as well as vitamins and minerals.

·      Nuts and seeds: walnuts, almonds, macademia nuts, hazelnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc. are not only good source of carbohydrate but also protein and good fats.

·      Whole grains: make sure to choose from the least processed kinds such as quinoa, oats, brown rice, brown pasta, barley, millet,  etc.

·      Tubers: sweet potatoes, cassava, potatoes, yams.

·      Legumes: black beans, peas, kidney beans, lentils are perfect additions to your meals giving you not only carbohydrates but protein. 

 

Now, next time you have a sweet tooth, there is no sin eating a cookie. BUT, keep it very limited and very far in between. You will notice that the less you eat sugar, the less you will crave it but you have to start cutting it back and the time is NOW!

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Vegetarian Chilli

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve made it a point to try going meatless on Monday’s. However, I didn’t exactly stick to it yesterday so today I’m bringing you a yummy vegetarian chili recipe. Chili is one of my favorite comfort foods and this healthy version is perfect for a hearty lunch or dinner.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped (approximately 1/2 cup)
  • 12 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into small pieces
  • 2 cans (14 ounces each) diced tomatoes with no added salt
  • 1 can (14 ounces) kidney beans with no salt added, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (14 ounces) black beans with no salt added, rinsed and drained
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro (fresh coriander)

 

DIRECTIONS

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the tofu, tomatoes, beans, chili powder and oregano. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in cilantro. Ladle into individual bowls and serve immediately.

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Quinoa Pizza Balls

I am in love with quinoa. I could make it in any way and still get amazed how delicious it is. But I also love pizza! However, this love comes with cravings as well as regrets after I eat it. Sometimes when I feel like eating pizza, this is what I do:

  1. I stay away from my phone so I don’t call Domino’s or Pizza Hut and use that large-3 toppings pizza coupon my magnet is holding onto my fridge.
  2. I make the next best thing after Domino’s pizza… Quinoa Pizza Balls.

All I can tell you is this: You are going to love this recipe and the best part, no regrets. Give it a try and let me know how you like it.

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 2/3 cup dry quinoa
  • 2 cups vegetable broth or stock
  • 2 cups cooked white or red kidney beans
  • 10-15 chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2/3 cup tomato paste
  • 3-5 drops plain stevia liquid to taste
  • garlic salt top taste

 

DIRECTIONS (Makes about 24 balls, depending on size)

If your quinoa is not pre-rinsed, rinse well and drain.  Bring the broth to a boil in a medium pot over high heat. Add quinoa, lower heat to simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Check the quinoa; if the liquid is not yet absorbed, cover and cook for 5-10 minutes longer, until the liquid is absorbed and quinoa is softened. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350F (180C).  Line two cookie sheets with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mash the beans with a potato masher or large fork until almost smooth (but leave a little texture).  Add remaining ingredients, including quinoa, and, with clean hands, knead the “dough” to combine well. Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, scoop the mixture and roll into balls.  Place on cookie sheets and bake in preheated oven 25-35 minutes, rotating the pans about halfway through, until the balls are dry and well browned on the outside.  Serve immediately, or store in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 5 days.

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Flan de Queso

I know I have a sweet tooth and can definitely admit to that! I think many Hispanics struggle with their ability to control their sugar intake whether it be a pastry for breakfast, too much cafecito through out the day, or desert after an already plentiful meal. However, I found a great recipe that cuts calories on one of my favorite deserts: Flan de Queso! This creamy, caramel covered desert is staple at restaurants and family gatherings and I was happy to find a recipe that was both a delicious and lower in sugar and calories.

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 8 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 14-ounce can nonfat or low-fat sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 12-ounce can nonfat or low-fat evaporated milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
  2. Pour water and sugar into a saucepan. Stir very gently over medium-high heat. When the mixture is a golden brown (this should take 5-7 minutes) pour the mix into a 9 inch round metal cake pan. If it starts to become solid before you’ve had a chance to cover the pan, place the pan in the oven momentarily and again stir very gently.
  3. Use a mixer (set to medium-high) to beat the cream cheese in a large bowl. Add in eggs one at a time, until everything is evenly combined. Add the condensed milk, evaporated milk and vanilla. Continue to mix until evenly combined. Pour the custard mixture into the pan with the caramel mixture, make sure to do this gently.
  4. Pour an inch of hot water into a separate, larger pan. Place the cake pan in the larger pan with the hot water. Bake for about 1 hour. It should appear golden brown. Edges should be set and firm but the middle will remain soft. However, insert a knife which should come out clean.
  5. Let the cake pan cool to room temperature for about an hour. Cover and refrigerate for about 4 hours or overnight.

When you’re ready to serve, pass a knife around the edge and flip the flan over and onto a plate.

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Sun-dried tomato, spinach and goat cheese stuffed pork chops

This is a favorite of mine and has become a staple at my dinner parties. Pork loin is delicious and can be quite healthy when prepared this way. This is my version of a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. This recipe is healthy but doesn’t lack flavor, that’s for sure!

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 (4-ounce) center-cut pork chops
  • Sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (about a 1/4 cup)
  • Fresh spinach, chopped (about a cup)
  • About 1/2- 3/4 cup goat cheese 
  • 1/4 cup Mascarpone cheese OR 1/4 cup reduced fat cream cheese (optional, if using use only 1/2 cup goat cheese)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (if I don’t have any on hand, I typically don’t worry about adding it)
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth

 

DIRECTIONS

  1. Add salt and pepper to taste to goat cheese (and Mascarpone OR cream cheese if you’ve chosen to incorporate this into your recipe). Set aside.
  2. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan with the 2 garlic cloves (chopped) let cook for about a minute. Toss in sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook for about 2 minutes, then combine with the goat cheese mixture.
  3. Here’s the trickiest part (still pretty simple): Use a sharp knife to cut a pocket into the thickest portion of the pork chop. Stuff each pocket with 1/4 of the spinach, sun-dried tomato and cheese mixture and close the pork around the stuffing. Season the outside of the pork with salt and pepper.
  4. In a small bowl combine chicken broth, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard. 
  5. Add another tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot add the pork. Cook until golden and cooked through, about 4 minutes each side. Move the pork to a serving dish and cover with foil. Side-note: I can be a little paranoid about under cooking food, so I preheat the oven to 350 degrees just in case I want to pop in the pork for a few minutes after I cook it on the skillet. However, this is up to you and depends on how comfortable you are with you skills in the kitchen. 
  6. Add the chicken broth mixture to the skillet over medium-high heat. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan as the chicken broth simmers. Reduce the broth by half to make a light sauce, about 8 minutes. Spoon some sauce over the pork before serving.
  7. I typically like to serve this with a simple vegetable side dish, Brussels sprouts being my favorite. However almost anything pairs well with this dish, you can also try pasta with a light sauce or just olive oil and garlic. You can also pair this with a salad which makes for the perfect quick and easy health conscious dinner.   

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Stay hydrated: Fruit infused water

There are so many things to take into consideration when you commit to living a healthy lifestyle: food, supplements, exercise, forming new habits. But one thing we usually forget is to drink enough water. Some people find it difficult to drink enough water throughout the day or they find it difficult to choose water over soda and other beverages. Personally, I can’t get enough. I am always drinking water. But sometimes I want something different. If I want to keep it low calorie, I choose to add a twist by dropping some fruit in my water. It’s such an easy trick you will be surprised at how much it you will enjoy it. Start by cutting your favorite fruit into small pieces to fit through the mouth of the bottle, you can also use mason jars. Then drop them in the bottle and squeeze them a little to release some of the juice without pulverizing the fruit. Fill the rest of the bottle with ice and water and you’re done! This is a great way to give your regular water some flavor and extra vitamins while keeping yourself hydrated!

What is your favorite way to keep yourself hydrated?

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Let’s talk vitamins!

The human diet consists of macronutrients and micronutrients. The macronutrients include carbohydrates, proteins and fats, whereas the micronutrients include all the vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are necessary for the metabolism and breaking down of the carbohydrates, proteins and fats for energy production. Athletic performance can be compromised in the absence or insufficiency of micronutrients. But this does not mean that an excess of vitamins and minerals will alter athletic performance without an increased need for them due to physical activity.

    A balanced diet suggests that the human body’s needs of macronutrients and micronutrients are satisfied. However, in the real world, people do not have perfect diets and therefore supplementation is necessary. For athletes it is imperative that an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals is being met in a daily basis. Therefore, for an athlete that does not have a perfect diet (who does anyways?), it is recommended that they take a high-quality multivitamin to ensure the consumption of all the necessary micronutrients. 

    From all the vitamins, vitamin E and C are recommended for athletes to enhance recovery due to their antioxidant properties reducing oxidant-induced muscle damage. The recommended daily intake for a vitamin C is: 25 mg/day for children 4-8, 45 mg/day for children 9-13, and 75 mg/day for adolescents 14-18. For vitamin E the recommended intake is: 7 mg/day for children 4-8, 11 mg/day for children 9-13, and 15 mg/day for those older than 14 years. Finally, iron is the most affected mineral during physical activity, therefore an adequate intake of iron is recommended through supplementation and diet.    

Make sure you buy vitamins and minerals supplements from trusted brands and never forget to thrive for a perfect diet!

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Timing and Basic Supplements Use

Many people ask me what supplements to take during hard training. It seems like that is the only time we actually think we need supplements. Whereas, it is true that that is an important time to supplement your diet with extra vitamins and nutrients, it is certainly not the only time you need to be taking them. I understand there are athletes that are just not into supplements. And to be completely honest with you neither was I when I did not know how important they are for you at any sport. 

As we all know, swimming does not have a season. It simply is an all-year-long kind of sport and our training routine only gets harder as we get closer to a meet. And as we also know, this can happened at any time of the year. With school we also have another challenge to face. It seems that kids do not get a break all year long. When school is over, summer starts and swimming gets harder. I tell you, swimmers are most definitely a different kind of athlete breed! But, we make it happen. We make it possible and most importantly, we make it work. 

Just as you have heard me say that a balanced diet is important to keep all year long, you probably have heard me talk about supplements and how essential it is to keep a routine of supplement use all year long. Specifically for our kids in the club, I believe there are a couple of ‘must-have’ supplements. I know I have talked about them with our swimmers in numerous group and individual counseling seasons, but here it is again. Our kids (and I dare to include parents as well) should be taking a multivitamin, probiotics and fish oils. There are countless studies proving the benefits of these products in the body. Also, another important detail to be aware of is when you take all of these supplements. It is recommended to take all of these supplements with the biggest meal of the day. Why? All of these supplements are greater absorbed with food. The biggest meal, like dinner, is most likely to be the complete balanced meal of the day including protein, carbohydrates and fats that stimulate ideal acid and enzymes secretion in the gut promoting a better absorption of water and fat soluble vitamins, oils, fatty acids and probiotics. 

Now, let’s start trying this trick starting tomorrow. Let’s take precaution to avoid getting sick or compromising your immune system. And more importantly, let’s be consistent. Summer promise to be a hard season for us, tons of training, camps and outside activities. Preparation and prevention is necessary to avoid getting sick and be able to come back faster and stronger for practice the next day!

 

 

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Let’s nip diabetes in the bud!

Diabetes ranked as the seventh leading cause of deaths in 2014. Many challenges are faced by diabetic patients to improve or maintain diabetes regularized and under control. As we all know they are many positives to exercise as disease preventative measure as it controls many risk factors such as obesity and blood pressure. However, exercise plays an incredibly important role in diabetes patients as it can help you regulate blood sugars, maintain levels under control and sometimes even eliminate symptoms. Exercise can increase insulin sensitivity to take up glucose at a cellular level, improve lipid profile (reduction of triglyceride and increase of HDL) and lower blood pressure. As you keep a regular exercise routine blood sugar levels can be kept under control and, in the long run, help you lower your hemoglobin A1C. 

However, when it comes to exercising there could be some challenges to be faced by diabetics. Monitoring your blood sugar should be the main task at hand when it comes to exercising. As a rule of thumb, if you are taking insulin or medications to lower your blood sugar you should be measuring your blood sugar before, during and after each exercise routine to make sure you are keeping it at normal levels throughout. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends a total of 150 minutes spread throughout the week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity. Aerobic activities such as jogging, running, brisk walking, swimming, hiking or bicycling are great choices when it comes to increasing your heart rate and getting the benefits of exercise for this disease. 

Some simple tips for getting the best benefits from your workout session are:

  • Warm up by walking and stretching for about 5 to 10 minutes before starting your session. It is crucial to prepare your heart and muscles for exercise.
  • Wear good shoes designed to protect your feet from injuries. 
  • Do not be afraid to increase the exercise intensity as you start getting confortable with the routine.
  • Moderate to vigorous exercise is meant to get your heart rate up and make you somewhat uncomfortable. If you are able to maintain a conversation with a friend maybe your heart rate is not where it should be.
  • Some people prefer working with an instructor, so if you have access to enter in classes or work with a personal trainer you will probably take more advantage of your workout. 

To maintain good glucose levels before, during and after your exercise and avoid any hypoglycemic episodes it is important to follow the following recommendations:

  • Eat a small meal 45 to 60 min before exercise. This meal should include a good source of carbohydrate such a whole wheat bread, oatmeal or cereal and a source of protein such as almond butter, eggs, turkey or cheese slices and protein shake or protein bar.
  • Check your blood sugar prior, during and after exercise. Do not start exercising if your levels are not within a normal range. Adjust your insulin or eat some carbohydrate snack to accomplish a good glucose level throughout the workout.
  • Always keep a snack with you in case of hypoglycemia such as a granola bar, banana, juice, or glucose tablets.
  • It is also important to keep hydration up before, during and after exercise. Drinking sport drinks could be good idea if you are working out more than 90 minutes, otherwise stick with water.

In general when it comes to managing diabetes it is recommended that you follow a good meal plan as it is the key to maintaining blood sugars in check and prevent disturbances: Eat three meals a day and avoid skipping meals, include a source of carbohydrate, protein and unsaturated or monounsaturated fats in every meal, limit sugar and sugary foods and reduce salt in the diet to less of 4 gm. 

Exercise is also important to maintain good body weight and regular practice is required as metabolic effects in diabetes are drastically reduced 3 to 10 days after stopping exercise. Never forget to consult with your doctor before you start any exercise routine and stick with his or her recommendations. You are in control of your health so take action now!

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Fiber… What’s all the fuss about?

We are always hearing we need to have a balanced diet, right? Well, as important as it is to eat carbohydrates, protein and fats; a very important part of having a balanced diet is to consume fiber. There are 2 types of fiber in foods: soluble and insoluble. Both of them are equally important for our health. They help us have a healthy digestion and to prevent certain diseases. Soluble fiber helps us reduce low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, which is the “bad cholesterol”. Products such as legumes, peas and apples contain soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber promotes a healthy digestion because it speeds the transition of foods in the gut. Examples of foods containing insoluble fiber are oats and wheat bran. 

The recommended intake of fiber is 10 to 25 grams a day. Even though it seems like a lot, it could be accomplished quite easily. The key is to start increasing your fiber rich foods intake by incorporating them little by little in every meal. In addition, it is important that you increase your fluids consumption as well to prevent stomach discomfort and gas forming. 

Don’t know how to start incorporating more fiber in your diet? No problem! Here are some easy tips:

  • Add fiber to foods you already consume:
    • Sprinkle your cereal with some wheat bran.
    • Add almonds to your salad.
    • Add some legumes in your soups.
    • Add some flax seeds to your bread or cereal.
  • Eat whole fruits instead of just drinking their juice.
  • Choose from vegetables high in fiber like Brussels sprouts, pumpkin, broccoli, eggplant, carrots, potato (with skin) green peas and artichoke.
  • Eat more whole grain products, especially those containing oats and barley.
  • Make a wholesome sandwich for lunch with whole wheat bread and vegetables. 
  • Have some delicious fiber rich fruit for snack like banana, orange, raspberries, and raisins.

Remember that creating a healthy habit takes time and dedication. Start by incorporating one healthy and fiber rich food to your diet at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many changes at once! Plan your meals ahead. And always remember that goal setting is the key for successHappy eating everyone!

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Energy Drinks… What you need to know!

Energy drinks consumption has become increasingly popular during RECENT years, especially among adolescents and young adults. The energy drink industry increased from 3.5 billion dollar in 2007 to 9 billion in 2012. The per capital consumption of energy drinks in 2010 was 41.1 mL daily.

Energy drinks are not to be confused with sports drinks. Energy drinks are soft drinks containing ingredients, such as caffeine, designed to boost energy and offer metabolic or central nervous system stimulation, whereas sports drinks do not contain caffeine. 

Among the most common uses of energy drinks are: athletic performance, study attention and job performance. The main ingredient is caffeine; however, there are added ingredients also containing caffeine, such as Guarana (3-5 g provides 250 mg of caffeine), Ginseng, Taurine, Tyramine, Synerphrine, Yerba Mate and Yohimbine. Sugar is also a important ingredient adding significant calories to the drinks. As much as 35g of sugar can be found in a 8oz can, exceeding the maximum recommended daily intake of sugar by 2 to 3 times. This ingredient can produce rapid energy boost, known as “Sugar High” followed by a fast decline, called “Crash Mode”.

A current problem with energy drinks is the incidence of consumption of energy drinks mixed with alcohol. This combination produces the underestimation of levels of intoxication with potential lethal consequences. Motor incoordination, breath alcohol concentration, and impairment of visual reaction time continue to persist even with the perception of lower levels.

Today, even though there is little research on the effects of energy drinks on the elderly, there is an astonishing number of advertising for energy drink consumption among the elderly population.  

People that consume energy drinks in a regular basis can develop tolerance to the components and ingredients, which in consequence will require more of these substances in order to function with the same effects and maintain performance. Serious long-term health consequences, such as seizures, stroke and even death have been reported. There is also the risk to develop vitamin toxicity and drug and food interaction, sleep depravation, anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, GI disturbances, and myocardial infarction. Also, high sugar consumption can lead to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, CVD, and high cholesterol levels. Energy drinks have counted for 20,000 ER visits in 2012. 

So why not obtain energy the natural way? Exercise regularly, drink plenty of water throughout the day, eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and lean proteins, snack on healthy choices and don’t forget to try good, old fashioned sleep!

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