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Better digestion, a healthier heart, weight loss—all of these things begin with making smarter choices about the foods we eat, and protein is an important part of every healthy eating plan. Not only is protein considered an important building block for the body, but including plenty of lean protein in your diet can help you feel more satisfied throughout the day and less likely to experience those pesky cravings that can steer you off course.

A good rule of thumb, outlined in Brenda Watson’s Love Your Heart Eating Plan, is to eat 12 portions of protein daily from sources such as lean poultry, meat and seafood; low-fat cheese and yogurt; eggs; tofu; tempeh; and nuts. Eating protein at each meal and snack will help keep your appetite under control, so 12 portions a day will look something like this:

  • Breakfast: 2 portions
  • Snack: 1–2 portions
  • Lunch: 3–4 portions
  • Snack: 1–2 portions
  • Dinner: 3–4 portions

Protein for Breakfast Helps with Carb Cravings Later
Studies have found that a high-protein breakfast not only helps you feel full longer after eating, but also helps avoid carb cravings later on. Ever start your day with cereal or a muffin and wonder why you’re craving more carbs mid-morning? Try beginning your day with protein and low-sugar fruits and veggies instead.

Portion Quick Guide
In most cases, 3 to 4 portions of protein would make up a standard serving. For example, a standard grilled chicken breast fillet added to a salad is 3 to 4 ounces—or 3 to 4 portions. Here’s a quick guide to help you get started:

Protein
Poultry, meat, seafood, cheese
Eggs
Tofu
Tempeh
Nuts
Nut butters
Low-fat Greek yogurt
Portion
1 ounce
1 egg or 2 egg whites
3 ounces
1 ounce
1 ounce (handful)
2 tablespoons
3 ounces

 
Tip: Take Your Protein to Go!
To make things easy, incorporate protein snacks into your day by preparing them ahead of time and storing them in containers for easy-to-grab snacks when you need them.

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4th-picnicNot only is Independence Day is a time to celebrate an important step for our great nation, but the laidback long weekend is perfect for picnics, parties and backyard barbecues with friends and family. As you’re planning the menu, here are 4 tips—plus 3 easy-to-prepare recipes—for making your 4th of July gathering as heart-healthy as it is delicious:

  1. Add a Little Surf to Your Turf. Before you fire up the grill, consider adding some healthy seafood options. Fatty fish such as salmon and herring are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids shown to support heart health, and grilled shrimp offer a light and healthy lean protein option. Get creative with herbs, spices and fresh citrus for a burst of summer flavor.
  2. Opt for a Better Burger. Sometimes only a juicy burger will do, so just be sure to select grass-fed ground beef and stick to healthy portion sizes (experts say about 3 ounces for lean meat and poultry). Before grilling, add spices or chopped onions and peppers for an extra kick, and be sure to have plenty of leafy greens on hand for topping; kale is a great choice because it’s loaded with heart-smart nutrients like fiber, potassium, vitamin K and Omega-3s.
  3. Heart-Healthier Sides Make a Difference. Instead of starchy potato and pasta salads (remember: starchy carbs break down into sugar, and sugar is bad for your heart), lighten up your sides by offering grilled veggie kebabs, lighter salads and slaws (see Jicama Beet Salad recipe below), and plenty of raw, non-starchy veggies and low-sugar fruits for easy snacking. Did you know that cherries are high in potassium, which promotes healthy blood pressure and helps reduce the risk of stroke?
  4. Go Nuts. Say goodbye to greasy chips and processed snack mixes—nuts are the way to go for heart health! Not only do they provide plenty of healthy fats and fiber, but they also contain vitamin E, beneficial amino acids, potassium and more to promote healthy cholesterol levels and help reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. Fill snack bowls with almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews and pistachios—just make sure they’re raw and not covered in sugar and salt, which can undermine their heart health benefits.

Fire up the Grill! 3 Healthful & Delicious 4th of July Recipes:

Grilled Shrimp & Veggie Kebabs
(This recipe serves 2 but is easy to double or triple)

Ingredients (kebabs):
½ lb. shrimp (approx. 20), peeled and deveined
1 large onion, quartered and cut into thick slices
1 large red bell pepper, cut into large slices
1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into large slices
10 cherry tomatoes

Ingredients (dressing):
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. fresh parsley, minced
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions: Soak wooden skewers in water for 10 minutes (to prevent burning during cooking). Thread shrimp and veggies onto skewers. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, parsley and black pepper. Drizzle dressing over kabobs. Grill over medium heat for 3 minutes on each side. Serve hot.

Sweet & Spicy Grilled Salmon
(This recipe serves 2 but is easy to double or triple)

Ingredients:
Two 3-oz. wild salmon fillets
1 tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup chives, finely chopped

Ingredients (wet rub):
1 tsp. soy sauce
½ tsp. honey
½ tsp. fresh ginger, grated
½ tsp. crushed red pepper
½ tsp. blackstrap molasses
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt

Directions: Wash salmon and pat dry. In a small bowl, combine all wet rub ingredients except black pepper. Glaze top of fish liberally with wet rub; dust with black pepper. Grill at medium-high heat until salmon just starts to release its fat and/or the flesh flakes easily (about 10 to 15 minutes for a 1-inch-thick fillet). Remove from grill and serve immediately.

Jicama Beet Salad
Serves 4

Ingredients:
½ large jicama
1 red beet
1 golden beet
1 tbsp. lime juice
½ tsp. fresh ginger, minced
Salt to taste

Directions: Peel and julienne jicama and beets; place in large bowl. Add lime juice, ginger and salt; mix well. Set aside at least 20 minutes before serving.

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