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Written by: Laura S. Garrett, RD, PFT, CES
--- For free self-help resources or paid services related to nutrition and fitness programming, visit:

Table of Contents:
(Click on respective title to jump to article)

(1) Multivitams = Better Health?
(2) Chocolate - No Longer Junk Food!
(3) Chocolate and Its Health Benefits
(4) Cholesterol - All You Need to Know
(5) Combat Cramps During Exercise
(6) Apple Before Meal

(1) Multivitamin = Better Health?

Trying to incorporate healthier lifestyle changes often brings into question multivitamin use -- Should you take a daily multivitamin? Which of the many choices on the market is right for you? Fact is most Americans fall short of consuming many of the recommended nutrients necessary to maintain optimum health. Taking a basic daily multivitamin is a good preventive action. Convenience foods and fast foods are much to blame. We are busy and too often opt for the quick and easy when it comes to meals.

While Western countries are no longer afflicted with vitamin deficient disease such as scurvy (not enough vitamin C) or rickets (not enough vitamin D), degenerative diseases such as heart disease and osteoporosis are still on the rise. Even though we do not lack vitamin D to the point of causing rickets, about 42% of Americans do not get enough vitamin D in their diet. Worldwide, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency. In older adults and vegetarians, a common nutritional deficiency is Vitamin B12. Calcium deficiency causes osteoporosis especially when also deficient in vitamin D. It's these types of nutritional inadequacies that may be setting us up for the common degenerative diseases such as heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer and others. Simply taking a daily multivitamin is an easy, inexpensive way to bridge these nutritional gaps. It should be noted that a standard multivitamin will not contain enough calcium. A separate calcium supplement is advisable unless you truly include 3 to 4 servings of dairy in your diet every single day.

A basic multivitamin is one that doesn't go beyond 100% of the recommended amount. What about super formulas that go beyond the RDAs? Taking a supplement that goes above and beyond 100% can introduce new health problems. You will be consuming more than the recommended safe upper limit. What about taking more than one supplement formulation? Let's say you start taking high dose multivitamin and also want to take a separate antioxidant formula. You would potentially be getting more than 10,000 IU for vitamin A exceeding it's safe upper limit and this is not even counting the amount of vitamin A naturally consumed in your diet. Studies have shown over supplementing with one antioxidant can cause health risks. Taking a high dose multivitamin with a prostate formula or immune boosting formula could put your consumption of zinc over 50 mg ultimately interfering with copper absorption resulting in a copper deficiency! Bottom line -- extra nutritional supplementation does not = better health!

Summary ---
Eating a healthy, well balanced diet is the best defense against nutritionally related diseases. Including a basic daily multivitamin is recommended. Antioxidants can help prevent diseases when they come from food sources, but not excessive amounts via supplements which can actually have the opposite effect. Remember -- Fresh is best!
Written by: Laura S. Garrett, RD, PFT, CES
--- For free self-help resources or paid services related to nutrition and fitness programming, visit:

(2) Chocolate - No Longer Junk Food!

Enough is known about chocolate now to justifiably make the following statement, "Chocolate is good for you and no longer just an empty calorie junk food!" Did you know chocolate has been linked to lower blood pressure? Lower cholesterol? Increased insulin sensitivity? Improved blood flow to the brain? Reduced inflamation? Improved texture of the skin? Happiness -- well, that last one is no surprise to a chocolate lover!

What is it that makes chocolate so wonderful, not just to the taste buds, but all the health benefits just listed? The positive health benefits can be attributed to flavonol antioxidants (flavonols). Flavonols come from ground, fermented cocoa seeds. Take out the cocoa butter and sugar from chocolate and flavonols are what's left. Dark chocolate has more flavonols than milk chocolate and forget white chocolate which is not a true chocolate. White chocolate is made from cocoa butter and sugar containing no flavonols. The darker the chocolate, the better it is for your body because there are more of those wonderful flavonols. However, not all dark chocolate is created equal. Flavonols can be destroyed during processing, i.e., dutched and alkalized cocoa products.

Moderation is, of course, a must for healthy chocolate consumption. Cocoa powder itself is virtually fat-free. Chocolate, however, contains a significant amount of sugar and fat thus calories. Just one ounce of chocolate contains abut 200 calories and 10 grams of fat .. BUT 1 oz. is an adequate amount to reap the benefits noted in this article! So, eat smart. If you are going to begin including an ounce of chocolate in your diet, counteract the extra calories by eliminating it somewhere else in your diet. Last note -- If you want the health benefits of cocoa without the calories added to make chocolate, try adding cocoa powder in a smoothie made from banana, yogurt, milk, frozen berries and a touch of honey - yum!

For more information on chocolate and a list of some of the top rated flavonol-containing chocolates, go to:
Written by: Laura S. Garrett, RDN, PFT, CES
--- For free self-help resources or paid services related to nutrition and fitness programming, visit:

(3) Chocolate and Its Health Benefits

When you think of chocolate, do you associate it as a "junk food"? For all you chocolate lovers, this article may just make your day!;

Chocolate is a plant-based food that contains several minerals such as magnesium, copper, zinc, and iron. In addition, it contains a group of phytochemicals called polyphenols. Phytochemicals have been recently shown to possess antioxidant properties. "Antioxidant properties" means that it possesses little chemicals that help fight off certain diseases.

Now, this article is not telling you it is okay to make chocolate a major part of your diet. What it is telling you that it is perfectly fine to include it as part of a well balanced diet.

The plant phenols found in chocolate include a subclass known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are found in tea, wine, cocoa, and chocolate. Studies have shown that flavonoids seem to have a positive effect impact on heart health.

Chocolate flavonoids possess a very unique chemical structure compared to other plant-based foods and beverages. These flavonoids are actually rarely found in food sources. But, of biggest interest is the fact that they are particularly powerful antioxidants.

The polyphenols in chocolate have been reported to decrease the oxidation of LDL cholesterol both in vitro and in humans. This finding is especially important in regards to heart health. LDL cholesterol levels have been linked as a potential risk factor for heart disease.

"Isn't chocolate high in fat?", you ask. "And, isn't it saturated fat?" Yes, and yes. However, studies have shown that chocolate is no longer a concern in regards to its saturated fat content. Why?

Early on, it appeared that ALL saturated fats had a negative effect on cholesterol levels. New research shows that not all saturated fats act the same way in the body. The type of fat contained in cocoa butter include oleic acid (a monounsaturated fat - heart healthy) and stearic and palmitic acids (both saturated fats).

Stearic acid has unique properties as a saturated fat. Stearic acid's effect on blood cholesterol is neutral - it neither raises or lowers cholesterol. Other saturated fats increase blood cholesterol levels. In case you are wondering what it is exactly that makes a fat saturated vs. unsaturated, it quite simply is the chemical structure. So, while stearic acid's chemical structure defines it as a saturated fat, it does not effect cholesterol levels the same as other saturated fats.

Conclusion - Chocolate eaten in moderation may actually contribute to a heart healthy diet. Plus, indulging a little will likely boost your spirits.

Written by: Laura S. Garrett, RDN, PFT, CES
--- For free self-help resources or paid services related to nutrition and fitness programming, visit:

(4) Cholesterol - All You Need to Know

When you go to the doctor and he tells you your cholesterol level, you typically are told your TOTAL blood cholesterol level.

Ever wondered how cholesterol gets into your blood?
The body's liver makes most of the cholesterol it needs - yes, NEEDS. Some cholesterol is absorbed from the food you eat.

Why does the body NEED cholesterol?
The body needs cholesterol to make several important hormones including estrogen and testosterone. In addition, cholesterol is part of the protective covering that surrounds nerves and other cell membranes.

Why is having a high blood cholesterol level bad?
Elevated cholesterol levels are associated with heart disease. For a better assessment of your risk of heart disease, it is important to know not only your total cholesterol but also your HDL. The total cholesterol consists of HDL (high-density lipoprotein), LDL (low-density lipoprotein), and VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein). LDL is the bad guy. HDL is the good guy. Why? LDL cholesterol sticks to your the walls of your blood vessels and can cause blockage. VLDL is the precursor to LDL cholesterol. HDL goes around in the blood stream, collects bad cholesterol, and carries it back to the liver where it is broken down.

What is considered a healthy level in the blood?
It is desirable to keep total cholesterol levels below 200mg/dl. Values above 240 mg/dl are considered significantly elevated. If you know your LDL value, it is desirable to have this type of cholesterol below 130 mg/dl. Values for LDL above 160 are considered significantly elevated. Because HDL is the good guy, you want this level high. Values below 35 mg/dl are a HIGH risk indicator for heart disease. It is more desirable to have HDL levels close to 50 mg/dl or higher.

The Total Cholesterol:HDL Ratio is a good indicator of risk.
To calculate this important ratio, divide your Total cholesterol value by your HDL value. The HIGHER the ratio, the GREATER the risk of heart disease.

For example:
Total = 240 mg/dl
HDL = 30 mg/dl
Ratio = 240/30 = 8.0
*This is a high risk ratio.


What is cholesterol?
It is a waxy, fat-like substance.

What foods contain cholesterol?
Foods of animal origin are the ONLY foods that contain cholesterol. Foods of plant origin, even those naturally containing fat, DO NOT contain cholesterol.

Cholesterol in food:
There are a number of factors that affect your blood cholesterol level. One factor, is a diet high in dietary cholesterol. Moderation is advised to keep cholesterol levels in check. The American Heart Association and the National Cholesterol Education Program recommend that you consume 300 mg of cholesterol or less per day.

As stated above, foods of animal origin are the ONLY foods that contain cholesterol. Foods of plant origin, even those naturally containing fat, DO NOT contain cholesterol. Are certain foods of animal origin higher in cholesterol than others? Yes.

Not many people enjoy eating organ meats, such as liver. If you are someone who does, you should know that organ meats are high in cholesterol, 270 mg per 3-ounce serving of liver. While liver is nutritious, if you are at risk for heart disease then you need to limit your intake.

Egg yolks have gotten a bad rap in the past. Why? It is because egg yolks are high in cholesterol, 215 mg per yolk. The yolk is definitely nutritious, its purpose is to provide nutrients for a chick embryo to develop. Unfortunately, it contains too much cholesterol to eat it as you please. You should limit the number of yolks you eat to 3 or less per week. What about the whites? Eat as many whites as you like. The white part of an egg contains no cholesterol and is a rich, complete source of protein.

To limit the number of egg yolks, you can substitute 2 egg whites for one whole egg when baking. For example, a recipe calls for 2 eggs. You could either use 1 whole egg plus 2 egg whites OR 4 egg whites. By doing this simple substitution, you will decrease the cholesterol content. Another option is to use an egg substitute, check label for egg equivalent.

As for meats, look for leaner cuts of meat, fish, and poultry. Cut away excess fat before cooking. Choose low-fat dairy products. By following these steps, you will not be able to eliminate all the cholesterol but you are taking important steps towards healthy eating.

Read food labels for foods low in cholesterol or foods that are cholesterol free. How do you know if a product is low in cholesterol? Here are the food label requirements (government regulated):

Label claim: Per Serving:
Cholesterol Free - Less than 2 mg cholesterol and
Less than or equal to 2 g of saturated fat

Low Cholesterol - Less than or equal to 20 mg cholesterol and
Less than or equal to 2 g of saturated fat

Reduced OR Less - At least 25% less cholesterol than the original
Cholesterol and Less than or equal to 2 g of saturated fat

The above shows requirements for saturated fat. This is because blood
cholesterol levels are significantly affected by dietary saturated fat
intake. Cholesterol and saturated fat usually are found in the same foods, thus sometimes get confused. In animal products, both the lean portion (flesh or muscle) and the fatty tissue contain cholesterol. This is why some low-fat foods (animal) can be relatively high in cholesterol. Foods such as shellfish and organ meats are high in cholesterol yet low in saturated fat.

For more nutrition label information, check out: Link --   Click Here

Quiz question:
Nuts are high in fat, 80-89% of calories coming from fat. Do they contain cholesterol?

A: No. Nuts are from plant origin therefore they contain NO cholesterol.

Do not assume that dishes that contain vegetables or grains are cholesterol free. Vegetables and grains start off cholesterol free BUT most recipes include egg yolk, milk, meat, or butter. The cholesterol content depends on the recipe ingredients as a whole.

Effects of Saturated Fat:
If you have heart disease or have a family history of heart disease, it is likely your doctor has asked you to follow a diet low in fat and cholesterol. The fat to watch is saturated fat. Saturated fat INCREASES the level of "bad" LDL cholesterol in your blood. This is why it is so important to pay attention to the amount of saturated fat that is in your diet.

You do not have to avoid all fats. Unsaturated fats actually lower LDL
cholesterol levels. "Unsaturated fats" includes polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fat is considered better than polyunsaturated fat. Why? In addition to lowering the "bad" LDL
cholesterol, polyunsaturated fat lowers the "good" HDL cholesterol. As discussed above, HDL is beneficial because it collects LDL and brings it back to the liver where the LDL is broken down. Monounsaturated fat leaves the beneficial HDL cholesterol intact.

*Sources of Polyunsaturated Fat:
Corn Oil, Sunflower Seed Oil, Safflower Oil, Soybean Oil

*Sources of Monounsaturated Fat:
Olive Oil, Canola Oil, Peanut Oil

The main sources of saturated fat are from foods from animal origin and some from plants. Animal foods that are high in saturated fat include beef, veal, lamb, pork, butter, cream, milk (whole and 2%), cheese, and other dairy products made from whole milk. Plant foods that are high include coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, and cocoa butter. Check food labels to see which type of oil or fat was used in production.

For more information on healthy fats, go to:
Link --   Click Here

The American Heart Association's dietary guidelines recommend:
(1) Total Fat intake should be Less Than 30 Percent of daily calories, and (2) Saturated fat intake should be Less Than 10 Percent of calories.

Cooking Tips from the American Heart Association --

To reduce saturated fat in meat:
(1) Use a rack to drain off the fat when broiling, roasting, or baking. Instead of basting with drippings, keep meat moist with wine, fruit juices or an acceptable oil-based marinade.

(2) Cook a day ahead of time. Stews, boiled meat, soup stock or other dishes in which fat cooks into the liquid can be refrigerated. Then the hardened fat can be removed from the top.

(3) Make gravies after the fat has hardened and can be removed from the liquid.

(4) Broil rather than pan-fry meats such as hamburger, lamb chops, pork chops, and steak.

(5) When a recipe calls for browning the meat first, try browning it under the broiler instead of in a pan.

(6) Avoid adding butter or margarine to vegetables when cooking. Instead use herbs and spices for flavor.

Cholesterol-Lowering Medications:
If you have high cholesterol and you make the necessary changes in your diet and activity level, your cholesterol level should begin to go down after three to six months. If not your doctor may recommend cholesterol-lowering medication. If you are prescribed a cholesterol-lowering medication, remember that this is only the part of the plan. For maximum benefit and effectiveness, you must continue eating foods low in fat and cholesterol and continue exercising.

Other lifestyle changes you should make to avoid heart disease include losing weight if you are overweight, stop smoking if you smoke, control high blood pressure, and manage stress in your life. Traditionally, physicians have used medication to control blood cholesterol.

Here is a fact for you to think about before you decide to take cholesterol-lowering medication -- 75% of all heart disease can be prevented by lifestyle changes including dietary changes and increased activity.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs are known as "antihyperlipidemic agents". There are five major groups: (1) Fibric acid derivatives - Atromid-S (clofibrate) and Lopid (gemdibrozil), which work by preventing the liver from making or releasing cholesterol into the bloodstream, (2) Bile acid sequestrants - Questran (cholestryamine) and Colestid (cholestipol), which bind to bile acids and prevent their absorption, (3) Nicotinic acid - Nicolar (nicotinic acid), which decreases the secretion of VLDL thus the formation of "bad" LDL cholesterol, (4) Probucol - Lorelco (probucol), which enhances the clearance of cholesterol including LDL and HDL cholesterol, and (5) HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors - Mevacor (lovastatin), Pravastatin, and Zocor (simvastatin), which work to help lower LDL cholesterol.

Now that you know which drugs are available and their general method of action in the body, you can hopefully make an educated decision along with your doctor on whether or not cholesterol-lowering drugs are necessary. Again, it cannot be stressed enough, a proper diet and exercise regimen can help you in your fight against high cholesterol. Good luck!
Written by: Laura S. Garrett, RDN, LD, PFT
--- For free self-help resources or paid services related to nutrition and fitness programming, visit:

NOTE: If you are publishing this article (free to do so with the above bylines), please make sure to include the two hyperlinks within the article:

(5) Combat Cramps During Exercise

If you are an athlete that trains outside in the summer heat, you have most likely experienced debilitating cramps. It does not matter how well conditioned you are, if you don't take the proper precautionary measures to avoid cramps, they will take you to your knees potentially leading to injury.

While most cramps are due to overuse (exercising too excessive either by going farther or faster than in the recent past or not allowing proper recovery time), continuing to put yourself at your limit becomes especially problematic during hot summer days. Drinking an electrolyte beverage may help prevent cramping as it replaces minerals your body loses through sweating. Drinks like Gatorade or Advocare's Rehydrate (Click Here for information) are very beneficial for athletes or anyone who exercises beyond 1 hour. Aim to drink 6 to 8 ounces of an electrolyte beverage every 1 to 2 hours of activity. Additionally, plan in advance for an early morning training session by drinking at least 6 ounces the night before at bedtime and then drink at least another 6 ounces 1 hour in the morning before the activity. During activity, drink water as needed. If the session goes beyond 1 hour, that is when you need to incorporate the 6 to 8 ounces of electrolyte replacement.

If you feel cramps creeping up on you, that is when you need to dial back on your effort. Slow it down. If cramps are hitting you during a run, incorporate walking breaks and avoid getting to the point of huffing and puffing. If you try to push through, cramps are only going to increase and this puts you at risk for injury. A good training plan will incorporate hard training sessions followed by days of light activity. Do not expect yourself to go 100% every session. This will surely set you up for injury.

Current research on cramps shows the problem happens in the neural communication pathway. During training you reach a point of fatigue. Sometimes there is miscommunication causing the muscle to stay contracted when it shouldn't and wham, you cramp.

“The mechanism for muscle fatigue and muscle damage causing cramping is best explained through an imbalance that develops in the nervous system control of muscle. Muscles tend to become very twitchy when they become fatigued or are injured,” said Schwellnus. You’re more likely to get cramps, then, when your muscles are working harder and are fatiguing, such when you’re out of shape or racing hard.

Avoid cramps by taking the following steps:

1. Warm-up:
If you don't already warm-up utilizing dynamic movements, you need to do so. Allow 10 to 15 minutes for warming up. This gets your heart rate elevated and pumping blood to the muscles prior to placing demands on them literally raising the temperature of the muscles so you don't start off "cold".

2. Start slow gradually increase intensity:
Do not start the beginning of your training session at full speed. Following the warm-up, you may increase effort, just don't go full speed.

3. Excessive temperatures? Shorten training, train inside, or split your session:
If the temperature is very high and/or humidity is a factor, either shorten your planned session, take it inside, or split your training into two parts.

4. Allow more breaks:
Heat puts added stress on the body. As it takes added effort for your body to cool, incorporate much needed walking breaks so your heart may adequately pump under less stress to cool you down.

5. Shorten strides:
Because you run the risk of being in a state of dehydration when it is hot outside, shorten your stride during sprints or hill work to better avoid cramping or pulling a muscle.

6. Stop and Stretch:
If a cramp sets in, stop activity immediately. It is now time to deep breath and stretch it out. Static stretching inhibits the muscle from contracting. After stretching and the cramps resides, start slow and gradually increase effort.

Bottom Line:
If you feel a cramp coming on, backing off will usually prevent it. If you are stubborn and push through, it will debilitate you making it impossible to continue and likely setting you up for injury.
Written by: Laura S. Garrett, RDN, PFT, CES
--- For free self-help resources or paid services related to nutrition and fitness programming, visit:

NOTE: If you are publishing this article (free to do so with the above bylines), please make sure to include the two hyperlinks within the article:

(6) Apple Before Meal

The power of an apple. You have likely heard the old adage, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Right? Well, the pectin in apples may also aid in keeping fat off your waistline. How?

Two ways: (1) Pectin helps release fat already in the body, and (2) Pectin limits fat absorption.

So, here is a diet strategy for you to try on a daily basis: Eat an apple before each meal.

Pectin acts as an appetite suppressant helping you feel full so you eat less in addition to reducing the amount of fat absorbed from that meal. The downside: Planning is necessary for full effectiveness. Eat the apple 30 minutes before your meal. This allows digestion of the apple to begin and lets your brain to send signals that you are not starving, again thanks to the pectin which keeps blood sugar from spiking.

Please note: Eating an apple before meals won't shed pounds in and of itself. You have to consider that an apple does add in calories to your diet. The key will be listening to your body. Even if the apple plan helps you feel full, if you ignore those signals and overeat, all you've done is added more calories to your typical intake. To lose weight, you have to create a calorie deficit. In fact, just one pound lost requires you either cut out of your diet or burn through exercise a total of 3,500 calories. That sounds like a lot. Don't get discouraged. The easiest way to get a calorie deficit (less calories in than burned) is by increasing your level of activity. Today's society spends excessive amounts of time sitting. Find ways to be a little more active throughout the day plus include an hour workout. Keep in mind 1 hour is only 4% of your day -- you just have to commit!

Bottom line:
The apple plan is no magic bullet, but just a simple strategy that you may use in your overall efforts to achieve a healthier you.
Written by: Laura S. Garrett, RDN, PFT, CES
--- For free self-help resources or paid services related to nutrition and fitness programming, visit:

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Written by: Laura S. Garrett, RDN, PFT, CES
--- For free self-help resources or paid services related to nutrition and fitness programming, visit:

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