How to build your own meal plan

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Struggling to stick to a meal plan? Mix ‘n’ match these six core food groups to suit your taste preferences, lifestyle and personal health goals. Stephanie Osfield writes. 



Protein is a necessity for fat loss, muscle gains and optimal function of all the cells in your body. “Of the major macronutrients such as carbohydrates and fats, protein rates higher on the satiety scale, which means it makes people feel full for longer after a meal,” says Melanie McGrice, dietitian and spokesperson for the Australian Dietitians Association. “This may be in part because protein helps to suppress levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin.”

Unlike many carbohydrates, protein does not cause a large spike in your blood glucose, which is good news for your waistline. “Keeping your blood glucose stable means that your insulin levels don’t spike, which can reduce your risk of developing weight gain and diabetes type 2,” says McGrice. According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, the current recommended daily intake (RDI) for women is 46g per day and 64g for men – which equates to protein roughly the size of your palm.

As well as driving or curbing your appetite, protein may rev up your body’s ability to burn fat. These waist-whittling benefits were highlighted in a study conducted at Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in Louisiana. When subjects were fed 40 per cent more kilojoules than usual, researchers found people eating a low protein diet not only stored 90 per cent of that excess energy as fat, they also lost more muscle – bad news for your metabolism. By contrast, people eating a higher protein, higher kilojoule diet gained less weight while simultaneously gaining more lean muscle.

Though lean meat is certainly a good protein source, research suggests most people already eat far too much of it – particularly red meat, which is high in saturated fat. So don’t forget to include some plant sources of protein in your diet plan, such as pulses and legumes. It’s a fallacy that you have to become a master of seeds, nuts and beans to ensure intake of all the nine essential amino acids found in meat. “Biochemistry has now shown us that as long as you’ve had a variety of plant-based foods over the course of a day or so, your body will take the amino acids from the ones it needs, as it needs them,” explains Stanton. “Plant foods also contain non-haem iron, which some experts believe may be a healthier form of iron than haem iron, which is found in meat.”


Good Sources:

» Fish, including salmon, tuna and mackerel

» Lean chicken, turkey, beef and lamb

» Legumes and pulses, such as chickpeas, lentils, tempeh and edamame beans

» Seed grains such as quinoa


Fruit and vegetables

Vegetables are low in fat and high in fibre so they promote weight loss and help you maintain a healthy weight. Fibre-rich plant foods actually take up more space in your stomach, triggering a response in the nerve-stretch receptors in your stomach wall, and quickly trigger hormones that tell you that you’re full, shows research from the University of Sussex. Bye-bye unhealthy morning or afternoon snacks.

As vegetables are packed with antioxidants and polyphenols, they may help reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes and depression and also offer protection against cancer.

If you struggle to love foods such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower or eggplant, then you need to try giving them a makeover:

» Pairing foods: you don’t like a lot (broccoli) with food you do like (parmesan cheese).

» Keeping it varied: check out meal ideas on blogs and websites. If you get bored you are less likely to stick to your meat-free days.

» Re-thinking your snacks: make mini vegetable-balls and serve with tamari, or whip up some dips like hummus or guacamole and serve with carrot, cucumber and celery sticks.

» Spinning an old style: go beyond different green varieties of salads and try salsas, bean or roast vegie salads, and salads mixing lots of vegetables with a little wholemeal pasta or quinoa. With mashes, try broccoli or pumpkin or cauliflower, with a little stock (rather than milk and butter) and top with a crumbling of goat’s cheese.

» Dressing or spicing them up: your taste buds will atrophy if you keep serving boiled vegies night after night. So mix it up. Bake sweet potato and top with a little pesto; add a tamari and orange juice sauce to beans topped with almond slivers; and sauté or water stir-fry a mix of vegetables together, such as parsnip and pumpkin or zucchini and capsicum, then add a dash of oil and oyster sauce.

» Make vegetable boats: stuff potatoes with beans and fill vegies such as capsicums and tomatoes with a quinoa and vegetable mix. Use lettuce leaves like cups or bread. Scoop out the middle of a cooked zucchini, add to a mix of rice, garlic, mushrooms and capsicum then refill the zucchini shells with the mix.


Good Sources:

» Blue/purple: blueberries, plums, black grapes, red cabbage, beetroot, eggplant

» Red: tomatoes, capsicum, watermelon, pink grapefruit, rosehips, strawberries

» Yellow: lemons, pineapple, limes, grapefruit, star fruit, paw paw

» Green: cabbage, zucchini, avocado, asparagus, spinach, pears

» Brown: rye bread, brown rice, oats, wholemeal pasta, flaxseed, soybeans

» White: onions, garlic, parsnips, potatoes, cauliflower, white nectarines



Grains are high in carbohydrate, vital for energy production, concentration and mood. They are low in fat, which is good for your heart and your weight. Plus they are good sources of protein and provide your body with fibre, vitamins and minerals. Wholegrains are particularly beneficial because they still contain bran, endosperm and germ, which are all higher in fibre and nutrients. According to the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC): “Wholegrains contain more than 26 nutrients and phytonutrients, which are bioactive substances thought to play a role in disease protection.”

They contain:

» Dietary fibre: such as lignans, beta-glucan and soluble pentosans

» Vitamins: especially B-group vitamins and antioxidant vitamin E

» Minerals: including iron, zinc, magnesium and selenium

» Many bioactive phytochemicals: including phytoesterols (which help lower cholesterol) and carotenoids (which act as antioxidants).

“There is now strong and growing evidence that regular consumption of grain foods, specifically wholegrain, play an important role in disease protection,” says the GLNC. Studies in the USA, UK and Europe consistently report that the consumption of wholegrain foods reduces overall disease risk and death from all causes. If you have issues with gluten, use gluten-free grains such as buckwheat.


Good Sources:

» Rye

» Stoneground wholemeal flour

» Spelt

» Brown rice

» Steel cut oats

» Freekah

» Bulgur

» Buckwheat



There is plenty of evidence to justify dairy foods as part of a healthy diet plan, beyond the well-known perk of helping to strengthen bones.

Foods such as kefir and yoghurt provide good live bacteria to benefit gut health. Research from the University of Copenhagen has also shown that cheese appears to boost levels of butyrate, a compound that is produced by gut bacteria and has numerous benefits for overall health. Full-fat milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter products may also be healthier than previously thought. Harvard research shows that they contain trans-palitoleic acids (TPA), fatty acids linked to healthier levels of blood cholesterol, lower inflammation, stable insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity. This may be why high-fat yoghurt and cheese are now being linked to lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Along with gluten, a growing number of people have been steering clear of dairy foods in recent years. In addition to true lactose intolerance, some people find that foods such as milk and cheese contribute to stomach upsets, acne or pimple outbreaks, headaches and skin rashes. The answer? Try goat or sheep’s milk: many sensitive individuals tolerate these dairy forms better than the cow version because it has a closer make-up to the human breast milk we consume as babies.

Good Sources:

» Plain pot-set Greek yoghurt

» Kefir

» Goat’s or sheep’s cheese

» Cheese

» Milk











In Defense Of Wearing Makeup to the Gym

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When I was in high school, my sworn enemies were the runners who showed up to my cross-country meets with multicolored ribbons woven in their hair, cat-lined eyes, and glitter on their cheeks. Those were the runners I had to beat. Why get all dolled up? We were there to compete—not look pretty. It drove me, with my bumpy ponytail and makeup-free face, totally mad.

But once I got to college, where I continued to race, all that changed. After discovering the magic of the hair straightener, I slowly came around to doing my hair before my meets. And if I was going to all that trouble, why not brush on a little waterproof mascara, and cover up dark circles, and a few acne spots, too?

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When I looked in the mirror before my runs I felt ready and confident. In fact, I ran some of my best races with makeup. And while I don’t think makeup has special voodoo powers or that there's anything wrong with going without, I always think of this when people scorn women wearing a full face of makeup in the weight room or on the treadmill. I mean, if it makes you feel good, who cares?

Turns out professional athletes—including U.S. national soccer team member and world champion Sydney Leroux —agree with me.

“Some people are against [wearing makeup], I am not,” said Leroux, when I spoke with her at a recent Neutrogena sunscreen event. “We have this thing on our team, a few of the makeup-wearing girls: ‘Look good, play good, you know, feel good,’ and I think that that’s such a cool thing.”

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“If you go to they gym, and you’re like, ‘You know what, I feel good right now!’ You’re going to work harder, you’re going to push further,” she added. “I think that makeup is a way to express yourself just like tattoos, or however. It’s an art to me, and I love that."

And contrary to popular belief, it's not a given that wearing makeup to sweat will wreck your skin. "The problem with foundation is if you sweat it can clog your pores," says New York-based derm Debra Jaliman, MD, author of Skin Rules. "But a little concealer and mascara won't hurt."

Currently, I’m training for the Chicago marathon, and while I don’t wear a ton of makeup on my long runs, I plan on giving my eyelashes a curl on race day. Goodness knows I’ll be tired when I arrive at Millennium Park at 6 a.m. And if I feel like I want mascara, too, I won't think twice about it.

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It's True: Alcohol Helps You Speak a Foreign Language Better

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Those who dabble in learning a new language sometimes find that alcohol — in moderation — helps them speak more fluently. In a way, that makes sense: It’s been shown that a beer or a glass of wine can lower inhibitions, which may make it easier for some people to overcome nervousness or hesitation.

But on the other hand, alcohol has also been shown to impair cognitive and motor functions, negatively affect memory and attention, and lead to overconfidence and inflated self-evaluations. So do people really speak non-native languages better after drinking, or is that just their liquid courage talking?

To answer that question, British and Dutch researchers conducted an experiment, published this week in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. And it turns out, people in the study really did speak more fluently after a low dose of alcohol — even when they didn’t think so themselves.

The study included 50 native German speakers who were studying at Maastricht University, located in the Netherlands near the border with Germany. All of the people in the study said they drank alcohol at least sometimes, and, because their classes were taught in Dutch, had recently passed an exam demonstrating proficiency in the language.

Each person was asked to have a casual, two-minute conversation with an interviewer in Dutch. Before that chat, half were given water to drink, while the other half were given an alcoholic beverage. The amount of booze varied based on the person’s weight, but for a 150-pound man, it was equivalent to just under a pint of beer.

The conversations were recorded and then scored by two native Dutch speakers who weren’t aware which people had consumed alcohol. The participants were also asked to self-score their own performances, based on how fluently they felt they’d spoken.

Unexpectedly, alcohol had no effect on the speakers’ self-ratings; those who’d had a drink weren’t any more confident or pleased with their performances than those who’d had water.

But they did perform better, according to those who listened to the recordings. Overall, the native Dutch speakers rated people in the alcohol group as having better fluency — specifically better pronunciation — than those in the water group. Ratings for grammar, vocabulary and argumentation were similar between groups.

The authors point out that the dose of alcohol tested in the study was low, and that higher levels of consumption might not have these beneficial effects. After all, they write in their paper, drinking too much can have the exact opposite effect on fluency and can even lead to slurred speech.

And because the people in the study knew what they were drinking, it’s not possible to know whether their speech improved because of alcohol’s biological effects or its psychological ones. (Previous studies have shown that people who think they’re drinking alcohol can experience similar levels of impairment as those drinking the real thing.) “Future research on this topic should include an alcohol placebo condition,” the authors write, “to disentangle the relative impact of pharmacological vs. expectancy effects.”

The study’s findings should also be replicated in other groups of people, they add, to show that the results aren’t unique to native German speakers or to people learning Dutch. At least one other paper supports this theory, though; in a 1972 study, small doses of alcohol improved Americans’ pronunciation of words in Thai.

While the study did not measure people’s mental states or emotions, the authors say it’s possible that a low-to-moderate dose of alcohol “reduces language anxiety” and therefore increases proficiency. “This might enable foreign language speakers to speak more fluently in the foreign language after drinking a small amount of alcohol,” they conclude.


We Tried It: A Seriously Intense Workout with Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez

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What Is It: TruFusion’s 60-minute “Tru Barefoot Bootcamp” tests your mobility, endurance and resilience through a combination of yoga, Pilates, kettle bells and other movement drills in a room that reaches a heat index of 120 degrees.

Who Tried It: Melody Chiu, PEOPLE Staff Editor

Level of Difficulty: 8/10

It’s tough to say what I hate more — heat or cardio. Luckily for me, TruFusion’s bootcamp combines both into one class. But when you’re offered the chance to work out with Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez, a.k.a the king and queen of fitness, you don’t say no.

When I walked into the TruFusion gym in Las Vegas last month, I was surprised at how tranquil of an environment it is. The space is clean, bright and very inviting and totally helped calm my nerves a bit before class. A-Rod told me he’s a hygiene freak (so am I), and that’s part of why he fell in love with the gym and decided to become a major investor in the chain.

The first thing you notice when you step into the workout studio is definitely the stifling heat. Aside from Rodriguez, Lopez and her dancers made up most of the class that day, and it was a little intimidating to be standing next to these longtime athletes with rock-hard abs and toned arms who take the class several times a week. But as crazy as it sounds, I almost forgot I was working out with these superstars once the class kicked off because I was having so much fun. Let’s be real, though. I couldn’t help but sneak a couple peeks at J.Lo, who never had a hair out of place and was glistening like a goddess. A-Rod, though, struggled a bit more through the class and it was a little reassuring to see one of the world’s greatest athletes huff and puff next to me!

Our instructor Martin had the best energy and encouraged everyone to take things at their own pace. One of the things I loved most was that there was no judgment or competition in the class. I can barely run a mile without feeling like I just ran a marathon and I’m one of the least coordinated people I know, but even I had a total blast swinging my hips to the music and throwing some sandbags around.

It was definitely challenging and I had to cheat a couple times and take a few breaks, but I powered through … and just when I was feeling faint and like I could no longer go on, it was over!

Verdict: I never thought I would make it through a heated class, much less enjoy it. But TruFusion’s boot camp really stands out from other workout classes I’ve taken, and the energy from the staff, instructors and its members is so infectious. They’re expanding soon to Los Angeles, Miami and New York, and I can’t wait to try out their other classes and get just a teeny bit closer to achieving J.Lo’s famous figure.


This Mom Got Flack for Working Out at Target—So She Exercised at Walmart and Whole Foods, Too

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When Sia Cooper, blogger for the website, posted a video of herself crushing squats and lunges while pushing her daughter in a shopping cart at Target, she didn't expect it to go viral. After all, what's wrong with strengthening your lower body while you run errands? But after one commenter called Cooper out for her mini sweat session, she was inspired to take her workout routine to even more retailers.

"So someone negatively commented yesterday that I should’ve done my video in Walmart because I would’ve fit in better (in regards to my viral Target workout video) referring to the common thought that Walmart is a crazy, trashy place," the blogger wrote in the caption of a second video shared on her Instagram page last week. "Soooo… I did!"

In the second clip, Cooper's son sits in the shopping cart while she completes another workout with her daughter strapped to her chest in a baby carrier. To make the exercise even tougher, the fitness influencer incorporates store items like bottles of water and an ottoman to add extra weight and resistance.

Don’t think the super-strong mother of two stopped there, though. Cooper proved she can also get sweaty in an upscale market when she posted a third grocery store workout just two days later. This time, Whole Foods was her gym.

"Grabbed some snacks for the kiddos while grabbing a quick workout, too. Cause why not?” she captioned the clip, in which she demonstrates curtsy squats, twisting lunges, and bicep curls (with wine bottles!) in the store, all with her daughter strapped to her back.

We give Cooper major kudos for proving that you can get fit anywhere—including while you fill your shopping cart. Fitspo in aisle five!


5 of the Filthiest Places to Avoid on Airplanes

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When it comes to flying, nothing about a close proximity to strangers and bathrooms for hours on end feels particularly clean. And while you may not be able to make the flight shorter or the seats bigger, you can make your experience more sanitary by avoiding some of the dirtiest places on airplanes.

It’s worth noting that some people may be more susceptible to getting sick on planes because the cabin air humidity is under 20%, whereas home humidity is generally over 30%, according to the World Health Organization. The dry air exposure affects mucus, the immune system’s front line of defense, leaving people marginally more vulnerable to getting sick. A 2004 study in the Journal of Environmental Health Research found that people are far more likely — 113 times more, by one of the study’s measures — to catch the common cold during a flight than normal ground transmission.

Humidity aside, there are a handful of especially dirty spots, according to research and advisories from travel physicians. Here’s how to avoid them.

Airplane tray tables

The potentially grimiest place on an airplane unfolds right into your lap.

Alarmingly, a 2015 study by TravelMath that tested samples from hard surfaces in planes found that tray table surfaces had more than eight times the amount of bacteria per square inch than the lavatory flush buttons. The trays had 2,155 colony forming units of bacteria per square inch—compared to the 127 cfu/sq. in., which is what the National Science Foundation says is standard for a toilet seat at home.

Dr. Charles Gerba, microbiologist at the University of Arizona, tells TIME that the trays he’s tested through research have had cold viruses, human parainfluenza viruses, norovirus (which can cause diarrhea and vomiting) and the superbug MRSA, which causes skin infections.

The high amount of bacteria is likely linked to plane cleaning crews not having enough time between flights to wipe down the tray tables, the Wall Street Journal reports. And when they do get clean, those airlines may be using general cleaners instead of disinfectants.

In the meantime, to avoid eating dinner off a tray that someone piled used tissues or changed a baby’s diaper on just hours earlier, wipe it down with a sanitizing wipe, Dr. Michael Zimring, director of travel medicine at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, tells TIME. But if you don’t feel like even touching the table (Gerba does, but Zimring says he doesn’t bother), avoid eating food directly off the surface.

“My food will stay on a paper plate or wrapper,” adds Zimring.

Air vents and seatbelt buckles

Two plane features with frequent usage (that may not receive a regular cleaning) also make the list.

The air vents above each seat are great for circulating ventilated air to each passenger, but the TravelMath testing found 285 CFU/sq. in. on their dials — more bacteria than on the plane toilet flush buttons.

The seatbelt buckles similarly had 230 FCU/sq. in., which isn’t surprising since every passenger touches their buckle at least two times during the flight.

Gerba recommends bringing a small bottle of hand sanitizer on the plane and using it periodically.


Airplane bathrooms are cleaned regularly—United, Delta and American Airlines told the Journal that they get disinfected overnight and between long flights.

But Gerba points out that with roughly 50 people to a bathroom, they’re still an easy way to pick up an infection. He found the fecal coliform E. coli on some of the sinks, flush handles and toilet seats he tested. TravelMath found that the flush buttons had 265 CFU/sq. in. (but no fecal coliform bacteria).

“It’s hard to beat the restroom,” in terms of germiness, Gerba says, “because the water shuts off so people can’t complete hand washing.” The sinks are so small, he adds, that people with large hands can’t even fit them fully underneath the faucets.

Zimring recommends using a paper towel on the door latch on the way out, and says that’s the one precaution he never fails to take.

Seatback pocket

Passengers have been known to treat the pocket on the seat in front of them as a wastebasket, stuffing trash, dirty tissues, used diapers and more into the pouch.

On planes with quick turnarounds on the ground, cleaning crews may not even get a chance to empty out the seat pockets, let alone disinfect the cloth. And one Auburn University in Alabama study found that MRSA germs survive for up to 7 days on seat pocket cloth — the longest it survives on any of the hard and soft surfaces the researchers tested.

Drexel University Medicine only recommends one way to avoid germs in the seatback pocket: “Just don’t use them. It’s simply not worth the risk.”

Aisle seats

Choosing the aisle seat lets you get up whenever you feel like it, but that freedom comes with a little more risk.

The tops of aisle seats are likely harboring germs from every person who walks by them and holds on for support, according to Zimring — and many of those people have just come from the bathroom. So be aware of touching the area next to the aisle headrest, and it’s probably best to not rest your face there as you fall asleep.

Sitting near the aisle puts passengers in the line of fire of any communicable viruses that could break out on the plane.

One study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases analyzed a flight from Boston to L.A. that made an emergency landing due to an outbreak of vomiting and diarrhea. The researchers found that that people sitting in the aisle were far more likely to contract norovirus, but there was no link between contracting it and using the bathroom.

“If you sit by the window seat you have less chance of getting sick,” Gerba confirms.


Why You Probably Shouldn't Worry About Exercising Yourself to Death

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Is there such a thing as too much exercise?

A new study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, suggests that there is. Fitness diehards may have a higher-than-average risk of coronary artery calcification (CAC): a buildup of calcium in the artery walls of the heart that makes arteries less flexible and is often a harbinger of heart disease. But the vast majority of people, experts say, don’t need to worry about overdoing it.

A team of researchers, led by scientists from the University of Illinois and Kaiser Permanente, tracked the exercise habits of more than 3,000 people over 25 years. People were split into three groups based on whether they met the national physical activity guidelines (which call for 150 minutes of exercise per week), failed to reach them or exceeded them.

Surprisingly, compared to people who exercised moderately, those who hit the gym for longer than 7.5 hours per week—three times more than guidelines call for—had a 27% higher risk of developing CAC by middle age. White men in that category were particularly at risk; they had an 86% higher chance of CAC. About 40% of people who exercised the most developed any amount of calcification after 25 years.

The results may seem like a reason to eschew your evening workout. But exercise is generally good—not bad—for the heart, and people typically need more of it—not less.

“This [study] doesn’t apply to 99% of people,” says Dr. Deepak Bhatt, executive director of interventional cardiovascular services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Most people are not getting into this range of exercise. The problem in the U.S. is the exact opposite, that most people are getting nowhere near the recommended amount of exercise.”

Even if hardcore exercisers do have more calcium buildup, it’s still not clear if that’s damaging the heart, says Dr. Aaron Baggish, director of the cardiovascular performance program at Massachusetts General Hospital. While the results are intriguing, the study doesn’t actually show that people with a heightened risk of CAC went on to have heart attacks or other health problems, Baggish says, and that means it’s too soon to say whether extreme exercise is actually causing heart issues.

While doctors know that calcium buildup in the hearts of sedentary people is a bad sign, Baggish says it’s not clear whether that’s true of very active people, too. The body deploys calcium to repair injuries and inflammation, so marathon runners, endurance athletes and other regular exercisers may accumulate calcium as the body recovers from stress, he says—but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s causing problems.

“Think about arthritis in your knee,” Baggish says. “If you are active, fit and healthy, you are much more likely to have good knee function later in life than if you sit around and you’re overweight and unhealthy. You may actually have just as much calcium in that knee as someone who’s sitting around on the couch, but the function is better, your knee lasts longer and you feel better.” The same, he says, may be true of the heart.

Still, Bhatt says heart calcification in general is not ideal, and adds that past research has shown a link between excessive exercise and heart strain. “Everything is best in moderation,” Bhatt says. “Extreme exertion, especially over time, isn’t good for the heart,” and moderate exercise is probably the best path to good cardiovascular health.


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