Holiday fitness challenge

Holidays are approaching fast. What are YOUR health goals? Whether you’re just getting started or have been working towards them this year, don’t lose track of your health goals. Make health your priority, it’s the best gift you can give yourself!

One way to help you stay focused is to join a holiday fitness challenge. You can do one with family, friends, coworkers or anyone else you’d like. Make things fun! Right now, there’s an opportunity to join an online holiday fitness challenge hosted by fitness expert/coach David Wick of Fresh Focus Fitness. In collaboration with Fresh Focus Fitness, as part of the challenge’s program, you’ll receive my nutrition tips and tricks to let you enjoy the holidays and stay on track towards your health goals. You’ll be entered to win several prizes, one of them being a free consultation with me (eligibility rules apply, please read the details of the challenge here). For any questions about the challenge, visit or contact @freshfocusfitness on Instagram.

Curious about artificial sweeteners?

There are often many questions around the use of artificial sweeteners. The Food, Drug and Administration (FDA) has given their nod of approval on a number of these highly intense sweeteners, including saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), sucralose, neotame, and advantame. They’re generally recognized as safe (GRAS). But we still wonder what effect do they have on our health? Are they good or bad for our health?

Thanks to guest blogger, Sierra King, we’ll take a closer review on artificial sweeteners. Sierra is currently an undergraduate student at California State University Northridge studying to get her Bachelor’s degree in Family and Consumer Sciences, with a focus on Nutrition & Dietetics. She hopes to become a Registered Dietitian after she completes her education and training.

The Scoop on Artificial Sweeteners

Guest blog by Sierra King
Reviewed by Julie Tang, MS, RDN, CNSC

Have you ever wondered if artificial sweeteners are good or bad for you? Well you are not alone. In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at what they are and how they affect a person’s body. We’ll need to first take into account that artificial sweeteners and even sugar affects everyone’s bodies differently. This blog is meant to be informational, but not intended to replace your provider’s medical advice.

To begin, there is a difference between low calorie sweeteners and zero calorie sweeteners. Low calorie sweeteners are modified natural sugars; they are also known as sugar alcohols and they usually have an “ol” at the end of their names. For instance, some common sugar alcohols are sorbitol, maltitol, and lactitol. Sugar alcohols are naturally derived from fruits and vegetables. Due to their chemical structure, they are partially resistant to digestion. While they provide some calories, they provide fewer calories than regular sugar such as sucrose. Sugar alcohols also affect the blood sugar levels less than regular sugar. Zero calorie sweeteners, also known as artificial sweeteners, are sugar substitutes that are synthesized in laboratories.These sweeteners have no calories and will not raise a person’s blood glucose level due to the fact that the body is unable to digest them. The artificial sweeteners that are commonly used are saccharin (Sweet ‘N’ Low), aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal), and sucralose (Splenda). These sweeteners can be found added to foods such as desserts, gums, and drinks to make them taste sweet. Compared to regular sugar, artificial sweeteners are 180 times to 8000 times sweeter.

Some people may choose to use artificial sweeteners if they have diabetes or if they are trying to manage their weight. When a person eats carbohydrates, the body breaks it down into sugars. This increases the sugar levels in the bloodstream which signals the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps lower blood sugar by bringing the sugar into the cells to be used primarily for energy, but also for many other different body functions. The liver stores the excess sugars as glycogen to use as energy when needed. However, if a person has either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, their body is unable to process sugar properly due to lack of insulin production (type 1 diabetes) or insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes) which can lead to a build up of sugar in their bloodstream. When artificial sweeteners are consumed,the sweetener goes through the body and is not absorbed. There are no sugars that can build up and cause the blood sugar levels to rise. For those managing their weight, artificial sweeteners may be commonly used based on the theory that they can continue to enjoy sweetened foods and beverages without the calories.

Even though artificial sweeteners do not have calories or raise blood sugar levels, there are still some concerns when people consume them. Some research indicates that when people eat artificial sweeteners regularly, it can cause them to have side effects such as headaches, nausea, stomach cramps, anxiety, diarrhea, or complications with vision. It is good to keep this in mind if you are considering drinking a diet soda or eating sugar free foods, as these potential side effects are not great to have. Due to the fact that artificial sweeteners can be intensely sweet, another concern is they can trick our brains. Our brains enjoy eating sweets because it signals to them that this food provides calories to keep us full and satisfied. By consuming artificial sweeteners, a person’s palate might change. When they eat foods with natural sugars such as fruits or vegetables, it can leave that person feeling unsatisfied and desiring more sweets because their palate has developed a tolerance for the intense sweeteners from artificial sweeteners. In addition, because artificial sweeteners are technically calorie free, there is the potential to overcompensate with other high caloric foods in the diet and ultimately disrupt natural hunger and satiety signals. These factors can potentially lead to overeating and unintended weight gain.

Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols approved by the FDA are generally indicated safe to consume, however, because side effects and long term use of artificial sweeteners are still being researched, we still do not truly know how they affect a person’s body long term. In addition, certain groups including pregnant and lactating women, children and those with Phenylketonuria (PKU) may be advised to stay away from all or some artificial sweeteners due to harmful effects. When unsure, it is best to check with your provider and a Registered Dietitian.

5 ways to add protein to fruits

With the summer temperatures heating up, fruits are an amazing go-to snack! Most fruits are naturally low in fat, sodium and calories, but high in nutrients such as water content, antioxidants, phytochemicals and dietary fiber. They taste good alone or paired with something else. Because fruits are usually not a good source of protein, you can pair it with a protein food choice to make it a nutrient dense snack! Here are 5 ways you can eat protein with fruits:

1. Fruit + cottage cheese

Fruit and cottage cheese are so good together! There are different varieties of cottage cheese including lactose free and vegan options to meet your needs. For even more flavor, try a small drizzle of honey or agave or top it with nuts, seeds or coconut flakes.

2. Fruit + nut butter

This is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to eat fruit with protein. Cut up some of your favorite fruits and pair them with peanut or almond butter. Best part is, you can even skip the utensils if you want. The fruits are your scoopers!

3. Fruit + hummus

I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably thinking that combination sounds weird, but don’t cross it off your list just yet. Give savory hummus a try with sweet fruits such as apple slices, dates or dried apricots. If you’re still not a fan, try fruits with a chocolate hummus (now, you can’t say no to this).

4. Fruit + nuts

You can’t go wrong with fruits and nuts. Either fresh or dried fruits work well. You’ll often see this combination in bento protein boxes. If you’re using dried fruits, then it’s like a homemade trail mix!

5. Fruits in a protein smoothie

Enjoy a smoothie with fruits and a source of protein such as unflavored protein powder, green peas, milk, yogurt (or non-dairy selection of your choice), tofu, edamame, or nut butter.

Veggie packed DIY Vietnamese lemongrass beef vermicelli bowl

This Vietnamese lemongrass beef vermicelli bowl is a noodle salad dish that’s great for hot summer days when you don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen. The dish is often treated like a salad and eaten cold. You can usually find this dish at a Vietnamese restaurant, but you can also easily recreate it at home. The best part of recreating your favorite restaurant dishes at home is that you get to be creative and customize it to your liking. As long as you have a few of the essential ingredients and the final product tastes good, there’s really no right or wrong way to make it. Make sure you load it up with veggies, herbs and lean protein to make it a healthy dish. Check out this quick recipe below!


1 lb beef sirloin; thinly sliced or another protein of your choice such as chicken, tofu, shrimp, pork or ground turkey

2 garlic cloves; minced
4 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp lemongrass powder or 3 tbsp finely chopped lemon grass

1/2 cucumber; peeled, seeded, and julienned (or zucchini)
4 cups shredded lettuce
handful fresh, chopped cilantro
sprinkle of sesame seeds or chopped peanuts
1 package thin vermicelli noodles; prepared as per package directions

Optional additions:
(Unfortunately, I didn’t have these on hand when I made the dish)
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
4 cups mung bean sprouts, washed
handful fresh mint or basil leaves
1 red Thai Chili; finely minced

1/4 cup warm water
5 teaspoons sugar (for a healthier sub, try 1 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp monkfruit sweetener or 6 tbsp 100% apple juice)
4 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/2 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons fish sauce
optional: julienned carrots and/or sliced chilies to taste


In a medium bowl, combine minced garlic, fish sauce, sugar, fresh lime juice and lemongrass powder/chopped lemongrass. Add the the beef slices and add to the marinade. Let sit for about an hour or so. Then heat a lightly oiled pan or wok on medium-high heat. Stir fry marinated beef in batches.

Combine the water, sugar, fresh lime juice, rice vinegar and fish sauce together. Stir well and let it sit.

Prepare as per package directions. Drain and set aside.

Arrange lettuce in the bottom the bowl or have it on the side. Top with vermicelli noodles. Place cooked beef on top of vermicelli noodles. Finish off with toppings of cucumbers, carrots, cilantro, mint, sesame seeds or peanuts. Drizzle the sauce on top of the dish and enjoy!