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Keys to Healthy Vacation
Remember when beach vacations were for eating too much, drinking too much, partying until dawn and lying in the hot sun doing nothing? Well, it turns out that many people today are using their vacation time to do just the opposite. Registered dietitian, Donna Shields, MS RD has noticed this emerging health trend in her conversations with locals and visitors in Key West, Florida where she is a self professed "southernmost nutritionist" and "diet coach to the beach bums."    So let's go to the Keys to learn about the keys to a healthy vacation from fellow dietitian Donna Shields. (
Donna: Leave the car keys in the hotel room and start walking everywhere. This is oh-so simple in a small town, like Key West, where it's flat and accessible, but even if you're in a more remote resort location and need to cab places, you can still make it work. Have the taxi leave and pick you up at the opposite end of town and walk to your destination, especially if it's for dinner. If you want to lounge by the pool, promise yourself that the next day you'll do something more active, like kayak. Even fishing can be strenuous if you're going after big tarpon or sailfish. On a more realistic note, check out where the locals go for exercise classes. Find out from the concierge where the neighborhood yoga or dance studio is located. It's a good way to mix n' mingle with non-tourists and get the skinny on the town. And don't forget about yoga classes on the beach. Bet you can't do that at home!

Carolyn: In the Keys it seems everyone rides a bike instead of renting a car. What can bike riding do for you?
Donna: Biking in Key West is what I would call "functional" exercise. We don't really think of it as exercise but simply a way to get from one place to another. It's practical, quick, very green and there's no hassle or cost of parking. It's great for the quadriceps muscles which don't get much use if you're used to sitting at a desk all week. Though we ride conch cruisers (fat tires and one speed) compared to racing bikes, the town is completely flat (highest point is 13 ft above sea level) so it's easy even if you haven't been on a two-wheeler for twenty years. It's the ideal way to check out the little lanes and dead-end streets that no unnoticed when whizzing by in a car, and you can work on your tan with absolutely no effort as you cruise around town.

Carolyn:  Tropical vacations seem to bring to mind fresh fish and fresh fruit....but, of course there's plenty of French fries and beer. What kinds of foods do you recommend people focus on during vacation?
Donna: Why go to a tropical island to eat and drink the same stuff you can get in any chain restaurant back home. Order the local seafood. In our case, it's often Key West Pinks (shrimp), dolphin (often also called mahi-mahi), grouper and our name-sake conch.  Order it blackened, grilled, pan sautéed or anything but fried. Conch seviche will have little if any added fat as it's a very fresh preparation of lime juice, onion, usually some Habanero peppers. The acid of the lime juice actually cooks and helps tenderize the conch muscle. Mango and other tropical fruit salsas can be a healthy accompaniment to an entrée or as a sandwich topping; lots of fresh flavor, few calories and a nutritious choice. And when you do want that over-the-top-dish, share it with your traveling companion, add an appetizer or two and you're set. Very often fish sandwiches are way too big for one person and also lend themselves to sharing.

Carolyn:  OK...I'm at the pool at the historic Casa Marina Resort and the waiter comes by with a tray of cocktails which one should I get? Mimosa, Pina Colada, Mojito, or the strawberry daiquiri?
Donna: The Mimosa is probably the best bet. The orange juice at least provides some vitamin C. And the Mojito would also be a good choice, although it will contain some simple syrup or sugar, most of this rum beverage is club soda which is calorie free. Frozen blended drinks such as Key West's famous margaritas are usually loaded with sugar, made from presweetened mixes. Pina coladas are a double whammy in that they also can be fairly high in fat due to the cream of coconut.

Carolyn:  What are the health benefits of walking on the beach and just relaxing?
Donna: Feeling healthy can take different forms for different people and while having fun on vacation is important, doing something nice for yourself can also make you feel better. If you never, ever get a chance to read a book, then lying in a hammock, swinging under a palm tree, with a good read might just be the thing you need to do. Getting a massage on the beach or sharing a bottle of wine (with plastic cups) to watch the sunset on the pier could be the highlight of your trip. It's the little, unexpected, unannounced moments that make a vacation healthy for body, mind and spirit.


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