Category Archives: Food

Do You Have Hunger? The Answer to This Question Will Save Your Life.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to catch author Michael Pollan on his New Jersey stop of his current speaking tour.  Most people haven’t heard of Pollan, but he’s an incredibly popular and successful author, professor, and food activist.  In addition to writing for popular newspapers and magazines, giving inspiring TED talks, and lecturing at the University of California, Berkeley, Pollan has penned seven books to date.  If I had to summarize his philosophy into one long, run-on sentence, it would be this:  He describes the modern industrial food system that has become a cornerstone of human life, he explains how this system evolved and why it is unsustainable, and he aims to educate us all on a different way of living and a better way of eating.

The Rutgers Gymnasium was packed with about 1,500 guests, two-thirds of which were students.  There was much anticipation about what Pollan’s topic would be.  After all, it’s impossible to cover in detail approximately thirty years of writing and research in an hour and a half.  Well, he ended up doing a brief overview of his philosophy and beliefs with specific studies, anecdotes, and facts sprinkled throughout.  I thought it was a great route to take.  He’s trying to educate as many people as possible, and giving a broad overview helped the majority of the audience to connect.

One of the most memorable parts of his talk was Pollan offering his insight as to why Americans, members of one of the most developed groups of people in history, are so much more overweight and have such poorer health than populations of people from all over the world, including, notably, populations of much less “developed” nations.  Think about the French Paradox, for example:  The French have a reputation for eating bread, pastry, cheese, foie gras, drinking wine, and smoking cigarettes.  Yet they are statistically healthier than Americans, which is to say that they have fewer incidences of heart disease and lower obesity rates.  Among other things, the French are able to stay so thin and healthy because they don’t stuff themselves at every meal like most Americans do.  The French (and many other cultures throughout the world) actually stop eating when they’ve had enough.  They have a phrase for this:

“Je n’ai plus faim”

This translates to, “I no longer have hunger.”  Fascinating!  Contrast this phrase with what most Americans say: “I’m full.”  Pause and think about that for a second.  How different are those two simple statements?  There’s a huge difference.  The French stop eating when they no longer have hunger.  Americans eat right through the hunger / no hunger threshold until they can sit back in their chairs and proudly boast, “Whew, I’m stuffed!”  Sure, eating until you’re full once in a while isn’t going to kill you. But when this becomes your default way of eating, you’re in trouble.

For the record, the Spanish phrase is very similar:  “No tengo hambre” which translates into “I don’t have hunger.”

Think about this next time you’re eating and try to be cognizant of it at every meal.  Eat slowly, enjoy your food, and stop when you no longer have hunger ;-).

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Filed under Diets, Food, General Health, Healthy Habits

Vegetables in Vending Machines? Seriously?

I read a disturbing article in the New York Times a couple weeks ago.  The article is titled, “Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries” and focuses on the problem of our reluctance to embrace vegetables as a staple in our diets.  Reading the title made me think back to my lunch a couple of weeks ago.  I was trying to order take-out lunch from my local Indian restaurant.  I asked the man at the restaurant if they have any lunches that have both chicken AND vegetables (most dishes have one or the other) and he pointed me toward a dish that has chicken with potatoes.  I thought about trying to explain to him that potatoes aren’t vegetables, but decided to save my breath.  I just told him to add some veggies to my chicken dish and charge me extra if he had to.

The problem isn’t that we confuse potatoes with veggies.  The problem is that we don’t actively make veggies a part of our meals on a daily basis.  In this article, the author cites a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study about fruit and vegetable consumption in America.  The study reports that only 26 percent of adult’s eat veggies three or more times per day and that only 23 percent of our meals contain any vegetable whatsoever.  These percentages are alarmingly, although not surprisingly, low.  What’s just as bad is that we’re not eating any more vegetables than we were a decade ago.  I thought that we were becoming smarter and better educated about healthy eating, but it looks like I’m wrong.

The author cites another study, this one titled “Eating Patterns in America”, compiled by a market research company called NPD Group.  The chief analyst for NPD, Harry Balzer is nothing but negative about the veggie vacancy in our diets.  He says that there’s nothing we can say that will get people to eat more veggies.  He also posits that eating vegetables is too inconvenient.  What we want in our busy lives is low cost and convenience.  Vegetables, he explains, are something you have to schedule your life around preparing.

I don’t think Harry could be more wrong.  One thing that differentiates humans from other animals is our ability to improve ourselves and our surroundings.  We can absolutely “improve” ourselves and develop a larger appetite for veggies.  I say it all the time – it comes down to education.  Harry’s right, veggies do take a little longer to procure and prepare than, say, fast food.  But we can learn to cook veggies, we can clear an extra five minutes out of our schedules to cook them ourselves.  We have to make our health a priority.  We have to think about our health in the larger picture.  We can’t just live day-to-day eating the foods that are quick, easy, and inexpensive.  We will pay the price down the road.  It’s not a question of IF, it’s WHEN.

We have to take responsibility for our health today.  To that end, below is one of my favorite easy vegetable preparations that anyone can make today.  Not only is it healthy; it’s delicious…

Roasted Broccoli with Parmesan and Garlic


Ingredients: fresh broccoli shaved or grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper.

Preparation: chop the stems from the florets and discard stems.  Rinse the florets under cold running water, pat dry with a paper towel, and place in a mixing bowl.  Pour in some freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, freshly chopped or sliced garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Mix all of the ingredients together.

Cooking: Place a piece of aluminum foil on your grill and dump your ingredients on the foil.  Cook on medium high heat for about 15 minutes, tossing the broccoli a couple times during cooking.

I know you’ve never tried broccoli on the grill before.  Trust me, you’ll be addicted!

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Is Fast Food the Same as Heroin?

Every once in a while I read an article or watch a video online that inspires me to write about it and share it immediately.  Today is one of those instances.  This video, an Australian advertisement, compares feeding fast food to your child to injecting your child with heroin.  A bold statement, for sure.  Too bold?  Too abrasive?  Unnecessary?  Some people may think so.  But I think it’s just what we need.  To me, this is powerful.  It’s eye-opening.  And it’s necessary.

Since when are ordinary, run-of-the-mill, “safe” advertisements effective?  We are bombarded with hundreds of advertisements every single day.  You think a G-Rated advertisement that appeals to everyone is going to stick in your mind?  No way.  This is something you will remember and hopefully something that will have an effect on you.

It’s unfortunate that America is too prude to ever allow something like this to be broadcast.  The irony is that we Americans need to see things like this more than anyone else.  We’re the fattest, most obese, most unhealthy species ever to inhabit this planet.  Feel-good, warm and fuzzy messages aren’t going to work.  We need more boldness.  We need more messages like this.  We need more rude awakenings.

What do you think, is this ad too aggressive or do you think it’s necessary?

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The KFC Double Down: A Gamble With Your Life


This artery-clogging behemoth of a “sandwich” has been out for about a year, but since I don’t watch much television and certainly don’t eat fast food, I just found out about it today during a commercial while watching the Giants game yesterday.

What the heck is it?  It’s two pieces of fried chicken with two pieces of bacon, two slices of cheese, and the Colonel’s special sauce piled high in between.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Two pieces of deep-fried extra crispy chicken make up the “roll”.  A quick ingredient search (right on KFC’s website) lists the 16 ingredients in KFC’s extra crispy chicken.  Sixteen ingredients in a piece of fried chicken?  That’s barely food.  Add two slices of bacon (only 7 ingredients), two slices of cheese (4 ingredients), and of course the Colonel’s special sauce, a glorious concoction of 23 different ingredients, about half a dozen of which I can pronounce.  What do you get when you add all of that up?  A widow-maker of a sandwich that clocks in at 540 calories, 32 grams of fat, and 1,380 mg of sodium.  You say 540 calories isn’t so bad?  You’re right, 540 calories is a good amount of calories to eat for lunch for most people.  But two things:  1.  These aren’t food calories and therefore certainly aren’t healthy.  Every single one of these ingredients is produced in a factory.  There’s nothing natural here.  And 2.  I’m willing to bet that fewer than 5% of all people who eat this sandwich eat just the sandwich.  An overwhelming majority, I bet, eat this with a side of fries and a soda, which will push them up into the 4-digit calorie range for sure.

It’s worth repeating:  this is NOT food.  It’s processed garbage made in factories.  If your chicken has 16 different ingredients, there’s a problem.  But the more serious problem is that people think a sandwich like this is okay.  This sandwich, in a way, represents what is wrong with our society and represents exactly the type of food and type of eating that we have to get away from.

If the problem is a sandwich like this, then the solution is education.  Educating people about what real food is, educating people about what fast food really is, educating people about the decisions they are able to make and the decisions they should make.  Michael Pollan is doing it.  So are Eric Schlosser and Dan Buettner.  Get on board.

This is my goal, my passion, and the reason I got into the health coaching business.  I want to educate as many people as possible.  I want to help people live healthier lives.  Healthier lives lead to better lives.  I want to better people.

So what can you do?  For starters, prevent your friends and loved ones from eating things like the Double Down.  And not just the Double Down, but anything like it.  Anything that doesn’t resemble real food.  Anything with multiple ingredients that you can’t pronounce.  Tell your friends to examine their eating choices and help them make better decisions.

There is an endless sea of information out there from which we can all learn.  Let’s help each other during this process.  Let’s help each other live healthier lives.  What do you say?

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Don’t Be Fooled: Gatorade is Garbage

So what’s the real truth about Gatorade?  It’s all over the place.  We’re supposed to drink it during our workouts, our runs, and even for hangovers.  The world’s top athletes are endorsing it and even Tiger Woods has his very own line of Gatorade (okay, that doesn’t mean much anymore).  It’s an amazing concoction of electrolytes that provides hydration and increased performance for all of our athletic pursuits.  It makes us run faster, longer, jump higher, lift more weights, and recovery more quickly.
Or does it?

Is Gatorade really healthy for us?  Is it the true miracle drink that it’s marketed as?  Will it really make us perform better and longer than our non-Gatorade drinking competition?

Instead of giving you the answer, I’ll just present my case and you can decide.

Gatorade was invented at the sports laboratories at the University of Florida in 1965 and tested on the football team, the Florida Gators (hence the name Gatorade).  The original concoction consisted of water, sodium, sugar, potassium, phosphate, and lemon juice.  The football coach and his players hailed Gatorade as a savior to their hydration problems during hot summer workouts and the long, intense football season.

The Florida Gators went on to win the Orange Bowl in 1967 and gave credit to Gatorade as one of the reasons they won.  Thus began the national phenomenon and craze.  “I definitely don’t want to compete without Gatorade.  My competitor may be drinking it and I’ll be at a disadvantage” was the prevailing thought at the time.

I’m not a scientist, but I don’t doubt that this formula worked.  After all, Gatorade was made up of a couple of the most important electrolytes – sodium and potassium (others are calcium, magnesium, and chloride).  These help to replenish hydration levels after massive fluid loss during intense, prolonged exercise.

But, like everything else, someone along the way discovered that Gatorade could be produced less expensively by using artificial sweeteners and corn syrups.  Until this year, Gatorade’s top two ingredients were water and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the evil artificial sweetener that’s in everything these days from soda to bread.  In 2010, Gatorade changed its formula from HFCS to a sucrose-dextrose mix.  Same animal, different name.

So what exactly are we drinking when we pick up a bottle of the nectar?  Let’s look at Gatorade’s ingredients in comparison to the ingredients of Pepsi Cola.

Pepsi
Carbonated Water
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Caramel Color
Sugar
Phosphoric Acid
Caffeine
Citric Acid
Natural Flavors

Gatorade
Water
Sucrose Syrup
Glucose-Fructose Syrup
Citric Acid
Natural Flavors
Salt
Sodium Citrate
Monopotassium Phosphate

Turns out they’re strikingly similar, aren’t they?  True, Gatorade no longer has HFCS, but what do you think those other syrups are?  Yep, you guessed it.  They’re just manufactured corn syrups with different names, all made in the same factories with the same cheap corn used in HFCS.  And after reading the ingredient lists, does this still sound like something you want to suck down during a 10-mile run or an intense gym session?  Gatorade and soda aren’t too dissimilar when you really look at it.  Pump some carbonation into your bottle of Gatorade and it’s soda, isn’t it?

So why the hype?  Why does everyone think Gatorade is still the go-to beverage for increased athletic performance and hydration?

For the same reason we believe nearly everything else.  Marketing.

I’m no conspiracy theorist, but Gatorade is manufactured by Quaker Oats, which is a division of Pepsi Co, who, along with Coca Cola, is one of the most successful marketing juggernauts of the past half century.  Their marketing campaign for Gatorade is genius.  It should be studied in every university marketing class across the country.  It’s strong, it’s omnipresent, it’s compelling, motivating – everything you want in a marketing message.

The new 2010 campaign, G-Series, outlines a 3-part strategy for performance.  Now, according to the marketing message, you’re supposed to drink Gatorade Prime before your workout, Gatorade Perform during your workout, and Gatorade Recover after your workout.  Are you kidding me?  It’s the same junk, just packaged and marketed differently?  You’re drinking non-carbonated soda.

So what’s this all mean?  I’m not telling you that you should never drink Gatorade, but next time you want to prepare yourself for a hard run or workout, think twice about what you’re putting into your body.  It’s nothing but non-carbonated soda with an impressive and frighteningly effective marketing campaign.

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The Best Darn Salad Ever


Have you ever made or ordered a plate of food that looked so good, you just had to take a picture of it?  I know, it sounds a little weird, but I know other people who’ve done it, so it’s not just me.

Anyway, it happened to me this morning after I made what I call my Friday Salad.

When it comes to lunch, I’m pretty consistent in what I eat.  Lunch for me usually consists of a huge salad with all sorts of veggies and topped with some grilled chicken.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have a cup of one of Alyssa’s homemade healthy soups on the side.

My Friday Salad is so named because I’ll go through our fridge and take all the leftovers from the week (within reason) and dump them in my salad.  This makes for a little excitement come lunch time.  Hey, when you’re sitting at a computer all day on a beautiful Friday, anything helps!

So here’s what I had in my salad today, which by the way was one of the best I’ve ever made…

(All of these ingredients are organic except the olives and avocado.  Most of the produce is from our local farmer’s market, so it’s very fresh.)

Green Spinach
Cherry Tomatoes
English Cucumber
Canned Black Beans
Quinoa
Grilled Yellow Squash
Haas Avocado
Grilled Chicken Breast
Pumpkin Seeds
Drizzled Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

As you can see in the photo, it’s a pretty colorful salad.  It definitely represents one of my food rules – Eat a Rainbow Often.

What have you experimented with in your salads?

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Trade in Your Diets for Healthy Habits

Photo Credit: New York Times

We’re in the middle of a hot summer.  We’ve all got a lot going on – barbecues, summer vacations, camps, concerts, and so on.  When we’re busy, it becomes difficult to stick to healthy eating habits and it becomes all too easy to make excuses or rationalizations.  Dieting sucks during the summer.  There’s so much good food (and drink) around you calling your name.  You give in.  It’s only natural.  What if there was a way to enjoy all of the culinary treats of summer and still stay on the healthy track?  Well, there is and it’s easy.  Let me explain…

Ditch Your Diets
Diets don’t work.  Sure, they can help you lose a few pounds quickly, but they’re not sustainable for the long-term.  If you go on a diet, you will probably lose a few (or many) pounds.  The problem is, the day you stop that diet and resume your normal habits, you’ll put that weight right back on – a heck of a lot more quickly than you lost it.  Why don’t diets work?  Because every single one of them is, in some way, based on deprivation.  Whether it’s low-carb, high-protein, all-juice, or severely cutting calories, you’re depriving your body, and yourself, of something.  Naturally, you can only deprive yourself of something for so long before you cave in and indulge.  It’s just human nature, and it’s the body’s way of telling you it needs something, whether it is carbs, fat, or anything else.

A related observation is that depriving yourself of a particular macronutrient (carbs, proteins, fats) or a particular group of foods is not healthy.  A major component of our functioning bodies is balance.  When you completely eliminate something from your diet, your body’s balance grows askew and it’s ultimately unhealthy for you.

Develop Healthy Habits
Instead of dieting, I believe in developing healthy habits.  Human beings are creatures of habit.  Everything we do today is the result, whether directly or indirectly, of a life habit.  I’ve learned a ton about habits from Leo Babauta at Zen Habits.  When we sleep, how much we sleep, when and how much we eat, what we do in our waking hours, what we do to relax – all of it is shaped by the habits we develop over time.  Specifically, what we eat today is the result of habits that we’ve formed over time.  So it follows that if we want to eat more healthily, we have to change our life habits.  We have to develop new, sustainable, healthy, and fulfilling habits if we want to see lasting results.

This takes time.  Various resources indicate that that it takes 30 days of consistency to develop a new habit.

This is not easy.  Habits die hard.  New ones are difficult to implement and to get used to.

But it’s worth it.  Investing in yourself for just 30 days right now will lead to healthy habits for life.  Once you get past the first 30 days, you’re on cruise control.  You won’t look back.  In fact, you’ll only look forward because you’ll be so excited to further develop your new habits.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will expand on the process of forming healthy habits and what exactly you should do to start being healthy.  If there are any specific topics you’d like me to touch upon, let me know in the comments.

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