Category Archives: Food

Will The New Health Bill Create a Leaner America?

Big Mac =    590 calories.   Chicken Sandwich from Panera =   470 calories.  Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino from Starbucks =   660 calories.

Did you know any of this?  You will now that Pres Obama has signed a new health bill that requires food chains to post calorie information in their stores and on their menus.   Check out the NY Times article HERE This more or less nationalizes a policy that New York City already has in place.  So in 2011, when you walk into McDonald’s, you’ll know that the Super Size Extra Value Meal #3 that you’re about to scarf down will set you back over 1000 calories!  You’re morning cup a joe?  If it’s a medium caffe latte from Starbuck’s, you’re starting your day off with a 272 calorie drink!

The million dollar question here is whether this new practice will influence people enough so that they change their eating habits.  It’s a tough one.  This bill is definitely a good start, but I wouldn’t call it a panacea by any means.

The way I see it is that there are several types of people when it comes to eating habits:

  1. The ignorant who don’t care
  2. Those who care, but are ignorant
  3. Those who are knowledgeable about food, but don’t care
  4. Those who are knowledgeable about food, do care, and make a strong effort to make healthy eating and living a part of their lives.

A bill like this will help out groups 1 and 2.  Groups 3 and 4 are already relatively knowledgeable about food and calorie contents, and either care or don’t.  For group 1, the people who don’t know and who don’t care may be shocked to learn how many calories they’re actually eating.  I suspect a very small percentage of this group may change their eating habits, but the majority won’t.  Why not?  Because motivation comes from within.  If those people aren’t motivated right now, a government bill isn’t going to instill motivation in them; it has to come from within.

Group 2 will be the biggest beneficiary of this new bill.  I personally (and I’m sure all of you do too) know many people who have a goal to eat better and become more healthy, but who just have no clue how many calories and what types of calories they’re eating on a daily basis.  I don’t have any studies in front of me, but I bet if you asked 100 people how many calories are in the above-mentioned McDonald’s meal, the average answer would be a good 30-40% lower than the actual.

For Group 2, this bill may be the small impetus that they need.  It may get their brain juices flowing.  They may go home and start researching calorie counts of different foods online.  They may begin to read the back of food packages for nutrition info.  They may research a particular food chain’s caloric information on its website prior to dining there (many food chains have this online already, and if they don’t, a third-party website usually does).  So this bill is certainly a step in the right direction.  It’s not going to change peoples’ lives, but it’s a step.  And, as Lao-tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Do you think this bill will influence people enough to change?

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Is Eating Healthily Too Time-Consuming?

Bing Images

Something quite ironic struck me while Alyssa and I were preparing dinner last night– eating healthily is sometimes a big pain in the ass!  Don’t get me wrong, I love eating well and have no plans to alter course, but sometimes I think it would be so nice and easy to eat like crap.

My fiancé and I have, like many other Americans, gotten into the habit of Friday night pizza nights.  Since we are both very conscious of what we eat, we both exercise regularly (5-7 x per week), and we generally take good care of ourselves, we’ve devised a twist on the classic pizza.  We make our own.

It’s really quite simple, actually.  All it requires is a little shopping ahead of time and a little prep time.  We use Flat Out wraps that you can buy in most American grocery stores.  (If you live outside the U.S., there are plenty of similar products.)  On top of the wraps, we smother homemade marinara sauce made from fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and herbs.  Alyssa usually makes a huge batch of this and freezes several containers, so we have them handy whenever we want.  On top of the sauce, we’ll pile on a whole bunch of fresh veggies.  Lately, our veggie selection includes green peppers, onions or scallions, and mushrooms.  You can obviously put whatever you like on top.  If we feel like a little protein, we’ll put some grilled, sliced chicken on top.  And then, of course, top with a little low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese.  When the pizzas are all made up, we throw them in the oven on our pizza stone for about ten minutes and they come out delicious, healthy, guilt-free, and satisfying.

The only negative, I thought to myself last night, is that it takes a lot more time and effort to make pizzas than it does to order a pie from the local pizza shop.  We spent about 45 minutes prepping the pizza, including cutting vegetables, assembling the pizzas, and cleaning up.   Oh, the regular people who order pizza for delivery have it so much easier!  I really wish sometimes I wasn’t addicted to eating well; I could just order take-out, scarf it down, and throw the remains in the trash.  How easy life would be.

But then I would be a fat, greasy slob.  I would look like crap.  I would feel like crap.  And I would probably develop some sort of disease(s).  So, I guess the 45 minutes we spend making dinner is well worth it.  Plus, an added bonus to making your own meals is that you enjoy them that much more.  It’s quite satisfying to sit down and enjoy a meal that you spent some quality time making.

So, low and behold, we’re going to continue our lifestyle of healthy cooking and eating because it makes us feel well, look well, and gives us great energy.

Have you found that preparing your own meals is as satisfying and rewarding?  Please share…

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Pass (On) The Salt

My fiancé gave up table salt for the New Year this year because she knows she uses a lot of it and it’s not the best thing for the body.  But she didn’t know exactly why it’s bad or how bad it is, so she asked me.  This is a typical mindset for many people:  they have heard that salt is bad and maybe their doctors even told them to cut down on it, but they don’t know the reasons behind it.  My belief is that if a person knows the reason behind something, he or she will be more likely to act in such a way to either avoid or embrace that something, depending on whether it has a positive or negative effect.  It’s like telling a little kid he can’t have that third scoop of ice cream.  If you tell him the reason is, “just because,” he’s less likely to listen than if you told him, “If you eat too much ice cream and then go run around in the yard, you’re going to get an upset stomach and get sick.”  Although he’s still an ice cream-loving kid, he’s more likely to listen to the second reason because there’s a tangible cause-and-effect.  Let’s go behind the scenes of the salt world.

What Exactly are we Eating?
The stuff that we know and love is table salt.  For too many, table salt is what we reach for when cooking or as soon as our food is served to us at a restaurant.  We do this automatically and many times without even tasting the food to see if it needs salt.  Are you guilty?  I’m admittedly not the biggest culprit, but I know I can do better.  Table salt is 99% sodium chloride (NaCl for the science geek in us).  It is also known as refined salt because it is refined from raw salt that is obtained through salt mining or sea water evaporation.  Raw salt obtained in this manner is purified to remove impurities through a process of recrystallization.  Once it is refined, other chemicals are added to preserve dryness and to prevent caking, or sticking together.  Iodine is also added as a measure to prevent iodine deficiency in people.  Iodine deficiency affects about a third of the world’s people, and some studies have claimed that the deficiency is a cause of mental retardation, thyroid problems, and other ailments.  So when you see a package of “Iodized Salt,” you now know what it means.

Sea salt has become popular with gourmet cooks who claim that it not only tastes better, but it is also healthier than table salt.  Sea salt is produced by (surprise) evaporating sea water.  Modern-day sea salt usually comes from the Mediterranean or other dry climates, where the evaporation can be done by the sun, instead of using expensive fuels.  Sea salt has a thicker, more rock-like texture than table salt and can also taste differently due to its chemical composition.  Since it’s unrefined, it still contains minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.  These chemicals are electrolytes, which may be why sea salt is touted as a health benefit.  Sea salt is also used in soap and other cosmetics and as bath soap, which some claim has a therapeutic effect.

Kosher salt has also become popular among chefs, and was recommended to me by my chef friend as a better alternative to table salt.  It’s also an unrefined salt that typically contains no additives.  It is recommended by chefs because it’s a purer salt that doesn’t contain iodine or other additives and because of its thicker, crunchier texture.  It is not proven to be better for you than table salt, but some claim it is due to its lack of additives.

Salt Flats of Northern Territory, Australia

Health Concerns
Salt is good in a way because it’s one of the primary electrolytes in the body and is necessary for the body to function properly.  Pay attention the next time you drink Gatorade and you can taste how salty it is.
However, over the past couple decades, there has been much contention over whether salt leads to high blood pressure.  Many studies have shown that those who consume high amounts of dietary salt have high blood pressure.  Conversely, these same studies have shown that a reduction in salt intake significantly reduces blood pressure levels.  However, the studies simply haven’t been conclusive enough to prove a positive and direct correlation.

If salt is a natural element, why would it cause high blood pressure?
The presence of salt in one’s body causes the surrounding cells to release water due to a property called osmosis.  The release of this water inside the bloodstream increases the pressure inside the blood vessels, which is what causes high blood pressure readings.  This same phenomenon is why you feel or look bloated after eating too much salt.  Salt causes your body to retain water, so the more salt you consume, the more water you retain, even though salt has zero calories.  On the flip side, when you decrease your salt intake, you retain less water and, in effect, lose weight.  Many diets that promise rapid weight loss stress the importance of eating low-sodium foods.  These are quick-fix diets and may have short-term results, but likely are not good for you in the long run.

Processed and Canned Foods
Salt is a preservative, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it rules the processed and canned food aisles at the grocery store.  The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for healthy adults is between 2,000 and 2,400 mg of sodium per day.  Next time you go grocery shopping, pay attention to the nutrition labels of the foods you buy and you’ll be astonished.  I know I was when I first started doing this.  Among the worst offenders are canned soups, condiments, marinades, sauces, prepared or processed meats, cold cuts, butter, and cheese.  For example, one serving of Campbell’s Classic Chicken Noodle Soup has 889 mg of sodium!  Also keep in mind that there is almost always more than one serving in a can, so you may have to do some multiplication if you eat a whole can of soup for lunch.  A great web resource for checking out nutrition labels is Nutrition Data.com where you can search for thousands of brands and products.

Restaurants and Take Out
When you dine at a restaurant, deli, or other establishment, DITCH THE SALT SHAKER!  Any food that is served at a restaurant is already high in sodium.  Why?  It simply makes the food taste better.  Plus, at restaurants where alcohol is served, it makes you thirstier and more inclined to keep ordering drinks.  The food likely already has more than enough sodium to put you over your daily limit, so there’s no need to pile on more table salt.

Cooking at Home
I love to cook at home for several reasons.  One of the main reasons is that I know what goes into my meals.  I’m careful to buy ingredients that are low in sodium or have reduced sodium.  Note:  many more foods these days are advertised as being reduced-sodium.  Although this is great, be mindful that there are probably salt substitutes in the food that may even be worse for you than the actual salt.

I don’t mind adding a little salt to my meals while I’m cooking if I’m using all natural, fresh ingredients.  But if I’m using ingredients that already have sodium, I know I don’t need to break out the salt shaker.

Experiment with different herbs – either fresh or dried – and spices to flavor your food.  Again, be careful because many spices such as Old Bay are basically just flavored salt.

Breaking the Habit
If the idea of cutting table salt out of your diet is too daunting, try doing it gradually.  For example, don’t use table salt at dinner for two weeks.  Then ban salt from dinner and lunch for two weeks.  Then ban salt from your eggs or other breakfast foods as well.  Pretty soon, you’ll be table salt free and you’ll never look back!

What do you do to limit your salt intake?  What are your favorite low-sodium meals?

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Ten Tips to Surviving the Holiday Feasts

Everyone knows this is the busiest time of year. The month of December is filled with cocktail parties, dinners, lunches, and of course holiday celebrations. Plus, there’s work to be tied up before the end of the year and, for some, family vacations (or vacations from the family!).

All of this tempts us to throw our good eating and training habits out the window for a month while we focus on everything else. Bad idea. I’ve tried it and I’m sure most people have. What I’ve found is that the “recovery” is far worse than the time off is indulgent. As we get older and older, it becomes increasingly more difficult to shred the extra weight we put on during the holidays. Last year, at 28 years old, was the first year this really hit me. This year, I have an entirely new approach – it’s based on common sense and balance, just like the other 11 months of my year are. No different.

With that in mind, here are 10 tips to survive the month of December. These are all things that I practice and recommend…

1. Exercise in the morning. The benefits of this are twofold. First, you burn off some stored calories, rather than working out at night and burning off breakfast and lunch that you ate that day. Second, you ensure that your workout gets done. First thing in the morning is your time. Make sure you carve out some time for your workout and you can relax the rest of the day, knowing that you already put in the hard work.

2. Drink water. Drink more water than you think you have to. Personally, I drink about a gallon a day. That’s what I’m used to and that’s what my body likes. Make a conscious effort to always have a bottle of water with you. There are three main benefits to drinking plenty of water. – Water makes you feel full, so you’ll eat less – Water flushes out your system of impurities – Water keeps you hydrated, which is especially important during this month when you tend to eat saltier foods and drink more alcohol, which dehydrates you.

3. Indulge, in moderation. I am all about enjoying these holiday meals and treats. It helps that I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I automatically avoid desserts. But for all foods, once you realize that the extra serving of dinner or the second (or third) piece of pie doesn’t taste nearly as good as the first, you’re ahead of the game. Slow down, realize when you’re full, and you can indulge without gorging yourself.

4. Avoid high-calorie alcoholic beverages. Simple. The darker, creamier, more complex the drink, the higher it is in calories. So avoid the second glass of eggnog or other fruity cocktail and stick to lighter beers if you’re going to drink several. Personally, I stick to wine during the holidays, as it doesn’t make me feel as bloated as beer.

5. Say “NO” to Starbucks. Ever go to Starbucks for a coffee and you have to wait behind someone who is ordering a Double Mocha Gingerbread Peppermint Latte with Caramel and 2 Splendas? What the hell is that, a milkshake? Some of these bombs pack over 500 calories.  Check out the calorie counts here. Problem is, the people who order these behemoths seldom realize the calorie counts. Or how about ordering a simple coffee and the “barista” asks you if you’d like any muffins or scones. No Thanks – if I wanted a 600 calorie muffin, I’d ask for one. Just the coffee will do.

6. Train with a training buddy. Run or workout with a training partner during the holidays (I recommend it year round too). You will hold each other accountable for showing up to your scheduled runs and you’ll be less inclined to skip a workout if your buddy is waiting for you.

7. Plan a warm-weather vacation for January. This year, I’m heading south on December 29. I’ll be on the beach and by the pool for a week, so this year, I’m extra-motivated to stay trim so I can look and feel my best in my new boardies.

8. Sign up for a race. Check your local calendar on Active.com. There are races and events all year long. Sign up for a race in January or February and you will be more likely to train and stay on track during the winter.

9. Sleep. Get however much sleep you need. You need this sleep to digest your food and to repair your muscles from your workouts. Nothing new here. We just need to focus on getting our proper sleep because this is such a busy time of year.

10. Relax and limit stress. This is a fun time of year, not a stressful one. Remember to relax, take it slow, and really enjoy yourself. Stress is no good for the body. If you have to, schedule time for yourself so you’re guaranteed to get it.

So there you go – 10 tips for surviving the holidays with your body intact. What are your favorite tips?

Please share…

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Are You Guilty of Indulgence Rationalization?

I am.

HandyMenuCalculator

This amusing little graphic is part of an Op-Ed article by Julie S. Downs in the New York Times today.  The article is called Eating by the Numbers and focuses on the debate of whether including calorie counts on restaurant menus is effective in altering peoples’ decisions on what to eat.  This is an important issue, but I’m not going to focus on it today.

Instead, look at the rationalizations in the graphic and ask yourself if you’ve ever been guilty.  Come on, be honest.  I know I’m guilty of rationalizations from time to time.  I never eat fast food, but occasionally treat myself to a pub burger or slice of pizza.  And when I do, I usually tell myself that I’ll work out extra hard or extra long in the morning – and I do.  If the reward is the burger or the pizza, the hard workout is the process of earning that reward.  And there’s nothing wrong with that – once in a while.  If that becomes habit, more likely than not, you’ll never be able to keep up with yourself.  You’ll never be able to consistently workout hard enough to justify eating junk, at least not without detriment to your waste-line (or your health).

To me, the #1 reason diets fail is because they are based on some level of deprivation.  It’s human nature to want what we can’t have.  If you don’t “treat” yourself once in a while, you’re going to crash and burn.  I rarely crave junk foods such as pizza or desserts, but when I do, I treat myself and enjoy the heck out of it.  After indulging in a specific treat, the craving for more is gone.  I know that I enjoy that slice of pizza more than the guy who eats pizza every Friday night.  My body doesn’t feel great after eating it, but the enjoyment I gain from eating it is worth it to me.

How about you?  What do you tell yourself when you have the urge to indulge?

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