Category Archives: Nutrition

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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What Should You Drink INSTEAD of Gatorade?

I owe my readers an apology.  Last week I published a rather lengthy post detailing the reasons Gatorade isn’t really good for you.  I presented you with all of the problems of Gatorade.  I felt it was informative and I hope you did too.  But I apologize because I didn’t offer a solution.  If you shouldn’t drink Gatorade, then what should you drink?

Well, to begin at the beginning, why do people think they need Gatorade in the first place?  It’s supposed to provide you with much-needed electrolytes that you lose during extended periods of intense exercise.  When we sweat for long periods of time (over an hour), we lose water, sodium, potassium, and calcium, the three key electrolytes in our bodies.  Chugging the magic Gatorade is supposed to replenish what we lose during exercise.  But if you read the post, Gatorade is nothing but non-carbonated soda.  It’s loaded with HFCS and other junk and is far from natural.

Most experts, including yours truly, will tell you that you don’t need an electrolyte recovery drink unless you’re exercising at an relatively intense level for more than 75 minutes.  Anything below this and you’re usually fine just hydrating and recovering with water (in addition to food of course).  Your body can get what it needs from the water and the nutrients in healthy food choices without the quick hit of a bottle of Gatorade or other sports drink.

So unless you’re training for or competing in a marathon, playing a long intense game of soccer or rugby, or your name is Dean Karnazes, you generally don’t need a sport drink for recovery.  But if you are crazy like me and you actually enjoy working out or running for more than 75 minutes at a clip or you plan to compete in such insane events as the Badwater Ultra or the Western States Endurance Run, here are a few links to some natural alternatives to Gatorade.  What do they have in common?  They’re concocted from all natural ingredients, many of which you have at home already, and all of which you can buy today at your local grocery store.

Organic Sports Drinks (Kitchen Table Medicine)

Screw Gatorade Part I and Part II (Road Cycler)

Three Recipes for Fast Recovery (Active)

In other recommended reading, fellow blogger Adam Reynolds just published an awesome article about the junk that’s in Red Bull on his blog, The Healthy Boy.  Check it out here.  I don’t drink Red Bull and I’m glad I don’t, especially after reading his post.

Hope these resources help you gain some healthy, natural alternatives to Gatorade or Powerade.  Have a great day!

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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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How to be a Force of Nature: A Review of Laird Hamilton’s Book

I recently finished reading Laird Hamilton’s book, Force of Nature:  Mind, Body, Soul (And, of Course, Surfing) and I must say I really recommend it.  Despite the somewhat cheesy title, the book delivers on offering a basic buffet of knowledge about healthy and dynamic living.

If you’re not familiar with Laird, he’s a surfing legend who resides in Hawaii and invents revolutionary new ways to surf, such as the sick hydro-foil.  He’s not a contest surfer, but instead insists on surfing for pure sport.  He’s one fit old dude for sure and he stays fit by successfully balancing all aspects of his life, chief among those aspects being an active lifestyle.

In the easy read, he really gets into the mind-body connection and explains that you must be at peace with yourself and have a healthy mind in order to be successful at any endeavor, athletic or not.  Along these lines, Laird tells us how important it is to understand and listen to our bodies.  This includes observing how well you feel when you eat well, sleep well, and train well.  They all go hand-in-hand.

The technical sections of the book describe his cardio workouts, weight workouts, yoga sessions, healthy eating regimens, healthy recipes (from star chef Giada de Laurentiis), and personal shopping lists.  I actually did Laird’s weight workout, named The Circuit, for 3 months straight.  It was great, but I developed tendonitis in my elbow that has sidelined me for the past month.  Guess I should go back and re-read the section on balance.

The reason I like this book so much is because everyone can learn from it.  When it comes to fitness, nutrition, and wellness, none of us is an expert.  We can all learn more.  And that’s what I find so exciting about the topics – I learn more every day and the more I learn, the more fascinated I am.

Whether you’re a couch-potato looking to mow your lawn this summer without taking a break or you’re a triathlete going for your first ironman, you will definitely find some valuable take-aways in this book.

If you’ve read it, let us know what you think in the comments.

Cheers.

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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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