Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Food Guide Pyramid Won't Be A Pyramid

The Food Guide Pyramid is changing again. This Thursday, the USDA will announce the new icon that is intended to help guide Americans towards making healthy food choices. It's been said that it won't be a pyramid this time.

Let's take a moment to reflect on the most recent icons....

Dodadodaloo, dodadodaloo (with finger waving, a la Wayne's World)...

Remember this one? (Sorry it's a little blurry)

This guide featured the food groups and made it clear which ones were to be the foundation of our diet. Of course, Atkins didn't agree, but that's a whole other matter. My main issue with this guide is that it isn't clear to most people how many servings they should be eating from each group. For instance, the bread & cereal group lists 6-11 servings daily. You might think this means you should eat 6 to 11 servings from this group every day, depending on the day. Sometimes you might eat only 6 and sometimes you might eat 11. But really it meant that some people should be aiming for 6 servings, and others get to have 11. For instance, I'm a small female, so I don't need (and shouldn't eat as many) servings as my taller husband. I think this led people to eat more than they should have, thinking it was not only OK, but that it was recommended to do so. (Nevermind the issue of determining what a serving size is anyway.)

This pyramid spawned several versions to illustrate alternative diets to the one recommended by the USDA.

There was the Okinawa pyramid...

This one, based on the traditional diet of the Okinawans (featured in Karate Kid II), emphasized vegetables, flavanoid foods, omega-3 foods and suggested only eating meat and eggs a few times a week. For more on this pyramid and eating style, check out the book. The Okinawans and their eating habits are pretty interesting.

There is also a vegan pyramid....

And the Mayo Clinic even devised their own pyramid, which highlighted exercise and emphasized fruits and vegetables as the foundation of the diet.

The most current pyramid was intended to be more personalized.

It doesn't have recommended servings on the food categories. Instead, individuals are supposed to go online and put in their specific information to create their own personal pyramid. I think this is a great idea in many regards. It makes it more interactive and current. It makes it more specific and personal. It makes it more fun. However, for it to work, you have to have a computer and internet access.

The overall structure stays the same for everyone. And I think it's a pretty neat one. It shows that even within the food groups there are some foods that should be eaten sparingly, while others can be eaten a little more freely (hence the wider base and skinner top for each food group pie piece.) I also recently heard it said that the exercising person on the side shows that if you eat more food (down at the base of the pyramid), you should exercise more. But if you don't eat as much (top of the pyramid), you don't have to exercise as much to have calorice balance. I don't know of this was the intention, but it does make a good point.

I think each pyramid / guide has it's advantages and disadvantages. I've heard lots of complaints about them from nutrionists and regular people alike.

But consider the task at hand. How would you summarize all of the current research for nutritional recommendations and make it into an accessible, simple icon that would be clear and easy to use and yet also individualized for all Americans? And that's if we don't even consider all of the politics involved.

I certainly don't want that task!

I'm interested to see what they've come up with now. And as soon as I know, I will share it with you.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Circuiting & Conditioning

Last night I led my sister and myself through a conditioning workout. I made it up on the spot. After taking conditioning/circuit training classes and doing bootcamp, it was nice to use my personal training skills and create my own routine.

It really doesn't take fancy equipment to get a good workout for most people. Body weight, compound exercises are great. Trust me, after doing a bunch of squats and lunges you will feel your legs burning!

We did our workout in the large classroom at our gym. That way we had space and a few toys to supplement with. But everything we did could be done at home.

What we did:
  • Three exercise pyramid: rotate through three exercises (squat, step ups, push ups). Start by doing 10 reps of each, then 9 reps of each, then 8, and so on until you have completed the 5 reps each stage. These moves can be done anywhere, no equipment needed. Do these continously, without a break. When done, take a quick walk and get water.
  • Three exercise pyramid with dips (we used a step used in step aerobics), mountain climbers (again on the step), and bicep curls using a band. Dips can be done on a chair or the sidewalk curb or any sturdy ledge. Mountain climbers can be done on the ground. For bicep curls you can use handweights, a band or anything heavy.
  • Four exercise pyramid with shoulder press, side shoulder raise (light weights), crunches and bridges. At the end of the cycle, hold the bridge for 30 seconds.
  • Then we used the bands to do a penguin walk. You could do standing side leg raises. We did 10 on each side, alternating.
  • Next we did a lunge/shuffle combo. We did walking lunges halfway across the room, then did a side shuffle the rest of the way. We did side shuffle halfway back, then did walking lunges back to our starting point.
  • Next, we did 20 backwards lunges, alternating legs.
  • Finally, to complete our leg work, we did a wall sit for 1 minute.
  • We got on the mat for the rest of the workout. First, we held a plank for 1 minute (hold full plank on toes for as long as you can, then drop to knees.)
  • Then we did side plank, 30 seconds each side.
  • We turned on to our backs and did reverse crunches. At the end of 20, hold your legs out, without touching the ground for an additional 30 seconds.
  • Finally, we did a serious of supermans (supermen?). We did alternating sides, 5 on each side. Then we did 10 full moves, then 10 more sides, alternating.
  • At last, we stretched!
For me, I love doing different types of exercises in different ways. I like doing some for a certain number of reps and some for time. I think it is important to have standards for yourself and to keep trying to "beat your record." For instance, I always do as many full pushups as I can and then I drop and do the rest of the set on my knees. I've worked up to 10 full pushups with proper form. Or, I like seeing how long I can do a wall sit or hold a full plank. I think my record for wall sit was 3.5 minutes. For plank I've worked up to 1 minute. I've seen people go a lot longer without even looking strained. But it's all about what you can do and pushing yourself to do more, properly and gently and over time.

It was a great workout. I really enjoyed getting to make my own and being able to guide someone through it. It makes it a lot more enjoyable for me to get through (it certainly wasn't an easy one for me!)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

New Recipe/Technique: Oven Fried Goodness

If you are one of my facebook buds, you may have seen the picture of my dinner from last night.

The sis and I grilled corn on the cob, turkey burgers for her and a portabella mushroom for me. This was the first time for us using the grill sans the hubster. Then, we made oven fried zucchini and squash and served it all with a bit of pizza sauce. YUM!

I got the recipe idea from another blog. It is super easy, cheap and really really really tasty.

Let me also add that even as a vegetablarian, there are some veggies I don't like or don't love. I still eat most of them from time to time because they are good for me and because you never know when you might start liking them or when you'll find a preparation you'll like. Well, I have found such a preparation for squash and zucchini. It will probably work for other veggies as well, just play around and see what you like.

To make you will need:
  • Some squashes or zucchinis. We made one of each, so that we each had half a squash and half a zucchini.
  • Bread crumbs. I recommend the kind with italian seasoning. I would not recommend panko. Start with 1/2 cup but you might need more.
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 T of grated hard cheese: asiago, parmesan, etc.
  • S & P
  • Olive oil cooking spray or olive oil in a pump sprayer
  • A bag of some variety
  • Cookie sheets
To make you will:
  1. Set oven to 425
  2. Spray cookie sheets with olive oil
  3. Slice veggies into thin sticks or circles
  4. Put egg white in a bowl
  5. Mix bread crumbs, cheese and S & P in the bag
  6. Coat veggies in egg white individually or a few at a time.
  7. Put them into the bag and shake until coated. You can even say "It's shake and bake and I helped" if you like.
  8. Place the coated veggies on the cookie sheets. Pack em in if you need to.
  9. Spray the veggies with olive oil.
  10. Bake ~15 minutes or until brown.
  11. Serve with marinara or pizza sauce (I prefer the latter.)
  12. Eat immediately. They are delicous while hot but quickly get cold and aren't as good.
So, what other veggies can I try?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Food Journaling & Mindless Eating

I recently gave a nutrition seminar with a friend and fellow RD.

A gentleman in our audience shared his story about losing a significant amount of weight but hitting a plateau. After some discussion we learned that while he is still exercising quite a bit he is also eating more that he was when he started dieting because he is now living in a retirement community that emphasizes social gatherings, where there is usually food. He told us he has a hard time saying no and a hard time not overeating when he does snack.

First, I recommended he keep a food journal. Writing down (or keeping track electronically) of what you eat has been shown again and again to help in weight loss. It helps us learn portion sizes, portion control, calorie and nutrient content of foods, helps us self-monitor our eating, and helps us find simple ways we can adjust our eating to improve our health. If you haven't done it, I highly recommend it, even for just a few weeks. If you want to do it the new-fangled way, try sparkpeople or myfitnessapal. They are free. And I think they both have smart phone apps. Or you can just do it the old fashioned way with a notepad and pen. Either way works!

I have a basic food journal that I developed. If you would like a copy to use, email me.

Next, my friend and colleague recommended that the gentlemen read the book Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. She said it might teach him why and how he is overeating and help him learn how to stop. I have not read this book, so I cannot fully endorse it yet. But I did just purchase it online for less than $10 and plan to read it ASAP. I might do a book review when I'm done.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Green Beans: An Experiment, A Method & A Recipe

As a nutritionist, I often get questions about the difference between fresh, frozen and canned vegetables.

Do they have the same nutritional content?
Can you interchange them in recipes?
Do they taste the same?

To answer these questions, let's consider green beans.

Growing up I think I only ever had canned green beans. That wasn't an accident. Canned vegetables are the cheapest and they last a flippin long time. But they are also processed and contain a lot of sodium. They are typically limp and a rather unappealing color. If you have no other means of eating vegetables, then canned veggies are a great option, just be aware of the sodium content.

Frozen green beans (and veggies) do not have the added sodium of their canned counterpart. Unless of course you purchase frozen veggies with a sauce or seasoning. They are, for the most part, the same as fresh produce, nutritionally speaking. They are usually cheaper than fresh produce (unless you are buying in season or on special) but more expensive than canned. Many stores usually have specials and sales, though, so buy when they are cheaper and stock up. They last quite a long time, so long as you have the freezer space. Unfortunately, while they are just as good for us as fresh produce, they don't always taste quite the same or have the same crunch/texture.

Here is a fun experiment that I did in a food science class during graduate school that I would highly recommend you try at home:
Purchase a can of green beans, a bag of frozen green beans and some fresh ones. Microwave each without seasoning. Then put them in separate bowls by each other for comparison. It's really interesting to see just how different they will look, smell and taste.

Of course, microwaving is not the tastiest preparation. And I recently found a new recipe for fresh greenie beanies that also uses a fun technique.

Green Beans, using two preparations:

You will need:
  • As many fresh green beans as you want to prepare
  • Lemon juice (a few tablespoons) I use the bottled kind because it keeps longer and is much easier to use in a recipe than fresh juice from a lemon.
  • EVOO
  • S & P
  • Garlic (2 cloves unless you really like garlic like me, then use as much as you want)
  • Fresh or dried herbs such as chopped rosemary (a tablespoon or so of fresh or a teaspoon of dried)
  • Saute pan
  • Steamer or steaming device
  • Large bowl
  • Ice
To prepare:
  1. Trim and wash the green beans
  2. Steam the beans until just tender and bright in color, 8-12 minutes. I do this in a stainless steamer basket placed into a large pot of boiling water. These baskets cost less than $10.
  3. Immediately plunge the beans into a bath of ice water. This stops the cooking process.
  4. Heat the saute pan/skillet with the evoo.
  5. Cook the garlic in the skillet until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Do not allow to burn.
  6. Place the beans in the skillet with the garlic.
  7. Add the S&P, a dose of lemon juice and the herbs. Again, the amount you use will depend on your tastes and the amount of beans you are preparing. I made about 3 cups of beans and used 3 Tablespoons of juice and about 1 Tablespoon of herbs.
  8. Saute beans for a few minutes until softer and slightly browned.
  9. Serve!

This recipe/method may sound complicated and time consuming. But I assure you it isn't that bad. Just have all the equipment and items you need handy before you start. In total it took me 15 minutes to make them. I am pretty picky about fresh green beans and I love this recipe.

If you have never had fresh green beans (or other veggies), I encourage you to try them. Even if you think you don't like them, you may have only had canned, which does not taste the same at all.

All of this said...I will probably be making green bean casserole with canned green beans this weekend for the Easter holiday. Everything in moderation and with perspective....

The Market Is Looking Good

Have you been to your local farmer's market this season?
This year?

If so, what have you purchased?

Lately I've been buying farm fresh eggs from local, happy chickens each weekend. I promise, once you taste fresh, local eggs you won't go back!

I've also been buying greens, plants for my garden, greenhouse tomatoes, homemade jellies, and some meat for the hubster. This past weekend I also got to buy local strawberries that were picked the morning I bought them. Sooooooo good! Yay for strawberry season!

If you haven't been to your local market and don't even know where it is/they are, try searching here. You might even have multiple markets that offer different things or are open at different times.

For instance, I have:
  • the state market which is open year round every day but doesn't always offer local produce (many booths supplement with out of state items) and most of the produce is not organic. But it's still nice to purchase fresh produce and plants there when other options are not available.
  • a small market for the town I live in, which is about a mile from my house. It's only open a few hours on Saturday during the summer. The selection is small, but it's a nice community market.
  • a relatively large market in a neighboring town that is filled with local produce, meat, cheese, plants, etc. It's mostly organic and sustainable.
  • there are also markets in the cities near mine (all within 20 minutes or so) that I could visit for something different.
  • there are some markets that are only open one day a week, that meet in a parking lot and cater to working individuals.
I have nearly endless choices each week!

All you need is to locate your market, get some cash (I recommend about $20) and go stroll around! The farmers/vendors will answer any questions you might have whether it be "are you organic?" or "what the heck is that and how do you cook it?" Many will also gladly give you samples. Last week I got to taste freshly made risotto, goat cheese, salad greens and a ton of different strawberries.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Healthy Ramen: Not An Oxymoron and Not Just For College Students

We've all done it.

We've all had a time in our lives when we lived on ramen noodles.

We knew it wasn't healthy, but it was CHEAP, quick and filling.

Well, it's time to break out the ramen you have hiding in your cabinets for a healthy new twist on an old standby.

In case you haven't surmised, I enjoy taking ordinary dishes and making them healthier. I also enjoy doing this with a budget in mind and in ways that just about anyone could mimic using what they like or have on hand.

Taking ordinary ramen and making it into a healthy meal is a prime example of this concept.

All you have to do is make the ramen on the stove top like you normally would, but add some "stuff" to the pot to add vitamins, minerals and protein and to stretch out the calories. True, it will still have a lot of sodium and it IS processed. But not every meal can be perfect and I think this is a great option for a quick meal every now and then.

When I make my healthy ramen, I put the water, seasoning and noodles into a pot on the stove top. Before bringing it to a boil I also add such things as (but not all at the same time):
  • carrot matchsticks
  • baby spinach
  • bean sprouts
  • shredded cabbage
  • sliced pepper
  • snow peas
  • etc
My favorite veggies to add are those that taste good lightly cooked and that have a little crunch. In this dish I prefer the first three on the list, but I have used the others, and probably other veggies I can't think of right now. Last night I also added a few leftover shrimp from my summer rolls.

You could also add fresh, sliced chicken breast to the pot. Make sure to cut it into small pieces so that it cooks quickly. And make sure it is fully cooked before you eat the soup.

Once the soup is boiling, I reduce it to a simmer and crack an egg into the soup. If you do it very gently, it will cook relatively whole. This adds just a bit of creaminess to the soup and some protein. You can eat the whole egg, or do what I do and just eat the white. Or you can leave the egg out.

I allow the soup to simmer until the egg, chicken, etc are cooked through. Don't allow to simmer for toooooo long or the noodles get a little soggy.

By adding the extra stuff, it makes an ordinary packet of ramen enough for a meal for two people (or one really hungry person.) If you want more, you can just add enough water and an extra packet of ramen to the pot.

Go ahead, you know you want to try this.

Ignore the stigma and give an old favorite a healthy makeover.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Summer (roll) Lovin, Had Me A Blast

I've said it once, I'll say it again. I love Vietnamese food!

It's generally light and healthy and full of fresh ingredients. And it's super tasty!

Taking a few cues from this cuisine can help you lighten up (and add some flare) to your meals.

For example you can:
  • Add fresh herbs to your dishes. Cilantro is great, but it isn't for everyone. Do you or someone you know violently hate cilantro? It might be a genetic preference, so don't force it. But if you do like it, it can add a lot of flavor without calories. Also try mint or basil...or all three at once!
  • Try rice paper or rice vermicelli. They can add structure to your dish without many calories.
  • Cook with ginger. You don't need much. And it's super cheap to get a small piece at the store. Just peel it, chop it up and cook it along with your dish.
  • Use lime for flavor. Squeeze it over your salad, into your water, or onto your dish.
  • Add more veggies! Toss shredded carrots, bean sprouts, chopped greens, etc in to add bulk and reduce the calories per serving.
  • Make meat an accent, not the main star.
One of my favorite things to eat (and now make myself) are vietnamese summer rolls. These are not to be confused with spring rolls or egg rolls. Summer rolls are made with rice paper and are NOT fried. They are also served room temp or chilled. They are easy and fun to make and low in calories.

Need to eat more salad but bored with the same old iceberg/ranch concoction? Or afraid to make salad a meal? Then try summer rolls!

You can use whatever you want in them. You have creative control. But here is how I recently made them:

You will need:
  • Rice paper rounds: many regular stores have these in the international area. Otherwise you can get tons super cheap at an Asian supermarket.
  • Fresh herbs: cilantro, basil, mint or any combo of these. I have just been using cilantro.
  • Fresh veggies: I like shredded carrot, chopped romaine, sprouts, cucumber sticks, red pepper sticks or some combo of these. You don't have to have a huge variety. Use what you like or have on hand. I prefer things with a bit of a crunch.
  • Shrimp (or not): If can leave these out. But they add protein and flavor. I purchased unpeeled shrimp, boiled them with the shell on, then soaked them briefly in ice water before peeling and slicing them in half. I use about 2 shrimp per roll. If I make more than I need I put them in the fridge for another day. You can also use another meat that is cooked already and can be eaten chilled.
  • Dipping sauce: Don't go crazy here and add in too many calories with a heavy dip. Soy sauce is nice. Or a sweet chili dipping sauce is fun. My favorite right now is TJ's gyoza dipping sauce. It only has 30 calories for 2 Tablespoons. It's salty and a little sweet and goes well with the rolls.
To assemble:
  1. Cook, chill and slice your shrimp.
  2. Chop your veggies. I like chopping the lettuce small. And I like cutting the pepper, cucumber and carrots into matchsticks.
  3. Chop your herbs.
  4. Set everything out buffet style so it's easy to reach.
  5. Clear off a cutting board or smooth surface for rolling the rolls.
  6. Fill a large bowl (I actually use a stock pot) with a little cool water.
  7. Place one wrapper in the water and allow it to soak. You will know it's ready when it's very flimsy. Some wrappers even have designs on them that go away when they are ready. But don't get scared. Even if it's not fully ready, it'll work.
  8. Place the wrapper on the board. Put the next wrapper into the water to be soaking while you are working with the first.
  9. Fill it with your veggies, herbs and shrimp. Don't add too much or it won't wrap up.
  10. Roll it up like a burrito. It make not stick together well at this point, but it will. Just carefully wrap it up so nothing is going to fall out.
  11. Set it aside on a plate. I find these do better if you let them set a bit before you eat them. It allows the flavors to meld and the wrapper to stick together a bit better.
  12. Once you have made all you want to make, put together your sauce and eat them!
I typically eat 3-4 of these as part of a meal. They are very light calorically but packed with nutritiousness. ;)

Give summer rolls a try. They are fun, tasty and healthy. And they are a great choice for an appetizer or social gathering.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Gooey Double Fudge (& Black Bean) Brownies

Check out this recipe from the American Dietetic Association!

Think you don't like black beans, give this recipe I try!

You will need:
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup of splenda)
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup cooked black beans (or drained and rinsed canned black beans)
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (if you don't have whole wheat flour just use 1/2 cup of all-purpose)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 squares unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and stirred
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
To make:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x9 inch pan with spray.
  2. Combine the sugar, egg, beans in a food processor until smooth like a criminal.
  3. Transfer beaniness mixture to a mixing bowl. Stir in the flour, butter and chocolate. Mix until smoother than a criminal. Add the vanilla, chocolate chips and stir again. Transfer to the baking dish.
  4. Bake about 25 minutes. Middle should be jiggly and wet when removed from the oven.
  5. Cool. Don't touch.
  6. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
  7. Enjoy!
Makes 9 servings.

Nutrition breakdown per serving:
  • 230 calories
  • 10 g fat
  • 34 g carbs
  • 2 g fiber
  • 3 g protein

How to Use F&V to Manage Your Weight

If you've read my blog much at all, you know I am a fan of tossing in veggies when I cook to stretch out high calorie dishes/meals. In other words, I rarely make a plain pasta sauce. Instead, I'll saute whatever veggies I have on hand and toss them into a jar of sauce to make a lighter and healthier pasta primavera. Similarly, I try to beef up (he he) my oatmeal with dried fruit, my soups with added veggies or beans, and add spinach, onions and celery to nearly everything.

So when I was recently looking over some information on the CDC's website, it came as no surprise that they recommend the same methods for increasing F&V as a means of weight loss/management.

In addition to the suggestions I just gave, here are some ideas for you to use this easy/healthy method of weight loss:
  • Substitute some sauteed spinach, onions, or mushrooms for one of the eggs or half of the cheese in your morning omelet.
  • Cut back on the amount of cereal in your bowl to make room for some cut-up bananas, peaches, or strawberries.
  • Substitute vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, or onions for some of the meat in your sandwich, wrap, or burrito.
  • Add chopped vegetables, such as broccoli, celery, carrots, onions, tomatoes, or bell peppers to your favorite broth-based soup. Add beans to add even more fiber and some protein.
  • Add chopped vegetables such as broccoli, tomatoes, squash, onions, or peppers, while removing some of the rice or pasta in your favorite dish.
  • Take a good look at your dinner plate. Vegetables, fruit, and whole grains should take up the largest portion of your plate. If they do not, replace some of the meat, cheese, white pasta, or rice with beans and veggies. This will reduce the total calories in your meal without reducing the amount of food you eat.
  • Choose fruits and veggies as snacks throughout the day. Try an apple with a little peanut butter, celery with Laughing Cow cheese, dried fruit and nuts, homemade fruit salad with a with a little greek yogurt, slices of red pepper and hummus, etc.

How Does Your State & County Stack Up?

Do you like playing with interactive web tools?
Are you curious about how obese and inactive your state and county are compared to others?

Then check out this nifty new tool from the CDC. It illustrates state and county level estimates of inactivity, diagnosed diabetes and obesity. Just select your state and which estimates you want to see. And, yes, the 2008 data is the most current they have, so the estimates are probably low (ie, it's probably worse now than it was then.)

If you look at the national map, you'll see certain "trends." Much of the Deep South has high rates of inactivity and also have high rates of diabetes and obesity. On the opposite side of the spectrum, check out Colorado. What are they doing right that the rest of us can mimic/learn from?

After you are done pondering the state of your county or the state of your state, take a few moments to check out the resources on the CDC website. Although I didn't include it on my recent list of reliable websites, I will now be adding it. It has solid information and data related to a variety of health issues.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reliable Sources of Nutrition Information

If you have a nutrition/diet/food related question, please please please do not just google it and accept the first thing you read.

And please please please do not believe every thing you hear on TV about diet, exercise, nutrition, etc. Those who are technically doctors and have their own shows (you know who I mean) are not experts on nutrition and will sell their soul to the highest bidder.

And please please please do not turn to your personal trainer (or one you see on TV) for diet advice...unless that trainer is also a RD or qualified health professional.

But what should you do if you do have questions???

Here is a list of places I recommend looking for nutrition/diet/food answers:
  1. Me or another Registered Dietitian
  2. Your MD, but remember that MD's are not nutrition experts. (And I will never diagnose your illness.)
  3. The American Dietetic Association dedicates half of their site to providing public information.
  4. The Mayo Clinic has a nice website with reliable, although sometimes sparse, information.
  5. The American Heart Association has a website with tips related to heart health and diet.
  6. On the USDA's site you can have your food analyzed or look at the nutrition content of any food imaginable.
  7. The CDC offers facts, trends and information on a variety of health related issues.

The Cost of Produce

While giving a lecture recently, I was asked a ton of questions. I'm going to turn some of these into blog posts.

At one point in my presentation I was talking about how just increasing the servings of fruits and vegetables in your diet can help you lose weight and improve your health.

One person interrupted and said: "You keep saying that we need to eat more fruits and vegetables. How do you expect us to do this when they are so expensive?"

I know I've touched on this topic before, but I thought I would mention it again.

Here are my thoughts on purchasing fruit (and produce):
  • First, I recommend trying to buy in season, when you can. At the present time of year this won't get you very far. But if you buy strawberries in the Spring and apples in the Fall, they will cost less. If you try to buy apples in the Spring, you will pay more for them. Hit up the farmer's market when it's open and indulge in whatever item is in season and cheapest.
  • When eating seasonally isn't really an option, I recommend being smart at the store. My first suggestion is to loot the reduced price produce bin. This is usually the first place I look for fruits and veggies and I base my meals around what I find there. If there are a bunch of mushrooms, I'll make a stir fry or a shroomy pasta dish. If there are super ripe avocados, I'll make some guacamole. If there are apples or bananas that are a little brown (there almost always are), I might not eat them by themselves, but I can still use them in a parfait, a smoothie, in a bread or other baked item, or I can make a dessert with them.
  • Next, I suggest buying what is on special that week. If that means you don't get any strawberries, but you get to load up on blueberries because they are BOGO, do that. If celery is on special, get a few packs. If greens are cheap, get those. You get my drift. Does it mean you have to be creative and more flexible with your meal planning? A bit. But it will save you money. I always buy LOTS of fresh produce at the store and I never have a huge bill.
  • Buy frozen produce. Frozen produce has the same nutritional value as fresh stuff. The only difference is the texture and taste can be different. There are more and more options in the frozen section every day. You can buy pretty much any veggie and many fruits. But BEWARE of the sauces and added flavorings. Aim to buy the plain ole veggies, not the ones with the cheese sauce or "asian flavor" or whatever. These add calories, sodium, and sometimes fat. Or at least be smart about the ones that you do buy. Some of them are not that bad and can provide a quick side that doesn't require seasoning or any kind of preparation.
  • Try dried fruit. This recommendation comes with a caveat. You can't eat too much because dried fruit can pack in the calories and the sugar. But a sprinkle of cranberries can go a long way in your oatmeal or yogurt. You can also get different types of dried fruit and make a healthy, homemade trail mix. I stock up on dried fruit when it goes on sale. It doesn't go bad, so take advantage of BOGO specials and the like.
  • If you can, shop around a bit. I know that TJ's has organic bagged baby spinach for $2.49, all colors of peppers for $1-ish, bananas for cheap, etc. So I buy what I can at the traditional store and then I buy some stuff at TJ's. I know this isn't an option for everyone, but if you can, make the most of the different stores in your area that might be running different specials on produce or have different pricing levels. I'm not a fan of Wally World, and I don't think their produce is the best quality...but it is another source of cheap produce if you have one in your area.
  • You can drink juice but in general I do not recommend it except as a treat. Juice, like dried fruit, has a high concentration of calories and often includes added sugar. But if you don't have any other way to get some fruit into your diet, drink some OJ or 100% juice. You can even try making a juice spritzer by mixing juice with soda or seltzer water. This will reduce the overall calories and sugar consumed and it makes a fun, virgin cocktail.
  • Be creative with the produce that is almost always cheap, like carrots, onions and potatoes (does that have an "e" or not?). I put carrots in everything: soups, stews, stir fry, etc.
  • Finally, you can prepare. Stock up when you see a good deal and try freezing or canning your own produce. Freezing is easy enough, just be careful if you try to can, as it has to be done correctly to avoid food safety concerns.
Now go forth and eat your F&V and no excuses about the cost! ;)

Friday, February 11, 2011

I Challenge You To Complete A Komen 5K

119 Days
2866 Hours
171998 Minutes

Do you have a weight loss goal?
Have you always wanted to complete a 5K?
Do you want to get in better shape?
Do you want to do something good for yourself AND for others?

Then, I challenge YOU to run/walk the Komen 5K. For those of you in the Raleigh area, this year's race is on June 11th. If you do not live near Raleigh, don't fret, there are Komen races all over the country!

If you have never done a race before, this is the one for you!

Not only is it for a great cause (fighting breast cancer and supporting/celebrating breast cancer survivors), but it is fun, exciting and NOT AT ALL INTIMIDATING.
Every year, I have seen thousands of people of all shapes, sizes, abilities, colors, genders, and ages gather together and walk or run 3.1 miles together.

This year, it's your turn to join us.

If you are looking for a training plan, I recommend this one or this one.

I promise, you are not too out of shape, old, or overweight to do this. You can do this. And in doing it, you will probably find other rewards along the way.

Sign up today. It's a small price to pay for your health and achieving a goal.

Running was not always easy for me. In fact, it's still hard sometimes. I'm not fast. In fact, I'm pretty dang slow by the standards of the running community. But I'm now stronger and healthier than I've ever been. And I cannot explain the feeling of community and personal achievement I experience every time I run a race...especially this one.

I can do it and you can do it.
What do you have to lose except your gut and 20 bucks?

If you are in the Raleigh area, I will even do it with you if you want a running/walking partner.

Monday, February 7, 2011

I Took The Krispy Kreme Challenge....Sort Of

On Saturday I ran the Krispy Kreme Challenge with Sir Cakewalk and two friends. This was my first year doing it. And what a challenge it was!

It poured the rain. And it was cold. And it was still packed with donut lovin/runnin fools.

We ran 2 miles (really about 2.35) to the Krispy Kreme store. There we had the option of eating a dozen donuts (or as many as we wanted) and then running the 2.35 miles back. The real challengers ate the donuts, ran back in under an hour and didn't hurl.

I did not fully accept the challenge. I ate two donuts. Then Sir Cakewalk told me he ate 3, so I ate one more. I had to man up. Couldn't let him beat me.

As I ran back, I didn't feel ill at all. No upchuckin or ass-plosions or GI distress.

And it was a blast despite the conditions. Folks dressed in all sorts of crazy outfits. Some ran barefoot, others ran in pajamas. The atmosphere was fun and friendly, not competitive or anxious like some races. I'll definitely do it again next year and I might even accept the full challenge!

Here is the caloric breakdown of my run:
  • 3 donuts = 220 * 3 = 660 calories consumed
  • 4.7ish miles = 100 calories * 4.7 = about 470 calories (maybe more since I was drenched and my clothes were weighing me down) (this is a rough estimate)
  • Net GAIN = 190
Oh well, it was all for charity. ;)

Next month I am running another 8k. This will be my 3rd race at that distance so I'm looking for a PR.

What races will you be running this Spring?
How many donuts did you eat this weekend?

Key-nuh-what? Quinoa!

I knew I would have an early morning today (Sir Cakewalk had a 6am flight and I wanted to get a run in before work), so I knew I needed to pack my lunch last night.

But what to pack? It looked like I was going to have to make something. Cakewalk had just bought me a TJ Cookbook so I thought I'd search through the recipes for something simple, cheapish, and lunchable (not everything tastes good after being microwaved.)

I know I talk about TJ a lot. I do not work for them or receive free food from them. I wish! But I do like them and think they are a great resource for cheap, sometimes healthy food. I recommend taking advantage of this fun store if you have one in your area.

The recipe I chose uses quinoa.

Quinoa, pronounced keen-wa, is a whole grain packed with nutrition. It has fiber, duh, and more protein than any other grain. It is pretty quick to cook (quicker than rice) and has a hearty, almost nutty flavor.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly, but here is what I did.

I used:
  • 1 cup of organic quinoa
  • 1/2 jar of TJ vegetable bruschetta (basically tomato and garlic spread so you could use other things instead like a bit of a good tomato sauce or blend up your own tomato/garlic concoction)
  • 2 cups of baby spinach, chopped
  • 2 cups of broth
To make I:
  1. Made the quinoa according to package directions. I only wanted a smallish portion, so I put 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups of broth in a pot and put it on high.
  2. Meanwhile I chopped the spinach and add it to the pot.
  3. Once the broth was boiling, I turned it down to simmer and let it do it's thing for about 15 minutes (until the quinoa was translucent.)
  4. Then I fluffed it a bit and stirred in the vegetable bruschetta business.
  5. This made about 4 cups of food.
I would have taken a picture...but alas! my lovely phone isn't functioning at full capacity since I dropped it yesterday. :(

But anyway, I split the quinoa into two bowls and ate the first for lunch today. It was delicious!!! The tomatoes and garlic gave it a great flavor and the quinoa had a nice texture. It filled me up and kept me from being hungry all afternoon, even after two workouts earlier today.

A friend told me she has been eating quinoa on her salads. She makes a whole mess of it, then keeps it in the fridge and sprinkles it on top of greens for extra fiber and protein.

It is very similar to rice and could be used as a simple side or even in a stir fry.

Here are some recipe ideas from my favorite recipe website.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dietary Guidelines Informal Survey

One of the controversies surrounding the Dietary Guidelines produced by the USDA is that they are inconsistent in their recommendations. In some instances they recommend increasing or decreasing specific foods (ex. eat more fruit). In other instances they recommend increasing or decreasing specific nutrients (ex. eat less solid fat, eat less salt) rather than making the recommendation based on the food in which the nutrient is most commonly found.

I think this is confusing, especially for the average American who isn't obsessed with nutrition like I am but who wants to follow the guidelines and eat healthier.

What do you think?
  1. Would you rather get recommendations based on nutrients (more vitamin D, more folate, less salt, less fat, less sugar, etc) or would you rather get recommendations based on foods (less red meat, more vegetables, more low-fat dairy, more fish, etc)?
  2. Have you heard of the Dietary Guidelines?
  3. Have you read them or do you know what they generally recommend?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Lentil Salsa Soup: A Twist On A Fav Recipe

You may recall my recipe for easy, cheap, quick and tasty black bean soup. I hope you tried it. If not, check it out, it is definitely a crowd pleaser and a great source of fiber and protein.

Well now I have a new but similar soup recipe to tantalize your taste buds and satisfy your nutritional needs.

I present to you: Lentil Salsa Soup.

I can't take the credit for this recipe. I got it from my co-worker but made it my own way.

What you will need:
  • 1 jar of salsa. I used chipotle garlic from TJ's. Use whatever kind you want, but I would steer away from mango or something of that nature.
  • 1 (or more) cups of carrots, chopped however you want.
  • 2 (or more) cups of spinach. I used bagged organic baby spinach from TJ's.
  • 1 onion, chopped.
  • Optional: 1 cup of celery, chopped or any veggies you'd like such as red pepper.
  • 1 and 1/4 cup of dried lentils, rinsed. Or 1 package of fresh lentils from TJ's. (This is what I used because it is much quicker.)
  • 6 cups of water
  • EVOO
  • S&P
To make:
  1. If you haven't chopped your veggies, do so now.
  2. Heat a little oil (don't use too much!) in a stock pot about a tbs should work.
  3. When the oil is hot add the onion, carrot and celery or pepper, if using. Saute until onions are translucent.
  4. Add lentils, salsa, water to the pot and simmer. If you are using dried lentils, simmer for 50-60 minutes until lentils are tender. If using fresh, just bring the soup to boil.
  5. Once the lentils are tender or heated through, add the spinach and allow to cook into the soup for a few minutes.
  6. Taste. Add S&P as needed. I found my salsa added a lot of flavor and much of either wasn't needed.
  7. Enjoy (but be sure to keep away from wandering noses!) ;)

This is a great soup because it has tons of fiber and protein. It's also cheap and makes several servings. You can adjust it as you want, adding different types of salsa and/or veggies.

Dietary Guidelines 2010

Hot of the press!

Sit back off the edge of your seat!


They are finally here!

The new dietary guidelines have been released and I know you are all so excited and curious you just can't stand it.

I will be reading the 112 page document in addition to the 453 page "Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" soon and will have to get back to you regarding my thoughts and opinions and what the take away message will be for the average Joe or Josephine.

So far it sounds like they have made some earth shattering recommendations such as eat a balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and don't eat oversized portions.

But, rest assured, I will be reading away and will get back to you.

In the meantime, if you you'd like to read the document for yourself it can be found at the USDA website. PS remember that the USDA not only provides nutrition recommendations for the US population but also serves to support various industries such as the beef peoples. So take it with a grain of salt (pun intended) and read with a critical eye.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Notes on Vacation

I am in Memphis for the weekend. Since Sir Cakewalk is here for a conference, mostly I am operating independently on this trip.

Here are some random notes about the trip, vacationing in general, exercising, food, etc:
  • In an effort to eat healthfully and cheaply, I brought food with me. I brought packets of oatmeal, dried cranberries, peanut butter crackers, fruit bars, apples, and wasabi peas. This means I have breakfast every day and hearty snacks. Although I forgot to also bring bowls and eating implements. So, yesterday I got hot water from the cafe in the hotel (there was no coffee maker or microwave in the room), put the oatmeal in a glass and ate it with a coffee cup lid. I know, this is a bit silly. But I saved a bunch of money and calories. Today Sir Cakewalk snagged me a spoon and some hot water so I was a bit classier.
  • Even though I was sore, I got up yesterday and ran 4 miles on the treadmill. This made my legs feel much better and set a good tone for the day. After showering I also got out and walked around the city a bit. One of my favorite things to do on vacation is walk around. Of course, this isn't always easy or safe, so please try to be smart about it.
  • I enjoy trying new things and eating locally when I travel. When we first arrived we went out for drinks with friends and I got a local beer brewed a mile down the street from where I sat. It was delicious! I also researched the area to find out what the local specialties are (not too hard to figure out here in Memphis), and where the best places to eat are. I do NOT like eating at chains while away and I do NOT like eating a restaurants that cater to tourists. This has allowed me to try some of the most delicious foods I never would've tried (chicken foot soup in Mexico, for example.) Yesterday I found a restaurant nearby and ventured over for lunch. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but it was tasty. I'm hoping to eat somewhere really good and auténtico tomorrow night for our last official meal. I may even splurge for a taxi for this one since I don't like to have my choices confined to walking distance.
  • Do not be afraid to eat by yourself. At the aforementioned lunch yesterday I went to a busy lunch spot and sat by myself at the bar. I had my phone to keep me company should I feel lonely, but it wasn't needed. The bartender was friendly and told me about his band. I also got to chat with an older gentleman seated next to me, who even gave me a glass of wine from the bottle he purchased. You never know who you will meet or what you will learn when you step out a little and talk to folks.
  • I tried poutine. I had heard about it from my Canadian co-worker. I know, I know, I'm in Memphis not Montreal. So why was I eating this? Well, we had just arrived at the hotel and we were starving. I had no desire to eat at the hotel, so we asked the concierge what was good in the area. She tossed out a few ideas, but we decided to strike out on our own to see what we'd see. The first place we saw was a cute Canadian restaurant. I've never eaten at a Canadian restaurant, so we thought we'd give it a try. It did not disappoint! My meal was not healthy (poutine is fries with cheese and gravy). But it filled me up and allowed me to try something new. Plus, I made up for it later by eating a light snack instead of a full dinner and going for a swim.
  • I am impressed by the number of greenways, parks and walking areas in the US. I live close to a greenway trail and have miles of them in the vicinity. But we aren't the only ones with them. It's pretty easy to find them on the internets, and they provide a way to get out and exercise while seeing some sights. The one here in Memphis follows the Mississippi River and the downtown area. I think the most impressive one I've seen was in Colorado. I'm not sure where it started or ended, but it went at least from Breckenridge to Vail...that's over 30 miles and over mountains!!! That's incredible. Check them out when you travel...go for a walk or run or rent a bike.
  • Today I'm having tea at the french restaurant at the hotel. I'm also going for a free historical tour of the hotel in just a few minutes. This isn't a travel blog (but I can recommend a good one if you'd like), but I just wanted to re-iterate my recommendation to see what's going on around you when you travel. See what's free or unique. Don't just follow the other tourists. Try something new, whether it a food or an adventure of some sort.

Need help being healthy while on the road? Shoot me your questions!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Are Coupons Worth The Trouble?

I love some coupons.

But not all coupons are created equally. AND, in some instances using coupons can cost you more money and push you towards making unwise nutritional choices.

I'm not going to go on a huge financial tangent here, but I am of the camp that something is not a deal or a financially wise purchase if it isn't something you need or would normally use, no matter how much it is discounted....at least as it pertains to food.

For some reason I get the Sunday paper. And from time to time I'll sift through the coupon sections. But I'm always disappointed in what I find. Only on a rare occasion will I find something that I actually use or something that is a good deal on a product I could use. It also disappoints me that most of the products are processed/convenience items. I mean, I realize that no one is going to make coupons for a head of cabbage, but how many different types of pudding does one family really need?

When I hear about people who saved a ton of money using coupons I often wonder if it really saved them money in the long run.
Did they spend beyond their means just to get a deal?
Did they buy products they don't really like or won't really use just to have them on the pantry shelves?
Could they have bought the same products at a different store cheaper?
Did they use up their entire food budget on convenience items and forgo fresh produce?

I'm not saying to avoid using coupons. I'm just advising careful consideration before getting caught up in a super double frenzy.

I know I've said some of this before, but it always bears repeating.
For what it's worth, here is how I save money on a regular basis:
  • I look for coupons in places other than the paper. I go to the websites of companies with items I really like and use often. Usually they have coupons you can download or you can request them. They are often much better than what you find in the paper.
  • I use my store's discount card. But I am careful to see if the BOGO or discount is worth it. Sometimes the store brand is still a better deal. I also don't buy splurge items just because they are hugely discounted. For me, Doritos are never a good deal. But if one bread is cheaper than another, I'll go with that one.
  • Pay attention to the unit price of items. Larger containers are not always a better deal.
  • I buy certain products at different stores. For instance, bell peppers of all colors are always $1.29 at Trader Joe's. They also have cheaper bananas, wine and a few other items that I regularly need. So I make a stop at TJ in addition to my regular store. Sometimes I also stop at Whole Foods to buy items in bulk such as spices, oats, flour, nuts, and dried fruit. It is significantly cheaper to buy these items in bulk at WF than in packages at the traditional stores.
  • I buy items from local vendors like the farmer's market. During the winter this can be difficult. But during the summer and fall some items can be much cheaper bought locally than at the store.
How do you save money at the store? Do you use coupons or a store card?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

If You're Moving, You're Improving

I don't know who said that, or where I even heard it. But I think it is definitely true and it's one of my favorite sayings. "If you're moving, you're improving."

We all have excuses and fears when it comes to starting a new exercise program, or starting to exercise period.

I certainly have them.

Yes, I can run several miles comfortably. Now. But that didn't happen overnight. And it still hurts sometimes. And I'm still pretty slow by most runners standards.

But I know that every time I get out there I am taking charge of my health and improving my life, even if it's at a snail's pace.

Sometimes I get self-conscious when I'm out running on a main road. I start thinking about the people driving by, probably making fun of me and my funny running style and jiggly bits that bounce as I trod along.

But then I try to remind myself that those people are driving by, not running by. More than likely, they will go home, plop in front of the tv and eat more than they should.

More than likely, they will not make it out the door to exercise.

I'm not trying to make fun of such people, just pointing out that those who exercise regularly are in the minority. They have overcome their fears and excuses that others could not.

And I know it's cheesy, but it all starts with one step at a time.

I am the first to agree that running hurts. And it will take awhile to build up to running a mile, let alone 3 or 13.1, or whatever your bucket list goal may be if you aren't already running. But it WILL HAPPEN. You just have to block out that voice in your head telling you it's cold and late and that you're hungry, etc, and do it.

And keep doing it.

And it will get easier.

I say all of this because last night a friend surprised me. Some friends and I had dinner and were then chillin and chattin by a fire. It was getting late and I was getting tired. But I knew I needed to run. Finding the motivation to do so was getting harder and harder. But then, a friend mentioned in passing that he wouldn't mind running a local race in the near future, but that he would need to work back into running. I quickly asked him if he wanted to run with me right then and he actually said "ok, let's do it."

I often invite people to run with me. I have numerous times tried to get people out the door when they insinuate that they need to work out. "Let's go!" I tell them. "Let's not just talk about it. Let's go do it. We can take it easy or go at whatever pace we want. Let's just get out there." Or I offer to hit the gym with someone or keep someone company while they workout.

No one has ever taken me up on it before.

And did we run 5 miles? No. Was it fast? No. We probably ran/walked about a mile together before he headed back in. But I was still very impressed.

I don't care how fast you are, or how far you go, if you get out the door, especially when it is cold and late and you are out of shape, I applaud you.

Now I just hope he can muster up that motivation again and again and again. He may only be able to do a mile for awhile. No rhyme intended. But it will get better. As long as he keeps moving, he'll be improving.

You may think I don't understand or can't relate. I assure you this is not the case. Working out has never started easy for me. I just keep doing it...crazy, right?! ;)

Here is a pic of me struggling through my first half marathon,
which I completed,
It took me 5 months to build up to this point.

But even if you don't believe me, believe Ben, who I hope doesn't mind my talking about him on here. If you are out of shape and want to be motivated, check out "My 120 Pound Journey" on youtube. It, and Ben himself, continue to inspire me.

Now get out there and do something good for yourself.