Saturday, May 30, 2009

Healthier Eating Goes a Long Way

When I tell people I'm a vegetarian, they assume I eat tree bark and drink nettle tea. (Which I do, but that's a different story.)

I jest. However, people automatically assume I am a super healthy eater and that many of the choices I make would be too difficult to incorporate into their lives. What they don't realize is that a few easy steps can make their diets much healthier.

First of all, stop drinking as much soda as you do. Go ahead, count the number of times you drink soda in a week. Kind of shocking, isn't it? Chances are, you drink an average of one can of soda a day. Even if it's not that much, even one soda a week is loads of empty calories, lots of high fructose corn syrup and oodles of bubbles — at about 12 calories an ounce. A bottle is 20 ounces — so do the math.

Don't try to get out of it by using the "diet" argument because there are lots of chemicals in a diet drink that provide no nutritional value.

By the way, I'm not casting stones. I sometimes consume a can or two a week. However, I stop there — and so can you. Give yourself alternatives. I'd suggest you drink water, but I myself find that a huge snoozefest unless I'm parched and hot. I prefer cold or hot tea with lemon or honey (which David makes for me by the quart). When I dine out, I always ask for unsweetened tea with lemon.

Look for soda alternatives that suit you. Read the labels of whatever you drink and see if that "protein water" is worth the calories. Chances are, it's not. (Oh, and skip the Starbucks. It's too expensive, and it isn't very tasty, anyway. And my stars, the calories!)

Okay, so now you're drinking healthy. What comes next? Try going meatless. It's not that hard. Nearly every restaurant has a whole bunch of options: stir-fried vegetables with rice, pad thai, bean burrito, eggplant parmagiana, mu shu vegetables, cheese enchiladas, veggie pizza.

Unfortunately, many vegetarian options come smothered in cheese — but don't let them do it. Ask for half-cheese or (gasp!) no cheese at all. You would be amazed how good a grilled vegetable sandwich is when it's not buried in heavy, greasy cheese. Or even a "primavera" pizza with only a sprinkling of cheese. Or a white pizza.

You don't have to go meatless for every meal, or even for forever. Try it for a finite period of time, then evaluate it. Decide how you feel and whether it fits your lifestyle. Chances are, you'll be really surprised at how easy and good it is.

Reduce the amount of processed food you eat. Instead of eating pasta sauce from the jar, make your own with tomato sauce, garlic, oregano and basil. Or saute garlic and spices in olive oil and stir it into your pasta. If you have a bread maker, use it — and compare your ingredients with those of your favorite store-bought bread (and be prepared to gasp).

Snack light. Have a handful of nuts instead of that candy bar — the fewer the total ingredients, the better the snack. An apple is portable, easy and tasty (and you can throw the core in the hedge for the critters when you're done.) Add a little low-fat cheese. (Let David talk to you about the benefits of low-fat dairy.) Or make it interesting with some homemade trail mix (light on the salt and sugar, and don't shy away from dried fruit).

Now, if you need the chocolate, have a kiss. Or a nugget. Take a single bite-sized candy bar, peanut butter cup, raspberry stick, licorice stick. What you seek is the taste and texture. Americans seem to think the more, the better — and it's not the case, especially with snacks. Simple, light — and good for you.

Finally, spend a week examining your diet: keep a food diary. Whatever passes your lips, solid and liquid, gets listed. Don't cheat. You'll be amazed how many M&Ms you carelessly pop in your mouth in a week.

Make it simple, make it tasty, make it easy — and make healthier eating work for you.
- Chris

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Again With The Supplements

A co-worker today mentioned that he was on a new program recommended by a friend and fellow co-worker, who is cut and looks great. This friend attributes his physique to proper training and a few simple supplements.

Supplement number one: the all-mighty protein shake.

The second supplement he mentioned was new to me: CLA 55.

He told me it was found in dairy products. My first thought was, "Why supplement. Why not just add more dairy to your diet?"

Being my curious self, and needing to know all things fitness, I did some research on CLA supplementation.

CLA stands for conjugated linoleic acid, which normally is found in dairy products. CLA aids in weight loss and increases muscle mass.

Since we have started feeding cattle scientifically instead of naturally, the amount of CLA in the dairy we consume has dropped by 60 percent — so supplementing in this case might make sense. So far, so good, right?

Then why not supplement with this new kicking product?

Some studies show that the manufactured supplement may not be as good as the real thing. (What a surprise.) There are possible side effects reported with supplementing with CLA, including:
  • high blood sugar (CLA may make your body more resistant to insulin)
  • low HDL levels
  • allergic reactions (hives, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing or swallowing)
  • loose stools
  • indigestion
  • heartburn

This research supports David's Golden Rule: never take a supplement on someone's say-so, no matter how much you trust that person. What works for one person may not work for another, and the supplement may, in fact, be dangerous to you. Always check with your physician first.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Label Education

While shopping with Chris at Trader Joe's, I stopped to look at the canned tuna fish on the shelf.

The Trader Joe brand was lower in sodium and higher in protein than most name-brand manufacturers.

Some of the larger manufacturers of tuna, pre-cook there tuna before canning it. Salt is then added in the process. There is 250 mg of sodium and 13g of protein in a six ounce can of Bumblebee tuna packed in water.

In contrast, Trader Joe's solid white tuna in water has 16g of protein and 45 mg of sodium. The package touts "no salt added."

No matter how healthy you think you are eating, you should always check the nutrition labels ("nutrition facts") to make sure you are getting the best product available.

Also, compare the labels of different brands of the same product because they can contain very different amounts of the same ingredients.

Chris always checks the labels to make sure there are no hidden ingredients. She is constantly amazed at what has meat products in it, like most Hostess products. (Vegetable and/or animal shortening, anyone?)