Little Reminders

I just got back from my college reunion this weekend. I was close to my all time highest weight by the time I graduated college and it was no mystery to me how that happened. In fact, aside from seeing Alex and other friends, the thing I was most excited about was the FOOD. There is a Mexican place that has insanely cheap and strong margaritas and nachos with a flat fee for unlimited toppings. There’s a bar with $3 well drinks and beers, the best tater tots you’ll ever have and amazing burgers. There is a place that has pancakes that are slowly cooked and puff up about half an inch before it gets to you.

And believe you, I ate all of this. I tried to keep moderation in mind. Desperately. I was fairly successful but came home to an expected weight gain.

I follow New York Times Well and I love it and of course, the first feed I open is cautioning that women with Type 2 Diabetes are more likely to have heart disease than their male counterparts. I am someone who sometimes struggles with high levels of A1C which is a predictor in diabetes. It has gotten better with weight loss but I am still on the higher end of normal. And I had to reflect back on my weekend and ask myself if I had to indulge as much as I did. Is it worth it in the end?

I need to start learning how to ask myself these questions in the moment. I am going back to the diet I outlined in my last post because that diet steers you towards foods that have a low glycemic index which basically means they don’t spike your blood sugar, making it a healthier diet for most people and especially those who are predisposed to diabetes.

I will leave you with a photo of Alex and I being silly at a thrift shop. She bought those glasses because all is right with the world.

Image

Advertisements

Cleaning Fruits and Veggies with Vinegar

I just saw this really great thing on Pinterest about how plain old white vinegar is a great rinse for cleaning fruits and veggies. I figured I would do a little research to see how effective it really is.

Photo from Flickr user Jason Popesku

Photo from Flickr user Jason Popesku

I had always thought that just rinsing things in the sink was fine, so why the extra step? According to the CDC, produce is actually the biggest source of foodborne illness outbreaks. Fresh produce has a lot of opportunities for contamination during its long journey to your plate from contaminants in the soil and water, to unhygienic handling during harvest, transit, and stocking. By the time that apple makes it home with you, it has probably already been handled by several people. 

Contribution of Different Food Commodities (Categories) to Estimated Domestically-Acquired Illnesses and Deaths, 1998-2008

Contribution of Different Food Commodities (Categories) to Estimated Domestically-Acquired Illnesses and Deaths, 1998-2008

So, does a vinegar solution really do anything to help clean produce? A 2003 study from the Journal of Food Protection showed that a vinegar wash of 10% vinegar reduced the numbers of bacteria present on strawberries by about 90%, and reduced the numbers of viruses by 95%. They also tested products that are sold as veggie washes and found that plain old vinegar was often more effective.

Sources:

http://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/attribution-image.html#foodborne-illnesses

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12597475

http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm256215.htm

 

Work Snacks Friday! Microwave Popcorn Magic

I’m not gonna lie, snacks are a very important part of my work day. So, for the good of humanity I’m going to start doing some serious investigative research on new and exciting snacks that are easy to keep around at work. And thus, the blog’s Work Snacks Friday series was born.

My first discovery is that you can make microwave popcorn with nothing more than a bowl and popcorn kernels. You don’t even need any oil or spray or anything beyond: microwave, bowl with lid, popcorn.

All you need for microwave popcorn at work is: popcorn, microwave safe bowl with lid, and a microwave.

All you need for microwave popcorn at work is: popcorn, microwave safe bowl with lid.

A few weeks ago I saw this great post up on The Kitchn showing that you can microwave your own popcorn in just a brown paper bag. So cool! But…I was reading the comments and some people reported examples of the paper bags catching on fire in the microwave. Now, I’m not sure how often this actually occurs, but I really don’t want to be the person who burns down the microwave or sets off the fire alarm.

Further research turned up that you can actually just microwave plain popcorn kernels in any microwave safe bowl with a plate on top. Cool! But…I don’t have a microwave safe bowl of the proper size at work. I ended up buying a microwave popcorn bowl that had excellent reviews on Amazon and it is awesome! For $7 for the bowl and $3 for the popcorn kernels I am set for snacks for several weeks. Although you don’t need any oil or anything else, I recommend using a little olive oil for flavor and getting creative with some seasonings (garlic salt, dried rosemary, cumin or curry).

Microwave popcorn magic

And two minutes later: microwave popcorn magic!

A few microwave popcorn facts:

  • Workers in microwave popcorn factories have been diagnosed with a rare lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans that is linked to a chemical used in artificial butter flavor. There is currently no evidence that just eating the popcorn will hurt you. But, I would rather not eat something that has been shown to cause life-threatening illness in people who are handling it regularly. (Washington Post)
  • A chemical used in the bags for microwave popcorn called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) has been shown to cause liver, testicular and pancreatic cancer in animals and infertility in women. The chemical is so pervasive that it’s detectable in the blood of 95 percent of Americans. (AARP)
  • Popcorn is a pretty good source of fiber- it has even more fiber per serving than oranges or carrots.  (Mayo Clinic)
Look at all that fiber!

Look at all that fiber!

Do you have any suggestions for Work Snacks? Let us know in the comments!

 

Sugar on the Brain: What’s the Deal with Sugar Addiction?

“We don’t abuse lettuce, turnips and oranges…But when a highly processed food is eaten, the body may go haywire. Nobody abuses corn as far as I know, but when you process it into Cheetos, what happens?”

Dr. Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

 There are a lot of books and diets out there that talk about food and addiction, but what does research on this actually show? A Princeton study from 2009 made the argument that sugar can act on the brain in similar ways as addictive drugs. The study argued that rats who were fed sugar showed signs of addiction such as bingeing, withdrawal, craving- even neurochemical changes to the brain-  in a similar fashion as they would to addictive substances such as cocaine.

Sugar_2xmacro

In the study, rats were shown to “binge” on sugar when they were hungry, which provokes a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Even after only a month, the brain structures of these rats had changed due to the increased dopamine levels. Dopamine is a key mechanism for the brain’s reward and motivation systems, and similar changes to the are also seen in the brains of rats given addictive drugs like cocaine or heroin.

When the researchers took away the sugar supply, the rats showed signs of withdrawal. The brain levels of dopamine dropped, which caused symptoms of withdrawal such as anxiety, teeth chattering, paw shaking, and disengagement. When sugar was reintroduced, the rats worked who had binged on sugar worked harder to get it and they consumed 23% more sugar than they had before.

One thing that has been shown to ease cravings for food is…exercise! Several studies have shown that exercise can also modulate the brain’s motivation and reward structures. A study reported in the New York Times showed that after beginning a regimen of regular exercise, in this case running, participants started feeling satiated faster without even realizing it:

“A related study published in December looked at the effects of moderate exercise, the equivalent of brisk jogging. It found that after 12 weeks, formerly sedentary, overweight men and women began recognizing, without consciously knowing it, that they should not overeat.

But after three months of exercise, the volunteers consumed fewer calories throughout the day when they had the high-calorie shake than the lower-calorie one. Exercise “improves the body’s ability to judge the amount of calories consumed and to adjust for that afterward,” says Catia Martins, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, who led the study.”

 

Healthy Restart Day 1

I’m going to give you a brief background on me and my weight/healthiness struggles. I’m sure this will come up again but briefly, I was a pretty active child, became fairly unhappy in middle school and then proceeded to gain about 10lbs a year until I was 22 years old. I’ve tried various diets (like most people who struggle with weight) but finally I bucked down, saw a nutritionist, adopted a low fat, moderate carbohydrate diet and lost 70lbs. I started that journey around October of 2010. I was successfully maintaining that for a while but the past two years my weight has slowly but surely crept up on me and now I’m about 15lbs over where I was.

This is not meant to be a diet blog but this restart diet is meant to counteract unhealthy choices I’ve made and in particular — my addiction to sugar. I have a lot of life events coming up. I’m going to my college reunion with Alex in a couple of weeks. I am getting married in October. I am going on my honeymoon in December. And, more importantly, I am not feeling that great in my body. So for the next two weeks I’m going to do a “restart” if you will and try to chronicle my progress here. This is not just a weight loss attempt but more at getting my body back into a healthy habit after a particularly long and cold winter.

I also would love some people to check in with so — let me know if you want to join me! I am going to take a break from calorie counting and just try and listen to the cues in my body. I am going to put my scale in the closet and only check it in two weeks. I’m a compulsive weigh-er and I’m trying to break that bad habit as well.

Here are the rules:

  • Only whole grains
  • Only fat free dairy
  • Nothing with added sugar
  • All the whole fruits and vegetables I want. Limit starchy ones like potatoes.
  • Lean proteins — 99% lean beef/turkey; chicken breasts; tofu; seafood; beans; lentils; eggs
  • Brothy soups (based in chicken or vegetable and/or tomato)
  • 6-8 cups of water a day
  • Limit caffeine (I am going to try and stick to one a day — either coffee with skim milk or skim lattes)
  • Limit fat with the exception of a tiny amount of healthy fats — here’s to you avocados and olive oil
  • Nothing fried unless doing it at home with cooking spray
  • No juice or dried fruit or soda
  • No alcohol
  • No nuts

And that’s basically my plan right now. I probably should have started later as I desperately needed to go grocery shopping but I made do with what I had on hand. I went shopping this weekend and will try and come up with inventive meals within these parameters.

Breakfast

I bought these “Gator Egg” Avocados that come in what looks like a large egg carton.

GatorEggs

They’re marketed as “single serve” avocados. I’ve been really into avocado toast lately so I mashed one up, added a little coarse sea salt and pepper and spread it onto a Light Multigrain English Muffin. I also stopped by Starbucks and got a tall non fat latte that I drank when I got to work.

photo 2(1)

Snack

I am a big snacker. At around 12pm I had a grapefruit — I peel and eat mine like an orange. Is that weird?

photo 1(1)

Lunch

This is where I wish I had more groceries. All I could whip up that fit the bill was this. Three “think thin” brown rice cakes, 1 cup of fat free cottage cheese and a gala apple. I hope to get more inventive with this in the future.

photo(5)

Snack

Yes, again. I have some 94% fat free single serve popcorn in my desk at all times and I popped that up in the company microwave. I smell up the place but it’s delicious. I ate it before I photographed it but you get the idea.

Dinner

My fiance and I went out to dinner to Schnippers before we saw Captain America 2 (which was actually really fun). I ordered their Asian Mish Mosh without the croutons or crispy noodles. I added Southwestern chicken to the top and got their low fat balsamic on the side. There was no fat free option but I tend to use dressing sparingly anyway so this counted toward my “healthy fat” quotient.

photo(5)

I plan to post a few more complete days of this restart diet over the next few weeks. I did a lot of grocery shopping this weekend and am well stocked to eat food that’s slightly more exciting than cottage cheese.

Alex is going to post soon about the science of sugar addiction soon! So look for that.

Probiotics 101

“To say a product contains Lactobacillus is like saying you’re bringing George Clooney to a party. It may be the actor, or it may be an 85-year-old guy from Atlanta who just happens to be named George Clooney. With probiotics, there are strain-to-strain differences.”

Gregor Reid, director of the Canadian Research and Development Center for Probiotics

George Clooney wants to make sure you get live and active probiotic cultures

George Clooney wants to make sure you get live and active probiotic cultures

I’ve definitely noticed that there is a lot of new research is looking at probiotics and how they may be involved in helping with everything from stomach issues like IBS to improvements in stress management and strengthening the immune system. But is there any research to back these claims? Is there a difference between regular old yogurt and yogurt that is advertised as having special probiotic benefits?

Probiotics are living microorganisms (often bacteria but they can also be other types of microorganisms like yeasts) that are shown to have some sort of health benefits. I most often think of probiotics as being in yogurt, but they are also in all kinds of fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, miso, pickles, and kimchi (future posts on specific probiotic foods to come!). Probiotics can also be taken in a pill or powdered form as a supplement.

Look for "live and active cultures" on the label

Look for “live and active cultures” on the label

The American Gastroenterology Association provides a great comparison of different probiotic products specifically tested for gastrointestinal disorders. This is important because different strains of probiotics have been shown to be helpful for different conditions. It is also important to note that the FDA has not yet approved any health claims for probiotics.

 

SOME RULES OF THUMB FOR PICKING A PROBIOTIC

  • In yogurt, look for the phrase “contains active cultures” on the label to confirm that the product includes the living organisms that make probiotics work. Lots of products, like pickles and sauerkraut, are pasteurized before being sold which kills the live bacteria. If the bacteria aren’t active, they can’t do their thing.  (USA Today)
  • Some of the common strains to look for include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species such as: bifidobacterium lactis HN109; lactobacillus reuteri ATCC55730; lactobacillus rhamnosus GG9LGG; and lactobacillus casei DN-114 001. (USA Today )
  • In general, not all probiotics are the same, and they don’t all work the same way. Each group of bacteria has different species and each species has different strains. This is important to remember because different strains have different benefits for different parts of your body. For example, Lactobacillus casei  has been shown to support the immune system and to help food move through the gut, but Lactobacillus bulgaricus may help relieve symptoms of lactose intolerance. (American Gastroenterological Association)
  • Beware of products that promise a specific health improvement. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any specific health claims for probiotics. Many probiotic products are sold as dietary supplements, which do not require FDA approval prior to marketing (which also means the product hasn’t been tested by the FDA for safety or effectiveness). (NIH)
  • Remember to store your probiotic according to the package instructions and make sure the product has a sell-by or expiration date. Probiotics are living organisms. Even if they are dried and dormant, like in a powder or capsule, they must be stored properly or they can die. Some require refrigeration whereas others do not. They also have a shelf-life, so make sure you use them before the expiration date on the package. (American Gastroenterological Association)

 

For more information on probiotics here are some great articles:

American Gastroenterological Association – Probiotics: What They Are and What They Can Do for You http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/diet-medications/probiotics#Choosing a Probiotic

American Gastroenterological Association – A Gastroenterologist’s Guide to Probioticshttp://www.cghjournal.org/article/S1542-3565(12)00369-2/fulltext#tbl2

NIH National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine – Oral Probiotics: An Introductionhttp://nccam.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm

How to Regrow Scallions

Growing in the sun

Growing in the sun.

I love the idea of growing my own vegetables. However, I also live in a small apartment in Manhattan and I’m pretty sure it would be illegal to grow tomatoes on my fire escape. New York is also an expensive city and I’m frequently looking for ways to budget. As a fairly active Pinterest user, there are seemingly miraculous oh-my-god-have-to-try-these tips all over the site. However, when I caught a glimpse of this tip it seemed so simple I knew I had to try. I was anxious to see if it was true — scallions can regrow if you simply put them in water on a windowsill. And it just so happened I already had some scallions sitting in my fridge. Fate. After I used them in this recipe (which is delicious — you should try it!) I “planted” the bulbs in water and crossed my fingers.
I was nervous about my experiment for two reasons:
1) All my glass cups and jars were dirty so all I had was a mug which doesn’t allow light through.
2) As I live in a small New York City apartment — I don’t get much direct light.
Sure enough, after only half a week, these babies were sprouting over the edge of my mug (you can even see the outer layer is where I chopped them for dinner).
scallionmug

Look at ’em go! Shout out to my Sing for Hope mug.

These guys were on my windowsill for about four weeks and here are the tips I have for you:
  • I ended up transferring these to clear jam jar and they seemed to grow even faster.
  • I changed the water every few days because it would start getting a little smelly if I didn’t.
  • It seems like every time these regenerated they got one layer thinner so this is a limited-use project. By the time I had chopped them down for the fourth time they were looking a little sad and I tossed them.
  • Make sure you have some recipes that need scallions! These grow quickly! Alex and I are going to come up with some recipes for you to use these with really soon.