Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I Admit It: I Love The Biggest Loser!

Yes, every Tuesday evening for the past two years I sit motionless, like an L-shaped Idaho spud, and for 60 minutes (really 2 hours on premier night, like last night) watch reality TV. I'm not a huge TV watcher. I have it on most times for noise in the background while I clean, cook or study, but to sit and watch something for an hour...OK, I am committed to a few things: Prison Break and 24, when it returns. But other than those two, and now The Biggest Loser, not much. And, typically, I have a magazine or book in my lap at the same time -I just get bored and restless easily and feel like if I'm not learning something or expanding my brain, it's a total drain!

So, back to The Biggest Loser. I was in awe, and truly learned a lot about human motivation the first time I watched it. I watched couples weep when physicians showed them their mortality prognoses. Husbands said to wives "We're killing ourselves". Daughters said to fathers "I want you to be around to walk me down the aisle". And the most profound statement came from a beautiful young woman last season who weighed in at 221 pounds. I'll never forget one of her interviews when she explained how she had gained so much weight at such a young age. She indicated that she didn't realize it was happening....that it happened "5 pounds at a time". She said she didn't get on the scale often, but when she did, at times, it was just 5 pounds more than the last time, versus 55 or 75 pounds more than the first time. This is a huge testament to weighing yourself every day, but more on that some other day.

This season the contestants are husbands and wives, and parents and children. I was struck by the Brady & Vicki, a couple with an overweight daughter at home - by their worry and guilt for her condition; By Tom & L.T. (Little Tom), the father and son cab drivers whose entire family is obese and whose sole focus seems to be food - and of the physician's dire predictions for their future health. And lastly, Jerry & Colleen, the father/daughter team. There was a father/daughter team that began last season, but didn't make it very far. These two will pull on your heartstrings. Jerry has the most medical conditions of anyone who has been on The Biggest Loser so far, and his daughter's concern for both her own health and the health of her father are wrenching. I know, it's "reality TV", but I'm just not so sure it's so far off what so many Americans are dealing with today. Busy, fast-paced lives driving people to fast food joints, lack of education and knowledge about food and nutrition, and lack of physical activity...all contributing to the self-induced, lifestyle epidemic we are currently living through. Yes, I'm a Tuesday night TV junkie. And yes, sometimes I cry, too - both for the contestants pain, and also for their successes. And YES, I know it's reality TV, I keep that in mind and I'm not blind to flash & glass. I'm also not blind that all these people have to do to succeed (other than play the reality TV "strategy" game when voting others off), is to exercise 6+ hours a day and mostly eat what they're given or what they prepare as a group. Who wouldn't lose weight if this is all they had to do? I hear so many friends say: "I could look like 'her' too if I had a personal trainer"... an excuse, I know, but there is an advantage when someone else helps or pushes you daily.

I won't say much else, other than I do admit subjecting myself to this type of entertainment (can I call it that?) once a week. And it motivates me. Goals can be achieved, and one person at a time, I hope I'm there for people the same way this crazy broadcast is there for these people.
If you have absolutely nothing to do on Tuesday nights at 8pm, tune in to NBC. I will say, however, it does compete with House, which may be a tough sell!!

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Have you ever received a compliment and not been 100% totally sure how to respond? Well, how about a compliment at the giver's expense? Compliments such as: "I'd love to have your legs!". or "I wish I could have a flat stomach like you but I've had two kids". I don't profess these comments out of arrogance, pride or even a lack of humility - quite the opposite. I provide this information out of an honest desire to provide the giver the answer to what they are requesting, which is typically, "How'd you get like that?". I find that often times when people offer compliments at their expense, they are desirous of the magic bullet or the quick route they perceive is the answer...and it's never a quick never,ever is. I do it all the time when I admire something about someone else - but I've also become quick to begin my compliment with "I'm humble enough to admit" for example "... that I envy your lifestyle...or that I'd love to have your abs."

A few months back my husband and I were at dinner and while in the ladies room, two women approached me and asked who did my hair and who my personal trainer was. That made me stand up straighter and pull my shoulders back! That was a great night! It felt good, but at the same time, I was being asked for a solution to two things: either a new hair style or color, and how to shape up and get leaner. I was only prepared for the first question. It's easy to roll someone else's name of your tongue (my hairstylist), but how do you say, without sounding arrogant or less than humble, that my body is my own masterpiece, and it's a work in progress? (Ooooo - I like the way that sounds - a work in progress!). Maybe that's just how you say it. But to offer that information, you're almost acknowledging that the giver or the questioner, is flawed and that you have the answer.

I am 110% overly sensitive to the feelings of those around me - which is probably why I abhor people who lack humility, a natural sense of "realness", and who ooze arrogance. Can't you just envision the slimy green goopy arrogance oozing from the pores of someone who just feels or acts superior? Ugh!

I recently read that an appropriate response to a compliment at the giver's expense, such as those I mentioned above, is this: "Thanks, but no body's perfect." And how true is that! At the gym today, I was flailing through an unplanned workout, which is simply the worst feeling. I was ending with a few sets of split squats on the Smith Rack with very low weight. I noticed that the woman on the leg press next to me was watching me. I was totally self conscious, so I made eye contact to ease my own insecurities - specifically because whether it was the shorts I had on or the ice cream from the night before, to me, my quads looked huge today, and not in a good way! I'd seen this woman before and knew her to be new to the gym and from what I could tell, new to exercise. I said hello, and she engaged me with one of those compliments..."Can I tell you...", she said, "...yours is the body I'd love to have". I quickly pulled out my recently learned response and replied "Thank you, but trust me, no body is perfect!". It brought a smile to her face and a nice conversation thereafter. I got her name, and made a nice new acquaintance. And before I ended my conversation with her, I made sure to compliment her back by indicating that I'd noticed how hard she worked when she was at the gym, and at times, I wish I had her intensity. Good deed for the day done - and a true compliment at that.

Compliments are a great thing, when they're not at the giver's expense, unless perhaps qualified or specified. What I mean is that if I'm going to give a compliment, it should be straightforward, graceful or with finesse, and without any attachments. "That color is great on you!". "Your arms look fantastic." "I love your new car! I bet you're really proud!". See, no strings. Not..."Your arms look fantastic. I wish mine didn't look like bat wings", or "I love your new car. It really puts mine to shame." Think about it next time to give a compliment. And if your compliment is truly meant to ask the recipient a question - just ask the question - no need to belittle yourself. Find a bit of old Ben Franklin's humility. You will feel better because you organized your words a little more strategically, and the recipient will feel better, as it's easier to answer a question than to defend the compliment so that you can spare the implied insecurities of the giver.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How Our Nutritional Choices Affect the United States' Healthcare System, Part 1

I have had this on my mind for a long time and have struggled with how to speak to the subject without sounding aggressive, accusatory and frankly, mad. But yesterday my husband brought home a brief article from AOL Money & Finance entitled "McDonald's same-store sales rise in August". He had circled a few things and made comments in the margins. It was, to some extent, cathartic to see his passion for the topic and disgust with what we both see is occurring in the United States.

The article basically reports how McDonald's same-store revenues rose globally by 8.5% in August, even with "most restaurant chains experiencing slower sales this year as consumers cut back on discretionary spending due to high gas prices, tight credit and the weak housing market." McDonald's credited the increase to:

  • the dollar menu,
  • the breakfast menu (great...the most important meal of the day is being eaten at McDonald's...excuse me while I collect myself...),
  • the Olympics campaign for the "Southern Style Chicken sandwich and biscuit",
  • the nationwide advertising of the $1.00 Sweet Tea,
  • and "everyday affordability"

I need to stay focused on the above to try to explain where my growing frustration comes from, and then I'll dive into the guts of how this affects our health care system.

So much for the abundant nightly newscasts and concerns over obesity, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc., etc! The article indicates an increase in sales numbers, specifically an 8.5% increase globally, in some areas of Europe an increase of 11.6%, and in Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa, same store sales rose 10%! I notice the quote "everyday affordability" as one of the reasons people patronize McDonald's in this tough economy, but what is the price you are willing to pay for good health?

My frustrations come from the following moral standpoint:

  • doing what's right versus what's en vogue
  • doing what's right versus following the masses
  • doing what's right versus doing what's trendy
  • doing what's right versus what the television advertisements tell you is right
  • doing what's right versus doing what you perceive is easy* or convenient*

And this is not to say that many Americans simply are not educated as to the nutritional lack-of-content of this type of fast food, and I've said before that if you aren't educated on a topic or don't know something, it's difficult to change behavior surrounding it.

Both my husband and a friend today threw another dart at my theory: that perhaps Americans just don't care...don't care that the food is unhealthy, bad for you, causes poor health, contributes empty calories to your diet, is loaded with unhealthy fats, sugar, refined carbohydrates in high quantities, and contains nutritionally-deficient macronutrients such as chemically-laden, factory farmed meats and pesticide doused vegetables...don't care? or just don't know. I shudder at the word ignorant as I find it an offensive word, but my husband uses it so freely in conjunction with people who are uneducated on the intricate and even basic nuances of diet, nutrition and physical activity, that I had to get a better definition. Merriam-Webster defines ignorant as:

1 a: destitute of knowledge or education ;
also : lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified
b: resulting from or showing
lack of knowledge or intelligence 2:
unaware, uninformed

So whereas the term ignorant does apply to those who simply don't know better, I'm going to use the term uninformed, unless, of course, there is a bit of arrogance mixed in with that ignorance, at which point I will use the term(s) arrogantly ignorant (a very unattractive adjective)!

Perhaps people don't care because they don't see the link between this type of eating or these types of nutritional choices (because no one's forcing them to eat from fast food restaurants) to the universal cost of health care and the fact that we (my husband, me, you, my friends, my family) all pay, in dollars...CASH!...for these choices. How? Well first, let me say other countries are already doing it, and are already putting pressure on citizens to make better choices because of a rise in lifestyle-related disease such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer (and this is per the CDC, not my opinion!) and the rising cost of health care, which is already government funded. Don't believe it? Check this out: Japan, Seeking Trimmer Waists, Measures Millions. In an nutshell, Japan is getting fatter and unhealthier due to and increasing "western" influence as it relates to fast food and nutrition. Because Japanese citizens health care is either covered under public health care or through their work, the government instituted an annual waistline measuring campaign for citizens between the age of 40 and 74 with limits placed at 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women. If their waistline is above the limit, they are referred to nutritional counseling, or if the problem is not resolved, financial penalties are to be placed on the companies and/or local governments. Americans were so disturbed and affected with the fact that China could have done this, it made national news! But I digress. We have an impending promise from both presidential candidates to institute some form of universal health care. Universal health care is health care coverage which is provided and most times, mandated, to all citizens of a country. Funding of Universal health care is typically by the government, taxation and/or some private/public industry (employers). As health care costs rise, taxes usually rise to accommodate the increase. We already participate in much of this financial responsibility for the health care of our citizens through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and through the monthly premiums we pay for our health insurance coverage...we pay, whether we use it or not! And I won't even comment on how much we, as taxpayers, pay out in taxes to cover those who have elected not to carry health coverage whether it because of cost or choice, as they use emergency rooms (admitted as uninsured) and local clinics, which are subsidized by our tax dollars. So, you don't think or believe you could end up paying for your chronic McDonald's' habit or your neighbor's chronic Checkers or Wendy's habits? The financial impact to us could be likened to what's happening with our current mortgage industry. And while I'm not a financial or business wizard, I've kept up on the subject (who can't, with it being in the news everyday).

It's the Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac issue. In another nutshell (and nuts are great sources of healthy fats, remember??!!!), our government has taken control of these two mortgage giants who own or guarantee 50% of our country's' mortgages. Once again, through taxpayers dollars, the government will provide financial aid to subsidize these companies, most likely to the tune of billions of dollars. So, again, you and I are paying to help support Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, even if our mortgage doesn't happen to be with them and even if we aren't having financial problems that put our homes in jeopardy.

My growing frustration and analogy to the McDonald's article and healthy living is about making good, educated decisions for the health and welfare of yourself and your family, and NOT expecting others or the government to fund your poor decisions. Many food choices are made because consumer are "uninformed" because someone told them it was their best choice...just like many citizens who were bamboozled into signing a mortgage they could not afford. Many people, however, make a choice to eat unhealthy, to smoke, or drink excessively and yet complain about the cost of health care. Many Americana's were acutely aware they couldn't afford the lifestyle or mortgage they agreed to and now complain of their dire straits.

Daily choices have consequences that require ownership. As insignificant as a single choice may seem (lunch at a fast food restaurant), made over and over, it can have a major impact on your health. Frankly, the same can be said of your life, relationship(s), marriage and/or career.

Do what you wish, eat what you like, but don't ask me to be responsible for your choices and decisions. Be accountable for your actions, and the consequences (short- and long- term) of your actions.

*Note the asterisks way up in the beginning of the blog where I tagged the words easy and convenient as it related to the fast food breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Getting in your car to drive to the fast food restaurant, through the drive-thru to pick up your fast food, and then back to the office within the hour or half-hour you get for lunch is not only a poor time-management decision, but also a poor environmental decision with the price of gas and our overuse of gas-guzzling, polluting vehicles. Easy and convenient, from my standpoint, would be to use the 1/2 hour the day or night before that you usually spend on the couch in front of Oprah or a soap opera or a gossip show (or heaven forbid a repeat sitcom) to plan your breakfast and/or dinner and pack your lunch for the next day. During that hour or half hour you get for lunch, now you can read the newspaper, catch up on that book you've been wanting to read or to socialize with other health-conscious friends. Maybe you'd even have time to take a quick walk or climb some stairwells before you eat, to combat our ever-so-increasing sedentary lifestyles. Yes, planning takes time, but it's also smart and a necessary part of eating clean and healthy. No less important in my mind than cleaning your toilets and taking out the trash. The are essential chores, and you do them because you have to. Ronald McDonald isn't going to take out that trash, and the dude from Wendy's isn't going to clean your toilets. Maybe they shouldn't be who you rely on to provide food for your body or that of your family.

I'm anticipating Part 2 of this topic to be a personal challenge for those who choose fast food because of the "everyday affordability". I'm going to see if I can price out breakfast and lunch at McDonald's (because of the dollar menu), and then try to feed my two person family on that cost for 3-5 days from the grocery store and my typically planning, excluding dinner because I think it's simply ridiculous to spend good money on a dinner out at a fast food restaurant - geez!

Stay tuned!!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

RebelHealth Runs, Jumps, and Climbs Tall Buildings!

On Saturday September 27th, my husband and I will be running in the New York Men's Health Urbanathlon. It's a combination of short distance running and urban obstacles. In between each "leg" of running (about 3 miles) is an obstacle of some sort: culverts to crawl through, cargo nets to crawl over, head-height hurdles to climb over, walls to scale and lastly, 50 flights of stairs (up AND down) of the World Trade Center #7. This race is mostly men, although in YouTube videos from last year's race, I did see a few women participating. For me, it'll be about simply finishing!!

I'm excited to announce that we will both be running in Under Armour / RebelHealth attire!! Introducing the first RebelHealth shirt! And yes, that's my hunky hubby modeling his black and white version. We were just back from the gym and when we photographed my shirt (the color version), the image from the neck up...just wasn't something I was interested in publishing! But seriously, a big shout out to BigFrog in Clearwater, FL. Nate jazzed up our shirts in no time flat. Thanks!

I enjoy entering competitions like this for several reasons. First, it's definitely going to be a physical and mental challenge for me. I get bored with exercise routines easily, and the training program for this race, although I haven't followed it to the letter, was somewhat fun and definitely functional - lots of functional exercises! Second, it's and opportunity to seriously rely on my hubby - he's a great motivator - and probably the only one, other than my brother, that I'd trust to get me through this type of course. And lastly, it's an opportunity to get away for a long weekend, see a show, hoof it around the city like we so love to do, and be active, all at the same time. My kind of time away! Semi-healthy and fun!

Adventurous vacations are a great idea, especially if you've fallen into a rut of doing the same things over and over. Taking yourself out of your comfort zone is a great way both enhance the vacation experience and invigorate your fitness routine. The Internet is flush with companies offering packaged adventure vacations like rafting, hiking, biking, skiing, name it and there's probably a company who'll set it up for you. Even if it's just taking an exercise class that you've never taken before at your vacation hotel - mix it up! Both your body and your mind will benefit.

So, wish us luck on the last three weeks of training, and then on race day. Pray for no blisters, no face-plants and no"tripping" up the stairwells - and for strong hearts, lungs and muscles!

Monday, September 8, 2008

How Clean Are You Eating?

A few nights ago, my husband and I were headed out to dinner and a movie, and he asked: "Knowing what I know, and that I think we currently eat pretty 'clean', could we possibly eat any 'cleaner'?"

Though I know my personal definition of clean eating or eating clean, I dug a bit to see if there was a general consensus. Obviously, there is no Merriam-Webster definition for the term or concept, however, generally speaking around and about the Internet and health & fitness magazines & industries, clean eating represents a lifestyle of making the most wholesome nutritional choices for you and your family. I wouldn't say that it encompasses supplementation of any sort, because if you are eating clean, you are ATTEMPTING to get as many essential and beneficial nutrients needed by your body from whole foods.

But what exactly are "whole foods"? Good question. Based on each individual's level of education about food & nutrition, your definition will vary. You can't achieve a higher level or more healthful level of eating if what you don't know what that consists of and what the underlying science behind it is (again, I warn against magazine snippets that say "STUDIES SHOW:..." - what study? how big? how long? blind, double blind? controlled? who funded it?...), and the more you know, the more you will be aware of what "the masses" don't know. You can't eat healthier if you don't know what healthy is.

For example:
If you don't know that Crisco or lard is a saturated fat and that it's inferior to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (if you even know what these are), you can't make the proper selection.

If you don't know how many calories are in the foods you prepare, you can't say "I eat 1200 calories per day".

If you don't know the definition of processing and refining, you can't say I eat all natural, unprocessed and unrefined foods. Heck, cheese and milk are refined (cultured and pasteurized, respectively), as are vinegar and ketchup, and I wouldn't say they are excluded from someones diet who is a clean eater.

We probably do need to break down each of the components of clean eating, which, stepping backwards for a second, would consist of consuming whole foods. I like the definition Wikipedia provides for whole foods:

Whole foods are those that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed
and refined as little as possible before being consumed. They typically do not
contain added ingredients, such as sugar, salt, or fat. Often confused with
"organic food" (i.e., organically-grown food), whole foods are not necessarily
organic, nor are organic foods necessarily whole, although they do share a
number of traits, such as an avoidance of chemically-assisted agricultural
techniques. Because of the lack of basic processing, many whole foods have a
very short shelf life and are not easily sold outside of farmers' markets.
Examples of whole foods include unpolished grains; fruits and vegetables;
unprocessed meat, poultry, and fish; and non-homogenized milk.

For some, it is preferable to eat whole foods raw to obtain the maximum nutritional benefit, although this raises concerns of food poisoning. Whole foods are easily assimilated and absorbed readily by the body. Whole foods are nutrient rich and are thought to promote health because they are a natural source of vitamins and minerals. The term “Whole Food” has been known to describe any food that offers a complete balance in nutritional value while in its natural state. Whole foods typically include any raw fruits and vegetables, as well as nutrient-dense nuts, seeds and sprouts. Some contend that it is preferable to eat whole foods raw in order to obtain their maximum nutritional benefit.

Now, specifically speaking about each of the major components of our diet, let's take a look at what eating clean in each of these groups would entail.

Specifically, lean protein in it's most natural state, meaning minimally processed, without chemical fillers, preservatives, etc. I say minimally processed versus processed here because most all animal proteins are processed to some extent. I suppose if you kill your own chicken, pluck it, skin it, wash it and then cook it - yes, chicken can reach your plate unprocessed - but how often are many of this doing it ourselves? Because it has to go from the farm to the factory where it's "processed" from it's live state into that which we consume, it is processed. What we strive to achieve is minimally processed here. Lacking preservatives and fillers, injected water and salt, and definitely without breading, coating, seasoning, etc. We want to do this part ourselves so we can control the components of the flavor, versus succumb to whatever stable chemicals the manufacturer uses to flavor it. When shopping, this would exclude pre-packaged deli meats, although there are a few, Boars Head for one, that claim no nitrates, sulfates, etc.

Let's prioritize within this category with this in mind: "the fewer the legs the better" - in other words, fish, shellfish, beans/legumes and eggs are tops (no legs). The healthy fats in the seafood, the added fiber and nutrients in the beans & legumes, the high quality protein in the egg white and the high quality protein and the vitamins & minerals in the egg yolk (just watch the quantity of yolks if you have high cholesterol) make these rank at the top of the list. Chicken and other two-legged protein rank in second place, with the leaner options being better choices. And, finally, our standard four-legged beef, pork, etc. are still in the mix, just try to plan for them less frequently than the others. Don't get me wrong, I love beef, and think it's an essential part of our diet - but I choose grass-fed, lean cuts, and / or go for bison or other free-roaming rumen.

And, now how do we prepare our lean protein? Like this: First, we cut the excess fat from it, because fat from meats, though it adds "some" flavor, is saturated. Period, end of story. You can criticize me for trimming every single piece of meat I buy and think "what a waste", but what I see landing on the cutting board is like a totally gross tub of Crisco or lard - greasy, white, thick saturated fat that never breaks down in your body and remains in that solid state forever...Lord only knows which branch of your arteries (legs, heart?) it's going to stick in today! Second, we choose natural, flavorful spices and herbs with which to season the mean to add flavor if we so desire. And third, we either bake it, broil it, pan sear it, roast it...whatever, but with healthy oils - no solid fats. Why in the world would you add back an unhealthy fat to something you just rid of it? And healthy oils are our friends! Olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil...all great ways to cook your lean protein and add healthy fats to your diet at the same time.

Again, in their most natural state. Frozen is great too, as the flash freezing process tends to preserve many of the vitamins and minerals. Just be sure to pay attention to the EWG's Pesticide List and choose organic when pesticide levels in standard grocer's chosen produce is high.

Also, use variety as a strategy in your planning. Variety will give you a more diversified blend of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and all the other healthful benefits of vegetables. Try new things, even if you don't know what to do with them. If you're reading this, you have a computer. Google your new vegetable's name plus the word recipe and you'll be flush with options! Tonight, for the fourth time, I tried to add butternut squash to our dinner. I have wanted to add it for a while, but couldn't find a way to prepare it that rocked my world. But I found a recipe in First Magazine, of all things - grocery store checkout line pick up - and there was a little snippet recipe for butternut squash fries. Tried it tonight and without telling my husband what they were, he guessed sweet potato fries and loved them. Hooray, squash now has a new place in my vegetable drawer! And it only took four tries!

Vegetables are carbohydrates, but their counts are very low, and they are good sources of fiber. Fill up on them. Try two sides of veggies with dinner versus the standard starch. I know people who blindly, because that what they've always done and that's what their mother did, will base a dinner on protein, starch,...and starch. No non-starchy vegetables! Make non-starchy veggies a priority with the dinner meal as opposed to other, higher sources of carbohydrates, especially if you tend to be sedentary after dinner. My least active time of the day is after dinner, and I don't "use" much energy during that time, so I load my carbs up during they day when I know I'll need and use the energy - find that balance!

And again, in their most natural state. This means not from a can, definitely not from juice and not from applesauce (no skin). Like with vegetables, use the EWG's Pesticide List.

I'm working on some research about the strategic timing of eating fruit, but available time's been low so I haven't finished it, but it is intriguing how the body breaks down fructose as compared to the other "-0se's"!

Always incorporate fruit into your breakfast. It's a great way to start the day, it always "goes" with breakfast, and you need that energy when you first wake up. It's a great snacking option, especially the portable types like apples, plums, peaches, pears, bananas...those that you can eat without peeling or needing a knife and cutting board. And many fruits fit into a light-style or spa lunch such as into any salad, on many sandwiches (apples compliment avocados and many cheese in sandwiches, wraps and on salads; mangoes blend really nicely with both sweet and salty).

Nuts are a snacker's heaven! It is easy to overindulge though, so for me, it's been good to learn how much 1 oz of walnuts looks like, or how many calories (average) in one almond (the answer is around 7) - this way, along with getting healthy fats, dietary fiber and seriously high quality nutrients, I control my calories. Just yesterday my husband and I were heading out to run some errands about 1/2 hour before I knew I was "due for food"...and I said, as I was grabbing a medium apple (not small- didn't have one- see "Fruits & Vegetables are Carbohydrates" on June 16, 2008 blog):

"Will you grab me seven almonds?".
"Seven?", he said? "Exactly seven?".
He smiled slyly, because he knew he'd done the very same thing at some point!

I chose seven almonds (@ 7 calories each = 49 (OK - about 50 calories)) because I knew the medium apple was around 120 calories, and I just needed about 200 calories as a snack to get me through till we could get home and I could make a good lunch. Why 200? Because I have spent (or "invested", is probably a better word) the time to understand calories - the calorie content of food and how many I need for meals and snacks. The great thing about this investment is that it's a one time investment. Once you know your main food choices, you don't have to re-invest, but rather, just use the information to make a lifetime of healthy, educated decisions! So, with my personal snack total at about 200 calories (2-3 snacks a day), my apple and almonds did the trick on the fly. Voila!

Beans and legumes are just simply smart, high quality food choices, and are so incredibly easy to add to your diet. And yes, you can use the canned kind for a time saver, but look for those with no salt added. Eden Organics has a great selection.

  • For breakfast, add them to scrambled eggs or omelets.
  • Lunch & Dinner, add to soups and salads, smash into paste and lather on sandwiches or in wraps, or create an entire side with beans or added beans.
  • Snacks - hummus! It's really catching on! And unlike Salsa, which some "profess too loudly" as being a "perfect food" for many reasons, you can eat hummus with crudites (raw veggies), whereas I don't see many people eating salsa with veggies as the dipper. What do they dip with? CHIPS! Ugh, don't get me started.

Whole grains are just that: the whole grain, which includes the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Can't picture it? Think of a whole kernel of corn. With it's outer hard "shell" (bran), it's inner "body" (endosperm), and the tiny little "seed" (germ) in the lower center of the kernel. This is an all inclusive grain! Common whole grains that you can find in your supermarket or better yet, your local health food store, would be whole or steel cut oats, brown rice, barley, bulgur, kamut, quinoa (although this is technically a seed), millet, and so forth. Many of these may sound Greek to you, but trust me, search them out and use them just like rice. Some of the larger kernels like kamut and whole barley (not pearled - it's got the bran removed) can take a good bit to cook, but it's worth it for the nutrients and fiber. Just manage your time well, take advantage of overnight soaking and make a large batch for the week so you always have a grain available.

So far I've only found one brand of processed or refined breads/wraps/muffins that uses no flour, but rather sprouted grains. I don't know how they do it, but Food For Life brand has wraps and bread that have the most incredible ingredient list - I couldn't make it more natural or taste better myself! I just pulled out the bread from my freezer and take a look at this: INGREDIENTS: ORG SPROUTED WHEAT, ORG SPROUTED BARLEY, ORG SPROUTED MILLET, ORG MALTED BARLEY, ORG SPROUTED LENTILS, ORG SPROUTED SOYBEANS, ORG SPROUTED SPELT, FILTERED WATER, FRESH YEAST, SEA SALT. I love this!!! I can pronounce every ingredient and see no chemicals!! (can you tell healthy stuff gets me excited?)

Olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, corn oil, sunflower oil...all great sources of mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Use them to cook with (pan saute), bake with (spray on meats to seal in juices), dress salads, add body to soups and salads. You don't need a lot, because at 9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram for protein and fat, a little goes a long way in controlling calories. But use them - don't deprive yourself of healthy fats, but do deprive yourself of unhealthy fats!

You can also get good fats from avocados, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, and many of the fatty fishes.

Well, I've covered all the components of what I consider "clean eating", but what I didn't mention is the opposite. I always prefer recommending what TO DO versus what NOT TO DO, but I have to make a few mentions...

  • In restaurants other than health food cafes, you can bet that if you order a wrap of any kind, it's a flour based wrap with little nutritional value - and may be worse than bread. I'm not saying bread is bad, either. When we dine out at a nice restaurant, I will occasionally dip a lovely piece of bread in some olive oil, but it's not Wonder Bread and it's not butter. But back to the wraps - even if it's green or red (spinach or tomato, respectively), avoid it.
  • Choosing restaurants - choose wisely. Most chain restaurants and middle of the road restaurants order their food in bulk or from the franchise, and it is not fresh, it's not made to order, and it is full of unhealthy fats,'ll actually probably never know how bad it is for you. Rather, use eating out as an occasion versus something to do tonight because you don't know what to make for dinner. (Manage your time and plan, people!) Go to quality restaurants where everything is made to order, and where the restaurant gets is produce, meat and/or seafood locally. These tend to be the finer restaurants, but you can ask specifically how things are prepared and make requests that are honored, versus run through a cook line.
  • Boxed foods are typically over-processed, over-refined and contain way too many ingredients we can't pronounce! Mac & Cheese, cereal, pasta, crackers, cookies, most bread, most wraps, any meat that's pre-breaded or pre-marinated, packaged lunch and deli meats, and so on. Basically, when shopping at the grocery store, stick to the perimeter where you'll find milk, cheese, yogurt, kefir, eggs, lean protein sources (beef, chicken, pork), fruits, and vegetables. Then, hit your local health food store for bulk grains, seeds, and beans.
  • Chips: Pringles, Tostitos/Doritos, cheese puffs (although I do think the leopard on the Cheetos package is enticing!) - take them out of your vocabulary.

And by the way, the movie we saw that night when I was asked the question about clean eating was Traitor with Don Cheadle - really intense, but really good, and I think we had sushi and wine for dinner.

Onward we go with healthy choices!