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Last week, clinical psychologist and UMass medical school professor Sherry Pagoto wrote a great thought piece in Psychology Today on the idea that we avoid exercise because we don’t like to be uncomfortable. I thought it made a lot of sense, and then I started thinking about how it could apply to nutrition: do we struggle with sticking to a plan because we’ve gotten so used to being “comfortable”? Think about it. We’re used to grabbing a piece of dark chocolate when we crave it, used to having a snack ready the moment we’re hungry, used to having too much food rather than to little. It occurred to me how bad I am at being hungry, which made me think of the Hunger Games, and how the people form District 12 could survive hardship because they “knew how to be hungry” (because sometimes I think about how I would do if the Hunger Games happened to me). And I thought about the concept of being “hangry” – the idea that it’s socially acceptable to be mean and angry just because you are hungry, reinforced by the hilarious Snickers commercials (linking you to the one with Manziel, you’re welcome). I think some people go the whole day without being hungry, and we’re taught this is a good strategy for losing or maintaining weight.

But what if it’s not? What if it’s good for us to notice our hunger. To get comfortable being uncomfortable for a little while.  And since I think some forms of intermittent fasting can be very helpful in rediscovering your hunger cues, I am re-sharing this post from last year. 

Fasting Plans 

IF comes in a variety of plans and structures. The most popular of these are:

Periodic Fasting – eat normally for 5 days of the week. For 2 non-consecutive days, reduce calorie intake, usually to 500-600 calories. You can spread out the calories into smaller snacks or eat one meal after 24 hours of fasting (so, say you started at 7 pm the night before, you could eat 500-600 calories at 7 pm the next day).

Restricted Eating Period – eat normally, but only for a set window during the day. Most people using this plan eat during an 8 hour window starting around 10 am – 12 pm and lasting until 6 – 8 pm. This essentially equates to skipping breakfast and making lunch your first meal.

Benefits of Fasting

Supporters of intermittent fasting have claimed a wide range of benefits from the practice, including

  • Reduced inflammation
  • Weight loss
  • Faster metabolism
  • Lower LDL and total cholesterol levels
  • Improved blood glucose and insulin levels
  • Protection against cardiovascular disease

Drawbacks

  • Sugar cravings. When you first start out fasting, the body will need to adjust between using carbs for fuel and using fat for fuel, during which time you may experience some cravings. However, this is common when starting any lower carbohydrate or reduced sugar diet.
  • Blanket Prescriptions. Most alternate day fasts prescribe 500 calories for women and 600 for men on fasting day. But what about differences in energy needs among different people? If I’m a small woman doing little exercise, 500 calories might be about 1/3 of my usual daily needs. But if I’m a larger man doing high intensity interval training (like CrossFit) 5 times a week, 600 calories might be less than ¼ of my usual daily needs.
  • Does It Make Sense? IF first reached the mainstream around 2003, when The Warrior Diet was published. The Warrior Diet basically prescribed fasting all day and eating one large meal at night because this is what Paleolithic man and Roman soldiers did. But just because Caesar’s army or Paleolithic man did something doesn’t mean we should be doing it. They ate the way they ate because it was all they had. Now we have the knowledge and ability to really optimize our diet. Let’s not waste it blindly copying our ancestors.
  • Is There a Ramadan Bias?  Many studies I found citing the benefits of fasting on health markers were based on studies conducted among observers of Ramadan, a religious fast during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. During Ramadan, observers do not eat or drink anything after sunrise and may eat again when the sun sets. However, many IF protocols look nothing like Ramadan. So, are the benefits the same?

The Research

 

After a brief review of PubMed (an extensive online research database), I came to the following conclusions:

A lot of the studies with drastic positive findings were conducted in animals – mostly mice, rats, and fur seals. While the physiological changes observed in these studies support the benefit claims, the findings have not been replicated on a large scale in humans.

A good portion of the human studies on intermittent fasting – especially in athletes – were conducted among people observing Ramadan. Research conducted as of 2012 indicates that the effects of Ramadan fasting are small if the athlete maintains energy and fluid intake during eating times, maintains a normal training schedule, and gets 8 hours of sleep. Studies have also shown that Ramadan fasting lead to decreased power and increased muscle fatigue in football players, decreased performance among middle distance runners, loss of sleep, and increase in subjective fatigue. In addition, most studies on Ramadan have been conducted when it took place during winter months – with shorter days and milder weather – and more research is needed for times when Ramadan falls in the summer.

As for the research on humans not observing Ramadan, the pickings were slim. One study found that both IF and continuous diet with energy restriction resulted in weight loss and improvements in insulin sensitivity, leptin, cholesterol and other health markers among obese women (Arqin et al 2012). Similar results were seen in obese, young women and men. (Harvie et al 2011). Another study found that calorie restricted IF, both with food and with liquid meals may help reduce CHD risk factors, although the IF with liquid meals resulted in greater results. It’s important to note, though, that the IF diet in this study was not compared to a similar continuous diet.

My Takeaway? Cutting out extra calories is a well-recognized strategy for losing weight and improving health overall. IF is just as good a strategy as a “normal” lower calorie diet for cutting back on calories.

So, Should You Try Fasting?

Cherry Tomatoes

I don’t think you SHOULD fast, but I think you COULD fast. I always tend to recommend a stable diet consisting of quality foods, with intake based on hunger cues. However, the what, why, when, and how of eating is different for everyone. So if you wanted to try fasting as a way to lower calorie intake, then I think it is a good strategy worth trying.

There is one situation in which I would recommend IF – if you have lost your hunger. It’s easy in our American culture of food availability and glorification of “busy” to stop eating for hunger and start eating for a bunch of other reasons. You eat breakfast because it’s 8 am and you need to leave for work. You eat lunch because your coworkers are all going to that new Mexican place at noon. You eat a snack at 4 because you’re bored. And so on. In a case like that, a week or two of intermittent fasting can help reset your awareness of hunger and recognize the difference between actual hunger and other types of hunger. A great read on this is a recent blog post by Robb Wolf’s RD Amy Kubal, “What Kind of Hungry Are You?

A few tips if you choose to fast:

  1. Make sure your “normal” diet is on track. Limited eating periods and non-fast days are NOT an excuse to eat whatever whenever. IF only works as a method for calorie restriction if you maintain healthy, moderate eating habits during non-fasting periods.
  2. Plan ahead. If you decide to do your long run or 2½ hour Olympic lifting class on a fast day, you might pay for it in the form of poor performance and fatigue.  Especially when you’re starting out, plan fast days to coincide with lighter training days.
  3.  Listen to your body. Don’t stick to IF because it’s supposed to have all these benefits if it doesn’t feel right for you. If you’re tired all the time, losing sleep, and not seeing results, it’s time to try a new strategy.

Photo 1 c/o Corey Seeman

12 Nov 2014

Tips for Healthy Travels

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I haven’t found a better way to completely fall off the healthy lifestyle wagon quite like traveling. Whether for work or vacation, extended time in an airport and hotels, and away from your kitchen and gym, provides numerous challenges to staying on track. This post outlines a few tips for keeping it together on the road.

1. Always be prepared with snacks. Pack nuts, trail mix, jerky, Lara bars, and other snacks to have in the airport, between work meetings (or sightseeing), and for late night cravings. Pack more than you think you’ll need, as healthy snacks can be hard to find in hotels and airports. 

2. BYOB (Bring Your Own Breakfast). Unless you fork over $20 for the sit down breakfast, most hotels offer a continental breakfast comprised of cold eggs, processed bacon, pastures, bagels, cereal, and canned fruit cocktail. If you’re lucky, the eggs will be hot and there will be fresh fruit. Either way, the safest bet is often having something in your room you can eat, saving you money and keeping you on track. When I’m traveling I like to have a banana with peanut butter or oatmeal (you can usually find hot water) with dried fruit and nuts or nut butter. In a pinch, oatmeal from Starbucks isn’t the worst, and hard boiled eggs are becoming easier to find.

3. Do your homework. Look up restaurants that are near where you are traveling, and read over their menus before you go. Most places will offer some sort of meat/potatoes dish, or salmon and green vegetable. If you read up ahead of time, you can identify a few places you know you can find a healthy meal, and a few meals at each place. I find that having my mind made up before I get there helps me avoid the temptation to order something less nutritious. 

4. Talk to your coworkers/travel mates. In the year 2014, I find it hard to believe that there isn’t at least one other person in your group who is trying to pay attention to health. I would say you are more likely to find other healthy eaters on a work trip, simply because on vacation people tend to care a little less about staying on the wagon (let’s just say when I traveled to Italy I was not worried about the pasta and gelato). For example, at my company there are at least 3-5 other people who are paleo or gluten free. I like going to eat with these people because I know they’ll be ordering something healthy, which encourages me to do the same. 

5. Keep up the exercise. Sometime when you’re traveling, there’s not getting around a less than desirable meal. Your salmon comes with more sauce than you thought. There’s no other food available in the meeting besides pasta salad and sandwiches. Et cetera, et cetera. (And I haven’t even mentioned the booze yet…). Exercise can not only negate some of that damage, it can also give you more energy and motivate you to stay on track while you’re away. I travel to California every year for work, and try to take advantage of the time difference to get up and go running at least one morning. I’m also lucky enough to work for the fitness industry, so our work trip includes morning group classes (last year I went to a Piloxing class, and I was more sore after than I care to admit). If running outside or group classes aren’t an option, take advantage of what is. Use the pool in your gym to swim some laps. Look up hotel CrossFit workouts (or ask a coach for some ideas). Try deck of cards WOD (via the, app, or an actual deck of cards) in your hotel room. There are lots of creative ways to get 20-30 minutes of movement in during some part of your day. If there’s really not, try walking or taking the stairs as much as possible. 

6. Go easy on the booze. Whether for work or play, traveling always seems to include healthy doses of adult beverages. When I travel for work, it’s cocktail hours with wine or open bar. When I travel it’s the booze of the land (bier in Germany, red wine in Italy…). Either way, try to aim for no more than one drink an hour, and mix in plenty of water between. Try to stick to one type of drink – wine, gin, beer, whatever. You can also order a vodka/gin and tonic for the first one, and quietly refill with just tonic or club soda the rest of the night. It’s important (at least at my work meetings) to appear social and participate in festivities, but I also need to have energy to get up and workout in the morning, so I aim for 1-2 drinks over the course of a five hour evening. 

Any great ideas I missed?

Photo c/o Nicolas Raymond

I started out writing about good calories vs. bad calories, until realizing that most of my blogs over the past year have had at least a little to do with weight loss. In the US, we’re so used to focusing on obesity and weight we sometimes forget there are other things to write about when it comes to nutrition and health. But I don’t want to be part of that problem, mainly because sometimes I’d like to read a Women’s Health article without having to select between “I’d like a FREE 20 week weight loss plan” and “I already have a bikini body”.  So, this time I’m going a different direction, and addressing a question I’ve gotten from a couple of people: how to gain weight. Below are a couple of simple tips for gaining weight healthfully.

1. Add some fat (the good kind)

Fat is the most dense macronutrient at 9 calories per gram. Of course, fat is more filling, so too much of it can be counter productive. Still, try to up your fat content where you can. Whole or 2% instead of skim milk (organic/grass-fed, of course), nuts, nut butters, a little extra olive soil, avocados, some salmon, etc. The salmon (and other omega-3’s) have the added bonus of helping to counteract some of the inflammation from training. 

2. Embrace the starchy carbs. 

This one is going to be the key. Nobody puts on weight eating paleo unless putting on weight is something they do fairly easily. A lot of people have cut out or reduced grains in order to lose weight and improve their health but guess what? If you want gains, you should do the opposite! Grains like rice and pasta will add calories to your meals without being too filling, and more calories generally = more weight gain. Keep in mind that you still want to avoid junk like overly processed bread, cookies, crackers, etc. And of course, it’s still good to keep up variety and shoot for whole grains the majority of the time. There are lots of great ancient grains to try too, like farro, quinoa, and wild rices. See the end of the post for a great farro recipe I just made this week.

3. Pair your starch with protein, fiber, and fat.

Starchy, higher carbohydrate foods can lead to blood sugar highs and lows, which are associated with insulin resistance and diabetes. Paring starches like rice with meat, nuts, vegetables, or healthy fats is a good way to keep your blood sugar stable. 

4. Keep eating your vegetables.

Putting on some extra weight shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of long term health. Keep adding green, purple, orange, and red things to your foods. Vegetables are great sources of all sorts of vitamins and minerals your body needs. 

Farro With Squash and Kale Recipe

I can thank Pinterest for this one. Courtesy of Love and Olive Oil

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 11.28.11 AM

Photo c/o Paola Kizette Cimenti

3321854738_f23d3ffecf_zThis week I was handed the honor of writing my company’s monthly blog post on the Department of Health and Human Services Be Active Your Way Blog. I decided to write about health literacy month (that’s this month), and started thinking about ways to help people better understand nutrition information. Health literacy is often discussed in terms of medical diagnoses and clinical treatments, but I think it has relevance here too. I mean, if I discussed all that was wrong with the food label, I wouldn’t have any time to make my point. So I’ll just say that it is confusing to many Americans for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it’s actually very difficult for a lot of people to quantify calorie information. That 200 calories always looks so innocent on the food label until you realize you just wasted 10% of your calorie budget on 12 tortilla chips.  

The FDA is working on updating the food label, with new features such as realistic portion sizes (unless you think eating 1/3 of a candy bar at a time is realistic) and a new “added sugar” line, so consumers could see how much sugar occurs naturally in an item and how much is added to get you addicted to that food improve the product for consumers. But those changes don’t make calories on a label any easier to understand in real world context. 

But there may be some new hope. This week a study published in the American Journal of Public Health used placement of signs in West Baltimore corner stores with messaging like “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?” or “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about five miles of walking?” to assess the impact of using exercise data on customer behavior. The signs worked, resulting in fewer purchases of soda or juice and more purchases of smaller portion sizes – meaning more people chose the 12 ounce can over the 20 ounce bottle.  These findings corroborated other research (like here and here) demonstrating a similar effect. Brilliant! Help people understand the context of the food/beverage they are having by quantifying calories as the activity required to burn them off. 

So what would happen if all food labels included a line on exercise? Well, I’d like to think this bonus information would translate to more people understanding their food label. I’d like to think that would lead to a decline in the portion and amount of sugar sweetened beverage, fast food, sweets, and junk food Americans ate. I’d like to think it would help them choose fruit, jerky, or nuts over other less healthful options. Or that more people would visit their gyms more often, as they make the informed choice to enjoy a cupcake at lunch and pay for it with an afternoon WOD or run or whatever activity they enjoy.

I also see problems with this idea. Namely:

  • It would cost companies a lot of money to change their labels, and time to research the new information (and the companies would fight back viciously).
  • Your body needs calories – not everything needs to be “burned off” with exercise (your body will take care of some of that by simply functioning).
  • It could backfire in helping people choose healthy options –  I certainly wouldn’t want someone to choose crackers over almonds for a snack because it takes less time to “walk it off” a portion.
  • Implications for people with disordered eating or diagnosed eating disorders –  this kind of information could compel someone struggling with their body image to feel as though they are being told “you must exercise more” whenever they eat something. And with eating disorders on the rise in young people, this is a big concern.
  • These levels are just estimates – the amount of energy a person burns off doing a given activity varies by age, weight, and other factors. (The estimate used in the study were based on 15 year old boys weighing 110 lbs).
  • This extra label does not provide any information about macronutrient makeup, vitamins, or other factors that make one food a healthier option than another.

So what do you think? Personally, if this was ever implemented, I’d really only like to see it on certain foods – like soda, chips, candy, etc. I think putting this information on bread, chicken breast, or frozen vegetables is over-kill. But in certain contexts I think this information could be very helpful – especially for those with minimal baseline nutrition knowledge, and kids and teens. 

You can read my original post on the HHS Blog, and share your thoughts to comments!

Photo c/o Dave Whelan https://www.flickr.com/photos/djwhelan/

22 Oct 2014

Get Yah Fibah

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IMG_1429I realize I (and many others in the health/wellness field) talk about fiber a lot, usually in general terms. We say things like “fiber is important for weight loss/maintenance because it helps keep you full” and “fiber helps you stay regular”.Supplements like Metamucil and benefiber and food brands like Fiber One capitalize on the health effects of fiber (although as a side note I wouldnt recommend Fiber One bars be your main source of it). But  fiber can be a little more complex than that.

The Two Types of FIber

There are two types of five – soluble and insoluble.

  • Soluble fiber – this type of fiber that slows digestion and may help lower cholesterol. Soluble fiber attracts water and becomes a gel during digestion. You can find it in  oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables, fiber supplements.
  • Insoluble fiber – this type of fiber adds bulk to stool and helps move it through the digestive system. Insoluble fiber also attracts water, and is the fiber that “keeps you regular”. People who are constipated would benefit from more insoluble fiber. You can get insoluble fiber from wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grain.

How Much Do You Need?

The recommended in take is 38 grams for men under 50 and 25 grams for women under 50. Men and women over 50 need 30 and 21 grams respectively. 

If you’re eating a healthful diet high in fruits and vegetables and mostly whole grains over white grains, you are likely getting enough fiber. For example, eating a banana (3 g), 2 cups of broccoli (5 g), 1 sweet potato (5 g), an apple (4 g), oatmeal with dried fruit (6 g), and an ounce of almonds (3 g) in a day, you’d exceed the recommendations for women.

15 Oct 2014

Fuel for Strength Seminar TONIGHT

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Do you eat food? Do you want to get stronger? Good, then I should see you tonight! 

At 7:30 pm (after the 6:30 class) I will be covering what you need to know to optimize your strength gains and performance. Topics include:

  • The Macros (A Quick Review)
  • Strength Training & Your Body – the role of glycogen
  • Eating before, during, and after workouts – checklist of qualities 
  • Suggested Options – examples of whole foods and products you can try before, during, and after workouts 
  • Real world examples – we’ll do some calculations that will help us get comfortable calculating our dietary needs around workouts 
  • Supplements – which ones do you need?
  • A look at the evidence on caffeine use and performance
  • Other Lifestyle Factors

Dan from RacePak will also be joining us with some free samples of products you can use before, during, and after a workout.

Here is the condensed info:

Fuel For Strength: Nutrition Strategies for Strength and Performance

Where: CrossFit Boston 114 Western Ave; Allston, MA

When: Wednesday, October 15th 2014 at 7:30 pm

Cost: Free for strength challenge participants or $12

There will be a sign in sheet at the door, or you can REGISTER HERE

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Different seasons mean different things to everyone: fall is college football, summer is beach season, and winter is marked by the Holidays (or if you’re a Floridian in Boston, by infinite cold and misery with skiing mixed in). Food used to be the same way. Have you ever noticed that Strawberries are best in the summer, that all of a sudden come September there are about 10 more varieties of apples available in the super market, and that there are tons of fun and weird looking gourds from October through February? Nowadays you can get most fruits and vegetables year round, imported from almost anywhere in the world, but once upon a time different seasons meant different fruits and vegetables, and if you wanted Strawberries in December, you had to can them. Here are a few reasons why the old way was better, why eating seasonal produce, preferably locally grown, is better for both you and the environment.

  • Nutritional value - Fruits and vegetables have the most nutritional value (i.e. vitamins and minerals) when they are ripened on the stem and then picked. However, when they come from places far away, they are picked before ripeness and ripen along the way. So while they may gain color and size, they won’t gain nutritional value. This is one reason many people argue that fruits and vegetables don’t have the same nutritional content as they did 50 or 100 years ago.
  • Cost - Seasonal produce is often cheaper for two reasons. For one, it grows more naturally in season and so requires less labor intensive care. Second, it often comes from a source closer to home. It’s easy to find USA produced strawberries and cherries in the summer for instance, but in February they all come from Mexico or Chile, which also adds the cost of transportation and gas to your grocery bill.
  • Flavor and Taste  – Fruits and vegetables taste better when they ripen on the stem versus in the back of a refrigerated truck. Buying seasonal produce means you get the most flavorful and tasty produce.
  • Sustainability - This is a big buzz-word lately. But buying local, seasonal produce cuts down on the environmental impact of shipping food several thousand miles. It will also support your local farmer, keeping him in business to continue producing delicious fruit and vegetables.

275671257_6a411b439d_oWhat’s in Season Now? Right now it’s fall, so that means apples, squash, cherries,
broccoli, endive, cauliflower, garlic, pear, parsnips, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, swiss chard, butter lettuce, grapes, and turnips. Visit the Fruits and Veggies: More Matters website for a complete list of spring, summer, fall, winter, and year round vegetables and fruits.

Find a Farmer’s Market! Nearly every city and town in America now has a farmer’s market. In Boston, there’s one at Copley Square Tuesdays and Fridays, one at South Station on Thursdays, one in Allston Village on Saturdays, SOWA on Sundays in the South End, and one right at the corner of Western and North Harvard ave on Friday afternoons. 

Or, you can do a Google search or visit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Marketing Service Web Page for a searchable directory of farmer’s markets. Just enter your zip code and search! Markets in Boston should be open another few weeks, usually until November 1.

Photo 1 c/o Chris Jagaers Photo 2 c/o Wally Gobetz

One of the more popular food tips out there these days is “shop the perimeter of the grocery store”. This makes sense on some level – most of the meat, vegetables, and dairy are on the perimeter of the store, while the not so great stuff like Cheez-Its, Oreos, boxed rice, canned soup, and additive riddled salad dressing are all in the aisles. But if you’ve read this blog before, you know nothing irritates me more than a nutrition platitude (like “drink 8 glasses of water a day” or “only eat the most colorful foods”, but I can go into why those are wrong another time), so I’m going to go ahead and debunk this one for two reasons:

1. There’s healthy stuff in the aisles

Now, I realize that the aisles are full of junk, and really the intended benefit of the “shop the perimeter” advice is to help shoppers get what they need without being tempted by what they don’t. But you can get to a lot of good stuff on the inside without walking past 18 flavors of Doritos and 10 different Oreo variations. Why? Well, usually the healthy stuff is down slightly less tempting aisles than the cookie/cracker and chip aisle. For example, coffee, tea, and nut butters are in the cereal aisle. Canned tuna is near the condiments and pickles. Olive oil is in the aisle with pasta and sauce. Beans are with canned vegetables. Usually last minute grab purchases are on the snack aisles (I have never passed a box of Barilla penne, canned string beans, or mayonnaise and thought “OOH that looks delicious I must buy it right now!” as I have done with Stacy’s Pita Chips or Ginger Snaps, or those sneaky chocolate covered everythings at Trader Joe’s). The point is, there is convenient, healthy stuff on the inside if you know where to find it.

2. There’s unhealthy stuff in the perimeter

Now, if you compared all things perimeter to all things aisle you’d probably win. But if I shop the perimeter at my local Star Market (the one in Porter Square), I can still buy:

  • Fried chicken2369726343_483ab16539_z
  • White baguette 
  • Tortilla chips
  • French onion dip
  • Flavored dairy creamer
  • Cranberry cheese log
  • Caramel dip for fruit

And, if we were in a state that doesn’t have silly laws about selling beer in the grocer store (or frequent Trader Joe’s), you’d also find beer on the perimeter. Now, I don’t remember this always being the case, so my guess is the food industry caught on to this little trend and started trying to tempt you out in the perimeter too. Either way, my point is this: sticking to the perimeter doesn’t remove temptation. And it’s not guaranteed that everything there is better for you.

My Advice

The hands down BEST way to walk into the grocery store and walk out with bags full of healthy loot is to do the following:

1. Plan ahead – think of what you’d like to eat for the meals and snacks in the days between this and the next grocery shopping day. 

2. Make a list of everything you need. Now, it’s fine if you just write “fruit” or “salad greens” and decide which kind at the store. It’s unlikely you’ll be standing in the produce section and find an unhealthy type of salad green. But if you just write “snacks” and wander down the snack aisle…well that’s another story.

3. Start with the stuff that takes deciding. For me this is usually the produce and anything that requires label reading. I find that patience runs low by the end of the grocery trip, and I like to just knock the last row of items off my list quickly without having to read 8 salad dressing labels (before deciding to google a recipe and make my own anyway). If you’re losing patience and have to read a lot of labels, it’s more likely you just pick up the first thing that looks good.

4. When you list is done, don’t think. Go pay the cashier and get out!

What’s your grocery shopping strategy? 

 

Image c/o I-5 Design Image 2 c/o Sea Turtle

54062182It is only the third week of September, and yet so far I have seen the Pumpkin Spice Latte return early, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin beer… you get the idea. And don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkin thinks – pumpkin pie is a classic Thanksgiving staple, pumpkin beer is one of my favorite parts of fall (although if you guys could wait until it was actually a little cool, that would be great -I do not want to drink pumpkin beer in a sundress. End rant), and pumpkin seeds toasted with a little bit of salt and cinnamon are the best fall snack. And pumpkin is pretty good for you, as it is:

  • High in key vitamins like vitamin A, C, and B complex
  • Low in calories and fat but high in fiber and antioxidants
  • Rich in minerals the body needs like copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous
  • Seeds are a good source of heart healthy fats
  • Seeds are also high in zinc (important for wound healing and immune system strength) and iron

Pumpkin Spice V. Pumpkin

The thing about pumpkin is, it’s not all that delicious raw. It usually needs some salt, sage, or other herb, or on the flip side some cinnamon, sugar, and/or pumpkin pie spice, which is made of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice to make all the delicious pumpkin-y things we love. Which is totally fine – I have no problem with pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, or roasted pumpkin because they actually CONTAIN PUMPKIN.

Pumpkins!

 

My philosophical beef is with the pumpkin posers – most importantly the Starbucks “pumpkin spice latte”. The PSL contains espresso, steamed milk, whipped cream, pumpkin pie spices atop that whipped cream, and pumpkin coffee syrup, which contains pure cane sugar, water, natural flavors, citric acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate (to preserve freshness), and caramel color. Of course I don’t know what these “natural flavors” are, other than that natural flavors are generally any product of or derived from spices, herbs, vegetables and other things found in nature. So, the only pumpkin thing about the PSL is the pumpkin pie spice on top of the whipped cream, and maybe some derivative of pumpkin or pumpkin pie spices hiding under that “natural flavors” moniker. The PSL is also 380 calories and 49 grams of sugar for a 16 ounce serving. Ouch. 

As for pumpkin beer, that’s somewhat in the gray area. According to Beer Advocate, some brewers hand cut pumpkin and drop it in the mash, or use pureed pumpkin, and most brewers use the pumpkin pie spices. It seems other brewers may opt for flavorings instead of real pumpkin. 

Get Your Pumpkin On The Right Way

There are lots of delicious and healthy things to make with pumpkin. I have a pumpkin soup recipe that I love making every year. There is a whole Pinterest thread dedicated to paleo/primal things one can make with pumpkin, and as a bonus, roasting the seeds after you’ve used the rest of the pumpkin makes a very tasty snack (there are too many great recipe variations to link to just one, so Google it yourself). Just remember:

  • Make it with a real pumpkin
  • Avoid adding too much sugar

What pumpkin-y things do you like to make?

Photo 2 c/o Jeremy Seitz

17 Sep 2014

It’s Chili Time!

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IMG_0507I’m generally a little sad this time of year, as summer and warm weather turns to crisp mornings and changing leaves. But there are enough things about fall that I love to help me get by. Chili is one of those things. I love my mom’s chili as a kid, I loved when she made a whole batch, froze it, and drove it to Gainesville on track meet weekends to put in my freezer. And now I love having a meal that, while a bit laborious, gives me lunches and dinners for days. 

A few great thing about home-made chili:

  • All those vegetables! My pot of chili has 5 bell peppers of varying colors, 4 hot picstitchpeppers, 2 onions, as well as a bunch of tomatoes in different forms (sauce, salsa). 
  • Iron – chili is generally made with red meat (we made ours with grass-fed beef, but you can also use bison, humanely raised sausage, venison, etc). Most red meat has iron, a component of hemoglobin, which is responsible for transportation of oxygen throughout the body. 
  • It makes your house smell awesome – I don’t think I need to explain this.
  • It’s super adaptable – in its normal state, chili is basically paleo. But it’s easy to adapt for vegetarians, vegans, those avoiding red meat (just add turkey), etc.

How do you make your chili?

Patrick and I made chili last night, using his recipe, which I’ve posted on my Wicked Good Nutrition Blog. Lots of vegetable chopping but totally worth it!

How do you make your chili? Post your recipes!

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