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Earlier this week I was reading an article titled something along the lines of “halloween candy is awful and horrific for kids”. Obviously candy is empty calories, sugar, and often times additives and other flavorings, and it’s not exactly the ideal food for kids, or anyone. But seeing all these articles and awareness about the evils of candy and the healthier alternatives, I realized I’m a bit torn about halloween.

 

2218351961_e3d06fe880The nostalgic in me remembers dressing up in costume, running around my neighborhood with other kids, collecting a bunch of candy. When we got home, we traded it with other neighborhood kids while our parents made sure all the candy was safe, and then ultimately ate a bunch of it. We got to go to bed late and eat sugar, and it was awesome. By the end of the week we’d either eaten it all – or at least all the good pieces – or gotten sick of it. Nobody died and nobody gained 20 pounds – probably because we ran around all the time and burned it off. All was well and we had a blast, so what’s the big deal?

 

Knowing what I know about food behavior, I worry that demonizing bad foods like candy and making a big deal about the calories and sugars can negatively effect kids’ relationship with food. Yes, it’s important to educate people about the negative effects of too much sugar and promote healthier foods like fruits and vegetables. But I’ve also seen kids who grow up in healthy households that will eat “forbidden” junk foods outside the home, almost compulsively. 

 

BUT…

 

Cherry TomatoesThe nutritionist in me knows the realities of child obesity, childhood type 2 diabetes, and inactivity compared to the mid 90′s. I know that sugar is a much bigger part of kids lives today. In my elementary and middle schools, we had no vending machines and 30 minutes of recess AND physical education, but many schools today are quite the opposite. Fewer kids play outside or on sports teams today. Basically, the food environment is worse, kids are less healthy, and a few days of too much candy has a much bigger impact today than it might have two decades ago. And when people are taking positive steps to eat healthier, get more active, and improve their health, throwing 10 lbs of candy at them because “it’s halloween!” isn’t all that helpful.

 

So, for now, I’m torn. I probably won’t buy any candy for myself, and tricker or treaters don’t come to my door (they’d rather over by John Kerry’s house, where they hand out better candy). So, what do you think about halloween? Do you give out candy or a healthier option for trick or treaters? How do you deal with halloween candy your kids bring home? Let me know in the comments!

 

Photo c/o Rochelle 

22 Oct 2013

Fight the Flu With Food

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Screen shot 2013-10-22 at 8.42.17 PMIt’s that time of year again – cold and flu season is just around the corner! Since the cold (rhinovirus) and the flu (influenza) are both viruses, they can’t be cured by antibiotics. And common cold medicines like Nyquil don’t actually fight the virus, they just mask the symptoms that occur when your body fights the virus. So, the best way to prevent and treat the cold or flu is to keep your immune system in tip top shape. Here’s a few things you can do:


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15 Oct 2013

Be Prepared

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Leaving the house on Monday morning without any food prepared and trying to eat healthy can be like walking into the desert with no water. As you well know, the American food environment isn’t exactly the best at facilitating healthy eating. So the best way to fuel your body for success is to…. PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME!

Where do I start?

Before you get started, you’ll want to consider a few things, including:

  • What your week looks like. How much time falls between now and thenext time you’ll have time to go grocery shopping and prepare a fewquality meals?
  • What you want to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks between now and then. Plan meals and snacks based on your work/workout schedule, i.e. make sure you have a snack for before you train and a meal/snack after you train. For more about what to eat before a workout, go here.
  • Storage and reheating logistics. Will you be at an office with a fridge and a microwave? On the road with nothing but a cooler?

 Decide What to Make

photo 4Depending on where you’ll be and what you’ll have access to, start planning your meals. Below are some good healthy breakfast, lunch, and snack ideas – both paleo and non-paleo – for each of the situations I mentioned above. To help you quickly find an idea for your diet of choice, (P) stands for paleo, (R) stand for primal (paleo + grass fed dairy), and (V) stands for vegetarian.

 

If you’re on the road

Breakfast Options

  • Green smoothie w/ 1 cup milk, 1-2 cups greens, ½-1 cup frozen manog chunks (R) (V)
  • Apple and almond butter (P) (R) (V)

Lunch Options

  • 4+ ounces quality deli meat, raw vegetables w/ guacamole, fruit or cold mashed sweet potato with cinnamon (P) (R)
  • Salad w/ greens, veggies, nuts, and dried fruit. (V) Add chicken (P) Add chicken and feta cheese (R)

Snack Options

  • Beef jerky (P) (R)
  • Trail mix of nuts and/or nuts and dried fruit (P) (R) (V)

If you’re in an office 

Any idea above plus

Breakfast Options

Lunch Options

  • Tuna avocado bowls (R)
  • Fresh soup from your local supermarket, reheated and eaten with aside
    of fruit. Whole Foods “Mom’s Chicken Soup” or Minestrone are goodexamples.  Just check the label to make sure there are no preservatives or funky ingredients, and avoid generic canned soup like Campbells or Progressive, which a. won’t provide sufficient calories and b. are sure to have preservatives SpaghettiSqash_MeatSauce_Brocand/or added sugars and likely to contain MSG.
  • Reheated leftovers, such as this Paleo “Spaghetti”, crock pot Pulled Pork, Sweet Potato, & Pear Stew, or Chicken Scaloppini. (P) (R)

Snack Options

  • Fruit with or without almond or other nut butter (P) (R) (V)
  • Greek yogurt with berries and nuts (R) (V)
  • Steve’s “Paleo Kits” (P) (R)
  • Steve’s Paleo Krunch (warning – does not last long in the average pantry due to extreme deliciousness) (P) (R)

If you’re at home or anywhere else with a full kitchen

Any ideas above plus

Breakfast Options

  • Scrambled eggs with veggies and/or cheese and avocado (R) (V)
  • Western omelet with fruit and avocado (P)
  • Fried eggs w/ bacon and fruit (P) (R)

Lunch Options

Snack Options

 Any idea above plus

  • Baked apple chips – core and slice apples, bake at 250 degrees until crispy, usually around 2 hours.
  • Frozen grapes

Helpful Tricks

Plan a head, but not too much – sometimes, leftovers get old. It’s great if you can save time by cooking an entire week’s worth of stir fry on Sunday, but not if you get sick of it by Wednesday and decide to get Burger King instead. Think about what you might want that week, and plan in some variety.

Pack more than you need – one of the top reasons people have trouble sticking to a healthy diet is HUNGER. And when you’re eating clean, it can be hard to go out and grab a healthy snack. So pack a little extra. It’s always better to leave a bag of trail mix or dried fruit at work for next week than down a bag of pretzels because you couldn’t find a healthier option at your nearest gas station.

Be aware of food safety – any meat or previously cooked items should be kept cold (in the fridge or a cooler). Any of those items left out at room temperature for over 2 hours should be discarded.

I recently spent 10 days in Europe (Germany and Italy), and while I was there I enjoyed observing and experiencing the differences between their food/food system and ours. I don’t think I need to tell anyone that the way things are done there versus here is very different. You may have heard of the “French paradox”, by which the French (and other Europeans) eat diets higher in saturated fat and grains, yet are healthier and leaner than Americans. Look at this infographic of obesity prevalence around the world to highlight that point.

 

 world-obesity-visualization

 

So, what’s the big difference? I don’t know 100%. But here are some things I observed while I was over there. Some of them are things I think might explain the paradox, and some just amused me. Keep in mind that I was there for 10 days, so I’m sure there are things I may have missed or misread.

 

1. Soda costs more than booze, almost everywhere. A 12-ounce can of soda was 2.50 Euro almost everywhere I went. In Germany, you could get a liter of beer for 3.50 Euro. This receipt shows Grappas (a type of Brandy) also costs less than cola. I think we might all agree that reduce the availability and low price point of soda could go a long way in reducing how much of it people drink.

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2. In Germany, sausage is a salad. Who needs vegetables when there’s meat? (That’s sarcasm, guys, vegetables are really important). 

 

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3. Meat is locally grown. Most of the vegetables are, too. And it’s so fresh! Doesn’t it look delicious? Pretty sure we can again all agree that grass fed, happy, locally grown animals produce better tasting and healthier meat than industrially produced animals. Studies have shown grass fed meat is slightly higher in omega-3 fats than grain fed, and my numerous n=1 experiments have shown that it tastes far better.

 

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4. Their large portion is our extra small. Or in Starbucks speak, “short”. Which I’ve noticed isn’t on the big menu and generally has to be asked for at many locations. Italians still drink lattes and macchiatos, but they don’t drink 30 ounces of them pumped full of pumpkin or caramel syrup.

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5. We say “soda”, they say “water”. Apparently, “water” in Germany means seltzer. If you want that liquid we think of as water, you ask for “still water”. And it’s kind of hard to find.

 

6. There is no such thing as a supermarket. In Florence, our host told us that a few blocks over we’d find a “large supermarket with everything you could want in there”. Turns out it was smaller than the Washington Street Whole Foods and the Central Square CVS. All of the cookies, chips, and snacks were in one small aisle and fresh food was abundant. It had everything I  could ever want, but I’m sure some Americans might disagree with me.

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A few non- food related things I noticed…

1. Many have active commutes. In Munich, the bike lane was part of the sidewalk and just as wide. In Florence, cars can only drive in the city with special permit, so biking and walking is a regular form of commuting.

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2. They get over 21 vacation days per year, NOT including holidays. One Swiss man I met at a beer hall told me he was mad that he only got 24 days instead of 27, and that he felt bad for my paltry 14 days. Hey, maybe those extra vacation days reduce stress and inflammation!

 

Have you observed anything interesting while living/traveling overseas?

18 Sep 2013

Why Is Breakfast So Important?

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Everyone has heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Here’s why:

ENERGY

photo 1 Every body needs a certain amount of fuel to perform the most basic functions, like breathing, circulating blood and oxygen through the body, adjusting hormone levels, and growing or repairing cells. The more you ask of your body (as in, the more exercise you do), the more fuel it needs. During sleep, your body performs all of these functions as it repairs and rejuvenates your body. And depending on when you last ate and when you wake up, you can go anywhere from 8-15 hours without eating. This leads to decreased glycogen stores and make your morning workout or routine harder.

 

BRAIN POWER

 

photo 2Current research, including a review of studies dating back to the 1950’s, shows that eating breakfast is associated with better concentration, memory, and school achievement in children and adolescents compared to skipping breakfast. The brain is fueled primarily by glucose, the simple sugar also used as the body’s most readily available source of energy and found in most complex carbohydrates. Without an adequate supply of glucose, the brain does not function optimally, and skills like memory, alertness, and understanding of new information are negatively affected.

 

HEALTH

 

Eating breakfast habitually has been shown to reduce risk of overweight and chronic disease in children, adolescents, and adults. One study found that men who skipped breakfast were 20% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than men who didn’t, and people who ate breakfast had lower rates of heart failure through their lifetimes. In addition, people who eat a nutritious breakfast are more likely to make healthier food choices throughout the day.

 

ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE

photo 4Athletes need breakfast to help them maintain a balanced energy intake and fuel the brain and body for a day of training and school or work. Breakfast is especially important if you workout in the mornings, as exercising after over 8 hours of fasting will result in lower energy levels, decreased performance, and poorer concentration. Basically, you won’t be able to go as hard, move as quickly, or focus as well as you would if you had some fuel in your body.

Eating before a morning workout can be challenging, but if you had a recovery snack and good dinner the night before, your glycogen stores will be better off, so even a small amount of food will make a difference. Because you often wake up as late as possible and are short on time, the key is finding something that provides enough energy, is portable, and that you tolerate well. Your daily breakfast should contain carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and fat, but an early morning, pre-workout breakfast should be lower in fiber and fat because these two can cause stomach discomfort if eaten in high amounts right before exercise. Some good options include a banana and a few almonds, apple and deli meat or jerky, dried fruit, a fruit smoothie with protein powder, or a Lara bar. But remember that you can eat anything for breakfast, so don’t feel limited to “breakfast foods”. If you want last night’s leftovers at 7 am, go for it. The best choice for your pre-workout breakfast will depend on how much time you have between eating and training and how well your body tolerates fat and fiber close to exercise.

I know, it’s confusing. There are a bazillion different iterations of the paleo diet – some include dairy, some allow dark chocolate and added sugars in dried fruit, some are OK with paleo baked goods and some aren’t, etc. One thing most paleos do, though, is eat plenty of sweet potato, pumpkin, and winter squash but avoid the white potato. Why no love for the white potato in the paleo diet? Two words: glycemic index.

What Is the Glycemic Index?

The glycemic index is a number based on an equation developed by scientists a few decades ago to quantify the effect of various foods on blood sugar. The glycemic index of a food is essentially the effect of 50 grams of that food on blood sugar compared to 50 grams of white bread. High glycemic foods (like a bagel) cause the blood sugar to spike quickly and then drop off after a short time. Low glycemic foods result in a small increase in blood sugar that falls back to normal gradually. Below is one of my favorite visuals, a good graph explaining the effect of high and low glycemic foods

glycemic_index

Low Glycemic Foods 

•Milk and yogurt5905454471_7e0ce0ef97_n
•Green vegetables
•Tomatoes
•Apples and peaches
•Bran
•Carrot juice
•Lentils and beans
•Bananas
•Grapes
•Barley
•Whole grains

High Glycemic Foods

•White breadBakedGoods
•Bagels
•Doughnuts and baked goods
•Chips
•Pretzels
•Jelly beans
•Dates
•Processed cereals
•White potato
•Sugary beverages

Potato Nutrition

White potatoes get a bad rap for being a “fattening”,  nutrient deficient, processed food. Obviously, not all iterations of potatoes are healthy (here’s lookin’ at you, French fries). But potatoes are a good source of  complex carbohydrate and are a good source of several important vitamins. 1 baked potato contains more than 25% of your daily needs for potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C and are also a good source of magnesium. In addition, a new analysis by the Agricultural Research Service found that potatoes have compounds called phytochemicals that may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

My Advice

Potatoes are an unprocessed source of complex carbohydrates that can be good for post workout recovery and provide some essential nutrients. Obviously, you can get those same nutrients from fruits and green vegetables in much higher amounts. The point is that potatoes are not the nutrient deficient bad guy they are often made out to be, and can be included in a healthy diet every now and then for variety. This, however, does not mean potatoes (or any chip made from a potato) “count as a vegetable” or that French fries are a good side dish for your bun-less burger. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on how you prepare the potato. A baked potato with a little grass-fed butter or chopped up piece of bacon is much better for you than chili cheese fries.

The take away: enjoy your mashed or baked potato every now and again. Just don’t eat it in place of your green vegetables or fruits.

photo-8Happy September! Know what that means? Fall. Know what fall means? Pumpkins!When pumpkin stuff comes out, well, I’m happier than this camel on Wednesday. 

These days fall is basically synonymous with pumpkin flavored goodies (thank you, Starbucks pumpkin spiced latte, for that). There’s pumpkin spiced lattes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins… one New York Times writer has even argued that pumpkin is the new bacon. (Don’t worry, he doesn’t argue that pumpkin is better than bacon.)

Pumpkins are fun to carve or paint and delicious to eat, but pumpkins and their seeds also offer some health benefits. Namely, pumpkins are

  • High in key vitamins like vitamin A, C, and B complex
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Image c/o Tony Alter http://www.flickr.com/people/78428166@N00/

Image c/o Tony Alter http://www.flickr.com/people/78428166@N00/

We all know watermelon is a delicious summer fruit. But some new research has indicate that it might also be a recovery aid – results of a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry showed that a compound found in watermelon juice may help athletes recovery after exercise. 

The compound is called I-Citrulline and is an amino acid that is metabolized in the body into arginine. Arginine is one of the essential amino acids and plays a role in cardiovascular and immune functions, including wound and injury healing (especially bone injuries). Oral arginine supplements have several benefits including wound and tissue healing and reducing blood pressure in people with clinically high blood pressure. Arginine’s role in immune function and tissue healing is what makes it interesting to athletes. A 2007 study showed that eating watermelon increases blood levels of arginine, which means the I-citrulline in watermelon was converted to the arginine in the body.

The Study

Image c/o snowpea&bokchoi http://www.flickr.com/people/bokchoi-snowpea/

Image c/o snowpea&bokchoi http://www.flickr.com/people/bokchoi-snowpea/

This particular study put 7 athletes through a max effort cycling test and provided them with either a placebo, about 16 ounces of natural watermelon juice, and watermelon juice infused with additional I-citrulline. Both watermelon juices were helpful in reducing recovery heart rate and muscle soreness 24 hours later.

My Advice For You

OK, so this is just one study. In the scheme of things that isn’t a reason to buy and juice 100 lbs of watermelon. But, watermelon is a tasty summer fruit. And since it’s available and cheap, why not make some watermelon juice, or just eat some watermelon. You need carbohydrates before and after you workout anyway, why not from watermelon! 1 cup of watermelon chunks has 50 calories and 11 grams of carbohydrates.

Recipes

To make watermelon juice, simply cut up watermelon into chunks and puree them in a blender. You can either strain the juice or drink it with pulp. You can also add it to fruit smoothies or salads.

If you want to get more creative, check out these recipes from Food Network.

 

20 Aug 2013

Should You Try Fasting?

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Intermittent fasting (IF) has emerged as one of the many trendy diet options these days. Basically, “intermittent fasting” is the practice of periodically alternating between fasting – drinking just water and perhaps low calorie drinks like coffee – and non-fasting, i.e. eating normally. 

Fasting Plans 

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

Empty Dishes

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.

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