Blog Archive

30 Sep 2015

Mason Jar Salads: Part 2

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A few months ago I wrote a post about mason jar salads, an easy to transport and quick to assemble lunch solution for the week. I’ve been taking a BBQ chicken mason jar salad to work the past few weeks, and thought maybe since it was so delicious I should share the recipe…

BBQ Chicken Mason Jar Salad


1 lb Chicken breast

~1/3 Cup of The Shed Spice It Up! Mustard BBQ sauce

1 pkg Cherry tomatoes

1 Jar banana peppers (optional)

1 Package of greens (spinach, romaine, etc)

Parmesan cheese to taste (optional)

Balsamic vinaigrette


Pour the BBQ sauce in a bowl. Dip chicken breast in BBQ sauce and coat, then place on a grill or grill pan (we use a cast iron one) and cook until done. Let cool and chop into bite sized pieces.

To assemble the jars: Place the chicken at the bottom, followed by 5-6 cherry tomatoes. Add lettuce until the jar is tightly packed.

I took the banana peppers, salad dressing, and cheese to work and left them in the fridge. I then assembled the salad by dumping the jar into a bowl, adding 4-5 banana pepper pieces, about a teaspoon of cheese, and a TB of vinaigrette. This recipe goes well with a side of unsweetened apple sauce.

Have a favorite, convenient lunch recipe? Share!

Colleen Robinson liked this post
23 Sep 2015

The Pope and Oreos

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As I’m sure anyone who has a television or a smart phone knows, the Pope is in the United States as of yesterday. And as anyone who has looked up from their smart phone or television knows, today is the first day of fall and about the third week since the re-emergence of all the pumpkin spiced things for the season. Given this confluence, I thought the best use for today’s blog was to share this amusing Onion article on Pope Francis.

“Pope Francis Reverses Position On Capitalism After Seeing Wide Variety Of American Oreos”

According to the “news” article, the longtime anti-capitalist pontiff has reexamined his philosophies after encountering the astonishing variety of Oreo cookies available in a D.C. supermarket. According to Pope Francis,

“Only a truly exceptional and powerful economic system would be capable of producing so many limited-edition and holiday-themed flavors of a single cookie brand, such as these extraordinary Key Lime Pie Oreos and Candy Corn Oreos. This is not a force of global impoverishment at all, but one of endless enrichment.”

This change of heart was short lived, however. It appears multiple varieties of Slim Jims were too much for him.

At press time, the pontiff had reportedly withdrawn his acceptance of capitalism, calling any system that would unleash a Roadhouse Chili Monster Slim Jim on the public “an unholy abomination.”

You can read the full article in The Onion. There are a few more gems in there.

All Joking Aside…

I would guess that given what he’s said in the past, the Pope would most likely double down on his views of capitalism upon witness the havoc our food system – and the prioritization of profits over health – has wreaked on our waistlines and physical health. I don’t aim to make a political statement here, and I’m certainly not saying capitalism is always, or even most of the time, a bad thing (it did give us Uber, as well as a great deal of the innovation we’ve enjoyed over the course of your nation’s history), but perhaps we should reflect on how we approach it when it comes to food and medicine (see: Pharma Bro).


27 Jul 2015

Will Power As A Finite Resource

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Will power is often cited as the heavy hitting requirement for success in getting healthier – resisting that Oreo cookie, rejecting the snooze button to make your morning workout, and having the motivation to eat right, exercise, avoid temptation, take any medicine or supplements you require, and reach your goals. We always think of will power as this infinite resource that is either “have” or “have not”. Either you have a lot of will power and are fit, others don’t have any and thus are overweight, unhealthy, etc. I have not thought this was a correct assumption for a while, but something I’ve recently read reminds me it’s a good time to spread the message.

Today I began reading Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Tough by Dan and Chip Heath. I’m only a few chapters in, but this gist is that change is difficult because we have two brains: the emotional brain and the rational brain. The emotional brain wants ice cream, beer, sleep, and Netflix binges while the rational mind wants to have a six pack and low cholesterol. Unfortunately, like Rich Froning at the CrossFit Games, the emotional mind almost always wins. The book discusses the keys to making changes even when they’re hard. It looks like

In addition to this dynamic, one concept that really stuck out for me was this:

What looks like laziness might be exhaustion

There have been a few studies where participants are asked to resist something tempting (like chocolate chip cookies), and then later to complete a difficult task. The example in Switch discusses asking some students to taste chocolate chip cookies and avoid eating radishes (so hard, I know), and some to taste radishes and not eat any of the aromatic chocolate chip cookies beside them. Later, both groups were asked to complete an impossible cognitive test. Those who did not have to resist cookies persevered for 19 minutes before giving up. Those how had to expend will power avoiding cookies lasted only eight.

What this tells us is that will power is an exhaustible resource. It is something you can run out of, just like gas in your car. This is the epitome of the problem with yo-yo diets – if the lifestyle change is unsustainable, you will run out of willpower and go back to old habits.

In order to make lasting changes, the key is to change your environment to make the behavior changes easier, and to create sustainable changes so that your emotional brain and rational brain are both on board. Prepare meals that are healthy AND taste good (credit fauntroy). Find social activities that are also active – tennis with your friends is probably more exciting and rewarding (in the short term) than running by yourself. In short, find the healthy behaviors that you find rewarding in the short term, so that you can continue them long enough to realize the longer term rewards.

Photo c/o Tiz



I never thought of myself as super green (I just can’t bring myself to do the water efficient shower head things), but the amount of zip loc bags Pat and I went through and the decline of our tupperware collection was really bothering me. I wanted to throw it all away and buy new tupperware but then I would just be using MORE PLASTIC.  Then a friend sent us home from a weekend with leftovers in a mason jar and my whole lunch packing system was changed. Since it’s summer, this happens to mean salads packed in mason jars. Which, I must say, is not a new concept, and is by no means my own invention. Google “Mason Jar Salad” and you’ll have pages of recipes. In this post, I’ll cover a basic template for crafting a salad, as well as 2 of my favorite recipes.

The Template

The basic mason jar salad is stacked so that everything stays fresh and flavorful, because no one likes mushy salad.

The bottom layer is usually your protein – beans, quinoa, chicken, etc.

Next comes your nuts/seeds layer, should you have one. I like adding sliced almonds or sunflower seeds.

Top the protein and nut/seed layer with cheese if you add it – goat cheese is my recent staple of choice, and I usually use about 2 TB.

Next add any other vegetables – carrots, peppers, squash, cucumber, etc.

Finally, top with salad. I usually pack it in there as much as I can and wind up with a little too much lettuce. So pack it tight, but not sardine can tight.

Today’s Mason Jar Salad

The picture above is my dinner for the rest of the week. Each mason jar contains:

2 TB Walnuts

1/4 cup cooked farro (I actually used a little more – like 5 TB)

2 TB goat cheese

1/2 cup strawberries

Spring mix to fill

I tend to use a fig balsamic vinaigrette from Whole Foods on top, although since this has fruit already I may just use oil and vinegar, or use no dressing at all. I tend to dress the salad after I’ve emptied the jar. To prep, I bought a large container of spring mix, a large container of strawberries, and the goat cheese, and cooked 1 cup of dry farro. This should last me at least four days.

An Old Favorite

A couple of weeks ago I was on a huge kick with this salad. In each jar I had:

2 TB sunflower seeds

1/4 cup farro

2 TB goat cheese

1/2 cup acorn squash, cooked and cut in squares

Spring mix to fill

1 TB fig balsamic dressing (Whole Foods brand)

The Pitch

If you couldn’t tell, I’m a huge fan of these salads. It’s an easy way to transport lunch, it’s sustainable (no throwing away 3 zip locs per assembled salad), and they’re easy to play around with. Prep is also pretty easy – just cook the farro and cut up the vegetables. You can quickly build your salad in the morning or all at once on Sunday.

Got a favorite recipe to share?



18 May 2015

More “AND”, Less “OR”

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Side note: This image has nothing really to do with the topic at hand. It’s just funny.

It seems – to me at least – that in the health and fitness world, everyone likes to boil big questions down to dichotomous choices. What’s more important for weight loss, diet OR exercise? Should I follow a paleo diet OR eat less meat? Is CrossFit better OR should I be running?

Dan Heath, a very smart business guy who wrote a couple of books with his brother on decision making, spoke at the IHRSA Convention a few years ago, and emphasized the importance of “yes, and”. We talk about this a lot at work when we’re planning projects for the coming year, trying not to limit ourselves with false dichotomies. It wasn’t until I saw a recent article on exercise being “pointless” (or some such dismissive word) for weight loss that I put the two together.

You see, it doesn’t have to be diet OR exercise. I foresee very few situations in which a person truly has to make a feet to the fire choice between just one or just the other. If you want to lose weight you should clean up your diet AND get plenty of exercise (at least 150/75 minutes of moderate/vigorous exercise a week for baseline health, more for weight loss). If you’re interested in a sustainable diet, you can go paleo/primal AND eat less meat. They’re called vegetables, and you should eat far more of them than you eat meat. If you want to be in the best shape possible, you should do CrossFit AND you should also go running sometimes. You don’t have to choose between eating organic fruit and exercising daily. You don’t have to choose between coming to CFB 6 days a week or running on the treadmill at 6.3 mph 6 days a week.

Asking the “either, or” question limits what we can do and achieve. So unless your question is “should I eat a cannoli OR an ice cream sandwich for dessert tonight,” you should be thinking AND far more than OR.

PS. I vote cannoli. There’s a Mikes in Harvard Square now.

Photo c/o

Today is, apparently according to the Today Show, National Eat Whatever You Want Day. My first reaction was, well…

But then I realized I basically eat what I want most days. Maybe not whatEVER I want, but for the most part I don’t dread lunch, I don’t hate breakfast, and my dinner isn’t boring. I like what I eat, and it’s not like I’d actually enjoy eating a cheeseburger everyday. There is a way to eat healthy AND like what you’re eating. I think that’s actually something the Paleo community has done better than any other diet – instead of trying to make some sort of frankenfood no carb no calorie bread or tortilla, they just said F the grains, let’s use delicious herbs and spices to make meat and vegetables taste amazing. Or, let’s repurpose vegetables into old favorite (e.g. Cauliflower rice or “mashed potatoes”). For many, that focus on good food is what makes Paleo sustainable – if your Paleo diet is grilled chicken and broccoli most of the time, you’re either one of those weird people who don’t much care what they eat, or you’re going to run into trouble.

There’s a quote I remember hearing (I don’t remember who said it) that went something like:

“Happiness isn’t having everything you want. It’s wanting everything you have.”

I think that’s a relevant message when it comes to diet. It’s not about being able to eat the things you love when your habits aren’t ideal and achieve your goals, it’s about wanting the foods that are healthy. About choosing baked sweet potato wedges over Ore Ida fries, or choosing cage free eggs and fruit over a waffle. About wanting a healthy, home cooked meal more than you want Shake Shack.  And LIKING that choice.

Photo c/o TMAB2003

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29 Apr 2015

What Does Vitamin C Actually Do?

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We see vitamin C a lot these days, mostly in the context of cold prevention (or treatment). Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin found in certain foods and added as fortification to others. Humans don’t synthesize vitamin C, so it’s essential that we include it in our diet.

Roles of Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential for the synthesis of collagen, L-Carnitine, and some neurotransmitters, and is also involved in some protein metabolism. It is also an antioxidant thought to help regenerate other antioxidants like vitamin E, helps the body absorb non-heme iron (meaning iron from plant based foods), and plays an important role in immune function. Vitamin C deficiency results in scurvy (often linked to pirates and sailors, who went long periods without fresh produce), which causes fatigue and connective tissue weakness.

Collagen synthesis and immune function are the most notable and widely recognized roles for Vitamin C. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, found in muscle, bone, and tendons among other important tissues.

When Do You Need Vitamin C?

Vitamin  C has been linked to a few conditions over the years.

Cancer Prevention  – numerous studies show that a diet high in fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of many cancers, although similar to vitamin A, there is no research that demonstrates vitamin C alone is responsible for this reduced risk or that supplementation would offer any benefit. It seems the pattern of eating fruits and vegetables is more important than single nutrients.

Cardiovascular Disease – research suggests that higher consumption of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease, potentially due in part to the antioxidant content of these foods. This makes sense because oxidative damage is one of the causes of heart disease. One British study found that those with the top 25% in blood vitamin C levels had a 42% risk of cardiovascular disease, but the Physicians Health Study found no significant decrease after 5 years of supplementation.  Most clinical interventions and several larger prevention studies have showed no benefit from supplements. As with cancer, you are better off eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables than supplementing one single nutrient.

The Cold – evidence indicates that vitamin C intake greater than 200 mg a day does not prevent a cold. One study showed a small reduction in cold duration – 8% for adults and 14% for kids. Although if you think about the common cold lasting about 2 weeks, that adds up to about a day. Taking vitamin C after symptoms have already started provided no benefit. Research has shown vitamin C intake of 250 mg – 1 g/day to reduce the incidence of a cold by 50% among people exposed to large bouts of physical exercise and extreme cold – including marathoners, soldiers, and skiers. So, it would appear supplementation is mostly effective for people exposed to extreme environments.

How Much Do You Need?

According to recommended daily allowance (RDA) – a level that should be sufficient to meet the needs of 98% of the population –  the average adult male needs 90 mg a day and the average female 75 mg a day. This is super easy to attain, and most people get way more than that. If you eat 1/2 cup of red bell pepper, a cup of broccoli, and a glass of OJ, you’re already well over 200% of your daily recommended intake.

My Recommendation?

Eat your fruits and veggies. If you ski a lot in the winter, consider taking a supplement if you get sick often. Once you are sick though, forget about the vitamin C. Consider taking a zinc lozenge instead. Or just sleep and drink a lot of fluids.

One caveat: I do often recommend – and take myself – EmergenC when sick. I know, I just said vitamin C does not good, why would I recommend a supplement with 1,000 milligrams of it right? Well, for one because it makes me feel better. It has other vitamins besides vitamin C (including B6 and B12), and because it makes me drink more water. I like it because it works for me, even if the Vitamin C isn’t the reason.


Image c/o Keith Williamson 

I stumbled on an article in Gawker yesterday by syndicated fitness columnist from the Chicago Tribune James Fell that was too funny not to share. It is an excellent rant about dark chocolate that can be applied to any food with a health halo, and with enough swearing to make a CrossFitter happy. But, amusement aside, I also share this because it makes a bunch of great points.

Remind me again, what are health halos?

“Health halos” result when a healthy quality of a food (say, the fact that it is organic) is viewed in such a way that it seems to make any food to which it is applied seem healthier than it is. For example, organic grapes are a great choice – grapes are a healthy source of sugar and fiber and since they have a permeable skin, it’s a good idea to buy them organic (they are on the dirty dozen list). However being “organic” doesn’t make brownies or candy any healthier than non-organic brownies and candy. I’ve often used the paleo example as well – a paleo meal can be healthy, but paleo chocolate truffles not so much.

What does this have to do with dark chocolate?

Dark chocolate is marketed as “healthy” or “healthier” because it has flavonoids, which are linked to lower risk of heart disease. The problem is that you’d have to eat a LOT of dark chocolate to get any risk reducing benefit from those flavonoids. Nonetheless, as Fell’s article notes:

For about a decade, the sales of dark chocolate have soared, regardless of the fact that it tastes like someone melted down a bunch of brown crayons, mixed it with charcoal and then let it solidify into bar form. Why the boost? As a senior VP from Hershey said in 2006 of the 37% spike in sales of their Special Dark, “There are underlying benefits with the consumption of cocoa that give consumers the permission to enjoy chocolate.”

Wait. “Permission to enjoy chocolate”? Just… fuck you.

Exactly. Of course, as Fell says, if you like dark chocolate, go about your business. I tend to recommend it because it is richer than milk chocolate, so you can enjoy a treat without going overboard. Then again, I happen to like but not love dark chocolate so that works for me. As I’ve said often before, what works for one hardly works for everyone.

But if you don’t really like dark chocolate (not even a little bit), and you just eat it because it’s the healthy kind of chocolate (or if you just want to laugh a little), please read his article over at Gawker.

CrossFit knock aside, it’s hilarious and makes great points.

Image c/o Christi

For those unfamiliar, Food Babe is a consultant turned health/food blogger and public speaker whose mission it is to investigate and uncover “what’s really in our food”. Until this week I don’t think I ever paid her much attention. I knew she had a book out, and I may even have shared a graphic she made about pumpkin spice lattes with some commentary on how they’re not the best thing for your health. I’ve also heard some rumblings in the health professional community about her, mostly along the lines of she’s unqualified and uses fear mongering tactics to spread misinformation. But there’s a lot of people that educate themselves on the internet and pose as experts under the guise of inspiration, recipe sharing, and blogging.

Then I read this article in Gawker, entitled “The ‘Food Babe’ Is Full Of Shit”. It is a robust discrediting by another female blogger with a background in Chemistry and forensic science and toxicology. The health professional in me always trusts science backgrounds over Google prowess, I also appreciate skepticism about our current food system. So, is Food Babe, whether she is full of *%it or not, a good thing or a bad thing?

In Favor of Food Babe: There’s a lot wrong with the way food is produced and consumed in the US. Things banned in Europe are still in our food (seriously, if you can make it without something the Euros think isn’t safe why not just do it that way all the time?), food label claims are often bogus (“all natural” Cheetos anyone?), and there’s little government regulation. A crusader using social pressure to improve our food system should be welcomed.

Food Babe Issues: My issue with her is this: she is very easily discredited, as the article shows. She does use fear mongering tactics, which do no one any good. A lot of people can’t afford organic food, and scaring them into thinking they’re actively murdering their kids by feeding them conventional green beans is a bit too extreme for me. And like I mentioned, she’s easy to discredit. She has written (and removed once her mistakes were called out) articles on how air in airplanes has too much nitrogen (air IS majority nitrogen, a fact she apparently missed) and how your microwave is basically a nuclear reactor. Sometimes journalists don’t fact check (see: Rolling Stone debacle) but someone purporting to have expertise should not make such wildly inaccurate claims.

I also do disagree with her tactics. She takes things wildly out of context, and makes it easy for the industry to fight back and win the public debate in the future. A mad lib of what I predict:

Food Babe: We should all stop eating X Food by Y Big Food Company because it contains (insert chemical approved by the FDA for a certain functionality in food processing) which is also found in/used for (some other scary/non-edible item or use which is totally out of context).

Y Big Food Company: This product has been deemed safe by the FDA and tested by our food science department. These claims are wildly inaccurate and put forth by someone who thinks your microwave is the A-bomb. Who do you trust, SCIENCE or her?

Big Food 1, Food advocates 0.

Here’s the thing: questioning what’s in our food is important. Pressuring food companies to remove unsafe products is important. Voting with our wallets for items like free range eggs, humanely raised meat, and supporting local farmers is all important. But we have to pick our battles and use solid ammunition. Because yes, Subway’s dough thickening agents IS used in yoga mats. But is that what makes Subway a poor food choice? Or is it factory farm meat that is high in sodium, white bread, and the potato chips and cookie that accompany the sandwich? While it may sound weird to say “there’s a yoga mat ingredient in my bread”, I don’t think THAT is what is causing obesity, diabetes, and poor health in America.

I think there’s a good analogy here between Food Babe and Ted Cruz. If you follow politics at all, you know he’s kind of a nuts (or as John McCain would say “a wacko bird”). Now, he may have a good point or two about a few specific areas of policy (I haven’ t dug deep enough to actually verify this, so let’s not make this a political fight). But his “the world is on fire”, no grey area, loud mouthed tactics make his message completely unfounded to most people. And while Food Babe has good (even great) intentions, her delivery and tactics will ultimately be counterproductive to her aims. If we want someone to call out the Food Industry on its faults (and we definitely do), it needs to be someone credible.

What do you guys think?

Willa d'Cat, Judith Donath liked this post

It sounds like the Navajo Nation has come up with a pretty good idea. Starting April 1, junk food sold on the reservation will be taxed at 2%, in addition to the removal of a 5% sales tax on healthier items like fresh produce. The money garnered from the sales tax will go towards promoting farmer’s markets and local vegetable gardens. An excerpt from Time Magazine:

With nearly half of the Navajo youth population facing unemployment and 38% of the Navajo reservation at the poverty level, supporters say the act may serve as a prototype for sin taxes to curb obesity in low-income communities across the U.S.

You can read the whole article at Time.

The argument over “sin” taxes like junk food and soda have been waged viciously over the past few years, in places like Berkley and San Francisco. In Massachusetts we’ve put a sin tax on alcohol, cigarettes, and now plastic bags but have yet to touch the beverage and food industry. There are good arguments on either side. The pro-tax group claiming it will promote better habits, even out the price gap between healthy and processed foods, and provide money to earmark for obesity research or other prevention programs. The anti-tax groups (notably funded heavily by industry) claim it will have a disproportional burden on lower income communities.

It sounds like despite the potential burden, the Navajo Nation is willing to give it a go anyway. I”ll be interested in how this plays out, and if it can push other communities to do the same.

Image c/o gaku.

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