Sweeteners Are Everywhere: Look Out for Hidden Sugars!

I was on a grocery store tour with my husband the other day, as he explained the “do’s and don’ts” of shopping for food.  We were on the subject of sweeteners, and were hence looking at honey and agave nectar.  One of his clients mentioned that agave nectar isn’t very sweet, so you usually need a lot to make a difference.

Later that afternoon, my husband and I grabbed a couple of Americano’s at a cute place we like near his work (Pomegranate Bistro, for those of

airmoore
photo credit: airmoore

you in my area).  I love this place because their ingredients are fresh and light.  And their coffee stand offers agave nectar and Sugar in the Raw as a sweetener for your drinks. 

If you recall, I much prefer these natural sweeteners over Pink and Blue Death (Sweet & Low and Equal) or white table sugar any day.

So I squeezed some agave nectar into my coffee.  And remembering my husband’s client’s words, I kept squeezing, even though I knew I shouldn’t.  I took one sip…and bleh!  WAY too sweet.  I just ruined my $1.95 fufu coffee drink.  Well, I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I kept sipping.

About halfway through the 8 ounces, as we strolled through Macy’s bedding department, my stomach started cramping.  Not only was I incredibly unsettled by the fact that I felt a major urge to do something very un-lady-like between the aisles over-priced Egyptian cotton pillowcases and the over-rated silk fitted sheets, I was perplexed by why I thought that agave nectar is way too sweet, even though my husband’s client might think it’s not sweet enough.

As I rushed to the men’s department to find my husband and tell him that it was time to leave, I realized that one person’s sweet is another person’s not-so-sweet.  But why?

Now, I’m not saying this is the case with my husband’s client, but some people are more accustomed to sugars, therefore are less affected by a high dosage.  It’s like if you get headaches often and are always popping Advil, one Advil is going to do nothing for you while it might work worlds of wonders for someone who rarely takes it.

But my husband’s client also eats fairly healthily.  It’s not like she eats Skittles and Nerds every day, so why might she be more accustomed to sugars than I? 

Could it be those crafty hidden sugars?

The Joys of Hidden Sugars

Uwe Hermann
photo credit: Uwe Hermann

Just when you think you’ve eliminated all forms of sugar from your life – you stopped eating candy, you use applesauce in your baking instead of sugar, and you stopped drinking Coke with every meal – little did you know that you’re being sabotaged by all kinds of sugars that you probably don’t even realize are there.

Sugars can go incognito, disguised as many fancy terms you might overlook:

  • cane juice
  • corn syrup (like that nasty high fructose corn syrup)
  • sorghum
  • glucose
  • lactose
  • maltose
  • fructose
  • sucralose
  • xorbitol
  • mannitol

If it ends in “ose” or “ol” it’s most likely a sugar.  And don’t forget that artificial sweetener, aspartame.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s another one of those chemically processed ingredients that pretend to be good for you, but in actuality it’s out to get you.  Hm, kind of reminds me of Rebecca DeMornay’s character in “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.”  Whatever happened to her anyway?

So how are these ingredients hidden?  Well, you’d expect sweeteners to be in candy and other foods that are supposed to be sweet.  But did you know that sugar is in almost everything?  Many of the packaged foods that you buy have some kind of added sweetener in it.  Here are some common ones:

  • bread
  • ketchup
  • spaghetti sauce
  • salad dressing
  • mustard
  • beef jerky
  • peanut butter
  • jams and jellies

So while you think you’re limiting your sugar intake, you may actually still be consuming way more than you should.  Food manufacturers add sweeteners to their products not only because they know that the American pallate prefers sweet, but because the sweeteners increase your craving for the food, so you’ll eat more!

Your best bet is to buy these foods in the natural section of your grocery store.  While they may still have added sweeteners, they’ll at least be in natural forms (evaporated cane juice, brown sugar, organic cane sugar, etc.)  instead of in the artificial forms (high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, corn syrup solids, etc.). 

Always check the nutrition label and the number of sugars in 1 serving.  And remember that 1 package might contain multiple servings!  You should always try to stay below 4 grams, which is the equivalent of 1 packet of sugar.  But of course, the fewer the better.  Try to get the product that lists the sweetener as low on the ingredient list as possible.

Also, be weary of “Lite” and “Low-Fat” choices.  The fat that is taken out is usually replaced with sugar.

Once you’re aware of the presence of these sweeteners, you can begin to take the steps to moderate your intake.  (No, you don’t need a cup of ketchup on your eggs.)  As you decrease your intake, you’ll begin to notice that you just don’t feel the same way about sweet as you used to.  (I could never get through the grande mochas of my past.)

 And hopefully you’ll remember to add agave nectar in small amounts before dumping it into your coffee.  You’ll be glad you did.  Macy’s will be glad too.

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Eating in a Pickle: What to do when you’re eating out

Well, I’m back from New York, and I had a grand time!  The City that Never Sleeps is definitely filled with some great energy! 

So back to the topic at hand – Eating in a Pickle.  In my last post, I discussed Scenario #1: You need something quick to eat.  I talked about keeping emergency food stashed in your freezer and choosing healthy “fast food.”  Now let’s talk about Scenario #2.

SCENARIO #2:

You’re out to eat with a client, colleague, or friend, and you want more than just a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette.  What do you do?

As I’ve said before, food has an amazing way of bringing people together, so usually when I spend time with friends and family, there’s some form of eating involved.  And suffice it to say, when you’re entertaining co-workers or a client, wining and dining is usually in order.  So how bad would it look if you brought a Tupperware of salad into the restaurant (you’d probably get kicked out) or if you ordered nothing but a green salad while your client ordered the 24-ounce New York steak with mashed potatoes, a pint of beer, and the chocolate-lovers cake for dessert?

You have to survive in the social world of eating without completely compromising your nutritional values.  Contrary to popular belief, it’s not impossible to do.  There’s usually something on the menu that you can eat without feeling completely guilty or freaked out afterwards.  Sometimes it might take some special requests to the waiter to adjust, but it’s doable.

So let’s start with my usual guidelines when choosing menu items.  These are actually the same guidelines I discussed in my last post.  Same idea here:

  • The meal must include some kind of lean protein and fibrous carb (fruits and vegetables).  If it includes a starchy carb, it must be either made from whole grains or there shouldn’t be too much of it. 
  • Nothing fried
  • No creamy or cheesy sauces, minimal butter and cheese
  • Stay away from anything that’s likely to include MSG, be overloaded with sodium, or use plenty of artificial ingredients.

Sometimes you have to ask the waiter to modify things for you.  Usually they’re pretty open to doing that.  Here are some other rules of thumb I follow, some of which sometimes require special requests:

  • Ask for salad dressing and sauces on the side
  • Always order the vinaigrettes (skip the ranch, thousand island, and blue cheese)
  • Make sure to ask for whole wheat toast and order it dry
  • Always pass on the sour cream
  • Order the side salad instead of the fries
  • Always order the non-cream-based soups (broth-based are better – chicken noodle, garden vegetable, etc.)
  • Just say “no” to any pastas with cream-based sauces – pastas tossed with pesto, tomato sauce, or EVOO are better
  • Always hold the mayo
  • Ask for brown rice
  • Always order water (never soft drinks or sweetened teas)

So, here are some restaurants you might find me at, and what I usually choose to order (when I’m not using my 10% cheat meals):

  • Subway – 6” Turkey sandwich on wheat with all the veggies, pepperjack cheese, and a touch of dijon mustard (280 calories, 4.5g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 46g carbs, 5g fiber, 18g protein)
  • McDonald’s (yes, when I’m in a pickle, you might find me here) – Asian salad with grilled chicken.  I usually only use about 1/4 of the packet of dressing (300 calories, 10g fat, 1g saturated fat, 23g carbs, 5g fiber, 32g protein)
  • Starbucks – Tall Americano with a touch of cream and a 1/2 packet of Sugar in the Raw, Perfect Oatmeal with dried fruit and walnuts (ask if they can put some of their vanilla protein powder in your oatmeal)
  • Red Robin – Grilled turkey burger, hold the mayo, order a side salad instead of fries (512 calories, 22g fat, 51g carbs, 3g fiber, 29g protein)
  • Panera – Half Orchard Harvest Salad with Chicken + Cup of Lowfat Chicken Noodle Soup (370 calories, 18g fat, 4g saturated fat, 32g carbs, 4g fiber, 23g protein)

And here are some local restaurants you might find me at if you’re in the Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland/Seattle area:

  • Taphouse Grill, Bellevue/Seattle – Seared Ahi Salad (dressing on the side) or Peppered Ahi Tuna Sandwhich, very light on the wasabi aioli, with the coleslaw or side salad instead of fries
  • SushiMe, Bellevue – any fresh sushi, go easy on the fried varieties
  • Pho Hoa, all around the greater Seattle area – Pho Tai (noodle soup with eye round steak) or the variety with chicken, or Bun Ga Nuong (grilled chicken with vermicelli noodles and vegetables)
  • Village Cafe, Redmond – Half order of the Popeye Omelet, substitute the hashbrowns with fruit cup, and if I must have pancakes, I order the buckwheat variety and dip it in the syrup rather than drench it with syrup…and I never butter my pancakes
  • Cactus, Kirkland/Alki/Madison – Sonoran Spa Chicken

Hopefully that gives you some ideas.  As with the last post, when you’re in a pickle, you never know what exactly is in the food you’re ordering.  Just do the best you can to make wise choices, and don’t be afraid to ask for modifications.  Just because you’ve made a choice to eat well doesn’t mean you have to give up your social life or your career.

Yummy, Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes

So I know my last post was all about indulging this Thanksgiving.  And although I still say you should go for it IF you can uphold the three points I mentioned – 1) moderation is key, 2) remember there are consequences to your indulgence and accept them fully, and 3) promise yourself that it’s for Thanksgiving Day ONLY – there are still some of you who want to make your Thanksgiving meal a healthy one.  If you’re one of those people, props to you!

In fact, even though I still plan on eating pumpkin pie with whipped cream, leche flan, and creamy mashed potatoes, I think I’ll help my mom with the cooking this year by trying out a few healthy Thanksgiving recipes. 

For this post I’ve compiled some ideas that I found all over the place.  Some are from other blogs, some are from food and nutrition sites, and some are floating around in my head.  After you’ve let the food digest after Thanksgiving dinner, add a comment and let me know how some of these recipes worked out for you.  Enjoy!

Salads

  • Arugula and Pear Salad* – I love any salad with fruit on it.  Especially pears.  If you don’t like the bitterness of the arugula, even though the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar should even it out nicely, I’m sure you could nix it and just go with the butterhead lettuce. 
  • Spinach Salad with Dried Cranberries, Walnuts, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette^ – I personally would substitute the dried cranberries with fresh pomegranate seeds since it’s kind of hard to find unsweetened dried cranberries and since pomegranates are in season.  This salad is a triple whammy – three power foods in one: spinach, packed with vitamins A, C, and folate; walnuts, packed with omega-3 fatty acids (good for your heart); and pomegranate, packed with antioxidants.

Main Course

  • Roasted Turkey – You gotta have this one.  And turkey is probably one of the healthiest items on the menu as it is.  As an article called Substitutions Make Holiday Fare Healthier suggests, instead of basting it with butter, baste the turkey with its own juices and consider removing the skin after cooking.  Oh, and oven roast the thing; don’t deep fry it.  It’ll be much less fatty, and you significantly decrease the chance of burning your house down.

Side Dishes

  • Roasted and Pureed Cauliflower^ – If you’re starchy carb conscious, try this alternative to mashed potatoes.  It’s quite garlicky and yummy.  Just keep in mind that it’s cauliflower – not potatoes – so don’t expect it to taste like potatoes.  Also, try using non-fat or low-fat milk instead of whole.
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes – And if you just can’t live without the potatoes, try sweet potatoes instead.  They’re packed with all kinds of vitamins and minerals, higher in fiber, and lower in calories.  Slice ‘em up, toss them with a little bit of olive oil, salt, and whatever herbs you like.  Throw them in the oven at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.  I personally like to drizzle white truffle oil over them.  Mmmmm….
  • Stir-Fried Green Beans with Lemon, Parmesan, and Pine Nuts** – Try this instead of green bean casserole.  Because let’s face it – who actually likes that stuff?  Be sure not to get too carried away with the oil and parmesan though.  You don’t want overly oily and salty green beans.  This dish should be light and refreshing.
  • Whole Wheat Stuffing with Sage, Italian Sausage, and Pears** – I don’t know about you, but stuffing is a must-have on my Thanksgiving table.  Try this alternative with whole wheat bread and turkey sausage.  Oh, and don’t cook it in the turkey.  It’ll just end up absorbing all the fat from the turkey, and in order to cook the stuffing, you’ll probably end up overcooking the turkey.  (Yuck, who wants dry turkey?)

Desserts

  • Pear Crumble* – This one sounds good and nice and easy to make.  Try to go a little easy on the brown sugar and maple syrup though. 
  • Squash Cheesecake Bars* – Surprisingly low in calories, fat, and carbs for a cheesecake recipe.

Beverages

And for some great ideas on what to do with all that leftover turkey, check out my husband’s latest blog, Creative Fat-Blasting Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes.

Happy Healthy Thanksgiving!

 

*   Taken from EatingWell
** Taken from Kalyn’sKitchen
^  Taken from Food Network
^^Taken from Natural Health Magazine

Let’s Indulge this Thanksgiving!

Ah, Thanksgiving.  My favorite holiday of the year.  Every November I look forward to waking up to the smell of turkey roasting in the oven, the sound of my mom clanging around in the kitchen, and the sight of my dad thumbing through the newspaper while the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade plays on the TV.

It brings a certain warm and fuzzy feeling.  You know the one – the one that makes you feel like you’re six years old again.  It’s a Thursday, and there’s no school.  The countdown to Christmas is finally starting.  And you’re about to eat the biggest meal of the entire year.

Succulent Thanksgivingturkey, creamy mashed potatoes, tangy cranberry sauce.  Savory stuffing, crisp green beans, decadent pumpkin pie with whipped cream.  And since I’m Filipino, fluffy white puto, peanut buttery kare kare, silky leche flan.  My mouth is already watering just thinking about it.

Food is an amazing thing.  Not only does it nourish your body, it brings family and friends together.  It satisfies your palate and your stomach.  And it has the ability to bring back nostalgia and memories.  It’s truly magical.

So what I’m about to say just may get me blacklisted in the fitness blog community, and my husband just might yell at me.

I propose that we all indulge this Thanksgiving.

[Screech!] Whoa, what?!?!  You want me to eat all that stuff?  What about my goals?  What about eating healthy?  What about steering away from the desserts, carbs, cocktails, and sticking to one plateful of food?

Okay, okay.  I don’t propose that you stuff yourself into a coma.  Until you couldn’t possibly move from the couch after you undo the top button of your pants, and you feel so sick to your stomach as you pass out for the rest of the night.  Because let’s face it – that actually ain’t all that fun.

I’m simply saying, enjoy yourself.  Thanksgiving comes but once a year.  Yes, it’s about giving thanks.  Yes, it’s about family.  But let’s be honest.  It’s about the food too.  Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the banquet.  If you, like me, are fortunate enough to have a table spilling over with food on this blessed day, you should enjoy it.  Enjoy that God gave you the gift of enjoying the savor, the sweet, the salty, the crunchy, and the creamy.  Enjoy the memories of festive parades and family football games that pumpkin pie and candied yams bring.

So while most fitness experts will tell you to skip the sugary desserts, drink fruit juice instead of cocktails, and load your plate up with salad so there is minimal room left for the mashed potatoes and stuffing, I’m telling you the opposite.  Enjoy the pumpkin pie, sip a martini, and make sure to get your fair share of the mashed potatoes and stuffing before your 15-year-old nephew hoards it all.

I will give you a few things to keep in mind however:

  1. Moderation is key.  Like I said, don’t stuff yourself for goodness sakes.  You’ll just end up feeling uncomfortable and sleepy.  Yes, eat a slice of pumpkin pie, but it shouldn’t be a full quarter of the entire thing!  Remember that it takes 20 minutes for your body to feel full.
  2. Remember there are consequences to your indulgence and accept them fully.  You just may feel like crap the next day.  If you do decide to eat all those goodies, understand that and accept it as a consequence.  Take responsibility the next few days to eat clean, drink plenty of water, and push yourself especially hard during your workouts.  (Skipping any workouts is NOT an option!)
  3. Promise yourself that it’s for Thanksgiving Day ONLY.  Most people make the horrible mistake of eating like crap for the entire holiday season.  It especially starts with Thanksgiving.  That’s when all the Christmas cookies start showing up at work, the cafeteria features gingerbread cake almost every day, and your weekend schedule is jammed with friends’ holiday cocktail hour. Don’t fall into that trap!  You’ll only hate yourself when the New Year rolls around.

So, this can be a tricky thing.  Allowing yourself to indulge for that one day can easily lead to moments of weakness throughout the holiday season.  You must have a strong mindset, discipline, and a strong commitment to yourself.  But if you truly feel confident enough to make it work, I say go for it.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!  I know I will.   Pumpkin pie, here I come!

Pumpkin Pie

*Obligatory disclaimer that my husband asked me to post: The opinions expressed in this blog do not reflect the opinion of Element 5 Fitness or the Element 5 Fitness staff. They are solely the responsibility of the author. (That’s me!) I am not a personal trainer nor a nutrition expert. I am merely sharing with you my thoughts, opinions, and what has worked for me. [End Disclaimer]

People who are “into fitness”

Today I was in the gym and overheard a woman say, “People are more ‘into fitness’ here.” 

What exactly does that mean – “into fitness”?  As if it’s a hobby or a trend. 

Yes, I can see that health and fitness has become much more mainstream these days.  With all the focus on “low carb,” “low calorie,” “all natural,” etc., some might say that this is merely a trend, and it will pass.  Like jelly shoes and leg warmers, it just might pass, only to come back again.

Remember when it was the “in” thing to roll down your socks into doughnut rolls?  Or to frost the tips of your hair?  One day people will say, “Rmember when it was cool to eat anything that said “No Trans Fats!”?

Yes, this emphasize on health and fitness just might go away one day.  Maybe not completely, but it won’t be at the forefront like it is right now.

Does that mean that I have to follow the masses and forget about eating healthy, exercising, and making healthy choices? 

No way!  I’m grateful for this trend.  It took the “coolness” that society has assigned to the fitness lifestyle to make me change my ways.  I guess you could say I’m a conformist in that sense.  But in this case, I don’t think it was a bad thing.

But when the coolness factor goes away, I hope I’ve learned enough and engrained enough into my lifestyle and habits to keep it going, even when commercials on TV aren’t claiming that your Fred Meyer butcher sells only hormone-free beef.

So when it’s cool to scarf down a Big Mac, large fries, and a Coke again, I plan to still be “into fitness.”

FAQ #2: Do you eat healthy all the time?

Do I eat healthy all the time?  Let’s review my menu over the past few days, shall we?

  • Monday – Protein shake with soy milk, Vietnamese-stye chicken wrap from TJ’s, shrimp pasta spaghettini, chocolate lava cake
  • Tuesday – Protein shake with soy milk, won ton noodle soup, almonds and beef jerky, raw foods meal replacement bar, protein shake, recovery drink (during my workout), homemade turkey chilli
  • Wednesday – Protein shake with soy milk, veggies, buckwheat soba noodles, and beef brisket in miso broth, raw foods meal replacement bar, wild greens with turkey meatballs, cottage cheese and raspberries

So, let’s review:  Do I always eat healthy?  Hm…chocolate lava cake doesn’t strike me as very healthy. 

Okay, I admit – to the average American, the above menu actually looks pretty damn healthy.  In my previous life, the menu would probably have included a lot more fast food, creamy dishes, and various deep-fried edibles. 

It took a few years, but I eventually stopped eating fast food multiple times a week, and took a more conscious approach to what I was eating.

My husband of course helped me along the way.  He loves to research.  It’s not only what he does as part of his day job, but what he does during his free time.  He researches the latest in fitness trends, biomechanics, ways to grow his business, and nutrition and supplementation.

So, he’d come to me all excited about the latest findings he read about in some fancy study.  It seems that nutritional best practices are always changing and are confusing as hell.  One day eating starchy carbs post-workout is good, the next day it’s bad.  One study concludes that red meat is a superior form of protein, the other concludes that its acidity is bad for you.  One person says fruit smoothies are a good way to get your daily fruit servings, the other says there’s way too much sugar in them.

No wonder everyone is confused, including myself.  After years of trying to keep up, I’ve come to the conclusion that while I’ll try to abide by the latest findings, I’ll always adhere to the following basic principles:

  1. Eat small meals (aka “eating opportunities”) spread out throughout the day – about 3 hours apart – rather than 3 gigantic meals. (Helps maintain blood sugar levels and speeds up your metabolism.)
  2. Eat whole, organic foods.  The processed stuff contains way too many ingredients I can’t read.  And if I can’t read it, chances are my body won’t know what to do with it.
  3. Eat protein with every eating opportunity, preferably from a lean source such as chicken, fish, lean beef, etc.  Balances out the carbs, regulating the blood sugar levels and helps build your lean body mass (i.e. your muscles – which are a fat burning machine!)
  4. Drink tons and tons of water
  5. Eat tons and tons of vegetables
  6. Stay away from beverages that contain calories, especially those with high sugar content (JUST SAY NO TO SOFT DRINKS!). Drink fruit juices minimally, unless they’re straight from the fruit and contain some pulp in it for fiber.
  7. Stay away from ANYTHING deep-fried or smothered in cream.
  8. Reserve the right to violate any and all these rules 10% of the time. 

What does that last one mean?  It means that I’m human.  I can’t be expected to eat healthy ALL the time.  It would just be torcherous and inhumane to deprive me of my chocolate lava cake.

It means that I will adhere to these rules for about 38 of my 42 eating opportunities during the week, but I will let myself eat whatever the hell I want (in moderation of course) for the other four.  It means that I will and should reward myself for a job well-done.

And it’s a give and take.  If I’ve been doing really well with my workouts for the past few weeks, pushing myself hard and not skipping any workouts, I may cheat a little more.  If I’ve been lazy, I’ll try to compensate by being better with my nutrition.

Oh, and vacations?  Game over.  But I will plan accordingly and be extremely meticulous with my workouts and nutrition for the weeks leading up to it.  And I will also accept the consequences of my debauchery and detox when I get back.

So no, I don’t eat healthy all the time.  Neither does my husband.  (That chocolate lava cake came with two spoons.)  And neither should you.  You’ll be much more successful if you let yourself cheat once in a while.

Cheating can be a good thing – especially in the form of chocolate lava cake.  Oh, and cheesecake ain’t bad either.

An ooey, gooey, chocolatey piece of heaven on a plate.
An ooey, gooey, chocolatey piece of heaven on a plate.