Beware of Hidden Trans Fats…They’re Everywhere!

Whoa, really? But why? Nuh-huh. That’s just ridiculous! They’re EVERYWHERE!

Such was my reaction to the beautiful rib roast my mom cooked for my birthday celebration.

It was lovely. She pulled this beautiful rack of meat from the oven, almost as if in slow motion. The steam wafted from the surface, crispy on the outside, but tender on the inside. My mouth watered in anticipation, as my eyes and nose beheld the beauty that would soon be introduced to my taste buds.

Then my sister butchered it. Apparently there’s a specific way you have to slice a rib roast. She pretty much hacked it to pieces, so once it got to the table, it looked like random slabs of flesh. But hey, it still tasted good.

It was juicy, succulent, and perfectly seasoned. I naturally asked my mom what she used to season it, and she pulled out a container of pre-mixed steak seasoning from the cupboard. Innocent enough, I thought. I flipped it over to read the ingredients: salt, pepper, coriander seed, dill seed, red pepper, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, paprika for coloring…

Whoa, hang on. Back up. Partially hydrogenated soybean oil? In my steak seasoning?

I won’t get into all the science behind partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and why the process of “partially hydrogenating” any oil creates trans fats, which we all know are evil and wreaks havoc on your cardiovascular health. Food manufactures use it to extend shelf life and flavor stability. Needless to say, it’s something that should be completely avoided at all costs.

Later that week, I was grilling up a steak for a salad and reached into the cupboard for my steak seasoning. I hadn’t used it in a few months, so remembering the rib roast, I flipped it over to read the ingredients. Sure enough, partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

Steak Seasoning Steak Seasoning Ingredient List

Wow, I thought. This stuff is everywhere.

Almost every pre-packaged food has it or another form of partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil. Even though a food label says “0 trans fats”, that means that 1 serving contains an amount below the limit that is legally required for the manufacturer to disclose the amount of trans fats. Right now that limit is 0.5 grams. It might not sound like a lot, but if eaten on a regular basis, it’ll add up to a very significant amount with a very significant impact on your body.

Seriously though, in my steak seasoning?

So, before tossing the seasoning in the trash, I took note of the spices in it. I had every single spice in my cupboard. There was no reason I couldn’t just make the seasoning myself. It took about thirty more seconds for me to make it myself than it took for me to use the pre-mixed stuff. Quite an insignificant difference in return for keeping my body healthy.

Bottom line? Check your labels, people. Even on the most unassuming foods. Those pesky artificial ingredients are everywhere!

And because I loved it so much, I thought I’d share the recipe for the salad I made. It’s a variation of a recipe I found on the Food Network by Robin Miller.

Steak Salad with Peanut Vinaigrette and Cilantro

Steak Salad with Peanut Vinaigrette and Cilantro

Natural, hormone-free flank steak
Organic mixed greens
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Peanut Sauce (I use Trader Joe’s Peanut Satay Sauce)
Chopped dry, roasted peanuts (optional)
Seasonings: kosher or sea salt, pepper, ground coriander, dried dill weed, crushed red pepper

Sprinkle steak lightly with salt, dill weed, and crushed red pepper. Sprinkle generously with pepper and coriander. (Adjust according to tastes.) Rub seasonings into the steak.

Cook steak on hot grill, about 4-5 minutes per side depending on desired wellness.

While the steak cooks, place mixed greens and handful of chopped cilantro in bowl and toss. Place on plate or in bowl.

Whisk together peanut sauce and juice of one lime. (I like a ratio of about 1 tsp of peanut sauce to juice of 1/2 a lime. Adjust according to taste. This amount should be good for one serving.) Set aside.

When steaks are done, remove from grill and let stand a couple minutes before slicing against the grain into 1/2 inch strips. Place steak on top of salad, drizzle with peanut vinaigrette, and top with more fresh cilantro and chopped peanuts if desired.

Enjoy!

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10 Ways to Stop the Snowed-In, Boredom-Driven Food Cravings

The snow has been falling outside for almost four days now, and looks like it might not let up for another couple more. This doesn’t happen where I live. Where I live, we get 1″ of snow and the entire city shuts down because of all the hills, the city’s inability to keep the roads cleared, and because this just doesn’t happen often enough so very few of us know how to drive in it.

Ah, gotta love Seattle.

Usually when it snows, it comes down for a day, and then takes a day or two to completely melt and start raining again. Not so much this time. This time we have at least 6″ on the ground, more in other parts of the city, and more to come tonight.

So, I’ve been stuck at home because my car can’t make it up the steep, unplowed hill that must be conquered in order to get out of my condo complex. I know many who, like me, are stuck at home because the hill they live on has been closed to through traffic. Just check out a couple buses that stupidly decided to go down an icy hill that ended on an overhang over a major interstate highway.

Anyway, I digress from my main topic of interest. With all this snow and being stuck at home, it’s super easy to get bored. How many books can one read, and how many movies can one sit through before going batty? Many people resort to eating. It’s a carnal instinct. Your hands want to move – move towards a bag of chips or cookies. And for some reason when you’re bored, your brain, along with your taste buds, start thinking about the bucket of ice cream that’s stashed away in the freezer.

The first step to conquering this kind of eating is awareness. Being aware is half the battle. The next step is making sure your cupboards are stocked with only healthy snacks. Then, if you find yourself yearning to reach for a snack just because you’re bored, have a back-up plan. Have a list of other things you can do to take your mind of it.

So without further ado, here is a list of things you can do to take your mind off your boredom-driven food cravings when you’re stuck at home:

  1. Clean! This is what I’m all about right now. Clean the clutter out of your house – it not only keeps you moving, but it energizes your environment and may help you get out of the sluggish mood you’ve been in.
  2. Go for a walk. Even more fun when it’s in the snow. My husband and I walked down to the grocery store twice today, and even built a couple snowmen outside.
  3. Chase your dog (or kids) around the back yard (or around the house as I did today). Pets are great at killing boredom, especially when you have a crazy one like mine. (Kids too! :))
  4. Make some healthy snack bars from scratch. Okay, I know this one seems kind of backwards because you’ll just want to eat the snack afterwards, but at least it’ll be a healthy snack, and by the time you’re done, it’ll be time for you to eat anyway!
  5. Dance! Like no one’s watching. It’s good for your spirit and keeps you moving!
  6. Do a quick circuit. If you haven’t worked out yet today, you may as well get it in now!
  7. Drink water. Sometimes when you have the munchies, you’re actually just thirsty. Try drinking some water and see if that suppresses your cravings.
  8. Start journaling. Give your hands and mind something to do. And, if you’ve found yourself emotionally eating lately, journaling might give you some insight into why. Journaling not only helps you practice your writing, but it also reduces stress levels, enhances your creativity, and is a tool for personal growth and awareness.
  9. Go play in the snow! A Calvin & Hobbes snow scultpure, snow angels, or a snowball fight will do nicely.
  10. __________<< Insert activity here. Okay, okay. I know you’re probably thinking this last one is a cop-out. But really, it’s about doing something that you become so engrossed in, you stop thinking about your case of the munchies. What simple hobby have you always wanted to take up? Is there a closet in your house that you’ve been meaning to clean out? How can you spend quality time with your significant other and/or kids without including some kind of eating activity? You get the idea.

So next time you get the urge to snack for no reason, 1) acknowledge what’s happening, 2) step away from the pantry, and 3) do something else!

Happy Snow Days!

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.

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.