A New Chapter

It’s definitely been a while since I’ve posted. Life somehow got in the way, and quite honestly, with all that was changing in my life I didn’t feel inspired to write on the matter of fitness and wellness. For anyone who still checks in on this blog, my heartfelt thanks for staying interested in what I have to say. For you, and for anyone who’s new, let me explain what has happened in the last months.

To put it simply, in April 2009, I found out I was pregnant! Not planned at all, so much to our surprise, Rommel and I were going to be parents…ready or not! Throughout the following 7 months (I was already almost 8 weeks along by the time we found out), I went through many physical, emotional, and mental changes. I ran through the gamut of emtions – from sheer terror to doubt to excitement to contentment. I gained 33 pounds, my workouts got more basic and light, my nutrition went from perfection in the first 2 trimesters to mediocre in the 3rd, as I unfortunately gave in to many cookie and ice cream cravings.

And before I knew it, I found myself in a hospital getting ready to begin the journey that I both longed for and feared – motherhood.

My blog may sound a little different going forward. I’ll still occasionally remark on nutrition and wellness concepts, as that’s an everday part of my life, but it will have more of a motherhood spin. I hope to chronicle my journey as a new mother so other new moms can learn from and share in my joys and trials.

For those of you who enjoyed my blog before this shift, I hope you’ll still find themes that you find useful or somewhat interesting. For those of you who are new, welcome! Please comment, share your thoughts, emotions, and arguments, advice, or similar or differing stories here.

I look forward to sharing with you!

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Celery vs. Burrito: Can Real Food Really Taste Any Good?

Matthew McVickar
photo credit: Matthew McVickar

In this corner, nutritious but bland, fibrous but tasteless, hailing all the way from your local farmer’s market…it’s green. It’s healthy…CELERY!

Stu Spivack
photo credit: Stu Spivack

And in the other corner, filling but fattening, satiating but engorging, from the Mexican joint around the corner…it’s plump. It’s comforting…BURRITO!

Let’s Get Ready to Rummmblllle!

I was on my way to work the other day and passed a huge Taco Del Mar billboard. A giant burrito jumped out at me from the sign, in all its ooey, gooey glory – spicy chicken, tangy pico de gallo, fluffy Mexican rice, all of it brought together in one big symphony by melty, gooey cheesy goodness.

And in big letters next to this image that made my arteries scream in delightful pain: “Because celery tastes like celery.”

Hm. Anyone in their right mind would of course choose this handsome blasphemous ode to Mexican cuisine over stringy, bland celery, right?

The more I ate it, the more I craved it

It was not long ago – maybe about 6 years – that I basked in the glories of fast food almost daily. I could down a Whopper, medium fries, and Coke in about twenty minutes. I could gobble up a Mexican Pizza, two chicken soft tacos, Mexi-fries, and a Sprite in just as much time.

The more I ate it, the more I craved it. The more my mouth would water when I saw billboards like this one.

Now, I see this billboard, and the choice isn’t as obvious as it would have been back then – burrito or celery?

Okay, I’d be lying if I said that my preferences are leaning heavily in the celery’s corner of the ring. Yes, if I were stuck on a desserted island and had a stalk of celery and a juicy burrito in front of me, it would probably take about 0.2 seconds for me to reach for the burrito.

But on some days, in the real world and not in some hypothetical Gilligan’s Island/Lost scenario, I would actually choose the celery.

Case in point: My husband and I were watching the Super Bowl. What goes hand-in-hand with Super Bowl viewing? Salty snacks! Did I go buy a bag of potato chips? Nope! I made kale chips!

That’s right, people, KALE chips. A lot of you are probably saying, “What the f**k is kale?”

That Blonde Girl
photo credit: That Blonde Girl

Often used simply as a garnish, kale is a dark leafy green, high in vitamins and minerals such as vitamins K and C, manganese, and calcium, and is a great source of fiber and antioxidants. Tough when raw, great when steamed, and even greater when baked with some kosher salt sprinkled on top.

Ask that girl from 6 years ago, whose idea of a vegetable was a french fry, and she’d tell you she’d rather eat foot fungus than something like kale chips. No thank you, I’m not “granola” like that, she’d say.

Your Preferences Just Might Change

Okay, so what’s my point? My point is that your preferences change, your tastes change as you become more adjusted to eating “real” food. Real food has nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in it. Real food has protein, fiber, and water in it.

The stuff on that billboard may look like real food, may smell like real food, but when it comes down to it, it’s just not real food. The highly processed, overly-saturated-fat-laden foods from fast food joints and the inner aisles of your grocery stores are empty calories. Through all the processing, the foods have been stripped of much of their nutritional value.

I’m in the middle of a book called Integrative Nutrition by Joshua Rosenthal, founder of the largest nutrition school in the country. He describes it like this: Your body tells you “I’m hungry. I need nutritients.” So you reach for the burrito. You eat the burrito. Your stomach is full, but your body is still lacking the nutrients it craved. So it tells you it needs more nutrients by sending you the craving signal. So you reach for the burrito again. But it’s still not giving your body the nutrients it needs. So you reach for it again. And again. And again.

Your body is screaming for nutrients, but you’re feeding it with nutrient-deficient foods.

As I began incorporating real food into my life, I began enjoying things I never would have before – the tartness of plain yogurt, the natural sweetness of carrots, the roughness of real, whole oats, and yes, the crisp stringiness of celery.

Give it a shot – try adding some real food to your life. I think you’ll find down the road that kale – and even celery – shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly.

And, because I know some of you will ask, here is my recipe for kale chips, slightly modified from a recipe on the Integrative Nutrition website:

Kale Chips

1 to 2 bunches of kale
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Remove kale from the thick part of the stalk, leaving the leaves in big pieces.

Place a little bit of olive oil in a bowl, dip your fingers in it, and rub a light coat of oil on both sides of each leaf.

Place in single layer on baking sheet and bake for 4-5 minutes or until it starts to turn a bit brown.

Turn leaves over and bake for another 4-5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it because it burns very quickly!

Sprinkle lightly with salt and any other seasoning your heart desires! (Cayenne, cumin, curry powder, or just pepper would do nicely. May favorite is just plain old salt.)

This makes for a nice, crispy, slighly salty, and healthy snack! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Enjoy!

National Law Would Require Nutritional Information at Chain Restaurants

fast-food

It amazes me sometimes how a lot of people are totally clueless when it comes to what they’re putting in their bodies. My last post, for instance, demonstrated the evils of fast food, but so many people still eat that crap on a regular basis.

I think this population falls into three general categories: 1) Those that know what they’re doing but don’t care, 2) those that know but don’t think it really matters (i.e. “The chemicals are good for my immune system”), and 3) those that don’t know.

Of all of these, it’s those in #1 that are the hardest to “convert” to a healthy lifestyle. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. Those in #2 are doable, but it might take shock factor like a day watching Dr. Oz parade around dead, diseased body organs on Oprah. Those in #3 are the ones that need the most attention, and those that I frankly feel the most compassion for.

Somehow, though, I don’t think it would be taken very well if I went up behind them in the McDonald’s checkout line and smacked them upside the head, or did a running interception of their fish ‘n chips, clam chowder, and Coke before it touched down on their table.

I’d love to be able to educate or at least make all these people aware of what’s really in their food. But alas, I’m only one person, and I can only do so much.

So I was very pleased when I was recently in New York eating at Hard Rock Cafe and noticed that the nutritional information for every single item was printed on the menu. My co-worker and I sat down, perused the menu, and found that our selections were influenced by the calories, fats, proteins, carbs, etc. instead of solely by what our cravings were compelling us to to eat.

The salads that naturally many people would assume are healthy just because they’re salads, were clearly marked as having way more calories and fats than things like pulled pork sandwiches – surprising to most people that don’t realize that Caesar salads are not health food.

Btw-the pulled pork sandwich wasn’t bad, as long as you get the BBQ sauce on the side and side salad instead of fries, with vinaigrette dressing on the side. Even better if you can just ask for olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Anyway, I noticed all the big chains printed the nutritional info right on the menus. Even Starbucks clearly marked the little signs in front of the espresso brownies and pumpkin loaves.

Finally, I thought. People will have a little more awareness of what they’re actually eating.

I discovered later that this was the result of a law that was passed in New York which requires caloric information to be disclosed on chain restaurant menus. Some have gone farther and are disclosing detailed nutritional information as well. California was the first to pass a state-wide law that will require calorie counts for standard dishes to be disclosed on menus and menu boards as of July 1st. (Go Arnold!)

menuApparently a similar law was passed in Seattle, but either I’m totally oblivious or they haven’t begun enforcing it yet because I haven’t really seen it, besides at one or two restaurants. (Of those of you in Seattle, have you seen this happening? And if you’re not in Seattle, does your state, city, or county have a similar law?)

There is currently no national law that regulates whether chain restaurants disclose nutritional information, let alone standards around how it is disclosed. The result is a “patchwork” of different laws and rules, ultimately confusing the consumer. Hence, Congress is considering passing the “LEAN (Labeling Education And Nutrition) Act.”

According to the Coalition for Responsible Nutrition Information, the LEAN Act “would require restaurants, grocery stores and other food service establishments that serve prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to disclose in writing calories contained in each menu item directly on the menu, menu board or in designated alternative ways, such as a menu insert or a sign directly next to the menu board.”

I believe the law would also require more detailed nutritional information such as fats, trans fats, sodium, carbs, protein, etc.

It seems more and more people are concerned about what they’re putting into their bodies. This act is intended to help mitigate the obesity epidemic. While this probably won’t help the people in Category #1 (know but don’t care) or Category #2 (know but don’t think it matters), it’ll hopefully convert those in Category #3 (just don’t know) to my category: People who are becoming more and more aware of what they’re putting into their bodies and want to make smart decisions.

Would seeing detailed nutritional information on restaurant menus change the way you order?

The 4-Year-Old Burger: What on Earth Have We Been Eating?

Some of my fondest memories growing up are of my weekend trips with my dad to McDonald’s. I used to order a Happy Meal with a cheeseburger, fries, and a coke. I think I still have some of the nifty Fraggle Rock toys stowed away somewhere.

McDonalds Fraggle Cars

As I got older, I branched out to chicken fajitas, 20-piece chicken McNuggets, and even an occasional Big Mac. I always ordered fries however, as I proudly proclaimed that McDonald’s fries were my french fries of choice.

My “health makeover” – as I’ve just now decided to term my personal relevation and conversion to a healthier lifestyle of physical activity, spiritual connection, and whole, balanced nutrition – has since squelched this debauchery. But as I pass the Golden Arches, I still occasionally feel like I’m six years old, and I’m on my way to an afternoon of Happy Meals and playtime.

Since my health makeover, I’m much more aware of the fats and artificial ingredients that fast food, especially McDonald’s food, is loaded with. But I didn’t get the extent of it until I watched this video from diet.com:

It can’t be real food.

In response to accusations like this, McDonald’s has recently proudly proclaimed that they now “use 100% beef in every burger.”

My question is: What the &#!* was I eating in the first place?

No wonder my generation is so sick and obese.

Their website says, “We use 100% beef in every burger,” which has a whole different meaning than saying, “We use only 100% beef in our burgers” or “Our burgers are 100% beef.” My suspicion is that fillers and extenders are added to the 100% beef that cause the kind of “burger immortality” portrayed in this video.

And we’re feeding this stuff to our kids? Hm, maybe eating immortal burgers will make me and my kids immortal! eating fat, filler, and preservative-laden food isn’t good for us.

My response is: No duh.

By the way, I made an awesome power dinner tonight: grilled, all-natural grass-fed buffalo (from Fred Meyer, $6 for .94lbs), organic roasted sweet potatoes (from Whole Foods, $3 for 1.5lbs), and steamed kale (from Fred Meyer, less than $1 for 1 bunch).

The total cost per person? About $5. Time to cook? Only 30 minutes.

For less than the cost of a McDonald’s value meal, I had a healthy, homecooked meal. Yes, it took me 15 minutes longer than it would have taken me to get in the car and get through the drive-thru. Is 15 minutes of my time a price worthy to pay for my health?

My answer is: Abso-frickin’-lutely.

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!

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.

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.

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]