Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Define That Food: Tocopherols

It's the end of National Nutrition Month, during which I've been going all Nancy Drew on my pantry to find out more about the additives and preservatives in the foods I eat.  But, its been so interesting and eye-opening that I'm going to continue it beyond this month!  I think its important to be educated about what I eat, so brace yourself for more hard-hitting investigative journalism in the future.

Today's additive came from a comment left by a reader, which thrilled me to bits because I always wonder if anyone actually reads this blog.  I've decided to believe that the comment was from someone who actually reads this because they like it, and not from my mother or any of my friends who have it shoved down their throats every day through my pleas on Facebook.  So thanks for your comment, Anonymous!

And the additive in question is...drumroll please... mixed tocopherols.

I did some research and then consulted my Super-Smart Nutrition Textbook Author friend (her name is Sharon for short) and she gave me the good news that tocopherols are simply good old-fashioned Vitamin E!  The research I did online (Googling and reading a few scientific studies that went way over my head) confirmed the news so I am happy to report that there is nothing nefarious going on with mixed tocopherols.  You're safe!

The only guideline I could find related to dosage: according to the European Food Safety Authority, adults can safely consume up to 1000 mg of mixed tocopherols a day.  I don't know what the US government has to say on it, but since Americans are mostly obese and Europeans seem to be able to eat cheese and bread all day and maintain their girlish figures, I am going to just go with that.

If you're interested in the science, here you go:  Vitamin E is an antioxidant and defends against the adverse effects of free radicals, protecting against chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. As an additive in foods, it prevents the oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids, other lipids, and related compounds (such as vitamin A), which means it keeps the food pretty.  Another antioxidant approved for use as food additives is vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which I see often as an ingredient in the natural applesauce I buy for my kid.

I made my own applesauce once, and because I didn't have ascorbic acid, it turned all brown and he wouldn't eat it.  Sometimes it's just worth it to buy the yellow applesauce!

So, there you have it, Anonymous!  Mixed tocopherols are your friend!  Thanks for the question and for reading.

Anyone else out there have a food additive you want me to check out?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Be smart about what you eat; you can eat with confidence when you pay attention to the quality and quantity of your food.  Take the energy and spirit of National Nutrition Month with you beyond March and eat clean!

Good day!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lessons from a Binge

It's Monday, and I am willing to bet there are more than a few people kicking themselves thinking, "just water and lettuce today...I have to undo the weekend!" 

Binge eating is no joke, and can happen quickly when you're already on a slippery slope of restricted calories, over-training, and fatigue.  I know because I've been there.  I know how that Monday food hangover feels.  It feels like crap.

I used to be really really "good" all week, and then the weekend would come.  Wine!  Cheese!  Dessert!  More wine!  More dessert!  Repeat until Monday when I would dutifully don my workout clothes and march myself to the gym to undo the damage.

But I couldn't undo the damage, because while I might exercise away the calories and hydrate away the bloat, my behavior was what needed the real workout. 

Today's Daily Dose is "Fitness success doesn't require the will to win, it requires the will to prepare. Do you have it?"   The will to change your behavior isn't enough to stop binge eating.  You need the will to prepare what's necessary to make those changes.  Because - can I get an Amen - the "I need to stop" that sounds so loud on Monday morning is but a tiny whisper at the back of a long tunnel on Saturday night when you're facing the Chocolate Thunder from Down Under and two spoons.

Just so we're clear, the other spoon should be for someone else. :)

Anyway, here's what got me to finally change my weekend eating behavior: I stopped myself in my whiny little tracks and thought about how events transpired to create this perfect storm of loosened resolve, what role I played in facilitating those events, and what I could do to prevent them from happening again.

Usually, it came down to three things:

1. My nutrition was too severely limited, and I felt like I had been so "good" I "deserved" a break.
2. My workouts were so rigorous that I was fatigued mentally and physically, too weak to resist.
3. I was socializing and had a party mentality. 

Now, it wasn't easy to get to these conclusions.  I had to ask myself a lot of questions and have a lot of "ah-ha!" moments before I started noticing the patterns.  I put stickers on my calendar for days when I felt really good about my nutrition and workouts, and noticed that every three weeks I went about three days without stickers.  Here's why: every three weeks I had some kind of party or out of town trip.  Restaurant food.  Sugar.  Alcohol.  I was set up!
So here's what I did: I changed up my nutrition to something more substantial,  I added a rest day on Thursday so I wouldn't be so tired on the weekend, and I became very picky about the parties and restaurants I went to.  I also had some very tough-love talks with myself about what I wanted more: a healthy and vibrant body or a brownie that takes two minutes to eat. 
Sometimes the brownie made a really good argument. Hey, I'm just being honest.
But the other 97% of the time I remembered that nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels.
If you have a food hangover today, get out a pen and paper and think about what led you to that place.  People, events, places, mood, energy all counts.  Then, think about what you can do to influence those things next time to Monday doesn't have to be manic.
You deserve a treat: the treat of being good to yourself. 
Good day!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rise Against the Wind

Yesterday in my Daily Dose; a morning health affirmation that I send via Twitter, email, and post on my Facebook fan page; I posted the following:

A kite rises against the wind that pushes it. When you use your wellness challenges as agents for change, you can soar too! Try it today!

It occurred to me later in the day that using a challenge as a change agent is one of those things that are easier said than done.  Nice idea, Healthy Heather, but let's get real!  Well, chillax people, I'm going to explain what I meant right now. 
When I use a challenge as a catalyst for change, I first dissect it into smaller pieces that are easier for me to handle.  Then, I take each piece and find a way to either make it work for me or eliminate it. 
For example, let's say you want to want to increase your cardio, but you don't think you have the time.  I might start by asking myself some honest questions about why I am not making time for it now, such as:
1. If I had an extra hour in my day, how would I spend it? 
2. If "cardio" was not my first response, why is that?  What would I rather be doing instead?
3. What is it about cardio that is preventing me from finding the time to do it?
Ideally, the answers to these questions are going to help me get to a place of reality about why I am not making time for cardio.  They may include, "I'd spend that time running errands," or "I'd rather spend time with my family," and "treadmills and ellipticals are boring, I am too busy for that."  All valid responses, and all helpful for figuring out how to use these challenges as change agents. 
People make time for what's important.  If getting extra cardio is important to you, then you'll find a way to take these challenges and make them positive.  Here's how:
Challenge: I have errands to run during the day that prevent me from doing extra cardio.
Positive Spin: Since I am already out and about, I can put on my exercise clothes before I leave and make a scheduled group fitness class one of my stops for the day. 
Reality: Most of the errands we run each day can be consolidated or eliminated with some smart thinking, leaving time for exercise. Half the times I go to Target, I don't really need to be there.
Challenge: I'd rather spend time with my family than exercise.
Positive Spin: I can be an example to my kids and spouse by making the time to take care of my health.  We can exercise together on some days, and other days just be more active.
Reality: You'd be suprised how many calories you can burn just kicking or catching a ball at the park.  Or, buy some inexpensive phys ed cones and challenge each other at feats of speed and agility.  After 20 or 30 minutes of yukking it up, you'll have the extra cardio done.
Challenge: I have better things to do with my time than walk on a treadmill.
Positive Spin: I can get extra cardio from a wide variety of sources including group classes, cycling, boot camp, kettlebells, or a walk in the park.
Reality: Sometimes cardio can be mundane, but you'd probably be suprised to find out how much variety there is in your town for mid-day cardio.  A spinning class is definitely going to keep you awake!
The point of this exercise is to see challenges in positive ways and to inject some reality (without pity) into our excuse-making habits.  The reality is that we make time for what we really want to do.  The excuses we make are just our lazy brain's attempt at self-preservation.  Don't take your challenges at face value! Find out what they're really all about, and massage them until they are nicer to you...and I think you'll find that you feel like a kite rising against the wind, soaring above what you thought was possible.
Try it today! 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

It's Baaaaack.....

'Tis the season to be stuffy, fa la la la la la la la la
Lots of phlegm and stuff that's yucky, fa la la la la la cough cough cough
Haven't been to the gym in a week, fa la la la la la sneeze cough sneeze
Sinus infections got me beat, fa la la la la la cough wheeze sneeze!

Yep, it's that time of year.  The time when a fine yellow mist blankets my car, my driveway, my house, and my lungs with Spring tidings of "I hate you and want you to be miserable forever."  At least, that's how it seems to me, annual allergy sufferer and sinus infection incubator. 

No running, I don't have any lung capacity.
No weights, I'm so tired I can hardly drive my car.
I even went home from the gym Friday. I went HOME!  I mean, seriously.

And yeah, it's driving me bonkers. Everyone is sick of hearing me complain about it, but since my ears are so plugged up I rarely hear them when they leave midway through one of my laments.  

So anyway, yeah. I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired!  That is all!

Good day!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Define That Food! Dextrose...what is it?

So by now you know that it's National Nutrition Month, and I'm taking time to learn more about the ingredients that go into the packaged foods that I buy.  Last time, I examined Soy Lecithin.  Today, it's dextrose.

I knew right off the bat that dextrose was a sugar because pretty much anything that ends in "ose" is a sugar. Fructose, sucralose, glucose, etc. are all sugars.  Other ways that sugar may be listed on food labels are as any kind of syrup, honey, anything originating from a cane, molasses, evaporated cane juice, date sugar, beet sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, granulated sugar, or xylitol.  And sometimes, it just says, "sugar."

Well it just so happens that I have a friend who writes nutrition text books!  Fancy that!  And she was so helpful after my post on Soy Lecithin and offered to help me define any other additive that I wanted to know about.  Mwhahahaha...she has no idea the Pandora's Box that she has opened!  I asked her about dextrose and here is what she told me:

Dextrose is chemically the same as glucose, which is a naturally-occuring sugar found in foods. The difference is that dextrose is processed primarily from corn and added to foods as a sweetener and bulking agent. So:

Glucose = natural sugar
Dextrose = processed sugar

Our bodies need sugar, as it is a primary source of energy for our day.  But, sugar doesn't have to come from processed foods.  You'd be much better off consuming glucose from nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, milk products, and whole grains, and not from sugar added for flavor and "bulking."  We have enough bulk in our country, don't you think?  Let's not add any more.

Dextrose is not dangerous for you as long as you limit your consumption. Your body is not going to process dextrose differently from glucose, but when you get sugar from foods that have naturally-occuring sugars (the colorful stuff)  instead of foods that have sugar added (the beige stuff), you also get the power punch of all the other nutrients, antioxidants, fiber, and other good mojo that comes in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

In other words, eating whole foods gives you more bang for your sugar buck.  No news flash there, but its always nice to have a reminder.

Leave the bulking agent on the grocery store shelf!  And if you have a hankering to learn more about nutrition, check out my friend's book.  Thanks Sharon!  

Good day!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What's that Food Label Mean?

It's National Nutrition Month!  It's great that this focus on nutrition also happens during a change of season, because I find that seasonal changes are a natural time to make upgrades or adjustments to our personal wellness.  Today I want to focus on deciphering marketing mumbo jumbo so we can figure out exactly what the lawyers who approve the packaging don't want us to think about.

So, here's a bit of the hard work done for you: a cheat sheet for reading through the marketing on food packages.  You might be surprised at what you learn...I know I was. You can find more information on food labeling here.  

Enriched. This is a tip-off that something bad was done to the food, requiring another process to put some of the good stuff back in.

100% Wheat doesn’t specify that it is actually whole wheat. It could have some whole wheat, or none. "Wheat" is a very broad term.

Multigrain just means that there are just a variety of grains without reference to what kind they are or whether they are whole grains. Doesn’t matter how many grains there are if they are all refined or bleached. Skip it.

Whole Grain doesn't cut it either.  It must say “100% Whole Grain”  to make it to my pantry.

"Supports Heart Health" sounds like a good thing, but only products with the words, “may reduce the risk of…” have ingredients that have been clinically shown to be effective in reducing a health risk. 

"Pure" is another tricky one. Of course you want to eat food that is pure; you would not want to put contaminated food into your body. But "pure" has no federally-regulated meaning in food labeling. It tells you nothing about what's in the package that perhaps should not be there.

Natural. Plenty of foods in the world are natural, but that doesn't mean you should eat them.  Fat is natural, but too much of it is a bad thing.  This word really says little about the nutritional quality of the food, or even its safety. Consumers believe that "natural" means the food is pretty much as Mother Nature grew it, but "natural" is not the same as nutritious.

Made From/Made With This simply means the food started with this product. For example, the claim "made from 100% corn oil" may be technically correct, yet it is misleading. The label really means the processor started with 100% corn oil, but along the way may have diluted or hydrogenated it, changing it into a fat that will clog your arteries, not one that flows free and golden.

Made with natural... This simply means the manufacturer started with a natural source, but by the time the food was processed it may be anything but "natural."

So what the heck are we supposed to buy?  It's actually easier than you think:

1. Shop around the perimeter of the store where the fresh food is.
2. Be a stickler for the details and insist on only 100% whole grain products.
3. Skip everything else. You don't need that crap.

And if you're interested to know what I buy at the store, check out my Clean Eating Shopping List.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pulling the Weeds

It's Spring! Or at least we're pretending it's Spring! And if your yard is anything like mine, it's pretty trashed.  Winter ran amok in my backyard and while some plants have survived the pillaging, most of it looks overwhelmingly bad.  I actually ventured outside yesterday and looked at my "garden" in the harsh sunlight of day, and decided to just embrace the clover lifestyle.  Maybe I can even find a four-leafed one in time for St. Patrick's Day.

I need to pull some weeds. I don't want to, but I worked hard on that garden last year and if I want it to be something that makes me proud again, I need to get my butt out there, suck it up, and do it.

Naturally, I saw an immediate parallel to wellness.  Our wellness can be like a garden at times.  We have to cultivate it, tend to it regularly, and if we are consistent in our attention, we get to appreciate the beauty of it.  But, we also have to pull the weeds.

My biggest weed right now is my left Achilles Tendon and the overuse injury that flares up when I go running.  I've rested it, iced it, strengthened my calves, avoided hills, changed my shoes...and finally decided to just pull the weed altogether and cross-train.  I've reduced my running and incorporated other forms of exercise, like biking and swimming, to replace the cardio.  Running was a weed that was keeping my wellness from going into full bloom.  Hopefully when it comes back, it will be in the form of something that is welcome to stay a while!

Are there weeds in your wellness garden that need to be pulled? Maybe some bad habits you picked up over the winter...or a nagging seed of doubt that you can pull off the next level of intensity in your workouts? It's time to pull the weeds, toss them out, and start fresh for spring!

Good day!

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Love Cheeseburgers

I love to eat cheeseburgers. A big, juicy cheeseburger on a really good-quality bun after a long day is such a satisfying meal.  Add some sweet potato fries and lots of ketchup and I am putty in your hands.  I love me some cheeseburgers, true fact.

But make no mistake - I eat them with a heavy dose of awareness that cheeseburgers do not exactly pave the road to a healthy, trim, and fit body.  One or two greasy burgers a year is where I draw the line, and the rest of the time its a turkey burger on an Ezekiel english muffin and veggies on the side.  We do what we have to do.

But let this news story be a wake-up call to anyone who thinks that they can skate by eating high-fat food and avoid the consequenses.  No, the more time you spend in the company of unhealthy food, the more likely you are to start shacking up with its troublesome cousins: obesity and heart disease. Another true fact.  And, they are the kind of roommates that steal your stuff and show your kids R-rated movies when you're not home.

Here's the thing: food is science. It is going to operate in your body the only way it knows how, and your body - the only one you get for your entire life that you have to be in 24/7/365 so you better take care of it - doesn't give a rat's patootie what you plan to do later or what you really meant to do or why you ate what you ate.  It just takes in the food and does its thang.  It's up to YOU to give it something to work with.

It's National Nutrition Month. Please, take time today to learn about the consequences of the food you eat.  As you go through your weekend stop and think about what you're giving your body to work with.  Give it something good!  And if you're not sure what that is, ask me or check out these helpful resources.

Cheeseburgers are great.  Just check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Good day!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Mardi Gras!

It's Mardi Gras!  I love this season, it is so full of life and fun and always reminds me of home and my family.  And the food.  The food...yeah, not the healthiest.  I have yet to actually travel home to Louisiana and last longer than three days of healthy eating before I totally cave and give in to the delicious food found at every turn.  Luckily my brother and sister are usually up for a run to burn off the calories or I would be in trouble!

But, you know I believe that any food can be "healthified." 

well, the jury is out on biegnets...

So, I set out to healthify some of my local favorites. I brought a homemade, whole wheat, low-sugar king cake to some hungry preschool teachers this morning...which I guess makes me a feeder now.  They seemed to be okay with it.

Check out my recipes here...and share yours, please, as well!

Laissez les bons temps roulez!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Define That Food! Soy Lecithin Defined.

March is National Nutrition Month, so I'm going to be spending some time in the next few weeks getting a little more curious about what's in the food I eat and educating myself about those mysterious ingredients that I see and wonder...what is that anyway?

Today, it's Soy Lecithin.  I shop pretty clean, but I see this ingredient even on items that I buy at Earth Fare or in the Greenwise section at Publix.  So, in the spirit of National Nutrition Month, I googled it to see exactly what it was.  Here's what I found out:

According to Nutritional Supplements Health Guide, soy lecithin is a mixture of phospholipids derived from the processing of soybeans and generally used as a natural emollient and has been utilized in various food and industrial applications.

That meant absolutely nothing to me, so I kept reading.  Here's that statement translated into something a History major (like me) can understand (thanks

Soy lecithin a by-product of soybean oil used as an additive in food like candy bars and baked goods to make the dough easier to work with. It's not bad for you unless you're allergic to soy, and its been found to be good for brain development, increased memory, and heart disease prevention. Ultimately, its a convenience factor for food manufacturers: it replaces more expensive and faster-perishable ingredients and extends the shelf life of products.  Naturally, I would rather go the route of baking our own breads and cereal bars and whatnot, but from what I've read, unless you have an allergy to soy this product is not going to cause you much harm.

So, now you know.  I am by no means an expert, though, so if you are and know differently, please share your wisdom with a comment! 

By the way, has a bunch of fun games, quizzes, recipes and more to help your family learn about the food you eat and get those kiddos more food savvy, as well.  Check it out and learn something today. :)

Good day!

Friday, March 4, 2011

At the Crossroads

Wow, this has been the week of awesome workouts. My trainer and I have somehow just clicked all of a sudden, and by the time I leave the gym I feel like I've had the best workout since the last time I was there.  It's a great feeling, and I am choosing to believe that it means a new season of wellness has begun for me.  Spring is here, summer is on the way, and the heat is being turned up!

Another reason I'm feeling that way is my nutrition.  I am so so so so sick and tired of my food. I never thought I would be tired of eating egg whites and spinach on toast for breakfast, but here we are. Protein smoothie? Ick. Even my favorite oatmeal snack is getting the evil eye. I need a change.  So, I'm spending some time eating less strategically and more intuitively until I sort it all out. Since I have some pretty specific fitness goals for the months ahead, I may enlist the help of a sports nutritionist to help me. You know how it can give people great advice all day long but when it comes to your own nutrition, things can get cloudy.  I need an objective perspective.

Anyway, what I'm getting at is this reminder: the seasons are changing, and so should your wellness. Are you getting out of a rut like me? What do you do to shake things up? What are your goals for the summer, and will your current plan get you there? I hope you'll join me this weekend in some soul-and-goal-searching, and meet me at the cross roads of Been There and Now Doing This.

Have a great weekend!  Good day!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

McDonald's doesn't give a crap about your health. But I do.

Today I'm all jazzed up about fast food.  Specifically, the new "healthier" options that are offered by McDonald's.  Please, please, please don't fall for this.  Fast food is rarely, if ever, healthy and always, consistently and without a doubt, cheap food designed for maximum profit.

You deserve better than that.

I had heard recently that McDonald's was selling "oatmeal," in its stores and even saw on Twitter where someone exclaimed that their oatmeal had more sugar than a Snickers bar. I never went to find out if that was true, but then a friend sent me this article that explained the whole story.  Reading it made me angry, then sad, then resigned to the fact that if you want to eat clean and you don't want to just eat fruits, vegetables, and meat you kill on your own, reading ingredients is a way of life.

Luckily, it's easy.  Here's how you do it:

1. Pick up the item you are considering eating.
2. Flip over the package to see the list of ingredients.  Not the food label.  The actual items used to make the product.
3. Look for two main things: the length of the list and the pronouncability of the words. The list should be short, and the words should be actual foods that you would find in your kitchen.
4. Decide whether those are things you want to eat.

You can go crazy trying to decipher what some ingredients are, and that's primarily why I stopped eating processed foods. I have enough crazy in my life!  I keep it simple and eat a lot of real foods: eggs, vegetables, fruits, natural meats, and for grain products I primarily buy from Food For Life and Barbara's Bakery, both of which are found at most grocery stores.

People tell me all the time that they don't have time to eat healthy or figure out what's healthy and what's not. That's insane. It takes absolutely no time and very little energy at all to realize that eating produce and lean meats is healthier than processed foods.  They just don't want to.

And that's fine.  Just don't go around believing that just because a company tells you their product is healthy that it actually is.  Read the ingredients and decide for yourself.

McDonald's doesn't care about your health.  I do. Listen to me instead. :)

Good day!