Archive for February, 2012

Weekly Review: Kefir

I have gotten into the habit of making myself a smoothie every morning for breakfast. It’s fast, easy, and I can drink it while I get ready, because honestly I’m always rushing to get out the door. It only takes me 2-3 minutes to prepare and since I make it myself, I know exactly what’s in there. Typically I’ll include a few big spoonfuls of plain Greek yogurt, a big handful of spinach (I promise you don’t taste it!), some orange juice and frozen raspberries. Delicious!

However, this weekend when Kevin and I finally got to shop at Whole
Foods (it was glorious!), we found a drink I’ve been interested in
trying forever: kefir.  My mom actually turned me on to the product.
She is the healthiest person I have ever met and she drinks it with
orange juice every morning.

So what is kefir?

Kefir is a fermented drink from milk, which is made from kefir grains. These are small cauliflower-looking probiotics that contain live bacteria. Sound gross? Well, if you eat yogurt, you’ve probably already had live and active bacteria from cultured milk (although, not all yogurt has these helpful bacteria. We’ll save that for another day). To make kefir, the kefir grains are placed into cow or goat milk and the mixture is allowed to ferment for 24-48 hours, with occasional stirring. The bacteria in the kefir may be incredibly beneficial to your digestion. The micro bacteria are able to live in your small intestine and help you break down foods that are particularly difficult to digest, such as lactose in dairy products.

There has also been some preliminary research into the long term benefits of kefir. In one study, kefir was able to supress hypertension (high blood pressure) and high cholesterol in rats. There are also claims that kefir inhibits bacterial and fungal infections, and that the probiotics found in kefir can reduce inflammation.

The one caveat to kefir is that all the die-hards make their own. You can buy kefir grains to get started and grow your own kefir drink in your kitchen for daily use. The thought behind this is that the store-bought kefir is pasteurized, has fewer bacteria and has added sugars, reducing the health benefits. However, I was unable to find a true research study supporting those facts, although there are places to find the pros and cons of homegrown vs commercial. Plus, to be honest, I’m not really about to start growing my own kefir just yet. Even if the store-bought kind has a reduced potentcy, it’s still way better than not drinking it at all.

Have you ever tried kefir? Wouldyou ever consider growing your own?


A Healthy Weekend Trip

"Birthplace of the Cowboy" Who knew?

We usually take vacations to get away, and gain a reprieve from our daily life, but what have you ever thought of taking a healthy vacation? One that not only gave you a break from the daily grind but also helped you achieve a fitness goal or find new inspiration?

This past weekend my wife and I decided we needed a break from our usual weekend routine which usually includes walking around World Market, making snide remarks about ugly rugs and adding new items to our wish list. (My wife loves their furniture) We didn’t really feel like going to the HEB (Texas regional grocery store chain). So out of the blue on Saturday night my wife had a sudden moment of enlightenment, “we shall go to San Antonio!” she proclaimed.

 We have been there once before on our long trip down here from Chicago and loved the city, people and atmosphere and we had been joensing to go back. Being in the glass is half empty kind of mood that I was, I said “wellllllll ok but what are we going to do about grocery shopping?” We always do our weekly shopping on the weekends, and a Sunday trip was going to ruin those plans.  She had an answer for that; we will go to Whole Foods! And on top of that we shall go to the zoo (which was actually the purpose of our trip).

Mahi burgers with mango salsa, spinch and bean salad

So early the next morning, after getting our starbucks fix we drove, after 2 and half hours we had arrived! We walked for over three hours around the zoo (easy to do there, this zoo rocks, plus we got there right at feeding time!) and once we were good and tired of walking around we headed to Whole Foods, which happens to be my all time favorite grocery store. We had made a pact that we would buy anything that looked good there regardless of price….basically if we’re going to drive almost 3 hours were about to make it RAIN. We came home with bags full of delicious, healthy food and have loved eating dinner every night.

 Usually when we take a vacation, we come back feeling a little worse; we’ve been lying around and eating junk. This was the first trip in a long time that we’ve actually come home feeling healthier than when we left!  It was one of the best trips we have ever taken, and it really focused on exercise and healthy eating.

How do you usually feel after vacations? Are there any places to take a weekend trip that you can come back feeling good about how you spent your time?


Weekly Review: Paleo Diet v. Vegan

So in my quest to find the perfect diet (which I have definitely not achieved by any means), I’ve come across two diets that have gotten a lot of attention; vegan diet and the paleo diet. Both diets claim to be the most natural, healthy diet possible; able to reduce your chronic diseases and allow you to live a healthier, happier life. They both claim to be scientifically sound, only including foods that we were designed or evolved to eat. And yet, the paleo diet consists mostly of meat, while the vegan diet includes no animal products at all. How can both of these diets claim to be so healthy but not include some of the same major food groups?

In case you’re not familiar with these diets, let me give you a little background.

Vegan: This diet does not permit any animal products. That means no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no butter. A vegan eats mainly fruits and vegetables, beans, and grains.

Paleo: This is a newer fad based on what the human diet supposedly consisted of during the Paleolithic Era, approximately 10,000 years ago. The diet relies heavily of meat, vegetables and starchy plants. Most variations eat some legumes, but not many. Grains are not encouraged and dairy is not allowed in the diet.

Whenever I’m stumped about the best possible diet or exercise, I turn to my favorite source of knowledge… It’s a great search engine specifically for scientific, peer-reviewed journal articles. If you ever read a crazy health or scientific claim and want to check out the truth for yourself, pubmed is a great place to start. So, what is the real science behind these diets? Have they actually been tested?

Vegan: The science behind this diet became mainstream with the publication of The China Study by Dr. Campbell. This was an enormous epidemiological study of the population in China that showed increases in chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes associated with increases in animal products. Basically, the people who ate the most meat and dairy were the most sick. In the literature, I also found that a plant-based diet was associated with improvements in blood glucose (improved diabetes), and reduction in heart disease and inflammation. I had a difficult time finding any research to suggest that a vegan diet harmed people’s health, however I do want to make the caveat that all subjects in these studies were supervised by a nutritionist or physician. Vegans do need to be careful to eat enough calcium, vitamin D, iron and B12.

Paleo: The research for the paleo diet is a little thinner, mostly because this diet hasn’t been developed for very long, and some people can’t seem to agree on exactly what the diet should consist of. There is a nice review article I found that summarizes the research, if you’re interested. In a few randomized controlled trials, the paleo diet did seem to reduce the symptoms of diabetes, and in some studies had a positive effect on BMI.  In another study, the paleo diet reduced inflammation and markers of cardiovascular disease as well. However, most of these studies had a small number of participants and were short term. There may be risks associated with having such a high protein diet and a diet high in saturated fat, so consult your doctor before starting this one.

So who wins? Well, I like to take the best of both worlds. Both diets emphasize a heavy intake of vegetables and fruits, and both diets exclude processed foods and refined sugars. As far as the meat v. grain debate, I still choose to eat both in moderation and choose lower saturated fat options if at all possible.

What do you think? Have you tried either of these diets?


Final Spartacus Review

Hey guys, sorry for posting this week’s review a little late. I am now into second week of the 2012 Spartacus workout. I still find the workout physically challenging, although I have started to get a little bored because there is no variety; it is the same 10 exercises everyday you do this. Also this is almost a purely lower body workout, 7 out of 10 exercises are exclusively legs. So if you haven’t been doing a lot of squats and lunges be prepared to be so sore you can’t complete the program 3 times in your first week.  I now have multiple weights to use as I mentioned last week that this would help enhance the workout.  As mentioned before the degree of difficulty varies greatly in-between exercises, so to keep the intensity high you will need a variety of weights to switch between.

As far as my diet is concerned I haven’t changed anything except for lunch.  I have swapped my organic fruit bar with one of those squeezable fruits and only because the grocery store was out of my regular fruit bar. I also forgot to mention that I drink about 20 cups of water a day…’s hot in south Texas all the time!

 I know that I have stated that I would be doing this routine for 6 weeks but after doing for 2 weeks now I have changed my mind. I will only being doing one more week of this routine.  Honestly it just isn’t providing the level of challenge and fitness I desire. I am currently looking for a new program to go on to review. I have been attending a training class, so when I am done with that I plan on taking on a UFC workout by joining a mixed martial arts gym for a month, but in the mean time I am looking for a new routine so if you have a good one you have tried, or one you like to see tried please let me know.


High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

One of the hottest things in fitness right now is HIIT or high intensity interval training. Basically, this means exercising in short bursts of intense exercise (usually somewhere between 30 seconds and 2 minutes) with a similar amount of rest. These types of work-outs are usually shorter in duration than a typical workout, lasting for a total of 15 to 30 minutes.

Who Does This Training?

Typically, interval training has been exclusively performed by athletes. Runners, basketball players, and soccer players used these workouts to improve their endurance and speed, and used interval training to enhance performance in competition. For a long time, it was thought that the average person didn’t need to engage in anything so strenuous because moderate activity elicits plenty of benefits. However, HIIT has begun to hit the mainstream and people are starting to talk.

The most popular HIIT workout on the market is Insanity. It is an at-home video program which requires no equipment. You just use your body weight and engage in jumping, kick-boxing, and plyometrics in intense intervals with little rest.

Does it Work?

Interesting question. So far, the evidence says that yes, this type of workout can be very effective in aiding in weight loss and can actually give you some of the same heart benefits as moderate exercise. The New York Times has a nice article this morning about a study done at McMaster University investigating the effects of interval training on cardiac patients. The training was done in 1 minute intervals on a cycle  at 90% of the patients heart rate max and they were given 1 minute to rest after each interval. They worked out for 20 miuntes per day, several times per week. Amazingly, the HIIT patients had similar, if not better improvements in cardiac function and vascular following the workout. There is also some research suggesting that HIIT is effective in reducing insulin sensitivity in diabetic patients as well. However, there is one thing I do want to ask you before you decide to start HIIT.

Are you actually going to do it?

Almost any form of exercise is beneficial, but it will only improve your life if you actually do it! HIIT is intense, especially if you get a commercial program like Insanity. After a long hard day, are you more likely to take a walk around the block, or work out at your heart rate max? The most important thing for your health is actually exercising, so if you find HIIT enjoyable, awesome! Get started! But, if not, there are other ways to improve your health and your heart.

Have you ever tried Insanity? How long did you stick with it?


Redefining “The Good Life”

I woke up this morning craving something fresh. I was going to make some eggs or just have a piece of toast with peanut butter, but I had this intense craving for something truly delicious and this morning, delicious meant fresh. Somehow, everything in my kitchen that came in a package was unappealing; I wanted to eat something juicy, colorful, and most importantly, something that made me feel good after I ate it.

In my search for all things health related, I have come upon several stories where people describe that after they start a healthy diet, their taste actually changes. They stop craving fried foods and chocolate cake and actually crave fruits and vegetables. Before Kevin and I started this diet, I didn’t really believe them. I mean, honestly, who craves asparagus? But this morning was the first time I was beginning to wonder if my taste buds were finally switching over to the dark side; I wanted fresh fruit and nothing else was going to cut it.

As strange as it sounds, I think this gives me hope for the future; hope that I can change how I define “the good life”. For many of us, when we think of truly delicious, satisfying food, the kind that sticks to your ribs and makes you feel like all is well in the world, we think of meat and potatoes, macaroni and cheese, chicken parmesan, and for me, chocolate cake. It’s those foods that we associate with celebration, joy, and fullness. To tell someone they can never eat those foods again is almost blasphemous and signifies that their life will always be a little bit worse. But, what if we were able to redefine which foods fell into that category?

I am wondering how we will change as Kevin and I keep at our healthy diet. Right now, we eat pretty well during the week, but on the weekends, we still go out to dinner (and lunch. And, sometimes breakfast 🙂 ) But I have been noticing that the things we order even when we eat out are starting to change. We order more salads, more fruits and almost nothing fried. We don’t stuff ourselves and don’t feel obligated to finish everything put in front of us. Without really realizing it, I think our tastes are starting to change. I am getting used to feeling so healthy and light when I eat fruits and vegetables and healthy proteins. I definitely notice that I feel significantly worse when I eat sugar and processed foods, and slowly both Kevin and I are starting to eliminate them from our diet.  We’ve even planted a garden in our back yard! I’ll put up pictures as soon as anything starts to grow!

I think the bottom line is that the more you treat your body well, the more is becomes accustomed to it, eventually making your healthy lifestyle a habit and not a chore.

Have any of you noticed this? How do you define “the good life?”


2012 Spartacus Workout: Week 1


Well, I am a week into this thing and for the most part I am feeling pretty good about this routine and about my healthy weight. For about the past 5 months I have been running with my wife to help her train for her ultra race, and it really feels good to get back to a more testosterone challenging workout! I will say this however; the majority of this work out seems to be legs based. I don’t really think anybody got jacked arms from this workout, but hey, I am only a week into it. Check out my progress so far!

Kevin Week 1

*This is a picture of Kevin at week 1. If I was more computer savvy, I could figure out how to put his before picture side-by-side with his week 1, but I don’t know how! Does anyone know how to do it? -Sara

Moreover, I will say this workout needs one adaptation: it says to pick a weight that is challenging enough that you struggle to complete the work out, but I suggest having at least one set of weights 5-10 pounds lighter than the one you use. By the time you get to the third set you are pretty well smashed! And, having a lighter weight allows you to keep going instead of bending over and holding your knees. This workout also fails to prescribe a proper warm up. I have been kicking this thing off at 4:45 am, so I need a good warm up to even wake up let alone do mountain climber push ups. For my warm up I have been running about ¾ of a mile before I start.


As for my food diary, I have chosen to keep it really quite simple.  The only thing that changes for me is my dinner.


Breakfast: I drink a homemade smoothie containing orange juice, raspberries, spinach and Greek yogurt. I usually have this as soon as my work out is over at about 5:30. After my shower I make a breakfast taco with 1 egg, 1 strip of turkey bacon, 1 tortilla and a little bit of cheese.

Lunch: I pack a cliff bar, 1 banana, a low fat string cheese, an almond butter sandwich and an organic fruit bar. I start eating my lunch 1 piece an hour starting at nine so that by the time my lunch break comes I only have my sandwich left. I do this so I can work during my lunch break, but I also really like doing this because I never really get hungry

Dinner: I have really eaten a variety of things for dinner. I’ll have a bowl of south west taco soup, half a bowl of tortellini or a baked chicken leg with a vegetable.

After dinner snack: This is a must! I usually have pistachios and flavored seltzer water.

I’ll will keep you all updated on how it’s going. Anyone else try the Spartacus workout this week?


%d bloggers like this: