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Weekly Review: Veganism

My week as a vegan!

So last week, I decided to give the whole super-healthy vegan thing a try, just to see if I would become one those super-humans who only eats plants and feels amazing all the time. I actually did stick to the vegan rules the whole time (ok, well almost), and there were some good things and bad things I think.

First, the good.

The best thing about trying to be a vegan was that it forced me to cook. Every night. I actually got home from work, opened the refrigerator and pulled out ingredients to make a meal! Crazy! Kevin usually does all the cooking, but eating vegan without him left me no choice. I found myself liking it a bit; there’s something intrinsically rewarding about pulling together a homemade meal that I really did enjoy. I certainly eat a more balanced diet when I make dinner for myself, rather than just eating hummus and pita chips for dinner.

Then, the bad.

I missed my dairy! I have a piece of string cheese and a yogurt for lunch every day and I sorely missed those. I tried to replace them with a Kind Bar and an apple, but it just wasn’t the same. Honestly, it was really hard to feel full. The tempeh tacos I made filled me up, but that’s about it. I always left dinner feeling not hungry, but not really satisfied. Plus, may I’m just not good at making vegan meals, but nothing tasted all that great. It wasn’t that things tasted bad, but just nothing that really satified me in a delicious way.

And, the ugly.

I craved everything I wasn’t supposed to eat. I hated feeling so restricted, and I know that for the future, it just isn’t how I want to live my life. I don’t like feeling that certain foods are off limits, and I don’t want to feel guilty all the time. I much prefer to think about adding good foods, rather than restricting foods. I did find some new foods I’d like to add to my diet, like hemp milk and tempeh, and I found new recipes I’ll keep in the rotation. However, I just couldn’t justify living within such a narrow restriction forever. Plus, I’d have to take vitamins, which I really hate.

I’d love to hear about any of your dietary adventures! Have any of you ever tried veganism or another radical change?

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5 “Health Foods” that Aren’t Healthy

I know there’s a ton of information out there about what is a “healthy” diet, and advertising doesn’t help to clarify the situation at all. We get bombarded with images of “all natural”, sugar-free, and pictures of skinny people eating and drinking things we think will make us fitter, thinner and healthier. Unfortunately, many of these products don’t deliver what they promise, and instead may wreak havoc on your waistline. Here are the top 5 offenders (in my opinion):

1. Gatorade. This is my favorite product to poke fun at, not because their advertising is deceiving, but because of the way most of us react to it. Every Gatorade ad features professional athletes, extreme endurance runners, and fitness gurus pushing themselves to the max, and using Gatorade to achieve their incredible goals. And yet, who consumes a huge portion of their product? We do. Us 30 min run 3-5 times per week, average joes. Why? We know we aren’t Lance Armstrong or LeBron James, and yet some of us drink these products after every workout. Time for a little reality check; Gatorade (or other sports drinks) are a great way to replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates if you’ve depleted them.  Working out for 2-3 hours at a time in the sun means you’re very dehydrated, have low muscle glucose, and in need of sodium and potassium. If you just ran 2 miles on a treadmill, water will do just fine. For those of you who are interested in exercising to lose weight, Gatorade is a great way to negate all the hard work you’ve just accomplished. Put the bottle down and just have some water. It’s free!

2. Balance Bars. These are one of those energy bars that fall in between a few categories, and may be successful at tricking you into thinking they are incredibly healthy. (I used to eat one everyday!) The packaging has a runner on the front with a 40-30-30 graphic that suggests scientific research has gone into the bar (which it probably has). However, each bar has 200 calories, 17 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of fat. Just for a point of reference, a Twix Bar has 286 calories, 28 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of fat. So, the balance bar is better, but not by much.

3. Vitamin Water. How could something called vitamin water be bad for you? Well, it isn’t necessarily bad, just not as good as they claim. Each bottle of vitamin water contains 120 calories, and 32 grams of sugar (more than the Twix Bar). That’s a ton of sugar for something you’re just sipping on to get some vitamins. You’re much better of drinking water with lemon and taking a multi-vitamin every morning.

4. Diet Soda. You may have heard about this one. There are several reports and publications liking regular diet soda consumption to an increase in metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, and weight gain. Here’s a nice article reviewing some of those studies. The evidence is controversial; some claim extraneous factors led to weight gain, and that not enough factors were controlled to draw accurate conclusions. What I do think is interesting is that while the relationship between diet soda use and weight gain is weak, there is convincing evidence that diet soda doesn’t lead to weight loss. (at least not in the long-term). Additionally, the artificial sugars and dyes used in soda have been linked to cancer and other digestive issues. If you can, try switching to water with lemon, or put some natural fruit juice in sparkling mineral water.

5. 100 calorie packs of anything. Honestly, I think these are just dumb. I bought them quite a bit in college thinking I would be able to regulate portions better and feel satisfied from a little treat, but it never worked. I would take one pack of 100 calorie cookies to school with me, eat another at dinner, and a third before bed; each time feeling completely unsatisfied with my meager portion of fake food. If you want to eat, then you should eat something whole, natural and real. Yes, it will contain more calories, but it will leave you actually feeling satisfied and you won’t need to eat so much.

What foods do you consider “diet” or “healthy” foods? Has your opinion of what’s healthy changed over time?

Changing the Way We Think About Exercise

If I mention the words “exercise program,” what comes to mind? Do you think about joining a gym, sweating it out in a spinning class or maybe training for a marathon? Most people associate exercise with something hard, sweaty and expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. I came across this article in the New York Times about a new book written by Gretchen Reynolds, one of their columnists. I loved her idea so much, I thought I’d tell you about it. Her book is called “The First 20 Minutes” and details the most current research about how long and how hard we should exercise.

She clearly defines how much exercise is required for health, as compared to how much exercise we need to become more fit (faster, stronger, more competitive). “The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in the first 20 minutes of being active.” Reynolds explains.

Without being evangelical, I wanted people to understand that this is a book about how little exercise you can do in order to get lots and lots of health benefits. Two-thirds of Americans get no exercise at all. If one of those people gets up and moves around for 20 minutes, they are going to get a huge number of health benefits, and everything beyond that 20 minutes is, to some degree, gravy.”

I’ve seen this so much in research; just walking 20 minutes a day lowers your risk (by quite a bit) for not only heart disease and diabetes, but cancer and depression as well. Our bodies were just made to move around during the day, and our health benefits tremendously when we do. When encouraged to exercise, I think most people feel pressure to join a gym, lift weights or start running, and perhaps it seems either too expensive, too time consuming or just too hard. Reynolds disagrees with that idea, “If people want to be healthier and prolong their life span, all they really need to do is go for a walk. It’s the single easiest thing anyone can do. There are some people who honestly can’t walk, so I would say to those people to try to go to the local Y.M.C.A. and swim.” Walking is so easy and so cheap, and the best part is that you don’t have to get 20 minutes in all at once. Plenty of research supports the fact that if you walk 10 minutes in the morning, and 10 in the evening, you still reap the same benefits.

Reynolds also discusses the importance of moving around during the day, and not going too long without standing up. For more information on the dangers of sitting, check out one of our previous posts.

Others who aren’t big proponents of exercise feel that they put in plenty of time at the gym, but don’t lose much weight right away, and think it isn’t worth their time. “I think a lot of people look to exercise to help them lose weight, and when they don’t lose weight immediately with exercise, they quit. They return to the couch, and they basically never move again. What is lost in that is that fitness is almost certainly more important than fatness,” says Reynolds. Exercise, especially moderate exercise, may not lead to large weight loss if not coupled with a reduced calorie diet. I think so many people struggle here because you feel so great about all that exercise you just did, and then you drink a 200 calorie Gatorade, completely negating the caloric deficit.

I loved this quote:

If someone starts an exercise program and improves his fitness, even if he doesn’t lose an ounce, he will generally have a longer life and a much healthier life. It would be nice if people would look at exercise as a way to make themselves feel better and live longer and not necessarily as a way to make themselves skinnier.”

How do you view exercise? Is it a way to stay thin, a way to be healthy, or both?

-Sara

 

 

Benefits of Juicing

 

image from http://www.lifestyledivine.com

So, it’s official; we’re juicers. I honestly never thought we would take the plunge, but it’s really been incredible how our dietary behaviors have changed since we started this blog. Information is incredibly powerful and persuasive and the more we learn about the power of food, the more our weekly grocery trip is altered. The journey to the juicer really began by watching the documentary Hungry for Change. Every nutritionist and physician interviewed on that film not only touted the benefits of a very vegetable heavy diet, but they sang the praises of juicing. Honestly, I kind of just rolled my eyes. I didn’t really know much about juicing except for those infomercials at 3 am where an older couple puts whole apples and celery into the Jack Lalane juicer. My first question was:

So what is a juicer and how does it work?

A juicer is this really fancy (and potentially expensive!) machine that can extract the juice from just about any fruit or vegetable. I was surprised at how much juice you can get from things ilke swiss chard, celery and strawberries. Basically you just press the fruit or vegetable against a spinning blade and filter, and all the pulp, seeds, rind, skin etc. is pumped out to the side while the juice gets drained

This is our juicer. We got it from Wal-mart for about $50

through the filter and into your glass.

What are the benefits of juicing?

Here is where I think a little research goes a long way. If you google juicing you’ll find a ton of pretty “out there” claims about the benefits. You may be lead to believe it’s magical; “juicing gives you perfect skin,” “juicing removes all toxins from your body” “juicing restores perfect health” are just some of the things you’ll come across. Regarding juicing’s magical properties, I do want to bust two myths I commonly hear about juicing.

  1. Juicing is better for you than eating the vegetables whole because the juice is easier to digest. There really isn’t any evidence that this is the case. Your stomach is really good at what it does and we were built to digest vegetables, even leafy ones. We don’t benefit from having our food “pre-chewed” by a juicer.
  2. Juicing removes toxins. Unfortunately, there really isn’t any scientific evidence I could find that suggests that juicing removes toxins from the body. The liver and kidney should be very effective at removing harmful toxins, but many vegetables and fruits are anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, which are incredibly beneficial.

Why Juicing is still awesome

For me, it’s a very effective way to eat way more phytonutrients that I would if I tried to rely on whole vegetables. I know how important veggies are for me, and yet when I put them on my plate at dinner time, I find myself still pushing them around like I did when I was 10. No way am I going to be munching on kale, swiss chard, or celery all day, but shove them all in some juice and they go down without a problem.

The other great benefit of juicing is that it takes the place of other processed foods. If I have a big glass of vegetable and fruit juice after dinner, I’m not hungry for dessert or snacks. Instead, I’ve fed my body and incredible cocktail of minerals, vitamins and other nutrients I can’t get anywhere else.

As far as the “magical” properties of juicing go, I do think my skin has gotten clearer, and I like the energy I have when I drink a lot of fresh juice, but I’m not convinced that it’s a life altering experience just yet.

Have you ever juiced? What did you think?

-Sara

For more information about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, come check out our ebook! http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007VI58SI

Weekly Review: Chia Seeds

So, I finally did it; I broke down and bought some chia seeds.  I’ve been reading about them for several months and wanted to try them, but we still have this whole jar of flax seed, and do we really need another seed in the fridge? But, this weekend, I went to Austin to visit some friends and one of them mentioned how eating chia seeds had really improved her complexion.
“Really?” I said. And that’s how it goes sometimes; you think your decisions are all to benefit your long-term health, but in the end, vanity wins. I bought chia seeds this weekend not to decrease my risk of heart disease or high blood pressure, but to get awesome skin.

So what are the benefits of chia seeds?

For those of you a little less vain than I, and are interested in integrating these little seeds for loftier reasons than a nice complexion, there are quite a few health benefits as well.  Chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, so in theory they should be good for your heart and your gut. But, I wanted to know whether the research actually supports the claims, and here’s what I found.  Chia seed consumption was found to decrease blood triglycerides and increase HDL (the good cholesterol) in rats who consumed large amounts in their feed (Ayerza 2007). Adding chia seeds to a sugary diet also improved blood sugar and insulin levels in rats, especially in those who had markers for diabetes (Chicco 2009). Both studies sound exciting, but the effects in humans are not as conclusive. Neimen et al gave overweight adults two servings of chia seeds every day for 12 weeks and saw no improvements in body weight, body composition, inflammation, or blood pressure. However, this study did not control for the diet of the participants. When all participants were on a reduced calorie diet, adding a mixture of chia seed, soy and oats led to a greater reduction in inflammation, and markers of diabetes.

So should we eat chia seeds?

Mostly, yes. Certainly they don’t seem to be a miracle drug, and if you don’t make any other changes to your habits, chia seeds probably won’t reverse your heart disease or diabetes. But, they do appear to give you an extra boost when combined with other healthy choices. So, if you’re looking to improve your overall health, chia seeds are a great addition to a healthy life.

How do I eat them?

They are teeny-tiny seeds that you can sneak in almost anywhere. They don’t need to be ground up to be absorbed (unlike flax), so you can sprinkle them on salads, on yogurt or even eat them plain. I’ve been adding them to my morning smoothie to make it a little more filling; the fatty acids and fiber help increase satiety. Another goofy thing about chia seeds is that if you let them sit in water for a few minutes, they create a gelatin, similar to tapioca. You can use the gel to make super-healthy desserts!

Have you ever tried chia seeds? I’ll let you know if I think they actually help your complexion!

-Sara

Weekly Review: Nike Fuel Band

Maybe you’ve heard the hype all around the internet; the next big thing will be…. The nike fuel band! They’ve created a small frenzy by only selling about 1,000 of these things at a time in select “pre-ordering” session, creating insane demand for their $149 device.

First of all, what is it?

Nike created a more integral and effective way to track your fitness during the day than a typical pedometer. Nike fuel is a wrist band that you wear either all day or during exercise that can track all types of movement through an accelerometer. The band can sync up with your iPhone and tracks your progress throughout the day. It also comes with a USB port to plug right into your computer (similar to the Nike Plus system). You are able to set a fitness goal for the day and then your iPhone displays a red, yellow and then finally green light as you achieve your goal. Here’s a link to Nike’s website: Nike Fuel Band

Is it worth it?

Maybe, depending on who you are. One thing to note, however, is that I’ve read many many stories already online about people who purchased defective bands. It seems that Nike may have sent the first few thousand out too soon and plenty of the bands are defective. So, be careful and make sure you have a number for customer service.

You might think it’s awesome if….

You love to track your progress and need motivation. This will give you up-to-the-minute data about how active you are and can be an incredible motivational tool. You may be surprised at how sedentary you are at work, and it can be fun to try to get to that green light everyday. You can upload your results online and compete with your friends or your significant other, so it could be a turning point for you if you just haven’t been able to get an exercise routine going.

Not worth your money if…

You’re a swimmer. (It isn’t water-proof) Or, if you care at all about accuracy. While an accelerometer certainly is more accurate than a pedometer, these devices are typically worn on the upper arm, not the wrist and often correlated with a hip accelerometer. Additionally, instead of using a typical counts-per-minute analysis, Nike has correlated the counts with an algorithm to estimate oxygen utilization, a process they dubbed “oxygen kinetics.”  They then have created their own measure of total work, “Nike Fuel” which is a term they made up. You set your daily goal in Nike Fuel and track your progress that way. You can get estimates of calories burned and total steps taken, but that information can also be estimated through a simple heart rate monitor and pedometer, which would be significantly cheaper.

Overall, if you have the money to spend and you’d like extra motivation, this may be a great product for you. Just make sure you understand how to use the technology and that you’re not too worried about accuracy.

Have any of you guys tried this thing? What did you think?

*We just finished our first ebook! It’s available on amazon and on the kindle! Come check it out: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007VI58SI

 

-Sara

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?

-Sara

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