Archive for June, 2008

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Links: Sodium and Portion Sizing

June 11, 2008

Got a sugar/salt addiction?

The hidden ingredients in the convenience foods we now eat so much of really add up. There’s salt and sugar lurking in just about everything, and the culprit is that much more dangerous when you can’t really notice that it’s there. Salad dressings and ketchup and many other condiments are often surprisingly loaded with sugar, and when there isn’t a recommended amount of sugar we should be consuming, this makes it especially difficult to judge just how addicted we can become to these kinds of things (check out Susan’s blog if you’re interested in learning more about the struggle to kick the sugar habit!). It is very frustrating to look at a nutrition label and be able to see all of the percentage of daily values for the various nutrients, and then see that for sugar the grams are listed, but there is no suggested percentage. Keep in mind that 1 teaspoon of sugar contains 4 grams of sugar (oh my that’s a lot of teaspoons of sugar in one can of soda!).

How much sugar should we be getting? And what is a consumer to do? Comparing the sugar values with different brands and foods is just about the only thing you can do in this situation. My personal choice is to try to eat the natural sugars (from milk, apples, dates and so forth) and limit the added sugars when possible. But when you start to pay attention, it is surprising to discover just how much we add extras like sugar and salt to just about everything.

I was aware that when it comes to salt in particular, 2300 mg is the absolute most we should be consuming in a day as the tolerable upper limit (meaning, if we go beyond that, it could reach toxicity levels. Too much of anything, as we all know, is never a good thing!). However, until I read this article, I was not aware that 500 mg is more than a satisfactory amount of salt for us to have in a day!

To put this into perspective: 2300 mg of sodium is equal to one teaspoon of salt. I encourage you right now to go to the kitchen, get out a measuring spoon, and measure out a teaspoon of salt (go on- I’ll still be here when you get back!). Done? Good. Now consider just how much salt you add to what you eat- whether in cooking or as a seasoning on food. In fact, take that one teaspoon and every time you want to eat salt today, take it specifically from that teaspoon to see how much salt you actually use in a day. At the end of the day, consider how much salt you also get from the packaged foods you eat. A can of chickpeas can contain as much as 30% of your daily intake of sodium in 1 cup (the “daily intake” being 2300 mg). Packets of soup, soy sauce, and nearly all frozen dinners have similar values of sodium.

I think that it is good to be aware of the amount of sodium in our diets because cutting back can significantly better our health. And the other major benefit to reducing our salt intake is that you can begin to taste the food underneath all that salt! And isn’t it delicious? Try playing around with different spices to replace some of the salt and you’ll likely find all sorts of interesting and delicious combinations. Enjoying our food and experimenting with it can be such a wonderful experience!

And I’ll take a double serving of gravy, and some extra cheese, and a refill on the Coke…

It’s certainly not new to hear that portions are getting bigger and bigger, and so controlling portion sizes is something that a lot of people are working on (read: struggling with) in efforts to achieve and maintain a healthy balance. Leslie Beck wrote an article discussing this very subject, and also offers the usual suggestions for portion control and portion sizing. I always like a good reminder on the basics of taking control of our portions, although if you take a look at the comments following her article, it is evident that not all people appreciate such tips. As Brian Wansink discusses in Mindless Eating, even though we might not realize that we’re eating far more than is necessary, we’re still doing it (side note: I love his story on the man who had been a bartender for over a decade and yet when he was instructed to pour a shot into a larger glass, he repeatedly poured far more than a single shot- and yet he pours shots every day! It just goes to show that eyeballing portions can lead to a huge amount of distortion).

The discussion following Leslie Beck’s article goes on to contemplate what we eat vs how we eat. I am inclined to think that it is both what we eat and how we eat that make the difference. We need our nutrients, but having an over-nutrition problem is not desirable! And now that I have seen the picture of popcorn on Brian Wansink’s website, I think I might have to go and make some of the air popped version… salt free:)

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Life Lessons: Habits

June 10, 2008

Last weeks recipe? A sugar scrub, courtesy of Gena (*waves* thanks, Gena!). I’ve only used it once and it is fantastic; I already got a compliment on how soft my skin is. I followed her advice to use baby oil and the vanilla extract, which works beautifully. I highly recommend it! Not only is this exfoliating scrub incredibly easy to make, but you’re likely to have all of the ingredients easily on hand and it will make you positively glow. Using this sugar scrub has now been added to my list of healthy habits that I want to continue to do on a regular basis.

What’s the big deal about having healthy habits? Well, as we go through life, every one of us develops certain ways of acting and thinking- certain habits- that contribute to the way we live our lives and impact much of what we do, whether or not we recognize it. These habits can expand or contract our comfort zone, helping or hindering us in our jobs, relationships, and way of life. Because these little habits of ours add up so quickly and can grow without our even noticing, it is crucial to take the time to evaluate our habits and recognize which ones are worthy of remaining habits and which ones we should ditch.

I have managed to develop what I believe to be some very good habits during my healthy journey. Whereas when I was younger I might only drink 1 glass of milk a day, now I am sure to drink 2 glasses as well as some yogurt and cheese to up my calcium intake. When I am by myself, 90% of the time I will take the stairs instead of the elevator for my legs to become strong. I am more aware of the amount of activity that I do during the day and when at all possible I will walk to my destination rather than drive (and this, like the stairs choice, is beneficial not only to me but also to the environment. You know I’m all about the win-win!).

However, sometimes, our habits are those which affect others without us realizing it at all. Yesterday I was informed that my eating habits cause more strain among people than I would have guessed. My sister and boyfriend tried to explain to me that in my choices to ask for dressings and sauces on the side, and my requests to try to turn every meal I eat into a healthier one and my continuous ordering of water over any other drink, causes the people I am dining with to feel guilty and judged.

It is no secret among my friends and I that I am doing my best to make healthier choices. But I also make a huge effort to not try to impose my views on anyone else and I respect their decisions if they choose something that I would not have eaten. Therefore, I am in a conflicting position: I can continue to make my food choices and have these people feel as though I believe that I am morally superior to them, or I can give up my choices (which I believe very strongly in) to accommodate so that other people will not feel badly about what I do.

Has anyone else ever been in this kind of situation? And could you work out some kind of compromise so that everyone is satisfied and no one feels judged or embarrassed? What sort of habits have you grown that have a positive as well as an unseen negative aspect to them?

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The things we do in the name of health!

June 7, 2008

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Yesterday it was pouring rain when I walked out the door for boot camp. Coming down in buckets, the rain had me already drenched by the time I got to the park. But even though the sky was that dull, steely gray color, and the wind was strong and cold, there was no lightning so we (that is, half the class- the other half being normal enough to see the rain and choose to sleep an extra hour rather than exercise in bad weather conditions) stuck with it and carried out our circuit training in a surprisingly cheerful manner. After a brutal 45 minutes of slogging in the rain, our trainer kindly wrapped up the session a little early because of said rain and we poured off the pools of water that had accumulated on our mats before heading our separate ways. As I walked up the stairs to the condo my shoes were squelching and leaving a flood of water in my wake; my clothes were so soaked through that my skin was completely wet underneath them! It’s all about building character:) (major love for Calvin & Hobbes right now). I was a cold, shivering, drowned rat of a mess- and I loved it. If it had just been me on my own, contemplating an early morning run and then seeing those kind of weather conditions, would I have still gone for that run? I’m about 99% sure that I would not have. Being held accountable is a huge part of the equation for me. And because I do end up enjoying it so much, I purposely put myself in positions of being held accountable to fire up that motivation.

But my exercising in ridiculous weather conditions is nothing compared to the following story:

Utter Discrimination

Recently the media has been all over the case of one woman who, after cutting her hair for cancer research, was fired from her waitressing job. Naturally, this has caused the public to become completely outraged. There are so many things wrong with this blatant and unjustified discrimination! There are plenty of men who have shaved heads and are respectable professionals; some people cannot prevent hair loss for various reasons (and will sometimes consequently shave their heads); lots of women now are shaving their heads in a perfectly respectable and professional manner; many people with a head full of hair look entirely unprofessional and unkempt; and this is for cancer research. I’m thoroughly disgusted by the restaurant that fired this woman on such a ridiculous basis. What about trying to help people in need? And what about the freedom to express yourself by the way you present yourself to the world?

Tell me your thoughts! Have you ever done anything really crazy for health reasons? What were the consequences? Was it worth it?

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Learning Healthy Lessons

June 5, 2008

Boot Camp: Round Two started up on Monday! So nice to get back to that routine after having a week off. The new class is twice as big as the last one but all of the women seem to be very nice and there’s that similar air of support and encouragement that existed with the last group. I’m not sure that we’ll all become as close-knit a group as we were last month (we all went out for drinks and dinner after our last session!) but that’s alright. Four of the women from the last group have returned for this boot camp so its good to have some familiar faces about!

Sara, the boot camp instructor, mentioned last session that we easily burn 800-1000 calories per session. This came as a huge (albeit welcome) surprise to me; I was sure that the number would be about half of that. I have read so many articles warning about how people always underestimate how many calories they consume and overestimate how many they burn that I suppose somewhere along the line I started almost doing the reverse to prevent me from falling into that trap. But it is important to be realistic, and to find the middle ground, rather than go from one extreme to the next. That way we can achieve the most accuracy and the best understanding of where we are at.

Just as important as it is to be realistic and truthful about where we are at from a healthy point of view, it is equally vital to remember the needs of our bodies. In my efforts to improve my nutrition and to eat clean and non-processed, there have been a few stumbling blocks along the way which have caused me to stop and reassess my position. Such as, for example, my most recent baking fiasco!

Take a look at this photograph:

What you see here is my recreation of the pumpkin bread that I had made before. I was excited to try it out a second time with some revisions to the recipe- doubling up the cinnamon, adding a bit more ginger, using my own homemade applesauce, adding a bit more pumpkin and vanilla. I had high hopes for this second attempt at the pumpkin bread. And then I considered the salt.

I’m not super big on the salt. I don’t like adding it to very much and I don’t like the idea of having a high amount of salt in my diet. None of that processed-food-with-the-main-ingredient-being-salt business for me! So what do I do? I eliminate the salt completely.

Perhaps I’d hit my head on the wall earlier that day. Or maybe the oven was acting up and it was just a coincidence. Or maybe- just maybe- its a bad idea to mess around too much with the basic ingredients of a recipe when you don’t really know what they’re needed for in the first place.

The end result was that when I took my delicious-smelling pumpkin bread out of the oven approximately 1 hr 30 minutes later and sliced myself a little piece, the inside was… raw. And I don’t just mean a little bit mushy and slightly undercooked. No no. This was completely raw. It looked as though it had been in the oven for maybe 5 minutes.

I thought back to my elimination of salt. Maybe, I thought, it wasn’t just in there for no reason whatsoever. I’d hate to waste that pumpkin bread. So I scooped out the innards, as you can see in the photo (because the outside cooked quite nicely), mixed in the required amount of salt, and plopped the whole big mess back into the pan.

Not only are some ingredients necessary for recipes, but the order that they are added, for chemical reactions to take place, is also a key step. After another hour and a half of baking in the oven, the result was exactly the same: a cooked outside, and a raw inside. There was no saving this pumpkin bread!

The lesson learned here is that you should never stray too far from the original recipe unless you actually know what you’re doing and understand the chemical reactions of baking and cooking. I am assuming it must be the salt that is the main reason for this pumpkin bread not working, although I still am not sure entirely why it turned out so raw. I will have to try it out again, with the correct portion of salt, and hope to goodness that I don’t just let a bunch of ingredients go to waste again!

And getting back to discussing extremes, this mishap also reminded me that my body needs a certain level of sodium. Trying to cut it out completely is ridiculous. It brought things back into perspective and reminded me that if I start eliminating things like sugar and then oil and then salt and so on, then there’ll be nothing left! All of these things are necessary. In moderation. I just hope that these reminders don’t always come in the form of a failed baking experiment:)

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Hamam Comparison

June 2, 2008

In December 2006, my sister was living in Istanbul, so I went there for a few weeks to spend Christmas with her (if you’ve never been to Turkey, you should definitely go if you get the chance! It’s gorgeous). One of the best things we did there was to experience the hamam.

Hamams are the Turkish baths. They involve being washed by Turkish women in a very large communal room (although separate for men and women) and being exfoliated and massaged. It’s a very hot, steamy room, and this kind of spa treatment is just fantastic. The hamam that we went to is this one here: a really big building with so much history! The architecture was beautiful. And that huge stone slab in the centre of the room? That’s where you lie down and have the treatment administered to you.

After enjoying the hamam so much in Turkey, we decided that as a Christmas present last year to ourselves and to my mum we would go to the exclusive TenSpa hamam here in Winnipeg. And yesterday we finally spoiled ourselves and went to the hamam!

The North American version was very much different from the Turkish one. For one thing, it was a lot cleaner:) We were given huge comfy bathrobes and there was cay (Turkish tea) and fruits and muffins available. Bottles of water were displayed everywhere for the taking.

After relaxing and nibbling on some apricots, the three of us were led out of the waiting room and into a smaller room where we adjusted to a warmer temperature and ate some Turkish Delight and drank more tea. Then we were taken through to the hamam itself! We were incredibly lucky because there was no one else there that day so we got the whole place to ourselves. The room was deliciously hot and after showering, we rubbed a salt scrub on our skin and then three attendants came in and had us lie down on a large stone slab while they massaged our scalps and legs and feet, poured water over us, and rubbed some kind of lotion on us. It felt wonderful. The room was dimly lit and I could’ve just rolled right over and gone for a nap!

When it was finished, we drank more water and stayed in the hamam for a little longer before returning to the smaller room to readjust to a more regular temperature and rub aloe lotion on our skin to rehydrate it. The only glitch that occurred was that my sister fainted from the heat at one point (we’re both prone to doing that in extremely hot temperatures. It can be a bit painful on a harder surface, like collapsing in a shower!), but she recovered quickly. We spent a long time relaxing in another room full of soft couches and drinking a yogurt-seaweed drink before concluding our hamam experience.

I loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. The hamam is so relaxing and pleasant! This version was much more gentle than the one we had in Turkey (the Turkish women just sort of slap you on the bottom when they want you to roll over and such, which was pretty funny), and I found it interesting how at this one we had towels to wear. Not so in Turkey. At the Turkish hamam, everyone is completely naked. And I think that its unfortunate that there are so many body image issues and such an uncomfortable relationship with our bodies that we are too ashamed to replicate the Turkish attitude. Not only that, but it’s really difficult to keep one of the towels from falling off! Such a hassle to keep retying it and hitching it up.

This weekend was also very exciting because not only did I have that lovely spa treatment and spend quality girl time with my mum and sister, but I also decided on a random whim to go to Rome for a couple weeks at the end of August! I will be traveling with the boyfriend and three of his friends. One of them found a great deal on flights so we figured we should just go for it and we bought the tickets. I am very much looking forward to seeing Rome again. And in the spirit of spontaneity, I’m challenging all of you to go out and do something you wouldn’t normally do today! It doesn’t have to be as big as a plane ticket. Or, it can be bigger! Be a little crazy. Enjoy life. What spontaneous thing have you done recently, no matter how big or small?