Archive for March, 2009


Interpretations of Marketing Strategies: Hidden Information

March 30, 2009

On Friday, Crabby McSlacker at Cranky Fitness looked at the pros and cons of requiring calorie counts on restaurant menus. Because of the recent increase in places all across the States (and Canada, too, now) beginning to mandate nutritional information on restaurant menus, this has been the subject for debate for some time now. And the response at Cranky Fitness is evident of the general consensus: none of us really agree on the matter at all. The discussion in the comments was all across the map. Some were adamant that it’s necessary, some strongly opposed the notion, and others were indifferent. We all seem to have conflicting views on the matter, but something that many people made note of was that the information is often misleading or just plain wrong, anyways.

When I came across an article in the Nation’s Restaurant News which highlights that many restaurants boast inaccurate calorie information, I was reminded once again that we really need to take all information we get with a grain of salt. I love the idea of including the nutritional information at restaurants, myself, but as indicated in the article we cannot assume that the information corresponds exactly to what we’re getting on our plates. We should keep in mind that the same also goes for anything we eat in the grocery store; be it frozen meals or produce, it’s likely that somewhere along the way the count isn’t quite so accurate as suggested. I’m going to be skeptical about a package that claims the contents are 236 calories exactly on the nose. Round it up at least to 250 if you’re a calorie counter- it’s unlikely that the manufacturers have really nailed it down to such a precise detail. More often that not there could be 100+ calories that the label neglects to tell you about.

In this week’s issue of The Uniter there’s a feature piece by yours truly about the misleading claims on food products, as well: Who says health food is really healthy? I think we should definitely be demanding having as much information as possible right under our noses- and that includes nutritional stats on menus- because awareness is key to living healthy. But at the same time, we have to accept that the information we’re given should be considered ballpark material. A combination of awareness and healthy skepticism contributes to a better perspective and healthier lifestyle.

And this brings me to a website I have recently discovered, Charity Navigator. It is a fantastic way to look up charities and organizations of any kind to learn more about them and how you can get involved with them. Each charity is rated:

“Specifically, Charity Navigator’s rating system examines two broad areas of a charity’s financial health — how responsibly it functions day to day as well as how well positioned it is to sustain its programs over time.”

And that’s what really grabbed my interest, the information it provides for each charity: specifically, the breakdown of expenses.

The foundations are all rated* and provide a mission statement. I was fascinated to learn that only 54% of incoming money is for program expenses within the American Dietetic Association- administrative expenses are an astonishing 27%. Compare that to the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation, which puts a very respectable 90% towards program expenses, and it makes you start to think carefully about how much progress is being made within various organizations (not that I have anything at all against the American Dietetic Association. I think that their work is wonderful. But everything is worth a second examination).

Granted, there is likely to be much more beneath the surface going on than we can tell by just taking a quick peek at a graph- just like there’s going to be a lot more going on than we can tell by just taking a glance at the calorie counts on a menu- but it still provides a general starter point for us to heighten our awareness. What both Charity Navigator and the restaurant menu nutrition information really do is provide a springboard for us and a starting point from which we can realize that there is more to think about than we might have originally considered. These things allow us to dig a little deeper and find out more information if we so desire. The information is out there. The seed is being planted, and it’s up to us to figure out what we want to do with it and where we want to go from there.

*In case you’re wondering, Charity Navigator doesn’t evaluate itself, on the basis of it being a private foundation rather than a public one. I found that rather interesting. Regardless, it’s a great website and a very useful tool if you’re looking into different charities and organizations.

Don’t forget to answer this month’s poll about food vices!


Poll: Identifying Food Vices

March 27, 2009

Last month’s poll

In February we discussed what kind of milk we all enjoy. With 64 voters in total, 11% drink whole milk, 22% drink low fat or 1% milk, 30% drink skim (fat free) milk, 20% drink soy or another dairy alternative, and 17% don’t drink any kind of milk. It’s fairly evenly distributed all across the board! I was surprised at how many people don’t drink milk at all. I suppose I really should have included an option for other types of calcium supplements and such, but hindsight is 20/20. For those of you who choose not to drink milk, out of pure curiosity, how do you manage to consume adequate amounts of calcium in your diet? I’m interested for my (probably very distant) future challenge of going vegan 🙂

This month’s poll

As you might have noticed during the Sugar Challenge with my daily tracking of what I ate for the week, I have a bit of a portion control problem. I love food, and I love variety. I say that I eat mini meals throughout the day, but what that really means is that I eat constantly throughout the day. Food is never far from my wandering hand! I have begun to keep a personal food diary just so that I can watch my portion sizes a little better because it’s been getting out of hand. No matter how much exercising I do, I know that I don’t really need 2,500 calories a day, and that’s approximately where my food intake was getting to. Now I’m cutting back a little to a more reasonable amount for my size (and for how much I exercise/how hungry I am/what feels right for me). I am also happy to report that recording my food for this period of time is having a hugely positive affect on my eating and I think it is actually making me less obsessive this time around. I don’t imagine I’ll be doing it for too much longer, but right now it’s exactly what I need.

When it comes to portion control, I deal with it best when I take the time to think about exactly what kind of food I want to eat so that I really enjoy it each time. Also, I know that I need to keep busy to prevent myself from overeating. And at the moment, recording my eats is also keeping me aware of portion control. In the past I have been unable to record my food intake because of the obsessions that came along with it, but it appears that I have gotten past those unhealthy obsessions. For other ideas about working with portion control, check out this post at Healthy from 25 to 100.

So, for March’s poll, we’re looking at what our vices are. If we’ve got food issues, the best thing to do is identify what the problems are so that we can deal with them from there. My biggest food issue is portion control; what’s yours? And what do you do to deal with the issue?


Product Review: POM Juice

March 25, 2009

The POM Wonderful company kindly sent me some of their POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice to review and I was happy to oblige. I am not a big juice drinker myself, but I do enjoy pomegranates and any all-natural product is sure to catch my interest.

Pomegranate juice has been proven to have an incredibly high level of antioxidants. It even trumps green tea and red wine as an antioxidant powerhouse. POM Wonderful funded $25 million for scientific research of this particular brand of pomegranates and found them to be related to other health issues as well, such as cardiovascular health.

My first taste-test of POM resulted in a twisted mouth as I swallowed. It was incredibly tart; one mouthful was enough for me. I also had a couple of other people give it a try; they each drank a full glass but agreed that it was not something that they would buy in the future. To be fair, a big factor for this is that neither of them drinks juice on a regular basis. One reviewer, although she didn’t dislike it, made the comment that this drink is so bitter that it actually made her mouth drier, so this would not be a good juice to have if you’re trying to quench your thirst. The other reviewer enjoyed it and referred to it as “liquid pomegranate” and she really enjoyed the bitter/sour taste.

However, I did have POM in a smoothie (during our week-long Sugar Challenge), and the smoothie was delicious. I think that mixed with other ingredients, this could be  a really nice addition to smoothies or sauces (or cocktails!). The POM website includes a fair number of recipes for ways to use POM, many of which look very tasty. A lot of the recipes also include pomegranate seeds, a food that I love, but will have to wait to eat until they come in season once again.

This would appear to be a very healthy juice. I will not be buying it in the future (but I don’t drink any kind of juice, anyways, so that isn’t saying much), but I will be definitely adding the stuff that I have to smoothies. If you are a juice drinker I suggest you give this a try. I don’t think that it is entirely necessary to include POM in your life if you don’t like the taste (because you can still get the antioxidants and other health benefits from other nutritional sources- green tea is still plenty healthy for you!), but if you do like the taste then this would be a good addition to your diet. In moderation, of course- I’ve already turned orange from eating too many carrots; I don’t think the color of pomegranate juice would be a very becoming skin tone, either 😉

Have you tried POM Wonderful? What’s your take on it? Do you actively try to include products like this, which really emphasize the nutritional value of the product, into your diet?


Life Lessons: Toxicity Levels

March 23, 2009

I’m slightly neurotic.

My parent’s cat has been living with me for about a month now. She (the cat) moved in because the mother dear went away on holiday for a few weeks. It was nice for the first little while with playing with Sage the cat and cuddling with her, but then the fur everywhere and the constant waking me up in the middle of the night by walking across my head started to get to me. I managed to return her to my mother this past weekend and on Sunday I jubilantly brought out the vacuum cleaner to make my home a fur-free environment.

The trouble is, the vacuum cleaner we’ve got isn’t that great. It refuses to pick up gravel or cat litter, and instead just uselessly rolls it around the floor. I managed to vacuum the kitchen to some extent but when I got down the hall to my room I began to overheat and tense up and just started thinking about the mounds of cat hair everywhere until my breathing turned into a frantically loud high-pitched gasping at top speed and I was shaking uncontrollably. It was the second panic attack I’ve ever had in my life, and it was horrible and frightening.

I managed to calm myself down a little bit by dropping the vacuum cleaner and sitting on the couch and looking at a travel book, but when my sister came home and found me, the sobbing started up again as I explained what had happened. The whole situation seemed so incredibly silly that I was laughing even as we were going through deep breathing exercises.

Sometimes we don’t even see the stress sneaking up on us until the smallest thing puts us over the edge. Being able to handle ourselves and figure out what the real issues are is the struggle.

It was at this time, between the sobbing and the laughing and the breathing, that it came to my attention that my skin is orange. Next to my sister’s normal human-pink colored hands, I looked positively feverish. Vitamin A, it seems, has snuck up on me, just like the bad vacuum cleaner and cat fur did.

I really love carrots. If I’m honest, I eat about five carrots every day. On top of that, I also eat a cup or three of spinach every day or so. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin (meaning that once its in us, it’s not going anywhere, so we can overdose on it. Water-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin C, just get flushed out when we go to the bathroom so it’s very difficult to reach toxic levels of them), and carrots and spinach are both chock-full of Vitamin A. In fact, it’s normal to only consume decent-sized quantities of Vitamin A every couple days; you’re not really supposed to eat large amounts every single day unless you’re deficient in the vitamin. One of the main symptoms of having reached toxicity levels and overdose of Vitamin A is that your skin turns orange.

Even though things can sneak up on us unawares, when we do become aware, we’ve got to try to act immediately to reverse the effects so that problems don’t become even bigger. So I’m going to be cutting out the carrots from my life for a while to get a more normal tint back in my skin. I will not be keeping the cat at my place the next time the mother dear leaves town. Instead I’ll be taking care of Sage in her territory. I’m also going to go on the hunt for a quality vacuum cleaner.

Have you had something tiny put you over the edge? Have you overdosed on any nutrients without realizing it? Silly, serious, or a little bit of both, I want to hear it!


Sugar Challenge Follow-Up and Fitness Q & A

March 20, 2009

When I saw this message from my twitter friend @lizwicksteed, I knew I had to share it with all of you:

Hi Sagan

I’m now on day 6 of the challenge and have been amazed how quickly it’s going. We’ve eaten some delicious food (especially your recipes hehe) and I haven’t missed the sugar at all. One evening I did eat 8 dates in a fairly mindless way but other than that I haven’t felt any particular cravings and have even had to remind myself to eat my lunch a couple of times, which is so not me! It kind of levels out your mood too, doesn’t it? Like Julie I’m wondering about my balsamic vinegar – it’s extraordinary what foods contain sugar – even water biscuits, would you believe! I’m definitely going to keep added sugars to a minimum from now on. Thanks for having the idea and thanks for doing the hard work of giving a starter list of the kinds of meals you can eat. Off now for a breakfast of pitta stuffed with mashed banana, apple sauce and cinnamon….. By the way everyone the best chocolate bars in the world are sugar-free! My one big worry about the week was what I was going to do for breakfast on working days, when I often took a cereal bar and ate it at my desk – I hate eating soon after I get up. In the health food shop I found Nak*d fruit bars and bought some of those. There’s a cocoa one which is mostly dates, raisins, apple juice, walnut, almond, etc, and a little cocoa powder – it is pure heaven and far more satisfying than an ordinary chocolate bar… and guaranteed no added sugar!

– Liz

Thanks for the feedback, Liz! I love hearing about other people trying these experiments and challenges and to learn about how it affects each of us.

An interview revisited

Remember when I interviewed Kelly from Every Gym’s Nightmare for an article about personal trainers and fitness*? I really felt that she gave so much wonderful information that couldn’t be included in the article (word limits can’t be ignored, after all), so here is the rest of the interview for all of you to enjoy!

1. How do you motivate yourself and encourage others to motivate themselves to exercise each day?

I think one of the biggest motivators is focusing on the immediate positive. Too many people use long term goals, like losing a certain amount of weight, as motivation to get into the gym everyday. The problem with that is, weight loss takes a while to develop, which means you can get discouraged and start to skip your workouts.  People are result focused, so focusing on the benefits you receive immediately from exercise, like increased mood and energy, stress relief and better sleep will better motivate you to get your workout in each day.

2. How much cardio/stretching/weight training do you recommend to do each day/week?

According to the ACSM, the recommended guidelines for healthy adults is 20-60 min of continuous or intermittent (minimum of 10-min bouts accumulated throughout the day) aerobic (cardiovascular) activity most days of the week (5-6), one set of 8-10 exercises that conditions the major muscle groups 2-3 days a week for strength training, and stretch the major muscle groups a minimum of 2-3 days per week for flexibility.  These guidelines are to get health benefits from exercise. For weight loss or specific goals, like increasing muscle strength or size, in most cases you will need workout more frequently, but each person is different. In order to get a full picture of how to achieve your goals, you will have to sit down with a personal trainer or coach and develop a unique plan for you.

3. How do I know how heavy of a weight I should be lifting?

Weights and reps are a delicate balance. You should be lifting enough weight that the last rep you do of each exercise is the last rep you can do with proper form.  Once your form starts to slip, you are recruiting other muscle units which is ineffective and, in some cases, dangerous.  If you can perform over about 25 reps and still have good form, it’s probably time to up the weight to get more of a challenge.  You often hear about people doing 100 pushups or 100 crunches in a sitting- if you can do that many, it isn’t effective for you anymore and you need to increase the intensity by either adding weight, or performing a more difficult modification of the exercise.

4. Are body weight exercises as effective as weight lifting? 

It depends by what you mean by “effective.” Everyone works out for different reasons.  If you primary concern is muscle tone, or fat loss, yes, body weight resistance will do the trick- as long as the exercises you are performing get you to exhaustion (the last rep is the last one you can complete with proper form.)  If your primary goal is to increase the size of your muscles or to gain strength, weights is probably your most effective way to go, as the more weight you use, the more overload is applied to the muscle.

5. What exercises would you suggest for a warm up and cool down?

Your warm up and cool down should be a less intense version of whatever your workout was or is going to be.  Whatever muscles you are going to use during your workout should be the primary focus of your warm up.  Walking or jogging is usually sufficient.  Warm ups get your muscles and circulatory system ready for what’s about to come, and should last anywhere from 5-10 minutes.  Cool downs are to help the blood redistribute to the rest of your body, so a nice slow walk will do the trick. Always remember to stretch, too, but do it after your warm up or cool down when your muscles are warm to avoid pulling anything.

6. Is there any reason for women to worry about “getting bulky”? 

No. I hate that term, “bulky.”  First of all- muscle isn’t a gross thing; it’s something to be proud of, because you earned it through hard work.  But, no matter how much I say that, women’s main concern is probably always going to be to get thin.  The fact of the matter is, women do not produce enough testosterone to achieve significant hypertrophy, or gain in muscle size.  Quite the contrary: women who replace body fat with lean muscle not only drop inches, but they have a higher metabolism, which means they burn more calories throughout the day, which can aid in weight loss. Strength training is important to not only reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass, but it also strengthens your bones- a huge priority for women.  It’s a shame so many shy away from weights.

7. What is the best all-over exercise for cardio? For strength training? For stretching?

There’s no one size fits all exercise- everyone is at a different fitness level, has different limitations and different goals.  For cardio, anything that gets your heart rate up is going to improve your heart and lung function and burn calories.  For strength training, anything that overloads your muscle to the point of failure is going to get results, but to save time, I recommend combining upper and lower body exercise, like lunges with bicep curls, to get the most bang for your buck.  As far as stretching goes, you should always stretch your major muscle groups to maintain or increase your flexibility, making sure to hit hamstrings, glutes, quads, back, chest, and arms.

8. How often should you change up your workout?

I’m a firm believer that motivation is the biggest indicator of when you should switch up your routine. I mainly work with deconditioned, reluctant exercisers, so I have to switch up the routine quite often to keep them motivated and interested.  From a results standpoint, there is differing opinions, but I find that about every 4 weeks, assuming the individual is strength training 3 times a week, is a good time frame.  Switching up your workout, to create muscle confusion, doesn’t have to mean all new exercises though. Sometimes just switching the order you perform them is enough to kick start your results again.

9. Is there any food in particular that you feel is especially beneficial to providing the nutrients and energy necessary for a really good workout?

I wouldn’t say there is a specific food, but there are certain nutrients you need to get the most from your work out. Protein, for muscle repair from your strength training, and carbohydrates for energy, are vital to keep your energy levels up and to keep your body running as efficiently as possible.  When you eat these is a little bit more of a grey area: many people say you need to eat a snack of protein and carbs right after working out, but as long as you get your recommended daily amount sometime throughout the day, you will be fine.  A lot of people tend to over eat after a workout because they over estimate how many calories they actually burned.  Some don’t like to workout on a full stomach and eat afterwards- some prefer to eat before for the energy. It depends on what feels right to you.

10. What’s your take on protein powders and protein shakes?

Ah, protein.  I think we are a protein obsessed society.  I’ve written numerous articles and pieces on this and every time I do it seems to get people up in arms.  You need a certain amount of protein per day, 0.8-1 gram per kilogram of body weight, and any extra is stored in your body as fat.  “The more, the better” is the wrong attitude with protein.  Most people eat more protein than they need in a day from natural sources, so in most cases protein shakes and bars are unnecessary, unless they are to supplement missing protein from your diet.

11. What are the best ways to mix things up when you workout at home?

Use what you have around.  Common, everyday household items make great workout equipment.  Use your stairs for calf raises, or to run up and down, do pushups against a sturdy counter top or table.  Water and milk jugs make great weights, use walls for wall sits, chairs for tricep dips, paper plates for mountain climbers- there is no reason to spend a ton of money on equipment. You can definitely get just as good a workout in the comfort of your home.

12. Do you have any advice for university students trying to stay active?

College kids are some of the busiest people around.  Make incidental exercise a big part of your day. Try and walk whenever you can, sneak in crunches and push up breaks during your study time, and calf raises while you are waiting for your roomie to get out of the bathroom. You’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up without having to block out a huge chunk of time for a workout.

Thanks again, Kelly!

Breakfast Cookie

It seems as though you can’t be a food blogger unless you’ve made the infamous Breakfast Cookie and featured it on your blog. As far as I can tell, it’s basically a bowl of oatmeal in cookie form. But although I’ve tried making one for myself before and it has somewhat worked and been quite tasty, I’m not exactly sure of the best “procedure” for making a Breakfast Cookie. Do you heat it up in the microwave? Or do you refrigerate it so it will harden and then eat it cold? Inquisitive minds want to know. Hit me up in the comments with your Breakfast Cookie recipes!

*If you’re interested in more fitness type information, check out my Push ups aren’t just for body builders piece.


Product Review: Hershey’s Extra Dark Chocolate

March 18, 2009

After a week of no added sugars, I think it’s time to bring on a little taste of chocolate.

I was asked to review Hershey’s Extra Dark Chocolate and was more than happy to oblige. It comes in several different flavors, and the ones that I received were Pure Dark Chocolate, Pure Dark Chocolate infused with Raspberry Flavor, and Pure Dark Chocolate infused with Pomegranate flavored pieces.

The Best Life Treat Seal of Approval

The reason why I was asked to review this chocolate is because Bob Greene, known for his Best Life Diet and his work with Oprah, recently approved Hershey’s Extra Dark Chocolate for his Best Life Treat Seal. The Best Life Treat Seal of Approval indicates that a food product “contains one or more of the following nutritious ingredients: whole grains, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and other essential nutrients”.

I really take issue with this kind of statement. It is hopelessly vague and is far too inclusive. Nearly any food product could boast these kinds of claims, and there doesn’t even seem to be any restrictions (for example, I see no mention of how the food can’t contain any trans fats and so forth. What isn’t in our food is sometimes just as important as what is in our food). Among the other brands besides Hershey’s that have been approved of by Bob Greene are Lean Cuisine, Smart Balance, Skinny Cow, and Grapes from California, to name just a few. I too would approve of the grapes, but the others? Not likely. There are at least half a dozen different names for sugar in most of the Lean Cuisine products; artificial flavors in Smart Balance buttery spread and their “smart n’ healthy popcorn”; and high fructose corn syrup in Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches.

As you might have guessed, I am very skeptical of Bob Greene, his Best Life Diet, and his understanding of what constitutes a product of being “healthy”.

Hershey’s Extra Dark Chocolate

So now we come to the real issue at hand: chocolate! The ingredients list for the Pure Dark chocolate is as follows: semi-sweet chocolate (chocolate; sugar; cocoa; milk fat; cocoa butter; soy lecithin; natural vanilla flavor; milk). The Raspberry flavored chocolate has an identical ingredients list with the additional ingredient of “natural flavor” tacked on after “semi-sweet chocolate”.

The Pomegranate chocolate shares the same ingredients list as Pure Dark but it also contains: “fruit juice concentrate (pomegranate juice concentrate; cranberry juice concentrate; apple juice concentrate; pineapple juice concentrate; elderberry juice concentrate; contains 2% or less of: sugar; pectin; natural flavor; maltodextrin; malic acid; corn syrup; ascorbic acid”.

Four of these large individually wrapped chocolate squares contain 180 calories, 14g fat, and 15g of sugar, which isn’t too bad at all. They are only 60% cocoa, however, and, as we saw above, the ingredients list really isn’t all that impressive. Sugar shouldn’t be the second ingredient, and I am always a little suspicious of the phrase “natural flavor“. That being said, I also would not say that this chocolate is bad for you. And when it comes to taste, this chocolate is really delicious!

I do not usually enjoy flavored chocolates. In fact, I’m incredibly picky when it comes to my chocolate and will often refuse to eat any chocolate that is flavored or has nuts and such in it. But I was pleasantly surprised by how great each of these flavors tasted. The Pure Dark is delicious for snacking on (remember, it’s only 60% so it’s not bitter at all), and the Raspberry chocolate was also pretty good but the Pomegranate flavored chocolate was absolutely my favorite. I loved the little pieces of fruit that added these crunchy little bursts of flavor. It isn’t too intense; the subtle hints of pomegranate really hit the spot and one piece is very satisfying! I think it might be one of my new favorite kinds of chocolate- and that’s saying a lot. As far as amounts go, I and the other couple of people who were involved in the taste-testing agreed that as a serving size, four squares are very generous. Even as a “chocoholic”, a couple of these squares satisfies my sweet tooth without making me go back to continue to eat more.

My idea of a healthy food is one which we ought to be eating every day and should actively try to incorporate into our diet. Spinach, for example, is a food that we all should try to get ourselves to like just because of its fantastic nutritional benefits. But when it comes to something like chocolate, I wouldn’t say that we should try to get ourselves to like it just for the nutritional benefits (if, that is, you don’t like it. Is there such thing as a person not liking chocolate? :)). Even with dark chocolate, much as I love it, I don’t honestly believe that the nutritional benefits outweigh the unhealthy aspects. Granted, if the choice is between dark chocolate and some other dessert, the chocolate is probably your best bet. That doesn’t make it healthy, though. That makes it healthier, and as we have learned, this is a crucial distinction!

I really enjoyed this chocolate and think that the company has done a wonderful job of making it taste great. But I fail to see how it is in any way “good for you” or healthy. A square of this chocolate is a nice indulgent treat, however, and it is a product that I had a lot of fun with taste-testing and reviewing. If you really want the nutritional benefits that come along with eating dark chocolate you should aim for a higher cocoa percentage, but if you are just looking for a tasty treat that might be a little healthier than another sweet choice, then Hershey’s Extra Dark is for you!

*Post-Sugar Challenge note: I originally tried these chocolates before the Sugar Challenge, but then tried them afterward again to refresh my memory to write this review. After two squares, although the chocolate still tasted fantastic, my teeth were hurting and I needed to brush them. It’s amazing how just one week without eating added sugars can change our body’s response to different kinds of food.


Reflections on the Sugar Challenge

March 16, 2009

On Day Seven of the Sugar Challenge (Saturday) I ate:

– Frozen grapes (and non-frozen grapes)

– 1 bowl of oatmeal (mixed with water, a banana, cinnamon, and peanut butter)

– Plain yogurt mixed with 1 chopped apple and cinnamon

– 1 homemade tortilla grilled with hummus, some Laughing Cow Light Cheese, tomato, green pepper, and spinach

– Homemade crackers with hummus and the remainder of the Laughing Cow wedge of cheese

– 1/3 Pecan Pie Larabar

– Steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots topped with Parmesan cheese and black pepper

– 1 apple with Laughing Cow Light Cheese

– Some cherry tomatoes

– 1 1/2 bowls of creamy carrot soup

– 3 slices of homemade apple banana bread with almond butter

– Oil-popped popcorn topped with butter and salt

Reflections: Raising Awareness about Sugar

This was a fantastic week and hugely successful! As my sister observed, it was the ultimate detox. Eating a diet without any added sugars is possibly the healthiest way of eating that I can think of. It really requires you to eat non-processed, whole foods. Compensation for the lack of added sugars is easily managed by eating natural foods with sugar in them. Because there is sugar in nearly everything that we eat, a diet like this forces the participant to closely examine and think about exactly what you put in your mouth. The restrictions involved also mean that we will spend more time cooking our own meals and implies that our diet will be more well-rounded and balanced in terms of the nutrients that we consume.

The way that I eat has evolved in such a way over the past year that this week was not difficult to manage. I had to think a little bit more about planning what I would eat and I had to spend more time in the kitchen (for example, with making the tortillas to stand-in as a substitution for bread), but other than that I ate basically the same way as I eat on a regular basis.

My sister also agreed to take part in the sugar challenge, but her experience was a little different from my own. She isn’t quite as intense as I am about eating healthy 24/7, so she felt the restrictions much more than I did. She started out the week with only one exception to the no-added-sugar rule: alcohol. Other than that, she managed to eat really well for the first few days, and I think she would have lasted longer had a client not generously brought in cookies to work one day when she was working a 10-hour day and had forgotten to bring lunch (danger zone!). That being said, I think that she was surprised at how possible it is to eat a variety of food without added sugars when some time and effort is put in.

Even just a few days of eliminating fruity yogurts and all other foods with added sugars had a positive impact on my sister: she is going to be taking steps to reduce her added-sugars consumption in a few ways. She will no longer be eating those fruity yogurts and instead is going to eat plain yogurt with fresh fruit mixed in, and is interested in eating homemade cereals and crackers rather than the sugar-laden kind from the grocery store. Moreover, she summed up the purpose of this sugar challenge beautifully when she said that if we are going to eat something sugary, it might as well be something we expect to be sugary, like a cookie. Why would we want to eat processed food with the hidden sugars in it- like, for example, store-bought soups- when we don’t even want the sugar to be in there and can’t even properly enjoy it?

At the end of the week, she bought herself a little package of mini eggs, and found that her reaction to them was different from what it would have been before the challenge. She enjoyed them more slowly and her taste buds were more sensitive to the sweetness so that she was more satisfied with eating fewer of them.

Although I went a little extreme this week by refusing any kind of food with added sugar in it, the reason why I went so extreme was to make two very important points:

1) There is unnecessary sugar in nearly everything we eat, but if we put the effort in we can vastly reduce the amount of added sugars in our diet;

2) If we are going to be eating sugar, it should be sugar that we can taste and enjoy: I would way rather eat my sugar via a cookie than from a can of soup, a spoonful of cottage cheese, or a slice of bread. I can’t taste the sugar in the can of corn, so what’s the point in it being in there?

During the week, a few questions that came up in the comments which I would like to address:

Jolene and Julie both wanted to know if I feel different, lost any weight, or sleep better: A week wasn’t quite long enough for this to have any really prominent physical changes for me, especially because it wasn’t a drastic change from the norm for me, however I did feel really good and energized. I didn’t lose any weight, but that is also because I do not need or want to lose weight (especially not in this cold weather! I need as much insulation on me as I can get). With regards to sleeping, however, I noticed quite a difference! I have had sleeping problems for years now but towards the end of the week I was starting to sleep for longer stretches of time without waking up in the middle of the night, and I was able to fall asleep faster when I first went to bed. I do not know how much of this was because of the Sugar Challenge, though, and how much of it was because I wasn’t at the computer very late at night.

Tom asked if I started having withdrawal from sugar, and if I could do this for a very long time: I had no sugar withdrawal at all! I think that if I wanted to, I could keep this up for much longer than a week. I might miss bread, but I could make do with eating lots of wraps! I could get by without cookies and other sweets, I believe, and I don’t mind going for long periods of time without alcohol (although it would be nice to be able to drink when others are as well). It’s the restrictive aspect that I think could potentially be unhealthy. Because I’ve had some disordered eating in the past, I wouldn’t want my mindset to become unhealthy from too much restriction. Luckily this week went extraordinarily well in that no disordered eating thoughts or tendencies crept up, which to me was a real victory! It tells me a lot about my progress with improving my mental health and body image.

On Sunday, the first day of coming off the challenge, I enjoyed poached eggs on toast and hash browns for breakfast from my favorite cafe. I ate the homemade cookie that I had saved from Thursday and went out for dinner in the evening and had a few drinks afterward. I enjoyed food without going overboard, and was not in the least wanting to go crazy over sugar (I didn’t even feel a need to binge over PB2!). It was just nice to be able to go out to eat, which isn’t really doable when you’re partaking in a no-added-sugars challenge simply because you can’t trust what kind of ingredients might be in any of that food (remember the list of 100 different names for sugar?).

Will I continue to eat this way, without any added sugars? No. For one thing, I don’t like “restricting” myself this much. I like to have a glass of wine every now and then. I have no intention of depriving myself of sandwiches. And I really enjoy cheesecake.

I know that for me this Sugar Challenge has really re-emphasized the importance of reading labels and ingredients lists, and it has increased my awareness of the presence of sugar. I think that it’s absolutely worth it to spend a short amount of time making my own crackers once every couple of weeks, or to take the time at the grocery store to examine several different brands of the same canned good to find the one without added sugar. I don’t mind paying extra money for a vegetable broth that doesn’t contain sugar in it. In the long run, that time and money that we are spending is being spent for one of the best causes I can think of: our health.

If you took part in the challenge, how did it affect you? Will you continue to do it (or a variation on it)? If you didn’t take part in it, do you think you will in the future? And to all of you: how has this past week’s discussion about sugar impacted your understanding of it? Share your thoughts and ideas and raise the sugar awareness!


Day Seven of the Sugar Challenge

March 14, 2009

Today is the last day! How are you doing? Will you be binging on sugar tomorrow or do you think you will be able to continue eating less sugar in your diet on a more regular basis? I have really had an enormous amount of fun with this challenge, and I’ve really enjoyed cooking and discovering just how much of what we eat contains hidden sugars. It’s been a great week with fantastic eats!

Yesterday I ate:

– Plain yogurt with frozen blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries

– 2 bowls of oatmeal (mixed with water, an apple, and cinnamon)

– Salad with spinach, tomatoes, carrots, celery, green pepper, roast chicken, hummus, and the quinoa dish

– Almonds and raisins

– Leftover spaghetti squash

– 1/2 bowl of creamy carrot soup

– 1 apple

– a few frozen grapes

– 1 1/2 glasses of skim milk

– Quesadilla (2 homemade tortillas grilled with chicken, Herbs de Provence, black pepper, Laughing Cow Light Cheese, homemade hummus, green pepper, spinach, and tomato), plus 1/4 of the sister’s quesadilla (virtually the same but with sun dried tomatoes and no chicken)

– Banana with peanut butter, plus a little bit more peanut butter for good measure 😉

This week has taught me two things completely unrelated to sugar: a) I eat the same kinds of vegetables very consistently, and b) I seem to add oregano to everything. Usually I also eat broccoli and cauliflower on a fairly regular basis because they are in the bag of frozen vegetables that I eat, but I just wasn’t in the mood for steamed veggies at all this week! The salads were a nice change (am not usually a big salad person in the winter. I like all my food to be HOT when the weather is cold!).

The other thing that was abnormal about this week was the amount of meat I ate. Because my mother dear made an extra roast chicken on Sunday, we’ve had an entire little roast chicken to eat between the sister-roommate and myself this week! Then there was the shrimp in my quinoa dish (although it was a very, very small amount of shrimp), and the equally small amount of ground turkey in my spaghetti squash sauce. I’m just not used to eating meat every day, no matter how big the amount, so it seemed unusual.  Other than that, however, this week was a pretty good indicator of what I eat on a regular basis (just imagine sandwiches and more eggs).

Check back in on Monday for the list of foods that I will have eaten today (the last day of the challenge), my reflections on this Sugar Challenge, and the effect it has had on both myself and another person who attempted to try out this experiment!

*Edited to add: Tomorrow is the last day to submit your recipes for the upcoming Blogger Cookbook!


Day Six of the Sugar Challenge

March 13, 2009

Can you believe it’s almost over already?!

Yesterday I ate:

– Plain yogurt with frozen blueberries and 1/2 an apple

– Handful of grapes

– Salad with spinach, tomato, carrots, celery, green pepper, some of the quinoa dish, and hummus

– Quesadilla (2 homemade tortillas grilled on the George Foreman with roast chicken, black pepper, oregano, hummus, Laughing Cow Light Cheese, green pepper, tomato, and spinach)

– 1/2 glass of skim milk

– Frozen grapes (super tasty! That’s going to be a wonderful snack when summer hits)

– 1 1/2 bowls of creamy carrot soup (this recipe was from Leslie Beck’s 10 Steps to Healthy Eating, and it was fantastic. I’m going to make another batch tomorrow; I might try experimenting with the recipe a little more too so that I can share it)

– A few homemade crackers

– Big bowl of air popped popcorn

– 1 bowl of spaghetti squash with a sauce made of ground turkey, tomato, green pepper, spinach, oregano, minced garlic, a splash of vegetable broth, and onions; topped with Parmesan cheese and black pepper

– Banana with peanut butter (plus another spoonful or so)

Last night my group from one of my classes came over to my apartment so we could work on our project. One of the group members brought over homemade cookies with chocolate chips, cranberries and raisins in them.

At first I was hesitant to explain why I wasn’t eating the cookies- no one would have noticed, except that I offered everyone beer and then wasn’t drinking it myself, so I told them about the sugar challenge. It was really nice how supportive they all were about it! I have been having such fantastic eats that I honestly haven’t been craving sweets all that much. My group was nice enough to save me a cookie, so I’m looking forward to eating it on Sunday. But what I’m looking forward the most to is eating a poached egg on toast (I could top a salad or something with a poached egg, but I prefer the crunch of toast when I’m eating my eggs). Funny how it’s those kinds of things I’m missing!

Although the bread that I buy is from a local bakery and therefore I doubt it has that much sugar in it, lots of store bought breads have a considerable amount of sugar. Often if you look at the label, you’ll see anywhere between 1 and 3 grams of sugar per 2 slices of bread. One teaspoon of sugar, remember, is 4 grams. So, theoretically, you could have a sandwich and then another piece of toast later on in the day and have ingested a teaspoon of sugar right there without realizing it. Eat some canned corn (with sugar in it) without draining the can, have a bit of peanut butter (with added sugar) and some cottage cheese at various points throughout the day and that could be another 1/2-1 teaspoon right there. And if you like the fruity yogurt, you can bet that there’s going to be at least 2 teaspoons (and likely closer to about 4-6 teaspoons) of sugar in one of those little single-serving containers. We eat so much sugar without realizing it at all!

Blogging with a Purpose Award

This week both James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor and I  have been honoured with receiving this award from Cathy at A Life Less Sweet:

blog-with-purposeThanks so much Cathy! Living Healthy in the Real World is all about raising awareness about health issues and getting good discussions going about our personal experiences and understandings of what it means to be healthy. We are learning by living!

I’d like to pass this award along to a few other blogs who I feel Blog with a Purpose:

Jungle of Life is all about navigating through life with inspirational and motivational thoughts and ideas;

You’d Be So Pretty If… is a blog focusing on being good role models for younger generations and learning to love ourselves;

101 Exercises demonstrates how to perform various exercises and looks at the importance of fitness.

Shout out in the comments if you have been finding any food products with added sugars that have surprised you!


Day Five of the Sugar Challenge and the Quinoa Recipe!

March 12, 2009

You can view the recipe for my Quinoa with Chickpeas and Shrimp by checking out my Living Well article at The Uniter!

How are we all doing? There has been far too much talk of cupcakes in my life- between cupcake recipes on Twitter and people mentioning how they will make cupcakes as snacks while we work on a group project later today (I think I’ll be making more crackers so that I can have a healthy snack to munch on while everyone else enjoys the cupcakes… might have to put one aside for me for Sunday though!). But the cravings haven’t been too bad at all. I keep really wanting savory foods instead.

Yesterday I found myself eating more than was strictly necessary, and I’m not sure if it was because I’m more aware of being restricted in what I can eat. I was snacking lots on almonds and raisins! Food like that is being an enormous help right now because of the sweetness and the fats, I think. I am not used to eating very many higher fat foods (the cheese is also full-fat, whereas usually I choose reduced fat cheeses) so it’s “sticking to my ribs” very well and satiating my taste buds.

Yesterday I ate:

– 1 glass skim milk

– 1 apple, 1/2 with almond butter and 1/2 with peanut butter (couldn’t decide which kind of nut butter I wanted, so I figured I’d go with both!)

– 2 bowls of oatmeal mixed with water, banana, cinnamon, peanut butter, and a splash of skim milk

– 1 homemade wrap grilled on the George Foreman with homemade hummus, spinach, tomato, black pepper, and roast chicken

Homemade crackers with cheddar cheese

Quinoa dish

– Lots of almonds and raisins


– 2 apples