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Book Review and Giveaway: The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook

November 4, 2009

Giveaway Winner

And the winner of the Taza Chocolate Giveaway is… VeggieGirl! Email me with your mailing address and I’ll make sure you receive your vegan, soy-free, gluten-free, delicious dark chocolate to enjoy.

The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook Review

This book was sent to me by Rodale Books to review. Any time I see a book with a title like this one, I assume that it’s going to be along the lines of a fad diet. Thankfully, the title is misleading in that sense: this is not a fad diet cookbook. Hurray!

The cookbook and diet plan were designed by the editors of Prevention. The premise of this diet (and you know I use the term loosely) is to include healthy fats with every meal: specifically, MUFA’s (monunsaturated fatty acids). The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook explains what constitutes a MUFA, how best to incorporate them into our meals, and the value of the Mediterranean diet. Fact: when I was living in Spain for three months, the only exercise I did was lifestyle activities (lots of walking and chasing after the girls that I was au pair to), and I did not count calories or watch my food intake at all. Fact: The food that I ate was whatever my house mother cooked, which included an abundance of olive oil and other MUFA’s (dark chocolate with every meal, not even kidding). Fact: I felt fabulous, had bundles of energy, and lost several pounds over that time period without even trying. That was also the period in my life when I had the best body image and, looking back at pictures over the years, I definitely think that I looked the best at the time and was more comfortable in my skin than I’ve been at any other point in my life. The classic Mediterranean diet is, I believe, an incredibly healthy way to eat.

The Flat Belly Diet also goes on to explain the health benefits of MUFA’s and their role in reducing type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, chronic inflammation, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s. MUFA’s are vital for proper functioning and this book really focuses on improving our health while still enjoying ourselves.

They begin with a Four-Day Anti-Bloat Jumpstart meal plan, which includes a meal-building formula. For example, lunch might be “1 protein + 1 dairy + 1 veggie + 1 glass Sassy Water. “Sassy water” is their combination of water with ginger, cucumber, lemon, and spearmint leaves to help with digestion.

The book includes meal plans and grocery shopping lists with vegetarian and vegan options. It looks at what foods to include regularly and substitutions for various kinds of food in case of allergies or dislikes. It also advises what foods to avoid and how to make every recipe in the cookbook a well-rounded meal.

The interesting thing that I found about this book is that it appears to be a healthy cookbook disguised as a fad diet cookbook. It has a few “success stories” throughout, which I’m never a big fan of, yet it stresses the importance of eating regularly and encourages the reader to not be afraid of healthy fats.

The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook has a beautiful layout with colour photographs, nutritional information for every recipe, and a broad range of different kinds of foods: breakfast, soup and sandwiches, salads and sides, vegetarian, seafood, poultry, meats, snacks, desserts. The ingredients in all of these recipes are real ingredients (no artificial sweeteners or pudding mixes that so many cookbooks, sadly, make use of with a heavy hand). At the back of the book is a serving chart with the different MUFA’s, such as almonds, Brazil nuts, flaxseed oil, pesto, soybeans and so forth, along with the recommended serving size and the corresponding number of calories per serving. There is also a conversion chart to make measuring easier for everyone.

I’ve tried a couple of the recipes, such as a dairy-free Creamy Broccoli Soup and the thin crust pizza, and both were delicious. Personally, my body doesn’t always enjoy a lot of high-fat foods; however this book will be perfect for the sisterroommate. We already agreed that when she returns from her travels in the spring, we will follow the meal plan included in this book and try it out: her major stumbling block when trying to eat healthy is that her body craves fattier foods, so this cookbook was basically designed for her.

I also received a Flat Belly Diet Pocket Guide, which has now taken a permanent spot in my purse. It’s fun to peruse and it includes shopping lists, calorie counters, meal plans, and really solid advice for eating out.

This is hands down one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever received. It is equally as valuable to me now as my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook is!

Rodale Books has kindly agreed to giveaway not one, but TWO copies of this cookbook to two lucky readers! To enter to win, ask any one or combination of the following questions: what is your favourite MUFA? How often do you tend to eat MUFA’s? What do you think of this kind of diet plan? What type of diet do you find works best for YOU?

You know the drill: it’ll be a random number generator unless someone makes me smile 🙂 You’ve got a week before I announce the winner!

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A Rant: Turn off the dripping taps

November 2, 2009

If there’s one thing that really gets under my skin- besides poor sentence structure/grammar/spelling- it is the number of dripping taps that I see all over the place.

People don’t know how to turn off a tap. It must come down to that. Sometimes it feels as though I go to university just so that I’ll enter the bathroom and turn off all of the taps that are dripping little beads of water into the sink. Plunk… plunk… plunk… I don’t understand why it is so difficult for a person to give the taps a really firm twist to ensure that no water will be trickling through. But apparently it is really difficult. And it makes me angry.

I can’t remember the last time I walked into one of the bathrooms at the university and I didn’t see at least one tap dripping. Usually there are three or four taps dripping water. Sometimes its worse and every single tap has little water beads plunking into the sink. So I go around and turn off all the taps really firmly, growling in frustration.

The World Health Organization says that “In 2002, 1.1 billion people lacked access to improved water sources, which represented 17% of the global population.”

Go back and read that sentence one more time. Please and thank you. Here, I’ll help you:

“In 2002, 1.1 billion people lacked access to improved water sources, which represented 17% of the global population.”

We don’t think about that on a regular basis. We don’t think about it because we don’t need to think about it. It doesn’t cross our minds because we take water for granted. In reality, having access to water is a privilege. We are abusing that privilege to a disgusting extent.

drinkwatThere is too much colour in this map.

Maybe the reason why the taps are dripping at my university is because people are not aware that they are failing to turn off the taps properly. But that is no excuse. In court, you can’t use ignorance as part of your defense if you’ve committed a crime. We shouldn’t be getting away with letting taps drip, either. Because to let it go to waste is a crime.

We know that going for a ten-minute walk every day doesn’t hinder our day at all but over time, it adds up to vastly improve our health and well being. We know that reducing our intake of cookies from two a day to one a day can make a difference in weight management over the course of a long period of time. Water works the same way: one measly dripping tap doesn’t seem like much, but if it’s left to drip all day long, and if half of the taps in the university are similarly drippy, it really adds up. It’s an enormous amount of waste just because some people can’t be bothered to turn a tap firm enough.

Save the water and turn off taps properly. Even if you think that you’ve turned it off completely, give it an extra little twist to make sure you’re right. It’ll take all of half a second but you might save plenty of water in the meantime. There’s no reason why the taps should be left to drip.

There’s other ways we can prevent needless waste of water too: turn off the taps when you not using them! If you’re brushing your teeth, don’t leave the tap running the whole time. Only turn it on when it’s necessary. Turn on the water right when you’re about to take a shower; don’t turn it on and then wander off to find a towel or check your email. This is needless water waste.

Water deserves our respect. Just because we can let it go to waste, because of our easy access to it, does not mean that we should let it go to waste. Spread the word and show you care. Water is a truly precious treasure and commodity.

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The 21 Foods List: Revamped

October 30, 2009

I asked and you answered. Thanks to everyone for your ideas with the 21 Foods List! Here it is, revamped; these are all the foods that I plan on making over the next year before my 22nd birthday, all of them from scratch and without the aid of bread makers/pasta machines etc:

1. Perogies

2. Pasta

3. Cinnamon buns

4. Jam

5. Marshmallows

6. Gnocchi

7. Baked donuts

8. Graham crackers

9. Cheesecake

10. Bagels

11. Pickles

12. English Muffins

13. Paella

14. Roasting a turkey

15. Nut butter

16. Yogurt

17. Pesto

18. Pate

19. Vegetable stock

20. Pita bread

21. Baklava

A couple others which I want to try but might not get accomplished this year, from your suggestions, are to make coffee, duck (I’m not sure how I’d prepare this- but the idea of tackling Peking duck is so intriguing and would be such a great challenge!), and lavender soup. At the beginning of October, as I was happily indulging in a square of layer cake that my awesome new roommate’s mum made, it crossed my mind that to make a layer cake would be another good one to add to this list. Therefore, I’m adding layer cake as a “bonus” bullet point to my 21 Foods List.

I have already crossed two off my list: roasting a turkey and making vegetable stock. They both turned out amazingly well! I roasted the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner with my mum looking on (following her directions- no one would trust me to bring along my own recipe because I’d likely try to “healthify” it and thus ruin it ;)), and I used a recipe from The Veganomicon for the vegetable stock. Both were simple and easy to do. There’s hardly anything to roasting a turkey! I was pleasantly surprised at the glorious simplicity of such a delicious dish (and, as my mum noted, if you’re using a butterball turkey like we do every holiday, it’s really just the combination of fat and salt that makes it. David Kessler, anyone?).

With the vegetable stock, the key is to use the “leftovers” from veggies. I threw in all of the ends of carrots and stumps of celery that are inedible (I saved them over the course of about a week), and besides that, the recipe just calls for one chopped onion, less than 1 tbsp of olive oil, and a pile of garlic. Delicious. It worked perfectly in my favourite split pea soup recipe. I’ve seen a lot of recipes to make vegetable stock which call for using a ton of vegetables, and I think it took me this long to make my own broth because I didn’t want to waste so many vegetables. But if you use the stumps, cores, peels etc that you wouldn’t eat anyways, vegetable stock becomes an incredibly economical and healthy dish. The best part about it, too, is that it only needs to simmer for a couple hours (throwing the veggies in with the water takes all of about 3 minutes), and it’s not overflowing with sodium! Even vegetable stocks that say “reduced salt” on them at the grocery store tend to have oodles of salt in them, so it’s nice to have that kind of control to ensure that there is either no salt, or very little, added to the homemade variety.

If you have any recipes for the above items on my 21 Foods List, please do send them my way. I’d love to try them out!

Also, for those of you who have been asking, here is my delicious bean ball recipe (click on link for more ideas for the best ways to eat them and for substitutions if you don’t have some of the ingredients readily available):

Energizing Protein-packed Bean Balls

Ingredients
1 can red kidney beans (rinsed and drained to remove any excess sodium)
2 heaping tbsp homemade ketchup (recipe below)
1 tbsp water
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
A few squirts of lemon juice
5 tbsp wheat germ
4 tbsp flaxseed meal
2 tbsp whole wheat flour
1 tbsp hemp seeds
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.

2. Mash the kidney beans in a mixing bowl so that there are still some chunks of beans. Add the rest of the ingredients and use a spoon to mix everything together until it is well combined.

3. Roll the bean mixture into small balls. You should get between about 20 and 30 balls.

4. Spread parchment paper on a baking sheet. Place the balls on the sheet and spray them with some olive oil. Bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned on the bottom, then flip them and bake for another 10 minutes.

To make the ketchup: Combine 1 can tomato paste, 2 tbsp water, 1 tbsp agave nectar (or honey), 1/4 tsp sea salt, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/8 tsp whole grain mustard, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp ground cloves and 2 tbsp cider vinegar. Refrigerate until use.

Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for Taza Chocolate!

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Product Review and Giveaway: Taza Chocolate

October 28, 2009

Taza Chocolate kindly agreed to send me some of their products a couple weeks ago to taste-test and review. The reason why I first became interested in Taza Chocolate is because it is stone ground, organic, minimally processed, and direct trade (their press release states that they “always pay more than Fair Trade prices for our beans”). I like the fact that this company operates on a sustainability level to be more environmentally friendly and to produce chocolate which is of the best quality. Taza Chocolate also states that it is a member of Slow Food USA (which we had a lively discussion about back in April) and the ingredient list for their products is refreshingly short. This chocolate is dairy free, gluten free, and soy free as well.

I was given the opportunity to taste-test the Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano, Cinnamon Chocolate Mexicano, and the 70% dark chocolate bar. Before the sisterroommate left country for half a year, I asked her to taste the chocolate and tell me what she thought about it. She playfully agreed:

It’s very granular, but it tastes like original chocolate; it has a very pure base to it. It almost tastes a little barbaric, as though this is how they ate it at ceremonies in ancient times. It’s kind of sparkly, you can see the sugar in it… you can taste the sugar quite prominently. It would be really good melted in coffee. It has subtle overtones of rain-washed valleys.

(As you can see, the sisterroommate had fun with her review).

I also quite liked this chocolate, but I don’t think that the Chocolate Mexicano disks are the kind of chocolate I’d want to eat just by itself because the sugar granules are very large, so it’s a little bit too sweet for my liking. The dark chocolate bar is delicious by itself, however!

I tried using both kinds of Chocolate Mexicano in this amazing chocolate zucchini bread, and I can honestly say that this was one of the most decadently delicious breads I have ever made. The chocolate melted perfectly! I used less olive oil, added in some applesauce, and cut out the sugar (replacing part of it with agave nectar); the bread still turned out beautifully and I can’t wait to make it again with the Taza Chocolate.

I do not believe that chocolate is “a health food”, but this would be the perfect replacement in your diet if you normally like the sweet stuff. The cinnamon Chocolate Mexicano only has Dominican cacao beans, cane sugar, and Costa Rican cinnamon in it; the pure cacao has the same ingredients minus the cinnamon. The 70% dark chocolate bar contains Dominican Republic cacao beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter, and whole vanilla beans. These are all real ingredients, and for that reason, Taza Chocolate makes for a great treat.

Interested in trying Taza Chocolate for yourself? Leave a comment about your favourite way to cook/bake with chocolate, your favourite kind of chocolate, or anything else chocolate-related below to enter to win a 70% dark chocolate bar, 2 0z nibs, and Guajillo Chili Chocolate Mexicano! As always, if someone leaves a comment that really rocks my socks off, the prize is yours. Otherwise, I’ll be using a random number generator. Winner will be announced one week from today, on Wednesday, November 4th.

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Interview with a Raw Food Vegan

October 26, 2009

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet with a vegan raw foodist who lives in my city. We got together at my favourite cafe and wound up spending three hours chatting excitedly about health and nutrition. The time flew by and I’m sure we could have easily continued talking for the next three hours, swapping stories and ideas and research. It was one of the best possible ways to spend a Friday afternoon.

I went to our little interview knowing very little about the raw food lifestyle. I’ve learned some from reading Hanlie’s blog (she of the motto “Eat Produce, Not Products” that I adore), but aside from that, I knew virtually nothing. I’ve learned over the past couple years that many people in the medical profession don’t know much about nutrition, and that people who are interested and passionate in nutrition and health can be better informed than doctors or registered dietitians. Some experts in the field, such as Janel and Nicole and Gina, give fantastic advice and are incredibly knowledgeable. But I find that sometimes “experts” in health aren’t interested in considering alternative nutrition plans or working with what individuals feel comfortable with, and this is highly problematic. That is why I found it so refreshing to meet with Amanda and hear her views on raw foodism.

Amanda has a background in science from some of her university studies and she shares my passion for health and nutrition. She has been vegan for two years and a raw food vegan for one and a half years. Her 15-month-old son is also a raw food vegan, and her husband has just started this plan within the past month. The reasons why a person might choose a raw food diet are numerous, but one of Amanda’s reasons for it is because the living enzymes have a stronger nutrient content than cooked food.

The raw food diet creates even more controversy than the vegan diet. Some say that raw diets are very healthy; others say that raw diets are completely ridiculous and unnatural. I’m doing my best to keep an open mind when it comes to health and nutrition, and so I’m very interested in learning about alternative nutrition plans. My position on the nutrient content of raw vs. cooked food places more of an emphasis on balance: for many foods, the nutrient content might not necessarily be better or worse if the food is cooked or uncooked, but the nutrient content is different depending on how the food is prepared (raw or cooked- and if it’s cooked, the way it is cooked also has a dramatic impact).

A few years ago, if someone asked me what I thought about vegetarianism, I would have likely scoffed and said that being an omnivore is the most well-rounded, healthy way to eat. Once I learned more about vegetarianism, I came to the conclusion that if done correctly, it can be very healthy. After that, the issue of veganism came up; I was convinced that veganism is not a healthy option and that it is deficient in many nutrients. After my month-long vegan experiment, I realized that I’d been wrong: if done correctly, veganism, too, can be very healthy.

During my vegan challenge, I joked to others that I was thinking about trying out a raw food diet. The most common response from others was, “Ew. Really? Don’t do that. It’s not healthy.”

But I’ve learned my lesson, after my initial presumptions about vegetarianism and veganism. I’ve learned that most of the time, if we think that a diet/lifestyle is unhealthy, it’s because we do not know much about it. Being able to speak to Amanda was wonderful because I learned so much about the concept of a raw food diet.

I would now like to pose a question to everyone who maintains that raw food is “not healthy”: is the way that most people eat now, with eating some kind of processed food from grocery stores every day, “healthy”?

Even if the “processed” foods are things like loaves of bread, which most people would not consider to be all that processed, is it really “healthy” for us when we don’t know what half the ingredients are? We don’t have to chow down on bags of chips and fast food to still be eating food that isn’t healthy. I recently gave a speech for one of my classes about the misleading claims on nutrition labels, and I found it fascinating that a loaf of bread from the Safeway bakery counter contained 43 ingredients and half a dozen kinds of sugar, whereas if you bake bread yourself, you’ll use about five well-known ingredients with one kind of sugar. To me, that’s not healthy, if we eat bread which contains ingredients we don’t recognize.

Amanda told me that people concerned with her raw food vegan lifestyle never once approached her with concern when she ate processed foods. It wasn’t until she took an interest in nutrition and began to eat really healthy that the people around her began questioning her choices.

I found this interesting because the same sort of thing has happened for me. I went through junior high without anyone batting an eyelash at my intake of trans fatty packaged sunflower seeds, microwavable popcorn, Subway sandwiches, Slurpees, and KitKat bars. When I made the effort to lose a bit of excess weight and was eating Special K vanilla crisp bars and Cup-a-soups every day, people were still supportive of me. However, choosing to forego processed food as much as possible has led to an uproar of disapproval. It boggles the mind. Can anyone explain this phenomenon to me? Because I do not understand it. “Live a little! Enjoy yourself! You don’t have to be healthy all the time!” Well, guess what: I don’t have to eat crap all the time, either.

I believe very strongly that we can all benefit from eating natural, real, whole foods, and that each one of us should experiment with different foods to see what kind of diet best suits us as individuals. We’re all human, so we’re going to have a lot of stumbling blocks and obstacles in our way, but that’s part of what’s so great about it: the constant challenge means that we’re always given another chance to try again and make progress and learn what is best for our bodies and build a better relationship with them.

Amanda has clearly found that being a raw food vegan works for her. She used to wear glasses but no longer needs them. Her skin is clear, she has bundles of energy, and she emits a healthy glow (I sound like an infomercial here, but it’s true! I haven’t seen many people who look as healthy as her). Sometimes vegans and raw foodists have a sort of emaciated look to them, but Amanda has an inspiringly energetic, healthy look to her. She says that her son is equally as healthy and that her immune system has strengthened over the past couple years, too.

One of the common myths of a raw food diet is the length of time it takes to prepare and make food. However, Amanda told me that she can make food in five to 20 minutes, and she used to spend a couple hours each day cooking up healthy meals (just like I currently do- making things from scratch is rewarding but can be very time-consuming!). She has also found that the raw food diet is very cost-effective. She now spends less money on food for three people than they used to spend when there was just her and her husband.

“Raw food is a lifestyle, not a religion,” Amanda told me. I really loved that attitude. If Winnipeg doesn’t appear to be very accommodating for vegans, it is not a raw-friendly city at all. Because of that, a raw food vegan is going to run up against some difficulties in maintaining a wholly raw food diet. This is particularly true because there are no regulations for the label “raw” on food products. All a person can do, if they are interested in adopting a raw food lifestyle, is try to eat as raw as possible but allow that there are going to be a small percentage of meals that will not be raw.

I plan on trying a (virtually 100%) raw food diet for a month, but I think I’ll be waiting until January to do it- right now, things are a little too busy to jump into it completely. Over the next couple months I’ll be doing more research and trying out meals to slowly incorporate a few raw meals into my diet to make the transition a little smoother. A dehydrator and a food processor are two of the best kitchen tools when making the transition to a raw food diet, so I’m going to see if I can borrow those two tools from the mother dear and play with them before I try a raw food diet.

If you’d like to read more about the topic in the meantime, here are some interesting articles arguing both for and against a raw food lifestyle:

The Science Behind Raw Food

Raw Food Life

Is Raw Food More Nutritious?

My personal thoughts, at this stage, are that there appear to be health benefits to a raw food diet, but it might not be for everyone, and if someone were to try it out, they should definitely do their research to ensure that they are consuming a variety of nutrients. I also think that there are health benefits to cooked foods. We should, however, keep an open mind to all kinds of different approaches to healthy diets and lifestyles, and seek to learn more about them before we make wild assumptions about the positive or negative effects.

What do you think of the raw food diet and lifestyle? How much do you know about it? Would you be willing to learn more about it? I’m sure that there is a wide range of strong opinions on this subject and I want to hear all of your thoughts!

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POM Wonderful Blogger Harvest Tour Recap

October 23, 2009

One missed flight and two delayed flights later, I am home again in Winnipeg after a POMtastically wonderful Blogger Harvest Tour at the POM Wonderful orchards in California. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

The latter part of Day Two

After picking pomegranates on Tuesday, Janel gave a talk about the role antioxidants play as an anti-aging superpower. Her health and nutrition philosophy is the twin of my own. It was beautiful to hear her stressing the importance of eating real, whole foods. I had to restrain myself from jumping up and giving her a gigantic hug partway through her talk!

Then it was time for dinner at The Vintage Press. It ever you go to California- no matter what part you’re in- make a detour to Visalia so that you can eat at The Vintage Press restaurant. The interior is gorgeous, the owner is kindness in human form, and the food… I’ll be dreaming of the deliciousness of that meal for days:

PA200107Random things on a stick. They were tasty. That’s all that really matters anyways, right? 🙂 I believe these were mostly vegetables and a mozzarella ball in some kind of oil/vinegar sauce

PA200110Bacon-wrapped almond-stuffed date, crusty whole wheat bread, and melty cheese in puff pastry

PA200112Cream cheese and pomegranate arils layered on top of a fig

PA200115Mushrooms between layers of puff pastry with cream sauce

PA200116Sliced pears and mixed greens with pomegranate arils

PA200120Pistachio-crusted salmon in a white wine/lemon sauce

PA200122Pomegranate sorbet

I enjoyed the meal with Kristy and Eric (I had so much fun with them the evening before that I really wanted to spend a lot more time with those two!), and Heather and Janel. The conversation was engaging and the company, perfect. I’d be understating to say that it was a complete pleasure and delight to talk to them.

PA200121Me and Heather

PA200124Kristy and I

Jeff gave an incredibly touching speech about the POM Wonderful-blogger relationship which I think had us all choked up. He and Andrea were the most amazing hosts any of us could have asked for! Then we went on a quick tour of the restaurant.

PA200135The whole place was beautiful, but I especially loved the piano at the top of this winding staircase

Roni suggested the idea of walking back to the hotel, so some of us walked/stumbled back. I crashed as soon as I got to my room.

Day Three

I woke up early for some quickie strength training and an interval workout on the treadmill to burn off at least two bites of that decadently rich dinner from the previous night. Once we’d all eaten breakfast together, we packed up and drove to the POM plant for our tour.

There’s quite an involved process for ensuring that each pomegranate is in pristine condition, but essentially what happens is that each pomegranate moves along the conveyer belt…

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…and then it gets a pretty heart-shaped POM sticker further on down the line. Aww!

PA210182This is one of the biggest pomegranates ever! It’s about 5.5 inches in diameter

There were big banners hanging all over the processing plant with motivational phrases such as “Everyone matters at POM” and “Every drop of juice counts”. I loved the friendliness of the atmosphere.

It was also fascinating to see how the bottles are made and the juicing system itself. The bottles are made with recycled materials and even the husk of the pomegranate is squeezed for juice, so POM is very efficient in using every part of the pomegranate. I was impressed at how little goes to waste.

Every minute of this trip was unbelievable. The only thing I would have changed would be for it to have lasted longer- there was so much more to learn and so much more time I wished I could have spent with the other bloggers! It was nice to meet these fantastic people who have such an interest in health and food. Shirley explained to me all about the gluten-free philosophy, which I had known nothing about before. And I have to say that it was a lot of fun to meet the girl behind the infamous breakfast cookie, Gina, too- now I finally know how to make one.

The Harvest Tour was out of this world.

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Day Two of the POM Blogger Harvest Tour

October 21, 2009

We started off the morning bright and early with a continental breakfast at the hotel. From there, it was a long drive to the POM orchards, so we snacked on Wonderful brand pistachios along the way. The orchards were fantastic; there are 18,000 acres of pomegranate bushes alone (and yes, pomegranates grow on bushes rather than trees).

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Pomegranates as far as the eye can see

We also became very excited when we learned that there are almond and pistachio trees in the orchard too!

PA200019Almond!

Then we went up in two planes to do a fly-over. The little plane was a six-seater; the “big” plane had about 8 seats. Just for kicks, I went up in the air on both planes.

PA200050Me and Janel on the small plane

The orchards are beautiful and cover an enormous distance. The ride was very bumpy on the smaller plane too:

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After the fly-over, we ate lunch before heading back out to the orchards to learn more about pomegranates from the experts, and to pick pomegranates and do a little taste-test.

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After that, we snacked on some POMx bars (chocolate-dipped peanut butter flavour and chocolate-dipped pomegranate flavour) on the drive to Visalia, California. We did a lot of driving today, but I kind of liked that- it gave us all an opportunity to get to know each other better and learn more about everyone’s truly fascinating lives. It’s very refreshing to be surrounded by people who have an interest in health, and the other bloggers are some of the loveliest people I have ever met.

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In about an hour we’ll all be meeting up to hear Janel talk to us about nutrition. I’ve only spoken to her a few times but already it sounds as though our views on health are really similar, so I’m looking forward to it! We’ll be going to dinner later on at a nice restaurant, with a meal featuring pomegranates in every dish. Tasty.

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POM Blogger Harvest Tour: Day One!

October 20, 2009

This morning I left my apartment at 6am to make it to the airport on time. A couple of airplanes later, with a quick stopover in Denver between them, I arrived in Fresno, California!

The POM company gave each blogger (there are 15 of us in total) a temporary credit card to pay for the taxi to the hotel, and I arrived at the hotel without a hitch about four hours before we were all planning on meeting together for dinner. A lovely little POM care package was waiting for me upon my arrival: it included a big environmentally-friendly tote bag full of goodies! Inside the bag was a folder full of the Harvest Tour information as well as a POM notebook, POM pen, POM usb device (with POM info and press releases on it, as I learned after I plugged it into my laptop), a bunch of beautifully designed cards with recipes for using POM on them, and a very large diagram of “how to open a pomegranate” (clearly it takes a lot of skill. Without step-by-step instructions I’m sure I could make as much of a mess with a pomegranate as anything else in my kitchen ;)). There was also a smaller box and inside it were a POM t-shirt (my size, yay!), POM Iced Coffee, and Spiced POM Cider. And a water bottle too, which was very much appreciated after the flight.

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I decided that I should spend the next few hours exploring some of Fresno before meeting everyone, so I asked at the front desk if there was anything interesting in the area. When she mentioned a Trader Joe’s nearby I’m sure I nearly shrieked with excitement! I went for a little walk to discover Trader Joe’s and it was heaven. I ended up buying a loaf of vegan sprouted bread, Better ‘n Peanut Butter, and a Clif Z bar. I haven’t ever seen any of those items in Canada before and I always hear bloggers raving about the latter two, so I just had to try them. I ate the Clif Z bar as a pre-dinner snack and the honey graham flavour was very tasty. I’m excited to take the bread and peanut butter back home with me. Some people get excited about seeing tourist sites when they go traveling; I get excited about places like Trader Joe’s.

After my expedition to Trader Joe’s, I went out walking in the other direction and discovered that the area that of Fresno that we’re in right now consists of large box stores and even larger parking lots. But that also means that there’s a gigantic mall only about 20 minutes walking distance away. I found a lovely pair of boots and am somehow going to fit that gorgeous purchase in my bag along with my Trader Joe’s treasures to take home to Winnipeg.

Then it was time for the dinner! We went to BJ’s Brewery and because there were so many of us it was difficult to get around to talking to everyone. I spent most of the evening talking with Kristy of The Wicked Noodle and Eric of Eric Rivera’s Cooking Blog. I think I spent far more of my time laughing than eating, which is always a good sign. They are both hilarious and it was wonderful to meet with other food and health bloggers! It’s also good to be able to finally put a face to bloggers that I see all over the blogosphere, such as Heather of Heather Eats Almond Butter, Tina of Carrots ‘n Cake, and Roni of Green Lite Bites– and to meet bloggers whom I’d never know about before this occasion. And of course, as soon as the meals arrived, everyone whipped out their cameras and started snapping photos. How I do dearly love bloggers! It’s just the beginnings, I’m sure, of an immense amount of fun.

I had a lettuce wrap with Thai shrimp and some calamari to begin, followed by a massive salad with heaps of Cajun shrimp, artichoke hearts, and fire-roasted red peppers, and then finished it all off with a taste of apple crumble and a few bites of cookies with ice cream on top. Delicious! But I’m especially looking forward to tomorrow night’s dinner, which will be a specially-prepared POM affair.

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It’s time for this health blogger to crawl into bed before a busy day tomorrow of touring the orchards! I love being a part of this experience.

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Guest Post: Insight on Nutrition for Runners

October 19, 2009

This is an article about healthy and correct diet options in general but with a more detailed insight on how rules apply for runners. The article is written by Miki, a passionate runner but also a person very attentive to her body and her diet. It’s dedicated to all those who may share the same passion but also for those who may want to start running in the near future and don’t know were to begin with. This can be a good start.

We swim in it, bath daily in it, we drink it and use it while doing dishes or laundry, but we don’t praise it enough. Water is the basic element of optimal health. It makes up about 60% of the body weight. The prevalence of water in our body is due to the fact that it creates the environment for the body. Serious dehydration can threaten life itself. This is why runners (sports dedicated people in general, moreover every person who sweats) should closely care for water intake.

Along with water, there are nutrients that we need to properly assimilate in order for our body to respond as we wish it to. For example a runner must never randomly compose the diet. Proteins, calcium, vitamins, carbs and good fats are daily required for a balanced, healthy and successful diet.
Carbohydrates provide our cells with fuel. The recommended range of carbohydrates varies from 45% to 65% from our energy resources. Consumption of whole grain products, fruits and vegetables is not wishful thinking. It is only the necessary step to take for a balanced diet with a safe base of carbohydrates.

Proteins are a must for those who want to gain physical endurance. For resistance and energy you should consume food that stimulates protein intake, such as fish, poultry, lean meat, grains, and beans.

Oil, fish, and nuts are necessary for the proper fat intake, as they don’t contain carbohydrates, but a certain kind of fats that boost our bodies, omega-3. It is desirable for a runner to consume around 3000mg of omega-3 on a daily basis.

Also, for those runners who established losing weight as main aim, there are certain products that are warmly recommended as they succeed in burning fats, thus accelerating the results. Oatmeal, yams, potatoes (white or red), brown rice, whole grain products, green fibrous vegetables, fresh fruit, nonfat dairy products, chicken and turkey breast, fish and shellfish and lean red meat are the foods that should build up the program. Of course, variety is important, but these are not restrictive foods. They actually allow the preparation of a wide range of tasty meals (and also bad fat-free).

Gathering sharp focus and specific attention to nutrition intake, you will acknowledge that less is more. Nutrition is not a playground, but it can be the biggest asset we have.

Also, vegans  should carefully investigate the implications of such a diet and how the body may react to vegan stimulants. Those who decide to turn vegan must not urge the body but ensure that the body can handle it first.

From my own experience as a runner I can tell you that the best way to choose the right healthy diet is to read and apply the ‘rules’ as your body demands. No matter what fitness activity you prefer (either it’s running, aerobic, cycling or any other sport) just make sure your diet takes count of the effort your body goes through every day.

This article is a guest post by Miki, writer for runreviews.com, a site where you can read treadmills reviews.

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Product Review: POMx Tea

October 16, 2009

Exciting Announcement

Next week I shall be away from the computer and out of business from Monday through Wednesday. Why, you ask? Because I will be in Fresno, California! Along with 14 other health bloggers, I have been invited by POM to tour the company’s orchards and juicing plant! This is POM’s first ever Blogger Harvest Tour and I am delighted to be a part of it. It includes an all-expense paid trip to California; I will be learning all about pomegranates. I am positively giddy with excitement. Upon my return I shall shower you all with new-found knowledge about pomegranates.

In the meantime, to hold you over…

POMx Tea Review

When I tried the POM juice, it didn’t top my favourites. The taste was incredibly strong and for someone who typically doesn’t drink much juice, it was just too much. I really enjoyed it in smoothies, but I couldn’t drink it straight. POM’s new iced teas, however, are a different story! They’re described on the press release as “deliciously refreshing”, and that is exactly how I would describe them. My favourite is the Light Pomegranate Wildberry White POMx Tea; I have an infatuation with white teas and this one perfectly emulates the lightness in taste.

A carton of juice can sit in my fridge for months and I won’t have any desire to touch it, but I actually found myself wanting to drink this iced tea. That is a definite sign that it has quality taste! I was happy to drink it on its own but also found that it pairs nicely with vodka (just in case you were wondering. It was solely for the purpose of research).

The nutrition stats for the Wildberry White Tea show that there’s about 70 calories and 18g sugar per one bottle. That is a high amount of sugar; however, I expect that much of it is natural sugars from fruit. Some of the sugars are added, though, as shown in the ingredient list: gentle brewed white tea (water, Superior White Peony tea leaves), POM Wonderful Pomegranate juice from concentrate, fructose, erythritol (natural sweetener), POMx (POM Wonderful Pomegranate Antioxidant Extract), blackberry juice from concentrate, natural flavours, citric acid.

Out of the other four flavours, only one other is “light”; the other three have about twice the calories and sugar per serving. The ingredient lists are all very similar. The other flavours are Pomegranate Lychee Green, Pomegranate Peach Passion White, Pomegranate Blackberry, and Light Pomegranate Hibiscus Green. Unfortunately the only two flavours that I could find at my store were the Wildberry White and the Lychee Green, and neither of these were abundant on the shelves- it looks as though they’ve been selling out fast!

Overall, I really enjoyed this new line of POMx Tea. It is a far healthier choice than other kinds of iced tea drinks that you’ll find at the grocery store. I’m not a big fan of the added sugars, but the product makes for a great treat and is super refreshing! Have you tried POMx Tea?

Have a wonderful weekend and I shall join you all once again next Friday (though I’ve got a post about my 21 Foods List and a guest post about nutrition for runners all set up for Monday and Wednesday, so be sure to check those out while I’m picking pomegranates in sunny California!).

Edited to add: It looks as though I might very well be updating my blog while I’m in California, in between looking at pomegranates. Check back daily!