Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nana, would eat this?

Deciding what to eat while navigating the modern grocery store can be a grueling task. First, do I shop at Whole Foods or Kroger? Is organic really better for you? What is processed food anyway? Can I really believe what is written on food labels? The questions go on and on.

Over the past few months, I have made it my job to investigate these questions. Lucky for me, I’m not the only one who wants answers. It seems like food literature is everywhere. My magazines are packed with articles on proper nutrition. The Today show has at least one segment a week on how to eat healthy and last week I ordered two more books on the food industry in the United States. Why is this a popular topic? The answer: because what we are eating is making us fat.

Did you know that Americans only spend a tenth of their money on food? In the 1950’s, people spent a fifth of their money on food. How did we get from a nation that valued the food we put in our bodies to a nation that wants things fast, easy, and cheap. The simplest answer: the food industry. Every day we are inundated with advertisements perpetuating this idea. Microwavable meals, fast food, food infused with “vitamins” and “nutrients” that make it easy to replace fruits and vegetables in our diet. But the bottom line is that eating healthy isn’t that easy. A Nutragrain bar isn’t better for you than a doughnut. Why? Because both are packed with ingredients that aren’t real food.

So, how do you decide what to eat? This is the question I have asked myself over and over again. Yesterday, I stumbled across an answer. I was reading Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. This is a book I suggest every person who eats should read. It is short, concise, and well written. One of the rules struck a chord with me. It made shopping easy… and at the same time, much harder. The rule: Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Would your great-grandma know what is sitting in your cabinets and refrigerator? Would she recognize Twinkies? Fiber One bars? Wheat Thins?

What is wrong with these foods? Take a minute and look at the labels. Can you read every ingredient? If you wanted to make Wheat Thins in your own kitchen, could you? If not, than you shouldn’t be ingesting it. Start wanting more out of the food you consume. After all, eating is something you do most often in your life… probably between 3 and 5 times a day. Quality should be on the top of your list for something that impacts your life so much.

So when you are walking through the grocery store (or shopping on Peapod), ask your Nana, would eat this? Do you recognize this food? If she wouldn’t, think hard about buying it. Sure, you might have to cook more. Sure, you might have to change your daily eating routine. Sure, you might have to spend more money. But a little change (and a few more dollars) leads to large health benefits (and smaller health bills).

Monday, May 10, 2010

I admit it. Running isn't enough.

Okay, it has been weeks. I bet you thought I was never going to bring up intervals again. Are you still doing them? Are they getting too easy? Did you lose your motivation? Did you never start to begin with? Well, it’s time to get back to it… even for me, but there is one thing missing from my workout blog from weeks ago. I have been putting off writing about this, but it is time that I confront one of my faults.

I will admit that I am addicted to running. I love it. To quote Edward Cullen, it is my own personal brand of heroin. I would run every day if I could. I know what you are thinking… this chick is crazy. I swear, I am not. I don’t have to run long distances, just 3 miles and I feel on top of the world. Last year on Mother’s Day, my husband asked me what I wanted to do for the day and I told him I wanted to go for a 6 mile run. Okay, now I sound crazy.

Here is the problem with running: when you attempt to do it often (i.e. 6 days a week, like I did last week) your body starts to rebel. For me, the rebellion starts in my knees. Yesterday, my knees won and I was forced to stop and admit that running isn’t always what the body needs… even if my mind would say otherwise.

This brings us to my fault. I suck at weight training. It is a VITAL part of physical development and maintenance. In fact, women NEED to do light weight training to help prevent osteoporosis. Even knowing all these things, I still don’t like doing it and if I don’t have to, I won’t. Well, my knee problems finally forced me to look at my workout regime and admit that I need to change.

What did I do? For starters, I went down into my basement and starting looking for the balance ball video I remembered doing a few years ago after I had my first daughter. I was sure we still had it. If my memory served me correctly, there was a pretty good core workout that got a good sweat going. After fishing around in the basement for 15 minutes, I realized the video was gone. Then the vague memory danced across my brain of me looking at the DVD during our last move and saying to myself “oh, be honest, Bek, you never do this video” and tossing it in the garbage.

So, I couldn’t do the video, but I had one last resort. I didn’t want to have to go there, but time was ticking down and my daughters’ naps were going to be over before I knew it. I went and grabbed the most recent issue of Health magazine and started thumbing through it. Every month the magazine outlines workouts. Every month I scoff at them. Who can read a magazine and do a workout at the same time? But as I learned today, I could.

The best way for women to tone their bodies in conjunction with cardio workouts (i.e. your interval routine) is circuit training. What is circuit training? It is a “technique that involves moving from one exercise to another, each exercise working a different muscle group until each muscle has been worked. It can include strength training stations, cardio stations or a mixture of the two.” When I force myself to do something other than running, it is circuit training. The problem is unless you have a trainer telling you what exercises to do, you are probably clueless.

Well, I found the solution. Since I am not an authority on circuit training and can’t post pictures of exercises for you to do, I will point you in the right direction. The workout I did today (which still has my arms shaking) is GREAT and yes, it came from Health magazine. Go out, buy the May issue of Health (it has Mariska Hargitay on the cover), turn to page 54 and do the workout they have outlined. It is not hard to follow, it gets you sweating, it only takes 20 MINUTES and you will feel great afterward… until tomorrow when you are sore.

I know you thought we were stopping at intervals, but the body needs more (even if I don’t want to admit it). Do this workout 2 days a week in conjunction with intervals 3 days a week. Let’s make a pack to build some muscles, if not to look great (which you will), for the protection of our bones. If you don’t want to do this specific workout, join a yoga class, do a weight training video, find something that suits your personality because a little muscle goes a long way.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Vegetables... from yuck to yum!

Recently, I made a life decision that forced me to start thinking about my vegetable intake. The decision, I became a vegetarian! I have loved the choice I made, but it required me to take a serious look at what I was consuming on a daily basis. In the past, I packed all my vegetables for the day into dinner. Whether it was one serving or four, I rarely ate vegetables other than at night (I am not counting the lettuce on my sandwich at lunch… iceberg lettuce is basically water anyway). When I chose to cut out meat, I was all of a sudden presented with a predicament… what do I eat now?!

For most of us, we were raised around meat based meals. My families typical meal consisted of a meat (usually chicken or pork), a starch (potatoes or rice) and a vegetable. When I cooked, I based all meals on the meat I was serving. When I decided to become a vegetarian, I was forced to look at meals differently. Meat was no longer the centerpiece, vegetables were.

Of all food categories, we need vegetables the most. They consist of the most vitamins and nutrients the body needs. It is no surprise that vegetarians tend to be healthier people. They eat considerably more vegetables than meat eaters. Vegetarians are forced to constantly think about what they are putting in their bodies. Am I getting enough protein? Does this meal have the nutrients my body needs? What goes with a potato that doesn’t come from an animal? As meat eaters, we take all these questions for granted. We robotically make ourselves a deli sandwich for lunch and meat and potatoes for dinner. But what about the vegetables?

Whether you are a staunch red meat eater or a chicken lover, start thinking about your meals from a vegetarian’s perspective. Think about what vegetables you are going to cook before you consider your meat. Make a meal around squash, peppers, and mushrooms instead of steak. According to the food pyramid, people need to have 3-5 servings of vegetables a day. Most people eat around one or two… and many don’t eat any at all. If you begin to build your meals around vegetables, you are guaranteed to get your 3-5 servings, not to mention more of the vitamins and nutrients your body needs.

Take this week and make a commitment to eat your veggies first… then add a meat. You might find you feel healthier, have more energy, and actually like vegetables (brussel sprouts are actually good), because roasted or raw, vegetables really are the best thing on the menu.

Need some motivation?? Every week, I try to cook two new dishes for my family (I am trying to build up my library of vegetarian recipes) and they are all veggie packed. Check out the recipes I picked out for this week!