Health and Nutrition

Labels and Identity At The Dinner Table

farmers market vegetables

Vegan. Gluten-free. Omnivore. Paleo. We can’t help but conjure up images of not only what kind of food someone eats when we hear these terms, but also what kind of people they are. Differences in food philosophy can start the most heated debates and shut down civility and communication between people. It’s silly when you think about it. It’s just what food, right? Yet a food belief different to our own is so threatening because it feels like a judgement of our own diet–they think they’re better than us because they choose to eat differently. Food is personal, so it feels like an attack on our identity.

At the end of the day, I am an omnivore. I eat pretty much everything. I believe my body thrives best on lots of vegetables, some meat and fish, and healthy fats. But I also believe everything else (in moderation) has a place in my healthy diet. I wrote a whole page about my food philosophy yet I’ve avoided calling this an “omnivore’s” blog or identify with one label. Every single person has slightly different food habits to begin with. We all really like and dislike different foods. Every human body is a little different–some people feel strong and energetic eating one way while someone else’s body would feel crappy if they did the same thing. And we don’t usually have a problem with that. But one you slap a label on yourself and identify with one group, suddenly you give something people can easily rebel against.

So, people of the world, I propose a truce. I spend a lot of time listening to the different arguments and voices in food philosophies. It made me realize we went out of our way to choose a specific way to eat for our health, so we already have more in common than we think. We’re all striving to eat clean and take care of our bodies. We’re avoiding overly processed food and trying to eat more whole foods instead. And I don’t think any of us will disagree that vegetables are key in a healthy diet. We put effort into trying different things, tweaking our food habits and beliefs over time, and finding what’s best for our own bodies. Everything beyond that is just noise. Let’s drop the labels and the judgement. Let’s sit down at the same figurative dinner table, discuss our beliefs without hate, and celebrate food.

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Health and Nutrition

DietBet: Lose Weight and Win Money

Although a lot of us could stand to unplug more often, I’m a big fan of technology. It already helps us with work, productivity, keeping in touch, and getting places. So why shouldn’t we use it to help us in all other areas of life, including weight loss? Today I’m going to tell you a bit about DietBet–a nifty little online tool to help you drop a few pounds.

I heard about DietBet through The Nutrition Diva. I missed out on the first DietBet game she organized, but joined in on the second, which just ended this past weekend. I don’t have much weight to lose and not many strong reasons to lose it, so why not put money on the line to motivate myself? Basically, DietBet is a social weight loss game where players bet a certain amount of money (or put it up for charity) and compete with each other. It’s a four week game where participants’ goal is to lose 4% of their body weight. Those who meet their goal are winners and they split the pot. Those who don’t make their goal lose the money they bet. To make sure you don’t cheat, the administrators ask you to take before and after shots: a full body photo of yourself on the scale, as well as a close-up of the weight on the scale next to the key work they give you written down on a note card. Don’t worry! No one has to see these photos aside from the administrators.

So what happened in the end? My motivation was low the first week because 4% felt like a deceivingly low amount of weight to lose. Don’t be fooled. Then I went on vacation to New Orleans and let’s be real. You can’t be on a diet in New Orleans. When I came back I got serious. I started tracking my calories and working out more often. I started losing weight consistently but then when you get down to the last pound you have to be careful of water retention and weight fluctuation, especially if you’re a woman. For a minute there, I thought I was going to lose my money! Thankfully I made my goal and was one of the winners.

DietBet might not work for everyone and it could potentially be more stressful than useful, depending on your personality type. You have to decide whether or not it’s suitable for you. But overall, I would recommend it as a good motivator to shed a few pounds at a healthy pace, and the bonuses are that it’s fun and you can win money! Who doesn’t love money? My advice would be to start strong from the beginning (unlike me) and aim to lose more than 4% just to make sure you reach your goal and weight fluctuation doesn’t come to bite you in the ass.

Join a game on DietBet’s website, or download the DietBet app here.

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Health and Nutrition

8 Tips For Clean Food Shopping

Sometimes I think this blog might confuse people. Bacon? Cheese? Butter?! Does this girl even know anything about clean eating? I’d like to argue, yes. Yes, I do. I don’t buy into what manufacturers tell us is “healthy”. Rather, I focus on buying a variety of real, whole foods. What type of food you choose is one part of the equation, but the quality of your food is another. When I say I use some bacon in a meal, I’m using stuff made from antibiotic-free pork, without added nitrites or chemical preservatives. Believe it or not, even butter has nutrients if you buy the real thing! Grass-fed butter has vitamins and minerals. What do you get from margarine? A whole bunch of man-made trans fat that tastes like shit. Yum.

So, I thought I’d share some of my tips for clean food shopping. As much as I’d love to urge everyone to shop at farmers markets, I know it’s not an option for everyone. These guidelines will help you avoid falling for marketing scams and outdated nutrition advice, and navigate the store like a healthy pro!

Farmers market

1) Beware of industrial meat and seafood…and dairy for that matter
This is the first and longest tip, because I think it’s the most urgent change one needs to make in their shopping habits. I know it’s a painful one because yes, organic and humanely-raised meat is much more expensive. But if I had to choose between buying non-organic/non-wild caught stuff and eating a vegetarian meal, I would totally pick the vegetarian option. Unfortunately, here in America, our mass-market food system is messed up, and when it comes to meat, it’s downright scary. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch a documentary like Food, Inc (my Amazon affiliate link). Do you want to eat sick animals that eat garbage, are treated like crap, and pumped up with antibiotics? Or eat their eggs and dairy products? I don’t.

This all sounds very dramatic but the proof is in the pudding. Go pick up a packet of shrink-wrapped supermarket ground beef or farmed salmon and look at it. It’s pretty sad when manufacturers need to dye their product to make it look more appetizing. And if you like tasty food (I’m assuming you do if you’re a normal human being), do a taste test and compare grass-fed beef to feedlot beef. You won’t go back to the cheap stuff. Please question where your meat comes from and how the animal was raised, whether you are at a supermarket, farmers market, or butcher, and make the right choice.

2) Choose organic, non-genetically modified produce when you can
I’m a little more adamant about the non-GMO part than the organic part, but I try to get organic when I can because too many pesticides in your body can mess with your hormonal system, and god knows what else. A good hierarchy or priorities is: 1) get organic when you can. 2) If not, at least be strict about buying organic when it comes to the dirty dozen. 3) If you can’t do that either, wash the shit out of your produce. As for genetically-modified produce, I know this is a tough one to identify, and that’s why I buy mostly organic or at the farmers market. If a food was engineered to resist pesticides, chances are it won’t do lovely things to my body. I might be wrong and maybe they’re not harmful, but I’ll play it safe.

3) If local produce is available, get it
Again, not everyone has access to local food. But if it’s an option, do it. The less time it took for produce to get to you after it was harvested, the more nutrients it will still have by the time you eat it. As much as I love bananas, the fruits I buy most often are local apples. Even if they aren’t totally organic, I still usually choose them over bananas that were harvested before they were ready, exposed to ethylene gas to artificially ripen them and turn them bright yellow, and then shipped from Latin America all the way to my grocery store.

4) Skip the low-fat stuff
What is people’s obsession with low-fat food, especially dairy? Fat is good for you. I’d say do full fat dairy products, or 2% if you’re really not comfortable with that. The non-fat stuff doesn’t taste as good or keep you full as long, or other ingredients are often added to make up for the lack of fat. Plus you need the fat to help with nutrient absorption!

5) Look at the ingredients list of everything you buy
There’s a lot of suspicious stuff in processed food. That’s why I like making things from scratch, but I understand that we don’t have the time or energy for it everyday. So I implore you to carefully read the ingredients list before you buy a product. You’ve already got enough weird additives and chemicals getting into your body against your will–you don’t need to actively seek them out too. Anything weird-sounding that you don’t recognize on that ingredients list? If so, skip it. I’m shocked at how even health food brands have so much stuff you just don’t need (I’m looking at you, soy lecithin) in their ingredient list. But hey, real food isn’t supposed to be shelf-stable. If a product’s packaging tries way too hard to sound healthy, you can bet you’ll find some eyebrow-raising ingredients. Example: compare the packaging and ingredients lists of Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Mmmm-hmmm.

6) Don’t take trendy super-foods too seriously
Meh. As much as I like kale and acai, I don’t give them any special status just because they’ve been trendy the past couple of years. Too much of anything isn’t good for you. You’d be surprised how pretty much every food has its positives and negatives. I’m not saying these super-foods aren’t healthy. They are. But there’s no need to obsess over what magazines tell you are the miracle food of the month. Instead, make an effort to always eat a variety of food. That’s how you cover all your nutritional bases. Bought spinach and tomatoes last trip to the store? Maybe pick up eggplants and zucchini this time.

7) Be honest with yourself when it comes to a balanced diet
Yes, whole wheat bread is better than white bread. And yes, quality hard cheeses make a better dessert for you than cookies. But let’s get real about the big picture. What you buy is what you’ll eat. What’s actually in your shopping cart? Is it mainly vegetables and quality protein, with maybe just a few fruits, an intact grains, and one single-serving treat? Or can you barely find a leafy green under the boxes of organic sugary cereal and tofu-based ice cream sandwiches in your cart? If so, turn around and try again.

8) Let your food shopping be the 80% in the 80-20 rule
I’m not militant about eating clean at every meal of everyday. Life would be miserable if you had to follow a bunch of rules about eating and never get to taste your aunt’s fabulous pumpkin pie, or starve because you’re traveling and there isn’t a healthy, organic meal in miles. We can’t control everything we eat all the time. But here’s the thing. You can control that 80% if you make the right choices when you’re food shopping. If you don’t make a habit out of preparing healthy meals most days, it’s a slippery slope. Before you know it, half your calories will be coming from poor food choices. Let your aunt’s pumpkin pie or that airport burrito be the 20%. If you’re eating balanced meals made from quality food most of the time, there is definitely room in a healthy diet for letting it slide once in a while!

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Health and Nutrition

“Eat the Rainbow” Now In A Handy Chart

nutrition chart

Chasing Delicious made a cool little chart to visually represent different colored produce, what nutrients you can get from each group, and what they can do for your health. Check out their blog post for more in-depth knowledge of the benefits of each.

Truth is, you don’t need a chart. Just focus on switching up what you eat a lot. You’ve heard “eat the rainbow” before, and I’m always going on about a varied diet here on Eating Clean in the Dirty City. But the chart does serve as a friendly reminder of all the foods we’re not eating, even if we think we eat a varied diet. I, for one, could totally work more blue/purple veggies into my routine. You can purchase the chart as a print too–it would look lovely in the kitchen.

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Health and Nutrition

What 2000 Calories Look Like

The concept of visually comparing how different types of food add up to a certain number of calories isn’t new. But this is really simple but well-made video showing 2000 calories in different commonly eaten foods, so I thought I’d share it with you. Read more about it here.

Man, I want to do more video work! Here’s another food-related video I’ve enjoyed recently, produced by Joy the Baker. I don’t want to know how many calories is in that shake.

Happy Hour Hot Fudge Milkshake from Joy the Baker on Vimeo.

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Health and Nutrition

Bon Appetit Magazine’s 2013 Food Lover’s Cleanse

food lovers cleanse

Have you seen Bon Appetit magazine’s Food Lover’s Cleanse? It’s a meal plan for the first two weeks of the new year, designed with a nutritionist’s help, to recalibrate your eating habits after the holiday season. This is the third year Bon Appetit has featured a new year’s cleanse, and I have been loving them! It’s such a fantastic idea because it addresses two big problems with so-called detoxifying “cleanses”: a) they’re usually a bunch of BS with no real science behind them, and b) people who actually like food can’t stand the thought of wasting a meal on something that tastes bland.

I didn’t follow the Food Lover’s Cleanse schedule. I’m cooking for one and don’t have enough space in my shared apartment to store that much food. Plus, different recipes every single day? I don’t got time for that.

aintnobody

I’ve just been making a few days worth of each recipe at a time, slowly making my way through. So far I’m digging it, and appreciate that the prep work is less involved compared to 2012’s cleanse (though it was equally delicious). My food totally did not come out as beautiful as the photography, but it’s cool.

One of the main reasons why I created this blog is to show people that, yes, you can eat delicious food and do not have to follow any weird depriving diets to eat healthy. I love the Food Lover’s Cleanse because the meals are tasty, seasonal, well-balanced, and nutritious. In fact, I could eat like this year-round. Minus the rules of no dessert/caffeine/bread/dairy, even if I could cut back on some of them. We should all strive to eat more whole intact grains, fish, healthy fats, and vegetables…while still enjoying the heck out of our meals.

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Health and Nutrition

10 Guidelines for a Wonderful Life of Eating

I’ve developed my own little food philosophy over the last few years. Nothing new here, but as I love reading about other people’s eating habits and beliefs, I thought I would share my views. Disclaimer: I am by no means a nutritionist, dietitian, or scientist. These are just my personal opinions!

1) Veggies are your no. 1 priority
If I had to name only one way to improve your diet, I’d say eat your vegetables. The recommended daily minimum is 2 and a half cups. So get them in whenever you can! Lunch and dinner is obvious but don’t forget that you can add veggies to certain breakfasts or make snacks out of them. They are low in calories and so high in nutrients. Eat them.

2) Cut out processed food
I know, I know. It’s so much easier to pick up a jar of pasta sauce, a box of cookies with an unnatural shelf life, or full meals from the frozen section. But there’s nothing convenient about the damage all the sodium and preservatives do to your body, even if the packaging is labelled “organic” or “healthy”. You need to eat real food, people. Processed stuff is not real food.

3) Prepare most of your meals
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. But it’s not only important to prepare most of your meals to avoid processed crap, but it’s also important to avoid eating out all the time. If you have the funds to eat at places with really high-quality, healthy food, that’s great. Go for it! But for the rest of us, we’re probably eating at places that do not use quality ingredients, and the meals are probably a lot higher in calories than we think. But the scariest part is that you just don’t know what exactly is in your food and how it was prepared. I have heard horror stories about what goes on in some restaurants’ kitchens!

4) Choose seasonal/local/non-GMO/organic foods when you can
I’m sure you’ve heard enough about what genetically modified foods and pesticides may do to our bodies, and how food that’s traveled a long distance loses most of its nutritional value, so no need for me to go into it. If you’re not already convinced to spend your money on quality food upfront and would rather spend it on medical bills later, at least lessen the damage. Make these two swaps: choose organic when you are purchasing the Dirty Dozen, and please choose organic/non-feedlot dairy and beef. It’s bad, bad news if you don’t.

5) Watch your portion sizes
I’d much rather be heavier but eating tons of healthy foods than skinny but subsisting on junk. Nutrition comes before weight, but if you’ve got the nutrition thing down, tackle your portion sizes. We need to leave behind the ideas of all-you-can-eat, stuffing yourself, and snacking non-stop. It’s not good for you and too much excess weight raises your risks for all sorts of health problems. You know this.

6) Forget the fad diets
I swear, fad diets are an addiction. People cannot get enough of them. Just stop, already. None work in the long-term. It’s too difficult to maintain restrictive and depriving diets. If you want to lose weight, eat balanced, healthy meals, which is how you want to eat for the rest of your life anyhow (instead of cabbage soup or no carbs, for example). Just count your calories and exercise. There will always be fad diets and they will never be the answer. Just accept it!

7) Eat a balanced diet and switch it up
So what is this balanced diet? Healthy fats, healthy carbs, healthy protein. You need ‘em all. There’s no reason to cut out any major food group. And because different foods are higher in different nutrients, you want to switch it up to get all the nutrients you need. Anyway, isn’t that a better way to eat and live? Variety is the spice of life!

8) Don’t judge others
It’s a wonderful thing to have a healthy diet. But there’s no need to judge the eating habits of others. I’m guilty of it occasionally–I giggled when I saw some dude at the supermarket buy nothing but 20 Chef Boyardee cans and 20 Gatorades. But when someone asked me why I “put that garbage” in my body, referring to my home-baked cookies, I understood how awful it is to be judgmental about people’s food beliefs. You can disagree with them, but it’s not your place to judge them. If people want to change their eating habits, they have to want to make a change. Your unsolicited advice will not help.

9) Don’t get neurotic about it and don’t be a snob
I’ve listed a lot of guidelines here but I want to point out that they are not rules. Eat right 80% of the time. There’s no need to be difficult, be inconvenienced, or upset others the other 20% of the time. As much as I love making food from scratch and shopping at the farmers market, I enjoy a good street taco or post-holiday discounted Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

10) Enjoy your food
Last thought. Enjoy your food. Savor it. Eat what makes you happy. Try new things. Don’t forego taste for health all the time. I don’t believe in living to eat; there are more important things in life. But there’s no need to purely eat to live, either. Food and flavor is a wonderful gift and we should embrace it.

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Health and Nutrition

Finding the Balance: How to Be Healthy And Still Enjoy Life

I guess I don’t need to tell you that a healthy lifestyle is very important to me. I did start a blog about clean eating, after all. But I don’t believe in taking things to the extreme. There is room for the occasional treat if you’re eating nutritious food, exercising, and sleeping 7-8 hours most days.

The truth is, it’s a struggle. Good habits sound so straightforward, yet if they were truly easy to do, we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic, so many deaths caused by smoking, or credit card debt. Doing all the right things all the time comes naturally to some, but the majority of us are constantly trying to find the balance between acting responsibly and living a full life.

Considering where I was just a few years ago, I’m very satisfied with where my health is these days. I quit smoking, made sleep a priority, eat clean food (most days), and started running. I could definitely do more strength training and eat less sugar, but my true downfall is alcohol.

I really don’t drink all that much, and moderate alcohol consumption can have some health benefits. My problem is sticking to the recommended one drink a day. It would be great to be able to blame it on peer pressure, but really, I just love drinking. I admit it. I don’t do it at all most days, but when I do, it usually involves killing half a bottle of wine. When going out to bars, even worse–I’ll knock back a few stiff mixed drinks. You may find my little rant amusing if you know true heavy drinkers. Just remember that even if others are doing comparatively worse, it doesn’t make an unhealthy habit OK. I would like to get to the point in my life where if I do choose to have alcohol, I stop after one glass. Or two, if I’m feeling extra saucy. I’m just not there yet. I do occasionally feel guilty about my alcohol consumption, but I’m having fun in my youth and trying to strike a balance.

What’s your downfall? How do you struggle with finding the balance?

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Health and Nutrition

Download HBO’s “The Weight of the Nation” Documentary for Free

When it comes to health, sometimes we need to look beyond ourselves or our families. Sometimes we need to think about what we’re going through as a country. I’ve been watching HBO’s documentary The Weight of the Nation. It’s really good. If you’re interested in public health and and the obesity epidemic, check it out. It’s informative/heart-breaking/uplifting/fascinating all at the same time. Best of all, it’s free. Search for “The Weight of the Nation” in your iTunes Store and download it.

 

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Health and Nutrition

No Vitamins? No Problem! Have a Tea and Berries Green Smoothie

We know we’re supposed to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables everyday. And we mean well, we really do. I make the daily minimum most days, but alas, even a clean eating blogger will sometimes fail. I don’t take vitamins everyday but it’s a nice back-up plan when I don’t eat how I should.

But supplements aren’t ideal. I kind of don’t trust them. Nutrition in food is so complex; it can’t just be boiled down to individual vitamins and minerals. Eating junk everyday but popping a whole bunch of supplement pills isn’t the same as eating a balanced diet of real food.

So it got me thinking, how can I make a food version of a multi-vitamin pill? Obviously not something that will contain everything a multi-vitamin does, but a way to get an extra boost of health after a day of bad eating, in real food form. I came up with a smoothie exclusively made up of some of the healthiest and top cancer-fighting foods that would go together:

Tea
The most potent antioxidants are found in green tea and that’s why it’s the trendy one, but white and black teas are high in antioxidants too. Drinking tea is a very healthy habit, and if you don’t have the green stuff on hand, black or white tea are great options too.

Berries
All types of fresh fruit have a lot going for them, but berries are one those nutritionally superior ones. They’re particularly high in antioxidants and great for smoothies. I’m not limiting you to one kind of berry so go ahead and use your favorite, or even better, mix it up. I used strawberries in the smoothie I photographed for this post, so yours may look different. No biggie.

Red seedless grapes
Red grapes are also high in cancer-fighting antioxidants. Resveratrol has gotten a lot of attention as it is said to help protect your heart. It’s the same stuff you hear about in red wine but let’s stick to grapes. We can’t have you getting drunk off your morning smoothie!

Leafy greens
I don’t need to tell you how good leafy greens are for you. So you know that getting a serving of them in your smoothie is good news. You can use pretty much any leafy green here, but I like spinach.

Yogurt
Yogurt has friendly bacteria and is great for your digestive and immune systems. Just be sure to buy the quality stuff–no crappy yogurt with artificial additives, please.

Flaxseeds or chia seeds
This is totally optional but if you’re like me and other health-conscious people, you may have bought a big ol’ bag of flaxseeds or chia seeds. They’re great for you and have omega-3 fatty acids, but serve little culinary purpose. Here’s your chance to use it up! Be sure to grind flaxseeds first.

This smoothie is tasty and nutritious, and perfect for summer. It makes a great light breakfast or snack, with almost half of your daily minimum for fruits and vegetables covered. Plus it looks like there’s confetti in it, yay! Now go make a Tea and Berries Green Smoothie of your own.

Tea and Berries Green Smoothie
Makes 1 serving

1 cup brewed tea (green, white, or black)
1/2 cup berries
5-6 red seedless grapes
1/2 cup packed leafy greens
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp ground flaxseeds or chia seeds (optional)

After you’ve brewed your favorite cup of tea, wait for tea to cool and pour into ice cube tray.

Once your tea is frozen, throw in 3-4 tea ice cubs into a blender with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth.

Putting my free The Great Googa Mooga cup to good use.

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