Sunday, October 18, 2009


I'm switching over to wordpress. Still the same blog, just a different site. Keep on following please :)

Food Inc.

I just recently watched Food Inc., a very insightful movie that exposed, pardon my language, our fucked up food industry. A majority of manufacturers no longer produce food with the intentions of filling our stomachs with quality food, but with the intentions of filling their pockets with money. Below are a few noteworthy facts, statistics, and profound points made in the movie.

-The average supermarket carries approximately 47,000 products. This is an illusion of choices, considering only a few oversized companies manufacture these products and market them under different names.
-The little farm images on the packaging of these products: Simply a mirage. The food isn't really coming from small, romanticized farms. It's coming from huge, machinery-filled factories.
-In the 1930's, the invention of the drive-in has revolutionized the food and restaurant industry, pushing it towards a downhill spiral.
-Only 3 or 4 large companies, such as Tyson and Perdue, control meat production. These monopolies aren't just causing problems for the treatment of the animals, but for the quality of meat produced for humans as well.
-Producing food has become highly mechanized. The factories consist of large metal equipment, turning food production from quality into assembly line manufacturing.
-Just like the mechanizing of production, that actual animals are being treated as if they were pieces of mechanical projects. Chickens are twice as big, yet slaughtered in 1/2 the time as 50 years ago. The birds are genetically manipulated to increase their breast sides. This artificial process can't be healthy.
-In traditional large-scaled factories, chickens never even get to see the sun. Talk about fully domesticating an animal and treating it as an object rather than a being.
-In fact, only one chicken farmer out of the numerous asked for the making of Food Inc. would let cameras inside their chicken coops/houses. The coop shown exposed that chickens were growing to rapidly for their bones to fully develop, making it so most of the chickens could walk little more than a few feet. It also isn't uncommon for a chicken owner to walk out of the coop with multiple dead chickens each day. And if the chickens are sick, well, they're going to the slaughterhouse anyways.
-A lot of the farmers know that the conditions of their animals are abhorrent. However, they're kept working out of the hands of the large companies because if they don't, they'll lose their contract and their debt will just keep building. One farm put it like this: "It's like being a slave to your company." The 18,000 a year a typical farmer makes isn't quite enough to work off the 500,000 loans needed for building/production costs and to have the freedom to speak out against the companies they work for too.
-Another problem is the fact that government subsidizes specific commodity foods, such as corn. One expert estimated that 90$ of the products in the supermarket contain corn, soy, or both, all products of which are subsidized by the gov.
  • Since corn has been made cheap due to subsidization, animals such as farm-raised fish and cows that are designed by evolution to eat other things, are being fed it in mass quantities. Feeding corn to cows, which are designed to eat grass, is causing an increase in e. coli in their feces. The cows, which are often forced to spend their day knee deep in each others feces, are carrying the e. coli infected feces with them into the slaughterhouse where it is then being transferred onto the meat Americans consume.
-The USDA doesn't have much control over the meat companies because of the cost burden the regulation would require. One woman who lost her son due to the consumption of a hamburger containing salmonella said she felt as though "the industry was more protected than her son".
-Additionally, since corn is subsidized, products that contain corn fillers, which range everywhere from soda (high fructose corn syrup), to Cheez-Its, to hamburgers are made cheaper. It's sad that you can get a hamburger for 99 cents, while a head of broccoli is sure to cost over a dollar.
  • Due to the standards of food, since 2000, one out of every three children will contract early onset diabetes. One half of these children will be from minorities of whom don't have the money to spend on expensive, yet healthy foods.
-Not only are the animals treated like objects, but the workers are too. Immigrants, often the main employees of large-scaled slaughterhouses, are forced to cut off the same part of the same animal all day long, making just enough money to afford the junk food they need for survival. As many as 30,000 animals a day are butchered at one single plant, causing workers fingernails to separate as bacteria spreads on their hands.
  • And the immigrants often get caught by police and are picked up like their criminals, while the meat companies are making millions.
-When you look at the environmental costs, health costs, and societal costs, cheap food is in reality expensive food.
-Another big issue: Genetically modified foods. Over 90% of soybeans contain a patent placed by Monsanto (A company genetically modified seeds so that its weed killer would kil the weeds around plants without actually harming the plants themselves). When you genetically modify a crop, you own it.
  • If Monsanto's seeds get crossed over into a farmer's crops who aren't using Monsanto products, which happens quite often, than Monsanto can take the farmer to court for supposedly trying to "steal their seeds". It's almost impossible for these small farmers to win out against monstorous Monsanto, and in doing so they'd most likely fall under huge debt.
-What's worse, GMO products aren't even required to be labeled in the supermarket. Approx. 75% of foods in the store contain a GMO ingredient. Yet it's not made easy for consumers to differentiate between these products, so they are forced to swallow these artificially manipulated ingredients.
  • They are trying to sell cloned animal meat without labeling. If I bought meat from the store, I certainly wouldn't want to mess with unnaturally cloned animal products.
-The good news: The organic industry is growing 25% annually.
-Additional good news: You can make a difference. The average meal travels 1500 miles from farm to supermarket. By eating locally, in season, organic, garden-grown, or farmer's market foods, you can help change the world with every bite.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup

Squash of all varieties are ubiquitous throughout the fall season. It can sometimes be hard to know what do with all these gigantic vegetable specimens. As the cold days start to roll in, using the squash to make a soup can be a great way to warm up your tummy. Simply delicious... and healthy too!

Curried Squash and Yam Soup
-1 large butternut squash (Approx. 6-7 cups when cooked)
-3 large sweet potatoes (about 3 cups when cooked)
-2 tsp olive oil
-1 cup onion, chopped
-1/2 cup celery, chopped
-Salt and pepper, to taste
-3 medium garlic cloves, minced
-1 tsp curry powder
-1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon (to taste)
-Dash of nutmeg
-4 cups vegetable stock
-1 cup water
-2-3 tsp freshly grated ginger

Preheat oven to 400 F. Bake squash and sweet potatoes whole for 60 minutes, or until soft when poked with a fork. While the squash and sweet potatoes are cooking, chop/prepare the remaining ingredients. Once done and cool enough to handle, remove the peels, seeds, and any stringy remnants from the squash/sweet potatoes and chop into slices. In a large pot heat olive oil. Add the onion, celery, salt, pepper, garlic, curry powder, coriander, and cinnamon, and cook over medium heat. Cover and let cook for approx. 8 minutes. If the onions begin to stick, add a splash of water. Add the stock and water, the squash and sweet potato slices, and ginger. Simmer for 5 minutes. In batches, transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Return to pan, bring mixture to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

-Can be topped with a dollop of yogurt/ sour cream and/or a sprig of parsley. Take advantage of all the squash this fall, and get your cooking on!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Snow Is In Store

The Philadelphia Metro reported yesterday that is predicting one of the stormiest and coldest U.S. winters in awhile. Due to a weakening El Nino weather pattern, an abnormal warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, temperatures are expected to decrease across the nation while storm activity increases in parts of the U.S.

The Metro quoted AccuWeather's Chief Meterologist as saying, "The areas that will be hit hardest this winter by cold, snowy weather will be from southern New England through the Appalachians and mid-Atlantic, including the Carolinas."

That means Philly is in for some snow. It's predicted that Philadelphia could get up to 75% of their total snowfall in just two to three big storms. You know what that means...Messy road conditions and a lot of black snow.

But there's sure to be some places with some crystal white snow. My hometown will for sure have some pretty sights.

I can't quite say I'm all that excited about the winter news. I'm a summer girl myself. For now I'm going to enjoy my last few days of nice (or at least somewhat nice/not frigid) weather. As for winter, I'll make the best of it and wait for those fluffy white snowflakes to come.

Dig out those snowboots and get ready for a lively upcoming winter.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

National Vegetarian Month!

October is vegetarian awareness month. With the title in place, this can be a great motivator to give going vegetarian a try for at least the remainder of the month.

When done in the right way, becoming vegetarian can be extremely beneficial to your health. Because of the nature of a balanced vegetarian diet, which consists mainly of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins, it can be a healthy aid in losing weight. Vegetarians tend to have lower BMIs and have a more conscious awareness of what they are consuming.

A vegetarian diet can also help to reduce the risk of heart disease because of the decrease in cholesterol and saturated fat that is being cut out by eliminating meat. A balanced vegetarian diet is full of fiber which promotes proper digestion and regularity. It is also linked to a decreased risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.

After all, what could be unhealthy about eating a bunch of fruits and vegetables? And that is the key to keeping a vegetarian diet healthy. Don't think you can just swap your burgers for meatless pizza and start losing weight. One still has to be mindful about what they are putting into their body. Also, it's important to be conscious about getting an adequate amount of protein. Nuts (also containing healthy fats and omega 3's), yogurt, soy, and beans and legumes are great, lean sources of protein. While eating fruits and vegetables is great, don't forget to add protein to almost every meal you consume. Proteins will help to leave you satisfied for longer periods of time and will make the transition from meat to no-meat easier.

A vegetarian diet not only does wonders for the body. It is also wonderful for the environment as well. With gas emissions and smog filling our air and global warming increasingly on the rise, every bit of environmentally friendly action is important. Farm animals used for meat emit a substantial amount of methane gas, a gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping solar energy. Methane and other greenhouse gases are big contributors of global warming. Also, cows need a lot of grass to munch on. In order to make room for these big, grassy fields that farm animals require, rain forests of often clear-cutted, causing an increase in deforestation. And cow doesn't just gotta eat. Its gotta drink too. Cows and the manufacturing techniques used to process them when they're slaughtered puts a drain on our water supplies. One pound of beef requires an input of approximately 2,500 gallons of water, whereas a pound of soy requires 250 gallons of water and a pound of wheat only 25 gallons.

So give vegetarianism a try, both for you body and the environment. If a balanced diet is kept, you should feel extra energized and good about yourself for knowing you're doing your part in keeping the Earth and your body healthy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fuitylicious To Keep Your Booty-licious

Fruit salads are one of the simplest, yet most delicious meals you can prepare. Great as a light breakfast, lunch, snack, or even dessert, fruit salads are good for almost anytime of the day. I enjoyed the one above for lunch today, and it took me literally five minutes to prepare. Cut up any fruit you have lying around and top it with any combination of nuts, granola, yogurt, cereal, or anything else in which you think fruit would pair well. If you need a little help, check out the recipe below to make the fruit salad I enjoyed earlier today. I was able to combine a variety of foods to incorporate a substantial amount of fiber, vitamins, protein, and omega 3's to keep me energized and satisfied until dinner.

Grace's Fab Fruit Salad
-1/2 apple, sliced-------------Vitamin and antioxidant power + Fiber
-1/2 banana, sliced-----------Vitamin and antioxidant power + Fiber
-1 8oz container nonfat Greek Yogurt------Protein
-5-8 walnuts, chopped------Omega 3's, heart healthy fats + Protein
-A few raisins----------------Vitamins + A bit of natural sweetness

Combine yogurt, apples, and banana in a bowl. Sprinkle walnuts and raisins on top, and voila, a healthy, yummy meal in no time. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Obesity Kills

A study led by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, with contributions from the University of Toronto and the University of Washington, showed that obesity racks up quite a few preventable deaths. The scary statistic shows that 216,000 deaths per year are due to obesity. That's more than I can count on 43,200 hands!

This is a sad statistic and one that we can fix. Americans need to quit munching on potato chips while sitting on the couch, and start making green shakes to power up their feet.

Little exercise and overeating has become quite the problem. But even small changes can turn this trend around.

The New York Times
asked readers to submit their rules for eating and then picked a few of their favorites. Here are some of my favorites from the list:

-The Chinese have a saying: "Eat until you're 7/10 full and save the other 3/10 for hunger." That way, food always tastes good, and you don't eat too much. -Nancy Ni
  • The Chinese seem to have nailed it with this quote. When you're hungry, food always tastes better. A healthy appetite can make a plate full of vegetable taste so much better. By leaving yourself just a little bit hungry, you set yourself up to enjoy a delicious meal later in the day.
-If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you are not hungry. -Emma Fogt
  • This rule is something I relied on to help me quit snacking. Before, I used to mindlessly snack on what was often unhealthy, salty or sweet foods. Now, before I reach for a snack I ask myself, "Would I be content in eating a piece of fruit?" If the answer is no, then I know I am not hungry enough to eat a snack. I love fruit, so if I truly were hungry, I'd be satisfied. However instead, often times my mind has just become bored and has fallen astray, resulting in a craving for that sugary cookie lying on the counter.
-"You don't get fat from food you pray over." This was from a friend who pointed out that meals prepared at home, served at the table, and given thanks for are more appreciated and more healthful than food on the run. - Carol Jackson
  • I feel extremely fortunate to have had a mother who instilled into me the idea of family dinners. Throughout grade school and leading all the way until the end of high school, my family would come together on week nights to share a family dinner. After speaking with my friends, I have found that this isn't that typical anymore. More and more, people are eating on the couch, in their cars, while running to class, etc. etc. Instead of taking the time to sit down and turn meals into social, sensual rituals, people are mindlessly shoving food down their throats while on the run. This is a factor that I believe has greatly contributed to our obesity epidemic. When you're not sitting down to really taste and enjoy the food in your hands, your mind doesn't fully compensate for it, leading you to want more and more food. Also, home-cooked meals almost always tend to be healthier than those you can get out. Americans need to return to the sit-down meals, and leave driving for the car.
-Don't eat anything that took more energy to ship than to grow. -Carrie Cizauskas
  • Eat local. Load up on veggies. Cut back on processed foods. Grown your own food and burn your own calories while doing it. Enough said.
-Avoid snack foods with the "OH" sounds in their names. Doritos, cheetohs, fritos, tostitos, hostess ho hos, etc. -Donna David
  • This is often quite true when it comes to snack foods. Doritos, cheetohs, and many of the other OH's are loaded with artificial colorings and processed ingredients, as well as fat and calories. Unless it's a whole grain cheerio, skip the OH's.
-I am living in Japan and following these simple rules when preparing each meal: GO HO- Incorporate 5 different cooking methods (steamed rice, simmered vegetables, grilled tofu, sauteed vegetables, raw fish, etc.) GO SHIKI- Incorporate 5 colors (red, white, green, black, yellow) GO MI- Incorporate 5 flavors (Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy). While it might look like a lot of work, it is actually very easy and helps with menu planning and shopping. - Yukari Sakamoto
  • Japan is one of the healthiest and slimmest nations. While they traditionally tend to eat a lot of healthy foods, such as brown rice and seafood, the technique above proves just why the Japanese can stay so thin. By satisfying an array of senses, one can feel more content, making it easier to stop after just one helping. The technique described above employs visual, textural, and taste differences that work towards satisfying each sense. By having a variety of textures, tastes, and colors, the mind and tastebuds won't have any missing part in which to yearn.
Use these rules to help you become a mindful eater and get the most out of your meals. Take time to fully savor and enjoy each bite that you take. This will require you to stop all else that you're doing, pop a squat, and bring your entire focus to the present moment, fully engaging in what you're eating. Yes, this is one time where it's unquestionably okay to take a seat. It's often said that next to sex, food is one of life's greatest pleasures. We certainly wouldn't want to rush through our sexual escapades, so why do we seemingly persist on rushing through our food?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Eat Your Oats

I'm always looking for a way to jazz up my oatmeal. I've been eating oatmeal since I was, well, born. Although once in awhile I do enjoy a nice bowl of plainly seasoned oatmeal, plain can get old pretty quickly. Luckily, there are plenty of easy ways to spice up those heart-healthy oats.

I went home this weekend and got a chance to pick some apples at the orchard up the road from me. After waking up the next morning, I decided the apples would be the perfect compliment to my oatmeal.
This simple and delicious breakfast is similar to apple pie, except a whole lot quicker and healthier.

Fried Apples

-5 medium apples (Whatever variety is in season or looks best), peeled and thinly sliced
-1 Tbs. oil
-1 tsp. cinnamon
-Honey, to taste
-Salt, to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet pan. Add the apples and cinnamon and cook until soft, approx. 15 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with honey. The amount of honey will vary depending upon the variety of apples used. Sour, cooking apples such as Granny Smith may require more honey than a sweeter variety such as Jonagold.

Serve alongside oatmeal and enjoy!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Take 5

"Pausing is something I do more often now.. And I pray or meditate --or do both-- everyday." -Oprah Winfrey

While eating my oatmeal this morning, I picked up a book that just happened to be lying around titled The Best Life Diet by Bob Greene. The foreword was written by Oprah Winfrey, describing her personal battle with weight. I think the quote above, about pausing in life, is one of the most essential tools in losing weight or dealing with almost anything in life.

While I'm not overweight or looking to go on a diet, like numerous Americans I do have the problem of eating when I'm bored. I've struggled with this habit since I was in high school, when homework got tedious and less interesting and girls started getting more conscious of their weight. Often times today, whenever I'm sitting and working on a boring project, my mind is triggered and starts repeating distracting thoughts of food. While I used to use food as a distraction, I now much more often used simple breathers/breaks to overcome my straying mind.

I used to snack all the time. I have a high metabolism due to being very active, so it never became too big of a problem when it came to my weight. However, it did pose a personal problem when it came to my appetite at meal times. As my snacking habit became more frequent (and as more boring homework was loaded on), I started to notice that I'd never really have a strong appetite when it came to actually sitting down for a meal. This was something I didn't like. Nothing is better than sitting down to a full meal when you're really hungry. But when you fill up on snacks all throughout the day, it's just not nearly the same. So I began cutting back on my snacking. This was hard considering it had become such a habit.

But when I really started to work on this was also around the time I set off for Yogaville. I went to Yogaville to become certified as a yoga teacher. I left the place after not only receiving a teacher's certification but after learning more about life than I could ever comprehend. During my time spent there this summer, one of the main things that was instilled into me was the importance of taking pauses in everyday life. I have taken this tool home with me and put it to use in almost all aspects of my life.

I used to be a person that was always on the go. Go go go. That was me, never stopping to take time to notice how I was feeling. There was so much in life that I wanted to experience, and still do, that I just didn't make the time to ever take a break. It got to the point where even I realized, I was going too much. I would be frequently worn down and just needed a break. And Yogaville really helped me understand that needing to take breaks is not only natural but essential.

This idea applies to food as well. Along with my always going lifestyle, my mind was almost always going as well. So when I'd sit down to do something boring, such as busywork homework, my mind wouldn't want to think about what I was doing. So instead, it would immediately stray to something I much more enjoyed: Food. My mind was constantly used to thinking, so it had to quickly move on to something else. As I became conscious of what my mind was doing and when I found myself snacking, I began to put to use what I learned at Yogaville about taking breaks in life.

When it comes to food and weight, taking breaks to really stop and ask yourself, "Am I hungry?" "Why am I hungry?" is essential. Compulsive eating, such as eating when you're bored, can be prevented by stopping and determining what's really causing you to want to eat. Now, whenever I'm impuslively reaching for a snack, I stop for a few seconds to determine if my body really wants food or if I'm just bored/emotionally reacting to something.

Every morning, I start out with a 10-15 minute meditation. This morning pause helps to immediately set the scene for the rest of my day. It reminds me to be in the present moment and to take my time, and prevents me from instantly launching into an unhealthy breakfast, or from racing around to get ready. Throughout the day, if my mind starts racing or directing me towards junk- in terms of food/anxiety/gossip/frustration/hate/sadness/etc- I stop, take a few breathes, and determine the root of these thoughts. If all I can determine is boredom, than I'll stop the activity for a few minutes to do something fun, such as read my favorite magazine. And then I'll continue with my work, taking deep breathes whenever I feel the need to do so. Nothing is healthier than oxygenating the body with fresh air. And nothing is better than being in the present moment.

When you can bring yourself entirely to the present moment, you'll see that all of life's worries go away. All of your compulsion will go away, your depression, your need of food, blah blah blah, all gone. Instead, you become completely satifised with what you're doing in each second of the present moment.

So use this lifelong principle and apply it to food if you need to. The next time you feel yourself reaching for an unneeded snack or an unhealthy item, pause and take a breather. Maybe take a moment to simply enjoy your surroundings and absorb the beauty around you. After just a few deep breathes, I guarantee you'll find yourself no longer wanting that item, or at least have an easier time taking your mind off the item and getting back to what you're doing in the present moment. Use this principle for ANYTHING.

Have you ever found yourself upset, only to look back on it and see that getting upset was really worthless? This exact principle can easily be applied to a situation like this. Instead of falling to pieces when something "bad" happens, just accept it, take a breather, and relax yourself. Give it a try, and I guarantee you'll be happier and healthier.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bake Sales Banned?

The classic school fundraiser, the bake sale, will no longer be an option for kids in NYC. The education department, with some exceptions, has banned bake sales in New York City schools. The new policy was actually put into place last year, but it is said that this is the first year where the rules and regulations will be strictly monitored.

It's no wonder the education department started second guessing school bake sales. They reported that roughly 40 percent of the city’s elementary and middle school students are overweight or obese. All those cookies and brownies can't be good for students' physiques.

According to the New York Times, the new policy also limits what can be sold in vending machines and school stores. However, after 6 p.m., allowance of bake sales is back on. So as long as your munching down your high-calorie snacks and putting on the pounds after school, the education department is okay with it.

While the education department has addressed unhealthy snacks during in-school hours, nowhere in the policy does it mention an altercation of the schools' cafeteria food. While there is finally a movement towards schools serving healthier food of better quality, there are still few who actually do so. When I went to school, they served us low-grade chicken nuggets, greasy beef tacos, slimy lunch meat, chicken patties, pan pizza, sugary chocolate milk, off brand tasty cakes, and other such unhealthy, fatty food choices. I could make at least a 5 page list of all the crap they served us. And while I got fed up with the unable-to-swallow food they served us, I was one of the few who actually took the time to pack a lunch. While my friends often complained about the food and would have welcomed healthier options, they didn't want to spend their time (or possibly their futile reputation) making a lunch. Reasons like this show why schools need to give students a little push and serve healthy, edible choices, not just the few parents or kids who take it upon themselves to eat healthy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of overweight young people in the nation has more than tripled since 1980. That statistic right there tells you that healthy eating habits need to be not only taught, but enforced in schools. Bake sales can't just be banned. Real, healthy food needs to actually be served to students.

If healthy food were to be served in the cafeterias, then maybe an occasional in-school bake sale would be okay. Instead of being condemned for health purposes, bake sales could be looked at as a fun treat that kids can integrate into their already healthy lifestyles.

Young kids shouldn't have to be going on diets, watching their weight, or deprived of traditional bake sale fundraising opportunities. Young kids should just be able to run around and be kids. But that's just the problem. In today's society, many kids aren't running around, and many parents and schools are feeding their kids crap. This makes it so fun events, such as bake sales, have to be banned.

New York is not the first area to ban school bake sales, however they do have some of the strictest regulations. Other places, such as California, have banned bake sales or at lesat put a limit on the sugar and fat content of snacks.

However, I think schools need to stop focusing their time on school treat regulations and start putting their efforts towards changing the meal that almost every kid eats- school lunch.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How to Get The Most Out of Your Veggies

If you're unaware that vegetables are filled with vitamins and nutrients, then you might as well not be a human being. However, what you might not know is that the way you cook vegetables can greatly determine how much of those vitamins and nutrients you're actually taking in.

A study done in the UK showed that that boiling vegetables, particularly ones in the cruciferous family (such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale), significantly reduces their cancer-fighting properties. Gucosinolate, which converts to isothiocynate, a cancer fighting chemical which helps to remove cancer causing constituents within the body, is almost entirely destroyed when vegetables are boiled.

Also when boiled, many of the vitamins and nutrients are lost in the water that covers the vegetables. If you must boil your veggies, save what will become nutrient-rich water for a soup or gravy.

One of the best alternatives to boiling veggies is steaming them. While the cooking process is similar- bring the water to a boil and then place the vegetables in the pan- steaming requires a steaming basket which keeps the vegetables from being saturated in the water. By filling up the pan with water so that it just reaches the bottom of the steamer basket, not as many of the vegetables' nutrients can be lost to the water. Generally vegetables lose 50% less minerals during steaming than boiling.

A study published in the Journal of Food and Science, showed that one of the best ways to retain nutrients is through microwaving the vegetables. They tested six different cooking methods using 20 different kinds of vegetables, and concluded that microwaving maintained the highest level of antioxidants. Although, I am weary of the use of microwaves as I fear we aren't quite sure exactly what the repercussions may be that come from using them. Considering people seem to be microwaving everything these days from sweet potatoes to rice to raw meat, I have made a personal choice to limit my use of the microwave. It is said that when food is microwaved, the molecular structure of that food is modified. I am simply weary of facts like that. However, if in a squeeze, it looks like it might prove to be beneficial when it comes to cooking vegetables. Though, when it comes to cauliflower, skip the microwave. The above study found that the highest loss of antioxidants came from microwaving cauliflower.

Other methods of cooking vegetables include baking and frying. While these methods are okay for some vegetables and can certainly make tasty dishes, the higher the heat used, the more nutrients you'll tend to lose. For example, frying potatoes at a high heat in order to make french fries causes them to lose up to 90% of their vitamin C.

Another way to eat vegetables, which seems to be a huge trend especially on the west coast, is to simply not cook them at all. Steaming a vegetable for just 30 seconds will alter the amount of nutrients it contains. Eating vegetables raw assures that you don't lose any nutrients from the cooking process. However, in some cases, cooking vegetables can actually enhance nutrients. For instance, healthful sulfur-containing compounds within onions and garlic are actually released through the cooking process.

Also, make sure that you're getting your vegetables fresh. Time can greatly decrease their nutrient contents, which means the longer you wait to eat the veggies, the less nutrients they'll contain. Use this tip to get you to eat more vegetables. If you have veggies in your fridge, eat/cook them!

The bottom line: it's important to eat your vegetables no matter how they're cooked. Opt for steaming, or if in a pinch for conveniance, microwaving, and try to stay away from overcooking. Make sure they still retain some of their natural vibrant colors after they're done cooking. And if you really want to ensure you're getting the optimal nutrients from your veggies, cook up some artichokes. Artichoke were the only vegetable in the Journal of Food and Science study that kept its high antioxidant level during all of the cooking methods.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Citified Jogging

While I didn't yet cross off barefoot running on my mental list of things to try/do, I did accomplish another must-do, while simultaneously conquering one of my tenacious fears. Today, I took a run in the city by myself. I have always had this irrational fear of getting mugged, sexually harassed, held-up, you know, all that frightening felony jazz. This fear has gotten in the way numerous times to prevent me from being fully comfortable while by myself at school. So while I would frequently go running by myself back home, I'd never dare to do such a thing at my college in North Philly.

Coming from a small town home tucked back in the countryside, college was one of the first times where I was really immersed in city life. That's not to say I never visited the city. My parents were some of the few in my rural town who thought it important to familiarize their kids with diverse environments and introduce us to cultural settings. We would frequently visit Baltimore, which was about an hours drive. Though it was never for more than a day or night, and I was almost always accompanied by someone who knew what they were doing.

So while I was more culturally adept than a lot of my grade school peers, I never really got the chance to become comfortable in the city. That, added with the fact that I already have this inordinate preexisting fear, has made it so running on my own time at school has been quite difficult. Unlike at home, I haven't felt like I can just lace up my shoes and go for a run whenever my body/mind tells me it wants to. Instead, I spend numerous text messages and minutes of my time coordinating schedules and compliances with my own limited free time. Meaning, I don't always get to run in the best weather (for me, when it's sunny), or at optimal times. This has been quite frustrating for me considering the fact that back home I'd run anytime, day or night, whenever I felt like it. Since pretty much week one of my freshman year, I had already been missing running admist greenery, wildlife, fresh smells, and peaceful, quite atmospheres. Not being able to run on my own time made it so I even further longed for my previous welcoming outdoorsy environment, at least when it came to exercise.

But I just kept on adhering to the fact that I'd never be able to run by myself and decided it was just one of the sacrifices I'd have to make if I wanted to live in the city. So today when I felt like taking a run, I shot one of my running partners a text asking him if he could join me. He replied that he was swamped with work. I looked out the window: Sun shining, cool, fall breeze, about 70 degree perfect running weather. That was it, I made a quick decision to put down my phone, stop wasting my time looking for other available running partners and threw on some running clothes. This was a big step for me, considering that even when I run with partners and get a few feet ahead of them, I get scared witless. But this time, I was determined to take a run in the city, by myself, without getting robbed, raped, or murdered.

I decided I'd stick to the main streets, and in broad daylight I convinced myself I'd be fine. However, the whole way down the stairs leading out of my apartment, I was thinking to myself how nerve-racking my run was going to be and how I would never be able to get into a relaxing rhythm. But still, I needed to do this, for myself.

So I hit the pavement and started running. Turned down the first street to start racing through the first, and some of the worst, blocks of my run. The streets were crowded, and immediately I felt pretty safe. In fact, there were so many people on the streets, that instead of finding them comforting, I wanted them to get out of my way so I wouldn't have to keep dodging them!

Except for a couple cat calls, I made it past the "ghetto" blocks and into Center City. And even while striding through the impoverished North Philly blocks, I didn't really feel scared. There were numerous other bikers out on the street and a lot of other people doing what I was doing: Simply enjoying the nice day outside.

It's amazing how much you notice when you run solo. Not being engaged in conversation or concentrating on speaking while breathing at the same time, I was able to notice so many details of my surroundings. Like how beautiful the architecture and landsacape of the historically renovated Eastern State Penitentiary is. Or the somewhat inviting shopping strip I had never noticed before, in a place that I had previously deemed nothing but dirty, desolate "ghetto". Welcoming shopkeepers stood at their doors, and smiling kids and adults chatted on their stoops. While I was stopped at traffic lights, a few cars even hit their brakes to let me J-walk (J-run) across the road. This is something that's never happened to me before while running with a partner.

On one street, I witnessed someone (surprisingly not me) who stumbled on the sidewalk and fell flat on their stomach. However, within less than a few seconds, several strangers gathered around to help the man up. These types of little interactions prove that the city truly can be a beautiful place.

While you wouldn't have found me looking straight into the eyes of everyone I passed, I did manage to squeeze out a few hellos, especially to those amiable-in-an-unpedophile-way passerbyers. I felt at ease and was completely happy with my decision to spend an hour of my afternoon outdoors, alone. Time to think, time to be, time to enjoy myself.

So after running through several blocks of the ghetto, weaving through countless people, passing the 90 flags on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, impersonating Rocky and running up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, and swinging by the cutesy town of Fairmount, I made it back to Temple University, 5 miles later, safe and sound.

For now on, if I want to take a run, I'm taking a run. Since I've grown accustomed to running with a friend and have even taught myself how to run and talk (all at the same time haha), I'll probably still see what my running buddies are up to. But a "no" won't prevent me from running on my own and enjoying the great outdoors. And who knows, I had such a great time today, maybe I'll be taking more planned solo runs in the future. The outdoors is what keeps my sanity in tact.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lose the Shoes- A Barefoot Run

The other week when a guy in my outdoor club overheard that I am a runner, he asked, "Want to run barefoot with me on the indoor track?" I responded by giving him an odd look, giving him time to start explaining himself. He told me about a book titled Born to Run written by Christopher McDougall that addresses the issue of running barefoot, a book of which lead my fellow outdoor club friend to losing his shoes upon running.

While the book is still on my list of must-reads, I went home and googled the book to obtain a brief synopsis of what it's all about. In the book, McDougall takes his readers on a journey to the Mexican lands of the Tarahumara Indians. Through watching this idegenous tribe of Mexico, McDougall discovers that our modern-day running is entirely all wrong. The Tarahumara Indians could possibly be the world's greatest distance runners, and one of the key reasons for this may be linked to the fact that you won't see any restricting, cloppy running shoes strapped to their feet. Instead, the tribe is said to wear thin sandals and to be able to remarkably run hundreds of miles without getting hurt.

McDougall stays in Mexico for a period of time in order to uncover the secrets of the Tarahumara, as he prepares himself for a 50-mile marathon. After his experience, McDougall now makes the case that running barefoot is the way to go. He says that running shoes make our strides sloppy and ruin our form. A New York Times gave the barefoot running a try and quoted in an article that his "running form changed immediately". He said, "I was landing gently on the middle and balls of my feet rather than striking with my heel. I was more upright than before. My stride was shorter. I didn’t make any changes consciously; they just seemed to happen on their own."

While running barefoot may look a little strange, it is believed to ultimately prevent injuries. Running shoes may increase the risk of ankle sprains and chronic lower leg injuries, whereas running barefoot is said to particularlly strengthen the ankles and muscles of the legs. By landing on the balls of the feet, the ankles are further protected.

To learn more about this issue, I would say read the book, which is definitely on my list of things to do. And while running barefoot may help prevent injuries, experts say it's best to start slow in order to acclimatize the feet. Although I like to walk around barefoot as much as possible, most Americans, including me, are stuck in shoes almost 24/7. While careful observance during running can help avoid hitting any rocks or other objects that could cause punctures to the feet, they still won't be used to working the neglected muscles, which is why it's best to slowly include barefoot runs into your weekly routines. Lightweight, form fitting shoes, such as Nike Free or Vibram FiveFinger, shoes can also be worn, creating a similar effect to that of running barefoot. The thin shoes will similarly allow the feet to absorb shock and balance the impact from the ball of the foot rather than the heel.

I'm always looking for ways to spice up my run and considering I love being shoeless, this upcoming trend may be the perfect way for me to do that. Kick off your shoes, put it on your mental list of new things to experience, and give it a try, and then maybe we can swap stories.

Prudently Pick Your Potato

When it comes to potatoes, not every one is created equal. Sweet potatoes by far outshine regular potatoes when it comes to your health. In fact, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), those orange, candy-like potatoes rank #1 among all other vegetables.

One of the main differences between sweet and regular potatoes is that sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index rating. This means that they are digested slowly, allowing blood sugar to rise at a gradual rate. This makes the consumer feel fuller for a longer period of time. Potatoes on the other hand have a high glycemic rating, causing the blood sugar to spike upon eating them. High glycemic foods can be taxing on the body, whereas low glycemic foods help maintain steady energy levels. Low glycemic index foods promote weight loss, a decreased sensitivity to insulin, a decrased risk of heart disease, and lower cholestorol levels.

Sweet potatoes are about twice as high in dietary fiber as a typical Russet white potato. So although they seem very sweet and sugary, the fiber slows the release of the sugar preventing any harmful spike in blood sugar.

Both types of potatoes contain substantial amounts of nutrients. However, sweet potatoes are more concentrated with antioxidants, such as vitamin A containing twice the daily recommendation of the vitamin. They also have plenty of vitamin C, manganese, iron, vitamin B6, and potassium. Both the vitamin A & C within sweet potatoes help to get rid of cancerous free radical molecules which damage cells and cell membranes.

Another distinct difference is regular potatoes are part of the nightshade family. Vegetables that fall under the nightshade family, which include green peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes, are often associated with triggering arthritis flare-ups. Nightshades also contain alkaloids of which can trigger allergy-like symptoms. For those with arthritis, many nutrtionist recommend staying away from nightshade vegetables all together, making sweet potatoes a better choice.

Regular potatoes are also often prepared in ways that contain a lot of fat and calories, such as greasy french fries, buttery mashed potatoes, mayonnaise-y potato salad, and addictive potato chips. While all of these are certainly tasty, they pretty much all contain a lot of fat and salt, making it an addictive combination which can often lead to overeating. If you are going to eat regular potatoes, make it simple by steaming them and adding a little olive oil, S&P.

Sweet potatoes are extremely easy to prepare considering they just taste naturally delicious. Simply wrap a sweet potato in aluminum foil, and bake at 375 degrees for 45-60 minutes. Once the potato is soft enough to mash, remove from the oven. Add a little salt and maybe a dab of butter or drizzle of olive oil and enjoy. I can eat sweet potatoes like this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And make extra because they're even good left over without even having to heat them up. However, to reheat them, simply nuke them in the microwave for a minute or so.

You can also chop sweet potatoes into cubes, place them on an aluminum lined baking sheet, and top them with a little cinammon and maple syrup and let them caramelize in the oven.

Or to make savory sweet potato fries, check out this recipe from Women's Health magazine:
Spicy Sweet Potato Sticks
Peel 1 sweet potato and cut lengthwise into 3 or 4 pieces, then cut each piece lengthwise into finger-size slices. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a bowl and toss with potato to coat. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon chili powder blend, paprika, or chipotle steak seasoning. Toss again to coat. Spread potato sticks evenly on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes, turning them once halfway through. Makes 1 serving.