Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Calorie Counting vs. Calorie Conscience

My favorite guest blogger is back with a post about that one word that makes us all crazy -- calories! Without further ado, here's Matt ...

By now it’s no secret that Kellie and I eat a whole-food, plant-based diet. We’re also very conscious of not eating foods that are processed or that have added sugar. By eating this way there isn’t any need for us to count calories because the foods we eat are simply not high in calories. They are nutrient-dense, but not calorically-dense. 

As a result, we’re fond of saying that we don’t count calories. This is true. We are, however, very conscious of calories. What do I mean by that?  At the recent Democratic Convention, former President Bill Clinton used the phrase “It’s arithmetic” when discussing tax and spending. The same can be said of weight management, “It’s arithmetic!”

Simple math:
To lose 1lb., you need to expend 3500 more calories that you eat. If you wanted to lose 1 lb. every week, you’d have to consistently expend 500 calories more than you eat per day. Sounds simple, right? To accomplish this, you can either exercise so that you burn an additional 500 calories per day and not change your eating habits; or you can not exercise at all and eat 500 calories less per day than you normally would; or you can do a combination of both.

What does 500 calories look like? To burn that much in a day, you could:
  • Walk briskly for 1hr., 30 min., or
  • Walk leisurely for 2hrs., 30 min., or
  • Run for 50 minutes

The exercise plan seems like the way to go because you can eat as you previously did as long as you add daily (yet significant) exercise to your life.

The biggest challenge for most people; however, is being conscious of the calories in and out. Many “overestimate” how many calories they burn during exercise and will eat more than they burned fairly soon after exercise -- sometimes because of increased appetite or as a reward.

Consider the following calories in some of our more common go-to foods:
  • Two Dunkin Donut Donuts: 740 calories
  • Dunkin Donut Bacon, Egg & Cheese on Bagel: 520 calories
  • Dunkin Donut Chocolate Chip Muffin: 550 calories
  • Big Mac and Large Fries: 1030 calories
  • Chili’s Bacon Cheeseburger & Fries: 1330 calories
  • Panera Sierra Turkey on Focaccia Bread: 920 calories
  • Outback Alice Springs Chicken: 759 calories

And this is just an accounting of calories. We haven't even touched on sugar, fat, cholesterol, etc.

As you can see, it’s pretty easy to not just negate the positive effects of exercise, but to eat entirely more than you burned, which results in weight gain.

My point is that it takes a hell of a lot of effort and commitment to exercise, yet it’s so easy to eat something unhealthful that’s full of calories. All diets are predicated on calorie restriction to lose weight. Therefore, all diets can result in people losing weight. However, it’s proven that most people not only regain the weight they lost on fad diets, they actually gain more weight than when they started. Relying on willpower to restrict caloric intake is flawed. It’s asking A LOT to continually say NO. That’s why popular fad diets don’t work long-term.

Do you want to break out of the diet-regain-diet-regain cycle? Then you MUST change your approach to food. 

Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet is a great path forward. It’s a lifestyle change rather than a temporary diet, and by making it, you become a person who eats healthful foods -- fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans/legumes, good fats (seeds, nuts, avocado, et al) -- that optimize your health. You no longer have to test your willpower at every meal. You can’t eat overeat this way. That’s why this lifestyle is proven to help people lose weight, improve their health and reverse and prevent diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

  1. Exercise is important for being healthy, but it can’t be solely relied upon to lose weight.
  2. Read ingredients and nutritional information when making your food selections: look for whole-food.
  3. Consider making a lifestyle change so you’re not burdened by so many food choices each day. You’ve made your choice already! Now it’s simply a matter of making a great recipe.
  4. Remember this simple fact: You need to run 50 minutes or walk 2 hours to burn off 500 calories of food.
  5. Lean more about health and nutrition. LIKE us on Facebook.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!

I subscribe to several health and wellness pages on Facebook, all of which advocate eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Oftentimes what’s more interesting to me than a topic a page author may cover are the comments that follow.

I’m always amazed by the resistance of many -- regardless of the scientific data presented -- to even consider the possibility that their current dietary lifestyle (i.e., the Western diet) may be the root cause of death and disease. One woman actually wrote, “I don’t care what the research says. I’d rather take my chances and go through chemotherapy than adopt a vegan diet.” (I’m willing to bet she’d reconsider if life actually handed her a cancer diagnosis.)

I also had a woman write me in response to my post Our Flexitarian Kids to say the conversation between our children was “disturbing” to her and that it struck her as odd that it made me feel good. Further, she described me as being “over the top.”

I found her last comment especially amusing considering Matt and I have only reduced our children’s intake of meat, dairy and processed food. Imagine what she’d think if they were full-on vegan -- our ultimate goal.

But I get it -- change is hard. For some, it’s downright scary. I also recognize that it’s very difficult for people to put aside everything they know and have been taught in favor of something new that may also seem radically different. To quote Gloria Steinam for the hundredth time, “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn.”

As early as the 1960s, cigarettes were marketed on television and in print ads as cool, hip and refreshing. People bought into that, disregarding the mountains of scientific evidence that proved otherwise. Look how far we’ve come 50+ years later. Today you’d find it difficult to locate a smoking section in an outdoor amusement park!

People also like to hang on to those little anecdotes -- someone or something that validates their lifestyle.

Case in point -- recently, I had been reading comments on Food Inc. (great page to like on Facebook, by the way).The subject was sugar toxicity. The article shared research linking added sugar to obesity, Type II Diabetes, cancer, etc.

Many who commented suggested the research was wrong, citing as evidence a great-grandparent or grandparent who had lived to be in their 80s or 90s, having consumed pounds of butter, eggs, bacon and sugar.

This always grabs my attention because I hear it so often -- people defending something with an anecdote.

My grandmother lived to be 96. She smoked cigarettes until she was well into her late-50s. Based on that can we throw out the science linking Marlboros to lung cancer? Imagine the ridicule I'd face if I seriously suggested that in any sort of forum.

You can’t debunk decades of scientific evidence with one-off cases -- period. If we gave anecdotes any sort of credibility, we couldn’t rely on science for anything because every finding could be easily diminished by an exception.

Unfortunately, many of the people who comment in this way are generally not open to any sort of meaningful dialogue. I suspect, as I wrote up top, that fear of change is a driver, along with an unwillingness to reduce or eliminate the foods we have grown to love.

I comment regardless and my response is almost always the same, "Educate yourself. Start reading ingredients. Eliminate processed food. Adopt a whole-food approach to living. Start incorporating plant-based dishes into your weekly menu. Try it all for a month. What's a month! Your body will thank you and the results will be well worth what may seem today as a sacrifice."

1953 Arthur Godfrey Chesterfield Cigarette Milder Ad

NOW…Scientific Evidence on Effects of Smoking! A MEDICAL SPECIALIST is making regular monthly examinations of a group of people from various walks of life. Forty-five percent of this group has smoked Chesterfield for an average of over 10 years. After 10 months, the medical specialist reports that he observed… No adverse effects on the nose, throat and sinuses of the group from smoking Chesterfield.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

90-Minute Runs and Lovin' It ... Seriously

I haven’t written a training blog in a while. So how’s it going? Great! I worked in a 90-minute run yesterday and then a 95-minute run today. I’m down seven pounds. Life is beautiful!

Running slower allows me to run more and run longer, which I love. The biggest challenge for me has been keeping my focus on staying in my heart-rate zone. My natural tendency is to push myself and run harder. So even though the treadmill is only going 5.3 MPH, I need to maintain a laser-like focus on adapting my form (gait/stride) to that pace.

But I'm doing it and I’m seeing progress.

I’m grateful to the treadmill because I think it would be so much more difficult to run the slower speed outdoors. I’m hoping that once the nicer weather arrives and I'm back on the pavement, I’ll instinctively know where my heart rate is at and can adjust easily without having to check my watch every 10 seconds.

One thing I have noticed is when I'm fully on with running, weight lifting takes a back seat.  I try to target 60-minute runs every day, though as I wrote up top I’ve been increasing that. As a result, I haven’t lifted. I need to strike a better balance.

My other observation is that heart rate training requires consistency. (Doesn’t everything?) For example, I didn’t run this past Saturday thru Monday. That translated into an even slower start pace on Tuesday -- dislike! All the more reason to make sure I stick to daily running, even if it means running in the evenings, which I hate (I’m a morning girl).

In terms of diet, Matt and l are still off sugar and loving the payoff -- weight loss and increased energy (case in point: 60-95 minute runs). Our kids continue to adapt too, with the exception of Dylan. If we can get him fully in our camp, that’ll be some win. We keep working him. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

What have your wins and challenges been since the New Year?

These days he's what I imagine
I look like on the treadmill!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Littlest Wok-n-Rollers

Today I returned to The Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, this time with two of our children in tow (while I “rolled” with Sienna and Ryan, Matt and Dylan took in the Chelsea neighborhood).

The class, “Vegetarian Sushi for Kids,” was one with which I was familiar. Many of you may recall that Matt and I attended Vegan Sushi there in December. We enjoyed our class so much that we thought our two younger children would like it as well. We also saw it as an excellent opportunity for Ryan and Sienna to expand their “likes” a bit. We’ve read that children are more likely to try new foods if they prepare it themselves.

We had the same teacher -- a little vegan spitfire whose energy and enthusiasm are absolutely contagious. She bounces around the room (literally, she wears springs on her shoes) with such grace and speed. She’s excellent with kids too -- very hands-on, patient and encouraging. She comes with an extensive and highly impressive resume. Most noteworthy was beginning her career as one of just a handful of female sous chefs in Japan.

Ryan and Sienna took to the art of sushi making immediately -- and they were quite good. In fact, the teacher kept referring to Ryan as the “Sushi Monster” because he turned out rolls quickly and with great ease.

The kids made Spring Rolls with Edamame, Tomato, Red Cabbage, Scallion and Cilantro; as well as Sushi, Hand and Dragon Rolls with Avocado and Cucumber.

The books were right too because they tried everything and with the exception of the Spring Rolls enjoyed it all. They also begged me to let them make sushi at home this coming weekend.

Sienna gave the class her highest praise calling it, “More fun than school.”  In Sienna’s world, there isn’t anything better than the second grade. And when the teacher mentioned a cupcake decorating class in May/June, they both turned to me immediately and asked if I would take them.

I love that they have an interest in cooking and nutrition. As I shared in an earlier post, while they may not fully embrace the optimal dietary lifestyle today, they are well aware of what to eat, what to avoid and why. They read ingredients and nutritional information constantly. They are open to learning and, well … unlearning. They are on their way. I love that.

Lean more about whole-food, plant-based living. LIKE us on Facebook.

Little sushi makers

Making the Hand Rolls

Rolling away

Ryan's works of art ...

and Sienna's


Did I mention the Vegan Chocolate Mousse, courtesy
of our very talented teacher!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Buh-Bye Sugar!

I was absolutely wild this morning. I stepped on the scale and to my surprise I had lost seven pounds since Jan. 1. I knew I had a bit of weight to lose (clothes were tighter) but I never expected it to come off this quickly.

I was wild because I didn’t think I had been doing anything that significant to warrant it. I’m running a lot, but I’ve always worked out. In fact, I completed a 30-consecutive day workout streak in December and hadn’t lost a pound.

So what’s different, I wondered.

When it hit me -- the elimination of added sugar. Could Matt and I have really been consuming that much? He stepped on the scale on Monday and was down six pounds.

I guess we were.

I think most of you know of my love affair with Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Soy Latte.  I gave that up, so a calorie and sugar saver right there -- obvious.

Some, though, had not been so obvious, because when you really start looking for sugar, you find it in everything -- things we never even thought to check.

For example, Matt’s “PLAIN” soy yogurt -- lots of sugar. Our favorite tofu sushi roll we’d sometimes enjoy at Wegmans -- added sugar. Each of us had also been guilty of grabbing handfuls of Kashi cereal here and there as a snack. Once we began taking a hard look at sugar in ingredients, all of this had to go.

The other BIG guilty pleasure for us was bread. I make soup a lot during the winter. And every time I'd make it, I would also buy a loaf of Wegmans bakery organic multigrain baguette bread. Healthy, right? Not when you eat the whole thing in a day (a little bit as I cooked, a little bit when we ate and one, two, sometimes three walk by's after dinner -- we love our bread, I guess). Now if we want bread to accompany a meal, we turn to Ezekiel tortillas -- one each. (By the way, though one of the better breads from which to choose, the Wegmans multigrain baguette also has added sugar.)

Because neither of us was really 100 percent tuned in, our consumption of added sugar/processed food seemed little and insignificant. It obviously wasn’t.

Every bite we take matters.

How do we feel? More energetic than ever. We feel CLEAN! Our meals are still incredibly satisfying and we’re thriving fitness-wise. I also love that I’m thisclose to being comfortably back into that pair of pants I couldn’t get over my thighs on Thanksgiving morning.

The “moral” of today’s post?

Drastically reduce/eliminate added sugar and processed food. Start reading ingredients/nutritional info. Let THAT versus what the package promises determine what you put in your cart.

Lean more about plant-strong eating. LIKE us on Facebook.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Our Flexitarian Kids

Matt and I never really know what our kids are taking away from our whole-food, plant-based diet. Do they think we’re nuts? Is it all just going over their heads? Are they buying their time until they turn 18 so they can eat what they want?

They’ve watched with us Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, Vegucated and The Skinny on Obesity. Matt and I talk incessantly about our lifestyle. We’re always sharing something new we've learned, read or heard. We talk about new vegan dishes and restaurants. We have a steady stream of magazines, books and cookbooks flowing into the house. They take an active interest in this blog. Our way of life is everywhere.

They’ve also been impacted by many of our changes.

For example, I haven’t cooked meat in forever (though they do order it when we go out). We switched two years ago from cow’s milk to almond milk. We’ve reduced their dairy intake. No fast food. Overall, though, it’s been a struggle. They don’t jump at the site of beans or legumes and will not even consider certain vegetables.

I know what many of you are thinking, “Who’s the parent here!” And you’re exactly right. Even prior to becoming a healthful vegan, instilling good eating habits was something we didn’t exactly nail. We were too OK making a second meal if one or all didn’t like what we put before them. It’s the one area we always wish we could do over because we recognize now more than ever how important healthful eating habits are.

Matt and I decided that 2013 was the year to get it right. But what would be our plan? It’s incredibly difficult to get adults -- many of whom have medical issues, take medication, struggle with being overweight, etc. -- to change their dietary preferences, let alone three young children who think they’ll live forever.

Our plan has been a quid pro quo approach framed closely around author Michael Pollan’s mantra, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

  • Drastically reduce their intake of processed food.
  • Prepare 100% organic, 100% grass-fed meat, two-three times per week. The other nights, they eat what we’re having. The alternate meal is peanut butter on 100% whole grain bread, fruit and vegetable.
  • Limit purchase of school lunches to two times per week (no meat dishes).
  • One fun snack per day.
  • All the fruit and vegetables they can eat!

They all liked our roadmap forward, even Dylan (our pickiest eater) who applauded the return of meat. Ryan and Sienna pretty quickly decided they didn’t like the idea of a sandwich for dinner so they have become eager to try what we’re enjoying. In almost every instance, they’ve loved the dish. Tonight's dinner was a Deconstructed Wonton Soup, which was loaded with mushrooms, edamame and Asian coleslaw. The two of them licked their bowls clean! (Dylan was at ski club, but he surely would have selected the alternate.)

We’re feeling upbeat and optimistic … like this is the year we’re going to turn them.

Our feelings were validated on Tuesday evening in a discussion between Ryan and Dylan. A nutritionist had come to Ryan’s school to talk about healthful eating. Ryan relayed to us what she had told him. Here's an excerpt from that discussion:

“She actually said meat was good for you,” said Ryan.

To which Dylan replied, “No way. Did you say something? I wouldn’t have been able to hold myself back.”

"No, but I didn't believe most of what she told us," he answered.

We felt good hearing that. While our kids may not have adopted fully our way of life, they certainly believe we're on the better path to health.

That's progress.

Lean more about whole-food, plant-based living. LIKE us on Facebook.

Future vegans

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Guest Blog: Living Life "Unprocessed"

One of the No. 1 perks about blogging is the friends you meet along the way. The health and wellness community is very supportive of one another so it’s all too eager to embrace your work, your page, your blog, etc. -- whatever it is you’re doing to help drive positive messaging about nutrition.

I have a special surprise for all of you today.

Last week I had the pleasure of connecting with Melissa. Some of you may know her from her Facebook page and website My Whole Food Life, in which she shares her and her family’s journey to living life “unprocessed.” This means they eat zero processed food. Sound impossible? Well, she’s proof it’s not.

I’ve asked her to share her story with you today. Once you read it, go on over to My Whole Food Life and give her Facebook page a “Like” or bookmark her website. Melissa shares amazing “unprocessed” recipes as well as eye-opening information about some of the most common foods branded as nutritious that are anything but. You may be shocked to find that many of the food items you’re stocking your pantry with aren’t as healthful as you think.

Without further ado, here’s Melissa.

My name is Melissa and I wanted to share my story about quitting processed sugar.

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty healthy eater. I worked out regularly and thought I ate OK. Sugar and sweets were my vice. I grew up in a house full of sweets. My mom is German and she always kept the house stocked with German candies, cookies and chocolates. As a child, I would sneak Nutella into my room and eat it right out of the jar. I know, gross! I could never seem to control myself around the cakes and cookies. As an adult, I would stash jellybeans in my car and snack while I was driving. I would eat sugary treats until I made myself sick.

I had never really had a weight problem, but could never seem to lose those last few pounds after having babies. I knew I had to do something. I thought the best way was to quit sugar. I read as much as I could about how bad sugar really is for you. The book that changed my life was The Sugar Fix: The High-Fructose Fallout That Is Making You Fat and Sick. The book explains how so many modern day diseases like metabolic syndrome are linked to high-fructose corn syrup and processed foods. So, I set out to quit both.

The first thing I did was quit putting sugar in my coffee. The first few days were kind of tough, I can’t lie, but now I really prefer coffee with just a bit of almond milk.

Once I decided to quit sugar, I knew I had to quit processed foods as well because, let’s face it, high-fructose corn syrup and processed sugar are in almost all processed foods. Within a few days of quitting sugar, I noticed some incredible changes in myself. I had TONS of energy. There was no more lagging around after my lunchtime meal. I felt as if I could run a marathon! I was bursting with energy. This all took place over the summer and I had begun running laps in my pool for low-impact exercise. I was able to do 60 laps a day! Before I quit sugar, I had to drag my tired butt out the door to exercise.

The second big change I noticed was that my skin cleared up and my hair became soft and shiny again. I had been having horrible acne issues and I couldn't understand why. Now I know that it was more than likely a reaction to all the nasty chemicals in processed foods.

The third and last big change was that I dropped those last few pounds without even trying. I went from 132 lbs. to 122 lbs. in a matter of months.

I eat a lot more these days and never count fat or calories. I just eat real food without processed sugars or flours. I never would have believed this was possible before I quit sugar. Once you quit the addiction to sugar, a piece of fruit will satisfy you. You need less sweetness to be satisfied. I have even developed healthier dessert alternatives that use less processed sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and coconut sugar; however, even these items need to be consumed in moderation.

So the moral of this story is to forget every diet rule you’ve ever read. Just cut sugar out and eat all the whole-food you like instead. I swear it works! If I can break my sugar addiction, I know anyone can. Before I go, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite cookie recipes.

Lean more about whole-food eating. LIKE us on Facebook.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Eat Yourself Healthy

Over the holidays, Matt, the kids and I stopped to get a bite eat. An interesting appetizer popped out at me straight away -- quinoa balls with marinara sauce. I used to love my girlfriend’s mother’s rice balls at Christmastime and I hadn’t enjoyed those in years. This seemed like the perfect appy to take me for a stroll down memory lane.

While they weren’t as good as Mrs. Refano’s rice balls, they did live up to the hype I had created in my head; however, they were fried. We closed our eyes and pretended not to notice but we both knew we would more than likely not enjoy them a second time.

I did a few quick Google searches on the way home to find a healthful version, but nothing turned up that jazzed me so I moved on.

Just this week, Vegetarian Times posted a recipe for Crispy Quinoa Cakes, not exactly balls but the mix of ingredients sounded to-die-for (with a couple modifications).

Tonight I followed the recipe almost to a T, omitting the feta cheese and replacing the egg with a water/flaxseed mix. The end result was heavenly. Matt said they were more delicious than the fried version. I thought so too, but I think being able to enjoy food without feeling guilty makes everything taste better.

You must find the time to make these cakes. I wouldn’t be surprised if they become a weekly staple in your kitchen, as they will mine. Yes, they are THAT good!

Bon Appétit.

Lean more about plant-strong eating. LIKE us on Facebook.

Quinoa Cakes
3 Tbs. warm water
1 Tbs. flaxseed meal
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 ½ Tbs. tahini or natural nut butter (We used almond)
1 ½ tsp. red or white wine vinegar (We used red)
1 ½ cups cooked quinoa
½ cup finely grated sweet potato
½ 10-oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup chopped nuts, optional (We used almonds)
2 Tbs. finely diced onion
1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (We used cilantro)
2 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp. salt
Bunch of kale, spinach or other greens

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with Parchment Paper.

Whisk together warm water and flaxseed meal. Let sit five minutes.

Combine flaxseed mix, flour, nut butter and vinegar in bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients, then mix together with your hands until mixture is firm enough to shape into cakes. Shape mixture into ¼ cup patties with wet hands. Bake on cookie sheet 25 minutes, turning once, or until cakes are browned.

Top with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and serve on a bed of greens. (We sautéed kale in four minced garlic cloves and a tablespoon of olive oil.)

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
1 ½ cups roasted red peppers, drained
½ cup toasted almonds
1 clove garlic
2 tsp. red wine vinegar

Purée all ingredients in food processor.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Matt's Back with a Training Update

Since Jan. 2, I’ve been running steadily, racking up seven 60-70 minute runs. I’ve been consistently wearing my heart rate monitor and have noticed modest improvements (too modest to discuss yet). The most significant improvement; however, has been in my attitude -- I am comfortable at my slower pace. In fact, I embrace it. It is less taxing on my body, which allows to run every day without being sore or tired. As any runner will tell you, this is what we aim for.

Matt continues to further his knowledge of heart rate training. He’s back with a second post on the topic.

First, a technical gadget update. Kellie and I both have heart rate monitors now. She has a Polar FT4 strap and watch. It’s working out very well for her. It actually pairs with the treadmill at home and at the YMCA, which is especially convenient.

I received on Wednesday a Wahoo strap and iPhone key. The key plugs into my iPhone, which enables it to read the strap. In turn, this allows me to view my heart rate via my Runkeeper app. It also sends me audio alerts every five minutes to let me know my heart rate.

I’m also reading The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Dr. Phil Maffetone. Maffetone is an internationally recognized researcher, educator, clinician and author in the field of food and nutrition, exercise, sports medicine, and biofeedback. You can learn more about him here.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

Use a simple formula to determine your maximum aerobic heart rate (subtract your age from 180) and follow a 10 point zone. For example, the aerobic zone for a 40-year old would be 130 - 140. Maffetone says the closer you stay to the top end of your zone, the better.

The general idea is to build your aerobic base by training in your aerobic heart rate zone for as long as you continue to see improvements.

Typically, with weekend warrior type of endurance athletes like us, this improvement phase can last many months and even years. Monitoring progress is pretty simple -- just monitor the time it takes to run 5 miles once every month. Those who adopt this practice will begin to see progress as early as a few weeks.

Maffetone suggests that most endurance athletes train in the aerobic zone exclusively. Training anerobically (above your zone) will have marginal impact but will significantly increase the risk for an overtraining injury.

The book is not light on case studies and testimonials from endurance athletes who have come to Maffetone for consultation/coaching. The stories all trend the same way -- an athlete is struggling with his/her training and progress. He/she begins training in the aerobic zone and ultimately ends up achieving personal records in all types of races from 5Ks to marathons to triathalons and ultramarathons.

It’s worth noting that Maffetone is also a proponent of restricting refined sugars/carbs, espousing that the best health can only be achieved when the aerobic system is optimized.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in endurance training or improving overall health. Maffetone’s personal experience as a doctor and coach is very compelling.

I know that it probably sounds too good to be true (i.e., running at  a reasonable pace to achieve faster race times). The challenging element for most of us is to have the patience to: 1) Run slowly; and 2) Put in the weekly time required to reap the benefits.

Kellie and I are committed to training exclusively at our aerobic heart rate zone from now until our half marathon in May (with the possible exception of a 5K or 10K along the way).

I’ll check back next month to report on our progress.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Our No. 1 Enemy: Added Sugar

The beginning of a new calendar year is a time when many of us are more receptive to embracing opportunities and challenges that may be a little out of our comfort zones.

That’s why today I intend to strike while that iron is hot!

When people ask me what’s the thing they need to do or change first in their diet, my answer isn’t giving up dairy or meat … it’s eliminating added sugar (as opposed to naturally-occurring sugars like those found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and processed food.

All those boxes staring at us from the shelves in supermarkets that promise everything from weight loss to energy are lying -- just read the list of ingredients, one more unhealthful than the other and many we can’t even pronounce much less find on our own in a supermarket (because they don’t exist there, only in factories).

And I have to hand it to the marketers, they’ve become more and more creative masking the word “sugar” by using words that many of us overlook such as: cane juice crystals, cane sugar, caramel, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, carob syrup, dextran, dextrose, fructose, galactose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, juice concentrate, lactose, maltodextrin, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, natural sweeteners, sorbitol, sucrose and treacle.

And these are only a few. (A good rule of thumb is to look for any words ending in -ose.)

Oh and artificial sweeteners aren’t any better. In fact, recent studies suggest they are worse.

In his book Food Rules, author Michael Pollan offers excellent advice on how to make the right choices:

“Shop the periphery of a supermarket.”

That’s where you’ll find whole-food. Avoid the “dreaded center aisles, where processed foods predominate. Stick to the edges, where the meat, dairy, produce and fish are pretty much as they started out.”

I know what some of you may be thinking, “A little bit of sugar never hurt anyone.”

But that’s just it -- we’re no longer talking about “a little bit of sugar.” We’re beyond a little bit. Sugar is in everything -- our breads, yogurt, cold cereals, hot cereals, ketchup, peanut butter, apple sauce, fruit drinks, soups, tomato sauces, etc. etc. etc.

It’s also addictive, just like alcohol and nicotine. Food manufacturers know this so they add more to everything to hook us. And when we're promised low-fat snacks, take a look at the sugar content. It’s been increased to make up for the fat that's been removed. It’s deception at its finest.

Case in point, it’s no secret that I love Starbucks pumpkin spice soy lattes. In fact, in the past I have enjoyed a "tall" almost daily. No big deal, right? I work out. I eat healthy. This is my "sweet treat."

Well that sweet treat contains 39 grams of sugar (or about 8 teaspoons) -- and that’s without whipped cream. Let's put that in perspective -- according to the American Heart Association, women should limit added sugars to approximately 6 teaspoons, while men should take in no more than 9 teaspoons a day. I'm over that daily allowance with one 12-ounce drink! (I want to note that the doctors and health advocates that Matt and I follow suggest that ZERO added sugar be the ultimate goal.) 

I drank my last soy latte on Jan. 1, 2013.

Very recently, I bumped into a gal at Wegmans. She asked me about Coconut Sugar (new to me at the time) and its health benefits. I didn’t have any information on it. When I went home, I sent a note to a well-renowned chef in California to inquire about it. This was her response:

“Just because something is less bad doesn’t make it good. When it comes to sweeteners, use the fruit, the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit.” (Sorry Agave!)

In a 60 Minutes segment, Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports on new research showing that beyond weight gain, sugar can take a serious toll on our health, worsening conditions ranging from heart disease to cancer. The research of Dr. Robert Lustig, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, is highlighted. Watch the video below.

Lustig is well-known for his YouTube presentation titled, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, which explores the damage caused by sugary foods. He argues that fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin. Click here to view.

For more information, Gupta is also featured in 60 Minutes Overtime in the segment, Sugar and Kids: The Toxic Truth. Watch it here.

I assure you, all three videos are time well spent.

Lean more about whole-food eating. LIKE us on Facebook.

You can also read Dr. Lustig's book Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease.

A cool pic I found online that visually shows the
amount of sugar in some of our more common soft drinks.