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How To Avoid Getting Sick In Flu Season

by | Oct 9, 2013

Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov

It’s weird for me to even write this, but it has been nearly 3 years since I’ve had any illness.

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6 Ways Eating Out Causes Overeating (And How To Stop It)

by | Apr 22, 2013

Photo by Sebastian Fritzon

Among my health conscious friends, we unanimously agree that eating out is the biggest barrier to weight loss.

San Francisco residents are fortunate that local, high-quality ingredients are the standard in almost every dining establishment (same is true for NYC, LA and other US foodie cities). We have gastropubs serving up grass-fed beef burgers, street carts offering sustainable fish tacos and small neighborhood spots dishing up heirloom vegetables and artisan ingredients.

I know, we’re spoiled rotten. But there’s a downside to all these wonderful options.

Ironically, the problem is that everything tastes amazing and is relatively healthy. Also, the menus tend to change regularly (often daily) depending on what is in season. So there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever be able to enjoy a particular dish more than once.

These things make it really easy to justify overeating.

There are many factors that cause us to overeat when we’re out. Here are the most common, and what to do about them.
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Back To School: Healthy Packed Lunch Ideas

by | Aug 20, 2012
by Savannah Grandfather

by Savannah Grandfather

“Over the summer, my family has adopted some new eating habits.  We are avoiding processed foods and sugar.  Trying for a lot more whole foods and I wanted to see if you have some ideas for school lunches.  The new school year is coming up and I don’t want to fall into old habits with sugary yogurts, chips and cookies.”

Habits are the essence of healthstyle. Good ones can make health and weight loss easy, bad ones can derail your most sincere dieting attempts. While habits are hard to break, once they’re formed they’re easy to keep around.

But here’s the thing about building habits:

If the healthy choices aren’t as easy and appetizing as the unhealthy ones, you probably aren’t going to stick with them.

So whatever you try, make sure it’s something you’re willing to continue doing for the entire year.

Though I do not have children and have not spent much time with them, I have been a student for the past 26 years and know a few things about toting lunch around. If you do have kids, feel free to chime in.

Healthy School Lunch Ideas

Fruits and vegetables. Make these as easy and fun to eat as possible. If your kids are resistant to fresh produce, my recommendation is to have them participate in the buying process. Make your weekly farmers market trip a family outing and explain to kids what it means for something to be in season. Show them how sweet and flavorful foods can taste when they’re at their peak and let them pick their favorites. Eating a carrot is much more satisfying when you’ve picked it out yourself. Pro tip: This trick works on adults too.

Here are some ideas for produce that can be cut, bagged and stored until lunch time: carrots, celery, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, sweet red pepper, sugar snap peas, apples, blueberries, grapes and melon.

Homemade granola. Store bought granola is usually more like dessert than a healthy snack, but you can make your own with less sugar and it is still delicious. Don’t worry about using butter if it is called for, especially for growing children. Granola can be made in big batches, is easy to store, easy to transport and is based on intact grains that are both healthy and satisfying. Put a serving into a small zip bag and enjoy.

Hummus. Hummus is a Mediterranean dip made from chickpeas that is delicious and easy to make. A small tupper of hummus is a perfect accompaniment to cut up vegetables, whole grain breads and crackers. It is also convenient because it can be made in huge batches and frozen in smaller containers. Here is my favorite homemade hummus recipe.

Cheese. In reasonable quantities cheese can be a satisfying snack. Some wonderful artisan cheeses can even be bought for reasonable prices. American cheddar is a perfect example. Just stay away from the really processed stuff at the grocery store–check the ingredients label and avoid long, scientific sounding words.

Peanut butter. Like hummus, peanut (or any nut) butter can be a wonderful dip for fruits and veggies. I know that many parents these days are hysterical about nuts, but if the idea doesn’t bother you too much it can be a very healthy snack.

The consistency of natural nut butters can take some getting used to, but I strongly recommend these over the homogenized processed kinds. Natural nut butters that have no added sugar, no added trans fat, are full of healthy fats (this is good) and must be stored in the refrigerator (real foods don’t have preservatives). If you’re new to nut butters, almond butter is a great place to start.

Trail mix. Similar to nut butters trail mix can be scary for parents worried about nut allergies, but if your child can tolerate nuts then trail mix is a fun and nutritious snack. Try different combinations of nuts and dried fruits. I’ve recently discovered the amazing dried Bing cherries at my favorite farmers market. For a special treat you can add a few small chocolate chunks, which is a better indulgence than cookies or chips.

Sandwiches. I’m not a big fan of bread (even “whole grain” bread), but sandwiches are a reasonable option on occasion. When choosing bread, look for artisan brands with few ingredients and no preservatives. This kind of bread is often found in paper bags and costs less than the fake-healthy soft stuff in plastic. You can cut up loaves and store bread in zipper bags in the freezer. To thaw, heat for a few minutes at 325 F or move to the refrigerator the night before.

Healthy sandwich choices include: hummus, avocado, peanut/almond butter, soft fruit, canned Alaskan salmon, cheese, roasted chicken or turkey, egg salad, mixed veggies, etc. Try not to choose deli meats as your standard choice, since they are highly processed and have been tied to all sorts of health problems. Likewise, limit canned tuna to once per month (especially for children) because of the high mercury content. Mercury can damage developing nervous systems and has been tied to lower IQ scores.

Popcorn. For a crunchy, salty alternative to chips you can try popcorn. Though the instant kind can be hit or miss in terms of health, natural popcorn is relatively healthy and can be very easy to make. Explore different spices and flavor toppings such as cheese, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, garlic salt and other spices. You can make this a weekend project and let the kids choose their own flavors, store it in air-tight containers and use it during the week.

Please share your favorite tips in the comments

Updated August 22, 2011.

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8 Tips For Drinking Less Without Your Friends Knowing

by | Aug 6, 2012

Photo by David Long

I have nothing against people who like to party. Partying is really fun, and a lot of the time I’m right there leading the crusade.

But we all know those people who really like to drink, and like to do it often. Not only do these guys take their own drinking a little too far, they’re experts at pressuring others to keep up with them drink-for-drink. And they’ll use mockery, guilt, generosity, logic, peer pressure and dozens of other tactics to get everyone around them to keep the party going.

These friends are fun to have, until they aren’t. As fun as it is to party, sometimes you want to go out and have a good time without regretting it the next day. Hangovers have their time and place, but when you have real responsibilities it is nice to have a way to hit it a little less hard, preferably without drawing attention to your secret plan.

Feel free to mix and match these tricks, different situations call for different lines of defense.

8 Tips For Drinking Less Without Your Friends Knowing

1. Alternate with water

This is a tried and true way to both cut back on alcohol and stay hydrated, thereby preventing a hangover. Every drink or two, go to the bar and ask for some water. You don’t need to make excuses for this, you’re thirsty and will get another drink in a second. Just be sure to finish the waters and feel free to take your time.

2. Drink clear liquids

Clear liquids like gin and vodka look like melting ice. So if you don’t want to finish every drink that comes your way, you can always leave a little extra in your old glass and no one will notice you aren’t tossing back as many as they are.

3. Order drinks that look like alcohol (but aren’t)

Another advantage of clear liquids. Vodka soda with lime is my favorite go-to drink on late nights, and it’s awesome for several reasons. Besides being easily palatable and sugar free, you also have the option of leaving out the vodka all together. Just order a club soda with lime and ask the bartender to make it look like a cocktail—they’re usually more than happy to comply.

4. Be forgetful

You don’t have to be limited to clear liquids to abandon the occasional half-full glass. Leave your drink on the bar, in the bathroom, on a random table or anywhere it won’t attract attention. That way when someone offers you another, you’re ready.

5. Drink light beer

If you’re a beer drinker and all this clear liquid talk is making you squirm, never fear. There is a huge difference in alcohol content of beers, with light beers coming in around 4% alcohol and some fancy Belgians topping out at over 10%. You do the math.

If you know you’ll have to get through more than you’ve bargaining for, opt for lighter beers. If you’re like me and think Bud Light tastes like donkey pee, go with a Mexican beer like Corona and add a lime. I can drink those all night and barely get a buzz going—and I’m little.

6. Master the shot spit

Drinking nights often don’t turn crazy until someone starts ordering shots, then it’s all over. Bartenders have this problem too, since drunk people often think they’ve found a new best friend and gratefully buy their server shots throughout the night. To avoid getting hammered on the job, bartenders keep a half empty pint of beer nearby and pretend to use it as a chaser but really spit shots back into it.

If you know your friends are likely to “surprise” everyone with shots be sure to have a nearby water glass or pint that you’re nursing. Use the old bartenders’ trick and no one will suspect. I know it’s gross, but it works. Just remember to not actually drink the beer later.

7. Show up late

Sometimes special occasions are specifically set aside for excessive drinking. If you need to make an appearance but would rather not sacrifice your liver, show up 45-60 minutes late. Everyone will already be one drink ahead of you.

8. Order half shots

If you’re in charge of ordering your own drinks and vodka soda isn’t your thing, ask for your regular cocktail but request a half shot instead of the normal full. You’ll still get the fun of drinking, but each drink will contribute less to tomorrow’s headache.

What are your favorite tricks for drinking less without your friends knowing?

Originally published June 29, 2011.

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Tips To Keep Produce Fresh

by | Jun 11, 2012
spring vegetables

Vegetables

“How do you store fruits and veggies so they don’t go bad? It seems like I can never keep things fresh…”

I employ several different strategies to keep my produce in good condition until I’m ready to eat it. Here are my tricks for buying, cooking and maintaining the freshest fruits and vegetables.

Shop Regularly

Although it is probably self-evident, I think it is important to state that the freshest vegetables are the ones you bought today. They are even fresher if you get them at the farmers market (picked yesterday) rather than a grocery store that imports produce from around the world. In order to keep fresh vegetables and fruit in the house and eat healthy, you must shop for produce and groceries at least once a week.

Download my free guide for more tips on How To Get Started Eating Healthy.

Shop Strategically

This is my true secret to keeping food fresh. Different foods have different shelf lives, and you can take advantage of this fact when planning your meals for the week. Always make sure you buy a few robust vegetables for your Thursday and Friday night dinners (or try to schedule your restaurant dates for later in the week).

Cruciferous vegetables (both leaves and roots) store the best and can last well over a week in the crisper. Examples of cruciferous vegetables are broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, chard, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Root veggies include carrots, beets, parsnips, sunchokes and potatoes.

Summer squash can last for many days in a dry plastic bag in the crisper, and winter squash can last weeks on a shelf. Eggplant has a shelf-life similar to summer squash and can be stored in the same manner. I’ve heard eggplant keeps even better outside the fridge, but I’ve never tried.

Delicate vegetables like lettuce, spinach and other spring greens are not as robust and should be eaten more quickly. Juicy fruits like berries, stone fruits and even tomatoes are more time sensitive and should be incorporated into meals earlier in the week.

Cook Intelligently

Having a rough idea of what meals you are going to make during the week can help you keep veggies fresh in several ways. In addition to planning your dishes around which vegetables last the longest, you can also prepare large batches of food early in the week then freeze or refrigerate the leftovers to eat later.

Avoid over-shopping by buying ingredients to use in multiple different dishes, rather than buying extra items for vastly divergent menus. For example, rather than purchasing red peppers for a stir fry and radishes for a salad, you can skip the radishes and add your extra pepper to your salad instead.

When buying herbs, I like to get one bunch of Italian parsley (it keeps a long time and is incredibly versatile) and only one bunch of a more delicate herb like thyme or cilantro. With this strategy you can explore recipes of different cuisines that utilize similar ingredients. For instance, if I have cilantro I may make Mexican food one night and a Vietnamese dish another night. Both incorporate fresh vegetables and herbs, but the flavor profiles of these cuisines are entirely different.

This is where it comes in handy to have a well-stocked pantry–go beyond the basics and learn to work with ingredients like fish sauce, coconut milk or quinoa. This is a great way to delve into a cuisine and explore different flavors.

Store Properly

Proper food storage can also go a long way in keeping your produce as fresh as possible. Generally speaking, most vegetables maintain their crispness best in the aptly named refrigerator compartment, the crisper. Crispers have different humidity settings than the rest of the fridge and are optimized for vegetables.

I find that leafy greens and herbs keep best in dry plastic bags or tuppers. When you get home with a large bag of salad greens from the farmers market, rinse them clean and spin them in a salad spinner. Let them sit out for an hour or so to completely dry, then put them in large tuppers to store for the week. With this strategy the crisper is not necessary.

Most fruit (including tomatoes) I keep outside the refrigerator to protect the taste, but berries are an exception. I have had fantastic luck using a reader’s suggestion to keep berries in a jar or tupper with the lid closed tight. I always put my berries away immediately after getting them home, trying to handle them as little as possible to keep any mold or bacterial spores out. I try to roll the berries into their new container without actually touching them with my hands. I buy berries much more often now 🙂

Revival Techniques

Sometimes despite your best efforts you end up with a wilted head of lettuce or a floppy bunch of basil. But if wilting is your only problem and the plant looks otherwise edible (still green and free of mold), all is not lost!

The reason plants wilt is they lose water from their cells to the environment through osmosis. But the osmotic properties of leaves can be used to your advantage. You can revive wilted greens by submerging them in a bath of cold water for 30-60 minutes, which replenishes the water in the leaves and allows them to regain their crispness! It is astounding how much they will perk up.

I learned this trick from a friend and fellow scientist–one of the many advantages of being a little nerdy.

Mold is another issue when storing fruits and vegetables, but you can sometimes salvage a batch of food if you catch it early and carefully remove all traces of it to keep it from spreading to the rest of your produce (this may involve finding a new container for the uncontaminated portion). Remember, mold is a living, growing thing that breeds more of itself. Keeping foods in sealed containers and touching them as little as possible with your hands can help control it.

Finally, fruits produce gases that cause neighboring fruits to ripen more quickly. If you have something that is perfectly ripe or over ripe, you may want to keep it away from the rest (unless of course you want the nearby fruit to ripen faster). Likewise, keeping fruits in bags will trap the gases and cause them to ripen more quickly.

Conclusion

With a few tricks and a strategic plan it is possible to keep fresh fruits and vegetables in the house for an entire week. Beyond that it is a little tough if you want your food to be truly fresh.

How do you keep your veggies fresh?
StumbleUpon.com

This article was originally published June 22, 2009.

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How To Break A Diet Soda Addiction: Tips From A Former (Diet) Cokehead

by | May 16, 2012

It’s the rare person who has never been a victim of Diet Coke. I’ve definitely been there, and I’m not proud of it. My friend E—geek girl extraordinare—overcame her Diet Coke addiction, and can help you find your way to recovery.

Since 2008, E. Foley has been helping geeks find love. She writes amazing online dating profiles and guides her clients through the perilous waters of the dating scene. She’s totally proud to report that she’s even caused a couple geek weddings! As part of her quest for her healthstyle, she is an admin at Plus5CHA, a fitness & health community for geeks. (Visit GeeksDreamGirl.com or follow @geeksdreamgirl on Twitter.)

How To Break A Diet Soda Addiction: Tips From A Former (Diet) Cokehead

by E. Foley

Hi, everyone. My name is E and I’m an addict.

(Hi, E.)

CNN recently posted an article entitled “Can you get hooked on diet soda?” Before I clicked on it, I thought to myself, “Duh, of course you can. Been there, done that.”

The addict in the opening paragraph of the article sounds just like me a few years back:

First thing every morning, Ellen Talles starts her day by draining a supersize Styrofoam cup filled with Diet Coke and crushed ice. The 61-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., drinks another Diet Coke in the car on the way to work and keeps a glass nearby “at all times” at her job as a salesclerk. By the end of the day she has put away about 2 liters.

“I just love it,” she says. “I crave it, need it. My food tastes better with it.”

My preferred poison was Diet Pepsi, but I’ll still refer to myself as a recovering (diet) cokehead. It was my coffee in the morning, it was my pick-me-up mid-morning, it was my lunch beverage of choice, it was how I washed down my afternoon snack, and it was the drink of multiple refills if we went out for dinner. Two liters a day? Easily.

It took me three tries over several years to fully break my addiction.

Each time I quit I went through the horrible withdrawal symptoms. Headaches, irritability, and the unrelenting desire to take one long draw on a cold bottle of Diet Pepsi and feel the sweet rush of it as it traveled from my tongue to my brain. Even though it’s been several years since my last Diet Pepsi, I can still remember that feeling. That rush I got when feeding my addiction is still there, buried in my brain.

Which is, of course, why I will still refer to myself as a (diet) cokehead. I could, if I chose to feed the beast, reawaken the same addiction and be back to a two-liter a day habit.

5 Tips For Quitting Your Diet Soda Addiction

1. Don’t feel like you have to go cold turkey.

It’s what worked for me, but it may not work for you. Maybe set a rule for yourself that you only drink diet soda when you’re out at a restaurant. Since your SummerTomato-esque healthstyle involves more meals at home, that’ll cut down on the diet soda you drink. Later, you can start substituting other drinks when you eat out until you’re eventually soda-free.

2. Remove the addictive substance from your environment.

Smokers will attest that it’s harder to quit when someone else’s cigarettes are in the house. It’s the same for a diet soda addiction. Try to enlist your family, partner, or housemates to quit with you. If they can’t or won’t, see if you can put the soda in another location. Get a mini fridge for it and put it in another room. Out of sight, out of mind.

3. Be prepared for the withdrawal symptoms.

Your body is addicted to this substance. Your brain is addicted to the high you get from it. When that feeling disappears, your body will fight tooth and nail to get it back, to get that next fix. You’ll probably feel downright terrible – headaches, irritability, lack of focus.

  • Time your quitting so you can be out of focus and irritable without it affecting your life too much. Don’t quit diet soda the week of the giant research paper or the big work project or your wedding. That’s just a recipe for disaster on both fronts.
  • Get some ibuprofin, or your anti-headache medicine of choice. Remember, these headaches are temporary and they will go away. No sense to suffer through them when you can dull the pain.

4. Substitute a tasty beverage that you enjoy.

When I quit, my savior was unsweetened iced tea with lemon. It gave me enough caffeine to dull the headaches and it was sugar-free and natural. Nowadays, my #1 beverage is water, followed by unsweetened iced tea. Here are some substitutes for diet soda:

  • Water. It’s not as boring as it sounds. Flavor it up with a squirt of lemon, lime, or orange.
  • Sassy Water. I tried this recipe from The Flat Belly Diet and it’s pretty darn good. If you hate straight-up water, give it a shot. It tastes very fresh and zippy.

2 liters water (about 8 ½ cups) 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger 1 medium cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced 1 medium lemon, thinly sliced 12 small spearmint leaves. Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher and let flavors blend overnight.

  • Unsweetened Tea. As a former resident of NC, I can tell you that asking for unsweetened iced tea in the South will get some really odd looks (especially after you tell them you won’t require fake sugars either). But most places have it, and you’ll discover quickly which restaurants have unsweetened iced tea worth drinking.Hot tea is also amazing, especially if you get loose leaf tea rather than grocery store teabags. My favorite loose leaf teas come from Adagio Teas and their Ingenuitea teapot is super spiffy for brewing.
  • Italian Soda. If you can afford a few extra calories, consider stepping down from diet soda to Italian Soda. You make Italian soda by mixing carbonated water with flavored simple syrup. Torani syrups come in a myriad of flavors and are made with cane sugar (not HFCS). It’s 100 calories for two tablespoons, but trust me, you do not need two tablespoons, or even two teaspoons, to transform your water into something a bit more flavorful. Be careful to watch your consumption of Italian soda. It won’t have all the calories (or chemicals) of a HFCS soda, but the empty calories do add up. (Torani does make sugar-free syrup, but it may be better to go the more natural route, even if it does mean a few more calories.)

5. Get a sponsor.

No, you’re not an alcoholic. Diet soda isn’t going to ruin your life and relationships the way alcoholism can. But you will need help sometimes, and it’s good to have a friend or three you can call or text or visit when you’re feeling the need to swing into a 7-11 for a Big Gulp. Have your lifelines on speed dial and don’t be afraid to use them.

You can do it!

Why don’t you drink soda?

Originally published March 9, 2011.

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Are You Eating In The Matrix?

by | Oct 12, 2011
Do You Think That's Food You're Eating?

Do you think that's food you're eating?

Or to put it another way, do you know the difference between real food and food that was designed to fool you into believing it is real?

It might not be as easy as you think.

(Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen the original Matrix film yet, crawl out of your cave and go watch it real quick before reading. We’ll wait.)

In the classic film The Matrix, machines of the future create a sophisticated computer program that produces an alternate reality for their human slaves. The program, the Matrix, placates humans into believing they are living normal lives while their bodies are imprisoned in suspended animation.

The Matrix is plugged directly into the brains of humans. They live the Matrix, breathe the Matrix, eat the Matrix. They’ve grown up with it, and have never known any other world.

Now think about a Twinkie or a McNugget. Can you remember life without them? I can’t. These products have always been a part of my world, even though it has been a long time since I’ve eaten them. I have vivid childhood memories of both products–after school snacks with friends, my 10th birthday party–and my memories are happy.

But I’ve learned to refer to Twinkies and food from McDonald’s as products and not foods because, when you think about it, they really aren’t foods. Sure you can eat them, but that just makes them a novelty–something akin to beating up your friends in Mortal Kombat.

“Do you believe that me being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place?” -Morpheus

Real food nourishes your body by providing essential building blocks for your cells and organs. The human body evolved alongside real food and is adapted to digest it.

Edible products on the other hand were specifically designed to fool your brain and sensory perception, but your body, cells and organs have no idea what to do with them.

Twinkies and McNuggets are engineered. They do not come from the earth and are not food. Twinkies were created in the Matrix.

Do you think that’s food you’re eating now?

This may sound like rhetorical foodie fluff, but please humor me and entertain the metaphor for a little while longer.

Food should nourish your body and contribute to your overall health. Even foods that are considered fattening–bacon comes to mind–provide nourishment so long as they are based in reality.

But what is a Twinkie? What is a Pringle? What is a McNugget?

BigMacs may look, smell and vaguely taste like food, but if what you are eating is not sustaining your health and is possibly making you sick, isn’t it time to question whether it is food at all?

These are products that were created in a laboratory. They may have started as raw materials from plants, but the plants were never grown to be eaten. Industrial corn, soybeans and the cattle raised on them have been processed and redesigned to the point where they’ve been stripped of anything that allows for them to be reasonably classified as food.

Shouldn’t we then stop calling this stuff food?

Most people will initially reject this idea. Of course food is food. But I’d argue that this opinion is just another product of our environment. Haven’t we always lived in the Matrix of industrial agriculture?

We have coexisted with McDonald’s for so long it seem preposterous to speculate it doesn’t meet the definition of food.

But let’s take a closer look:

Food –noun:

1. Any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.
2. More or less solid nourishment, as distinguished from liquids.
3. A particular kind of solid nourishment: a breakfast food; dog food.
4. Whatever supplies nourishment to organisms: plant food.
5. Anything serving for consumption or use: food for thought.

(emphasis mine)

With the exception of the last point, which is clearly philosophical, all these definitions include the word nourishment.

Nourishverb (used with object)

1. To sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth.
2. To cherish, foster, keep alive, etc.: He had long nourished the dream of living abroad.
3. To strengthen, build up, or promote: to nourish discontent among the workers; to nourish the arts in one’s community.

(emphasis mine)

If it doesn’t provide nourishment, it is not food.

But relying on dictionary definitions is both semantic and impractical. It also becomes confusing when companies market products that are not real food but have added back nutrients to give the appearance of nourishment.

The important question is how do we break free?

Being convinced that these products are not food is not enough. Like the Matrix, McDonald’s is so closely tied to your perception of reality that it can fool you even when you know it isn’t real.

Remember, when Neo makes his first attempt to jump across the building roofs. He doesn’t make it.

“Everybody falls the first time.”

That’s because the Matrix feels so real that not believing it is almost impossible. Likewise, knowing that edible products are not food and that they will in fact make you less healthy is often not enough to prevent you from eating them. Your senses are easily fooled.

But better decisions are not impossible and your food world doesn’t need to be 100% black and green. Even small steps in the right direction, back into reality, can improve your health.

The first small changes you try also make subsequent steps easier.

Unplugging from the industrial food Matrix does not need to happen all at once, but you can extract yourself from it eventually. The first step is starting to see it clearly.

“I’m trying to free your mind, Neo, but I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”

Are you eating in the Matrix?

For your viewing pleasure: Morpheus is fighting Neo!

This post was inspired by commenter Martin Levac who gave me permission to roll with his awesome idea.

Originally published November 11, 2009.

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8 Reason Breakfast Makes Your Life Better

by | Jul 20, 2011

Yogurt, muesli and blueberries

I should admit right now that I’m a born again breakfast eater. In the past I always told myself that skipping breakfast meant one less meal adding calories to my day, and I was proud to have eliminated this annoyance from my life.

For the last several years, however, I have grown to love breakfast and am something of an evangelist. Breakfast may seem like an odd thing to try to covert people to, but once you see my reasons you may become a believer yourself.

8 Reasons Breakfast Makes Your Life Better

  • It’s easy. Breakfast doesn’t take much time or energy to prepare; I’m half asleep when I pour my cereal, rinse my fruit and boil my coffee every day. It also requires minimal planning. Just buy everything you need every week or two and you are good to go. What’s your excuse?
  • Health wins. We all must deal with the internal struggle between eating healthy and eating not-so-healthy. Throughout the day breakfast is by far the easiest battle in which health can triumph, since there is no outside social pressure and unhealthy options are harder to attain. I recommend taking winning odds whenever they are presented.
  • Hunger check. If you eat a satisfying breakfast before heading into work you are less likely to be tempted by the junk food that haunts most office environments. Likewise, you will have better self-control when it comes time to decide what to eat for lunch.
  • Whole grains. For my own healthstyle, intact whole grains are the most difficult to get in my diet. Unsweetened oats, plain brown rice and quinoa aren’t exactly staples on American restaurant menus. But without grains I feel constantly hungry and my workouts suffer. If I eat them at breakfast I am guaranteed at least that one serving during the day. (For tips to get more whole grains at dinner, check out my easy frozen brown rice balls).
  • Higher metabolism. Eating healthy food has a positive effect on your metabolism. Not only does what you eat for breakfast affect how your body reacts to different foods for the rest of the day, it also influences your metabolic rate in the long term. Be careful though, highly processed and easily digested foods have a negative effect.
  • Healthy habits. Healthy behavior begets more healthy behavior. According to some studies, this is especially true of breakfast eaters. Waking up and eating a healthy breakfast encourages you to pack a healthy lunch and plan your day around wholesome food. It feels really good to do healthy things, but we easily forget this when presented with free donuts on an empty stomach during a mid-morning meeting. Build your healthy habits when it is easy and help them stick around for the long haul.
  • Self-esteem. I think it is important to reiterate how good it feels to do healthy things for your body, and as a bonus it extends to how we feel about ourselves. Most of us feel proud and confident when we know we are doing the right thing. Why not start out each morning on the right foot?
  • Deliciousness. Of all the reasons I just listed, this one probably has the biggest sway with me personally. My breakfasts are absolutely delicious and I adore waking up and eating such yummy food. It is worth going out of your way to find healthy foods you enjoy eating, that way good food has as much pull on you as the less healthy junk. This will make your food decision making a whole lot easier.

Once you have convinced yourself that eating breakfast is important and worthwhile, it helps to know what constitutes a healthy one. I have written about breakfast before, focusing on the difference between fake “whole grains” as sold to us by processed food manufacturers and real intact whole grains.

Recently I have switched to a new favorite breakfast: plain yogurt, muesli and fruit.

I love this new combo for a few reasons

  1. I tried yogurt because I was having digestive issues for a few weeks and was hoping the probiotics in the yogurt (I eat even more probiotic foods now) might help. It totally did, and I’m sold on this method for improved digestion (despite my mild lactose intolerance).
  2. Coarse and chewy muesli is perfect on yogurt and I was able to completely cut out the fake whole grain flakes that bothered me about my old breakfast. Woohoo!
  3. The added protein and fat from the lowfat plain yogurt helps me feel satisfied longer in the day and adds a creamy luxury to my morning.

Be sure that when you are choosing your healthy breakfast you find foods with no added sugar. For example, fruit and vanilla yogurts are notorious for having obscene amounts of sugar (especially vanilla) putting it more on par with ice cream than health food. Likewise, most store bought granolas are loaded with sugar, molasses, honey, agave, concentrated fruit juice and other sweeteners. This is why I prefer muesli–completely unsweetened grains with bits of dried fruits, nuts and seeds.

When choosing plain yogurt I recommend lowfat instead of nonfat yogurt, because it is much more palatable and satisfying. Nonfat plain yogurt tends to be too tangy for me. Also, you need the fat to help with nutrient absorption and satiation.

My breakfast

  • 1 c. Plain lowfat yogurt
  • 1/4 c. Dorset muesli
  • 1/4 c. fresh fruit

What is your favorite healthy breakfast?

Originally published August 17, 2009

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8 Inspiring Places To Find Recipe Ideas

by | Apr 27, 2011
Foodie Inspiration

Foodie Inspiration

Healthy eating and cooking for yourself go hand in hand. If you have the resources it is possible to eat healthy while dining out, but restaurants that don’t use processed foods can be difficult to find and tend to be pricey. They also limit you to a handful of different dishes that can become monotonous if you rely on them for most of your meals.

But keeping your healthstyle interesting can be a challenge even if you cook for yourself. Although shopping in season inevitably rotates you through new ingredients over the course of the year, we can still slip into the pattern of making the same dishes over and over again. And while repetition can be easy and comforting, it can also be problematic.

Monotony and boredom are your enemies if you are trying to make healthy eating a way of life; junk food will be extra tempting simply because it’s more interesting than the same boring meal you’ve had 10 times before.

To keep yourself from getting in a cooking rut you must actively seek inspiration for new dishes and flavor combinations. This is true for both kitchen newbies and seasoned chefs, and it gets easier with practice. The more you learn to outsource your creativity and experiment, the better you get at finding meal ideas in your daily life.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. These are some places I often find new ideas, but you are only limited by your imagination.

8 Places To Cook Up Recipe Inspiration

1. Farmers markets

My number one source of inspiration is always the beautiful produce and other goodies I find each week at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Not only do I often find interesting new ingredients to experiment with, I also find familiar foods that look so fresh and delicious I can’t help but buy them and turn them into something wonderful.

If you are thinking about buying something but do not know how to cook it, ask the vendor for ideas or common preparations. I recommend you get anything that looks new and interesting, since most vegetables are relatively cheap and Google puts a universe of recipes at your fingertips.

2. Restaurants

Most major cities (San Francisco especially) are home to amazingly talented and innovative chefs of all different styles and flavors. Steal their ideas! If you have a memorable meal while out on the town, take mental notes on the flavors and textures that capture its essence. You don’t have to be able to recreate it exactly at home, but you can definitely borrow the concept, simplify it and adapt it to your own skills and needs.

For example, I was recently struck by a dish at a spectacular restaurant that was composed of beets with dill–a flavor combination I had never tried. The dish was technically complicated and I wouldn’t bother attempting to make it the same way, but later that week I did roast some beets and change up my usual recipe to include dill instead of mint (sans chèvre). Turned out fantastic.

3. Food blogs

The number of outstanding food blogs today on the interwebs is staggering, and I love to skim through them looking for wonderful recipe ideas. I can’t even begin to list all my favorite sites here, but I try to highlight at least one mouthwatering recipe each week in For The Love of Food posts.

4. Travel

Nothing inspires enthusiasm for new flavors and recipes like traveling to a different locale. Eating traditional cuisines–the way they are supposed to be made–is one of the most intimate and meaningful ways to engage with a culture. Learn a few of the cuisine’s basic ingredients and cooking techniques and you can bring a tiny bit of your experience home with you. Think of this process as a procedural photograph you can use to remember your trip.

Again, you don’t have to recreate dishes exactly the same way in your own kitchen. Sometimes just a single special ingredient can evoke an entire cultural experience.

5. Friends

We all have that friend who is an amazing cook (love you guys!). Not only does this person sometimes hook you up with delicious treats, chances are your foodie friend also loves to talk about food and cooking. This is a goldmine for new ideas and sometimes even a little help and guidance. Maintain a healthy, food-centric relationship with this person and watch the inspiration roll in.

(Hint: If you don’t have a friend like this come hang out with me on Twitter @summertomato)

6. Books

Cookbooks are wonderful but, to be honest, I rarely use them. The reason is that I’m usually too busy to bother lugging the giant things off the shelf and thumbing through them for something specific. I usually either wing it in the kitchen or search online for what I need.

Literature, however, can be a huge inspiration for me to try out new things in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I read The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie that I really started exploring Indian cooking. The Last Chinese Chef helped me learn to appreciate the depth of Chinese cuisine. And I cannot eat enough Spanish tapas when I’m reading Hemingway.

7. Podcasts and radio

I love Mondays because all my favorite food podcasts are waiting on my iPhone for me to listen to on my commute. Both entertaining and educational, foodie podcasts never fail to inspire me to try new foods and cooking methods. They also make me a better cook by describing tips and techniques I am unfamiliar with.

8. TV

Although I do not watch TV regularly, there was a time when I would catch a periodic episode of Top Chef or other foodie show. What I enjoyed most about these programs was the times they would explain the decision making process that goes into creating a dish. But even if culinary improvisation isn’t in your cards, you can at least borrow their ideas (just like at a restaurant) and make similar meals for yourself at home. The recipes used are often posted online.

You can also get meal ideas from TV dramas and sitcoms. Remember Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi? That’s where I first learned about mulligatawny.

Recipe inspiration can come from anywhere, but if you aren’t looking for it a stroke of genius may pass you by.

Where do you get your inspiration in the kitchen?StumbleUpon.com

Originally published February 24, 2010.

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Top 10 iPhone Apps For Healthy Living

by | Feb 2, 2011

Photo by Gonzalo Baeza Hernández

Geeks, this one’s for you. Guest author David Harfield blogs at iphoneappcafe.com about iPhone apps and accessories, and also provides tips to get the most out of your iPhone.

Top 10 iPhone Apps For Healthy Living

by David Harfield

Healthy living and technology don’t often walk hand in hand. However, with the rise of the iPhone’s popularity, tech experts around the world are putting their cerebral skills to practical use for leading a healthy life. Here are the 10 best iPhone apps for healthy living.

1. Locavore

$2.99

For anyone who is serious about sourcing locally produced food, then Locavore is an essential purchase. Not only does it recommend local farmers markets depending on your location, it informs you of food that is in season or coming into season near you. Locavore provides links to Wikipedia sites that show you details of the fruit or vegetable that you are interested in as well as a link to Epicurious recipes that show you how to turn your healthy food into delicious meals. Also, the in-app updates from Twitter and Satisfaction mean you can trade information with other foodies and sway recipes and health food tips.

2. iFitness

$1.99

The iFitness app is essentially a pocket sized personal trainer, who only charges you a one off fee of $1.99 and never gives you a guilt trip for missing a training session. Offering comprehensive routines and exercise programs aimed at working out a particular muscle group, iFitness also provides a detailed diagram of the human body so that you can determine which area it is that you want to train. There are personalized exercises for various sports, such as the ‘Basketball Conditioning Routine’ that shows you a set of exercises aimed at improving the muscle groups to help make you an NBA contender. The routines can be done anywhere and everywhere, using anything from free weights to office chairs for the ‘Business Travel Workout’. By keeping a personalised log of your workouts as well as a BMI Calculator and weight monitor, this app is the ultimate workout buddy.

3. Fooducate

Free

This App is a true triumph of technology in the land of the supermarket. By using the Fooducate app, your iPhone is able to quickly scan the barcodes on food packaging, which gives you a detailed analysis of the nutritional content of the food, and enables you to make an informed decision as to whether to shove it in your shopping cart or your mouth. If the food contains trans fats, controversial food colourings or anything else that the manufacturers may want to keep hidden from you, then Fooducate will highlight it and let you know what you are about to put into your body. On top of this, Fooducate also provides preferable alternatives if the food you scan is not to the highest of standards. If you are a busy parent who doesn’t have the time to browse the local farmers markets and has to shop at the supermarket, then this is the app for you.

4. Whole Foods Market Recipes

Free

Whole Foods Market Recipes is a great app for those of you who like to experiment in the kitchen, while not compromising on the health and nutrition. It shows you where your nearest Whole Foods Market is, then allows you to search for recipes by ingredients or dietary types including gluten-free, vegetarian/vegan or low fat. All of the nutritional information are listed alongside the ingredients, all of which are natural and organic. The recipes include easy to follow cooking instructions that really do produce tasty meals. A nifty little function allows you to search for recipes based on what you already have in your fridge, meaning that you can build a meal around what you already have in the house.

5. Veg Out

$2.99

Vegetarianism is becoming more mainstream every day, the only problem is trying to find a decent veggie restaurant when you’re out and about. If you have felt this pain then Veg Out is the app for you. By utilizing Google Maps technology, Veg Out directs the hungry vegetarian to the nearest veggie eatery, all with user-rated star rankings, where their favorite meat-free dishes await.

6. Runkeeper Pro

Free

This is the ultimate running app, as it uses Google Maps to help plan routes on which you can put heel to the pavement and give your body a work out in the fresh air. Incredibly easy to use, Runkeeper Pro keeps track of how far you have run, your average speed, the current pace that you are running at and how many calories you have burned during your journey. You can use all the regular applications on your iPhone such as its iPod and camera functions without having to pause the app, meaning your jog around the block can be sound tracked and photo-documented. A great way to keep track of your personal running goals, Runkeeper Pro really is a valuable tool for any aspiring runners.

7. Good Food Near You

Free

Building on Veg Out’s idea of locating veggie-friendly restaurants in your surroundings, Good Food Near You takes things one step further and tells you what the healthiest menu option is in restaurants dotted around your proximity. It will tell you exactly how much fat is in the average burrito in your local Mexican takeaway, or the number of calories are awaiting you in that seafood special in the nearest Thai restaurant. This is probably not an app to take out on birthdays or special occasions, but can help you eat healthily when you’re on the go.

8. Yoga Trainer Pro

$1.99

For centuries yogis have been leading a healthy, spiritual lifestyle through this fascinating and all-encompassing form of exercise. From beginner poses to advanced sets of training, Yoga Trainer Pro teaches you a variety of stretches and breathing exercises that not only improve your overall fitness and health, but also allows you to practice yoga anytime, anywhere you want at a fraction of the price of yoga classes. The step-by-step guides include photos and voice alerts to talk you through each pose, letting you learn at your own pace. With popular yoga routines and techniques including Pranayama, Meditation and Astanga, this app will have you bending and breathing, but never breaking, in next to no time.

9. WaterWorks (not yet available in US)

$1.99

By setting your target amount of water intake for the day, WaterWorks reminds you how much H2O you have to ingest to meet your goal before the end of the day. Through consistent reminders to stay hydrated, this simple little app is a Godsend to those of us who live life on the go and often forget the simplest of tasks, like drinking enough water. You can set up your own water containers and their respective sizes, (in litres, gallons, ounces, etc), so that you know exactly how much water it is that you are drinking throughout the day.

10. Food Additives 2

$3.99

Food Additives 2, lets you know the lowdown on which additives are in your food and which are particularly detrimental to your health–whether you suffer from a long list of ailments or are as fit as a fiddle. By inputting the additive name or number that should be listed on the back of any food that you are buying from a supermarket or local shop, Food Additives 2 will show you the origin of the substance such as fish, animal, plant etc., its general use and functionality. It will also tell you any known or potential side effects that the additive may cause, the maximum or recommended daily intake and any dietary restrictions that the additive may fall under.

Well, there we have it guys, 10 iPhone Apps that actually help you lead a healthy life. Consider a few of these next time you’re squinting at a screen and trying to conquer the next level Angry Birds. Remember, these Apps will only work if you use them everyday, so no cheating and “forgetting” your iPhone charger!

What are your favorite healthy living apps?

To see Darya’s favorite apps follow her on Chomp

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