Saturday, October 30, 2010

Celebrate the Little Things

Sometimes, bad things happen.  Parents get old and sick, friends lose their jobs or homes, and weird, freaky $hi+ happens that's scary and depressing.  Over time, this collection of bad experiences can be a real downer....unless we shift the balance by creating positive experiences.  

Case in point....Manicures and Martinis.  It wasn't a "big" birthday, but why does it need to be?  It was a great excuse to connect with other women.  Research consistently shows that social interaction makes people live healthier and longer lives.  I'm not entirely sure why, but I think it has to do with the brain chemicals and hormones that are released when you're having a good time doing good things to your blood pressure and such.   

Even more sweet, the birthday girl is a breast cancer survivor, making every birthday pretty special.    

On another note, Halloween is a great opportunity to showcase one of my home's best features:

I kid you not, it's a real headstone.  It was here when we moved in and despite several attempts, it cannot be moved.  In fact, it won't even budge.  I've taken this as a sign that it belongs with the house and does not wish to be disturbed.  The story from the previous owner is that it's an extra civil war marker for a great, great uncle, but it's difficult to tell since it's so worn.  Spooky, eh?

Happy Halloween everyone!!!     

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Few Easy Ways to Make Your Heart Happy

I don't know how you all party, but here in these parts, the party conversations tend to go like this:

  • Personal information (hi, how are you, how old are your kids, where do you live...)
  • Current events/weather (big storm coming, how did you vote on the referendum...)
  • Job sharing (where do you work, oh do you know so-and-so that works there...)
  • Personal health information (This hurts, I have this condition, had this surgery, etc)
For me personally, the last two are sort of a blur since I work in the health care field.  And quite frankly, I am always RELIEVED when we finally get to the health topic because I barely read the newspaper and try to ignore the weather in Chicago for most of the year.  

At a party a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a HE who told me he was diagnosed with high cholesterol and was recently prescribed a statin drug. I got all bubbly inside and started offering suggestions for other things he can do to help with his cholesterol.  Even when you're taking a drug, there are some other simple things to do that will further lower cholesterol.  Plus, these things may help other members of your family (e.g., your significant other, your kids) prevent high cholesterol. 

Just as a reminder, the concern with having high cholesterol (especially LDL cholesterol, aka, the lousy cholesterol) is that it really increases your risk of having heart disease...which is the #1 cause of death in the US.  Just lowering your cholesterol 10% can reduce your risk of heart disease by almost 30%. Unfortunately, there are a bunch of things that negatively affect cholesterol levels that are uncontrollable.....genetics, getting older, being a male.  On the upside, there are several easy things that can help lower cholesterol and one or more of these may be easy for you to work into your life.  Every little bit helps!

Here goes: 
  1. Substitute some of the foods you currently use with those that have phytosterols.  Phytosterols are naturally-occurring substances found in plants that block the absorption of cholesterol from your belly, resulting in a decrease in cholesterol levels. They are  also available as a food ingredient.  Promise activ is a margarine with phytosterols, Minute Maid has a juice with them, and you can find them in a few other foods branded with the CoroWise logo.  They cost more $$, but I guarantee that in the long run, they will cost you less than a heart attack.  
  2. Eat more protein, and less carbohydrates.  I'm like a broken record with this protein stuff!  Besides having other benefits, a higher protein diet (20-30% of your calories ideally) has been scientifically shown to do good things for cholesterol.  Ideally, choose the leaner or veggie-based varieties of protein and make sure to get a dose of protein at breakfast (where most people choose carbs instead). 
  3. Start eating more like a Mediterranean.  Those Greeks know how to eat! There are so many great Mediterranean Diet cookbooks if you're not familiar with all of the yummy goodness of olive oil, fish, whole grains, and wine.  Did I mention the wine? 
  4. Eat smaller meals more frequently.  This behavior may be more difficult for some versus others depending on your lifestyle (e.g., hard to eat all day if you're a bank teller, personal trainer, teacher, etc.).  When I switched jobs and started working at home, my cholesterol decreased about 20 points in a month...eating smaller meals throughout the day was the only change I made (besides hardly ever showering and wearing pajamas all day, but that is neither here nor there).    
  5. Break a sweat as often as possible.  I know, I know, no one wants to hear how good exercise is for you.  But here's the thing, it's really, really good for you!  If there's one behavior that should always be a part of your life, it's physical activity in some capacity. 
    These are just a few suggestions.  Don't forget that fiber, especially the gooey, really viscous kind, is very effective at lowering cholesterol.  Oatmeal, Metamucil,Cheerios, etc.  In my experience, it's harder to "sell" fiber to someone.  Most people think of all the un-pleasantries of fiber (gas, flatus, sharting), but don't discount it!  Many of the side effects of fiber are temporary until your belly gets used to it.  
    For more information on heart health, check out the American Heart Association website.  For a good book that has lots of yummy recipes and includes most of the list above, check out The South Beach Diet.  It's one of my favorites!   And just a reminder, I am a nutritionist and not a physician.  Always best to confirm with your Dr. before making any major diet or lifestyle changes, especially if you're already on medications for cholesterol or other conditions.  My list above is consistent with major public health recommendations from several organizations, but I just have to say that or else they come and take my PhD away, or worse, they may make me change out of my pajamas.  Either way, heed my caution.  :) 

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    The 7 Habits of Highly Fit (or Sort of Fit) People

    A very fabulous friend of mine wrote an article titled, "7 Secrets of Super Fit Women".  I think it is very accurate in describing this group of super-SHEs that look amazing and radiate an aura of health.  I honestly am in awe of these women and find them truly inspirational.  And for the record, I am not one of them.  I scored 3 out of 7, making me "sort of" fit.  

    But I still feel pretty healthy.  

    So I've decided to start a list of the "Habits of the Sort of Fit".  This may not be very aspirational, but sometimes we just need to pat ourselves on the back for at least trying.

    1. They subscribe to Shape, Women's Health, or Fitness magazine (although they might not actually read every issue).

    2. They exercise inconsistently at best, but are always wearing active sportswear or workout gear around town.  

    3. They eat licorice for dinner only once or twice a month.

    4. Forget beer or schnaaps, they drink only wine (no more than 1 glass a night) because they know that it's healthier and much more glamorous.  

    5. They buy organic (when it's not 3 times as expensive as the conventional stuff).

    6. They bike versus driving as much as possible (particularly when there's no parking at the destination they are going to or if overindulging on habit #4).  

    7. They routinely relieve the stress of life through socializing (often involving numbers 2, 3, 4, and 6 above).

    Anything else I've forgotten?

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Fishy Push-Up

    Remember these delectable, creamy treats?

    Here's a twist on this concept...

    According to their website, they are working on a tuna and salmon version.  What do you think of this way to get your fish oil?  Icky bad or conveniently and nutritiously good?

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    There's Something Fishy in this Peanut Butter

    This Jif peanut butter has been on the market for at least a year.  It's your basic peanut butter with fish oil (from anchovies and sardines).  To me, looks the same and tastes the same (on bread) versus the original.  It certainly doesn't taste like anchovies and sardines.  Is it worth the extra money?

    I've blogged about fish oil before.  Bottom oil is good and most people don't get enough.  Eating fish is the best way to get your fish oil (salmon and tuna are my favorites).  But eating fish can be a pain in the bass [insert laugh track].   

    Luckily, there are about a billion supplements available for you to choose from.  Most of these supplements are big giant capsules, just slightly smaller than your trachea. For those that don't like to take big pills, there are also liquid fish oil supplements....mmmmm....fat on a spoon.  Most expert groups recommend 300-500 mg/day of EPA+DHA (the active components of fish oil associated with the health benefits).

    An alternative might be foods fortified with fish oil, such as the peanut butter.  However, the Jif product has 32 mg of EPA+DHA per would need to eat 10 servings of the peanut butter to get even close to the recommendation...1,900 calories worth of peanut butter...not worth it.  So in my humble opinion...if you are an adult (based on age, not maturity), eat fish twice a week or take a supplement...pill or drink, trachea dependent.

    How about those kiddos?  Should they be eating fish-flavored Jif?  How big are their tracheas?  

    The Institute of Medicine, a non-profit organization of health experts in the US, has established a recommedation of 90 mg/d of EPA+DHA for kids 4-8 yr and 120 mg/day for kids 9-13.  Other countries have much higher recommendations for kids.  For example, one of the European health organizations recommends 250 mg/day of EPA+DHA.  So let's just assume that somewhere between 100 to 250 mg/day of EPA+DHA is a good target for most kids.  

    Now the question is, how to achieve that target?  Two servings of fatty fish a week is an easy way to get there....for kids who eat fish.  I can usually get 1 serving a week into my kids (salmon with a brown sugar glaze), but 2 servings consistently is pushing it.  Therefore, I do buy fish oil supplements specifically designed for kids.

    As luck would have it, my kids prefer the most expensive EPA+DHA possible...sugary gummy chews.  They are almost $20 for a pack of 30, which means every day I spend $4.50 for my 3 daughters to get their fish oil...130 mg of EPA+DHA per serving.  Sure, it's cheaper than a salmon filet but SHEESH!  That's $30 a week on fish-flavored candy!

    I have also tried to get my girls to eat these other supplements, which I like to call "bubbles".  They are tiny capsules containing strawberry-flavored fish oil that can be swallowed or chewed.  This brand has ~200 mg of DHA+EPA for every 4 capsules.  Herein lies the problem...chewing 1 or 2 of them is fine, but 4 is too much...the fishy, oily taste eventually overpowers.  They are cost effective though!  I pay $22 for the bottle and there are 45 servings in there, so about $0.5/serving.  If only my girls would eat them.

    I recently tried this other kind of soft chew...Dr. Sears Brainy Kidz.  I really want to like these, but seriously, Dr. Sears must be smoking something...these are the most awful things I've ever tasted!  Somewhere between a wet Starburst chew and a moldy raspberry.  Each chew has 100 mg of DHA (and this is the one you want, at least for kids) and a pack of 30 chews is $10...such a fabulous price!  Too ick for me and my kids.  Good thing Halloween is around the corner...a great excuse to get rid of these things.  

    So back to the fishy Jif...I'm into it.  Based on my history with fish oil supplements for kids, the 32 mg per serving in Jif is at least a step in the right direction in getting them towards their recommended intake.  My kids are habitual peanut butter and jelly consumers and thus far, they have not noticed the switch to fishy peanut butter.  If they ever read the label, I'm in trouble (anchovy and sardine oil, tilapia), but until then, it's fish sandwiches for all.  

    Anyone have a different fish oil supplement for kids that they can recommend?  

    Maybe I should name my band Trachea instead of Soccer Bitch?  Or maybe The Wind Pipe?  

    Anyone want to know where I live so you don't come trick' o'treating here?

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Sip and Strum

    In the last 48 hours, I've had two quintessential Decade of She
    experiences: playing in a soccer game and my first guitar lesson.  I never imagined doing either of these activities at this point in my life, and quite frankly, I'm not sure my body did either.  In fact, there are certain parts of my body that are quite pissed off at me right now.  I've been trying to reason with these parts, but they will have none of it.  The only thing we seem to agree on is Advil.

    Now the soccer is not really new.  I started playing soccer last year for no other reason than no other reason.  Follow me?  It just sounded like fun.  And unlike last year, I'm now actually making contact with the ball (versus kicking the air around it) and I've lost the urge to pick it up when it's in front of me.  World Cup, here I come.   

    On Sunday, our team of SHEs played another team of SHEs in what was a friendly, yet competitive game.  We all burned 300-400 calories, we bonded with our fellow amateur soccer players, and everyone had a blast with the exception of one itty bitty player leveled another player resulting in the stricken player hobbling off the field.  And of course, because irony doesn't miss an opportunity, I'm the one that leveled the other player.  

    This is ironic for several reasons.  First off, I have dedicated most of my life to the study and communication of nutrition because I feel strongly about helping others live longer, healthier lives.  Causing someone to fall during a friendly game of mom's really pathetic soccer is just a TAD inconsistent with my life M.O.  Second, and this is why I'm getting an ulcer, I sent an e-mail to the other team from my high horse before the game, urging them to keep it friendly and fair in order to minimize injuries on the field!  And then there's one foul during the game and I caused it!  

    I've replayed "the incident" in my head several times...I did not stumble or fall and don't even remember feeling the impact...which leads me to believe that this whole thing was caused by someone up above (or down below), seizing the opportunity for irony, and through some sort of cosmic soccer spirit, willing that poor mom to crumble on the grass leaving me standing there looking like a big, tall A$$hole.  That, or it's because I don't really know how to play soccer.  One of those two things for sure. 

    This is why I'm now throwing myself into a completely different, no-physical contact hobbie....the "Sip and Strum"....aka, playing guitar while sipping wine.  I'm already quite skilled in the sipping part, so should be no problem to pick up the other half.  Last night at my first lesson, I was channeling my inner Madonna...who I believe also picked up the guitar later in her life.  Heck, I'm just like her minus the pseudo-British accent, talent, money, and adopted African baby.  And much like Madge, I didn't mame, injure, or impress anyone with my guitar playing.  

    Based on last night, if I sip and strum every day, I should be ready to tour by 2030...tentative band name...Soccer Bitch.                   

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Three Types of People Who Should Wear a Heart Rate Monitor

    I've had several folks ask me about heart rate monitors lately.  I don't consider myself an expert in these little devices, so I had to do a little research.  And by research, I mean I asked a few trainers and searched the medical literature.  

    For those of you not familiar with these devices, also referred to as Personal Wellbeing Technology (the Dr. Dorks always like to come up with their own names for this stuff), they normally consist of two components: a strap that  goes around your chest and then a watch-like receiver.  They range from $50-200 depending on what bells and whistles you want.  The basic ones just measure heart rate.  The fancy ones can measure calories burned, can be adapted to a bike mount and measure cycling speed, can come equipped with GPS to measure running/walking distance, and can connect to an on-line training diary to keep track of it all.  

    There seems to be three types of people that may really want to consider using this Personal Wellbeing Technology as part of their fitness program:  
    1. Newbies.  For a person that has never exercised before, it's really hard to know if the exercise is at an intensity that is beneficial to health.  These little things may really help folks realize how hard (or more likely, how NOT hard) they are working out.  One trainer I spoke with said he recommends them to new clients and asks that they wear it for about 6 months.  He wants them to learn how they feel when they are working out at different intensities so that they can eventually accurately predict their heart rate without the device.
    2. Techies.  For people that LOVE little electronics and are into logging their training in an on-line diary, these heart rate monitors are great.  They can be a real motivator and at the end of the day, that's the goal with physical activity...keep doing it most days of the week until you drop dead.  If all it takes is a little heart rate monitor, then totally worth it!
    3. Sickies.  And by that, I mean people with a medical condition that should not be working out over a certain intensity. 
    Now here is my own list of folks that should probably not wear a heart rate monitor:

    1. Chafies.  If you are one that is inclined to chafe, then the strap around your chest might result in some rough patches.  There are other options out there though.  Check out this monitor that is built into the sports bra. 
    2. KISSies (KISS = Keep it simple stupid).  Depending on the exercise, you may not want another piece of equipment on you.  For example, if you already are going running with an iPod, cellphone, and GPS, do you really need to carry one more piece of electronics on your body?  If you're swimming and have a cap, goggles, and potentially other equipment, do you really want to wear more stuff?
    3. Mini-Wristies.  If you are a small-framed woman or just have a small wrist, you may want to go physically try on a heart rate monitor before you buy one.  The receiver is HUGE!  There are several versions specifically for women, but even these seem big on my wrist.  Best not to spend the money until you're sure it's wearing during exercise.  
    Anyone have a really good experience with a heart rate monitor?  Anyone have one in a drawer?

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Are Food Companies Purposely Making Food More Addictive?

    It seems that lately, there is a lot of buzz about how fat, salt, and sugar are addictive substances and accusations that the food industry purposely manipulates our food with these substances so that they "make ya crave it fortnightly".  [Name that movie!] 

    Just some thoughts on that. I worked for one of the biggest food companies in the US for several years, mostly in nutrition but also in product development.  

    At that company, there was no secret cocktail of fat, salt, and sugar that we would whip out to make food addictive.  There was no one in upper management calling down to R&D saying, "Add the addiction trifecta asap!"  Food scientists aren't milling around thinking, "Now how can I get just a little more salt in here without the public knowing?"

    And if it is true at other companies, how could all these people keep that kind of a secret?  There are tens of thousands of food scientists working in the industry...somebody would leak something like this if it were true.  These folks don't make a lot of wouldn't be very hard to pay them off to get such information.  

    But I bet if you ask a food scientist if they are purposely impregnating food with an "addiction trifecta", they would tell you this:  the goal of product development at a processed food company is to make a food that people will like so much, they buy it again...and depending on the food itself, using fat, salt, or sugar is appropriate to make that food taste good (plus these ingredients are cheap and most Americans want cheap food...more on that another time).  So really, the best way to stop the food industry from selling foods with these ingredients is to stop buying them.     

    Now what if people can't stop buying them because they are addictive?  That's a loaded question with so many ramifications.  Using my best Dr. Dork scientific skills, I have to conclude that the evidence in humans is weak right now.  Seems like there may be something there in rats, for whatever that is worth.  But there are not enough studies in humans to really conclude that fat, salt, and sugar are truly addictive substances.  Sure, there are several very serious conditions where people have unhealthy relationships with food...but are they "addictions"?  And if scientists do eventually prove that fat, salt, and sugar are addictive substances, then what?  Will chocolate chip cookies be outlawed?  Will you have to buy salt like you buy Sudafed and sign that weird book?  Will fast food companies see the light and start selling grass-fed beef burgers on stone-ground, whole wheat bread?  Will people shell out $9 for that kind of lunch?   

    If you want to read more about this stuff, check out David Kessler's book.  It's certainly a provocative read!  

    And not that you asked, but one of my favorite movie lines of all time:  "that boy's head is like Sputnik; spherical but quite pointy at parts!"


    Monday, October 4, 2010

    From Coconut Water to Cow Water...Is Milk Best for After a Workout?

    For the past several decades, a carbohydrate-based sports drink has been the "go-to" beverage for rehydrating after a workout, race, or even a belly upset.  There's been many, many studies to show that a drink with 5-7% carbohydrates plus a few electrolytes is better for rehydrating than water.  Last week, I blogged about coconut water being used as a rehydration beverage.  Today, I stumbled across a study just published comparing a traditional sports drink against a drink that contained protein.  It was a rehydration ironic moment!   

    This study looked at which drink was better at rehydrating subjects following an intense exercise session.  The protein drink contained milk protein in addition to a lower dose of carbohydrates than the regular carbohydrate sports drink.  Both drinks had the same level of electrolytes (sodium and potassium).  

    Wouldn't you know it, the drink with the protein was better at rehydrating the subjects than the traditional sports drink.  The confirms the results of an earlier study showing the same thing.  Gatorade must have their own evidence that this is true (or perhaps they funded these studies), because the new G Series has protein in the post-workout beverage.  My guess is that any high quality source of protein will also lead to this same effect, but future studies are needed to really test that.  I'm sure the soy folks are either already running their own studies or freaking out about starting their own studies right now.     

    Regardless of where it comes from, I am a huge advocate of protein.  Eating protein after a workout can help with restoring and building muscle and potentially reduce muscle soreness.  The fact that it also helps with rehydration is another plus for protein.  

    Milk is almost the perfect post-workout beverage.  Unfortunately, I don't know a lot of people that want to drink milk after they work out.  Can you imagine serving milk at the water stations during a marathon?   What if the vending machine at the gym sold little cartons of milk? 

    My routine is to add protein powder to a drink that contains a little carbohydrate (I usually use Fuze or dilute juice) and drink it within 20 minutes of finishing my workout or race (a key window of opportunity for maximizing the effects of protein in your muscles).  I even take my protein with me in a a little baggie for when I'm not at home.   

    Sure, having a baggie full of white powder looks suspicious...and that protein powder is probably as expensive as some other forms of white powder that may be transported in a baggie...but when you've got to have your protein fix, you've got to have your protein fix!  

    And sorry if I grossed you out calling it "cow water".  It grosses me out.  I could have called it "mammalian lacteal secretion", which is how milk is defined...but that was too long for a title.         

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Coo Coo for Coconut Water

    Yesterday was the first day of my running group.  I've blogged about my running group before and how much I love it and why I stuff my sports bra with tissue.  Running group combines two of my favorite activities: running and talking.  

    Today I learned something new from a fellow runner and then was asked a question about coconut water.  Here's the new thing I learned:

    levi's denim onesie!
    $194 at

    Levi's is making something called a Onesie.  It's a shirt that is sewn to the jeans.  Now I will admit, I am not on the forefront of fashion.  I am more of a follower than a leader.  But really?  Has it come to a point in fashion where we have to have jeans already sewn to a shirt?  And it's not even a color combination that would be risky.  It's a light blue shirt with jeans.  Even the most fashion-challenged could come up with this, right?  And it's $194?  And calling it a "Onesie"? I thought I would never, ever have to say that word again after my daughters grew out of them.

    Can you imagine the conversation with your HE:

    HE: "Honey, wow, that outfit"

    SHE: "I know!  It's a Onesie by Levi's"

    HE: "Isn't that what babies wear?"

    SHE: "No, well yes, okay it is.  But it's also what BABES wear this season"

    HE: "Isn't that a chambray shirt sewn to a pair of Levi's?"

    SHE: "No, well yes, okay it is.  But it was $194 so it's cool"

    HE: "You paid $194 for that?  Is football on?"

    But wait a minute, look what I just saw at Matters of's one of the Olsen sisters wearing what could be the Onesie!  I might have to take back everything I just said!  Fashion this a new trend?  Will all of our shirts soon be sewn to the pants?

    Ok, enough about that.  Now on to the coconut water. Someone asked me about it and ironically, I have a bottle in my frig.  A Dr. Dork friend of mine loves the stuff so I bought several bottles a while back.  One sip, and I realized that I prefer my coconut in a pina colada.  Hence, several bottles are still in the frig.

    It's purported to be great for rehydration after exercise and for alleviating hangovers, plus other things, so I looked into it.  
    Here's my research:

    • The Zico coconut water has 60 calories per bottle, all coming from carbohydrates (the exact type is not reported but lets assume it's like all fruits and a combination of sucrose, glucose, and fructose).  An equivalent amount of Gatorade has 88 calories and is a combination of sucrose and glucose.  I'm assuming most coconut waters are the same, but this may not be true.  Check the label.
    • Coconut water contains two electrolytes: sodium (160 mg) and potassium (569 mg).  Gatorade has both of these as well (192 mg for sodium and 53 mg for potassium).  
    • When you sweat, you lose water and electrolytes so replenishing them after exercise is good (usually when you exercise for more than an hour). Two clinical trials have been published comparing coconut water to a sports drink and they were equivalent in rehydrating and replacing electrolytes.  So that's good!  If you like coconut water it does appear to be a good choice for after exercise.
    • The potassium content is also a real benefit.  Potassium is known to decrease blood pressure, which may explain why people with higher intakes of potassium have a lower risk of stroke.  You can get potassium in many foods (potatoes, beans, avocados, bananas) as well, so no need to drink the coconut water just for that.  There's also magnesium in there, which is good for your heart. Unless you eat a lot of plants (fruits and veggies), you probably are not getting enough potassium or magnesium.

    Now whether it helps a hangover or does other things, I'm not sure.  There is nothing else in the medical literature that I could find.  This means that either the studies haven't been done yet or else the studies were done and either cannot get published (because they're not good studies or the results were lackluster) or the companies chose not to publish them because the results were not favorable for coconut water. 

    Bottom line...if you like coconut water, the potassium content is fantastic and good for you.  It still has calories from sugar, which is something to keep in mind.  I can find no evidence that it has any magical properties but will keep it on my radar in case new research becomes available.  If you don't like the taste, there's no reason to drink it.  Have a veggie stir fry instead. 
    Thanks to Maureen and Eleanor for the inspiration!