Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Stress No More

I was browsing through the www.TOPS.org website recently when I noticed they had stress balls for sale (I had never noticed that particular item before).  I suffer from repetitive strain in my right hand and although a wrist brace has done wonders for pain and mobility, I thought working a stress ball would help as well.  I thought the fruit inspired stress balls were cute and at only $2 each, a good buy as well.  Instead of just ordering one for me, I ordered the whole set of seven thinking that I could use them individually as small prizes for some of the contests we do in our group on a regular basis.  Stress balls are foam or gel-filled balls that provide some resistance to pressure – can reduce stress, with immediate benefits.   www.TOPS.org is an amazing resource tool for TOPS leader as far as meeting ideas and inspiration is concerned, and also a great site for members to check out regularly for new, updates and encouragement.

When my June 2013 issue of TOPS News arrived it included an article on using the stress balls for health.  The article is by Amy Goldwater, MS and contained some useful information, so I decided to use it as the topic for my meeting this week.

“According to traditional Chinese medical theory, a person’s fingers and hands are connected to all the vital organs of the body.  Strain from repetitive actions – particularly phone and computer use – can create muscular soreness and stiffness from the fingertips to the shoulders” read the first part of the article.  Tell me about it, I thought.

The article goes on to say, “Typing, test messaging, playing sports, and even cooking and driving can wreak havoc on the small muscles of your fingers, wrists and forearms.  Eventually, wear and tear may lead to more serious conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.  Stretching and exercises designed to strengthen these areas can help prevent injury and speed recovery when damage does occur.

Many doctors recommend the use of stress balls for more than just stress reduction.  They are also an excellent way to promote stronger wrists.”

I have heard of using stress balls and another foam tool (one that looks a lot like a pool noodle) to do stress free exercises to help thing like migraines, shoulder strain, back and hip problems and, leg issues.  Recently there was an author on “Breakfast Television” promoting her wellness book discussing this very thing.  I have been trying to come up with name of the book, without much success, but if I find it I will definitely mention it in a follow up post.

The article also quotes a July 2007 study in the Journal of Hand Therapy focused on using stress balls to combat symptoms of osteoarthritis.  The study noted an increase in grip strength and dexterity and also a decrease in pain, among those who used stress balls in physical therapy.

“As always”, the article noted, “be aware, be sensible and be careful!  Hand or wrist strain with swelling and inflammation, severely impaired basic function, or pain along the entire side of the body may be signs of serious medical conditions that require professional attention.  As with any exercise equipment, use stress balls in moderation.”

The article also suggested a meeting idea that sounded informative and fun at the same time.  It was a simple
game of toss using one of the stress balls (or a tennis call would do as well).  Members would toss the ball to each other and when someone dropped the ball they had to answer a healthy eating question.  And, WOW, they weren’t fooling around, some of the questions were tough … especially with the 10-second time limit imposed.  I threw in a couple of general trivia questions, just for fun and to catch people off guard.

Some examples of the TOPS suggestions were:
·         Name five green vegetables
·         Name five blue or purple fruits or vegetables
·         Name five benefits of exercise
·         Name four ways you can add more exercise to your day
·         Name four ways to get motivated
·         Name four ways to cut 100 calories
·         Name four things you can do to help a discouraged member feel better

Some of the general trivia questions I added (for fun) were along the lines of:
·         What did Kate and Will name their new baby
·         Name three current television reality shows
·         Who made the song “Danke Schoen” famous

I’m sure you get the idea.

We are not a large group to begin with and since it’s summer and some members are on holiday it was even smaller this week.  My group did really well with both the toss and catch (I think some of them definitely played softball in their youth) and with the questions (which was nice, since it meant they were actually listening at meetings and reading their own TOPS magazines).  By the end, the two remaining members were standing across the room from each other hurling the orange shaped stress ball through the air.

The winner was allowed to keep the stress ball as a prize.

If you organize any kind of meeting this was fun, and the idea could certainly be adapted to all kinds of meetings, not necessarily only weight loss groups.  I am keeping one of the stress balls at my desk at work ... who know when I might need to relieve a little stress, and squishing a foam apple is better than eating a chocolate bar!

Friday, 26 July 2013

Food Friday (Brown Bag It)

According to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietics lunch is the meal most likely to make or break healthy-eating habits.  Women who took the time to bring a wholesome lunch to work lost an average of five pounds more in a year than women who ate out (even just once) during the workweek.

Bottom line: Plan ahead!  Pack a lunch!  Ditch the pounds!

I admit that my lunching habits are not the best.  Since moving locations I do not physically leave the office for lunch and (thankfully) take out options are limited.  I have a kitchenette here and keep it fairly well stocked with healthy food choices.  But – oh boy – sometimes it is soooo boring!

I came across this at www.chatelaine.com/healthyonthego and it made my mouth water.  Salads are one of the things that I never bring from home.  I don’t like the mess and bother of bringing dressing and if I dress the salad beforehand it is nothing but a soggy swamp when I want to eat it.  I know there are all kinds of fancy bowls and things for salads to go, but quite frankly, they all seem like a lot of trouble.

This looks easy and yummy!

Balsamic Grilled Chicken Salad

Mix dressing: Whisk 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil with 1/4 cup orange juice, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp Dijon and 1/8 tsp salt.

Layer it with: Button mushrooms, quinoa, blanched asparagus, roast chicken, chopped tomatoes and chopped peppers. Top with m√Ęche or leaf lettuce. For a vegetarian option, use tofu instead of chicken.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Thursday's Random Thought (Working "Up" or Working "Off" an Appetite)

We've all heard someone say “I've really worked up an appetite today!” but did you realize that the opposite is actually more accurate?

A good workout can reduce hunger pangs and cravings.  A new study out of Brigham Young University proves that women who exercised for 45 minutes in the morning had little desire for food after the workout.  The findings indicate exercise might change how “reward” networks in the brain react to the sight of food. 

As an added bonus, not only did morning cardio reduce hunger and cravings, it also increased each woman’s activity levels throughout the day.

Morning?  Argggh!   Not being a highly effective morning person this is not good news for me.  But the conundrum is that maybe if I did work out in the morning I could be a better morning person.

I have also heard conflicting reports on working out in the mornings … so I am going to take this one as interesting information and work out according to my own preferences.


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

What's the Diff?

You would think that by this stage in my life I would be able to tell the difference between being really hungry and suffering from a craving … some days – yes, other days … definitely not.

Hunger is defined as “the physiological need for food”.

Appetite (craving) is defined as “the psychological desire for food”.

As with all things in life it’s the desire part that causes all the problems.  The smell of bread or sweet treats as you walk by your favourite bakery.  My undoing (unless I walk really, really fast), the smell from the Cinnabon® store at the mall.  You are in a social situation where food is abundantly available or an ad comes on the television for your favourite brand of _____________ (insert name of favourite snack).  Those are all examples of cravings – appetite caused by outside cues.  These can happen at any time, even if you have just finished a satisfying meal.  Hunger of the mind!

When you are hungry the signs are physical and do not need any outside stimuli.  Your stomach starts to growl, you may feel light-headed or slightly dizzy, some people feel weak or develop a headache.  Your body is telling you it needs nourishment.  This sensation will usually arise if you have not eaten for an extended period of time.  Hunger of the body!
For almost everyone, the difference between the two sensations is difficult to differentiate.  The simplest test is also the most obvious answer.  Wait it out.

Cravings will always disappear.  To eliminate cravings you need to distract your mind.  Go for a walk, pick up a book, or call a friend. 

Hunger will get worse.  Hunger originates in your stomach and then signals to the hypothalamus in your brain indicating that your body needs fuel.  The physical signs are the pangs, growls and hollow feeling.
A craving asks the question “what can I eat?”  For instance a craving for a chocolate chip cookie can definitely occur even though your stomach is full from the large salad you just consumed for lunch.  No one needs a chocolate chip cookie!  But cravings do not concern themselves with whether you are full or not, whether your jeans fits or not or, whether your calorie count if going off the charts.  A craving is about the immediate gratification that comes from salivating, tasting, chewing and swallowing.

Your environment often influences cravings; you indulge in a snack while shopping, you are having a coffee with a friend and splurge on a treat, popcorn at the movies or hot dogs and nachos at the
ballpark.  Cravings can come about from learned behaviour; to relax after work means a drink and snacks with friends, ice cream is the only cure for a broken heart.

Hunger asks the question “when can I eat?”  Hunger is your body telling you that you need nutrition and nourishment.  When the physical needs are met the hunger is satiated and the feeling goes away, allowing you to focus on other things.

According to Jennifer Elliot  (www.fitnessrepublic.com) “One of the easiest ways to distinguish between cravings and hunger is to take a moment to discern whether the need for food is general or specific in nature.  If the need for food is general in nature, such as you would eat anything so long as it is edible in order to satisfy your body’s need for nourishment, nutrition and energy, it is true hunger.  However, if you can pinpoint exactly what you want to eat, such as pizza or cake, or a specific taste such as salty or sweet then you are probably experiencing a craving.”

Sometimes the line between hunger and cravings is clear and other times it becomes extremely hazy.  If it is 6 p.m. and you are thinking about pizza for supper … it that a craving or is it hunger?  Are you hungry because your body needs nutrition or are you hungry because habit tells you that it’s dinnertime?  The bottom line – only you can truly tell the difference.  Listen to your body and think about some of the other indicators.

Some tips for the next time you have a case of the munchies, ask yourself the following questions:
1.      When was the last time I ate a meal?  If it was less than three hours ago you are probably not really hungry.
2.      Could a small, nutritious snack tide you over until your next meal?
3.      Can you drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes?

Then when you have had your meal, and you still want to reach for seconds, or into the freezer for the ice cream, or into the cupboard for a cookie, rate you hunger on the following scale:

0        -  Ravenously hungry
1        -  Hungry, tummy growling
2        -  Mildly hungry, a snack would tide you over
3        -  Satisfied, do not need to eat any more
4        -  More than satisfied, ate too much
5        -  Stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey

Sometimes an acknowledgement to our selves is all it takes to avoid the temptation of succumbing to a craving.

One of the best pieces of advice I came across in my reading up on this hunger/craving topic was the following:

“Don’t eat treats (i.e. chocolate) when you are hungry –
it conditions you to believe that only treats satisfy hunger”

Like most things when trying to start on a weight loss journey, or a healthy eating lifestyle, we have to unlearn bad behaviours and adopt good ones.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Food Friday (A-peeling Information)

Guess what?

A banana a day keeps the doctor away!

New research published in the British Medical Journal found increasing potassium intake by just three to four grams a day lowers the risk of stroke in adults by 2%.  It reduces blood pressure, a major factor in causing strokes, without negatively affecting lipids, hormone levels or kidney function.

Of course, it helps to cut back on the salt too!

The study’s health advice is something you've probably heard before:


Among the many fruits and vegetables that make excellent sources of potassium are tomatoes, bananas, sweet potatoes, oranges, beets, kiwis, squash, spinach, avocados and legumes, such as lentils and kidney beans.
(source: The Saturday Sun April 6, 2013)

And guess what else?

You can use strawberries for a whiter smile!  Once a week, mix 1 mashed strawberry with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, then brush!  The strawberry’s malic acid and the baking soda’s gentle abrasives will lift surface stains, turning your teeth several shades lighter.

Experts suggest that whiter teeth can make you look up to five years younger.
(source:  Woman;s World Magazine July 22, 2013)

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Thursday's Random Thought (Walk While You Work)

Have you ever “accidentally taken” a magazine from a waiting room? 

Come on, you can admit it.  I won’t tell anyone!

I hate to admit it but I did – just the other day.

I usually walk around with a book or my e-reader in my handbag, but on this day (of course) I did not have either with me.  I had occasion to be sitting in a waiting room and was thumbing through a magazine (Chatelaine April 2013).  As I came upon the article that was the inspiration for this blog entry I was called in to my appointment (of course).  I held the magazine in my hand as I walked into the office, sat down, rolled up the magazine and tucked it into my purse as if it were my own.  I would feel guilty but as it turns out I have a return appointment next Tuesday, so I am going to, just as surreptitiously, return the magazine to the waiting room. 

Hey, it’s better than tearing the pages out and leaving the rest of the magazine there.  I hate it when people do that because invariably the “continued on” pages of the article I’m reading was located on the opposite side of the page that has been torn out.

By now you are probably thinking to yourself, “Enough already.  What was the darn article about?”

It was titled “Walk While You Work” and it introduced the idea of ‘treadmill desks”.  The tag-line read, “Melt off that muffin top, add years to your life and clear out your inbox (without breaking a sweat!) on a treadmill desk – coming soon to an office near you”.    Honestly, it probably won’t be coming to an office near me anytime in the foreseeable future.  A.  My boss would never go for it and B.  I am just not coordinated enough to pull that off.

Researchers at Brigham Young University recently linked lack of exercise with poor work performance and lower productivity of up to 50 percent.  (Then again, maybe my boss would go for it if I showed him those stats?  Nah, I can’t even get him to invest in a new computer right now.)  Researchers also linked the health risks with our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, dubbing it “sitting disease”.  Inactivity stresses the heart, clouds critical thinking and messes with how our bodies process cholesterol, blood sugar and gats.  It can also lead to diabetes, cancer and premature death. 

The good news – a recent study found cutting the time spent sitting in half can increase life expectancy by two years!

The article goes on to say that 70 percent of us spend six or more hours a day in a chair.  Even weekly workouts are not enough to offset the damage due to too little movement.  Several studies show that something as simple as standing for two minutes every 20 minutes can fight the unhealthy effects of sitting.  If you take a walk break every 20 minutes, the results are immediate: blood pressure drops, blood sugar stabilizes and the enzyme that helps break up fat in your bloodstream fires up.  After two weeks you’ll even begin producing more brain cells, particularly those related to memory and learning.

Now I am the first to admit that I complain about never having enough time to do everything I have to do, much less carve out a little bit of time for things I want to do.  But, a treadmill at my desk … I don’t know? … I picture being all sweaty dealing with customers, being out of breath when I answer the phone, reaching for something and ending up flying off the back of the treadmill … all sorts of interesting pictures come to mind and none of them are too flattering.

Apparently the makers of these desk treadmills (www.lifespan.com $999) have factored in my “klutz factor”.  Unlike regular gym models, treadmill desks max out at just over 6.4 km per hour, so they can run all day without burning out their motors.  The suggested pace for walking and working at the same time is 1 mph (1.6 km).  This means, say the manufacturers, that we can “run” a slow moving marathon without even noticing we’re doing it.  Light cardio exercise boosts the production of feel-good chemicals and lowers levels of stress hormones.

The result?

The Mayo Clinic says we can burn 800 calories or more a day, which can translate to weight loss of 15 to 50 pounds in a year.  It may also eliminate that afternoon sugar craving.  A simple 15-minute stroll can cut chocolate cravings in half.  The article claims that because you are moving slowly, it does not interfere with daily tasks, like tapping out emails or talking on the phone.

Before I go on I need to address that last line with a bit of a personal note.  I have a treadmill at home and I do enjoy walking on it.  It’s down time – I do not have to think about anything or concentrate on anything except putting one foot in front of the other.  I prefer it to walking outside because it forces me to maintain a consistent pace (of my own choosing) and there are no obstacles to worry about (there’s that klutz factor rearing its ugly head again).  There are also no weather concerns (okay that’s a plus/minus point because it also means I can’t use ice and snow as an excuse not to walk).  I listen to music while I am on the treadmill.  I have mentioned before that I need that thump-thump-thump to keep my feet moving.  I cannot concentrate of listening to an audio book.  I cannot concentrate on a television program or a movie.  Granted I walk faster than 1 mph on my treadmill at home, but if I can’t even watch a television program how am I supposed to concentrate on work, or carry on an intelligent telephone conversation or type an email while I am walking on the treadmill? 

I’m not trying to be a Negative Nellie, but for me (and it is after all my blog) the treadmill desk would not work.  It’s an interesting idea and for some (more coordinated) folks it would definitely be an interesting idea for the workplace.

My other main concern?  In all the pictures I looked at in the magazine and on line the people walking/working has these wonderful, well-organized, tidy desktops and apparently no need, what-so-ever, for desk drawers and files.

Mine never looks like that while I am working.

If, like me, you are not going to have a treadmill desk delivered anytime soon there are a few other steps you can take to get in a little exercise and burn off a few calories while at work.
-         take the stairs instead of the elevator
-         stand up whenever possible, standing burns an extra 56 calories per hour
-         walking to a coworkers desk with communications instead of emailing them burns an extra 12 calories
-         if you must sit at your desk and/or in meetings for extended periods of time try to get up every 20 minutes or so and have a stretch or do a couple of squats

According to Chatelaine Magazine next year Lifespan plans to roll out a cycle chair.  It would definitely be a little more stable but for many of the same reasons I stated above, in my personal situation I don’t think this would work out any better than the treadmill desk.  Besides, with both the treadmill desk and the cycle chair I have these thoughts of two people (probably men – sorry!) deciding it would be fun to have a “race”.  Under no circumstance would that ever be a good idea in the office.

Remember a few years ago when fitness and health experts were suggesting a stability ball instead of a chair at your desk to help strengthen your core.  That was a non-intrusive addition to the work place.  However, maybe because in my line of work I have occasions throughout the course of the day where I deal with the public walking in, I could never get over the “dork” factor.  I envisioned all sorts of ugly scenarios if I tried to get up too quickly.

Yeah –
I think I will stick to doing my workouts in the privacy of my own home, while constantly
complaining about the lack of time to do them.
Of course!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Non-Scale Victories

Have I ever mentioned that I hate stepping on a scale?

When you are trying to lose weight the numbers on the scale tend to become the measure of success or failure.  Granted, it is a consistent – the scale is always there waiting for me to jump on it.  I don’t think it realizes how my feelings about it are very ambivalent.  Sometimes it is my friend and sometimes it is my worst enemy.

Before I go any further I just want to point out that getting on the scale daily is a routine some people find a good gauge of their progress.  Any more than once a day and you are setting yourself up for disappointment.  I know there are times when I want to jump on the scale every time I walk into the bathroom, or in the morning just to see if the number is significantly less than it was the night before.  Your weight can fluctuate significantly throughout the day due to any number of reasons.  Having a cup or two of coffee can make the scale go up as much as two pounds.  Your body’s natural cycles, lack of hydration, lack of sleep and so many more factors can cause a sudden jump in the numbers.  Restrict yourself to once a day, preferably at the same time every day, but personally, I think once a week is a more accurate way of weighing yourself.  Again, on the same day at about the same time is a good idea.  That’s where the TOPS meetings are such a good thing for me … same time, same place, same scale.

Yeah, that “same scale” thing is important too.  Getting on and off every scale you come across can make you just a little crazy too.  I know my scale at home, although it is consistent to itself, differs from the scale at TOPS by seven pounds.  So, if I weigh myself at home I have to add seven pounds onto the number to determine what the TOPS scale will say.  Needless to say, I like my scale better!

Belonging to TOPS, of course I cannot avoid the scale.  Once a week I have to face my enemy and step up.  Granted, the scale is one way to determine your progress or lack thereof.  But what happens when the scale stops moving or if the numbers start to creep in the wrong direction.  Truthfully … I tend to get mad at the scale.  Is that a sign of being just a little bit unhinged?  Maybe I shouldn’t admit that in public?  Or, and I hate even mention this or admit to it, but you can get that “what the heck am I torturing/depriving myself for when its not even working”.  That is the kind of thinking that leads to binges, which leads to apathy, which leads to emotional, feeling sorry for yourself eating which leads to weight gain which leads to the scale not moving at the next weigh-in, which leads to binges … well you get my point … it’s a vicious circle.  I’ve been there and it is a vicious circle I want to avoid!

If the numbers keep getting smaller we are happy and pat ourselves on the back for doing such a good
job of making choices.  If the scale stays the same week after week (the dreaded plateau!!!) or worse, if the numbers start to creep up again usually we know why.  I admit, I try to fool myself but usually I can account for it with some chocolate cake or a total lack of regard for portion control through the week. 

But what if you honestly cannot understand the reason for the non-movement.  If your choices were excellent, you worked out regularly and the damn number still doesn't change?

Be honest, have you really been as good as you think?

If the answer is yes, then it’s time to get motivation, confirmation and affirmation in other ways. 

Of course the most obvious way is to measure.  Make a chart, grab a tape measure and write those numbers down.  When you have been working out and eating properly sometimes your body just needs time to “readjust”.  You may be gaining muscle because of exercise.  That will cause the scale to stubbornly not budge, but will definitely cause the measurements to be smaller.  Set a day and time … again same day, same time and same tape measure can be very important.  And yes, I know that tape measures SHOULD all be the same, but trust me … they’re not.  Maybe I just got a dud but I was very shocked once until I compared the numbers on two different tape measures.  And use a flexible one – the one out of the toolbox won’t work.
So, those are what I’ll call tangible ways of judging your progress.  Ways that you can actually see and compare in the numbers on the scale or the tape measure.

But what about the less obvious signs that despite the number on the scale things are happening with your body … the less tangible signs that you are still on the right track.  Sometimes it takes an “AH-HA” moment to recognize them.  They are significant non-the-less. 

Getting dressed one morning you pull on a part of pants and notice that they are not quite as snug as
you remember them to be.  Really – is there any better feeling than that?  Or you do up your belt and notice that the buckle is going one notch further back.  That must make you smile.

The best one is when you all of sudden notice that its easier to put on your socks and tie you shoes.  One day instead of putting your foot up to accomplish those simple tasks you are bending over to do them … and you didn't even realize it!  That’s a time for the happy dance and a pat on the back.  I would go right into the bathroom and make a rude gesture at the scale!

Those are perfect examples of less obvious signs that you are doing something right!  They are a little less tangible than lower numbers but still pretty powerful in keeping you motivated to continue what you are doing.

And then there are the even less noticeable rewards of healthy eating and exercise.  The ones that truly sneak up on you without realizing:

  1. You've gone to a buffet dinner and without consciously thinking about it made good choices and
    avoided the dessert table.
  2. You were watching a movie and didn't indulge in any junk food AND you didn't really miss it.
  3. You were shaving your legs in the shower and surprisingly noticed a strange bump … your calf muscle when you flexed.
  4. It’s easier to walk up the stairs.
  5. You eat more vegetables and drink more water without thinking about it.
  6. Your rings fit looser.
  7. You feel the need to increase the reps or distance when you are exercising.
  8. You have more endurance.
  9. You wake up rested instead of still feeling tired.
  10. Your knees don’t hurt any more.
  11. You've lost most of your cravings for sweets.
  12. The seats in the movie theatre feel just a little less snug around your hips.
  13. You think nothing of walking to the corner store for the newspaper instead of hopping in the car.
  14. You reach for a bottle of water instead of pop without realizing it.
 And …

  1. When you are struggling with the scale and thinking that it’s all been a waste of time, is there any better feeling than having someone walk up to you and ask “wow, have you lost weight?”
 Besides …

  1. Think of all the money you’ll save on your water bill.  After all, when your clothes are smaller you can get that many more into the washing machine to make up one load.

If you have really hit a plateau, change up your eating and exercise habits.  Maybe your body is in a rut and needs a wake up call to get moving in the right direction again.  The scale is an excellent tool for tracking weight loss but if you can focus on non-scale victories (and you can no doubt think of many, many more that I haven’t even mentioned here) eventually that pesky scale will catch up to you. 

The scale likes to think it is the end all and be all of weight loss, but remember if its something as huge as walking 20 minutes longer on the treadmill, as rewarding as one notch tighter on your belt or as simple as one extra glass of water a day …


Friday, 12 July 2013

Food Friday (Cobb Salad)

I received my weekly email from www.kraftcanada.com yesterday and they had some recipes for Cobb salads highlighted.  With the weather being so warm these salads looked very appetizing and refreshing.  I didn’t have all the ingredients to make one for dinner last night, but I am off to the grocery store today and will definitely pick up what I need to make one tonight.  The tough decision is going to be which one to try first.

California Cobb Salad

8 cups torn Boston Lettuce
8 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed, blanched
½ lb. (225 g) cooked, cleaned medium shrimp
1 avocado, chopped
2/3 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
6 Tbsp. Refrigerated Pure Kraft Ranch Dressing

Cover the platter with lettuce

Top with the next 5 ingredients

Drizzle with dressing

Note: you should be able to get 8 cups torn lettuce from 1 head of Boston lettuce.

Serving size = 1 ¾ cups
Calories 190, Total Fat 13g, Sodium 270mg, Sugars 2g, Saturated fat 2g,
Carbohydrates 6g, Protein 14g.

Mexican Cobb Salad

8 cups torn romaine lettuce
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 large tomato, chopped
8 slices (80 g) reduced-sodium oven roasted turkey breast, coarsely chopped
1 can (19 fl oz./540 ml) black beans, rinsed
1 cup Kraft Tex Mex Light Shredded Cheese
½ cup red onions, chopped
½ cup Kraft Calorie-Wise Rancher’s Choice Dressing
½ cup salsa

Cover platter with lettuce

Top with next 6 ingredients

Mix dressing and salsa; drizzle over salad just before serving

For an extra special salad add chopped avocados and/or chopped cilantro

Serving size = 1 cup
Calories 110, Total fat 3.5g, Sodium 410mg, Sugars 3g, Saturated fat 1.5g, Carbohydrates 14g, Protein 7g


Thursday, 11 July 2013

Thursday's Random Thought (Designer Food)

Probably because I am trying to be focused on dieting and healthy eating any article promising to make the journey a little easier catches my attention.  Often the articles are a worthwhile read and sometimes they are just too interesting not to share.  When I saw that experiments were successfully being completed in the 3D printing of “designer food” I had to read the article.  It tickled my funny bone and my imagination so of course I had to share.  If nothing else, it certainly falls under the heading of “random thoughts”.

In 1970 Alvin Toffler wrote and published a book called “Future Shock”.  The premise of the book was basically “Too much change in too short a period of time”.  People of my mother’s generation, for instance, were more than likely born into households that did not have electricity and quite possibly no indoor plumbing (my mother was 1920’s rural, eastern European).  Not only did these people see running water, indoor plumbing and electricity introduced into their everyday lives, but also the mass production of automobiles, air travel and the moon landing.  That’s a lot for people to accept.  Mr. Toffler maintained in his book that the accelerated rate of technological and social change left people disconnected and suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation”.  He popularized the term “information overload”.

My mother is really the only meter I have to judge the premise, and looking back, the changes and innovations that took place during the 6+ decades of her life were truly astounding.
Although she readily embraced many modern conveniences she also rejected many because, I believe, she just couldn’t wrap her thought processes around them or the need for them.  She learned to drive when she was in her forties (so I know she embraced automobiles), she enjoyed television and movies and welcomed the convenience of keeping in touch by telephone so obviously she adapted well.  To the day she died she would not admit to believing that man walked on the moon.  Me? … I’m on the fence on that one.  Some of the smaller technologies, well, she steadfastly held on to her tried and true way of doing things. Although loath to admit it, looking back now, I think she was right in some instances.  I, more often than not, chop my veggies with a knife and cutting board because I KNOW it’s faster than hauling out the food processor and fiddling with the damn thing.  It’s also a much easier cleanup.  One cutting board plus one knife to be washed and I’m done – the food processor is a bitch to clean properly!  I do not own a bread maker.  I find it can be somehow therapeutic to knead the dough and shape it into loaves that smell heavenly when they are baking.  Admittedly, I do not make homemade bread on a regular basis (for those who do, no doubt the bread maker is a god-send) so at my house the bread is a “treat” and worth the extra effort.

When I look at the time frame of the original “Future Shock” theory it rather amuses me.  Mr. Toffler’s book discusses future shock in terms of “super-industrial” change that took place over the course of decades.  Decades!

Let me tell you I am in FUTURE SHOCK right now!  Never mind change over the course of decades … or even years.  Every time I look at a news article or magazine cover I see something that I can’t quite wrap my simple little mind around.  And, it seems to be on an almost daily basis.  Daily!

The first I heard about the concept of 3D printers was on “The Big Bang Theory” … it was amusing.

Then I saw an episode of “Law and Order” (or possibly “CSI”) in which someone printed a 3D gun … the thought was frightening!  But I made that annoying “pfffft” sound and went about my life thinking that 3D printers were well into the sci-fi future.

Pardon me while I take a little side path in my narrative here (I promise it will all make sense in a minute).

I do not generally read sci-fi but I am rather invested in the “In Death” series by J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts).  The books take place in the not too distant future and to Ms. Robb/Roberts’ credit she has come up with some believable yet futuristic inventions of the imagination; flying cars (which are now being developed … you can Google it), privacy screens, lots of fancy police investigation type stuff, really cool tech type stuff, household droids and my favorite – the “Autochef”.  Now the Autochef is an appliance that I imagine looks much like a microwave/convection oven that you can program for freshly prepared meals.  For instance, if I have a craving for pasta, one daughter has a craving for prime rib and one daughter has a craving for lobster tails (and mine most certainly would) I could just program each meal into the AutoChef and presto-chango out pops everyone’s meal, ready to eat.  I would not mind have one of those gadgets around the house.  But like the 3D printed gun I once again made that annoying “pfffft” noise and thought to myself “yeah, right, not in my life time”.

I really need to stop making that noise because the 3D printer is very much here, albeit probably out of normal household reach for most people $$-wise, and it does print plastic replicas of yourself like it did on Big Bang Theory – still amusing.  And it does print guns – still scary.  It also prints almost anything else that imagination can program into a computer.  Things like car parts, bicycles, a YouTube video claims it can print a house in 20 hours, prosthetic limbs (very cool!!), artificial body parts (made from live cells, very, very cool!!) and, are you ready for it? – Food.

The AutoChef has arrived!

Okay, I’m back on track now.

A company called Systems & Material Research Corporation has just been given a $125,000 grant from NASA to create a “universal food synthesizer” for the 3D printing of food.  NASA believes a machine like Anjan Contractor’s, a mechanical engineer, could help to feed astronauts on long space flights where traditional foods will not keep.  In the future, this machine may also allow restaurants and dieters to customize food to meet certain nutritional counts and taste preferences. (www.huffingtonpost.com) According to Huffington Post’s Bianca Bosker, instead of eating a quarter of a donut to cut calories, you instead might be able to buy a whole pastry from the corner deli, then watch the donut 3D printed before your eyes – with one quarter the calories and just he right amount of fiber to bring you up to your daily minimum.  Now you’ve got my attention!

Jeffrey Lipton is a doctorial student at Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab.  He heads the Fab@Home project and admits that at this time “the commercial technology lies in creating customized novelty food and, further down the line, quick meals tailored to nutritional needs”.  Lipton goes on to state “I think the appeal will be, ‘Can I automate my dinner at home?  Can I make a birthday cake with a name written across ever slice on the inside?”

“Novelty foods will be where food printing starts”.  With the help of Chef David Arnold of the French Culinary Institute Lipton and his colleagues at Cornell have experimented with printing food.  So far, their project included a cookie with the Cornell ‘C’ embedded within it and sea scallops shaped like the space shuttle. (www.newsdaily.com)

The lab succeeded in printing what Lipton calls “data driven cookies”, He and his colleague,
Hod Lipson (those two names in the same lab must make for some interesting conversations) each compiled information about their height, weight, body mass index, daily schedule and caloric deficit for the day, then used 3D printers to print two cookies that each accounted for 10 percent of their respective caloric deficits.

“They are both the same size cookies,” explained Lipton, “but composed of different ingredients based on our nutritional requirements.”

Nutritionally correct designer food!

In the future, Lipton hopes this technology can make meals healthier while also keeping them simple.  “The basic issue is enforcement of diet.  Somewhere between picking up the kids at school and running around, your diet plan goes from making dinner at home to ‘let’s get McDonald’s’” Lipton envisions a system that uses 3D printing to quickly produce meals based on data that describes someone’s daily activity, diet, metabolic requirements, medical conditions, etc.  “Everything could be used to tweak the meal to be a little better.”

To date four large food companies are experimenting with 3D printed food to develop new edibles.  The future of this technology will definitely be geared towards people with strict dietary regimes such as weight loss, pregnancy or the elderly. 

There are a few drawbacks to printing food.  The printing process works by building the food from the ground up, layer by layer.  This means that the printer is limited to using products that can be squeezed out through a syringe.  The work focuses on developing flavors and textures that work in the printer.  “Anything can taste like anything”.  Build a nutritionally correct and healthy cheeseburger and it may not be ground beef, cheese and bread that you are actually getting.  The mind boggles as to what it may actually contain?

Since NASA is funding a not insignificant part of the research they are looking for food that
will withstand the rigors of long-term space travel.  This means food has to have an expiration date far, far, far into the future.  This results in some creativity in developing those tastes and textures Lipton was talking about.  Could astronauts on future trips watch a pizza being printed for their dinner?  Quite possibly, if they did not mind the “protein layer” (the cheese) being derived from some form of ground up and manipulated insects.

At this point in time Lipton admits, “It will be a long time before it is refined for wider consumption.”

Of course, the food out of the printer is not cooked in any way – you still have to take care of that part of it yourself.  It’s a pretty intriguing concept for meal preparation, alas, it’s not quite the AutoChef I was so excited about. 

Friday, 5 July 2013

Food Friday (Honeydew Smoothie)

Cool refreshing drinks and staying on a healthy eating plan do not always go hand in hand.  But I believe that one should not deny oneself the simple pleasures.  When I came across this recipe in Woman’s World (I think I owe them a nod since I bashed their covers so badly in a previous post) I knew I had to try it.

Honeydew melons are available throughout the whole year, but we all know that sometimes when you buy them “off season” they can be just a piece of green, fleshy fruit without a lot of flavour.  Honeydew can be the sweetest of all the melons and honeydew is at its peak in July (as are most melons).

Honeydew (and most melons) is a good source of vitamins, a delicious treat and great for calorie counting because they are naturally sweet and have very high water content.  I generally like the satisfaction and gratification of chewing my calories, but I also like a smooth, creamy treat every once in a while.  This Honeydew smoothie recipe seems to hit the mark on all counts.

Honeydew Smoothie

2 cups of melon, rind and seeds removed
1 mint leaf, torn
½ cup vanilla yogurt
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup ice

Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until frothy.

A handy honeydew tip:
To pick the sweetest specimen, look for a golden rind with freckles – that’s a sign of the sugar coming through.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Thursday's Random Thought (Multi-tasking)

Has multi-tasking always been a part of our lives?  It seems to me that the more “conveniences” we have the more we try to accomplish all at one time.  I can remember my mother having certain days to complete certain tasks.  Laundry was done on Thursdays … no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  There was no “throwing a pair of jeans in the washer” because you wanted to wear them the next day, mostly because we had a wringer washer and a clothesline instead of a dryer.  (Boy I am dating myself here)  Groceries were done on Fridays and baking was done on Saturdays … I’m sure you get the picture.  And, my mother was a working mom.

I know that my lunch hours at work are often not so much about getting a real lunch as they are about getting a few errands done … a trip to library to pick up a book, or running into the bank.  I have often resorted to eating lunch in the car on the way back to the office.  Not only is this a dangerous driving habit, but as it turns out, it is a dangerous eating habit too.

A recent study at Cornell University suggest that women who stop puttering and truly focus on what they’re eating – even if they down their meal in only five minutes – cut their calorie intake by 22%.  

Concentrating on the taste and texture of food helps your brain’s satiety center closely monitor how full you are getting, so it send “STOP EATING” signals sooner.