Healthy Living

On Patience

How're those resolutions coming along?

My Take: Halloween

halloween witch

So as most of you are painfully aware, Halloween is coming up on Saturday.  I'm getting inundated with healthful tips from all sides - from my trainer on Facebook (who calls for an all-out boycott of the candy-fest), to e-newsletters about weight loss and maintenance (filling us in on the caloric horrors that await us at every turn), to posts on enviro-blogs (suggesting ways to "green" up the holiday).  That's not to mention the kid-generated hysteria that's swirling around.

Another mom asked me this week what "I was going to do about Halloween," and I realized that she probably thought that I was going to come up with some creative ideas for her about how to deal with all the candy and unhealthiness of the whole deal.  I'm sure I disappointed her.  I'll tell you what I told her.  This Halloween will be no different than any other:  I'm going to seek to studiously avoid emptying the candy bucket while we allow L. to trick-or-treat her heart out and to eat too much candy that night, and maybe the next day, too. 

No, I'm not handing out stickers, or popcorn, or organic or natural anything.  Our candy is going to be artificially colored and flavored.  Can you believe it?

It's really not so odd, and there is a method to my madness.  Despite the healthy recipes I put up here, and my commitment to cooking and eating whole foods and to exercising my body every day, I also preach moderation.  And that means that a few times a year, we go hog-wild and eat whatever the heck we want, and we enjoy it, darn-it!

This is the tack I take with my kid, and it's a good rule for all of us - candy and other junk foods are "sometimes" foods - they are not "grow foods," in that they have no nutritional value.  But they are tasty, and they are fun, and they are definitely OK to incorporate in small amounts into your diet.  I allow her treats and the occasional odd-request to have Ritz crackers or Cheez-Its for breakfast.  I haven't put a lot of limits on food, in the hope that she would start to be able to moderate and to make her own, wise choices about what she eats.  Just like we grownups should do, right?  She is, after all, an adult-in-training.

So what we're left with is a kid who sometimes has a peppermint candy before dinner . . . but NOT with a kid who obsesses about candy and junk, the way I did when I was a kid.  My parents were very strict about junk food and empty calories, and woo-hoo!  When I got out of that house, whoa-Nelly, there wasn't a box of Cap'n Crunch (with Crunchberries, thankyouverymuch) left on the shelves of my local market.  Even now, when I get to eating bite-sized candies or something, I have to do a lot of self-talk to quit feeling like they're a once-in-a-lifetime indulgence (it goes like this "you know, you can go up the street and buy a candy bar any day of the week!").  Seriously - it borders on ridiculous.

All this business of cancelled bake sales and banning Halloween candy is not teaching our kids to moderate themselves and to make good choices down the road.  Instead, it's turning candy and treats into the ultimate forbidden fruit . . . and we all know how that goes down in the end.  We need to educate kids as to why it's not great to fill up on junk, about what it does to a body and a mind, and then once they're equipped, hope that they make good choices for themselves when we're not around to help out.  Just like crossing the street.

So how 'bout you?  What are you going to "do about" Halloween?  Do you indulge?  Abstain?  What are your favorite treats?  Are there some homemade goodies you'd like to tell us about?  Not me - mine all come plastic-wrapped with pre-printed labels.  I'm a sucker for mini Butterfinger, Snickers and Three Musketeers, I can hardly ever turn down a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup . . . .

More Good-For-You Greens: Kale

purple kale

This short but pointed post about the nutritional benefits of kale on Andy Bellatti's blog "Small Bites" was perfectly timed - that night we were scheduled to eat one of my all-time favorite quick-n-easy kale recipes - chicken sausage with bulgur and kale.  This recipe is a pain-free way to introduce this nutrient powerhouse into your diet:  It's a pretty, nutritious, one-dish meal you can serve your family in 30 minutes or fewer - what's not to love??

Sausage With Bulgur and Kale

1 (12 oz.) Package fully cooked chicken sausage with roasted red pepper (I use Hans' from Whole Foods), each sausage halved lengthwise, then sliced into 1-inch thick slices
1 Bunch kale - any type (purple looks pretty) - coarsely chopped
1 t. Bottled crushed garlic (or 3-4 cloves of minced garlic)
14.5 oz. Low-sodium chicken broth (one can, or if you're trying to avoid BPA, use broth packed in aseptic packs)
1 c. Bulgur
1/2 t. Kosher salt
1/2 t. Freshly ground black pepper
1 Pint grape tomatoes, halved
2 T. Grated Romano cheese

 

Spray a large skillet with cooking spray and set over high heat.  Add the sausage and brown, stirring frequently.  Transfer to a plate.  Reduce the heat and add the kale and garlic to the skillet and cook, tossing frequently, until the kale is wilted (see note below).  Stir in the broth, bulgur and sausage - your liquid will not cover the mixture entirely - don't panic!  Cover and bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat and let the mixture stand, covered, until the liquid is absorbed and the bulgur is tender, about 5 minutes more.  Fluff the mixture with a fork, stir in the tomatoes and cheese, and serve!  Serves 4. 

A couple of notes.  If you haven't cooked kale or any other sturdy leavy green before, you need to know it's bulky.  You will probably have to add 1/2 the kale to the skillet and toss it around (tongs are a great tool for this) until it wilts a bit, then add more, wilt, etc., 'til you can get it all in the pan.  It's always stunning to see how much it reduces in volume.

Next - this is the second recipe I've posted with bulgur as an ingredient, and I'm thinking now that many of you might not be familiar with this nutritious and versatile grain.  I grew up eating bulgur.  Mostly, I think, because I'm part Lebanese.   But as you can see, bulgur doesn't need to be limited to Middle-Eastern cooking.  It's got much more bang-for-the-buck nutritionally than rice or couscous, and it's just as easy to prepare.  For more about bulgur, click here, here and also here.

Kale on Foodista

Guest Post: Finding Joy In Jill

Today I'm proud to announce my first guest blogger, Jill Feldman.  Jill's going to tell us about a passion of hers, Nia - a workout, lifestyle and personal growth program all rolled into one. Many, including Jill, have found that Nia's a fabulous way to condition, heal and transform the body, mind and spirit.

Maybe Jill will inspire you to try Nia?  It can be incredibly refreshing for your body and your mind to take up a new form of exercise after many years of doing the same ol' thing.  I'm going to try it out and I'll keep you posted - Jill is going to lead me in a special Nia session adapted to my current zero weight-bearing exercise restrictions . . . yes, you can even do Nia in a chair! 

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Jill Nia 3

I love to exercise.  All my life I have struggled with my weight and my health (I am a young breast cancer survivor and suffer other chronic health conditions), but exercise has never been my problem.   When someone (like Oprah!) complains that she hates to exercise, I have two responses.  First, she must not have enough time.  I can relate!  There have been many times in my life when healthy living has taken a back seat.  (When I was working full-time, studying for the Bar exam, and planning a wedding--all at the same time--finding time to exercise was a problem.)  My other response, though, is that she must not have found the right type of exercise.  It is my belief that there is a type of exercise for everyone, and once it is discovered, making time is no longer a problem.  For me, it is Nia.    

I came to Nia by accident.  A few years ago, I walked into a studio close to my new home looking for a yoga class and picked up a flyer on Nia.  The class time worked for me and it sounded fun, so I decided to give it a try.  After one class, I was hooked!  I had spent my whole life exercising--walking, tennis, yoga, aerobics, machines, running, weights--you name it, but I had never experienced the click with my body that I felt in my first Nia class.

Nia is a form of creative movement that was developed 26 years ago in Portland, Oregon by Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas.  Set to music, a Nia routine combines the energies of 9 different movement forms—3 from dance, 3 from martial arts, and 3 from healing arts.  Depending on a particular song or routine, Nia can look more like any one of these types of movement—jazz, yoga, tai chi, tae kwon do, etc.  Experience in any one of these areas is not necessary.  All that is required is the ability to move the body in the smallest of ways and the desire to have fun.  Nia can be done with a variety of limitations (it has even been adapted to sitting in wheelchairs) and at all fitness levels. 

 A typical Nia class is an hour in length and includes a slow moving warm-up and a cool down on the floor.  Every class begins with a focus, which varies from class to class.  Approximately 80-90% of a class is choreographed, with the remainder comprised of free movement.  In class, students are asked to become their own personal trainer, to work at their own level in a way that feels good in their body.   Awareness of the body and how it feels on any given day is key.  Nia students achieve a fitness result by seeking the sensation of pleasure, not pain.  The movements can be heart-soaring and large or small and deliberate--either is perfect.  As the Nia motto says, “Through movement we find health.”

Meeting my body where it is on any given day has rewarded me with new levels of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-healing.  After two and a half years of practicing Nia, my fitness level has sky-rocketed, and the shape of my body has dramatically changed.  Nia inspires me to move almost every day--whether I am taking a class or not,  whether I feel well or not, and whether I actually have the time to or not.  The result is improved health, less pain, better balance and posture, and the ability to truly enjoy living in my body.  Joy!

At the end of June 2009, I took my first level of intensive Nia training and became certified to teach.  As a Nia teacher, I share with my students all that I have learned on this journey to health:  the body holds within it an enormous capacity for pleasure that is available to tap into every day, and there is always time in life for having fun and choosing joy.

Jill teaches a Nia class every Friday morning from 9:30-10:30 at Moving Celebrations in Somerville, MA.  She also teaches some Sunday afternoons at MC from 4-5, including this Sunday, October 18!  For more information, email Jill at jill_feldman2002@yahoo.com or visit www.movingcelebrations.com.  If you are interested in finding a Nia class in the MA/RI/NH area, visit www.niaboston.com.  To learn more about Nia, visit www.nianow.com.

Quick 'n' Easy Ways to Upgrade Your Diet

slice kiwis on white resized 

Since I started Semi-Sweet, people have asked me "do you really eat like that all the time?"  "How on earth do you manage to avoid junk?"  The answers are "no" and "I don't!"  I'm just like you, people.  Have you not seen the Cheeto banner that comes up sometimes when you visit the site?  I like junk food just as much as the next gal - it tastes good, right?  Why wouldn't it?  It's filled with salt and sugar and fat - all those ingredients make food tasty.  But here's my "secret," I limit the quantity I eat.  I practice little healthy habits that overall lead to a far healthier diet than the average American.  If you're looking for specifics, I'd say I eat crap once a week, usually on the weekend.  I swear to you, if you start, slowly even, to incorporate more healthful, whole foods into your diet, you will notice a difference in the way your body feels.  You will certainly be doing yourself a favor in the long run. 

But for right now, say you're not committed like I am to this whole foods lifestyle.  Maybe you don't like to cook so much.  Yet you still want to amp up your nutrition and clean up your act in small ways?  Here are some easy tips - try one a day if you can:

  • Brew a pitcher of green tea and put it on ice for the week.  You've heard the buzz about how good green tea can be for you - its catechins are purported to fight off some cancers and to speed up metabolism (although, I should be a skinny b*&tch for all the green tea I drink - so I'm not sure of this one).
  • Buy some pre-shredded cabbage slaw mix and whip up a mayo-less slaw.  Try my Asian Slaw, or one of the Cabbage recipes I posted earlier in the week.  Research has linked a cabbage-rich diet (also other veggies in the brassica family like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards and kale) to a lower risk of breast and other cancers.
  • Try starting your meal with soup, or an apple.  Researchers have shown that if you start out with a low-cal soup or an apple, you will feel fuller so you consume fewer calories.  There are some nice veggie soups that are sold in aseptic packs - practice BPA-avoidance when you can.  And I often eat an apple while I'm making dinner so I don't "pre-eat" all the other stuff while I'm cooking. 
  • If you're having trouble getting enough veggies into your diet, try drinking low-sodium vegetable juice.  I don't usually endorse juice as a fruit or vegetable replacement (and I don't drink it myself) because you don't get all the good fiber you would from eating whole food, but desperate times, people . . . . V-8 could be your ticket to 5-a-day.
  • Serve fruits for dessert.  They're sweet, vitamin-rich and fiber-full.  Once you start eating fewer Oreos and other processed sugary-stuff, you really will taste the sweetness in fruits.  Trust me on this.
  • Steer clear of candy with dried fruit.  While dried fruit does have a lot of calories and sugar, it does at least have some food value and fiber.
  • When you eat grains (breads, cereals, pastas), make them whole grains - a recent study reported that people who consumed whole grains, and bran in particular, as part of their regular diet were significantly less likely to develop hypertension.

Go easy on yourself.  It takes a while to establish new habits.  A few weeks - 21 days.  Can you commit to trying some new things for 3 weeks?  We all know how quickly that time can fly by .  . . remember, you don't have to cut junk out of your life wholesale, just make some incremental changes, and see if you don't feel better. 

Hotlinks

sausage links full size 

This first link is not, of course, directly related to food and/or toxins, but instead it focuses on another part of healthy living:  living out your dreams.  This post on achieving your dreams is from the Crazy Sexy Life site, created by Kris Carr, who as some of your know, was the subject of the powerful and inspiring documentary called Crazy Sexy Cancer.  But this post isn't just for people living with cancer, it's for anyone who might need a little push to remember what s/he would love to do, and who needs a little nudge to start doing it.

Here's a good little primer on Omega 3's from Dani Spies - you hear a lot about them, but do you get enough of them?  I have taken Omega 3 supplements for years, but also try to work in food sources as often as possible.  One other thing you should look for in a supplement is one that has been "molecularly distilled" - meaning that it's been purified so that it contains no heavy metals . . . . would be kinda a bummer to be taking those with breakfast, no?

NYC has banned bake sales in the city's schools - making their food policies some of the strictest in the country.  One "expert" supporting the decision says that kids don't need "an extra source of pointless calories."  Now folks, you know I'm all about healthful eating, but what about the pleasure of eating?  OK with me to take Doritos and soda out of the schools (Ring Dings too) but what the heck is wrong with a little real butter, sugar and/or chocolate once in a while?  This is an awfully utilitarian approach to eating.

Dannon lost a lawsuit filed against it for its claims that Activia yogurt boosts immunity (here's Tara Parker-Pope's ditty on probiotics from the Times) . . . what about other health claims?  Marion Nestle says NO food should carry a health claim, that foods are not drugs.  The European Food Safety Authority recently reviewed a ton of food health claims and found many of them unsubstantiated. 

Six reasons why we're not eating enough fruits and veggies, and some quick tips for how to get more on to your daily plate.

You may have not heard the news yet - after almost 70 years, Gourmet Magazine is folding.  Shocking.  Peter Davis (Henrietta's Table) & Ana Sortun (Oleana & Sofra) remember Gourmet.   Will all cooking pubs go the way of the Internet and t.v.?  I will miss waiting for those glossies to show up every month - sometimes that's all the "reading" I'm up for in a given week, and I can't bear to add to my "must-see t.v." list - the DVR is already packed.

Oooh oooh!  Anna Romagnoli (daughter of the couple that did the Romagnoli's Table t.v. show and were also restaurateurs) is opening an Italian specialties place on Mt. Auburn St. in Coolidge Square in Watertown - practically around the corner from me.  I'll report here once I've checked it out. 

A nice post on how to eat well when you're on the go, from the Healthy Child, Healthy World blog.  My favorite tip is at the end - preparation is key.  Sometimes, yes, you get caught up short and you have to hit a drive-through, but if you can, plan.  Nuts, cereal, cheese sticks, even sandwiches wrapped in re-sealable foil (or better yet, a re-usable container) can get you through a hypoglycemic meltdown . . . just ask L., queen of the backseat PB&J.

And last, but not least, Tara Parker-Pope again on the top 10 food poisoning risks. . . lots of my favs in there!

The Buzz on EMFs

electromagnetic field tester full size

Last week I posted about cell phone radiation, and one of you asked – “should I be worried about electromagnetic fields in general?” In short, yes. But this, my friends, falls into the category of things I think we might need to live with and watch, because short of moving to the boonies and disconnecting ourselves from much of the technology on which we’ve come to rely, there isn’t any great way of completely avoiding EMFs. Read on and decide how hypochondriacal and OCD you’re willing to get over this one . . . . 

So what exactly are electromagnetic fields, anyway? Everyone, every day, is exposed to a complex mix of weak electric and magnetic fields – they’re created whenever electricity flows through a conductor. These fields exist near power lines, in the wiring in your home, and near and in any electrical appliance or device. EMF exposure has been rumored to cause brain tumors, leukemia, birth defects, miscarriages, chronic fatigue, headaches, cataracts, heart problems, stress, nausea, chest pain, forgetfulness, cancer and a host of other health problems.

Numerous studies have produced contradictory results, but some experts are convinced the threat is real. For instance, Dr. David Carpenter, Dean at the School of Public Health, State University of New York believes it is likely that up to 30% of all childhood cancers come from exposure to EMFs. The U.S. EPA warns that “There is reason for concern” and advises “prudent avoidance.” Martin Halper, the EPA’s Director of Analysis and Support says “I have never seen a set of epidemiological studies that remotely approached the weight of evidence that we’re seeing with EMFs. Clearly there is something here.”

Magnetic fields are measured in milligauss (mG), and your exposure to them increases with your proximity to their source. The EPA safety standard for EMF exposure is rated at no more than 1 mG. According to the EPA, anything that emits an EMF higher than that is considered potentially unsafe. This, however, is also a point of debate.  Some organizations rate the safe limit no higher than 0.5 mG, while others believe that anything under 3 mG is safe.  How easy is it to be exposed at over 1 mG?  Pretty darn easy, but remember, the longer you're exposed, the worse it is.  If you’re standing 4 feet from your microwave while it’s on, you’re getting between 3 and 8 milligauss. At 12 inches, it’s up to 80. And if you’re standing only 1.2 inches from your microwave (which, if you’re me, is entirely possible since it’s mounted above my cook-top), it’s nuking you with up to 2,000 milligauss. For comparison’s sake, here are the 1.2 inch exposures of other household appliances: washing machine: 400; electric range: 2,000; T.V.: 500; and hair dryer: up to 20,000. Perhaps there’s reason to consider a wash ‘n’ wear ‘do?   Seriously, though - while you're probably not standing in close range of your microwave or hairdryer for long periods of time, the worry lately is about our cumulative exposure to EMFs - their sources have proliferated at an alarming rate over the last 10 years, such that it's nearly impossible not to be exposed via multiple sources every day. 

So, by now you’re starting to freak out, right? You want to know – how the heck can I reduce my EMF exposure? The simplest way to limit your exposure to high EMF levels is to practice energy conservation techniques, such as unplugging electrical appliances that are not in use. And remember, your exposure increases as you spend more time in the EMF – so sleeping near appliances isn't recommended. Here is a laundry-list of ideas of ways to reduce your exposure that I’ve collected from various sources.

  • Use a wired network instead of a Wi-Fi or wireless network.
  • Try to arrange your appliances, TVs and computers against outside walls so the electromagnetic field they produce doesn’t bleed into an adjoining room.
  • Use wired speakers and other electronic components instead of wireless.
  • When considering an alarm system for your home, opt for a wired system instead of a wireless system.
  • When using the computer, try not to hold onto the mouse and learn keyboard strokes to replace mouse functions.
  • Try to locate the computer tower, printer and wiring away from where you sit.
  • Opt for LCD Flat Screen computer monitors.
  • Avoid placing a laptop computer on your lap when you are using it.
  • Store your cell phone in a case or backpack or purse where it won’t be right next to your body. When sleeping, keep your mobile phone at least 5 feet away from your bed.
  • Place your electric alarm clock at least 5 feet away from your bed.
  • Electric appliances and devices are surrounded by electric fields even when not turned on, so unplug these at night if they are in close proximity to your bed.
  • Instead of fluorescent bulbs, use incandescent or full spectrum bulbs.
  • As we discussed last week, if you use a cell phone, use the speakerphone when possible. Don’t use a Bluetooth headset that sits right against your skull – opt for a wired hands-free device.
  • Avoid using waterbeds that need electric heaters.
  • Find alternatives to electric blankets.
  • Substitute a hot water bottle for a heating pad.
  • Washing machines, clothes dryers, and dishwashers have large EMFs, especially when high efficiency. If someone is sleeping with the head of the bed on the wall behind these machines, don’t operate the machine when s/he is sleeping.
  • The larger the television screen, the stronger and larger the EMF. So sit far back when viewing and again, don’t operate it if someone is sleeping directly behind the television wall.
  • When using appliances, try to stand 2 to 3 feet back. For instance, when cooking on an electric stove (use back burners more often) or using your microwave.
  • Remember that children are more susceptible to EMFs than adults.  A one-year-old child can absorb almost twice as much radiation per kilo as an adult. Try to teach EMF-minimizing practices to your children while they are young so that it becomes part of their lifestyle.
  • Don’t use a cell phone or cordless phone while holding a child.
  • Limit the time your children spend in front of the television, computer or Playstation – remember, the amount of your exposure depends on the time you spend in the field. When your kids do these activities, get them to take regular breaks.
  • Place your baby monitor away from the crib if you can: most baby monitors use digital wireless technology and the EMFs that they produce can be more powerful than living near a cell phone tower.

Want to geek-out and test the EMFs around your home? You’ll need an EMF detector, otherwise known as a Gauss meter. Gauss meters vary widely in price and accuracy. Meters have either a single axis coil or a triple axis coil. Single axis meters are much simpler to manufacture  than triple axis meters and are less expensive. To use a single axis meter you must point the meter’s one sensor in each of three directions - the x-, y- and z-axis. Then, you combine the three readings using a mathematical equation to calculate the combined field strength. It’s far easier and more accurate to use a 3-axis meter. Triple axis Gauss meters are quite accurate, but they are also more expensive.  Another thing to watch out for when purchasing a Gauss meter is whether or not it is “frequency weighted.” Most meters will read the same EMF strength no mater what the frequency. Because the human body appears to be sensitive to both the field strength and the frequency, Gauss meters used for biological purposes should be “frequency weighted.”

What’s my takeaway from all this? As with anything, I’ll take steps to do what I can to minimize our exposure to EMFs. I might get L. a battery-powered alarm clock (D. and I have these already – we just use our travel alarm clocks). I’ll take better care not to stand in front of the microwave. I won’t work with my laptop on my lap anymore. But am I giving up my hair-dryer? Heck no. Will I get rid of our at-home wireless network? Most likely not.  Am I going to move to the middle of Montana and live in a refurbished Airstream trailer? Give up my beloved iPhone?  I’d rather shoot myself.  Remember, above all, it's important to balance healthy habits with quality of life considerations.

Share with the group! Let us know what, if anything, you’re going to do about your EMF exposure.

The Hammer's Coming Down

hammer and strawberry full sized

Remember how I mentioned "the boot" on Monday?  And how I haven't been exercising much?  Well, I've got a confession to make - I got on the scale yesterday and the picture's not pretty.  All this not moving has caused weight gain I'm not comfortable with.  Sure, I expect that I'll spread out at a time like this - I can't do the gagillion squats and lunges I depend on to keep things in check - but now I know I've also been too lax in the eating department.

So, the hammer's coming down.  Back to 1,200 calories.  Back to logging everything that goes in my mouth.  Back to rules and goals - if I can't log it, I can't eat it, and if I make my first goal, I'm treating myself to a massage.  Those who know me know I treat myself pretty well - but a massage is a true indulgence for me.  It's definitely something to look forward to if I can reign it in a little bit here for the next month.  And that's how I go about this, and you might want to, too.  Small, intermediate goals help you feel the sense of achievement you need to stay on track.  Sure, you might want to change your life radically in some way, maybe it's weight-loss, but if you set a huge goal for yourself it just might be too overwhelming to deal with after a week.  I'm all about baby steps - now literally and figuratively (groan).

But another confession, I've been enjoying eating anything I want.  I've been conscious of moderation, but I've definitely been eating more calorie-dense foods.  I like the variety of foods that being more relaxed has allowed me to eat.  So my other goal for this time is to come up with some yummy new ideas for snacks and meals that will still fit into my calorie budget.  Add to that the easy-prep angle, and I've got a challenge.  But lucky for all of us, I love a challenge! 

Today I hit TJ's again, and I just whipped up a little snack that is so good, I had to share:

1/2 Trader Joe's Whole Wheat British Muffin
1 T. Trader Joe's Chipotle Pepper Hummus
Bunch of Trader Joe's organic pea shoots
 

Toast the muffin half, spread with the hummus, and then top with some pea shoots.  The hummus is slightly smoky and a little spicy and the shoots are sweet and crisp.  The combination of the soft toasted muffin and the toppings is quite satisfying, and you'll clock in at just under 100 calories, 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein.  If you're like me and can't give up carbs completely, then this is a good little carb fix.

Another great snack that I have gone back to is an idea I got from an old issue of Clean Eating Magazine.

1/2 c. low-fat cottage cheese
1 T. unsweetened apple butter
1 t. roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds
 

Stir the apple butter into the cottage cheese and sprinkle the sunflower seeds on top . . . a little sweet, a little crunchy, and with this one, you'll come in at just under 150 calories and 13 grams of protein.

Need something that's portable?  Don't want a bar?  Trader Joe's makes organic light string cheese.  Now I know, string cheese doesn't taste all that great, but it's easily portable and portion-controlled.  Really, the cheeses I love are all too high in fat and calories for me to eat regularly when I'm dieting.  So instead, pair a light cheese stick with a medium apple and throw it in your bag/briefcase and you're sure to have a healthy snack when mid-morning hunger pangs strike.  This run will run approximately 140  calories, with 4 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein.

There're always nuts - a handful of almonds or walnuts are easy to put in a little container to take with you.  I never quite find that satisfying enough, though - and you do have to be very careful with nuts.  They're super nutritious, but they're also calorie-dense and small . . . the risk, for me anyway, of over-indulging here is higher than with other foods.

I'll keep you posted, and I'll keep posting new ideas for easy and low-calorie menu ideas.  And please, if you have ideas, post them in the comments.

I know that January is the most popular time for weight-loss resolutions, but I never make them then.  For me, fall is a time of change and new beginnings - guess that's the kid in me.  Are there any changes you want to make this September?  Think of how ahead of the curve you'll be come January!

Mobile Mania

smartphone editorial image full size

Cell phone safety is all over the news in the last few weeks.  It began after a group called the International EMF Collaborative issued a report warning that cell phones may be more dangerous than users have been led to believe by health authorities.  Last week, the Environmental Working Group released their online guide to cellphone radiation.  And yesterday, Pennsylvania senator and brain cancer survivor Arlen Specter held a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing to focus on whether cellular phone use causes health problems. At the same time and also in the nation’s capital, attendees at an international conference examined the potential cancer risks of radiation generated by cell phones. 

What is going on?  The EMF Collaborative report, titled “Cellphones and Brain Tumors: 15 Reasons for Concern,” says the latest research indicates that regular use of cell phones can result in a “significant” risk of brain tumors.  It also says kids are at greater risk than adults because their still-developing brain cells are more vulnerable to electromagnetic radiation.  This study adds to the mounting evidence which indicates we should reduce our exposures while research continues on this question.  Consider this:  Americans’ use of cell phones increased 50% last year - fueled in large part by the "smartphone" craze.  If cell phone radiation is indeed a problem, it’s going to be a really huge problem in the coming years.

Last week the Environmental Working Group received a lot of attention when it released its comprehensive online consumer guide to cell phone radiation, which rates more than 1,000 cell phones marketed in the U.S.  The guide is the culmination of a 10-month research review to understand the risks of cell phone usage. The EWG also found that cell phones emit radiation - enough so that scientists are concerned about potential cancer risks. Using their guide, you can:

What else can you do now to limit your exposure?  If you need a new mobile phone, it’s smart to buy phones with lower radiation emissions - use the EWG guide to figure out which is best for you.  Whichever phone you have, it's a good idea to keep it as far away from your body as possible.  Researchers say using the speaker, sending text messages or talking on a headset all cut down on radiation exposure.  Opinions differ on whether a wireless Bluetooth headset poses a risk - some scientists at Monday’s hearing said it could be a problem, while others did not. But they all agreed a wired headset is best.  And using any headset means less radiation than if you’re holding the phone directly to your ear.  Also try making calls when the signal is high so that the phone doesn't have to work as hard. 

What about your kids?  Talk to them about these findings, and help them to limit their exposure:  kids actually can absorb twice as much radiation as an adult from the same cell phone.  If your kids give you flak, let them know that advisories to limit cell phone use have already been issued by numerous countries and advisory boards including: the UK; Germany; France; Russia; India; Israel; Belgium; Japan; the Toronto Board of Health; and the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Dr. Devra Davis, Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh has said “Children under the age of 12 should not use cell phones unless in an emergency situation. If they must use cell phones, make sure they connect using a headset.”

Read more in the L.A. Times, Wired, Green Living Online, and at CNET.com.

What Is "Green"? "Natural"? "Organic"?

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If you're at a loss sometimes, you're not alone.  A recent survey by the Shelton Group showed that nearly 2/3 of the 1,006 U.S. consumers polled try to purchase foods produced in an environmentally friendly way.  But the consumers rated "100% natural" as the most reliable label claim, far ahead of "100% organic."  It seems that consumers think that the word 'organic' is more of an unregulated marketing term, when really, the opposite is true.  'Natural' is an unregulated word - organic foods must meet government standards to be certified as such. 

Want to know more?  Here is a guide to what the organic certification really means.  And here is a good article from the Chicago Tribune that talks about the Shelton Group study and goes further into the confusion regarding food labeling.  The Tribune also has a handy-dandy guide to the difference between "organic" and "natural" labeling on a variety of products that you can find here.

Great Guide

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The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy/Food and Health Program just released its "Smart Guide" to hormones in the food system.  It's a PDF that you can download, and it has some good history and background information on where different synthetic hormones turn up and why, and also includes some tips on how to reduce your total hormone exposure from food and drink.  Check it out for yourself here.

Update On Flu Vaccine

So, we saw my daughter's pediatrician this a.m., and she didn't push me on the seasonal flu vaccine, nor did she push me to seriously consider H1N1 when it comes out - she said "there is no safety data" on the H1N1 vaccine, and when I told her that my philosophy is that the flu vaccines generally are optional, she said "completely." 

Now please note - my daughter has no underlying health issues - no asthma, no compromised immune system from something else, etc. - so seek your own advice, please (sorry, it's the lawyer in me).  But I will keep an ear to the ground on this and let you all know when/if I hear more that's interesting.

I'm Nerved Up About Swine Flu

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I am normally not a germaphobe - ask anyone who knows me - I have consistently let my kid eat stuff that's fallen on the floor (within limits, I mean, not on the T or anything - at home, mostly) and while I encourage hand-washing, I only pack Purell or some other alcohol-based hand sanitizer because sometimes when we're out and about, my daughter wants to eat (i.e., food on a stick, on the street) and there is no place to wash.

All that said, I'm freaking a little bit about H1N1.  I normally choose not to have my daughter vaccinated against the seasonal flu - seems every year that they don't get the vaccine quite right, and well, we've been lucky too.  Unlike other vaccines, I consider this one to be optional.  I just don't want to medicate her any more than I "have" to.  But I don't know what I'm going to do this year.  Her pediatrician will likely recommend the seasonal flu vaccine, as usual, but as of now there is no workable vaccination for the swine flu . . . and the question for me is, what's the likelihood they're going to get this one right?  The consequences of getting H1N1 seem to be more dire for the kids - I am drawn to all the awful stories of kids dying from swine flu.  So the overprotective mother says "get the freakin' vaccine, you idiot!"  But I'm unsure right now.

One thing I do know is that I'll be militant about hand-washing.  When I was having chemo years ago, my oncologist impressed upon me the importance of hand-washing - not just for folks with depressed immune systems, but for everyone.  A huge number of illnesses can be stopped in their tracks if you just wash your hands.  With regular old soap.  You do know that those antibacterial soaps are no good, right?  They really are no better at killing germs than regular soap and water, and they can ultimately be harmful to us and to the environment.  Here's an alarming EWG post regarding the horrors of triclosan.

So I guess I'll watch and wait.  I'll keep you posted if I find anything that swings hard one way or the other.  Until then, here's a nice CDC post from earlier in August regarding H1N1 - lots of facts and dispels some myths (thank G-d you can't get this from eating pork - my small "porkatarian" would be devastated!).  For now, I keep looking the other way when I see the news stories regarding "the explosion" that's about to ensue now that our kids are going back to school.

Fingers crossed.

I'm Getting Increasingly Pissed Off About The Sigg Bottles

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OK, so remember how I posted Sigg's confessional letter from a week or so ago?  The one where they finally admit that their pre-'08 bottles have trace BPA in them?  I've been reading more about it, and thinking more about it, and it's got my ire up.  It's slimy what they did - during all the BPA fury, they just kept quiet, even denied that their bottle linings contained BPA, and then they changed their liners (such an admission of guilt) but yet kept the bottles with the old liners on the market.  I BOUGHT SMALL BOTTLES FOR MY DAUGHTER IN EARLY SEPTEMBER OF LAST YEAR - WITH THE OLD FREAKIN' LINERS.  I SPENT $17.99 FOR EACH OF THEM. 

All told, I have 7 Sigg bottles with the old liners.  The small ones for L., some medium, some large.  Over $100 in Sigg bottles that I don't want to use anymore. 

I found this post tonight on one of my favorite blogs, and it does link to a site that says that Sigg will replace your bottles for you, with the ones with the new liners, if you write to them and if you pay the postage to send them.  So here's my question.  Can we trust them?  I mean, the new liners are some new chemical concoction.  Who's to say that's A-OK?  They do have 100% unlined stainless steel bottles, but they don't seem to be in stock, and the letter the linked-to site received says Sigg will replace the bottles with ones with the new liners.  I don't want any liners any more.  I think Sigg should send me whichever bottle I want in return for my old bottles, in order to create good will with one of their former #1 fans.  Or else I'm going to recycle all those mothers and order myself a slew of Kleen Kanteens.  Do you hear me, Sigg??  I feel ripped off, snookered and hoodwinked.

So please comment!  What are you going to do? 

What's Your Sugar Burden?

There is an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about how the American Heart Association is recommending that people limit their sugar intake.  In a statement issued last Monday, the organization recommends that most women limit their sugar intake to 100 calories, or about six teaspoons, a day; and for men, the recommendation is 150 calories, or nine teaspoons daily.

The issue is that on the nutrition labels we see, sugar is listed in grams - a unit of weight, not volume like teaspoons . . . from what I can find, a teaspoon of sugar is equivalent to approximately 4.2 grams - so now you can do some division and see how many teaspoons are in your favorite food or beverage.   You might be shocked!

A lot of health-conscious folks I know eschew soda, but do eat things like fruit-flavored yogurts and/or packaged juices, which usually do have a lot of sugar.  Add to that ice cream, cookies, sugared cereals - well, by the end of the day you have yourself (in the words of some advertisement) "a sugar situation."

What to do?  I don't like artificial sweeteners as an alternative - they're dubious in terms of long-term safety and to me, they're just another chemical to add to the soup that's already in our bodies (although, remember, I do love me a diet Coke once in a while - so moderation here too, friends!).  I have noticed over the years that when I limit my sugar consumption, fruits, etc. taste sweeter to me.  That is, when I wean myself off the hooch that is Halloween Candy, or Christmas cookies, or just a weekend bender involving Nabisco® Pinwheel® cookies and get back to fruits, I notice how sweet a peach can be, or a nice apple, or some strawberries or my other BFF of the summer, cantaloupe.

Don't get me wrong, I love sweets.  Unless I had to for some extreme health reason, I'd never cut sugar completely out of my diet.  I do, however, limit my consumption of foods with added sugars - keeps my empty calorie consumption down and makes more room for foods with nutritional value.

Do you have a "sugar situation" going on?  Have you tried eliminating added sugars from your diet?   Why?  How long did you keep it up? 

EWG's Healthy Home Tips

Are you all familiar with these?  A campaign by the EWG to give top-level, usable information to families to maximize their environmental health.  I know I sing the EWG's praises so often - I just feel that they most often represent a balanced, logical approach to all this toxics madness.  After all, you could really make yourself nuts trying to follow the latest this-n-that, right?    You can subscribe by email and get updates every time they publish a new tip. 

Today's is on chemical flame retardants in the home - something I'm sure our microfiber-ballistic-cheepie-kidproof sofa is full of . . . but at least I'll know more for the next purchase, right? 

Gearing Up For Back To School - Packed Lunch Ideas

We're in the final days of summer vacation at our house.  I love back-to-school preparations for my daughter - for me, the consummate nerd, there was never a more exciting time of year than the beginning of the academic year, and I'll admit it!  I am living vicariously through my kid.  Is that so wrong?

So with school comes lunch.  Many kids have the choice of buying their lunch, which is easy on the mama, but dubious on the nutrition.  Even in our liberal, relatively health-conscious suburb, mozzarella sticks are considered an "entree" at lunchtime.  Or wait, yeah, it gets better - nachos.  There are some marginally better choices like cheese pizza (my kid always buys on pizza day) or a PB&J sandwich (we are not nut-free - isn't that retro?), but over all, it's a nutritional wasteland.

I pack my daughter's lunch many days - mostly because once the novelty of buying lunch wore off for her, she realized that the food at school was "just not very good, mom."  We do a lot of nitrate/ite free cold cuts (Applegate Farms makes a good turkey bologna - colored with beet juice, no less, and a hand-tied uncured maple ham that is adult-tastebud-worthy).  As a side I'll cut up strawberries, baby carrots, or a sliced apple.  Or we'll go super-alternative and she'll have cubed tofu, leftover noodles or sometimes even cold chicken nuggets.  For snacks she most often totes a little container of organic applesauce and some Annie's Wheat Bunnies, but she also likes cheese sticks and crackers.  Or depending on the allergy issues of others kids in her class, I'll send some hummus and baby carrots for dipping.

I do her drinks in Sigg bottles - water for snack and skim milk for lunch.  But I have yet to find a suitable, non-plastic alternative to those little plastic tubs with screw-top lids made by Rubbermaid.  They at least save us from using 1,000 Ziploc baggies in a week.  But they're plastic, and I am always trying to reduce our exposure to plastic - especially for our daughter.

The other brainstorm I had last spring was to buy cheap stainless utensils at Ikea and send those with her when she has cut fruit/tofu/pasta in her lunch.  If you get a few, you'll have enough for a rotation:  you can throw the day's dirties in the dishwasher at night and still have some clean on hand to pack for the next day.  You can get the teaspoon and salad forks from the Dragon collection there in packs of 4 for $5 - nice and small for the lunch box, but just make sure your kid knows not to pitch 'em when s/he's done!

My husband has started bringing his lunch to work too - after reading about the "horrors" of nitrate/ites again, he decided to forgo his "cancer-wich" at work and start making a sandwich at home.  But for the male exec on the go, a brown bag, or worse yet, a "lunchbox" just won't do - it's sad to say, but there is a certain cool factor that has to be upheld at the office, even at lunchtime.  We found these great stainless steel LunchBots for him - he has two of the duo (put 1 sliced apple in one side, and some almonds & raisins in the other) and two of the uno which fit a whole sandwich nicely.  Wash one, use one.

Can you help me out with ideas today?  I'd like to completely purge plastic from my daughter's lunchbox, but I haven't been able to find a substitute for the plastic snack containers - it needs to be something that will tolerate a liquidy snack without spilling - like a stainless container with a rubber gasket around the lid - know of anything?  Even the fabulous Laptop Lunchbox uses plastic, although BPA/lead free. 

Let me know if you have suggestions!