Saturday, July 30, 2011

Navigating the Grocery Store

If you've decided to take charge of reinventing yourself, congratulations. And if you've made the decision to start making more of the meals you eat, then you're off to a good start in the journey of the rest of your life. So now that you're cooking your own food, we need to take a look at what ingredients you use in your cooking.

Of the 1000's of products available to you in your local grocery store, not many can be classified as good for you. As an example, take a walk down the cereal aisle. How many types of cereal could you make a valid argument about the nutritional benefits of that particular brand? Half? Maybe a quarter? Even cereals that most people view as healthy pack a lot of sugar into your bowl. And the amount of sugar found in most kids cereals would blow most people's minds.

In fact, if you walk down most aisles in the grocery store, you are much more likely to find unhealthy options as opposed to good for you options. There is, however, a much safer area of the grocery store to shop. If you stay to the perimeter of the store, your chances of finding healthier food improves dramatically. Typically, the perimeter of the store has the meat, dairy, and produce sections. While there are certainly good and bad choices that can be made in these sections, your chances of coming out ahead are much better.

The "problem" with shopping the perimeter is that most of these products have expiration dates. The fact that they aren't jammed full of preservatives is actually a good thing. I heard it said once that the foods you should eat are the foods that can go bad. Obviously, the fewer the preservatives in something, the better it probably is. And to further that though, if a "food item" literally won't go bad, you really shouldn't eat it--happy meal or Twinkie anyone?

The other "problem" with shopping the perimeter relates to the cost of buying perishable foods. I can't very well argue that healthier foods are cheaper than non-healthy ones, but let me try to give you a little common sense. People spend so much money on health and beauty items. Whether it's make-up, hair products, cleansers, or spa treatments, all of theses products are rather pricy and work to improve our external appearance. Why not save a little bit of that money and instead spend it to improve the quality of food you are eating. Not only will the better food improve your overall health, but you may be surprised that better food will improve the health of you skin, hair, and nails as well. When it's all said and done, the impacts of eating well by far offset the marginal difference of cost over the long run.

As is the case in all areas of improving your health, you can improve your diet if you want to. The money you save from eating out all the time will more than pay for the healthy food you are going to start buying. And if you really want to start saving on your produce, check out local farmers markets and fruit stands. Read more about the benefits of farmers markets here.

Once you make the commitment to eat better, you'll be surprised at how well you feel. An occasional splurge is obviously ok, but limit the junk food you put into your body and your body will thank you for years to come.

Find out more ways to improve your health at

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The New You Starts in the Kitchen

In "The First Step to a New You", we looked at what it is that is holding you back from making lasting and significant changes to your health.

Now that you have (hopefully) decided to stop making excuses and start taking charge, let's look at the root of the problem when it comes to health and wellness in the developed world--the kitchen.

It's somewhat funny to me how we view kitchens in this country. On every home buying show I've ever seen-and thanks to my darling wife I've seen hours upon hours-every home buyer wants a nice kitchen. In almost every episode the buyers compromise on something, but never the kitchen! When it comes to kitchens, bigger is always better. And you can never have enough cabinets. And updated appliances are a real plus, too. Has anyone ever asked why the kitchen is so important?

The only room that rivals the kitchen in terms of endearing a home to a potential buyer is the bathroom. Talk about in one end and out the other, eh? But I digress.

So what is the big to-do about the kitchen, anyway? The obvious response would be that the kitchen is where the meals are prepared, so a nice kitchen is very important.

But are most meals really prepared in the kitchen?

Probably not as many as you would think.

As it turns out, we don't cook as much as we think we do. According to the FDA, Americans spend almost 50% of their food budget on meals prepared outside of the home. 35 years ago, we spent 34%. I would make the argument that 34% is still way too much to be spending on ABC (Already Been Cooked) meals, but it's much better than the half of our budget are spending now.

So for the average American, half of his or her meals are ABC. At least we are eating pretty well half of the time though, right?

Not so fast my friends. But first let's remember, half is still failing at every school in the world; so even if half our meals are healthy, we still fail when it comes to good nutrition.

How many people who grew up in the 50's and 60's would consider hamburger helper a home cooked meal? What about Easy Mac? Lean Cuisine? DiGiorno? How many people in today's world would call these foods home cooked? The fact that many in my generation consider opening a box and putting something in the oven or microwave cooking is mind-blowing. And just a bit scary. I feel bad serving pasta with canned sauce for dinner because I feel like I was too lazy to make a real meal. But for too many, penne with ragu is the fanciest thing they've ever cooked. And we wonder why our nation is so unhealthy.

It's time to take action. No one is incapable of cooking. All it takes is a little effort. If you're reading this, you obviously have a connection to the Internet. Ergo, you have access to the largest and most diverse cookbook in the world. You can literally google a list of ingredients you have available, and dozens of recipes will pop up. Pick one that sounds good and start cooking. But please, just start.

Creating a new, healthier you starts in the kitchen. It may not end there, but we need a place to start. as you start cooking more of your own meals, you'll be surprised how much better you feel. You'll consume fewer preservatives and salt, and appreciate the true taste of food like you never have before.

And besides, if we start making the majority of our meals at home, all that kitchen talk on the home buying shows might actually start to make sense.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

First Step to a New You

There are a variety of components that constitute a healthy lifestyle. Some of them are very difficult to argue about. There aren't too many people who would argue about the need to incorporate physical activity and good nutritional choices into your life to help improve your health. No one doubts the negative impact that smoking has on your health anymore, not even the smokers themselves.

There are some, however, who question the role some other lifestyle factors have on people's overall health. The amount of sleep you get at night has been shown to play a role in the amounts of both fat loss and muscle gain, but many have yet to take those findings seriousy. The use of dietary supplements is a huge source of contention among health professionals.

In the next few weeks, I'll look at these components individually and how you can take responsibility for improving your health.

Today, however, it's time to look at the most important component to improving your health: what you see when you look in the mirror.

You are the most important part of your health. Period. End of story.

It may sound harsh, but it's true. And what it means is that if you don't like what you see in the mirror, there is no one to blame but yourself.

But on the flip-side, that means that changes are completely possible if you want to make it happen.

The only thing that can stop you? That pesky guy in the mirror again.

So what are you supposed to do then? In simplest terms, just start doing something. There are literally dozens of ways to improve your health. Better choices, more activity, more sleep; all good ideas. Drink more water, cook your own meals, watch less TV; more good ideas.

Use common sense, and make good choices. You can do it if you make the commitment.

The vessel needed to make the changes you desire is staring you in the face every time you look in the mirror.

Need more help making some changes in your lifestyle to achieve a healthier you? Check out, and we can work together to get you started down the path to better health.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Best Oil You've Never Used

Olive oil? Check.

Ever since Rachel Ray came to television, olive oil has been popping up in kitchens across the country like mushrooms in a cow pasture. And for good reason. Olive oil has a light taste that adds flavor to lots of dishes. Olive oil holds up to heat better than any other vegetable oil, so it is great to use for cooking and sautéing. Some cool people don't even say olive oil anymore, they just drop evoo and everyone knows what they are talking about.

So is olive oil the new miracle cooking oil? Not hardly. Don't get me wrong, it's great. I use it for all kinds of dishes. But if you need to broaden your cooking oil horizons, let me let you in on a little secret. Try coconut oil, it's devine.

Coconut oil is listed as a saturated fat, and as such has fallen out of favor with many dietary organizations. But guess what? Scientists are starting to understand that the fat profile of virgin coconut oil is actually good for you. The chief fat, laurie acid, is known to help raise your HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which for most people will help improve their blood panel readings.

Once you get passed the "unhealthy hype" associated with coconut oil, you can start to find many uses for it. Because of its high oxidation temperature (even higher than olive oil) coconut oil is great to use when cooking with high heat. And the hint of sweetness that the oil has will hit you with a flavor that is impossible to find in other oils. This combination opens up an unlimited list of possible uses.

My personal favorite way to use coconut oils is to make home fries with it. The potatoes end up with a crispy outside and the inside is cooked completely through. The sweetness of the oil makes it great to use for sautéing veggies as well. Onions, carrots, sweet peppers, and more all taste amazing after a sauté in coconut oil.

You can also use coconut oil in baked goods. Just substitute coconut oil in the recipe for the oil or butter listed, and you end up with a little added sweetness. A friend uses coconut oil to drizzle on toast or to add a little sweetness to her coffee. Literally, the possibilities are endless when it comes to how to use your coconut oil.

Coconut oil is available in stores, but you may have to search a little bit to find it. Personally, I buy all of my coconut oil from You can find dozens of organic coconut products and recipes on this site, and the prices are completely reasonable.

Take a chance and try it, you just might be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 4th Cookout? Yes Please!

It's summertime, and that means different things to different people. Depending on your age and your background, summer could mean no school. Pool parties. Baseball. County fair. Lightning bugs. The smell of freshly cut grass. Lemonade. Ice cream. The list literally could go on for a few pages.

One thing that would probably be high on most lists would have to be the cookout. Whether you call it grilling, barbequing, or something else, having people over for good food and fellowship is as much a part of summer as anything else I can think of.

Seeing that in America we are celebrating a long 4th of July weekend, there are lists all over the Internet advising you of the things you should and should not be eating. Advice like "stay away from the potato salad" or "go easy on the fried chicken" are all over the place. On twitter, I've seen lists from multiple health sites claiming which cookout pitfalls should be avoided for this holiday weekend.

Want to know what I think about all of these lists?

Don't read them. Enjoy the holiday and the food that comes with it.

Disclaimer time. Please don't completely disregard you calorie common sense every time you're invited to a summer gathering. But when the gathering celebrates a national holiday, by all means go crazy. And if that holiday celebrates your nation's independence, then you can feel free to gorge for a night independent of calorie counts and grams of fat.

Too often in the health world, my peers portray the importance of maintaining a certain level of daily caloric consumption. Whether it's 1800/day, or a Michael Phelps-like 4000/day, we get caught up in the per day total. Dietitians need to take a step back and try to see the bigger picture. Weight gain, or loss, doesn't happen over night. It is the result of weeks and weeks of accumulated caloric surpluses and deficits. By focusing so much on the daily allowances, people either buy in to limiting their calories or say screw it and eat whatever they want.

What I'm proposing is a little different. Radical? I don't think so. Logical? You better believe it. Eat well most of the time. Eat from a variety of food groups most of the time. Indulge on the occasional instance.

So, my fellow Americans, on this 4th of July weekend feel free to not only celebrate our national independence, but a day or two of caloric independence as well. And to my international friends, when your country's holidays are being celebrated, please enjoy the freedom to indulge as well.

Then, when the party is over, go back to eating well most of the time.

And if anybody questions you taking a second helping of strawberry pie with ice cream AND whipped cream, you can tell them I said it was ok.