Monday, November 28, 2011

Eat, Drink, and be Active Gift Guide!

Chances are if you’re reading this blog that you know someone besides yourself who likes to eat, drink, and be active. And since the holiday season is upon us, there’s also a chance that you’re in the market for a gift for said person (or persons). Well you’re in luck! Just in time for holiday shopping, it’s the Eat, Drink, and be Active Gift Guide!

Because I was raised within the culture of my parent’s gift shop I’ve been at this for a long time (and loved every second of it, as you can see in this photo).

Please try to buy local for these products if you can, but I've included Amazon links if you're having a hard time finding them.

This time of year you can barely walk into a national chain or open a catalog without seeing at least one “kitchen” item. You know the ones I mean: the electric donut maker, the magic spaghetti cooker, the hot dog toaster… These gadgets don’t exactly encourage healthy eating (or show class on the part of the gift giver). Here are a few gift ideas for that person on your list who is making an effort to eat healthier this year.

Veggie Steamer – The old metal veggie steamer inserts wouldn't have made much of an inpired-looking gift. But with silicone technology, now the gift of a veggie steamer is a fun, colorful option. Pair it with a few colored silicon spatulas and a complimentary-colored kitchen towel and you’ve got a great gift set. On Amazon: Chef'n SleekStor Veggie Steamer
Knives – It can be hard to want to cook at home more if you’re cooking with dull or old knives. Even the person who has “everything” can benefit from a few new good, quality knives. A good knife makes chopping veggies a breeze. On Amazon: OXO Good Grips Professional Santoku Knife
Lunch Tote – I remember the days when lunch totes came in only less than appealing designs. But these days it can be hard to tell a lunch tote from a designer handbag! That may be a stretch, but bringing your lunch to work is more fun when you have a cute bag and this will prevent you from grabbing fast food or getting your sustenance from the vending machine. On Amazon: Built Neoprene Lunch Totes

With new studies coming out every week on the benefits of coffee drinking and red wine consumption (hello phytochemicals!) giving the gift of drinking accoutrements is never a bad idea. Here are some ideas for the wine snob or coffee addict in your life.

French Press Travel Mug – I use my French press every morning and often enjoy the luxury of having 5 minutes to sit down to drink it. However, there are those mornings when I’m running out the door and don’t have the time and what happens then? I spend money on subpar coffee somewhere else. If this sounds like a problem you or someone you know also faces, consider this snazzy French press travel mug. On Amazon: Bodum Travel Coffee Press
Wine Aerator – When I came home a few years ago and my dad was serving wine through this interesting looking contraption I was a bit puzzled. I’d heard of decanters, but this was completely different. It’s much easier to use and faster than decanting wine and you can impress your friends by extolling the benefits of air bubbles in your vino. Pair the aerator with a bottle of red and you’ve got a gift just about anyone would love. On Amazon: Rabbit Wine Aerating Pourer
Electric Water Kettle – The other kitchen appliance that I use the most is my electric water kettle. A staple in most European households, it’s great for making tea or cocoa or even heating up water to cook with. On Amazon: Bodum Electric Water Kettle

I recently went to a Black Friday sale at a locally-owned triathlon store where we got 40% off the entire store for a few hours. It was all I could do not to buy everything in site, just in case I happened to need those $125 compression tights someday. While being active is not something that you necessarily need a lot of gear to do, there is a lot of gear out there. Here are a few of my favorites (without getting too sport or activity specific).

Clif Bars – Full disclosure, I do work for Clif Bar. However, it doesn’t take working for them to know that they’re delicious and in my opinion they make great stocking stuffers.  And, as if they weren’t good enough stocking stuffers on their own, they come in fun seasonal flavors like Iced Gingerbread and Spiced Pumpkin Pie. On Amazon: Clif Bars
The Stick – Anyone who is active probably at some point has sore muscles. While massage gift certificates are one-time use, the Stick is forever. It comes in several sizes and colors and works wonders. Visit their site for retail outlets and ordering information.
Road ID – If you know someone who is active, they should have a Road ID. You customize them to have emergency contact info for those times that you are being active without bringing identification with you. These come in a couple of different colors and styles; I have the one that velcros onto my shoe so I don’t even notice that it’s there (but  always take comfort in the fact that it is). Visit their site for ordering information.

Still stumped? How about creating your own gift certificate for a local CSA share or offering to pay the registration fee for the season’s first race. Or, you could make a donation in someone’s name to a foundation that does good through food or sports like Girls on the Run, Back on My Feet, or a local food bank or pantry. Did you think of something I missed that is a must-have for active people this holiday season? Leave it in the comments section!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Be Thankful! (in Moderation...)

Being thankful is not something that you should limit on any day, especially on Thanksgiving. However, when consuming the celebratory meal that reflects that thankfulness, you may want to consider practicing that lovely word that you may be tired of hearing so often these days: moderation.

It's true that there are ways to make a traditional Thanksgiving meal healthier. You can make green beans without condensed soup. You can make the mashed potatoes with skim milk and garlic instead of cream and butter. You can eat the white turkey meat instead of the dark. You can make stuffing from scratch with whole grain bread, mushrooms, celery, and cranberries instead of from a box (basically refined flour and salt). You can eat pumpkin or sweet potato pie instead of warm, gooey, delicious pecan pie.

But the reality is that Thanksgiving comes but once a year and many people don't want to do Thanksgiving 'lite'. They want all the fixings from the creamy gravy to the browned marshmallow crust on the sweet potatoes. And that's OK to have! That is, as long as you have it in moderation. But don't just take my word for it. Let's look at a possible scenario...
You wake up on Thanksgiving morning and eat breakfast. Then you watch the parade and cook for several hours (tasting dishes along the way or snacking on appetizers). Then you sit and eat dinner for a couple of hours and then sit and watch football for another several hours. Then you either go to sleep or head for the mall to sit in line waiting for black Friday sales to begin.
The person that I've described probably burned around 2,000 calories that day being mostly sedentary. The Calorie Control Council estimates that the average Thanksgiving dinner contains 3,000 calories. First of all, eating that much in one sitting is going to make you feel very uncomfortable (if you've ever felt like you were going to explode after eating, you know what I mean). Plus, that is 1,000 extra calories that their body does not need and cannot use at the moment. Assuming that the extra calories are a mixture of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, guess what it will all turn into once you've eaten it? FAT. Extra fat stored in the body equals extra weight which is a heck of a lot harder to get rid of than it was to put on.

This Thanksgiving, the choice is yours: healthy portion control even if the dishes aren't as healthy as they could be, or reckless abandon complete with stomach ache and more fat stores. Whatever your choice, I hope you're able to spend the holiday relaxing with family or loved ones. And don't forget (after you've done all of the eating and drinking) to be active!

I'll leave you with a scene from my family's Thanksgiving morning five years ago:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Decoding DRIs

In the world of nutrition it can be hard to remember how much of what you need to be eating on a daily basis. Add to that confusing abbreviations and the whole absorption issue and many are left scratching their heads. If you’re one of those people, you’re not alone. It can even be hard for those of us in (or soon to be in) the profession of nutrition to keep track of it all!

Here’s a quick guide to some abbreviations you may see for suggested intakes of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals:
DRI – Dietary Reference Intake. This is based on gender and age group for people living in North America. The following abbreviations all fall under the category of DRIs.
EAR – Estimated Average Requirement. By figuring out the EAR for a nutrient, half of the population will be getting enough of it and half won’t be getting enough. That’s why this is rarely used as a recommendation and is instead used to figure out the RDA.
RDA – Recommended Dietary Allowance. This is the EAR plus 2 standard deviations, which makes it so that 98% of people will be getting enough of the nutrient.
AI – Adequate Intake. This is used as a measure for nutrients when there is no known EAR and is based on known amounts that people can handle of a specific nutrient.
UL – Upper Tolerable Limit. Most people will have adverse affects when consuming a nutrient above this amount. There is an UL set for some vitamins (for example) when a large amount could cause toxicity, but many others have no UL because excess amounts will have no effect.

So let's look at calcium. The recommendation for adults is 1,000 mg/day. That means that your body needs 1,000 mg of calcium each day in order to do important things like rebuild bone which helps prevent osteoporosis. Right? Wrong. The recommendation takes into account a little thing called absorption. Your body does not treat all nutrients equally; some are absorbed better than others. Your body actually only needs 300 mg of calcium each day. But the rate of calcium absorption is around 30% (this is called the bioavailability) so the recommendation accounts for that, saving us all from doing lots and lots of math each time we plan a meal! And what happens to the other 700 mg of calcium that you're consuming each day? In one end, out the other...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Whole Grains for Life

If you pay attention to current nutrition recommendations, you may have heard that you should be eating more whole grains. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released this past winter, say that at least half of the grains that you eat should be whole. I personally attempt to do this by cooking and eating only whole grains when I'm at home. It can be such a challenge to find whole grains in a restaurant (save for the occasional offer of brown rice, which will often cost you extra money) that I figure whole grains at home is a good attempt to balance that out. My friend and teammate Stephanie recently passed along this article where Michael Pollan answers reader's questions. Someone asked "what is the single best food we all should be eating every day?" and he responded (in more words than this): "whole grains." So why should you want to eat more whole grains? In brief, they're less processed than refined grains and contain healthy fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They've been shown to help with weight maintenance and provide a lowered risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of attending a gluten-free culinary summit where a woman from the Whole Grains Council spoke. I was surprised to hear that there was such a thing, and even more surprised to learn about a bunch of whole grains I'd never even heard of! (Teff anyone?) The council has lots of information and recipes on their website, and they make it easier for consumers to purchase products that contain whole grains by putting this stamp onto products:

Yes, there are products out there that are whole grain that don't have the stamp, but it's a good place to start if you're unsure (click here for a full list of stamped products). Also, when purchasing wheat products, be careful - it needs to say in the ingredient list "whole wheat flour" not just "wheat flour." It might be brown and it might say "wheat bread" but if the first ingredient is "unbleached enriched wheat flour" then it's not made from whole grains.

Lest you think that whole grains are limited to brown rice and whole-wheat flour, here's a list of whole grains (the gluten-free grains have an *):
Oats* (gluten-free when certified that they have not been cross-contaminated)
Rice (brown)*
Wild Rice*

So, go whip up a batch of buckwheat pancakes, have a snack of rye crackers with low-fat cheese, enjoy a lunch of quinoa salad with beets and goat cheese, and finish the day off with a bowl of mushroom barley soup and a berry crumble made with oats and you'll be well on your way to living a healthy, whole-grain lifestyle!