Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Healthy Trips for Traveling

As I am currently sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting for my epically long flight to Johannesburg, I decided I could add my two cents about staying healthy while traveling. There are obvious health factors that you need to consider on a country by country basis (I am thinking of my malaria meds I have to take when I am in Ghana all of this Fall...) so this advice is more general like adjusting to time changes, eating as well as possible at airports, and getting exercise in an unfamiliar place.

In terms of time changes, an hour or two means that you may have to adjust eating times and go to bed a little earlier or later than you might usually, but your body typically adjusts completely in a day or two. I am about to face a 7 hour time difference and preparing my sleep schedule for that is going to be difficult. As soon as I got on my first flight this morning I set my watch to my destination time and am trying to eat my meals and sleep on the plane in accordance with the new time... but this may prove to be pretty difficult, especially because I don't sleep well on planes. What I will probably have to do tomorrow when I get to Joburg, is to not nap and use natural light to keep me awake and reset my body's internal clock, sleep when its normal sleeping hours in the new location. Hopefully the next day my body will be closer adjusted to what is normal there.

Eating at airports and on planes can be downright disgusting, if possible pack some food that is healthy and you know you like. One of my family's favorite things to bring are almonds, which help tide me over as a snack on a short flight or between meals on a longer one. At the airport it is possible to find something healthy, you just kind of have to search for it. Most of the sit down restaurants have leaner options but if you're in a hurry and want to take something on the plane then you can't rely on those. Among the fastfood restaurants really look for a place that has fresher ingredients, not ones with processed or greasy food. Sandwich places are probably your best bet because they make them right in front of you as opposed to being sent to the airport frozen then were reheated. Plus sandwiches are really easy to take onto the plane with you. Mexican food places are another somewhat healthy option if its a place with fresh ingredients like guacamole, pico de gallo, corn salsa, beans, lean meats, etc. Just don't get things smothered in queso or sour cream. Avoid any foods that may not sit well with you on a plane with a tiny little shared bathroom with people all around... Avoid fried food and overly greasy food like pizza or 'chinese' food.

Drink plenty of water. If you are trying to sleep on the plane then avoid caffeine but especially avoid soft drinks and carbonated beverages. I know you can't bring your own water through security but you can bring your own empty water bottle and fill it up at the water fountain conveniently located near the bathrooms. Having your own water means you don't have to rely on the tiny beverage they serve you from the beverage cart on the plane at certain times. Water will help you flush out toxins that you could accumulate on your travels and a lack of caffeine will help you adjust to time differences.

And now to working out. Most hotels have a limited gym with a least some free weights and cardio machines so you can always try to utilize that if you have limited time. One of my favorite ways to get to know a new place (if its safe enough of course) is to just walk around, or if you want to really get some cardio in then go for a run around the new city. Lots of websites will give you running routes for different cities, as will most hotels. If on vacation then you can usually schedule your own time, so try to schedule in some athletic or at least lively activities.

The key to traveling and staying healthy is to try to keep as many of the same healthy habits as you have at home. Go out and travel and enjoy your summers!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Getting into Studying Shape!

So I'm not going to lie, I've also been so busy with school work and my extra curricular projects and activities that I haven't had the best eating, working out or sleeping schedule and habits. Also I've been spoiled with going out for nice dinners and drinks over the past few weeks. But in order to do well on my exams this coming week I am getting my routine down so that I can be extremely productive and have as stress free week as I can!

First thing I am doing is scheduling my workouts and what I am doing in each workout (long run, short run, lift weights, spin, stairs, and/or yoga) into my iphone calendar. Making my workout as a scheduled part of my day as either a study break or a way to wake myself up in the morning will remind me that I really need to fit it into my routine. Because I don't have classes to work around, just exams and study/writing time, I can actually plan my study schedule around my workouts.

Next thing I am doing is avoiding grazing on snack food throughout the day, I am making sure I don't carry any snacks with me except for fruit, this forces me to get up out of the library if I really need food and to use meals as a productive break from studying. I am also making sure to eat breakfast so that I can power through my day from the start! Also keep a bottle of water with you and make sure you drink it (especially if you are drinking tea or coffee which will dehydrate you.)

As far as sleep is goes... I have no real ideas, it will depend on how productive I can be but I am aiming for at least 5.5 to 6 hours of sleep a night. I have yet to pull an all-nighter in college and I would hate to do that now. If there is a night where I can actually sleep a little longer than that then I will take full advantage of it, but don't think that you can recover from an all-nighter by sleeping 12-14 hours the next night, the body doesn't work that way for most people. Six hours of sleep is supposed to get you through two REM cycles which is actually pretty productive sleep. To get the most out of your sleep, don't eat right before you plan to go to bed, give yourself at least an hour, also stop drinking coffee or tea at least 3 hours before you plan to go to bed. If I can stress this any more, don't pull an all-nighter, try to get an hour of sleep if you can because your mind needs a little bit of rest, especially since its takes a lot of brain power to get through exams.

For my mental sanity I will take a break every two to three hours and talk to my friends or somehow communicate with the outside world! Do this especially if you have to study alone, like in the lonely little cubicles. Seriously, not talking to people will drive you crazy and breaks are essential, I know very few people who aren't taking ADD meds who can be fully productive for more than 3 hours, whether they get distracted by facebook or emails or they need a refill or to go to the bathroom. Give your mind a break and save your mental sanity!

Those are a few of the things I'll be trying to do from now (this is a study break for me!) until next Friday. I hope everyone has a productive and sane exam period! Good Luck!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The wonders of a sweet potato!

I love sweet potatoes... I can't help it. I love them mashed, baked or 'fried', whipped with cream cheese or spiced with chili powder. (My least favorite way is if there is a marshmallow anywhere near it, its sweet enough as is!) I even have a recipe where I incorporate sweet potato into a chocolate dessert! Below I have three easy and healthy ways to add this wonderful food onto your plate. The health benefits of the sweet potato include beta-carotene, vitamins B and C, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc and much more. Its a complex carb that is fairly easy for your stomach to digest and its full of fiber. So this wonderful sweet tuber has cancer - fighting properties, is easily digested and is full of many other nutritious vitamins and minerals, why would you ever want a white potato again! (Just kidding, I love white potatoes too!) The point is that a sweet potato should not just be baked and mashed into brown-sugar and marshmallow sweetened yams at Thanksgiving, it should be incorporated much more into your diet!

Cream cheese whipped sweet potatoes
three medium sweet potatoes roughly the same size
1/2 cup of low fat cream cheese
(optional: 1/4 cup chopped and toasted walnuts)
Wash and dry the potatoes and wrap in tin-foil and bake at 400 for 50-60 minutes. When they have cooled slightly put all the ingredients in a large bowl and using a hand mixer on medium to high speed, mix everything together until it becomes lighter in color and has a lighter texture. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Sweet potato 'fries'
Preheat the oven to 375
Wash/scrub two medium sweet potatoes and then slice them into long rectangles like french fries. Leave the skin on, its a very highly nutritious part. Toss them in olive oil and spread out on a sheet pan. Sprinkle the tops with salt, pepper, and red chili powder. Then bake for 10 to 15 minutes, flip them over and bake them for another 10 minutes, until they are soft but the edges are starting to crisp up. Then enjoy! (two potatoes serves 4 people)

Guiltless Warm Flourless Chocolate Cakes (courtesy of

Ingredients: Cooking spray 6 ounces 70 percent dark chocolate 1 tablespoon orange zest 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2 very ripe bananas 1/4 cup roasted sweet potato 1/4 cup honey 1 whole egg 3 egg whites

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 8 (4-ounce) ramekins or custard cups on a large baking sheet. Spray with cooking spray and set aside. Combine chocolate, orange zest and vanilla extract in a medium bowl over hot boiling water. Whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Puree bananas, sweet potato and honey until smooth. Remove the melted chocolate from heat and fold over banana puree and 1 whole egg. Mix well. Whip the egg whites until soft peak. Slowly fold egg whites into chocolate mixture. Spoon mix into ramekins, filling them almost to the top. Bake for approximately 6 to 7 minutes, remove and serve. Warm center of the chocolate should be soft.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Kale: A Super Green Food!

While I may just throw some whole Kale leaves into a tortilla or pita wrap with some hummus, tomatoes and red onion, I know some people need to get used to the slightly bitter taste of this super green. The recipe below does that, turning kale leaves into crispy, salty, melt in your mouth goodness that works as a side or as an appetizer (One of my favorite restaurants in Colorado serves them as a bar snack.) But first a little bit about Kale – Kale is a member of the broccoli family but as a leaf it more resembles collared greens (the same family) and is one of the hardiest leaves out there. There are believed to be anti –oxidant properties in Kale as well as anti-inflamatory properties. The New York Times just published a Kale recipe last Wednesday in a hearty bean soup so I have added that link below as well.

Kale “Chips”

One bunch of kale, olive oil, a couple of teaspoons of good sea salt

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Wash the Kale and break off good size chunks of leaves away from thick stem, dry them pretty thoroughly. Wash your hands well and dry them, then pour a little bit of olive oil into your palm and grab a Kale leaf and using your hands, thinly coat both sides of the leaf with olive oil. Then put the leaf down flat onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat this until the baking sheet is full, try not to overlap. Then sprinkle some good sea salt over the tops of the kale. Put the Kale in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until crispy but not burned. Take out of the oven and let cool for a couple of minutes then enjoy or store in an airtight container for up to three or four days!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Common questions and answers about nutrition!

So, before I go outside on this wonderful New England spring day to soak up the warmth of the sun, I thought I would post some common questions that I either get asked directly or have to clarify during my workshops. Enjoy! Hopefully I'll see you outside!

Question #1: What is a calorie?

Calories are not the amount of fat in a food, a calorie is a measure of energy – energy that acts as your body’s fuel. One of my colleagues put it very nicely comparing calories in the human body to gasoline that a car uses. What you put into your car gets consumed by everything that your car does, obviously using more of it the more the car does, the faster you go, longer distances, etc. The same thing happens in your body – you use or ‘burn’ calories when you sleep, when you walk or run and everything in between. Your body needs calories, about 1,500- 2,500 a day depending on gender and activity level, but what is important to take note of is the type of calories, if you want your body to run smoothly you need to put the proper fuel in, all humans deserve premium fuel.

Question #2: What is the difference between a complex carbohydrate and a simple carbohydrate?

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, your body does not have to break down simple sugars at all in the digestive system they can immediately be absorbed in you bloodstream and distributed throughout the body to be used by cells in the body as energy to do work – muscle contraction, brain synapses firing, respiratory system, and so on. Complex carbohydrates are long chains of sugar that your digestive system breaks down and slowly absorbs into the body. Ever heard of a sugar high? And then the inevitable sugar low? This is because your body processes the sugar so quickly that you run out of energy and hit a low. With complex carbohydrates like whole grains and fruits and vegetables your body doesn’t get a rush of energy and then crash, it is sustained energy. Foods that are complex carbohydrates tend to be more fibrous as well which makes you feel fuller faster, keeps you from overeating and keeps your digestive system regular. Simple carbohydrates (which include refined grains, sugar, corn syrup, etc.) get absorbed so quickly you have no opportunity to feel full and overloading your insulin receptor with sugar (glucose) can lead to type 2 Diabetes.

Question #3: What is the difference between good fats and bad fats?

In overly simplified terms fats that come from animals are bad – butter, cheese, lard, fatty tissue in red meat. Good fats are ones that come from plants – avocado, nuts, fish, olive oil, flax seed oil. Bad fats- saturated fats - raise bad cholesterol, increasing your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease. This is the kind of fat that causes people to have the risky but increasingly more common double, triple and even quadruple bypass surgeries! (But “Genetics!” some of you may cry, and yes, often times heart problems are genetic but unhealthy diets significantly increase the risk of heart problems.) Good fats- unsaturated (either mono or poly)- raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. Trans fats are the worst of all though, trans fats are partially hydrogenised oils – meaning that an unsaturated fat in liquid form (like vegetable oil) was forced into taking more hydrogen in order to solidify – making a kind of fat that is found nowhere in nature, only in packaged foods! Trans fat not only increases your bad cholesterol but also decreases your good cholesterol!

Question #4: How do people get fat?

Being overweight or obese happens when you consume more calories than your body needs over an extended period of time, it does not happen overnight. The excess calories that your body does not use are stored as fat in specific areas of your body – belly area, backs of arms, chest, thighs, buttocks etc. These are muscle areas that your body typically uses so your body sends fuel to these places and they aren’t used then they stay there to be turned into fat.

An extra 200 calories a day than your body uses can add up to more than 10 pounds in a year. An extra 240 calories is one 20 ounce bottle of soda, two oreos are 320 extra calories – that’s more than having one large plain baked potato extra a day! Its no wonder that college kids can gain the freshman 15 pounds in one year just by not considering their soda intake or their late night snacking. Sitting in front of the TV or computer while eating is one of the easiest ways to overeat because you have no idea of portion control, especially if you are eating straight from the box or bag. An easy way to fix this if you do need to do some work while snacking, fill a Ziploc bag with a sensible portion of a healthy snack like almonds or grab a medium or small sized apple or orange. Often times people who are overweight have no idea what a proper portion size is for their food and they end up overeating that way.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Relationship with Food

Let me first say that I am not a doctor or a nutritionist; I am a university student with a passion for food and exercise and an expanding knowledge of issues related to food and exercise. I teach nutrition and physical activity to public high schools as part of a larger health program that uses volunteers from universities to teach workshops. Sometimes I am amazed at how little the students have been taught previously in regards to living a healthy lifestyle, including some things that I think are very simple because I was taught by my parents from very early on in life. Then I realized that I was very lucky to have been taught all these things and have been able to live such a healthy lifestyle.

I love food. Some may call me a foodie because I love to cook and I love restaurants. I love finding that little awesome neighborhood place with that mouth-watering grilled sandwich, but I also love being pampered with high-end food at expensive restaurants. But I also have an extremely healthy relationship with food. I am a pescetarian (a vegetarian who eats cheese, eggs and fish, no poultry, beef or pork, etc.) and have been for 6 years. I don't eat meat for a variety reasons which I am sure I will get into further on in this blog. I happen to love healthy foods - I could eat sweet potatoes, quinoa and kale for the rest of my life - and that is where my healthy relationship with food begins. I don't believe in the idea of 'dieting' as a verb; you should be eating what you want to eat in correct amounts and you shouldn't restrict anything completely from your 'diet' (noun). Another important aspect of my life is how I like being active, from going on walks and doing yoga to cycling, skiing and rock-climbing. I believe in finding the right balance in your life of healthy foods, indulgent foods and physical activity - this balance has made me happy and healthy.

In this blog I first want to answer some of the questions that I feel are important to address; many of these questions I have been asked by some of the students before and some are just questions that I find important regarding nutrition. Secondly I will address living active lifestyles, and this does not mean I want people to start training for marathons. I am talking about just going outside, enjoying the outdoors or enjoying what the world has to offer, ways of being active participants - in other words not sitting in front of a TV or computer all day. I may also add in some recipes that I love (including my recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, see I enjoy sweets sometimes too!) and I may profile some cool restaurants and people that are doing great things about nutrition or exercise.
I hope my advice isn't seen as me trying to force or impose my views on you. I am really just interested in educating the public on issues that I care about and think are extremely important in a day and age where 'adult onset diabetes' has had to be renamed 'type 2 diabetes' because of the increasing amount of children who have acquired it. I will add any sources that I pull information from, and they will be credible sources (no wikipedia,). Feel free to respond to me, but please don't be rude; if you don't care about any of this stuff then don't read it, but I hope that maybe you will start to care about it, because I really do. If I can leave you with any simple advice for starting to live a healthier lifestyle it is these two things: cook your own food and get outside for at least part of your day.