Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fruits and Veggies: More Matters

An apple a day keeps the doctor away...or so the saying goes. Unlike some other oft repeated sayings, this one seems to have some truth to it. Fruits and vegetables are true superfoods. High in nutrients and antioxidants, and low in calories they should be an essential part of your daily routine (especially when losing weight). The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that you fill half your plate with fruits and veggies at every meal and snack. Are you getting enough?

On average, Americans eat only 3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The recommended amount is 5-13 servings. How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you need per day? Check out this calculator from the CDC. You enter your age, sex, and activity level and it will give you the number of cups of fruits and veggies you should consume each day. For me: 2 cup of fruit, and 3 cups of veggies. One thing is clear. Most of us are not eating enough fruits and veggies.

What are the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables?
  1. Low in calories and high in fiber and water. Because fruits and veggies a largely composed of water and fiber there are few calories in a large volume of food. They are great for filling you up.
  2. Rich in vitamins and minerals including vitamins A,C, and K, potassium, folate and magnesium. These important nutrients are often lacking in the American diet.
  3. May reduce risk of disease including:
    • Heart disease and stroke: A JNCI study showed that people who ate 8 or more serving of fruit and vegetables reduced their chances of a heart attack or stroke by 30% compared to people who ate only 1.5 servings per day.  Two other studies showed people who eat more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day reduce their risk of stroke and heart disease by about 20% compared to people who eat less than 3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
    • High blood pressure: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and is therefore important to keep in a healthy range. A study examining a diet low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables found that patients with high blood pressure who adhered to this diet reduced their systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
    • Type 2 diabetes: Eating leafy green vegetables has been shown to reduce the risk of getting diabetes by 14%.
    • Obesity: Consuming low-energy (low calorie) foods (like fruits and vegetables) has been shown to reduce obesity compared to consuming high-energy processed food.
    • Certain types of cancer: The jury is still out. It's not clear if consuming fruits and vegetables lowers cancer risk. However, certain fruits and veggies probably protect against certain types of cancer including cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, lung, esophagus, stomach, and colon-recutm.
    • Diverticulitis: Fruits and veggies are very high in fiber, which absorbs water and expands as it passes through the digestive system. This can make bowel movements more regular. And, it may decrease the pressure in the colon, helping to prevent diverticulosis (irritated pouches in the colon).
    • Cataract and macular degeneration: The risk of developing these two age-related eye diseases is reduced by eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies.
  4. They're colorful. Fruits and vegetables add nutritious color to your plate, making meals look good, and mealtime more fun.
  5. Rich in antioxidants. These compounds remove potentially damaging free radicals from your cells.
  6. They're delicious!
How can you incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet?
  1. Prep fruit and veggies in advance. After a trip to the grocery store, immediately wash and chop all your fruit and veggies and put them in easily accessible containers in your refrigerator. This will make them easy to grab for snacks or to throw into dishes while cook. A little bit of advance preparation will make it convenient to eat your fruits and veggies all week.
  2. Snack on fruits and veggies. Add some protein for an extra hearty snack. Try Ants on a log (celery topped with peanut butter and raisins), apple slices with peanut butter, yogurt with berries, or pineapple chunks with cottage cheese and sunflower seeds (my personal favorite). Make a smoothie. Munch on some baby carrots. Eat frozen grapes instead of high calorie frozen treats.
  3. Try a new fruit or veggie each week. Have you tried chard? Kale? Kiwi? Spaghetti squash? Papaya? Cabbage? Mango? Eggplant? You just might find some new favorites.
  4. Sneak fruits and veggies into your regular meals. Add veggies to sandwiches and burgers. Top pizza with veggies. Top cereal or oatmeal with berries or raisins. Puree veggies and add to pasta sauce. Add veggies to soups. Mix fruit in with your yogurt. Replace 1/3 of the potatoes in mashed potatoes with cauliflower or sweet potato. Top ice cream with fruit fresh.
  5. Try some new fruit and veggie rich recipes.
Will eating more fruits and vegetables help me lose weight?
Yes! It's not a magical weight loss panacea. But, eating more fruits and veggies is great for weight loss. They are low in calories, but high in fiber and water. This will help to fill you up (because you are eating a large volume of food) with fewer calories.

Get more fruits and vegetables with these recipes
Here are some tried and true favorites from my blog:
Banana Soft Serve
Rice and Lentil Pilaf

For more recipes check out this Fruit and Vegetable Recipe Search for a great collection of recipes. You can enter a particular fruit or veggie you have on hand as a keyword and get a list of recipes using it. And, it even searches by color so you can make sure you are getting variety.

Or, check out these fruit and vegetable recipes from the Mayo Clinic healthy recipe index. Delicious and healthy!

How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you eat every day? Do you have any tips for getting more into your diet? If you're not getting enough- why?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Friend Makin' Monday: Tech Questions

Happy Monday Everyone! On Monday Kenlie over at All the Weigh hosts Friend Makin' Monday. How does it work? She posts questions on her blog. You answer them on your own blog, and then post a link at on All the Weigh. So, here are my answers. If you want to participate answer these questions on your own blog, and post the link in the comments of Kenlie's blog.

Tech Questions

1.  PC or Mac? I'm a PC girl. I don't mind Macs, but I just can't justify the added cost when the hardware is the same.
2. When did you get your first computer?  I got my own computer when I went to college in 2004. But, my family had a computer my entire life. The earliest computers we had were before's hard to believe now. I was an MS-DOS expert.
3. Do you use cable, DSL or something else? Cable.
4. When choosing a laptop, do you think it’s more important to choose the fastest one, or the lightest one?  Both. Actually, I mostly use my laptop at home (I don't take it with me too many places), and I do some computation heavy bioinformatics. So, speed is usually more important to me than weight.
5. What kind of cell phone do you own?  Do you like it? I have a Samsung free phone (you know the ones you get for free when you sign up for a plan). It makes calls, so I like it just fine. But, it doesn't do nearly as many cool things as an iPhone. But, that's not in the budget yet.
6. How do you carry your laptop when you travel?  In my laptop bag. It seems to protect it pretty well. I definitely carry it on when I fly, and stick it under the seat in front of me.
7. How many e-mails do you send on an average day? I don't know. Maybe 20?
8. Do you ever blog using your iPad or similar tablet? Nope. I don't have any of those cool gadgets.
9. What do you use more often – a desktop or a laptop? Laptop at home, and desktop at work (unless I'm traveling, then I take a work laptop).
10.  As a blogger, are there other gadgets that you need to get the job done?  If so, what are they?  My digital camera, but that's it.
Now it’s your turn to answer this week’s questions on your blog!  Don’t forget to go back to All the Weigh  and link up in the comments! Happy Monday, friends!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Obesity and Hunter-Gatherers

The New York Times ran an interesting article "Debunking the Hunter-Gatherer Workout" discussing a research article published yesterday in PLoS ONE. As we all know, obesity is on the rise, and represents a major public health concern. Why is obesity on the rise? Public health experts disagree on whether it is due to a decrease in physical activity, or an increase in calorie consumption (or a combination of both). What affects our weight more: diet or exercise?

For some reason I couldn't find a stock image of a
hunter-gatherer, but this guy has a spear , so it will have to do.

To determine how our physical activity has changed over time (as obesity has increased), the researchers studied the Hadza people of Tanzania, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer societies. They measured the energy expenditure, amount of exercise, and diet. The results were somewhat surprising. The Hadza were more physically active than the typical American. However, the amount of calories they burn per day is no different from the typical American. Surprising!

Over years of evolution our bodies have developed ways to keep our energy expenditure constant. This was no doubt a very useful thing when we lived in environments with limited resources, and had to worry about staving off starvation. But, it's not so useful in trying to lose weight. This confirms what most people who have lost weight already know, diet is more important than exercise. Exercise definitely helps, but diet is essential.

Check it out, it's a neat paper!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Week 8 Weigh In

Prevent Yo-Yo Dieting by o5com, on Flickr

Previous Week's Weight =170.4 lbs
Today's Weight = 169.8 lbs
Lost This Week= 0.6 lbs
Total Lost = 10.2 lbs

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

I'm back on track after a couple lazy weeks. 0.6 lbs lost since last week (but still 0.4 lbs higher than my lowest weight a couple weeks ago). If I can keep going like this I'll be in good shape. I really stuck to my goals this week. I logged all my food and stayed at 2,000 calories per day. I ate more than 5 servings of fruit and veggies per day. And, my exercise was awesome this week (2 swims, 2 weight lifting sessions, 2 tennis matches, and 1 kickball game...yes adults can play kickball too, it's fun!).

I'm heading to the state fair with some friends today. Wish me luck! The plan is to have a lot of fun, and allow myself to eat some super unhealthy food on a stick (in moderation). Then I'll be right back to my normal routine tomorrow.

Happy Saturday everyone! And, enjoy your weekend!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Taste in Obesity

How does taste affect the types of food you will eat? Or the amount you eat? How does this affect weight loss? Nature recently published an interesting series on Taste that looks at some of these questions.

Insensitive Issue, an article on obesity, is particularly interesting. It discusses the role of taste preferences and fat consumption in obesity. Obesity is strongly associated with the consumption of fat. Recent research suggests that we may have taste receptors for fat (in addition to sweet, sour, salty, umami, and bitter). So, could obese people actually taste food differently? The article explains "that a taste described as 'extremely sweet' by a lean person might not seem so sweet to someone overweight, because their food experiences are different." Obese people tend to prefer sweet, fatty foods.

16:365 by LOLren, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
  by  LOLren 

Now the question is: is it cause or effect? Does eating fatty foods decrease our sensitivity to fatty tastes and cause us to eat more (a vicious cycle)? Or does a reduced ability to taste fat cause us to eat more? The truth is probably in between- a combination of environmental and genetic factors lead to overeating fatty foods, and becoming obese. This is both good and bad news. The bad news is that some people may be genetically predisposed to obesity based on their genetics. But, the good news is that some of it is within your control. This article suggests that by reducing your consumption of fatty foods your sensitivity to their taste will increase you will be satisfied with less, making it easier to lose weight. In other words the longer you continue to make good healthy food choices the easier it will get.

A study last year suggest the same is true with sweets. Increasing consumption of sweet beverages increases your preference for sweets. This is further evidence that the longer you eat a healthy diet, the easier it will be to continue. This is strong support for losing weight with healthy lifestyle changes, and not fad diets. Many diets on the market don't limit sweet or fatty tastes. While you may lose weight on these diets, your desire for high calorie fatty sweets would remain. This would make it very easy to regain the weight.

I'm not very far along in my weight loss journey. But, already I notice that fruits taste sweeter, and I can satisfy my sweet cravings with a piece of fruit instead of a package of cookies. Similarly, a teaspoon of butter in a pot of pasta and veggies tastes decadent, whereas before my food would have been drowning in it. I'm on the right track, but it will require constant vigilance. The research shows that healthy eating will reduce the preference for sweet and fatty tastes, but the converse is also true. If I slip up and start to indulge in more treats the sweet fatty preference will come right back.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pizza the Healthier Way

I've been doing a great job this week- eating healthy foods, and exercising. But, I've had major pizza cravings. A single slice just wasn't going to cut it, and it had to be covered in delicious melted cheese. So, before I snuck out to eat an entire meat lovers pizza, I decided to make my own. It turned out delicious, much healthier than the alternative, and I ate a quarter of the pizza for under 400 calories. Awesome!

The crust. 100% whole wheat and super tasty!
I'm too lazy to make my own pizza crust. So, here's my favorite store bought crust: Mama Mary's (I am in no way affiliated with them...but, I wish I was). It's delicious, 100% whole wheat, low in calories, and it comes out wonderfully thin and crispy. It's pretty darn big, and only 540 calories for the whole shebang (yes, I realize that's a lot...but, it's so worth it).

The final product. Delicious!

Pizza Crust
1/4 cup pesto
1 cup shredded parmesan (or asiago)
1 cup chicken (chopped)
1/2 red bell pepper (sliced)
8oz sliced mushrooms


  1. Brush crust with pesto
  2. Add sliced mushrooms and sliced bell pepper
  3. Top with chicken
  4. Sprinkle evenly with cheese
  5. Bake at 425 degrees for ~8 minutes
  6. Enjoy (guilt free)!
There you have it. Healthier pizza. It satisfied my cravings, didn't put me over my calorie limit, and snuck in some more veggies. Perfect! Although next time I think I would throw some spinach on it.

What are your favorite diet friendly comfort foods?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Week 7 Weigh In

Prevent Yo-Yo Dieting by o5com, on Flickr

Previous Week's Weight =169.4 lbs
Today's Weight = 170.4 lbs
Gained This Week= 1 lbs
Total Lost = 9.6 lbs

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Oops! I'm going the wrong direction this week. I gained 1 pound. Time to get back on track. I haven't been tracking my calories, and it's obviously not working for me. So, I start counting calories again tomorrow.

At least I did well with exercise this week. Four tennis matches, and 3 days of strength training. I think I'm even beginning to see some new muscle definition from my new strength training routine. So, that's awesome. I'll be looking super strong and toned in no time. ;-)

I need to recommit myself to losing the weight.

This week I will:

  1. Eat less than 2,000 calories per day
  2. Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day.
  3. Exercise at least 5 days.

 Hopefully this will show on the scale. Check back here next week to see weight lost.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Healthy Homemade Soft Serve

The final product (Yummy!). I'm a terrible food it looks even better in person.

I just stumbled upon what may be the greatest recipe ever at the Choosing Raw blog: banana soft serve. It's fabulous! If you're anything like me you frequently throw overripe bananas in the freezer to make banana bread. But, it's way too hot in the summer to bake. So, what do you do? Make banana ice cream! This is super easy, healthy, and delicious. I ate ice cream for dinner guilt free.

Getting Sarted
~2 frozen bananas (peel them before freezing)

Optional Ingredients
~1 cup frozen blueberries (or other fruit)
cocoa powder
peanut butter

Put the banana (and any optional ingredients) in a food processor. Blend for ~5 minutes. Stop occasionally to scrap the sides down. Scoop into bowl and enjoy! That's it. Super simple.

I was a bit skeptical when I started, especially since in the beginning it looks like all you'll get is shredded banana. Keep going and after a few minutes you get a nice smooth soft serve made entirely of fruit. I added blueberries to mine. I love blueberries! Give it a try!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How Dieting Makes People Obese

There was an interesting article in the Huffington Post yesterday: How Dieting Makes People Obese. It discusses the powerful effect that dieting can have on your relationship with food. Check it out.

The article discusses women (and even young girls) who begin to diet to lose weight (even when it isn't medically necessary). The food restriction causes food to become a focal point; no longer able to eat freely the food restrictions cause them to crave forbidden treats. When the diet ends the new unhealthy relationship with food remains. Compulsive overeating leads to regaining the lost weight and more.

It's an interesting idea (although perhaps a bit overstated in this article), and something I'm actively trying to avoid. I hope that by focusing on adding new healthy habits, instead of focusing on restrictions, I can avoid this diet trap. I'm working on adding more colorful fruits and veggies to my diet (at least 5 a day in 3 colors), and making daily exercise a priority. I'm also cooking more at home, and trying new healthy recipes, in hopes that I will enjoy my home-cooked healthy meals more than the high-calorie processed foods I'm avoiding. Time will tell how this works for me.

This article didn't mention another important way that dieting can make people obese. During weight loss you inevitably lose some muscle and lean tissue along with the fat. When the weight is regained- the fat is regained (plus more), but the muscle is usually not. This causes the basal metabolic rate to drop (due to decreased muscle tissue), and the person now needs to eat fewer calories to maintain their weight. Do this a few times (as happens with yo-yo dieters), and you can see how easy it is to put on more weight that was lost. I think the key here is to avoid the muscle loss as much as possible. And, as I've mentioned before, I just started a weight training program to try to maintain my muscle mass while losing fat.

What are you doing to avoid these dieting traps? Have you though about how you will maintain your weight when you reach your weight goal?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Friend Makin' Monday: In the Kitchen

Happy Monday Everyone! On Monday Kenlie over at All the Weigh hosts Friend Makin' Monday. How does it work? She posts questions on her blog. You answer them on your own blog, and then post a link at on All the Weigh. So, here are my answers. If you want to participate answer these questions on your own blog, and post the link in the comments of Kenlie's blog.

In the Kitchen

1. How often do you cook at home? About 3 days a week. When I do cook I make huge batches and freeze the leftovers in individual servings for later.
2. Do you eat more fresh produce, frozen or canned produce? I usually eat fresh produce, especially fruit. But, this can get expensive. So, I do use frozen veggies frequently. I love pineapple, so when the fresh stuff isn't available I'll go with canned.
3. What are a few unusual staples that can always be found in your kitchen?  Sweet chili sauce. It goes with everything. And, nutella (it's terribly unhealthy, but so good).
4. Look in your fridge, then tell us about the healthiest thing in there. Eggplant, and spinach. I love baked eggplant and curried spinach and chickpeas.
5. Now share the most unhealthy thing in it.  My refrigerator is actually full of healthy foods. The worst thing in there is probably cheese. But, don't get the wrong impression. The freezer is full of popsicles and cool whip. And, the cupboard has a steady supply of cookies and nutella.
6. Do you eat leftovers? All the time. I purposely cook way too much food so that I'll have leftovers for a couple days, and freeze some of the leftovers in individual portions. It makes lunch easy and healthy, just grab a container out of the freezer and go.
7. Do you use coupons at the supermarket?  Occasionally when I just happen to get a coupon for something I buy regularly. But, I don't look for coupons, or choose my purchases based on the coupons I have.
8. How often do you try new recipes? A couple times a month. I've been making an effort to try new recipes featuring veggies that I don't eat enough of (e.g. kale, spinach, cabbage). I'm hoping I'll find some I really enjoy, and add more veggie variety to my diet.
9. Do you make grocery lists?  Do you stick to them? I always make lists. I usually stick to them.
10. If you could buy one food item that would magically be calorie-free, which item would you choose? This is a tough one. Either cookies or sweet potato fries. I've had a strange sweet potato fry addiction lately. Luckily it can usually be satisfied by my somewhat healthy baked version.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Week 6 Weigh In

Prevent Yo-Yo Dieting by o5com, on Flickr

Previous Week's Weight =169.4 lbs
Today's Weight = 169.4 lbs
Lost This Week= 0 lbs
Total Lost = 10.6 lbs

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

This was a tough week. I'm a bit disappointed I didn't lose any weight, but I'm more relieved that I didn't gain any weight. I didn't do a great job with my meals this week. Work was super busy, I was working long hours, and hardly getting any sleep. I decided to prioritize my exercise this week, and really let my calorie tracking slide. I didn't count calories or log my food this week. I did make sure I got my 5 a day fruits and veggies, but I ate a lot of less than healthy food too. I'm going to have to work on strategies to stay on track with my calories even when life gets busy (because it often does). But, I didn't do much damage, and I'm ready to get back to it this week.

I was more successful with exercise this week. I started a weight training program at my gym, and I'm really enjoying it so far, and learning a lot. Week one came with a lot of soreness, but I'm really excited about getting into a strength training routine. In addition to my 2 strength training workouts, I got in 3 tennis matches, and a quick swim. I think that was enough exercise that I didn't gain weight despite my poor diet.

Only 0.1 lbs to a healthy BMI. Here's to hoping I reach it next week!

What are your strategies for staying on track when life gets busy?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Food, Inc.

I'm a bit behind the times, but I finally got around to watching the 2008 documentary Food, Inc. It's a great film. If you haven't seen it you can catch it here. Most of the topics discussed were not new to me, but it was interesting nonetheless.

This film discusses the industrialization of our nation's food production. We've moved from small family farms to giant corporation owned farms, focused on mass production. The goal is more food, faster, and cheaper. Unfortunately, this progress often comes at the expense of nutrition. The government subsidies of corn and soybeans make it cheaper to eat meat (from animals fed corn and soy), and high calorie processed junk, than it is to eat nutritious, seasonal, fresh fruits and veggies.

While I agree that the industrialization of agriculture has had a lot of negative effects (as the film illustrates), I think the film present a somewhat limited perspective. Industrialization has had many benefits. It has allowed us to produce enough food to support our rapidly growing population, using less farmland, without making food prohibitively expensive. This is a great thing, but it has come at a cost. How can we improve the problems without losing the benefits of industrialization?

The film also points out the failure of the government and the FDA to regulate the food industry. The food industry has powerful lobbyists (and plenty of money) fighting against regulation. And, so far they have been successful, to the detriment of the American people. It's about time that our politicians stand up for the people they represent, instead of protecting the food industry, and pass legislation intended to improve food safety and nutrition.

One thing that struck me was a comparison of the tobacco industry to the food industry. Consumers pushed for regulation of the tobacco industry, and therefore should be able to do the same with food. While I think this is a good point, this comparison seems a bit flawed. Cigarettes are terrible (for everyone). But, food is more complicated. Everyone needs to eat. Yes, it's better to eat healthy, nutritious foods. But, that is not the only factor. Cost, and convenience need to be factored in. While I have the luxury of being able to choose healthy groceries with little regard to price, for some struggling families this is an impossibility. In the short term healthy choices often don't seem like the best option. How do we change this?

Have you seen this film? What were your thoughts?

*If you are interested in the topic check out a similar documentary I blogged about a month ago: The Weight of the Nation.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Increasing Veggie Variety: Cabbage

Sweet chili sauce tilapia on a bed of cabbage.
I've been trying to add some new veggies into my diet to get some more variety, and encourage myself to eat more vegetables. This week: cabbage. I'm not a fan of coleslaw, and that's where I usually see cabbage. So, I never think to cook other things with it. Time to change that.

First, what's so great about cabbage? Cabbage is low in calories, but high in fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin K. A great diet food! And it's super cheap (which is good on my grad student budget). Cabbage is high in antioxidants and studies suggest it may prevent cancer (see this and this).

I couldn't decide whether I wanted purple or green cabbage, so I got both. I chopped it (in my amazing food processor) and braised it in chicken stock. The chicken stocks adds some flavor with very few calories (which is great). However, the cabbage wasn't as flavorful as I would have liked. Next time I'll add some spices. But, it was very good with some tilapia. I spread sweet chili sauce on the fish, sprinkled bread crumbs on top, and baked it wrapped in foil. This went very well with the cabbage, and added some flavor that was otherwise lacking.

Do you have a favorite cabbage recipe? How do you usually cook your cabbage?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Week 5 Weigh In

Prevent Yo-Yo Dieting by o5com, on Flickr

Previous Week's Weight =171.6 lbs
Today's Weight = 169.4 lbs
Lost This Week= 2.2 lbs
Total Lost = 10.6 lbs

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Wow! I'm 2.2 lbs down this week. I have to say I wasn't expecting that. I had a lot of long early morning meetings this week, which means unlimited free doughnuts and cookies. And, while I stayed under my daily calorie limit every day- this week included 7 doughnuts and 6 cookies. I definitely got more sugar than I needed, but I did make sure to get at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies every day, so I guess I didn't do much harm. On the plus side, I am now only 0.1lbs away from a healthy BMI. So, hopefully I'll reach that next week. Awesome!

Exercise wasn't great this week either. I played 3 tennis matches, and went to 1 zumba class. I was planning to get more swims in this week, but it didn't happen. I've been spending so much time watching Olympic swimming, I didn't have time to make it to the pool myself (ironic?). I need to step it up this week. And, my women's weight training program is starting, so it shouldn't be hard. Weight lifting, here I come!