3

Nuts for Cola

Raise your hand if you’ve said or heard one of these three phrases.

“I don’t drink soda.”

“I haven’t had soda for 5/10/15 years.”

“I only drink water, tea, and coffee.”

These days, soda, in all its forms, is out, and healthy drinks are in (well, not all of them – PSL drinkers, looking at you). Soda is the devil, and any nutritionista (new word?) worth their salt would take that salt and throw it over their shoulder. Sugar, caffeine, carbonation, cancer, death, libido, losing your hair, giving birth to mutant children; any or all of these things are in your future should you choose to have that soda. It’s come so far that not drinking soda is almost becoming cliche.

Now, I do agree that soda should not be anyone’s main source of liquid. Children should not drink soda, because they haven’t developed that part of the brain and tongue that knows its limits when it comes to sugar. If you don’t have a soda for a week or two, the first one after that will taste weird, which is probably a signal that it is indeed an unnatural part of the human diet, to some extent. I, myself, do not buy soda to keep in the house; however, I have been known to indulge in a Diet Coke at a gas station, or with a meal at a restaurant. I restrict myself from having it often, but still, it gets such a bad rap from everyone else that it’s almost like we need to strangle all the sodas in the world and hang them from the gallows in the town square.

Today, I went to Marshalls, and on my way out, I grabbed a Diet Coke. I don’t know when the last time I had some was, but it had been a while and I was really jonesing for it, so I got it. My first sip was incredibly bitter and sour, but midway through the bottle that familiar cola taste came through. It was not strong enough that I wanted another, but it satisfied my thirst and my need for flavor for a while.

So here’s where my dilemma comes in.

You know how some people do not or cannot consume a certain thing (coffee, peaches, oranges) but enjoy things that give them the same flavor experience (coffee cake, peach tea, orange Life Savers)?

Yeah, that’s what cola is for me.

I love the taste of cola. You know what I’m talking about, the kind that you get from Mexican coke, or Passover coke, or the off-brand hippie cola that Trader Joe’s has. It’s smooth, sweet, and comforting. Unfortunately, unlike peach tea and coffee cake, which can come in moderately healthy versions, I have not been able to find any sort of food or drink that emulates that cola taste, yet isn’t insanely unhealthy or expensive.

In the meantime, I’ll finish this Diet Coke…but I know there’s something out there, somewhere.

Oh, and welcome to my first visitor for Belarus.

4

Foolproof Food For Every Mood

These past few weeks, I’ve been trying to lose weight for the Phoenix/San Juan/Baltimore trip. I should be working more on packing my apartment and doing research, but this post will not be about that. I’ve been spending most of my days (when I’m not in bed) exercising and focusing on eating healthier. This week hasn’t been the greatest for my exercise, but as far as my dieting goes, I don’t think I’m doing that badly. I’m not focusing on being strict as far as time; I’ve been eating when I’m hungry, and stopping when I’m full. I’ve been avoiding any type of “zombie food,” like chips or pretzels, things that you eat subconsciously when watching TV or on the computer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My problem, though, is picking foods that are tasty, satisfying, and healthy. It seems like everything has something in it that’s bad for you, but here are some things that I’ve been consuming over the past few weeks that have kept me sane and helped me lose weight. Also, disclaimer, I know nothing about nutrition so this might all be wrong, but just go with it.

1. Protein shakes.

As everyone knows, it’s all about the protein. And the protein shake is the way to get it in the morning, after a workout, or at night. I’ve been having one with breakfast, and after a workout. Beware: some of them are very sugary and some contain animal products. My brand of choice is the Whole Foods 365 brand: organic and not too sugary.

2. Eggs.

The other main protein source, the ever-popular egg. My breakfast usually consists of four boiled egg whites, although I have been known to make a mean omelette. There is good stuff in the yolk as well, but also some fat and cholesterol, which is bad considering my personal family history.

3. Coffee.

The jury’s always out on coffee, but sixteen ounces of black iced coffee, sometimes with a half-packet of sugar, ups the caffeine without a lot of the fat of milk and/or syrups.

4. Tuna fish.

Tuna fish was a whole food group in my house growing up, so I have no problem eating it in any form, raw, cooked, or from a can. I don’t add anything but black pepper. I stopped putting mayonnaise in awhile back, and I recently had some mayo on a tuna sandwich at a restaurant and found that it had a bit of a sour taste that I didn’t notice before, so I don’t think I’ll be adding it back in. Also, it quantifies eating bread, because who can say no to tuna on rye? Especially if that rye has RAISINS in it. Thank you, Angelic Bakehouse.

5. Tilapia.

Cooking fish is really not as hard as everyone thinks. I just shove it in the oven for about fifteen and it comes out flaky and delicious. Woodman’s sells huge bags of frozen tilapia, so that’s basically what’s in my freezer, aside from…

6. Chicken.

I usually tell the world that I’m a vegetarian or pescetarian, mostly because I don’t want to have to explain kashrut every day of my life. And when I do talk about chicken to a friend who thinks I’m a vegetarian but doesn’t know about kosher, I just say that “I don’t trust restaurants,” or “I only like chicken the way I make it.” Both are somewhat true; restaurants are overpriced, and I’ve never disliked any chicken I’ve made. Metcalfe’s has bags of frozen Empire chicken, $16 a bag but worth it for the kosher symbol.

7. Iced tea.

Diet Lipton citrus green and mixed berry are my new roommates. They’re too awesome to pay rent, so I just let them loaf.

8. Sparkling water.

First, there was water. BUT THEN THEY MADE IT SPARKLY AND FRUITY WITHOUT ADDING SUGAR.

9. Nuts and baby carrots.

I’ll admit, the only snacky food that I do partake in are almonds and baby carrots. Seriously, just turn on the TV and stuff your face with a half a bag of carrots and some almonds. Your body will thank you.

10. Peanut butter/almond butter and jam sandwiches.

Oh PB&J, how I do love thee. Sugar free jam is the way to go, and chocolate almond butter is like eating Nutella, only not.

11. Salads.

Yay for eating salads! Boo for making them at home though, I usually go out and have huge salads at restaurants because I am lazy and veggies go bad too quickly.

12. Indulgences.

I do indulge, like everyone else, from time to time. But when I do, it’s on foods/drinks that have some nutritional value, albeit very little, but not horrible in moderation. My food indulgences: biscotti (one piece and I’m done), cheese (as a topping for salads/eggs only), and Chipotle (sofritas salads for the win). My drink indulgences: diet soda (usually just one can/cup at a restaurant), Caffe D’Vita (a little sugar, but not a whole lot), and lattes with skim milk and sugar-free syrup (usually a weekend treat).

My diet could probably use a few more vegetables, but overall, I’m not depriving myself of nutrients and eating healthy portions. And yes, I do crave Twizzlers, cookies, cake, pizza, pasta, Starbucks, but not enough to cave and get them.

Here’s to getting in shape for the summer.

Oh, and welcome to my newest visitors from Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman. Apparently I’m big on the Arabian Peninsula; now if only the Yemenites would come and say hello.

2

Is This Covered By My HMO?

In the past few super-packed days, I’ve actually managed to finish not one but two books. The first I finished on Thursday while riding in the passenger seat of the car, somewhere in Ohio, and the second, earlier tonight. It’s been two days since I finished it, but it won’t be hard to recall my thoughts on Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A. J. Jacobs.

This isn’t the first book I’ve read by A. J. Jacobs. I read his first book, where he read the complete Encyclopedia Britannica, hoping to become the world’s smartest man. I thought it was interesting and hysterical. His second book, detailing a year of living according to the Bible, was one that I decided I could pass on. This third book was on my maybe list, but I found a copy at Book Thing so I thought I’d take a chance.

I normally shy away from self-help/health-and-fitness books, because they seem to always contradict themselves. This one was no different, but Jacobs made the meta-contradictions  even funnier in his quest. A recurring character throughout the story was Jacobs’ “eccentric Aunt Marti“, sweeping in with phone calls and emails bearing advice about natural foods and the latest cocktail of deadly germs and toxins in our daily environment. She even makes an appearance in one chapter to help cleanse Jacobs’ New York City apartment, which she does to the nth degree. I’m not going to say what happens to her, but suffice it to say she had it coming.

Jacobs breaks the book down into chapters, each based on a body part; twenty-six of them, corresponding to the months he spent doing research, providing regular updates with his weight, workout regimen, and other details such as number of bowls of steel-cut oats consumed, or number of miles walked on at his homemade treadmill desk – actually, a nifty way to get some exercise and be productive at the same time (provided your speed is low enough to allow you to type, think, and take strides at the same time). Details on this and some of his other fitness/health/nutrition tips appear in several appendices.

I flagged so many pages of the book for new vocab words and funny ideas, as well as a few that I could implement in my own life. Some of Jacobs’ findings, however, are painfully basic, like in his chapter on the stomach, where a doctor whose expertise is in “orthorexia,” or a condition involving an unhealthy obsession with health food. As someone who is constantly between a multitude of eating plans, from “you only live once, so enjoy as much Nutella and Twizzlers as possible” to “if I can’t force myself to eat healthy food, then I’m not going to eat at all” to “yeah, I’m eating healthy…because I can’t put forth the effort to actually make food” to “I had fruit for breakfast so I can have pizza for lunch” and everywhere in between, the nutrition sections were of interest to me. On page 89, Jacobs is incredulous at the nonchalant response he gets of “don’t get fat and get your vitamins” which is like the kindergarten equivalent of basic nutrition advice. But this doctor also suggested to not smoke, drink sparingly, avoid pollution and get some exercise once in a while. I do all those things! Next time I’m feeling down on my body image, I can at least tell myself that I didn’t have a cigarette (26 years clean!) and I walked to State Street (to get a croissant and a cappuccino).

Speaking of food, I will never look at graham crackers the same way again: apparently, their inventor, Sylvester Graham, believed that masturbation led to “insanity, weakness, and death” (101) so he invented a treat to lower the libido. He could’ve just gone with baklava; just as good and just as unattractive. I don’t think I’ve ever had a baklava that turned me on.

In chapter nine, Jacobs explores the world of the lower intestine by visiting Dr. Lester Gottesman, who does a type of plastic surgery to make peoples’ farts smell better (I am not making this up), admitting that it has no health benefits and is purely cosmetic, in a sense. On page 133, Jacobs toots out this vignette:

I’m not a big scatology fan, unlike my sons, who can amuse themselves for an entire afternoon by repeating the phrase “crocodile fart.” So I’ll spare you from an overabundance of detail in this chapter. This chapter will be somewhat soft focus, like the TV camera in a Barbra Streisand interview…I found Dr. Gottesman because he’s been included on New York magazine’s Best Doctors list for the last eight years and has written, in his words, a “shitload” of academic articles.

And this one, on page 151, where he aspires to lower stress by petting strangers’ pets:

The evidence is solid that pets are good for humans’ health. A study by the Mayo Medical Center found that dog owners had significantly lower cholesterol. A study by the Minnesota Stroke Institute said that people who owned cats were 30 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack (though 40 percent more likely engage in scrapbooking).

My favorite parts were the appendices. They greeted me like friendly pats on the shoulder, telling me that I’m doing okay in my own life and providing some tips on the easy side, like drinking more water, increasing chewing during meals, and to stop eating in front of the TV. Avoiding all the toxins and constructing a treadmill desk is a bit much for me, but keeping myself in check about eating healthy things and excising stress through meditation, relaxation, and speaking/writing my worries is something I could handle.

Now for the negative criticism. In his first book, A. J. Jacobs came off as an ingenue, someone who just had a crazy idea and executed it in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants manner, making discoveries along the way and injecting personal anecdotes. There was a certain amount of innocence in his writing and a humility to his personality. The A. J. Jacobs I saw in this book put himself on a bit of a pedestal. Granted, getting healthy is more expensive than reading, but the lengths he goes to for learning are extreme, both in approach and in price. His adventures take him to quirky doctors, insanely expensive fitness classes, and technological gadgets that, if/when they didn’t work, would probably be hard to get rid of on Craigslist. I get that he’s doing the work so we don’t have to, but seriously…some of this stuff? They’re not about getting healthy and attaining physical perfection, they’re more like “look at how much my publisher gave me for this advance, so I blew it on a bunch of infomercial-type products that I’m going to test out for your amusement.”

But seriously, the amount of doctors he goes to for procedures, tests, or chatting? I’d love to read some sort of follow-up chapter cataloging and analyzing all the unusual and/or decrepit waiting-room magazines he encountered. Seeing as the author is pretty obsessive about, well, everything, I’m sure he already has some detailed raw material hiding in a treadmill-typed document or spreadsheet.