Marks Daily Apple
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22 Dec

Holiday Survival Guide, Part II

Isn’t it telling that we even think of the holidays as something to survive? And yet, we do. If that’s not a clear indicator of stress, I don’t know what is. I think a great deal of the immune suppression, weight gain and poor moods many people experience during the holiday season is not necessarily food-related but rather stress-related (though unhealthy foods are themselves a stress to the body). Here are my suggestions for alleviating stress during this time – as well as some culprits to be aware of that we often simply miss.

Tips to Stop Stress:

Step 1: Insist upon 30 minutes of “me time” every day. This should include some physical activity, such as a walk or quick work-out, and ideally some meditation, prayer or other time to reflect peacefully. Do more if you can, but treat yourself to 30 minutes at the very minimum. Anything that allows for you to breathe deeply, gather your thoughts, and refresh yourself is the ticket. Absolutely insist on this for yourself – you can gain more benefit from this than any other single action you take to be healthy during the holidays.

Step 2: Limit your driving time as much as possible. Stopping at several parties, giving rides or running to the store for the tenth time to get that last ingredient can be incredibly stressful, especially during traffic peaks. “Save up” your errands and tasks, coordinate driving and party stops ahead of time, and skip as much as you can. I’m always surprised by how simple it is to just say no to something I thought was needed – often, it turns out to be just a “want”, and the stress I save myself is something far more desirable.

Step 3: Get good sleep. It’s more important to get six or seven hours of good sleep than a lot of bad sleep. If you’re in bed for eight hours but spend three of them thinking of all you have to do, you’re not going to be refreshed. You might get a little less sleep during this time of year – that’s okay. Give yourself a break and focus on making time for enough quality sleep, not just “enough” sleep.

Step 4: Do it later. This is not the time of year to attempt any 11th-hour goals, such as home improvement projects (your guests won’t mind working around a problem – really). Forgot to renew your license or get the kids to the dentist after the Halloween sugar siege? Save it for January. It won’t matter.

Stress Comes in Many Forms:

There are also plenty of unlikely stress factors we forget about. First of all, consider that any change – even a good change – can be incredibly stressful to the mind and body. Good things can be stressful in their own way. It’s things like the “come-down” on the drive home from a festive gathering or the unexpected (but strangely inevitable) bickering after a long day flying to see beloved friends or relatives. It really is critical not to overload activities, daily goals or your general schedule. Give yourself and your loved ones adequate time to enjoy each good thing.

Second, the psychological impact of the “end” of the year – and the national pastime of making “New Year’s Resolutions” – can be overwhelming and depressing for many people. The holidays are one of the most stressful, serious, difficult times of year for many – everything in one’s life comes into sharp focus in the midst of a distracting whirl of activity and ritual. I encourage my loved ones to avoid any serious reflection or making resolutions if it feels at all like unhealthy pressure. Setting goals for self-improvement is a sign of a healthy and motivated mind – but personally, it’s something I like to do before the holidays even start. Self-improvement is a year-round activity, not a December obligation. When a goal pops into your mind and you weigh it, try taking the first step right then – and if you can’t, choose the right time, not an arbitrary time based on everyone else. Don’t put the pressure of “once a year” on a healthy ambition. Let it begin when you’re ready to begin it. You’ll be more successful that way, anyway – and your holidays will be more relaxed.

Finally, it can help to remember to focus on others, not yourself – give yourself a little break. We’re often our own worst critics. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should let your diet or good habits slide. (Think of healthy choices as gifts to yourself – don’t you deserve to feel good?) But I’m confident you’re already making many wise health decisions, so remember to focus on the positive.

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18 Dec

Corn Is Not a Vegetable

Check out a recent post in the Diet & Nutrition section by junior apple Annie B. She writes to tell us about a recent adventure to Boston Market, where she overheard two well-meaning ladies order the “healthy vegetable plate” of mashed potatoes, corn, and mac ‘n cheese. Hmm.

We’re a little concerned about that meal being thought of by anyone as a “vegetable” plate. Potatoes, maybe. But macaroni and cheese is definitely not a vegetable. It’s fat (processed cheese) and refined starch (white pasta). But we’re most upset about corn.

Friends, corn is not a vegetable. It’s not. We are perplexed as to when corn entered the American dietary lexicon as a veggie, because it’s a grain – and a really unhealthy grain at that. Corn is the most sugary, starchy, empty grain there is. You’re better off with white rice – seriously. (Not that we recommend eating a lot of white rice, because brown rice is higher in fiber and protein.)

In fact, we hate corn. Now, we’re not talking about the occasional corn on the cob at the family BBQ. That’s probably not going to hurt anyone. But corn should not make up the veggie section of your meal plate, because it’s a high-glycemic sugarfest. In sum: corn is not a vegetable, and it’s a worthless grain.

And yet, miraculously, it forms the basis of the American diet.

The most maddening thing about all of this is that corn is the #1 ingredient in just about every processed food and fried food. How, you ask? Well, we have a lot of excess corn sitting around every year (mostly because the government still subsidizes corn farmers). What to do? A few decades ago, people figured out that turning corn into oil was really cheap and profitable. Never mind that corn oil is terrible for you when used in cooking: trans fat city, and no Omega-3′s! Yet corn oil, and its trans-fat twin, hydrogenated corn oil, are in everything. Take a look at just about any food in the middle aisles of your grocery store. Yep, corn oil. If it doesn’t have corn oil, it will have corn syrup. Sometimes both.

Even worse is the corn sweetener situation. High fructose corn syrup is really, really cheap, which is great for food manufacturers. And it’s sweeter than sugar. What food manufacturer is going to say no to that? They won’t – not unless you tell them enough is enough.

HFCS goes into soda, sports drinks, kids’ snacks, candy, and breakfast cereals, to name just a few items. The HFCS lobby has a really, um…colorful brown website (we can’t think of anything nice to say about it) that makes a big deal about how nutritious corn syrup is and how it’s the backbone of the American Diet. Seriously, is that something you want to be bragging about? With diabetes now a runaway epidemic, and corn syrup registering off the charts on the old insulin-response meter?

Maybe the HFCS lobby lives in an alternate America where a diet high in pizza, Lucky Charms, pop tarts and Pepsi has produced legions of energetic, happy, lean, muscular individuals. You can check out their “fact” site right now. Clickativity.

Waves of grain…

corn

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4 Dec

MEAL Act Regulation: Would It Make a Difference? (Why the Rational Will Never Work)

THOUGHTS ON THE FOOD POLICE, INFORMATION TRANSPARENCY, & RELATIVE GLUTTONY

Right now, our gifted men and women in the House of Representatives are tucking into the MEAL Act, and the Senate may consider a similar measure soon. The MEAL Act (Menu Education And Labeling) is the latest clever acronym brought to you by the food police. And I have to ask myself – and you – if one more piece of litigation or legislation will do a lick of good.

The MEAL Act would require restaurants with more than 20 locations to post basic nutritional information on their menus (special and seasonal food items excluded).

Let’s step into the world of the MEAL Act
. You mosey into McDonald’s, taking a gander at the bright, colorful panel of meal choices. Caloric information is duly noted. Choice #1: 970 calories. Choice #2: 890 calories. Choice #3: 650 calories. Let’s say you choose option 3 – hey, it’s healthier, right? Enter relative gluttony. Would caloric information really matter in the Cheesecake Factory, where a single slice of carrot cake weighs a pound and the best alternative to that slice (the original cheesecake) still comes packed with over 600 calories? You probably know that a salad with a little vinegar and generous helping of veggies delivers, at most, 300 calories, but you don’t eat at McDonald’s, either. The unfortunate consequence of a little sprinkling of caloric information could be relative gluttony; the easing of the conscience because 650 calories is better than 970 calories. At most, I predict a temporary blip in increased chicken sandwich orders before everyone reverts right back to whatever bacon-cheese-beef monstrosity is normally favored.

I am strongly in favor of information transparency – open doors are always in the best interests of the consumer. It almost goes without saying that the food, drug and chemical industries would get away with a lot less if there weren’t doors to close in the first place. More information, more education, more legislation – these are rational, logical, well-intentioned goals.

In a rational culture, such measures would work. But we already have information. We have media specials and documentaries. We have lawsuits. We have weight-loss centers and therapy and steps. We spend billions on diets and diet books and diet foods and diet pills – and billions more on pharmaceuticals and surgeries.

And yet, we have the top 5 causes of death being entirely preventable through better diet choices. We have a majority of the population suffering from the effects of this national food problem. That includes children. More education? More legislation? Those are rational solutions to problems stemming from things like simple misunderstanding or glitches the free market hasn’t had time to correct. Guess what? We’re not dealing with anything rational.

Our problem is far more troubling: it is emotional. Our problem as a nation is food addiction. The fact that bacon-cheese-beef monstrosities even exist is evidence enough of that. Like alcoholism, Americans are in an emotionally addictive grip that I fear no amount of intervention or good intentions can resolve. Alcoholics cannot function normally. They cannot stop their behavior even when death is a very real possibility. Consider how many Americans cannot even do a simple push-up or a jog around the park. How many require larger seats on airplanes and in restaurants? How many can keep up with their children? How many have balanced blood sugar levels so that they do not feel anxious, stressed or depressed by daily life? How many millions of Americans are affected by food addiction? Certainly more than those affected by alcoholism. This is addiction on a massive scale, with entire industries – diet books, diet foods, diet pills, health care, surgery, exercise gimmicks, pharmaceuticals – created in service to the addiction.

The rational has gone out the window – please pull forward to the second window.

How do we cure the addiction? Do we numb it with drugs? Attempt to sate the cravings with diet foods like an alcoholic might with a non-alcoholic beer? Find a crutch to prop us up, like government or schools or support groups? Is that freedom or slavery by another name?

How do we cure it? Tell me.

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28 Nov

Semantic Salmon

Remember the bread-is-to-crumb logic section on the SAT’s? Or how about the interminable hours spent in Mr. Johnson’s English Lit class deconstructing the deeper meaning of that tree in that poem by that guy? The latest and greatest fish debate is worse.

Environmentalists, food lobbyists, and fishermen and women everywhere are in a big huff over whether we should label certain fish as organic or not.

Take a wild salmon and a farm-raised, sea-lice-infested, sick salmon. Which one is organic?

It’s not a trick question. The fish furor (as reported in the New York Times today) is because the government is likely to permit only farm-raised fish to be called organic. That means pristine, wild, icy-water Alaskan salmon cannot be labeled organic.

This is not a joke.

The reason wild, and ostensibly healthier, fish cannot be labeled organic is because we don’t know where their food comes from. And the official requirements of organic food include strict feeding rules. That’s great for a chicken, clucking around in a cage in Omaha. By all means, feed that darn chicken some organic seeds! But the day a wild, clean, natural Alaskan salmon cannot be labeled organic is the day I officially conclude our government employees did not sit through Mr. Johnson’s English Lit class.

The debate gets more complicated (as if we care). Evidently, because salmon are not vegetarian fish, said fish fishers cannot prove that the fish these salmon eat in their natural habitats are also organic. (It’s okay if you have to read that a few times.)

However, a farmed fish, infected with sea-lice, raised so quickly it doesn’t have adequate Omega-3 levels, and crowded in with other fish like, oh, I don’t know…sardines… can be labeled organic. Because we know where its food comes from.

On the other side of the net, one organic-fish-scandal expert says that to allow wild salmon organic status is just really disrespectful to the meaning of organic. Organic, by definition, means organic feed. In other words, we’re following the rules because those are the rules, rather than remembering that rules exist to serve our needs. If a rule doesn’t serve a need or reflect a situation accurately, it needs to be modified. End of story. No deeper meaning, no semantic salmon. Let’s remember the entire reason for starting this organic craze: the realization that we need to go back to natural, healthy foods.

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