Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.

Mark's Daily Apple

11 Jun

What to Eat at the Gas Station (and Why It Beats the Cheesecake Factory)

Your local 7-11 has more to offer in the way of health than most popular dining establishments. True, quick marts are a landfill of trans sprinkles and grease crisps, but if for no other reason than portion size, you can often fare better in the linoleum aisles of the corner gas station than in the extra-wide banquettes of chain restaurants. Even seemingly healthy items like salads and vegetable omelets are typically two or three times more than the average adult’s caloric needs (read all about sneaky sauces and oils in “healthy entrees”). While fresh is infinitely better than fried, canned, packaged or pickled, you can make out pretty well in even the most forlorn and dusty of gas stations. Road trip? No sweat!

What to pick:

Jerky is a surprisingly lean, healthy choice. Don’t get the teriyaki or flavored kinds – they contain a lot of sugar. While it’s not grass-fed meat, this beats a hot dog or burger and will fill you up.

Trail mixes are always a smart bet. Whether you pick one with dried fruit or not, make sure you’re going easy on the salt. Tip: avoid the mixes with coated peanuts or candies. “Yogurt” covered nuts are nothing more than a sugary, trans-fat coated nutrition disaster.

Nuts. Try to go for almonds or even seeds over cashews and peanuts (which are not actually nuts, as you all know by now from my endless admonitions on this unhealthy legume). Watch the salt, friends.

Water. Yeah, yeah, obvious choice. But no one’s holding a gun to your head making you buy soda! (hmm…that may, in fact, be a terribly tasteless joke. Sorry.)

What to skip:

Everything else.

Exhibit A: Why the gas station beats the Cheesecake Factory.

Even chain restaurants’ salads, stir fries and chicken dishes are larger than your average body builder’s biceps. If you dine out, split the portions, go “dry” with the sauces and oils, or pick smart sides like fresh steamed veggies and grilled fish.

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What other smart compromises can be found in convenience marts? I’d like to hear your tips.

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11 Jun

The Devil You Know Is You

One of the most stupid maxims in the history of humanity is “Better the devil you know.” I’m sure you’re familiar with this phrase. I get really tired of hearing it. No axiom is better if you want to fritter your life away.

Essentially, the idea is that if you’re stuck in a less-than-ideal situation, it’s somehow better to stay stuck, because changing the situation might make things worse. Ostrich and mud metaphors aside, apparently comfort and familiarity are more desirable than living.

To play my own devil’s advocate, “the devil you know” might serve as a sensible note of caution against change for the sake of change. But I don’t see why the little gems we all seem happy to live by need to be put into binary terms. The opposite of “the devil you know” isn’t necessarily change without purpose, an obviously foolish thing. Restless is one thing (there can be character-building value in sticking with a “devil” you detest). Fear is another thing entirely. When I hear “the devil you know,” I hear fear. I hear defeat. I hear a negative outlook on life.

“Calculated risk” isn’t much of a risk at all. Comfort is just death warmed up. Making a change when you’re stuck is scary – that’s the whole point. So what if you fail? Do you think you’re going to go through your whole life without making some big mistakes? Would you really even want to?

Embrace your fear, embrace the gray, go grab the new devil by the horns. The one you know? He’s you.

(P.S. Things that are more interesting than the devil you know: wet toast, cardboard, reheated oatmeal).

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8 Jun

What’s Really in That Secret Sauce?

I’m not just talking about Big Macs, for secret sauce isn’t limited to peach mayonnaise.

“Secret sauce” is in many popular menu items – often the ones you’d least expect. From oil to cornstarch to corn syrup, it’s not just portion sizes that are to blame for restaurant meals delivering calorie loads heavy enough to feed a small country. Are you aware of these sneaky sauces?

Americanized “Asian” cuisine

You avoid the deep fried pork bits and choose a chicken sweet ‘n sour entree instead.

The secret: If it’s not deep-fried with a sauce, it’s still got a sauce. That sauce is almost always a sugary, cornstarchy affair: a blood sugar spike waiting to happen.

The solution: Go for authentic Asian cuisine that contains more vinegar and healthful oils instead of cheap carbs. Clear does not mean calorie-free.

Salads

You avoid the ranch and blue cheese dressings and stick to a raspberry vinaigrette.

The secret: These blends are often nothing more than high fructose corn syrup or a cheap oil such as canola or soybean – or a mix of both.

The solution: Ask for balsamic vinegar and olive oil instead, or choose a salad with enough fruits and veggies to naturally moisten the greens (tomatoes, cucumbers, mangos and citrus work well).

This is Avlxyz’s Flickr Photo (CC)

Meats

You avoid the fried chicken and choose that herb-crusted salmon. Omega-3’s and weight loss are yours. Right?

The secret: Often, restaurant fish is farmed fish, so it’s just as high in bad fats as a meat option. And grilled chicken or fish are typically drenched in more oil or sweet glazes than you realize. “Herb crusts” can contain a lot of bread crumbs, starches and sugary additives.

The solution: Go for grilled or baked protein choices that use white wine, balsamic reductions, or lemon and herbs. Ask for your meat to be cooked “dry” to cut down on the cupfuls of oil. Even healthy oil can be too much of a good thing if your chicken breast is swimming around just trying to cope.

Vegetables

Aha! Veggies are a healthy, no-brainer choice for weight loss and smart dining.

The secret: Vegetables, especially carrots and potatoes, are high in starch. Choose green vegetables, or vegetable medleys. And be aware: that rich, buttery flavor comes from ladels of prepared hydrogenated margarine “sauce”.

The solution: Have your veggies steamed or seasoned without the oil. Ask for a side of olive oil or a small pat of butter instead.

This is Caribb’s Flickr Photo CC

Omelets (and scrambled eggs)

Eggs – the perfect protein!

The secret: Eggs are typically cooked on a greasy grill. An omelet can set you back upwards of 1,000 calories, depending on the filling choices. Even vegetable omelets are far too oily. Omelets and eggs should not glisten.

The solution: Ask for your choice to be fried or scrambled “dry” to avoid the grill’s caloric generosity.

What am I leaving out? What other foods contain sneaky calories? Chat here.

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8 Jun

Healthy Tastes Great!

Three-Pepper Stir-Fry

Here is a super simple and delicious vegetable stir-fry side dish that goes great with spicy chicken or fish. Enjoy!

7 Jun

Those Darn Vegetarians

I am not a vegetarian and I do espouse responsible meat consumption: organic, free-range, and emphasizing fish and poultry. However, I have plenty of family members, friends and staff who are vegheads, and while I’d sooner die than return to Vegan Island, I get where they’re coming from and I respect their choices. I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree. I would say let’s get into a “spirited” debate, but I think Dubya owns that one.

I believe in nutrition and fitness from what can best be understood as an evolutionary biologist’s perspective, and I therefore support animal protein in the diet. My background in biology, years in pro sports and my own personal experience and research support my view, which I’ve tagged Primal Health.

Here’s a list of great folks with whom I disagree but really dig. If you have a suggestion for the list, let me know. If you like mock meat, well…you’ve got my pity!

The (Growing) List

Vegan Porn

Don’t shoot the messenger. Weird name, even weirder cartoon-cow-on-carrot action (yeah, I know) but still a great site and vegan-friendly health news resource. Totally unoffensive, entertaining content. UPDATE 6/09/07: This site has been relaunched in a blog/podcast-friendly platform as TasteBetter. Check it out.

SoulVeggie

I don’t tend to agree with Mark’s views (and I’m not referring to myself here…SoulVeggie is run by one Mark Sutton). But for guys who think vegetarianism is a “girl thing”, or for noodle-armed wimps, you’d be wrong. As I always say, real men eat lettuce. Vegetables don’t meow, guys. Try them out sometime.

A Veggie Venture

Every day, a new veggie basks in the spotlight of the Veggie Evangelist. A simple, useful, tasty site proving that vegetables are about a lot more than iceberg and baby carrots.

Veggie Chic

One of my staff’s favorite veg bloggers (I confess, it’s mainly because she eats a salad for lunch every day and insists, like us, that this habit is anything but boring). Veggie links, news, recipes and anecdotes with a personal touch.

Vegan Lunch Box

An excellent blog from a health-minded SAHM that includes book reviews, nutritional advice, and usually-healthy vegan recipes. It’s worth a look.

Super Vegan

Live in New York? Follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle (or just like healthy food)? You best be gettin’ to Super Vegan. A Zagat guide for the minus-meat group.

What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat Anyway?

A lot of Tuno instead of tuna. If you like mock meat, you’ll love this blog. Aw, hell, even I love it.

Vegan Doc

I’m biased – this doc is a runner. A very cool personal blog from a vegan M.D.

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