Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bored at Home

Pleasures of Tea: Recipes & RitualsYou know those days that you stay at home most of them day for some reason? Well, I personally hate those days. I try as much as I can not to stay at home because when I’m at home with not much to do, I go and open the fridge every 5 minutes. I sometimes don’t even take anything out of the fridge, but I still open it and see what’s in it. Most of the times, though, I unconsciously grab myself a snack. Then, all of the sudden I realized that I’ve been snacking all day without really being hungry – just bored. This is definitely not good when you’re trying to lose weight. I know some people read, other people knit as a way to keep your mind of food. For me, none of those options work. I love being in the kitchen. So instead of reading or knitting, I make tea. After all, tea is calorie-free and all that hot water keeps me from feeling hungry too. Plus, tea takes a while to drink since it is a hot drink. You sort of have to wait a bit for it cool down or drink it really slowly. So, tea keeps me away from snacking. Well, I guess you could call tea a snack but at least it has no calories.

To make it more interesting, I make the tea from scratch instead of using store-bought tea bags. I particularly like chai tea. Since chai tea has so many spices, making it also keeps me entertained for a while. Here’s the recipe I use:

10 whole coriander seeds
10 cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon of black tea (or 2 bags)
2 cups of skim or 1% milk
  1. Take the cardamom seeds out of the pod.
  2. Using a mortar, lightly crush the coriander and cardamom seeds. If you don’t have a mortar, you can crush them using the bottom of a glass.
  3. Wrap the crushed seeds, cloves and the black tea in a piece of cheesecloth. If you don’t have cheesecloth at home, you can use a coffee filter. Also, if you’re using black tea bags, you don’t need to put the inside the cheesecloth or coffee filter – just wrap the crushed seeds and the cloves. Set this homemade tea bag aside.
  4. Bring milk close to a boil.
  5. To the milk, add the cinnamon stick and the homemade tea bag (plus the black tea bags, if applicable).
  6. Remove from heat and let it stand for 5 minutes.
  7. You can add some Splenda if you like.
You can also make this chai tea with water instead of milk. I like to use milk because that way I get some calcium in for the day. I use skim milk, though, to keep it low-calorie. But, this recipe turns out just as good if you were to use water instead of milk. The important thing here is the spices. You’ll be surprised at how good they smell when you’re crushing them. Plus, they have some antioxidants

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

5. Nutrition Facts - Scary Carbs

Carbs are by far my favourite subject. Just up until recently, fat used to be the bad guy then carbs took over. There really is no doubt that carbs have become a subject of conversation all over the world. Some people say there are bad while others say are good. However, what I find so interesting is how passionate people get about the subject. People who believe that carbs are bad really take their stand very seriously. Just to prove my point, I know people who don’t mind having a pound of bacon for dinner because bacon has no carbs. They don’t really care if there are thousands of calories or enourmous amounts of fat in that pound of bacon. All they care about is the carb content. To make matters more interesting, whenever there is a discussion revolving around carbs, they get very opinionated. Who knew carbs could evoke such strong emotions in us?
Anyway, let’s get to the facts. In general, we have carbs in the form of starch, sugars and fibre and either of these types can be found practically anywhere except for a few animal products like meats and cheese. Other than that, everything else has at least some carbs. Because carbs are so abundant in nature and our supermarkets, we have evolved in such a way that our bodies can easily digest carbs. In fact, carbohydrates are the easiest macronutrient to digest. We even start digesting carbs right at the mouth. We digest carbs so easily and efficiently also because our nervous system, mainly the brain, can only use glucose or glucose derivatives for energy. By the way, glucose is the building block of carbs. Thus, we need carbs to keep our brains awake. You might then be wondering why is it that our nervous system keeps working when we are on a no-carb diet? The reason is that when we have no carbs, we start using our body’s lean muscle or the protein we eat to make those glucose derivatives (ketones) that our nervous system is equipped to use. This switch from real glucose to ketones is what is very well known as starvation mode.

The main problem that people have with carbs is that they supposedly make you fat instead of helping you lose weight. Unfortunately, there is some truth to that. In our bodies, only a limited amount of carbs can be stored as carbs and the rest cannot be converted into anything else but fat. So if you have a few extra carbs and your carbohydrate storage is full, these extra carbs will turn into fat. However, this only applies to the excess of carbs. Thus, only excess carbs are the problem. To avoid this unwanted excess, you should be having between 45 and 65% of your calories as carbs. There is also a minimum requirement set at 130 grams of carbs per day. It is estimated that our nervous system needs this amount per day. In case you’re wondering, there are 4 calories in every gram of carbohydrate. Finally, don't forget that complex carbs (whole grain) will help you lose weight as opposed to sugars. The reccomendation is that you should be having no more than 25% of your calories from sugar. Although these are the established recommendations, nutritional labels use a daily value of 300g of carbs per 2000 calories. No wonder why we are always so confused about how much we actually need?

There is some good news, though. The diet programs that have reported the highest rates of success were using diets that included carbs as the main component. This is because carbs often provide you with that sense of fullness or satiety. Thus, you don’t have as many calories in the day and you don’t feel hungry for longer periods of time. Remember that your weight loss depends on the amount of calories in and the amount of calories out – that’s all.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

My Hearts Desire Chocolate and Candy Gourmet Food Gift TowerThere is just so much chocolate around right now that it’s getting hard to resist. But, you know what? Chocolate is not at all that bad if you know which one to pick. Dark chocolate actually has these antioxidants known as tannins that are good for your health. As a matter of fact, tannins are the same antioxidant that you would find in green tea. However, notice that for dark chocolate to be beneficial, it has to be at least 60% cacao. Usually, when the cacao percentage is that high, it is quite bitter but it is still chocolate, right?

On the other hand, white chocolate is probably the worst type of chocolate you can have. Not only does it have close to no antioxidants but it is very high in calories and fat. In chocolate you have 3 main chocolaty ingredients: cocoa powder, cocoa butter and chocolate liquor. In white chocolate there is no cocoa powder but a lot of cocoa butter. Unfortunately, most antioxidants are found in cocoa powder due to its dark rich brown colour. So, the darker the chocolate is, the better it is for you. Thus, you can imagine why white chocolate is the worst of them all. 

The second worst is milk chocolate. In most cases, there is close to none real cocoa ingredients in milk chocolate and it has lots of sugar and milk solids. In fact, I’ve always found milk chocolate a bit suspicious. When you read the label on the package, it sometimes says something like chocolate product instead of milk chocolate. I don’t know what all that is about. Anyway, go for dark chocolate this Valentine’s day and enjoy! Don't forget to watch those calories, though. 

Friday, February 12, 2010


Who knew laughing could help you lose weight? There was this very interesting article published in the International Journal of Obesity about laughing and weight loss that I though would be fun to share. The article said that:

“…Just 15 minutes of laughter a day will burn 10 to 40 calories, depending on a person’s weight and the intensity of the laughter. That’s enough to shift between 1 and 4 lbs a year.”

The way they came up with this conclusion was by having 45 pairs of people. One person from each pair would watch a serious clip and the other would watch a funny clip. The rooms they were watching the clips in were set up with equipment ready to measure heart rate and heat. The people watching the funny clips often generated more heat when they were laughing. This means they were burning more calories since calories are units of heat.

Also, the article mentions that laughing is not only good for losing weight because you burn calories but also because it keeps you optimistic about your weight loss. Thus, you feel more motivated to keep going. So, there you go. Another great reason to laugh :)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

4. Nutrition Facts - Salty Sodium

When you’re trying to lose weight, you really want to watch how much salt you eat since too much salt usually causes some bloating, right? When I have a very salty dinner, I usually weigh more the next morning. Even if you don’t weigh yourself in every morning, you still feel a bit bloated. This is one of the disadvantages of sodium. Another disadvantage is that sodium is strongly related to hypertension. So, salt sure makes food tasty but it is not so good for your health. Yet, we still have to consume some sodium everyday because it is very important in our bodies. The minimum recommended daily amount is 500mg and the maximum is 2,400mg. Just to give you an idea of how much salt we should be having a day, ONE teaspoon has 2,000mg of sodium!

In my case, salt is one of those ingredients I don’t measure anymore. This is such a big problem for me, though, because I just love salt. I’m one of those people who always thinks that everything could use a bit more salt. Fortunately, I recently discovered the world of spices. I hadn’t never really cooked with spices because I, honestly, was a little scared. I just wasn’t sure how to use them or which ones to use. But I think they can be a great substitute of salt since they bring so much flavour to whatever it is that you’re cooking – especially since low-fat, low-calorie dishes tend to be somewhat bland. So, lately I’ve been cooking with spices. So far, so good although I still need recipes to guide me. I don’t think I’m ready to cook with spices on my own just yet.

However, I know not everyone is a fan of spices. Fortunately, there are other ways to reduce sodium intake:
  1. Buy fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned. All canned products are typically very high in sodium.
  2. Avoid processed foods
  3. Avoid frozen or commercially-prepared (junk food) meals
  4. Stay away from foods packed in brine
  5. Eliminate the salt shaker
 As a rule of thumb, the more processed a food is, the more sodium it contains.

Monday, February 8, 2010

3. Nutrition Facts - Making Peace with Cholesterol

Cholesterol has a terrible reputation. We’ve all heard just how bad cholesterol is for you. However, cholesterol itself is not the real problem. The problem is how our body handles it. Our bodies have evolved to survive starvation and be prepared to face times of famine. This is why our bodies are so efficient at absorbing most nutrients. Now, going back to cholesterol. Cholesterol is a type of fat that can be found in the membranes of animal cells. This means that all foods of animal origin have cholesterol and all the foods coming from plants do not.

Back when we were cave man, we couldn’t just go to the grocery store and get ground turkey, right? We had to go out and chase a turkey around. And, maybe we wouldn’t see a turkey for months so we wouldn’t get any meat for months. Thus, our body developed this recycling system that would help keep necessary nutrients inside our bodies since these nutrients might not always be readily available. Cholesterol is one of those nutrients that takes advantage of this recycling system because food of animal origin was not always available. Here’s how this recycling works:
  1. You eat a cheeseburger that has lots of cholesterol
  2. The cheeseburger makes it all the way to the intestine
  3. In the intestine, the cholesterol gets absorbed
  4. The absorbed cholesterol is transported to the liver
  5. The liver takes the cholesterol to make several things your body needs like bile juices which are juices that help your body digest all the food we eat
  6. Bile juices containing cholesterol are released into the intestine to digest food
  7. Bile juices (still containing cholesterol) as well as fresh, new cholesterol is absorbed and the cycle starts all over again.
As you can see, cholesterol can rapidly accumulate in our bodies since we don’t excrete any (or almost any) of it. Back in the day, this recycling of cholesterol was not a problem since cholesterol was not as abundant in our diets, but now we consume cholesterol on a daily basis. To make things even more interesting, our body cannot break down cholesterol. Thus, all the extra cholesterol stays in the form of cholesterol usually floating around in our blood. This is when the extra cholesterol becomes dangerous since it can start the plaque-building process in our arteries.

But, what makes cholesterol so important? Why would we want to keep it in our bodies since it is, apparently, really bad for our health? Well, cholesterol is bad only if it starts to accumulate. Inside our bodies, cholesterol is responsible for many important functions like producing several hormones like testosterone. In fact, cholesterol is so important that if your body needs it, it can make it. Similarly, if you get the required cholesterol through your diet, your body will not make any.

Finally, the recommendation is that we should not be having more that 300mg of cholesterol a day - especially when your only having only 1200 calories a day like me. You don't want to be wasting calories on something your body can make.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

First 10 Pounds!

Artichoke's HeartIt’s been almost a month and I am very pleased to say that I have lost 10 pounds so far. Yay! As we all dieters know, losing weight is not easy and I’m no exception. However, I feel great. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much energy. There are really no words to describe how great it feels to lose weight. I actually feel proud of myself and all of you out there that are losing pound after pound every week should be very proud of yourselves too because it is hard to shed those pounds. I’m not really good at describing feelings and the whole emotional aspect of losing weight but I’m reading this book that does a great job at it. It’s called Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee. It is quite an easy read and I love how it addresses some of the issues that come up when you’re overweight or trying to lose weight but you don’t really want to say out loud. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone out there who might want to read this book but I strongly recommend it if you’re losing weight or if you’ve ever been so desperate to lose weight that you’re willing to try even the most absurd of ideas. Anyway, if you have the chance to read it, it is an excellent book. I think we can all relate to the main character.

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