Goodbye Trans Fats!

The news is promising, the FDA has taken the first step in ridding the food supply of trans fats! Trans fats are one of the only food items I’ve put in the “never eat” list (as opposed to sometimes or always foods) so in my mind, this is a big step forward. As it is, once manufacturers were required to include amounts on food labels there was a drop in the amount used in processed foods. This drop was fantastic, as was the new ease for consumers in seeing total trans fats listed right on the label BUT there was still a loophole!

The loophole in labeling allows products that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving to state 0% trans fat on the label. What’s the big deal? There are several problems with this workaround. The first has to do with serving sizes; is the serving size listed on the label the same amount that you would actually consume as a portion? If you would in reality consume four times the amount shown on the label, you need to multiply all of the numbers on the label by four. On top of this, how many different products might you consume in a day that contain little bits of trans fats? All of those small amounts add up. Lastly, there is no safe level of consumption for trans fats, they raise LDL cholesterol levels, and are linked to heart disease. Since one out of every four deaths in the US is from heart disease, this is no laughing matter.

Does this mean that all processed foods are now okay to eat with abandon? Well no, you will still need to put some thought into the foods you put into your mouth. This is just one more step in the right direction. For more on this new ruling, check out some articles from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Wall Street Journal, ABC News, and CNN.

Newport Marathon Race Report – DNF

The United Healthcare Newport RI Marathon was this past Sunday. Going into this race I had some mixed feelings. My training went really well up until the point that my right foot started acting up. It started out as a tightness in the sole of my foot when I woke up one morning and I immediately thought – oh no, the dreaded plantar fasciitis!! Thankfully this happened after I had already completed all of my super long training runs, but it was just days before I was scheduled to run the Zooma Half Marathon in Falmouth. So after that race, I started to feel my foot a little more and kept off of it (no running) for the remainder of my taper. That’s right, no running for the two weeks prior to the marathon!  I did all of my taper cardio on a spin bike and and hoped for the best while working on healing my foot.

By race morning my foot felt really good, the weather was perfect and I had high hopes for a great race!

The race start was flanked by beautiful beaches on either side of the street.

Porta potties as far as the eye can see!

Packet pickup was quite organized, but the start of the race was delayed while we waited for shuttle busses to finish bringing runners to the start. The start was also a little weird with no banner marking the starting line, no pace markers for runners to seed themselves and lots of spectators mixed in with runners on the street waiting. Oh well! I waited patiently with the crowd knowing that it could only help me not to go out too fast.

Can you find the starting line? Me neither!

My plan was to aim for a 4:20 finish; based on my half marathon time two weeks before this was quite conservative (over 10 minutes more than my predicted time). My aim was to finish well and not kill myself. The first twelve miles were great! I was sticking to my plan and averaged 10 minute miles. After the nine mile mark I met up with my family and got a fresh bottle of water. The weather was gorgeous and the views stunning! We passed many of the grand “cottages” that make Newport famous and had views of the water in multiple locations. I was feeling great and the pace was very comfortable through a couple of rolling hills. At mile twelve, I looked at my watch and saw that I was right on track – two hours; I had plenty of energy left in my legs for the next half. I looked up and saw a woman’s shirt that read ‘slacker’. As I turned to tell her she was no slacker, I stepped right into a pothole with my left foot.

As my ankle turned, I went down, and did a sort of barrel roll as I went, which kept me from doing any additional damage. I got up and walked a few steps, it felt like my ankle might be bruised but would be okay, and I started running again. Another runner held my gloves for me as I reattached my bib, which had ripped off in the fall. With each step my ankle hurt more; after another mile I knew there was no way I could continue on for the remaining thirteen. With tears in my eyes, I pulled off the course and asked a volunteer to help me find medical help, then called my husband. What a bitter disappointment! After training all summer and having a great start, it was all over.

The EMT immobilized my foot before driving me to the medical tent.

After I finished my pity party and dried my tears, I regrouped. I realize just how lucky I am that my injury was not worse, and it’s only a minor sprain. It’s not bad enough to require a boot, just an ace bandage, ice, and rest. Days later, my ankle is already starting to feel better as I hobble around. There will always be another race. My goal is to fully heal my left ankle AND the plantar fasciitis on my right foot over the next few months. All of that time will give me plenty of opportunity to research potential races for the coming year!

Snacking Well

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged and if your life is entwined with the scholastic calendar like mine is, you will hopefully understand why! Now that October is well underway and the boys are settled into their new routines (new schools for all three this year!) I can hopefully focus a little more attention back on other things.

One thing that I’ve been meaning to blog about for awhile are a great packaged snack option – roasted chickpeas. I’ve talked about roasting your own chickpeas before and how delicious and nutritious they can be, but what if you can’t or don’t want to make them yourself? What if you are out and about looking for a good crunchy snack option in a store? I’ve seen these in a couple of grocery stores and at least one coffee shop so I have hope that this type of healthy snack will start to trickle down to other stores soon.

There are two different types of roasted chickpeas I’ve tried over the past year and I like them both. one is The Good Bean. The flavors are sea salt, cracked pepper, chili & lime and cinnamon. I’ve tried the cinnamon and thought they were very good. Each package has 2 servings, and although the cinnamon does have some sugar added, it’s just a touch and doesn’t add much to the overall nutrition profile. Each serving has lots of protein and fiber, as well as a little healthy fat; this is the right combination to keep you full and satisfied longer! The second brand of roasted chickpeas I’ve tried is from Biena. Their flavors are honey roasted, barbeque, sea salt, and cinnamon maple. I’ve tried the honey roasted and loved them. Once again there are about 2 servings per container and they have lots of fiber and protein without tons of added sugar or unhealthy fat. Just lots of great crunch!

One thing you need to keep in mind if you choose a chickpea snack, is to make sure you have plenty of water to wash them down. These are high in fiber and you’ll need to drink plenty of fluids with them!  I also wouldn’t recommend eating the entire bag at one sitting unless you are already used to a high fiber diet. That would give you about 12 grams of fiber which is almost as much as the typical American eats in a day (about 15 grams). So even though they are very yummy, don’t overindulge right away! Enjoy your chickpeas in moderation!

Eating with all Five Senses

Something many people have known for a long time, is that we eat with more than just our mouths. Think about how your eating experience is changed when you can’t smell food during a cold; conversely, how wonderful it is to enter the house on Thanksgiving and smell all of the wonderful aromas.

A recent study in the journal Flavour, showed that people thought yogurt tasted different with different spoons. Since we really use all of our senses when we eat, how we plate and package our food has an impact on how it tastes. Have you ever noticed that takeout from your favorite restaurant in a plastic carton just isn’t the same as when you sit at a table and are served on real plates? When we see a beautiful presentation, hear the crunch of a ripe apple or the delicate chime of a crystal glass, feel the weight of a fine knife in our hand or the warmth coming from a steaming mug of soup, smell wonderful aromas wafting up at us from a full plate, our sense of taste is heightened and the experience becomes even better.

I have spoken of mindful eating before, and this is one way to utilize that principle to your benefit. An exercise I have done in the past with groups is to compare how appetizing the same snack or meal appears in different presentations. Which bowl of oatmeal is more enticing to you?

Does the second one look better to you? It looks better to me too! One way that we can make sure to stick with (and enjoy!) a healthy diet more, is to take the extra two minutes to present the foods we eat in a more appealing way. This includes sitting at the table and not hovering over the sink (I too am guilty of this on occasion), and eating on a nice plate with flatware and a cloth napkin. Every meal and snack is an opportunity to enjoy feeding and caring for ourselves. Bon Appétit!

What I’m Reading

I fully intended to write a review of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss but I need to throw in something else I’ve been reading too because it caused me to sit up and say “Yes! That’s right!”. Let me explain…

You may have seen, heard or read about Michael Moss and his book recently in one of many places. The New York Times, the Daily Show, NPR, The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post and many others have interviewed Michael Moss and/or reviewed his book. Salt Sugar Fat is a bit of an expose about the food industry and how they are engineering their foods to be simply irresistible. After reading books like The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler and Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink amongst many others, I have to say the revelations in this book were not very surprising. If however you have never thought about why you keep reaching for one more chip long after you’ve had enough, you should take a look at this book.

Food companies are in the business of selling products in order to make money. No matter what they say in their marketing materials or on the packaging, you need to know that this is the bottom line. When you look into various food corporation’s mission and vision statements, they are all very similar. They put something in there about feeding people ‘better’ but there is also something to the effect of becoming an industry leader in the marketplace; industry leader = biggest profits. Although you might begin to think there is an evil conspiracy afoot when you read this book, I think it’s just old fashioned greed and competition. Things sell well when you get the right blend of salt, sugar, and fat in them. People feel compelled to keep eating something that’s right in front of them. We are all very easily led to buy certain items based on packaging and marketing.

Food companies are not concerned with your health. The number one ‘threat’ to sales listed on a Kraftfoods powerpoint I found online (they really should be more careful!) is increasing obesity rates in North America. So what can you do about it? As I’ve said before, knowledge is power. The more you educate yourself about what you and your family is consuming, the better off you’ll be. Read labels, read books like this one, talk to nutrition professionals (shameless plug) and don’t believe the hype from any companytrying to sell you a food product. While we can’t become immune to marketing and the manipulation of processed foods, the fewer processed and prepackaged foods we purchase and consume, the better off we’ll be.

The other book I’ve been reading this week is Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending by Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton. What does this have to do with anything on this blog? The second principle discussed in the book is to ‘Make it a Treat’. This is something that has been on my mind for years now. We are being told daily that we deserve a treat, a cookie, a latte, a shake, an ice cream, a burger, an extra large fry, and many other things. The problem with this sentiment is not in the deserving (sure if you work hard for something you deserve something in return) but when you have that treat daily (or hourly) it is no longer a treat, it’s a habit! Not only can this habit add to our waistlines, the researchers say that it reduces the pleasure we experience! You may enjoy that ice cream cone more if you only have it once every two weeks rather than every night.

Think about all of the ‘treats’ you give yourself in any given day or week, and notice how often you justify consuming a certain food or beverage because you ‘deserve’ it. If this is happening on a regular basis, you need to come to terms with the fact that it’s a habit for you. If you are trying to lose a few pounds, want to improve your health or want to feel better, this is the perfect place to begin. As a bonus, having a genuine occasional treat tastes even better when it is truly a rare occasion!

Why Hide the ‘Good’ Stuff?

A few weeks ago I found myself out and about with the family at dinner time. We were far from home and would have to find something on the road. My husband saw that there was a Panera ahead, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to look into their “Hidden Menu”. I had heard about this at the beginning of the year and was curious about it (although not curious enough to go there until faced with a dinner challenge on the road).

I googled the hidden menu on my phone (since it’s hidden, you can’t find the menu in the store) and saw that I had four choices for dinner. I picked the “Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad” because it was the only one without raw onions and I didn’t want to be tasting onions for the rest of the night.

I thought it was a nice touch that the olive oil was given on the side in little packets. It was actually a pretty nice salad and the ingredients were fresh, although I’d like to see more lettuce and tomato. When I got home, I was able to look up all of the information about the hidden menu online. Here’s what it said:“All of these meal selections are an excellent source of protein and contain limited processed carbs. But you won’t find these items on banners in our cafes, or even on the menu board.”

So I found it interesting that this hidden menu is full of high protein and low carb offerings. Perhaps the reason that Panera (known for its bread and pastries) thinks it needs to be hidden? There was also an interesting story about how the Chief Concept Officer, Scott Davis, lost 60 pounds. In this piece he talks about reducing his calorie intake and increasing exercise, but I have to wonder if he also used a low carbohydrate approach, inspiring this hidden menu along the way. Regardless of the reasoning behind this menu, why hide it? I can guess several corporate rationales behind this, but ultimately it makes me think of something Scott Davis mentions in his article; “Knowledge is power”.

I encourage everyone to seek out the nutrition information for everything you eat and drink. Most companies have their nutrition information on their websites (in some states they must post it in the restaurants on the menu), and all packaged foods have nutrition labels on them as well. The first step is to read those labels and develop an understanding for what you are eating. Note how much sodium, saturated fat, trans fats, sugar, fiber, calories, protein, carbohydrates and fats are in your foods. Remember that you want to keep sodium low, saturated fats low, trans fats zero, and need to stay within your calorie needs.

If you are eating foods without a label (like fresh produce!!) check out a website like which gets it’s information from the USDA. There you can find almost every food under the sun with full information about macro- and micro- nutrient contents. When you start looking at the contents of vegetables and fruit versus those of your favorite take out meal, you’ll get an inkling of why I am such a produce pusher. Low in sodium, high in fiber and nutrients, produce is the way to go – now go read some labels!

Change of Season

Summer’s finally here! For many of us that means a big change in our daily schedules. For those of us with children, they are out of school and may be home with us or off to camp for part of the day. Our roles may become that of cruise director and outing planner, and you had better get a supply of popsicles in the freezer for those hot humid days! If you don’t have children things can still become topsy turvy in the summer; friends want to go out for drinks after work in the still-light summer hours. It’s the perfect time for long hours of socializing with friends over drinks on the patio or by the pool. Summer is also the time that many of us go on vacation, which means eating out for most meals and not keeping to your usual exercise routine.

What to do if you find yourself in any (or all) of the above scenarios? Don’t panic! Now is the time to think logically about summer schedules and socializing before you throw out all of the healthy habits you’ve been building throughout the year!

  1. Don’t stop going to the gym or doing your regular exercise! I’ve spoken with many personal trainers and gym owners who have said that business always slows way down in the summer. If you have a gym membership, don’t let it go to waste this summer! Take advantage of having a climate controlled place to exercise without having to slather on the sunblock. You may have to make extra arrangements for the kids but it will be well worth it; to make it easier, team up with a friend or two so that your kids can have a play date while you take turns working out.
  2. When it comes to socializing (eating and drinking) keep in mind the same things that you would over the holidays. You can look back at these posts: Tackling Thanksgiving, Food Holidays, and Handling the Holidays. The general idea is to remember your usual habits and don’t go overboard every day. Do you need to have a huge pile of chips at the cookout, AND two burgers, AND 3 margaritas? Pick and chose the things that are most important to you and then savor them in appropriate serving sizes. You will wake up the next morning pleased rather than regretful (and hung over!)
  3. Bring something healthy and delicious when you go to a party. Just this week one of my clients was complaining that he was going to a relative’s for a cookout. “My sister never has any vegetables” he said, “I’ll have to eat just hamburgers and chips!” I’m sure we’ve all felt like this, powerless to the whims of our hosts. If you know in advance that the food is not in keeping with your goals then plan ahead and handle the situation. Have something healthy before you go (a big salad, some fruit, etc) so that you aren’t ravenous when you get there. Bring something with you (it’s only polite anyway) a big veggie platter, a side salad, veggies to grill, sparkling water for drinks, a watermelon, etc. This way you know that you’ll have something that won’t undermine your plans.
  4. Eat your produce!! This is the best time of year to be loading up on vegetables and fruits. Make sure to visit at least one Farm Stand this summer to understand just how wonderful just picked, locally grown produce can taste! Keep plenty of prepped veggies within view and easy reach around you all day. Instead of a candy dish, have a container of snap peas or grape tomatoes at the ready. Go to a pick your own place for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc. It’s a fun outing for you, your friends and your kids!

Plan ahead and you will make it through the summer in good shape!

Johnny Kelley Half Marathon Re-cap

After a month of not posting, I’m back with a happy race report. This past weekend I took part in the Johnny Kelley Half Marathon in Hyannis. After the (cold and rainy) Hyannis Marathon in February, I regrouped and trained for this half, but still doubted that it would go well. I still wanted to be able to finish a half in under 2 hours and was wondering if I had it in me this time.

The weather was wet and cold for the weekend and I even ran out and bought a jacket the night before since I had packed for the forecasted 60 degree temperatures (not the 40′s!). Checking the race organizers page the day before, I saw that there was a last minute change in the route due to some issues with a culvert that is being repaired by the Army Corps of Engineers. Then on race morning, the start time got pushed back by 15 minutes and I started to ask myself if these weren’t all signs that it just wasn’t going to go well? Regardless of the signs, I decided to follow my plan of keeping a steady 9 min/mile pace and hope for the best.

My nutrition for this race went according to plan and worked very well for me. With an 8:15 am start time I needed to make sure I was up eating and drinking as soon as possible so that I would have plenty of time to digest my pre-race meal. I had my standard oatmeal with apples and milk as well as coffee and a large glass of water. I knew that would be it for liquids until I started running and I felt confident that I was starting out in a hydrated state. After feeling the effects of mild dehydration at this race last year, I made the decision to carry my own water and augment it with the aid stations along the way along with plenty of salted dates for fuel.

Happily things went better than I had even dared to hope. Each mile that passed I looked at my watch in astonishment to see that I was maintaining a very steady pace and hitting all of my goals. By about mile 10, I could hear other runners around me commenting that we were going to “make it” and I knew that I was not alone in this goal of a sub 2 hour finish. As I came down the home stretch I could not stop smiling – I knew I had made it under 2 hours, but by how much I didn’t yet know. I was afraid to really trust the time on my watch until I saw the clock at the finish. When I came around the corner and saw 1:57:XX, I surprised myself by promptly busting into tears! I couldn’t believe how well I had achieved my goal!

The post race food was once again a combination of fruit and some grilled items along with plenty of water. I grabbed some water and a banana to add to the chocolate milk and cherries I had brought with me from home. By the time I got home it was almost time for lunch (lucky me) and then on to an afternoon walking around Provincetown shopping – my legs felt great!

I found out later that day that my official time was 1:57:36, exactly 4 minutes faster than my PR of 2:01:36 from last year! I now feel confident as I start the training cycle for my next full marathon, I’ll be running the Newport RI marathon in October and I can’t wait to get started!

Carb Loading for Endurance Events

Yesterday afternoon, just when I was about to post this piece, I found out that tragedy had struck the Boston Marathon. I have always loved this race having grown up in the area and had spent the morning glued to the television watching race coverage with my boys. I still cannot believe that something so beautiful, and joyful has been spoiled for thousands of people in such a senseless way. Marathoners and Bostonians have a lot in common; we are tough, proud and don’t believe in the word can’t. I have no doubt that the city of Boston and the Boston Marathon will come back stronger than ever after this. I have decided to go forward and post what I wrote yesterday while thinking of those runners on the Boston Marathon course. I’m guessing that there might be even more people now inspired to run a full marathon in the wake of the tragedy yesterday. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this senseless act.

When it comes to nutrition before a big endurance event, there is a lot of room for confusion, nerves and second guessing. You’ve been training for many weeks/months. You’ve nailed all of your long runs, hill repeats and tempo runs (or century rides, hour plus swims and brick workouts). You’ve been right on top of your nutrition, making sure to fuel your body while it’s been working so hard. Seemingly out of the blue it’s taper time, with more time to think (read worry) you start second-guessing everything you do, including what to eat.

During the taper, it’s more important than ever to consume nutrient dense foods. Since you are decreasing your training time, you will need slightly less in terms of calories, but at the same time you want to support your body’s ability to repair and heal. Pack your plate with lots of colorful vegetables since they are naturally lower in calories and high in nutrients and phytochemicals. Make the majority of your grains whole grains and spread high quality protein throughout the day. If ever there was a time to become careful about what you eat, it’s now!

As the last few days prior to your event approach, it’s time to start thinking about carbohydrates. There have been numerous studies showing the benefits of carbohydrate loading prior to endurance events. How do you load? Many people think a big plate of pasta the night before is all it takes, but it’s a little more involved than that. For the last 2-3 days before race day, the percentage of carbohydrates (compared to fat and protein) should increase and become the majority of your diet. It’s especially important to have a high carbohydrate meal following your last few workouts because this is when your muscles will be primed for storage.

The entire day before the event will be focused on getting in lots of carbohydrates; this will take some planning because it’s not as easy as it sounds! The research shows that about 10g of carbohydrates per 1 kg of bodyweight, is most effective; for a 150-pound person, that would be about 680 grams or 2720 calories of carbohydrate in one day! Consuming high carbohydrate beverages (such as juices and sports drinks) throughout the day, and choosing lower fiber foods such as potatoes, bananas, pretzels, and white rice instead of higher fiber vegetables, fruits and grains will also help because you don’t want to load up your GI with fiber the day before your big event.

If you load correctly, you will gain about 3-4 pounds and feel very bloated and sluggish. This is due to water being retained along with the glycogen in your muscle tissue and will diminish once you begin to utilize all of this stored energy. Just remember, one day of carbohydrate loading cannot make up for poor nutrition during your training; feed your body well and it will reward you!

Don’t Dig Yourself into a Hole

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to a group that is training to run their first marathon; they will be running the Boston Marathon one of the most famous and exciting marathons in the world! While we were talking about the importance of fueling and hydrating adequately during endurance sports, one of the participants made a statement which I think pertains to athletes and non-athletes alike. He said, “Sometimes during a long run, I feel like I’m digging myself into a hole that I will then need to go back and fill in later.” A great analogy. The best thing to do is to prevent digging ourselves into this hole in the first place!

Do you try to run on empty?

Many people think of food and calories as something we need to fight against. A lot of people try to restrict their calories early in the day in order to lose weight. They might tell themselves that if they limit how much food they eat in the morning, they can then eat what they like in the evening at a party. Some might also say that they ‘deserve’ a donut after going to the gym, or that they will work out the morning of [insert holiday here] in order to eat goodies later.

Repeat after me: Food is not the enemy! Food is fuel!

Why doesn’t restricting calories early in the day work? Simply put, your body will function best if you fuel it properly. For those engaging in general activities of daily living, make sure you spread your intake throughout the day. Eat breakfast when you wake up, don’t wait until you are ravenous to eat lunch at 3:00 in the afternoon; plan ahead and feed yourself before you feel out of control. The longer you delay your meals the hungrier you get, the hungrier you get the less control you have over what and how much you eat which will lead to overeating the types of foods that won’t help us nutritionally.

Fuel your body well for the best results!

What does this mean for endurance athletes? Make sure you fuel yourself early and often so that you will be able to perform at an optimum level. If you are planning an intensive training day, prepare by eating plenty of nutritious foods well beforehand. During your workout (if it is going to last more than an hour) make sure to have a fuel and hydration plan so that you will have all of the energy you need to make it to the end in good shape. Lastly, make sure you continue to fuel and replace what you have burned after your workout so that your body has the fuel it needs for proper recovery.