Tag Archives: diets

Counting Calories for the purpose of losing weight

Is counting calories the best way to live our lives?  Everyday, we hear the term calorie as an expression of how much we eat on a daily basis. Technically, a Calorie is a unit of heat measurement used to measure the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius.  In this article I will discuss why is it so difficult to accurately count calories.

In America it has become increasingly popular to see calories on menus, see people reading food labels at the grocery store, and in general people obsess about calorie content. So how do those numbers make it on labels and menus? In order to see those nutrient values, scientists burn food samples in a bomb calorimeter. The result of this reaction then becomes the value for nutrient databases that are used today.  Unfortunately, there are several issues with the process.

  • Analytical methods are imprecise
  • Product variety
  • Soil and growing conditions
  • Ripeness at the time of harvest
  • Animals’ diets
  • Preparation method

The way we currently test nutrients and energy doesn’t always provide reliable results, so the analysis can only be as good as the testing method.  Besides the analysis we have to look at food as a whole.  No food is ever going to be the same, different batches of the same food will have different nutrient values, thus testing a food at a single point in time to describe all batches is extremely inaccurate. Produce is grown all over the world in different climates and varying soil conditions.  It would be improbable to say that produce grown in different regions would have the same nutrient estimates. Nutrient values are also different when picked during peak season versus out of season.  Nutrients in milk, meats, and eggs, vary based on how the particular animal lived and ate. Eating raw will have a much different affect that cooking produce. In fact, research has shown cooking provides more energy available for humans to use.  So with all these contributing factors related to food how accurate are the labels?

Foods listed in the nutrient database, or on food labels are as much as  +/-  25% off. Additional research has shown some frozen foods contain 8% more calories, and some restaurant meals are as much as 18% higher than listed on the menu. All this leads to one undeniable fact; you can’t rely on calorie counting for an accurate way to measure your weight. While this article is not meant to answer what is the best method to lose weight, hopefully it has shown that managing your weight by counting calories is time consuming, difficult, and extremely inaccurate.

Spice up Your Life! 10 savory spices that will boost flavor and burn fat!

Who says “health food” has to be boring and bland? Giving up the fat doesn’t have to mean giving up the flavor! So trade in your butter for something better: here’s a list of spices that add zest to any meal, and offer up some pretty decent health benefits to boot.

1. Cumin: Typically found in Mexican and Indian cuisine, this pungent spice is beneficial in more ways than just boosting flavor. Cumin has been found to strengthen the immune system and improve digestion as well as mental function. Dieters can benefit from cumin’s ability to speed up metabolism and aid in nutrient absorption throughout the body. Add to taco seasonings and curry powders to give your meal a kick.

Cumin-spice

2. Cayenne Pepper: The health benefits of cayenne pepper are just about endless. This spicy pepper has been used to treat throat and stomach ailments, and has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. For those looking to whittle their waistlines, cayenne pepper is an excellent detoxifier and metabolism booster, and studies have proven that spicy foods actually suppress the appetite, causing us to eat less throughout the day. Add some heat to sauces and chili by sprinkling in a little of the powdered pepper.

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3. Turmeric: Turmeric, another “super spice,” is a natural painkiller and liver detoxifier. It is also used to speed up wound healing and treat skin conditions, and may help prevent certain types of cancers and Alzheimer’s. This Indian spice is a common fixture in curry, but is also a great addition to marinades and salad dressings.

turmeric

4. Ginger: Ginger has long been known for its ability to settle the stomach and aid in digestion, but it can also clear up congestion during cold and flu season, and is even thought to be a natural remedy for headaches and menstrual cramps. To reap the benefits of this powerful root, add a little to your tea or into a pitcher of water along with lime slices and fresh mint sprigs for a refreshing and detoxifying summer beverage.

ginger

5. Cinnamon: While I don’t recommend taking the “cinnamon challenge,” a scoop of cinnamon is beneficial in many ways. The sweet spice has been proven to lower blood sugar levels, making it ideal for diabetics and pre-diabetics. It is also known to aid in weight loss by increasing blood circulation and kick-starting metabolism. Sprinkle over desserts, puddings, or baked apples for a touch of spicy sweetness.

cinnamon

6. Flaxseeds: While not exactly a spice, flaxseeds made our list due to the number of health benefits they provide. There’s evidence to suggest that the plant food helps prevent heart disease, strokes, cancer and diabetes, and it’s a great source of fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. Use instead of granola with fruit and yogurt, or mix it into dough or batter.

flaxseed

7. Psyllium: Like flaxseeds, psyllium is not exactly a spice, but a seed husk which provides an excellent source of dietary fiber and also helps manage cholesterol levels, which in turn lowers your risk of heart disease. Ground psyllium husks are preferred over the actual husks as they digest easier. Take in pill form or add a little in with rice or pasta dishes. Just be careful not to overdo it on the portion sizes as the fiber in psyllium will fill you up quickly.

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8. Cardamom: This delicate spice is a source of many vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, niacin, vitamin C, and calcium; all essential in promoting good health. Cardamom can be found in both pod and powder form, and make an excellent addition to sweet foods and desserts.

cardamom-11

9. Mustard: Believe it or not, this ballpark staple is actually pretty darn good for you! A great source of B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium and potassium, mustard contributes to both bone and muscular health. So slather it onto your burgers and dogs, just remember not to overdo it. Mustard is high in sodium, which can increase your risk of heart disease when consumed in excess.

mustard

10. Black Pepper: You likely already have this super spice in your kitchen, but you may not know that it provides more than just flavor to your food. Cancer fighter, digestive aid, cough and cold reliever, and metabolism-booster are just a few titles on this common spice’s resume. Use as often and on anything you like! 🙂

pepper

While there are many other spices that provide useful benefits to our health, these are our top favorites due to their zesty flavors and ease in cooking. Experiment a little and figure out which are your favorites. Remember, nutritious CAN be delicious!

The Engine 2 Diet

engine 2 diet

First off, let me just say…I hate diets. Sure, it’s easy to follow a rigid meal plan when you have no plans, but at some point life gets in the way (birthdays, holidays, girls’ night out, etc.) and the diet goes down in flames (pun intended). That being said, I was skeptical when I came across The Engine 2 Diet cookbook while perusing my local Whole Foods. The diet was created by Rip Esselstyn, a Texas firefighter and vegan who developed the plan when he discovered that the cholesterol levels among his crew were dangerously high. The diet itself is nothing particularly groundbreaking; the idea is to eat only plant-based foods for 28 days in order to lose weight and lower cholesterol. Essentially, it’s being a vegetarian for a month. But is eliminating protein for a few weeks really the answer to effective weight loss that lasts? Is it practical for the average person? I decided to find out for myself.

My initial research of the Engine 2 diet brought up really positive feedback. A lot of people have lost weight by following it, and I can see why.  The diet is fruit and veggie-centric, and does allow for beans, lentils, and tofu, so lean proteins are still present in the plan, although anything animal-based is banned. Whole grains are also on the menu, which I liked because I disagree with the idea of a carb-eliminating diet. There are plenty of recipes available to choose from, so no matter your palate, you can find foods you like. I was pleasantly surprised to see that approved versions of burritos, pizza, and even desserts were included.

The pictures looked appetizing enough, so I decided to give the Raise the Roof Sweet Potato Lasagna a try. The grocery list for the recipe was somewhat daunting at around 20 different ingredients, but I liked that it was full of veggies, and any pasta dish that’s also diet-approved sounds like a winner to me. I have to say, finding the ingredients in the grocery store was a lot harder than choosing the recipe (Silken Lite Tofu anyone?). When I finally checked off the last ingredient on my list, I made my way to the checkout and discovered that this one meal had set me back about 40 bucks (added bottle of wine not included). I was determined to be positive, however, and headed home with a bevy of fresh produce.

The meal itself was actually pretty darn good. It was relatively easy to make, and the combo of sweet potatoes, spices and fresh veggies provided a unique flavor twist to your typical lasagna. It was a pretty filling dish too so there were plenty of leftovers, which made me feel a bit better about spending so much on one meal. Overall, I really liked the meal, and I would definitely consider giving other Engine 2 recipes a try.

My verdict on the Engine 2 Diet overall? Not too shabby as far as effectiveness. Yes, you’ll give up meat for a month, but you’ll get plenty of protein through other sources, and lots of fruit and veggies to boot. The recipes are tasty and super healthy, but they are a little pricey. The recipes in the book don’t share many ingredients among them, so if you go on this diet, you’ll have a thinner wallet to match your thinner waistline. The only other problem I have with the diet is its longevity. Unless you’re planning to become a vegetarian for life, it’s likely that you’ll end up back to your old food habits once the 28 days are up. My recommendation? If you’re interested in trying the diet, go for it! You’ll enjoy cooking the meals, and you’ll lose weight provided that you stick to it for the full month. But after it’s over, aim to go meatless one or two days a week to keep those healthy habits and keep the pounds lost at bay. And who knows, Engine 2 just may just make a vegan out of you!