Dine Out Without Diving Off Your Diet

Driving off the Cliff
When you start to eat healthily, dining out, which was once a bliss-filled, belt-notch-loosening pleasure, becomes a culinary terror.

Servings are Matterhorn-esque in size. Supertankers of soda abound. Fries come with your order whether you want them or not. Nary a veggie can be seen for miles.

We’re here to help.

But please remember that even with our tips, restaurant dining is almost always going to be less healthy than what you can make at home. That said, here are a few pointers:

1. Make smart choices
Almost every menu contains chicken or fish cooked in a healthy way. Look for words like “grilled,” “broiled,” or “steamed,” and avoid “sautéed” and “fried.”

2. Skip the appetizer
By definition, an appetizer is intended to get your appetite going. But when some appetizers contain more than 1,000 calories, that’s not an appetizer—that’s a full meal and more! If you do want an appetizer, ask your table if they’d be willing to split one of the healthier options like a salad, bruschetta, ceviche, or anything that’s light on sauce and heavy on fruits, veggies, or lean protein.

3. Eat a salad
Greens are also a great option, but not all salads are created equal. Stick with salads that don’t contain mayo (in other words, avoid the tuna and chicken salad), and ask for the dressing on the side. This way you can add your tablespoon or two, instead of having your salad drenched in it.

4. Side dishes in your mouth mean sidecars on your thighs
At many restaurants, the “side” is a baked potato, fries, or coleslaw. What does that equal? Unnecessary calories. If you’d like a side, request the salad (dressing on the side), fruit, or steamed veggies, even if you don’t see them as an option.

5. No bread
Don’t eat the bread. Does it taste good? Sure! But instead of eating something because it’s in front of you, swap those empty calories for something you’d actually enjoy.

6. Eat half
Over time, American portion sizes have enlarged to gargantuan sizes. Restaurants often provide you not with one serving of pasta, but with as many as 4 or more. But if you have a hard time not cleaning your plate—after all, the food does taste good—request that the waiter split your order in half before they bring it to the table. That way you can enjoy your dinner as lunch later in the week.

7. No soda
If bread is bad, soda might be worse. That’s because it’s easy to consume massive amounts of calories fast. And don’t even think about going the “diet” route. Those artificial sweeteners aren’t healthy, and they can lead you to crave more sugary substances. Talk about a lose-lose! If you want something other than water, ask for unsweetened iced tea. It’s calorie free, so you can drink as much as you want!

8. Dessert
Really? Really? Granted, some restaurants use restraint, and focus more on unique flavors than on quantity, but if you’re out with friends at the type of place where the dessert has more calories than your meal, and they insist upon ordering it, suggest the table split it. Then take a single bite and put your spoon down. It’s not about denying yourself, but about making smart choices. If you’re still craving something sweet when you get home, enjoy some yogurt and berries or a piece of fruit.

8 Healthy Condiments

Condiments
Rice cakes. Cottage cheese. Melba toast. Diet staples bland enough to send you down to Staples to buy some Styrofoam peanuts to add a little flavor to your eating plan. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sure, if you really want to move the needle on the scale, you’re going to have to cut out a lot of fat, sugar, and sodium, but that doesn’t mean your new regimen of steaming, blanching, and boiling has to condemn you to a life of bland eating. Many condiments can spice up your cuisine without adding any calories, and in some cases, they can even accelerate your weight loss! Here are eight of our favorites.

1. Ketchup
Until recently, ketchup had been the king of the condiments. Americans have found very few meals that couldn’t be improved by being drenched in tomato-ey goodness. And ketchup has quite a number of healthy properties. Remember when the Reagan administration famously classified it as a vegetable in school lunches? OK, maybe that went too far . . . but it is chock-full of lycopene, one of the most potent antioxidants around. The only problem is that most brands are also chock-full of sodium, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and sugar, which substantially defrays the health benefits of the tomatoes. But more and more ketchup manufacturers are offering low-salt, low-HFCS brands; and if you can get your hands on them, you can drench your favorite meals with nutritional impunity. Or for the culinarily inclined, you can make your own ketchup and add the amount of sugar and salt that is right for you.

2. Mustard
This sharp paste made from the crushed seeds of the mustard plant comes in colors ranging from yellow to brown and in sharpness ranging from tangy to eye-watering. Mustard has practically no calories or fat to speak of, and even if it did, a little goes a long way. After all, it is one of the only condiments to be weaponized. It is worth checking the labels as some are high in sodium and others can add sugar or oil for flavor and texture, but generally, mustard can be consumed guilt free—as much as your palate can handle. There are lots of gourmet varieties with ingredients like horseradish, white wine, or jalapeños added for extra zest.

3. Salsa
In the last decade or so, salsa has overtaken ketchup as the number-one condiment in America. There are literally thousands of different kinds of salsas, though most contain tomatoes, onions, and peppers as their base. Very low in calories and high in flavor, salsas are a great accent to any dish, but as with all commercially prepared items, attention should be paid to the levels of sodium and high-fructose corn syrup. It’s a pretty easy thing to make yourself. A simple pico de gallo can be made by combining diced tomatoes and onions with minced cilantro and jalapeño and marinating those ingredients in lime juice. Make a big bowl on Sunday and have a healthy snack or sauce all week long!

4. Hot sauce I can go through two or three bottles of hot sauce a week. My refrigerator door rattles with tall skinny bottles of the stuff and I have been known to excuse myself from the dinner table in order to towel off my face. While many have said that the high levels of capsaicin (the “burning” component in chili peppers) I consume have deadened my taste buds to subtle flavors, I would argue that the hot sauce has opened my palate wide. I pity those who don’t have the iron stomach to withstand the delights offered by habanero, chipotle, and cayenne peppers. A little bit of hot sauce gives a ton of flavor with practically no calories, and the capsaicin is even believed to boost your metabolism. As always, keeping an eye on the sodium content is advisable.

5. Soy sauce
Needless to say, this isn’t a very good part of a low-sodium diet, but there are low-sodium versions available (although low-sodium soy sauce has through-the-roof levels of sodium compared to most other foods). Some studies have shown that soy sauce contains even more antioxidants than red wine and, as a result of the fermentation process used to make it, high levels of probiotics. It doesn’t have all the health benefits found in other soy products like edamame or tofu, but as a substitute for salt as a seasoning, you get a lot more nutritional bang for your buck.

6. Vinegar
Vinegar comes in many different varieties—malt, wine, rice, cider, sherry, balsamic, and on and on. The word itself comes from the French vin aigre, or “sour wine.” But unlike wine, vinegar has no alcohol and, depending on the variety, very few or zero calories. But it does have plenty of zip and tang. I find that a dash to my favorite soup or a sprinkle on my sandwich or salad adds lots of flavor without adding salt, fat, or sugar. In fact, studies have shown that vinegar helps stabilize blood sugar levels, and in one study, a test group of people who drank two tablespoons of vinegar before meals showed more weight loss than the group who didn’t.

7. Yogurt
Yogurt has the most calories and potentially the most fat of any of the condiments on this list. Full-fat yogurt, in fact, can have milkfat levels as high as ice cream. But low-fat and nonfat varieties serve as great substitutes for mayonnaise or a creamy dressing without adding too many calories to your dish. And with high levels of L. acidophilus and other probiotics, yogurt can also be very beneficial to your digestive system. Try mixing some plain nonfat yogurt with your favorite herbs or a little mustard or curry as a salad dressing or dipping sauce. Or try goat’s-milk yogurt for some flavor variety.

8. Curry
In different parts of the world curry can mean almost any number of combinations of savory spices. Besides the powder derived from the curry plant, curry powders and paste can contain many spices, including turmeric, coriander, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, and fenugreek. There are commercially prepared curries from all over the world, from India to Thailand to the Caribbean. Keep an eye out for salt and fat content, and you’ll be on your way to giving your sauces, meats, fish, and vegetables a hit of amazing flavor without adding calories.

6 Survival Tips for Eating in Bars

Eating in Bars
Most of us think of fast food, office doughnuts, or that tub of ice cream in the freezer when we think of diet traps. But what about those unplanned little grazings that happen when we wander out to happy hour with colleagues after work, hit the nightclubs for somebody’s birthday on the weekend, or gather with friends at the local sports bar to watch the playoff game on Sunday afternoon? Somebody passes around a bucket of wings, a plate of calamari, or a couple of orders of fries and onion rings, and you decide you’re just going to try one of these, one of those, and you surely can’t refuse that one at the happy hour price—it’s like throwing money away! Emboldened by judgment-loosening alcoholic beverages (not to mention highly caloric), a whole diet plan can be shredded in one evening. But none of us wants to stay home with our celery sticks and cabbage soup while our friends and coworkers are out on the town. So let’s take a look at some of the worst offenders offered up at our favorite watering holes and some alternatives we can order instead.

1. Buffalo wings
These little deadlies took off like crazy in the 90s and now they, or some variation, are available at almost every bar in town. Sold by the pound, by the half-dozen, or by the wing, they are delicious, but watch out—these babies can give you a buffalo butt. The basic recipe for the classic Buffalo wing is to deep-fry separated wing sections and then toss them in a combination of butter and hot sauce. Some places have added breading to the mix to better absorb the fat and sauce, and most serve them with celery and carrot sticks with a healthy serving of full-fat ranch or blue cheese dressing. Why have they become so popular? Well, of course, they taste great, but more than that, think about the bar’s strategy. What are they in the business of? Serving drinks. And here’s where the wings become the perfect bar food. They’re spicy—which makes you want to drink more. They’re salty—which makes you want to drink more. They’re fatty—which makes you feel the effects of the alcohol less . . . and makes you want to drink more. It’s a perfect storm of high-calorie temptation to make you ingest more high-calorie drinks.

I initially went to the Hooters Web site to get nutritional info for their wings, and finding none, went to their FAQ, where I was informed they couldn’t possibly give out nutritional information for such a customizable dish. I found this to be the case at most of the popular chains. This reluctance to divulge didn’t bode well for the dainty chicken wing. I finally found a third-party site reporting that a 10-piece chicken wing appetizer order at Ruby Tuesday had 910 calories and 66 grams of fat. Add the blue cheese dressing, and you can knock it up to 1,090 calories and 85 grams of fat. This seemed pretty typical. If you add variations like breading, or syrupy sauces like teriyaki or sweet-and-sour, you can bump up the calories even higher. It’s safe to guess that for every wing you eat out of your table’s wing bucket, you’re getting around 100 calories and 7 grams of fat. Chicken wings are mostly skin, so they’re pretty much the least healthy part of the chicken you can eat. And chicken “fingers” or “nuggets” aren’t much better. Some grind up the skin into the meat, which ends up being the base for the nugget, and even the all-breast-meat versions have tons of fat from the breading.
Instead: Just treat yourself to one or two wings or fingers from the bucket. But then fill up on the accompanying celery and carrot sticks (however, skip the ranch and blue cheese; ask if there’s salsa or marinara sauce). You can ask your waiter and barkeep for extra sticks, too, so your friends don’t think you’re a celery hog.

2. French fries
Fries are definitely high on the bar’s salty-fatty scale. But they’re another perfect bar food. Loved by vegetarians and carnivores alike. Usually the cheapest appetizer on the menu and great finger food for passing around. But a basket of fries, depending on how they’re prepared, can have 500 to 1,000 calories, at least half of which come from fat. Not to mention the sodium content, and even the accompanying ketchup which is usually full of high-fructose corn syrup. And, you can also get creative by adding cheese, chili, bacon, or anything else to the fries. At the Outback Steakhouse, you can order the Aussie Cheese Fries, whose one-pound, 12-ounce serving contains 2,900 calories and 182 grams of fat. Outback—it’s Australian for heart attack! Hopefully, this dish is meant to be shared, but even an individual 10-ounce cheese fries order at Johnnie Rockets clocks in at 760 calories with 43 grams of fat.
Instead: Skip the toppings. Fries, at heart, are just potatoes, which, while a bit carby, aren’t unhealthy. If you have an option between steak fries and shoestring/thin-cut fries, go with the steak fries. The potato-to-grease ratio is much higher, so essentially each steak fry absorbs less fat than the shoestring/thin-cut variety. Also, if you’re at an Irish or British pub, you could use no-calorie vinegar as your condiment of choice instead of HFCS-laden ketchup.

3. Nachos
This “snack” plate is a fiesta of fat and calories—a bed of deep-fried tortilla chips, loaded with full-fat melted cheese and sour cream. At least there’s some salsa, which is low in calories; refried beans, which give you a little fiber with your fat; and some heart-healthy guacamole. But don’t let those ingredients justify the indulgence—nachos can often be the most caloric item on the menu. One order of Classic Nachos at Chili’s contains 1,570 calories and 115 grams of fat (58 grams of which are saturated). Even if you share this pile of fatty goodness with a friend, you’ve still inhaled almost your entire day’s recommended allowance of fat, and you haven’t even ordered dinner. Olé!
Instead: Let your fork be your friend. Instead of using the tortilla chips as your cheese delivery system, use a fork and pick at the healthier things on the nacho plate—the salsa, the guacamole, the jalapeños, the olives, the beans, or the lean chicken or steak (if the nachos come with that). I also recommend sitting/standing far away from the nachos. It’ll be less tempting to eat them absentmindedly. If you’ve only ordered chips and salsa, try keeping your salsa-to-chip ratio high. The salsa’s low-calorie and nutritious, the chip is fattening and virtually nutrition free. So load up a chip with healthy salsa. Better to get refills on the salsa than the chips.

4. Deep-fried delicacies
This year, a top seller at state and county fairs is deep-fried Coke. Clearly, as a society, we have arrived at a point where we are able and willing to deep-fry pretty much anything. From classics like onion rings and calamari to new innovations like deep-fried jalapeño rings, anything that can be dipped in batter and dropped into a vat of sizzling oil will be served at your local bar. But keep in mind that while these munchies may have begun their lives as vegetables and seafood, they are not for the health-conscious. A large raw onion has 60 calories and no fat; a typical serving of onion rings has 500 calories and 34 grams of fat. Three ounces of squid contain 78 calories with one gram of fat; an order of calamari fritti at the Macaroni Grill has 1,210 calories with 78 grams of fat (13 of which are saturated). Clearly the lesson is to stay away from the deep fryer.
Instead: The bright side of a deep-fried menu is that a deep fryer is usually a sign of a working kitchen—one that might have a refrigerator. If so, you could order an alternate appetizer like shrimp cocktail—a 10-shrimp serving only runs you 228 calories with 4 grams of fat. Or order a salad with dressing on the side. And if you feel bad that you’re not joining the crowd at the saturated fat trough, see if you can get a buddy to go halfsies with you on a healthy menu item like a salad. Then you can bond with your friend instead of having plaque bond with your artery walls.

5. Sushi
If your alcohol-themed gathering is at a Japanese-themed or sushi bar, you may have hit diet heaven. Sake is only 39 calories an ounce, comparable to wine, and sushi—generally a roll of fish, rice, and seaweed—is actually low-calorie, low-fat, and healthy! Score! Be careful though, not all sushi is created equal. Some rolls that contain spicy mayonnaise sauces or tempura batter can rack up the calories big time. For example, a plain tuna roll is about 184 calories with 2 grams of fat. A spicy tuna roll is 290 calories with 11 grams of fat; and a tuna tempura roll is 508 calories with 21 grams of fat. Of course, with true Yankee ingenuity, Americans have figured out ways to incorporate all manner of ingredients into sushi. I swear to you, I’ve seen cheeseburger and pizza sushi on menus. Watch out for the ones that will turn your heart-healthy snack into a gut bomb—like the salmon-cream-cheese roll which has 517 calories with 20 grams of fat. Traditional Japanese appetizers like tempura can also be as fattening as onion rings. Three pieces of vegetable tempura run about 320 calories with 18 grams of fat.
Instead: Stick to sushi made without sauces, tempura, or other caloric ingredients. If you really want to cut calories (and carbs), order sashimi, or sushi without rice. A typical serving of tuna sashimi is less than 40 calories and 3 grams of fat. Also, look for other low-calorie items on the menu like miso soup (76 calories) or edamame (100 calories for half a cup).

6. Peanuts, pretzels, popcorn, and mixes
The diviest bar in town might not have a menu from the kitchen, but they’ll probably have a barrel of some crunchy treat which will be served in small refillable bowls—gratis. Again, this isn’t just an act of incredible generosity by the bartender, it’s motivation for you to get full of salt and fat so you can order more drinks, early and often. Peanuts are a good source of protein, but they have about 164 calories an ounce (about 30 peanuts) and 14 grams of fat. Popcorn is 140 calories an ounce (about 2-1/2 cups) with 8 grams of fat. Pretzels are only 107 calories an ounce (about five pretzels), with almost no fat, but you also get a full 20 percent of your sodium RDA in that ounce. An ounce of Chex mix (about 2/3 cup) is 120 calories with 5 grams of fat. And Asian snack mix (largely seasoned rice crackers) is 142 calories an ounce (about a cup) with 7 grams of fat.
Instead:
You can pretty well name your poison on this one. They’re all around the same calorie count per ounce. I’ve yet to find the bar where the bartender dished out a healthy alternative from the bottomless snack bucket behind the bar. The main thing to remember is that the bowl is indeed bottomless, and the bartender will keep filling the bowl, so you keep filling your glass. And keep in mind Ben Stiller’s speech from Along Came Polly, where his risk assessor character explains to Jennifer Aniston the number of people in the bar who went to the bathroom, didn’t wash their hands, and then plunged those dirty hands into the communal nut bowl. The nice thing about joints like this is that they’re not going to give you a dirty look if you pull a P90X® Peak Performance Protein Bar out of your purse. Also, if you plan on getting your nutritional sustenance from a bartender in the evening, it might be wise to pop a couple of ActiVit® multivitamins in the morning. Bottoms up!

Fish Oil: Nature’s Miracle Ingredient

Fish Oil
For a number of years now, I’ve been telling our members that the simplest way to improve their diets is to take fish oil for its omega-3 content. I’m happy to announce that we’ve developed a fish oil supplement that’s up to Beachbody’s strict standards. Let’s take a brief look at what fish oil is and how it will improve your diet and your health, and why you will benefit from Beachbody’s all-new fish oil supplement, Core Omega-3™.

Fish oil is made up of two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These are hard to find in the modern American diet and, thus, our bodies tend to lack necessary omega-3 levels, leading to myriad poor health conditions. Though our diets may not satisfy our omega-3 needs, fish oil supplementation can prove helpful and has been linked to multiple benefits, including:
• Heart health and normal cholesterol levels
• Immune system health, improved mood and memory, joint health, blood sugar health, and stress relief
• Increased energy levels and greater cognitive function
• Nutritional support for pregnant women
• Regular cell growth and division
• Skeletal system strength
• Healthy inflammatory response

Why fish oil?
To reiterate, fish contains two omega-3 fatty acids. They are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are hard to find elsewhere and support healthy cardiovascular and immune health. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), another omega-3 fatty acid, can be found more readily, but ALA is not easily converted into EPA and DHA. Flaxseed is an example of a good omega-3 source that is all ALA. While flaxseed is healthy, fish oil is a far more efficient way to get your omega-3.

While you could just eat fish for your omega-3 needs, there is a downside—mercury contamination. Doctors now recommend limiting the number of servings of fish you have in a week. A good fish oil supplement puts you at no risk for mercury poisoning. For this reason, care should be taken when choosing a good fish oil supplement.

Health benefits of fish oil
The benefits of the omega-3 oils found in fish oil are still being studied. These benefits seem to begin at conception and increase throughout one’s life—including contributing to a reduction in Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have hinted at advantages like increased intelligence levels, fewer headaches, reduced incidences of and pain from arthritis, heart disease protection, fewer occurrences of depression and bipolar disorder, and even protection from breast cancer and prostate cancer.

In Europe, patients who survive heart attacks are typically given a prescription for purified fish oil, which has significantly improved the survival rate. One study of 11,000 patients showed a 20 percent reduction in deaths and a 40 percent reduction in sudden deaths for those who took fish oil. Studies done in 2003 at Harvard Medical showed that taking fish oil on a daily basis can help protect the heart from damage and disease. Recent human trials have proven that when using fish oil that includes EPA and DHA, you can expect a decrease in the incidence of and the pain associated with inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, colitis, and cystitis.

Further studies suggest that fish oil intake during pregnancy can contribute to healthy pregnancies, and omega-3 supplementation, along with the restriction of omega-6, helps support brain function and mood both during pregnancy and post-partum. Infant formulas are beginning to include DHA as studies suggest improved cognitive function in adults who were breast-fed up to nine months while the mother was supplementing with fish oils. After conception, the new baby’s brain calls on the mother’s store of omega-3 fatty acids to develop a healthy brain. Fish has always been rumored as a “brain food.” What’s interesting is that recent research has shown that nearly 70 percent of a baby’s brain and more than 60 percent of an adult brain are made up of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, like DHA, that come from fish.

Fat as a supplement
Fat as a supplement is a tough pill for many to swallow (pun intended) because our most basic sense of aesthetics tends to confuse dietary fat with body fat percentage. As we’ve stated many times, these two things are not the same. Your calories come from proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. And these are needed in the proper ratio to maximize your body’s functional capabilities. But all carbs, proteins, and fats are not created equal; and it’s probably more variable in the fat category than the others. The types of fats we tend to consume on a daily basis don’t give us the nutrients we need to fulfill our bodies’ potentials. Therefore, like with any nutrient we’re lacking, supplementing is a good option.

The skinny on fat
We need dietary fat to be healthy. But our diets don’t often provide us with good dietary fat and, thus, our diets lack balance. We should maintain close to a 1:1 ratio between our omega-3 and our omega-6 consumption; however, it’s estimated that the typical American diet is somewhere between 1:20 and 1:50! When you look at the list of benefits above and the things preventing this harmonious ratio (and leading to out-of-balance diets), it’s no wonder we have so many health problems related to improper fat consumption.

How much do I need?
It’s estimated that nearly 20 percent of Americans have such low levels of DHA and EPA that test methods are unable to detect any in their blood. Recommended intakes of DHA and EPA have not been established by the FDA. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish per week to support cardiovascular health. The American College of Cardiology recommends that heart patients increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids to 1 gram a day. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that adults consume at least 1,000 mg (1 gram) a day of pure omega-3 fish oil and 1,200 mg for pregnant and nursing mothers.

How do I make sure it’s safe?
International fish oil standards are increasingly being regulated, but it’s important, at this stage, to ensure that you chose a brand committed to the highest quality and the strictest purity guidelines. The two most important criteria are that your brand is free of mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants and that the fish are exposed to low oxidation levels during processing. Since there is no regulatory agency doing this on a broad scale, it’s important to spend a little time researching your brand of choice.

As far as our supplements go, quality is our most important criteria, and this is true of Core Omega-3. According to Beachbody Nutritionals Director of Product Development, Aaron Lowe, “It’s safe to say that the oil is protected from oxygen during processing and tested for impurities during the entire process. There is a certain baseline it has to meet before it even undergoes processing, and if it does not meet this spec, it’s not accepted for production.” To further drive this point home, Lowe adds, “Who are you going to trust with your health? Beachbody has built a reputation of providing excellent products and our nutritional supplements are no exception. Our customers can trust our products for their friends and families because we trust our products for our friends and families too.”

Pop Goes the Diet—The Worst Food in the World

Soda
Since all great things come in threes (or is it celebrity deaths?), we’re going to complete our sugar trilogy with a look at the worst food in the world: soda pop. Forget about brands; whether it’s Coke, Dr. Pepper, or even Hansen’s Natural, it’s all junk. There are different degrees of “junkiness,” but this is Nutrition 911, so we’re sticking with the bird’s-eye perspective. The taste might make you happy, but from a nutritional point of view, soda’s only place in the world is to make people fat, sick, and unhappy.

Alarming statistics
In America, we drink a lot of cola (or “un-cola”). A lot. On average, we each drank 52.4 gallons in 2005, and this figure includes infants, healthy folks, prisoners, etc., meaning that the average soda drinker actually gulps (their word) more than this. Carbonated soft drinks are the biggest single caloric source in the American diet. Teenagers in particular are hooked on the stuff and get an average of 13 percent of their daily calories from “pop.” If this doesn’t scare you, it should. In terms of sheer amount, these statistics could be alarming if it were any one food. A proper diet should have some balance and diversity. And soda pop is the antithesis of “any food.” It’s bad food.

“Empty calories”
We use the term “empty calories” for foods like soda that have no place in a nutritious diet. This term is ridiculously misleading. The calories in soda are far from empty. Most of them come from sugar. In the U.S., it’s nearly always high fructose corn syrup, the cheapest, most processed sugar on the market. Other ingredients include caffeine, various phosphates and acids, and artificial colorings. We’ll get to their effects on the human body in a minute, but first, let’s stick to the simple stuff. Per day, the average teenager consumes between 10 and 15 teaspoons of refined sugar via soda—which, according to government standards, is about their daily requirement for all foods. This means that for the average teenager, his or her soda consumption virtually eliminates his or her chances of eating a balanced diet. There’s nothing empty about that.

Weird science
The soda companies are a marketing juggernaut. They spend roughly $700 million a year on media advertising alone—not to mention hundreds of millions more sponsoring events, athletes, musicians, and such. This volume of cash makes it difficult for consumers to avoid them, by design. To avoid the temptation to drink Coke, you’ve got to be highly principled or living in the middle of the jungle. And even then, well, I once happened upon a soda vending machine halfway up Mount Yarigatake in the Japanese Alps, and a friend traveling in Guatemala found Coke in a rural area that didn’t have running water. Let’s just say that soda companies are going to continue making it easy for you to find the stuff. This type of marketing machine won’t go away quietly. With the stats listed above, you could certainly put two and two together and link soda companies to the childhood (and adult) obesity epidemic that is arguably the world’s most serious health crisis. Yet, while researching this article, I came across a widely published “study” stating that “soft drink consumption has no effect on childhood obesity.” Suspicious from the get-go (the word “no” being a huge red flag), it didn’t take me long to find this statement: “The research paper was supported by an unrestricted gift from the American Beverage Association.” Bingo. Remember those Philip Morris tobacco “studies” that promised a long and healthy life from chain smoking?

What makes it so bad?
Besides the simple caloric trade-off, sodas are formulated to give you a rush. The sugar is mixed with phosphates designed to speed it into your system. It’s so good, in fact, that many cyclists prefer Coca-Cola to specific sports food when they need a sugar rush near the end of races. And while a sugar rush is a good thing when you’re trying to exceed your anaerobic threshold and you’re out of blood glycogen (never mind if you don’t know what this is), it’s a bad thing whenever you’re not, which even for a competitive cyclist is 99.9 percent of the time.

Beyond the simple sugar rush, these acids and phosphates alter your body’s pH levels and inhibit the absorption of other nutrients. Then there are the effects of certain artificial coloring agents. For example, yellow #5, commonly used in soft drinks, has been linked to attention deficit disorder, hives, asthma, and other allergic reactions in some children.

Then there is the nutrient trade-off to consider. A person who drinks one Big Gulp per day must go to great lengths to maintain a balanced diet. Otherwise, he or she will almost certainly be deficient in numerous vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and essential fatty or amino acids—none of which is found in soda. For this reason, soda is often linked to type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dental erosion, and a higher risk of kidney stones and heart disease. And that’s just a start. There’s plenty of less scientific data linking soda to poor scholastic habits, which we’ll get to in a later class.

Diet sodas and juices
In an attempt to become thought of as healthier, soda companies have diversified into non-carbonated beverages and diet sodas. While these are an improvement in some ways, they are hardly a solution to the problem. First off, most juices and other caloric non-soda alternatives are mainly just sugar and water without the carbonation. A quick label comparison between a commercial orange juice and a Mountain Dew would show a similar “bottom line” with regards to calories and sugar. The only improvement would be the lack of the non-caloric offenders. But that’s no small matter, as the true effects of these ingredients have not been thoroughly studied. Despite their no-calorie status, diet sodas have been linked to assorted illnesses. Recent studies have backed up my more anecdotal evidence that I’ve yet to have a client not lose weight by kicking diet soda. Granted, all of my clients drank an excessive amount, but regardless, there is little doubt that the pH balance of diet sodas hinders the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and that just may be the tip of the non-caloric iceberg.

A large-scale study in 2007 showed that men and women who had more than one diet soda a day were 31 percent more likely to be obese and 25 percent more likely to have both high triglycerides and blood sugar, and they had a 50 percent greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Never mind if you don’t know what metabolic syndrome is. Just trust me when I tell you that you don’t want it.

How can you help?
In my world, soft drinks would come with the same type of regulatory language as cigarettes and booze, at least. Actually, in my world, we’d all be educated and wouldn’t require this language at all, but that’s Politics 911, not Nutrition 911. Anyway, here are five ways you can help educate the public about the dangers of soda, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Contact your local government officials and/or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and suggest that:
1. National and local governments should require chain restaurants to declare the calorie content of soft drinks and all other items on menus and menu boards.
2. The FDA should require labels on non-diet soft drinks to state that frequent consumption of those drinks promotes obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis, and other health problems.
3. Local, state, and federal governments should provide water fountains in schools, government buildings, parks, and other public spaces.
4. School systems and other organizations catering to children should stop selling soft drinks (as well as candy and other junk foods) in hallways, shops, and cafeterias.
5. State and local governments should consider levying small taxes on soft drinks, with the revenues earmarked for promoting health and fitness. A national 2-cent tax on a can of soda pop would raise $3 billion annually.

Are you scared yet? You should be. Or you could just stop drinking soda. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Interview with Darin Olien, The Inspiring Ingredient Hunter

Interview with Darin Olien, The Inspiring Ingredient HunterDarin Olien founded Darin’s Naturals in 2005 as a means to integrate the numerous concepts related to health, nutrition, and exercise gained while acquiring a BA in Exercise Physiology/Nutrition, an MA in Psychology, and over a decade of experience working in several health-based industries.

Since 2005, Darin has traveled the planet on behalf of Darin’s Naturals, discovering new and underutilized herbs, superfood, and medicinal plants. Darin’s complete immersion in the indigenous cultures found across the globe have helped to expand his knowledge as a formulator and environmental initiator.

In 2006, Darin began working with Beachbody, in Santa Monica, California, to formulate the now popular whole food supplement, Shakeology.

Christine Christensen had the awesome opportunity to sit down with Darin recently to discuss the fabulous wonders of superfoods and intuition, both of which Darin is a very well versed.

Christine: I was first introduced to your work from the recent O Magazine. I was so excited when I opened it. I just saw these really amazing pictures of you with amazing super foods & herbs. Something inside of me just said, “ I need to interview this amazing person.”

Darin: It’s all about following the knowing, isn’t it?

Christine: Yeah, it seems like you kind of just of follow what you’re lead to do. So let’s talk about your journey. It seems that you have had quite the beautiful adventure. Can you tell us how it all began and how you’ve come to be a world traveler?

Darin: Sure. Well you know, being a Mid-Western, Minnesota-born kid, I grew up in a small town and played conventional sports and loved it for what it was. I went on to play college football, and my sophomore year, I was starting lineup. I was so excited, but during the second game I went down with a back injury. In that moment it was this boyhood dream that came crashing to an end. That spun me into what I would call a depression. It just threw everything off. You know, you have a certain plan, a certain idea, you’re young, and you’re doing what you want to do, or so you think. When that happened, I had to stop playing and I went to the conventional methods of physical therapy and doctors and all of that stuff. It wasn’t actually getting me on the field. Again, I was going back to what I wanted, what I thought I wanted to do. So I decided to basically come to the understanding that it wasn’t happening and when that wasn’t happening and I had to sit with that. It brought me one of the greatest epiphanies. I was always very physical and I was always fascinated with the body. Recognizing this, I made the decision in my mind that other people couldn’t fix the injury for me. So I thought, I’m going to take this on. I transferred schools, I transferred majors. I studied exercise physiology and nutrition. It opened me up to that fascinating world and I basically healed myself. From that moment, it’s been a forever growing curiosity – every day. It hasn’t stopped. I did physical therapies professionally for years. I worked individually with hundreds of people—athletes and celebrities.

Christine: So you have worked from the other side of physical therapy?

Darin: Yeah, because that personal experience is so powerful. You learn about yourself and you learn about nutrition and physiology and power of choice and all of that stuff. In working with all these hundreds of people, I then became completely fascinated with, as I called it then, the psychology of it all. I could go through the methodologies of things, but yet, the outcomes weren’t the same. It became increasingly obvious to me that there were a ton of X factors happening.

Christine: Yes, we are all very intricately unique to our own personal journey and challenges.

Darin: I then started asking questions and started getting more curious about the inner working of mind, body, and spirit.

Christine: Are those the X factors that you feel contribute to someone’s recuperation time after an injury?

Darin: Yeah. I think it’s what you call the deep voice within all of us that knows what to do on our next action. It’s our intuition. It’s such a feather touch and it’s so easy to blow off. The courage of saying yes to it, I think it’s a growing muscle and every time you say yes to it, it grows.

Christine: Absolutely.

Darin: Almost like the universe is smiling to you and saying ‘oh you got that? Here’s a little more.’

Christine: (laughs) Yeah. And if you pay attention, you can actually hear them kind of applauding on the other side, like: ‘Hey, you actually picked up on it or you actually listened to it.’

Darin: Yeah. I mean, you know, then it comes down to receiving. You just said yes to that so then you’re in a position to receive more of what the energies of the universe have to give. I think that is maybe one of the greatest muscles I am willing to work. I never at three years old said I’m going to go around the world and hang with indigenous people and find superfood, and I now do that.

Christine: Yes, it is such a blessing to follow that guidance.

Darin: I think the greatest blessing for me in my life has always been the willingness to take what I thought of in the moment as the spark of my heart and do it full on, and then I opened that door. I only could open that door with saying yes to whatever was in front of me and over time just led me to the expansion of what I could never put as a goal.

Christine: Absolutely, every little step adds up to something greater.

Darin: That always blows my mind in terms of “how did I end up here?” It’s a series of choices rather than the singularity of a goal or a singularity of one choice. It’s in the act of showing up every day. When you show up every day… all of those choices lead up to either living a fulfilling life or a very unfulfilling life.

Christine: Yes, and being in the spirit of giving, the goal of being to continuously give so that you then can be led to the next step. It seems like that’s part of your mantra.

Darin: Yeah, I never set out to give. I only set out to answer the call deep, deep, deep within and it just so happens that that call always has had a giving to it.

Christine: It does seem to have that essence to it. With all of the projects that you’re involved in it’s really amazing how you are bringing so many different communities and ingredients and experiences together for film, for consumption and then also for publication. You are just on every level reaching out and creating this community.

Darin: When something hits me and I’m inspired by it and impregnated with the passion of it, there’s no choice at that point. Because I’ve said yes to that so often, it makes itself known so often.

Christine: Yes, it definitely begins to grow, once we begin to follow our guidance, it grows.

Darin: So you know, it’s like okay, let’s do it. Who would have thought I’d be doing a film on the country of Bhutan? Middle of the Himalayas. I never set out to be a documentary film person. Who would have thought I’d be running to Africa and helping the kids at school and hospitals get clean water? How did that happen? How did I end up finding certain foods and indigenous plants that have been forgotten for centuries? I’ve been in the position to get those to people here in the West for the first time. I mean, it’s just when I have someone in the middle of nowhere saying you’re the first person to ever ask these questions here in this position, to me it’s as baffling as someone else hearing it. I think that most people have an idea in their head that everything should have already been discovered by now.

Christine: How did that experience influence what you have created?

Darin: I think that got me basically to the first formulation I started doing. It was like, well, I don’t know why people are taking this left turn on these formulas and why wouldn’t they use this? And I just came to realize that, hey, they don’t know, maybe they’re not exposed to it, or see it. They just don’t have the awareness of it.

Christine: It’s like the grand illusion that everything has already been explored or already experienced or shared. Often people comment that your lifestyle seems like such an unreachable goal, for them. ‘Look at what he does for a living. Look at what an amazing life he’s created.’ And somewhere within there, there is the essence of ‘that’s something he’s done but I can’t do that for myself’ – which as you know, really, isn’t the truth. What would you say to that? What’s the first step in creating that kind of life that you’ve created?

Darin: Yeah. It is a great one and I love to try to dispel that because you know, as radical, deep, and as weird as it may sound, it’s those little things that ignite you. You don’t know where that’s going to go. That thing could be to read that book that you’ve been pushing off or call that person that you’ve been wanting to call, or call that university and find out about that class that you’ve been wanting to take for 10 years. I didn’t just show up and all of a sudden I get to travel around the world to all these places. It doesn’t show up like that.

Christine: Right.

Darin: It’s an illusion, like you said. When you have the willingness to say, “Yes” to every little thing you desire, because as you are involved in a holistic view of the world in what you do, you have to honor that. Any one blow- off, at any level is a blow-off to the entire level. It’s the entire being. I mean mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, you name it. There is no separation. If we don’t honor all of that and everything that is who we are, what we want, you know, maybe in their heart, someone does want to be a movie star. It could be. Don’t blow that off. With that said, also don’t get fixed on what that is or how it looks.

Christine: Yes, don’t become fixed on the outcome.

Darin: Understand the essence of it. Because the essence could be clouded. It could be clouded into the conclusion of what you think it is, but maybe the spirit of that person has something to express, has something to ignite in the world and a voice and share. If you get caught into concluding that ‘I’m supposed to be a movie star’, then you’re going to fall into the category of what it takes to create a movie star and it has nothing to do with the spirit trying to get out and come through you and ignite your life.

Christine: Yeah, the experience that is wanting to be born of you.

Darin: I think one of the greatest things that I practice is completely letting go of those outcomes and going back into question, using question as the source of creation. It can be as simple as, “Hey what would it take to find the greatest cacao source in the world?” I’m not in conclusion, I’m in question, and that moves energy. Right? Now, I’m completely open to whatever answers come in instantaneously and what’s coming in a year from now.

Christine: Right. It’s the curiosity that sparks.

Darin: That curiosity and consciousness. They are not separate.

Christine: Yeah. Absolutely. And when you become curious about something and actually one of the major things that I teach my students is that when you become curious, you don’t have to be right or wrong, you don’t have to be attached to the outcome. You can just be curious about what this is or how I could do this or what that would feel like.

Darin: Yeah, and that’s a constant question. Hey, what about this? Hey, let’s check this out. Hey, is that the case?

Christine: Yeah. Exactly. It makes it playful and not so serious or scary.

Darin: Exactly.

Christine: You follow what’s in front of you as the next step. In fact, I believe you’ve created a production company. Was that also born of this moment to moment inspiration?

Darin: Yeah. I mean I’ve created it based on putting some things together and doing some documentaries for sure.

Christine: Right and so I’m sure, the idea of starting your production company was not in order to become the creator of that organization. It was more because it served the purpose of whatever it was that you were working on at the moment.

Darin: Bingo. And that’s a huge point. It’s like okay, cool. I didn’t see the calling of a documentary but what is it going to take for this to get out? So we’ll create a film and get the people that can help out.

Christine: It really speaks to that seeking and collaborative nature. It seems that you have a way of creating community wherever you are with the people around you and beginning something that can really open people’s minds and their eyes to some really, really interesting things. Can we discuss some of the projects you have done? For example your documentary on the Wild Horses, entitled, “The American Wild Horse.”

Darin: A buddy of mine, James Kleinert who created the film, has been working with the natives throughout the Dakotas and natives throughout the US for over a decade and has done many documentaries. He fell upon and became aware of the wild horse Bureau of Land Management Turmoil in the southwestern United States. Over the last seven or eight years in filming this, he quickly learned that there was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, including the reason behind the slaughter and the elimination of one of the greatest symbols of the US, the wild horses. James is such a dear man and he’s like a walking heart of a guy, he’s the lifeblood of that project and doing everything he can to save these horses. There’s a lot of mining that he’s now been exposing as the true genesis for why the Bureau of Land Management is eradicating these horses. He’s really done some gnarly stuff. He’s followed semi’s that were supposed to go somewhere and he saw them slaughter beautiful, beautiful horses, incredible animals. He’s lived on nothing in order to help save these beautiful animals.

So you know, my family is from the Dakotas. My family has been connected to horses. Being a kid I loved wild creatures. I just had to try to do anything I could to raise the awareness. I mean when I first saw the film, it was crushing to see what was actually going on, but it’s virtually the United States version of The Cove. It’s just like The Cove is to Japan. It’s that kind of gnarly stuff going on that is just not okay.

Christine: Wow, it really shows how when you follow the next thing in front of you, you’re not really sure how it’s going to affect someone, how involved you have to be and how that affects others. It’s like you do your little part and then it allows that to open for everyone’s eyes, it opens us up to something that most of us don’t know about.

Darin: Exactly. You know, and it’s that resonance that James is acting from—his truth. So when you feel that vibe, you know that someone is wholeheartedly doing that. The cool thing about James is that he’s actually not making anyone wrong.

Christine: Right.

Darin: Because a lot of times these activists are missing the whole boat because they are in judgment. It actually throws the whole message completely off and then it only attracts the very activist that for the most part just want to talk about it and don’t get anything done.

Christine: Right. But when you go into that judgment space, you close off the ability to see the whole picture.

Darin: Exactly.

Christine: When you’re in ego, which judgment is, it’s not intuitive whatsoever so you miss out on some really important aspects of it. That’s really amazing that he’s able to stay in that truth.

Darin: It’s hard. So you know, it’s a warrior’s path.

Christine: Yeah, it’s a lot to hold for one person. Yeah, it’s the driving force. It seems that you have that within you as well. I know I have it.

Darin: Yeah, it’s a charge for sure, you know. It really comes down to, the more I get clear about who I am and what I care about, I just charge. It’s like this is it, it’s my life. At the end of the day, I can theorize and philosophize about what happens after this life, but you know what, I’m here. I’m going to give it a go and go as consciously and aware and as powerfully and as potent as I can.

Christine: So what’s your next step now? I know that you just returned from Southeast Asia.

Darin: Yes. Southeast Asia, Philippines and Indonesia. I made some amazing connections to some groups and new alliances down there. It has sparked an organization that we’re going to create, an international organization of quality assurance and guidelines for agricultural, superfoods, all of these things.

I’m back now, and I’m working on about 15 different superfood formulas right now.

Christine: How exciting to have the backing to continue to create more and more sustainable blends.

Darin: I never thought I’d be working for a half-billion dollar company because I worked for many of the guys in the superfood world. But when I got connected with Beachbody, it didn’t take much time for them to understand what I was doing on a whole other level with the farmers and the social aspect of it. When you have the bandwidth, you can actually prove to them that everything from their bottom line to their customers’ mouths is going to be beneficial if you do it correctly from the beginning.

Christine: Yeah.

Darin: You know, we’re really, really aggressive in terms of helping the farmer. Instead of going wide trying to squeeze prices, we find a good relationship and we go deep into the relationship. Everyone knows what’s going on, everyone is transparent, the trust is built, everyone knows what everyone’s margins are because we’re not out to squeeze anybody, we actually have them tell us what’s fair margin.

Christine: Building trust, creating a foundation.

Darin: So that is a continuous project because there are a lot of foods that I am working on. There are about 300 super foods that I have a pulse on and I’m in touch with every aspect of it, from the packaging, to the manufacturing, formulating, to the farming, the soil.

Christine: Have you ever looked into branching out beyond? I know that you have really focused on exercise nutrition, but have you ever felt a pull towards creating something more toward the therapy side, addressing conditions such as autism or ADD?

Darin: The interesting thing is, if you knew what I know about what I am working on, you would be nodding to all of this stuff.

Christine: I am nodding. You forgot what I do for a living.

Darin: You’re already tuned in. I’m actually working on a kid’s formula right now. If you want to know where a society is, just look at the kids. There’s a lot of confusion out there.

Christine: So tell me, what are some ingredients you are looking at for children?

Darin: A crowd favorite of mine is Yacon. It is a tuber out of Peru and it has the highest FOS content of any known food. FOS is fructo-oligo-saccharides. They’ve known about FOS for a long time and FOS has even been put as an isolate in baby formula. The research even on the isolate is very positive for the stabilization of ADD and ADHD. I think that we know so little about the disaccharide sugars.

Christine: Yeah.

Darin: We only talk of the macro and then maybe, we’re getting into sucrose and fructose and dextrose and all of these things. There’s actually a whole world, a microscopic world of sugars that are complete alchemist in a lot of functioning of the body. FOS and Yucon are hinting at some of that. So I want to put formulas together basically in whole food and then measure the effect that that can have. If the isolates have an affect then what kind of affect will the whole food have? It’s this philosophy that I take. I look at science of course, but then I back into it or go into it based on the synergistic effect of what nature has already created. I am very excited in the next coming year to be working with some individuals who are doing one-of-a kind research into synergies and whole foods, looking at disease markers. It will be scientifically based in whole foods that are all peer-reviewed and all of these researchers will not be able to dispute it. So we’re being very systematic about that because if you want credibility, then you have to be aware of how people are hearing messages.

Christine: Yes. Absolutely.

Darin: You know, so those are exciting things and I just take basic principles in mind. I go back into question. I start with, ‘What are kids lacking?’ So then I back into that question, I start with basics. It’s got cumulative amino acids, helping out with every neurotransmitter that the kids need. You’ve got fiber and fibers, you know, a fourth or a fifth of what it needs to be. So then I look in the minerals. What is the mineral uptake ability of certain foods? And I go into that because it’s the root of all disease, like Dr. Linus Pauling says, it’s the lack of minerals. So that’s my approach really, to come and do the formulas like this. I expose myself to what the concerns, the macro skills, the kids, and then I go into it based on research and also just field knowledge of the foods.

Christine: Wow. I’m really excited to hear about it. I personally have just really strong passion for all things, nutrition and things that can enhance your life and especially with our children, because when our children struggle with their health, it’s really difficult to live a vibrant life if your child is not living vibrantly as well.

Darin: Exactly. I mean, it’s already a challenge. When you’re getting pulled from every direction not to do the right thing.

Christine: How can we stay updated with your work, Darin?

Darin: I have a newsletter that you can sign up for on my site and I send that out monthly.

Christine: Awesome. Well thank you so much. Thank you for your time and for all your work and everything that you’re doing, and I’m really excited to hear more about everything that you’re creating.

Darin: Well, thank you. Thank you for your time Christine.

PLU Stickers Decoded

PLU Stickers

What? PLU stickers have a meaning to you and me, as well as to the supermarket cashier? Yep. I didn’t know that until now. Did you?

PLU stickers are those things on your produce that you have to peel off, if you can. I thought maybe the “PLU” meant “Please Lift Up” (it made a little sense to me, anyway) , but, actually, it means “Price Look Up”– that part helps the cashier check you out more quickly. They were originally introduced in North America, but are now used in Australia, New Zealand, and European countries.PLU stickers also tell “what food this is” and “where it came from”. In addition, PLU stickers tell you “how this food was grown”– very important information to you and me.

“Conventionally grown produce” is labeled with a PLU 4-digit number sticker. In other words, 4-digit numbers (which most often begin with “3″ or “4″) indicate “conventionally grown” produce, which can have been sprayed with chemical pesticides, weed killers, etc.

Two classes of produce are indentified by 5-digit numbers:

Genetically-modified produce is labeled with 5-digit numbers which begin with “8″. (This produce may also have been chemically treated.)

Organically grown produce is labeled with 5-digit numbers which begin with “9″. This lead number indicates that the produce it labels is organically grown, non-genetically modified, and not treated with any kind of chemicals.

Basically, then, if you want to ensure that what you are eating is of the best, healthiest quality, you should look for produce labeled with a number that begins with “9″.

More information on PLU codes is available at the International Federation for Produce Standards site.

Choosing the Best Workout Shoe: 5 Biggest Mistakes

Choosing the Best Workout ShoeWhat’s the one piece of workout gear you can’t live without? Your Ipod Nano? A good water bottle? A truly supportive sports bra?

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. The single most important piece of equipment to virtually any kind of exercise program — running, aerobics, hiking, tennis, basketball — is the right pair of shoes.

A good pair of shoes can make or break your workout — but it’s easy to go wrong.

1. Grabbing Whatever’s Handy

“The biggest mistake people make when they start running, jogging, or doing any exercise program, is just reaching into the closet and pulling out an old pair of sneakers,” says Tracie Rodgers, PhD, an exercise psychologist and spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise.

But how do you choose the right shoe for your workout?

A recent search of a popular shoe-buying web site yielded more than 4,500 different pairs under the category “sneakers,” including more than 1,000 running shoes, 199 “cross-trainers,” 133 pairs of basketball shoes, 110 pairs for tennis, and more than 1,500 in a nebulous category dubbed “athleisure.” Supposedly, you can wear these to the office and for a workout — but you probably shouldn’t.

2. Choosing the Right Shoe — for the Wrong Workout

First, you need to choose the right type of shoe for the kind of workout you’ll be doing. And yes, it does matter.

A shoe made for running is very different from a shoe made for basketball or tennis, in a number of ways.

“Running shoes have no lateral stability built into them, because you don’t move your feet laterally when you run,” says Joe Puleo, the author of Running Anatomy and the head men’s and women’s cross-country and track and field coach at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J.

“You’re only going forward, and a running shoe is built to give you support and stability as you move your foot through the running gait cycle,” Puleo says. “Basketball and tennis shoes both have to be stabilized laterally, because you move your feet side to side a lot when playing these sports. You can’t build a running shoe that has lateral stability, and you can’t build a shoe for basketball or tennis that doesn’t have it.”

Even walking shoes differ from running shoes.

“Runners land more on their forefoot, while when walking you have a heavier heel strike,” says Catherine Cheung, DPM, a podiatrist and foot surgeon with the Post Street Surgery Center in San Francisco. “So for running, you want a shoe that has more cushioning on the forefoot, while walking shoes should have stiffer rubber to support the heel.”

Can’t you just get a good cross-trainer and use it for everything? Probably not.

“Cross-trainer” shoes never existed before Bo Jackson, who played professional baseball and football (remember the “Bo Knows” ad campaign?).

“Before Jackson, we just called them sneakers,” Puleo says. “Then, Nike came up with an ad campaign and now we have cross-trainers. But there’s no specificity to them: you can’t do any one thing well. They have some lateral stability, so you can play a game of basketball with your kids occasionally. You can run a mile or two. But most of them are not very good shoes for any particular activity.”

Then again, some people aren’t heavily into running, hiking, tennis, or any one sport. They go to the gym occasionally, maybe play tennis with a work buddy once in a while, or shoot a few baskets with the kids.

For them, a cross-trainer might be the best choice.

“A good cross-trainer will allow you to do the treadmill, some walking on asphalt or on a track, and light jogging,” says Kathleen Stone, DPM, president of the American Podiatric Medical Association. “Not mileage, of course. But I like them for people who are doing a variety of athletic endeavors casually.”

To choose a good cross-trainer, Stone suggests you look for:

A firm heel
Good support (you shouldn’t be able to bend the shoe too easily)
Light weight (you don’t want to add a lot of pounds to your feet)

But the APMA recommends that if you’re going to participate in a particular sport on a regular basis (2-3 times a week or more), you should choose a sport-specific shoe.

3. Loving Them Too Much

“Your workout shoes should be your workout shoes, and not your running-around-town shoes,” Rodgers says. “You’ll break down a pair of shoes standing in them or wearing them to the mall and running errands much faster than when you’re running or exercising.”

So buy yourself a pair of casual tennies for running around town, and stow your good workout shoes in the closet as soon as you get home from your run or your tennis game.

“That’s where I buy the shoes I think look nice, but aren’t good for me to work out in,” Rodgers says. “Certain brands, I can’t work out in because they hurt my feet, but I love the way they look, so I wear them with my jeans for just hanging around.”

4. Loving Them Too Long

Another big mistake many people make when buying athletic shoes is not replacing them often enough.

“They think they should replace their workout shoes when they start looking bad,” Rodgers says. “But shoes start to break down while they’re still looking good. The support — the reason you buy the shoe in the first place — is gone, and you’ll start feeling strange aches and pains in your knees, hip, and back.”

Most experts recommend that runners replace their shoes every 300-500 miles. If you don’t run enough to have a mile count, or running’s not your sport, you should replace your athletic shoes at least once a year.

“If you’re exercising on a casual basis, you can make your shoes last a year, but if you’re working out every day, six months is pretty much your limit,” Stone says.

You should also have your shoe size rechecked every year, Cheung says. “Foot size doesn’t stay the same; our feet tend to grow bigger as we age.”

Do you need orthotics — the specialized, custom-built inserts designed for people with specific gait problems? For most people, the answer is probably no, Puleo says.

“There are certain foot types and injuries that can be corrected with orthotics, but my opinion is they’re dramatically overprescribed. They work well for some patients, but I’ve been wearing the same brand of over-the-counter generic insoles for years, and they’ve worked great as well, and are much cheaper,” Puleo says.

5. Doing It Yourself

Unless you’ve been playing your sport for a long time and have learned exactly what shoe is right for you, it’s a bad idea to just walk into a sporting goods store, try on a few pairs of shoes, and walk out with what you think is best.

Instead, go to an athletic shoe specialty store to get an expert insight on the right shoe and the best fit.

“The staff there will do a real fitting, evaluate your foot, and take a history of your athletic activities and what shoes may have worked for you before,” Puleo says. “They’ll watch you walk or run on a treadmill or outside.”

And they’ll take three measurements — not just one — on the metal plate we’ve all seen in shoe stores, known as a Brannock device.

“You need to know not just length, but also width and arch length,” Puleo says. “All three of those numbers together determine what size you should wear. And each shoe can be cut a little differently — a 10.5 isn’t a universal 10.5 in all shoes — so they’ll start with that number and work from there.”

A good athletic shoe specialty store will also have a liberal return policy — so ask. Others may permit you to return shoes if you’ve only worn them indoors, but not outdoors.

The New Jersey running store Puleo founded allowed customers to return a shoe at any time, for any reason. “You don’t like ‘em, you bring ‘em back,” he says. “It was on me to make sure you were satisfied before you left. We had a very low rate of return because we spent so much time with every customer, we knew they’d be happy with them. You should never be stuck with a shoe that doesn’t work for you.”

7 Foods with Healing Powers

Healing Foods
Spending time on my grandparents’ farm taught me the connection between fresh food and good health at an early age. In addition, my grandmother’s pantry was our pharmacy and, over the years, many of the things I was taught by Grandma have been backed by “science.” Here are seven fresh and natural foods with the potential power to heal you physically and mentally.

The Magnificent 7
1. Blueberries
These nutrient-packed berries can help bruises disappear. They are a rich source of flavonoids and a good source of vitamin C, which together improve blood circulation (thus reducing swelling) and help form collagen, the tissue that holds skin together.

2. Lemons
Squeeze two whole lemons into your tea, seltzer, and other beverages or on salads and other food to get your daily requirement of vitamin C. This major antioxidant not only fights heart disease and boosts immunity but it also helps form the collagen we need to heal tendons, ligaments, bones, and blood vessels.

3. Garlic
Two garlic cloves a day may keep what Grandpa called “hardening of the arteries” away. We now call it arteriosclerosis, but the garlic works just the same. In a German study recently presented at an American Heart Association conference in Washington, D.C., it was stated that taking two cloves of garlic a day reduces the formation of arterial plaque by up to 40 percent. And 42 other clinical trials have shown that garlic can improve cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure.

4. Lettuce
If getting to sleep is a problem, a sedative you may not have known about is lettuce, which contains a sleep-inducing substance called lectucarium. Its effects have been compared to the sedative effects of opium, but without the accompanying excitement.

5. Chocolate
Dark chocolate is packed with healthy nutrients, including flavonoids, that are part of a group of antioxidants known as polyphenols that decreases LDL (bad) cholesterol oxidation, reduces the risk of blood clots, increases blood flow in arteries, and may lower high blood pressure. In addition, most of us can agree that chocolate improves mood and pleasure. It does that by boosting serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. Plus, chocolate contains a number of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

6. Apples
Give in to temptation when it comes to one of the earth’s healthiest foods. They are a great source of fiber. They’re also a source of the phytochemical quercetin—a compound widely recognized for its ability to fight heart disease and cancer. “Apples are one of the best sources of flavonoids—as long as you leave on the peel,” Kristine Napier, RD, writes in Eat to Heal. “Their complement of phytochemicals helps them fight heart disease, stroke, cancer, infections, inflammation and colitis.” Because of the combination of fiber and fructose, apples help maintain blood sugar levels, which is key in fighting that afternoon blood sugar low. In fact, a successful dieting tip is to crunch into an apple for your afternoon snack—you’ll end up eating a lot less during dinner.

7. Avocados
This tropical fruit wasn’t grown in the United States until the 1830s. It is rich in potassium, beta-carotene, and “good” fat—the same monounsaturated fat that’s found in olive oil and has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Avocados are also a rich source of the essential fatty acid (EFA) omega-9 that helps promote hormone regulation, the transportation of fat through the body, and the breakup of cholesterol. Because avocados are higher in calories than other fruits—two-thirds of an avocado has about 150 calories—you might not want to eat the “alligator pear” at every meal, but you can increase the delicious quotient of your favorite sandwich by adding some slices or making it a fiesta by digging into some guacamole.

Yoga’s Stress-Busting Effect: It Decreases Inflammation

Yoga
Past research has shown how yoga could help to lower depression and improve cognitive functioning among caregivers — and now, a new study is showing exactly what is responsible for that effect.

University of California, Los Angeles, researchers found that participating in Kirtan Kriya Meditation — a kind of yoga practice — is linked with a decrease in inflammation.

“This is encouraging news,” study researcher Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA, said in a statement. “Caregivers often don’t have the time, energy, or contacts that could bring them a little relief from the stress of taking care of a loved one with dementia, so practicing a brief form of yogic meditation, which is easy to learn, is a useful too.”

The new study, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, included 45 caregivers for family members with dementia who were split up into two groups: one that did the 12-minute yoga practice once a day for eight weeks, and one that just listened to relaxing music for 12 minutes once a day for eight weeks.

The researchers found that the caregivers who participated in the yoga practice experienced a change in the response of 68 genes, leading to the decrease in inflammation. Inflammation has been linked with health problems like heart disease, depression, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, Scientific American reported.

According to the American Medical Association, 16 percent of caregivers have worsened health after they’ve begun caring for someone. And about half of Alzheimer’s disease caregivers go on to develop psychological distress.

In a previous study conducted by the UCLA researchers in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, they found that Kirtan Kriya was linked with better scores on a depression and mental health scale than just relaxation.