There are a number advantages to shopping local; today we’ll go over just a few.  Obviously there’s a wide range of goods you can purchase within your city limits, but today we’re talking about shopping local in regard to fresh foods.

What defines local?  There is no predetermined distance, but generally it means purchasing foods that are produced as close to you as possible.  The most local you could get would be herbs grown on your windowsill, but it still counts when you buy dairy from a farm that’s a few counties over.  In Seattle there’s a restaurant called Local 360, where all of their ingredients are produced within 360 miles of its location.

Local food has a smaller carbon footprint.  When you buy food that doesn’t travel as far to get to you, less fuel and energy is used to fill your plate.  Right now in my grocery stores all of the apples are from New Zealand- that’s a lot of jet fuel wasted for a measly piece of fruit!

Local food is fresher, so it tastes better.  Foods purchased directly from the producer at a farmer’s market are only a few days (or maybe even a few hours) old.  Foods at a grocery store have usually travelled for at least two weeks before they make it to the shelves.  Which would you rather eat?

Shopping locally supports your local economy.  When you purchase local foods you’re putting money back into your own community.  Help create industry in your hometown by investing in it with your grocery dollars!

A surefire place to find fresh local foods is at the farmer’s market.  Find one near you through Local Harvest.

The Nature Conservancy has a neat carbon footprint calculator that includes your food in its equation; try it out here.

If there were any doubt in your mind as to how annoying I am in person, I’ve got a story for you.  I once complained to my grocery co-op when I saw that they had kale labeled “local” that was grown in Oregon and California.  I live in Seattle; the CA border is 500 miles away!  Yep, I’m that person.

I get asked this question a lot at 5focus: how many times per week should I work out?  As with most things, it depends on what your goal is.

The USDA recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 5-7 days per week.  The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, which is essentially the same thing (30 minutes x 5 days per week).  The CDC also recommends strength training two times weekly; we’ll talk more about types of exercise below.  Both of these recommendations are only for prevention of chronic disease, such as heart disease or diabetes.

For weight loss, most research shows that 60-90 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity every single day is necessary.  Research also shows that doing short bouts of exercise multiple times throughout the day is just as effective as doing it all at once.  If you feel like you can’t commit to 60 minutes at once, split it up into 10- or 20-minute workouts and spread it throughout your day.

A well-balanced exercise routine consists of three components:  aerobic activity, resistance training, and stretching.  Let’s talk about why each one is important!

Aerobic activity is vital for a strong heart and lungs.  Aerobic exercise is anything that gets your heart rate up, increases your breathing rate, and elevates your core temperature (makes you a little sweaty).  This could include jogging, hiking, dance- there are a lot of possibilities.

Resistance training is necessary for joint and bone health.  It involves adding some sort of resistance in addition to your body weight in order to strengthen your muscles.  This could include weight lifting, resistance band training, or swimming.

Stretching is essential to prevent injury during other types of activities.  It could involve either a stretching routine or a yoga class.  Stretches need to be held for 1-2 minutes to have any sort of meaningful effect.

I forgot a fourth component to a healthy exercise routine: having fun!  Whatever you do to maintain your physical health, make sure it’s something you enjoy.

I wrote an article on my old blog that gives guidelines for choosing an exercise activity that’s right for you, check it out here.
Today’s snack is on the sweet side if you’re looking for something to settle a sugar craving.  This is less so a recipe and more of an assemblage- it really just involves putting a couple of simple things together.  Kids can do it too!

  • 1 medium banana, ripe but firm enough for nut butter spreading
  • 2 Tablespoons nut butter (peanut, almond, sunflower seed, etc.)
  • ¼ cup granola or puffed brown rice cereal

Peel banana and slice into ½” thick medallions.  Top each slice with nut butter.  Sprinkle granola or cereal on top.  Enjoy!

If you really want to make this a dessert you could also throw some chocolate chips on top, but you didn’t hear that from me!

Notice that this recipe conveniently contains all the elements of a satisfying snack that we discussed yesterday:
  • Protein source: nut butter, as well as a little in the banana
  • Fat source: nut butter
  • Fiber-rich carbohydrates: banana and cereal
Maintaining balanced blood sugar is important for everyone, not just those who are at risk for diabetes.  Regular blood sugar helps maintain your weight, mood, and energy level.  Two major factors of blood sugar regulation are:
  • When you eat- every three hours or so
  • What you eat- a balanced mix of protein, fat, and complex carbs

When to eat
Eat small amounts every few hours throughout the day.  If you go for many hours without eating you are more likely to overeat once you do get some food.  This is because your blood sugar is very low, and your cells are sending signals to your brain to put something in your mouth- fast!  This can lead to hasty food choices, eating too fast, and ignoring signals that you are full.  Doing that everyday can lead to weight gain and a grumpy disposition.

For most people three small meals and two snacks evenly spaced throughout the day is best.  In my experience many people endure a lot of hungry hours between lunch and dinner, so make sure you get in an afternoon snack!

What to eat
A balanced meal or snack should contain three elements:
  • A protein source
  • A small amount of fat
  • A carbohydrate source that is fiber-rich

We need each of these ingredients to feel full and avoid blood sugar extremes.  Some examples of snacks that meet these guidelines include:
  • Apple slices with nut butter
  • Fresh cut vegetables with hummus
  • Tuna salad on whole grain crackers
  • Oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts
  • Beans and quinoa with olive oil dressing
  • Smoothie with Greek yogurt and frozen fruit

For a visual template to design your meals and snacks, you can download a pdf of a Healthy Plate model here.
As humans we tend to react pretty quickly.  Things provoke us in life, and sometimes we respond automatically without much thought.  Slowing down and thinking through mealtime has a number of advantages, both physical and mental.  Let’s start with the concrete world of physical benefits!

Less gas and bloating:  If you chew and swallow food quickly, you also swallow quite a bit of air.  That air has to come out one end or the other at some point!  Food that isn’t chewed properly could also end up fermenting in your gut, which will just create more gas and bloating.

Better nutrient absorption:  Digestion starts in the mouth, where your teeth and enzymes within your saliva break down food.  Your grub needs to be chewed properly in order to free the nutrients up for absorption.  Before you swallow, food should be chewed long enough that its texture and shape no longer resembles what went in your mouth.  That means broccoli should be chewed until it no longer feels like broccoli on your tongue.

Eat what you need, nothing more:  Our digestive system has a number of signals it sends to the brain when the stomach is full.  It can take up to twenty minutes for the brain to receive that message!   When we slow down at mealtime we can take time to observe whether or not we are satiated.

Here are some mental benefits to chew on:

Enjoy your food:  A satisfying meal involves all of your senses.  Take some time to savor the color and appearance of your food.  Observe all the obvious and subtle smells.  As you’re chewing (thoroughly) notice how the flavor settles into your tongue.

Calm down:  Eating mindfully is a meditative process.  Stepping out of your busy day to appreciate a wholesome meal can help you feel more emotionally balanced.

If you’d like to read more about mindful eating, check out any book by Susan Albers PsyD.
There are a lot of options on the market for products that promise a sweet taste with few or no calories.  Today we’ll cover three major categories of faux sugar: artificial calorie-free sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and natural calorie-free sweeteners.

Artificial no calorie sweeteners:
  • Sucralose- Splenda
  • Aspartame- Nutrasweet
  • Saccharine- Equal
  • Neotame- this is a new one, no brand name yet

Just don’t eat them!  They’re gross, they’re made in a lab, food products that contain them usually have little to no nutritional value.  For more detailed information on the potential health consequences of these sweeteners check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s article Sweet Nothings (link takes you to a pdf).

Sugar Alcohols:
  • Malitol
  • Erythritol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

These are hydrolyzed and hydrogenated sugar molecules most often made from corn.  Essentially they are a reduced-calorie sugar, because they do have some calories and are about half as sweet as sugar.  In excess they cause major gas, bloating, and diarrhea- now doesn’t that sound like a party! 

Natural no calorie sweeteners:

There is one; it’s called stevia extract.  It’s made from a leaf, and it comes either in liquid or powdered form.  It has a bit of an aftertaste that some people don’t like, I find it okay in small amounts.  There’s a good guide for replacing sugar with stevia in baked goods here.  There have been some studies on the safety of stevia, they are also addressed in the CSPI article.

In my opinion, it’s best to avoid low calorie sweeteners altogether.  Our brain is drawn to sweet things when our body needs glucose, a low calorie sweetener can confuse that natural messaging system.  Replacing super sweet foods with subtly sweet fruit is best for our bodies.  This isn’t to say you can never have another cupcake in your life, but reserve those for special times!

Be wary of products like Zevia® soda and Truvia® sweetener.  Their marketing makes it appear as though they are sweetened entirely with stevia, but their main sweet ingredient is erythritol (a sugar alcohol, our recipe for stomach upset).

Truvia® is manufactured by Cargill, a huge company that manufactures corn-based sweeteners.  It’s curious that they have decided to get into the “natural” sweetener business now that high fructose corn syrup is getting a bad rap!

There’s a lot of buzz going around right now about fish oil, which contains a high volume of Omega 3 fatty acids.  Today we’ll discuss what Omega 3’s are, why they’re so hot right now, and what foods (besides fish) contain them.

Omega 3’s are a particular kind of unsaturated fat.  Remember unsaturated fats are the ones that usually come from plants, and for heart health we want to eat more of these than saturated animal fats.

A number of research studies have shown that a diet rich in Omega 3’s can lower several risk factors for heart disease.  Overall they seem to be good at reducing inflammation, which is the root of many diseases.  Inflammatory conditions include asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and oodles more.

Food sources of Omega 3’s include:
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
  • Soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Tuna
  • Walnuts

Our bodies can metabolize the type of Omega 3’s found in fish into something useful quite easily.  The Omega 3’s in plant sources are a little bit more challenging to fully metabolize into functional products.  Both are good to eat, fish will just deliver a more potent dose of Omega 3’s with a smaller amount of food!

If you’re interested in taking a fish oil supplement, you should talk it over with your friendly local Nutritionist or Dietitian so they can recommend what’s best for you.

If you thought “What the heck is a chia seed?” Yes it is the same thing as what you put on chia pets, yes you can eat it, and we’ll talk about how you can do that another time!

We are going to finish up our fats discussion with Omega 3’s tomorrow, but today I thought we’d take a lipid break and talk muscles instead.

The term “core strength” is one that is used a lot in the health and fitness industry, but what does that actually mean?  I asked Laura Robinson, 5focus Physical Therapist and Registered Dietitian for her expert description:

Most people think of their abdominals or a "six pack" when they discuss core muscles.  Your core also includes muscles surrounding and protecting your spine with cool names like iliopsoas or multifidi.  These muscles help you create a stable spine around which your arms and legs move, and also help you twist, bend, and turn your body. 

Core muscles surround the whole middle of your body- front, back and sides. Core strength is important beyond fitness; it also helps to protect your spine for everyday living.

There are many different ways you can strengthen your core, Laura and I both teach a core-focused workout called Kinesis ™.  Some other core strengthening activities I enjoy include:
  • Dance
  • Olympic weightlifting
  • Pilates
  • Skiing/Snowboarding
  • Surfing
  • Yoga

Today we’ll be turning our attention to the scientifically engineered black sheep of the fat family: trans fats.

In the commercial food industry, unsaturated plant fats are hydrogenated to enhance the texture and extend the shelf life of certain processed foods, like baked goods.  One of the products of hydrogenation is trans fats.

Research indicates that a diet high in trans fats can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol, which increases the risk of clogged arteries.

I rarely advise people to ban specific foods from their diet.  Even the nutritionally devoid stuff has a place in a well-balanced eating life.  However in my opinion the types of foods that contain trans fats don’t have any place in a nourishing diet!

An easy way to spot a trans fat-containing food is to check the ingredient list.  If you see “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils, you’ve got some presence of trans fats.  Be wary of products that say “trans fat free” on the front of the package, the FDA allows this statement if the food contains less than 0.5 gram per serving.  They are also allowed a 20% margin of error, and their serving sizes are small.

There are some naturally occurring trans fats in dairy products.  We learned in our earlier fats discussion that we only want to consume a small amount of saturated animal fats anyways, so within a balanced diet natural trans fats aren’t really an issue.

This points to a larger lesson that a diet based on whole, minimally processed foods is best.  If you’re buying a packaged food look for one with a short ingredient list that has words that you can easily pronounce!

Every Sunday on the Daily Dose I’ll post a different wholesome snack recipe.  Sometimes they will be my own, other times I will refer you to someone who is a better cook than me.  My “recipes” tend to be pretty loose- I’ll give you the basic framework, then it’s up to you to adjust it to your liking!

This recipe idea is courtesy of my friend Claire, she’s a recently-graduated Naturopathic Doctor from Bastyr University and she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to food.

Hummus & Vegetable Lettuce Wraps

Special equipment needed:  Food processor.  You could mash the hummus together but it will take longer and come out a little chunky.

For the Hummus:
  • One 15 oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 2-4 Tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • ¼ cup or so olive oil
  • 2-4 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • Cayenne pepper to taste

Drain garbanzo beans and rinse in clean water.  Place beans and all other ingredients in food processor.  Blend until smooth.

If you can’t find tahini at the store you can make this without it, it will just be a little less creamy.  Tahini is a tasty base for all kinds of sauces and spreads, and packs an awesome little dose of magnesium.

For the veggies:
You’ll need a variety of crunchy veggies in different colors.  Some suggestions are:
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Red Cabbage
  • Sprouts
  • Zucchini

If you’ve got your food processor out, you can save yourself a lot of time by using the grating or slicing attachment instead of chopping everything by hand.

To assemble the wrap:
Rinse and dry 2-3 leaves of lettuce, I like to use something sturdy like Romaine.  Spread a couple of tablespoons of hummus in the middle of one leaf.  Add a small handful of chopped vegetables.  Roll the whole thing up like a burrito, and enjoy!

Store leftover hummus in an airtight container in the fridge.  Enjoy as a spread or dip.

Sorry I don’t have a picture of what the wraps look like, my chickpeas are dried so they are still soaking as I write this!