Thursday, 28 June 2012

My love affair with biking

Now that it’s officially Summer, I can’t wait to go on long bike rides. Biking is one of my favorite forms of exercise. It’s a great calorie-burning, cardiovascular workout and is good, low impact option for people prone to running injuries. If anyone is thinking about purchasing a bike, here are some general tips. I’m not a bike professional, but I was the supervisor at a bike camp for the past two years and learned a lot.

1.             The type of biking you plan on doing (city, mountain, simple roads etc.) will determine what kind to buy. I love my mountain bike for in Calgary, but it’s a little impractical for biking to school everyday. Road bikes are great to get around, but the cost is significantly higher and might be good to buy used if on a budget. For simple cruising and shorter rides, I really like hybrid bikes that combine the best of both worlds. A good bike store will be able to point you in the right direction. 

2.             How important is comfort to you? (different seats are good to test out). If you plan on biking for long periods of time, make sure the seat is comfortable and suitable for your body type. I also highly recommend buying a pair of Sugoi bike shorts, they provides lots of extra cushioning and totally worth the price tag.

3.             How much does the bike weight, is it heavy for its size? Cheaper bikes are heavier, but harder to pedal and transport. I opted for a heavier bike, but wish I had spend the extra $100 for the lighter carbon frame after having to hoist my bike onto a bus rack every morning last summer.

4.             Does the store you offer free yearly tune-ups or tune-ups at a reduced rate? A good bike store should offer customers incentives like these. I like to take my bike in every spring for a tune-up, go earlier in the year to avoid the rush.

5.             Don’t let them sell you things that you don’t need. For example, if you are a beginner, V-brakes are probably suitable for you. Disc brakes are more expensive and harder to maintain, but do work better in the rain. As well, not every woman needs to spend the extra to get a Women’s Specific Design (WSD) bike. I’m tall and lanky, so the store worker actually talked me out of buying the WSD Trek and I bought a man’s mountain bike instead. If you are shorter and more “womanly” shaped, a WSD could be worth the investment.

6.             Make sure they size you correctly for the bike and show you which adjustments are possible BEFORE you leave the store (i.e. moving handlebars, moving the bike seat back and forth). Also ask them to install a water bottle holder (super handy), but don’t bother with a kickstand unless you’re under the age of ten

7.             I personally like bikes that have “quick release” tires and seat, this makes adjustments and transportations much easier. However, this makes the bike parts easier to steal, so opt for a U-lock over a cable lock.

8.             Last but not least, WEAR A HELMET. Yes they look dorky, but you will look even dorkier when you smash your noggin and end up with permanent brain damage. I love my Giro, because it adjust easily and has a visor to keep the sun of my face. Buy a bike light (MEC has great selection) if you plan to be biking on roads at night.


Biking in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal 

Happy Biking!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Healthy Food Imposters


 No I’m not talking about dance floor imposters (those guys who awkwardly come up behind you and start grinding when you’re in a circle with all your friends) or gym imposters (girls who think a workout means: setting the elliptical at level 1, wiping every little drop of sweat of their orange fake tanned face, and BBM the entire time, yes you know who you are…) but today’s topic is food imposters. I’m talking about foods you find in the grocery store that claim to be healthy or help you lose weight, but are overpriced and lacking in nutrition. I could write an entire thesis on this, but will stick to three main food imposters.

1.     Quaker 100-calorie granola bars.

POLYGLYCEROL POLYRICINOLEATE, MODIFIED HYDROGENATED PALM KERNEL OIL, BHT (PRESERVATIVE), ARTIFICIAL FLAVOUR. These are a few of the 51 ingredients I counted on a package of Quaker 100 calorie granola bars. I was honestly disgusted by the amount of sugar, artificial crap and modified ingredients there was listed. I know a lot of people that buy 100 calorie granola bars/ snack bags thinking that are doing themselves a favor by saving calorie and watching their portion control. But here’s the thing, this granola bar has only 1g of fibre and protein each, which means you will most likely still be hungry after eating one. A better choice is the Kashi chewy granola bars (buy them in bulk at Costco). Each bar is a good source of protein, fiber and healthy fats, and real ingredients, leaving you feeling full and satisfied. Can’t tolerate gluten or dairy? I’ve heard really good things about Larabars, you can also buy them in bulk at some Costco locations.
On a tight budget?  Try making your own homemade Larabars using the link here

2.     Activia Yogurt.
I don’t buy the claims in these yogurt advertisements. It’s not that I don’t think probiotics are important, I just don’t think Activia is really much better than any other type of yogurt. At almost twice the price of some other brands, I don’t think you get much bang for your buck. A 100g serving contains 11g of sugar (fructose is the third ingredient) and 0.1 grams of trans fat (ANY amount of trans fat is bad). The fat free version isn’t any better because it’s still full a sugar. A better option is plain, unsweetened, yogurt, either Greek or regular will do. IF you’re watching calories, look for 0% milk fat (M.F.) on the label. If you can’t stand the taste of plain tart yogurt, try adding frozen fruit (mango chunks and wild blueberries are my fav) or a small squeeze of honey for more flavor.

3.     Orange Juice
I know a lot of people who start their day off with a big glass of juice. I don’t know many people who reach for a can of Coke in the morning, but these two items are really the same. Both pop and juice contain simple sugars, they are digested quickly, causing a huge surge in insulin release. This will cause a “crash” in blood sugar later on, leaving you with that hungry tummy and sluggish feeling a 10a.m. I HATE juice, I think it’s on the biggest reasons we are seeing a rise in childhood obesity.  To help you understand my stance better, here is the nutrition for 500ml of orange juice (the amount most people drink) versus 1 orange.

Vitamins (percent based on recommended intake per day)
240% vitamin C, 2% calcium, 0% vitamin A and iron
106% vitamin C, 6% vitamin A, 6% calcium and 1% iron

As you can see, the juice has way more calories and sugars, and less than 1/3 the fiber of an orange. Yes it has more vitamin C, but this is a water-soluble vitamin meaning any excess levels you just pee out and won’t do your body any good!
So in the morning, do yourself a favor and reach for an orange, A REAL ORANGE, the one with the skin, that you have to peel, do people even know what real fruit looks like any more?
If you still like to have a glass of something in the morning, opt for low-fat milk, or unsweetened almond/soy milk instead.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

A must read for every university student!

Throughout my years at university, I have seen from pretty disgusting food handling procedures. The worst was a flat I shared in Australia with 5 other international students and one who would place his raw chicken (no bag) in the sink filled with hot water to thaw before cooking it. Now only does this hot water promote bacteria growth, it also contaminates the sink for the rest of us! I have attached a very extensive list of food safety and prep instructions to help serve as a guide for you in the kitchen. I wish I could say this post took me all morning to make, but honestly these instructions are from a health promotion in undergrad!

•Wash fruits and vegetables in a clean sink with running water
•Use hot, soapy water to clean hands, utensils, dishes, nonporous cutting boards and countertops before handling food AND in between tasks when handling different foods.
•Use bleach solution on cutting boards (1 capful/2L water)
•Ensure hands are clean and free of cuts/bandages before handling food
•Mix foods with utensils, not hands; keep hands away from mouth, nose, hair
•Wash or replace kitchen towels/sponges regularaly

•Wash all surfaces that have been in contact with raw meats, poultry, eggs, fish and shellfish before resuing
•Separate raw foods from those that have been cooked
•Serve foods on clean plates, NOT the plate that you used to transfer the raw meat to the BBQ
•Don’t use leftover marinade that was in contact with raw meat for sauces/basting (this is a HUGE pet peeve of mine at BBQ’s), instead, marinate your meat in ¾ of the sauce, and reserve an extra ¼ to to place on the cooked meat right before serving

•When cooking meats or poultry, use a thermometer to check the internal temperature making sure the thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Always make sure meats are cooked thoroughly
•Do not cook large portions of meat in the microwave as it will often results in uneven cooking with some parts left uncooked

•When running errands, leave your grocery shopping for the last stop, you don’t want to leave perishable foods (milk products, meat products) in a car any longer than necessary
 •Marinate meats in the refrigerator,
•Defrost meats in the refrigerator, NEVER on the counter. It’s best to take out frozen meat the night before and place on a plate or in bowl in fridge to avoid raw juices from spilling all over the place. If you absolutely must speed up the defrosting time, place meat in Ziploc bag and run under cold (NOT HOT) water just before cooking.

•Do not taste food that is suspect – If in doubt, throw it out
•Throw out foods that have suspicious odors, but keep in mind the dates on packages of prepared foods and mark the day that leftovers were put in the refrigerator – some food poisoning bacteria are odorless, colorless and tasteless. Another huge pet peeve of mine, THE BEST BEFORE DATE ON THE PACKAGE ONLY REFERS TO THE UNOPENED PRODUCT. Example, if you have a container of sour cream, once you open that container the best before date means nothing and the product shelf life is drastically different!!!!!! Same goes for yogurt tubs, milk, boxed lettuce, hummus etc. 
check out for an extensive and accurate list of opened and unopened product shelf life
•Do not buy items that have broken seals or packaging
•Follow label instructions for storing and preparing packaged and frozen foods

Safe & Happy Cooking!

Monday, 11 June 2012

It's the smell of wine, It's sweet summertime

Oh summertime, how I love thee; the sunshine, the warm weather, the BBQs, and all the boozing and patio drinking that come with it. A dear friend of mine asked me on Friday “what’s a good low calorie/light beer for the summer?” I thought this was a great question because trying to stay healthy and feel great in your own body this summer doesn’t mean abstaining from all alcohol. While lots of traditional drinks and beers can be extremely calorie dense, I havw outlined some better summer drinking options

1.     Wine- Red and white wines are both great choices for the summer. If you chose to make sangria, make sure to use lots of fresh slices of fruit for added nutrition. To keep the sugar content low, go easy on the fruit juice (use 100% juice) and replace regular Ginger ale/Sprite with diet versions or Perrier/ club soda if avoiding artificial sweeteners.
-Another great option is a white wine spritzer, which is just a combination of white wine and club soda. I like mine with lots of lemon and lime slices,  it’s a great way to stay hydrated while drinking or make the wine taste better if your at a cocktail party and the pinot grigio they are serving is cheap s#%@.

2.     Beer- Regular beer is one of the worst options you can go for. A typical bottle has about 150 calories and most people I know don’t stop at one If you enjoy a crisp beer during a hot summer afternoon, opt for a light beer (Coors light) or better yet, reach for a beer that is both low carb and low calorie.  I like Molson 67 sublime, but most guys I know say it tastes like watery lime and is a “wimpy” beer. If you need a more “manly” option, try Michelob Ultra, PC low carb or Sleeman Clear instead.

3.     Spirits- For people that have celiac disease or other GI sensitivities, clear distilled spirits like Gin, Vodka and White Rum are usually the best options. Mix with club soda/ flavoured perrier and fresh lemon/lime slices to keep calories and sugar low.  Stay away from margaritas, daiquiri and pina coladas to avoid excessive calories and copious amounts of sugar. If you need a little extra flavour, order a vodka soda with a splash of cranberry/orange juice or lemonade and Fresca.  

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Rain Rain Go Away...

This past weekend, most of Ontario experienced some nasty, nasty weather with cold winds, rainy skies (umm hello union station flooded??) and very little sunshine. With weather that cold and rainy, I had no intentions of going for a run or bike ride outside, and can only last about ten minutes on a treadmill before I am completely bored, even with iPod in hand, TV on and all. I also had no desire to walk 20 minutes in the pouring rain to the gym, get drenched, work out, then have to drag myself back home. Bad weather though, is no excuse to miss a workout. Having a backup plan to deal with obstacles to your exercise routine is crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. My backup plan: grab my yoga matt and workout at home. One of the best things I learned at my personal training course was the “elevator workout”, aka a workout you could do if you were stuck in an elevator with no equipment. 

Here are some example exercises you can do at home that don’t require any fancy equipment or machines. And no, I’m not going to post a picture of me doing each one (I have a life and a thesis to finish), so if you don’t know what something means, I’m sure Google or Youtube has an answer.

Jumping jacks, burpees, high knees, forward and side kicks, lunges (walking, jumping, stationary), squats (regular, one leg, sumo), crab walk, lying leg lifts (think Jane Fonda) pushups, mountain climbers, basically any abdominal exercise (bicycle, plank, crunches etc.), the list goes on and on. Turn on the TV, workout to one episode of Oprah and you’ve gotten your 60 minutes of daily physical activity. 

Need some motivation? Try purchasing a workout DVD (P90x, Insanity, Jillian Michaels) for a great total body workout. Hate working out at the gym around others in general? Try purchasing a couple free weights and do upper body strengthening exercises in your family room at home :)