Coconut Oil

I asked my good friend A – a dietitian and wellness coach – to fill me in on coconut oil, which seems to be everywhere (everywhere!) right now.

Is it a bandwagon worth jumping on or a flash in the pan?

A. was kind enough to guest blog for me today:

Coconut oil is a hot nutrition trend.

While it may have health benefits, bottom line is it is a source of saturated fat.

Since there is not a lot of research on coconut oil (compared to other oils like olive oil), the verdict on its health benefits is still out. The clinical evidence that coconut oil is a super oil and delivers health benefits is very limited, especially on disease outcomes.

Like any saturated fat, if you can work it into your calorie budget…go ahead and enjoy it. Coconut oil should be limited to 7%-10% of calories because it can increase risk for heart disease, according to the AHA and 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

Best nutrition advice when it comes to oils…use a variety of healthy oils and watch your portion.

Here are A’s top picks for oils based on levels of antioxidants, monounsaturated fats and Omega 3s:

  • Cold Pressed or Expeller Olive Oil: 1 T.=119 cal./13.6 grams fat/9.8 grams monounsaturated fat. High in Omega 3 fats. Great for sautéing, making salad dressing and for dipping whole grain bread. Choose a European, first cold pressed/expeller-pressed olive oil to retain nutrients avoid chemicals used during the heating process.
  • Grapeseed Oil: 1 T.=120 cal./13 grams fat/2 grams monounsaturated fat. High in antioxidants and neutral taste. Use for high heat cooking. Look for brands that are expeller-pressed, a chemical-free mechanical method of oil extraction.
  • Organic Canola Oil: 1 T.=125 cal/13 grams fat/5.8 grams monounsaturated fat. High in Omega 3 fats. Perfect substitute for butter in cooking and baking. Choose organic canola oil to limit pesticide levels.
  • Flaxseed Oil: 1 T.=120 cal/13 g fat/ 2.5 grams monounsaturated fat. Generally taken as a supplement and not used for cooking.
  • Coconut Oil: 1 T.=126 cal/14 grams fat/0.5 grams monounsaturated fat. This unique oil is very high in saturated fat therefore more research needs to be done regarding using large amounts.

Her overall advice:

Use a variety of oils as they each have their own unique features and health benefits. Stay clear or use sparingly: palm oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, vegetable oil and trans fats/hydrogenated oils. Conventional corn and soy are genetically modified and the long term health risks of genetically modified food are unclear. As always, read the label!

If you buy coconut oil, make sure it’s virgin coconut oil (don’t get a blend, which can also contain trans fats). Because of its high saturated fat content, coconut oil is solid at room temperature. Also note that the American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 16 grams of saturated fat per day, which is just a smidge above a tablespoon for coconut oil.

 

Healthy Eating On the High Seas

In a few months, we’re going on vacation. The same vacation we’ve taken four years in a row, a Disney cruise.

We’ve taken this trip over and over for the same reasons: our kids are still little enough to believe Mickey is a real friend to them and they genuinely delight in the organized, sanitized magic of it all, I’ve figured out many tricks to maintain my sanity among the masses (separate post about that in the future), and there is a kids’ club where they can be checked in to spend hours and hours a day, exhausting themselves in supervised Disney fun, while I relax in the spa and Spouse naps in the sun. Bliss.

Someday, we’ll do an adventurous trip to, say, Nepal, but that’s not happening right now. This crew? Forget it.

Cruises get bad raps for legitimate reasons. I get it. I really do. I would not want to aimlessly float for days at sea in a toilet-less incapacitated ship, for sure.

Food is almost always one of the things people complain about when they deride cruising.

To quote Woody Allen in “Annie Hall:”

There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

Except that on cruises, the portions are ginormous. Quality can still be meh, as this is food prepared for the masses, not by a private chef. But one thing’s for sure: there are opportunities to eat 24/7.

So how do you stay healthy and avoid weight gain on a vacation like this?

My friend A., a dietitian, coach and my fitness inspiration, just came back from a cruise, and I asked her how she stayed slim and sane. Her tips:

• Pack a healthy mindset.
• Be active: take the stairs, use the track on the sun deck, rock climb, golf, play basketball.
• Go to the spa and relax. Enjoy some lemon or cucumber infused water.
• My top pick…Use side salad plates rather than the buffet platter. Be sensible with your portions. Don’t put yourself into a food coma.
• Don’t order room service for breakfast before you go to the dining room for breakfast [Sidenote from me: This is a thing? I didn’t realize people even could or would do this. Wow].
• Always choose the salad option as a starter. Order your dressing on the side.
• Cruise lines pride themselves in service so ASK how things are prepared and if you can get a substitution for a healthier option.
• Ask your waiter not to bring bread before dinner…that’s a meal in itself.
• Order double vegetables.
• Seafood is usually a healthy option but make sure it’s not swimming in butter or cream sauce
• Bring healthy foods with you like raw nuts, protein bars, Shakeology (protein drink)
• Avoid the umbrella drinks. A 7oz pina colada has 500 calories and 17 g fat. Opt for vodka with a splash of juice or a Corona light for 110 calories.
• Be mindful. Stay in the moment. Practice conscious eating.
Did I mention you should pack a healthy mindset?

Thank you, A!

I really appreciate this advice. Some of the things I do:

  • Run on the deck. Every day. It’s fun and challenging, as one side usually has a terrific headwind and the other a tailwind. Go as early in the morning as possible to avoid languid shuffle boarders.
  • Take the stairs. Elevator lines are often long when everyone is trying to get to the same place, like a show or dinner. Take the stairs! You could easily tally 20 or 30 flights a day if you just walk up and down.
  • Eat things that are special or unique, and try to avoid things that are easily available at home (unless you are hungry for it and it is a healthy choice, like fresh fruit). Last year I signed up for a chocolate and wine tasting, and this was worth it!
  • Stop eating things that don’t taste good. Last year I found myself eating stale tortilla chips and lame salsa at a late-night buffet, and I thought, ick, this is gross. I tossed it. I felt a tiny bit of guilt for the waste, but it wasn’t worth the calories to keep eating. Just walk away.
  • Better moral of the above story would be to avoid the late-night buffet altogether and eat only at regular mealtimes.
  • But don’t force yourself to eat if you’re not hungry. A frequent pattern for us is that I will wake up the earliest, before everyone else (a curse of doctor-dom, waking at the crack of dawn after so many years of practice), and quietly head out to run on the deck for an hour or so. By the time I get back, the rest of the crew is waking up, and then it still takes a bit of time to get everyone presentable enough to show up for breakfast. This usually puts us in the position of eating much, much later than usual, and when lunchtime rolls around shortly thereafter, I’m usually not into it. I might have a snack later in the afternoon so that I’m not famished at dinner, but if I’m not hungry for lunch, I don’t force it.
  • Stay hydrated. With water. Bring your own water bottle and use it.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol during the day. Just because it’s five o’clock somewhere doesn’t mean it’s cocktail hour on the boat.

P.S. Here’s some more sensible advice for cruising here and here.

 

Staying Motivated

Staying motivated to be healthy is an ongoing process for me, and as such, I’m always looking for new inspiration.

Fortunately, I love to run so I usually don’t need this type of motivation to exercise:

exercise-motivation-required

 This list of 20 motivation hacks was helpful to me, particularly numbers 6 (never skip two days in a row) and 2 (make a big public commitment to achieve a wellness goal, like signing up for a marathon).

I also really enjoy reading transformation stories about real people who’ve made life-changing progress toward wellness. Women’s Running magazine has some great portrayals in the sections entitled “Why I Run” and “Women Who Move.”

[A weirder but intriguing set of transformation stories I stumbled upon while researching this post is located here].

Another thing that’s been really helpful to me is to be a member of a group of like-minded individuals. In my case, it’s an online group headed by my friend A, whom I have mentioned here before and is a real inspiration to me. The posts of the other members keep me in line and give me great ideas. Spouse also has a looser competition going on among his buddies from the crew team in college; they’re running a half-marathon in May in the town of our alma mater and it’s a (mostly) friendly race to the finish line. With pride on the line, game’s on!

And I keep a mini-library of inspirational pins, like this one:

workout-motivation-1

Cute workout clothes also go pretty far in my world!

How do you stay motivated to be healthy?

 

 

 

Too Exhausted

Have you ever been too exhausted to sleep?

That may sound impossible, but trust me, it’s not.

Yesterday I ran another half-marathon, my third this year. However, unlike the two cushy races I did in warmer climes, this one was in Minnesota. In March. During one of the worst winters ever.

As I exited my car near the starting line, I felt like crawling right back inside. The temperature was about 20 degrees with steady winds. The course was rolling and more hilly than I anticipated. It was also a faster group of athletes than I am used to; I saw the eventual winner fly past me on the out-and-back course before I even made it to the turnaround.

Like everyone else there, I struggled against the wind but kept going because the alternative – walking – would prolong the misery of being outside, cold and wet.

When I finished, I hightailed it back to my car and to a hot shower.

I ran around doing different things for the rest of the day and evening, but when it came time to actually go to sleep, I couldn’t. Argh.

This used to happen to me often in residency. I’d work and work and work, and even though I was physically exhausted, when it was time to rest I couldn’t turn my brain off and sleep.

So it looks like today is going to be the kind of day that coffee was made for! At least I don’t have to run outside. I’ll give myself a pass on that one.

 

March Makeover

If you’re looking for a spring cleaning for your diet and well-being, Purely Elizabeth’s got it covered!

(FYI, this is my favorite little gluten-free grains company, and I feel like I unearthed a great secret when I discovered their products last year. Plus I love the company’s philosophy about well, everything. They are so inspirational to me).

Back to the March makeover: each week has several wellness goals. There is also advice about cleaning out your pantry plus healthy recipes that sound really great. The quinoa and kale salad with avocado – one of my favorite things in the universe – is something I’m going to try this weekend.

Check out week one here.

Purely Elizabeth

Last year on a trip to NYC, I discovered Purely Elizabeth, a company that makes a small line of gluten-free foods. I ordered some granola on the spot and also re-ordered a few times to also get chocolate chip cookie mixes, etc. The good news is that my local food co-op now carries the granola, so I can get a fix whenever I want.

One unexpected bonus is that Purely Elizabeth has a great quarterly online magazine that you can download for free. The newest edition, Purely Winter, can be accessed here.

Purely Winter contains some great information about healthy living and wellness, all in a visually pleasing style. Highlights from this edition include recipes for simple (Ding! Ding! We have a winner!) gluten-free peanut butter cup cookies, an apple cider cocktail, kale and artichoke dip (yum), plus entertaining ideas for both a Valentine’s Day brunch and a tapas party.

Get reading! And please invite me over if you make any of the recipes.