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Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, October 26 and 27, 2013
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Two Thumbs Up for Two New Products

I know this may read like one big ad but it's just my excitement over two new food products I found in the supermarket last week, both variations on longtime favorites.

Chocolate Cheerios – Well, why not? Aside from the popular classic plain, Cheerios comes in nine other flavors like Apple Cinnamon, Banana Nut, and Yogurt Burst, so a chocolately version was inevitable. Made with naturally low fat cocoa, the nutrition content of Chocolate Cheerios isn’t too far off from the original with a few more calories and grams of sugar per serving. Although still a good source of iron, it contains less than the original (something moms of finicky toddlers might want to know since Cheerios is often a big source of their iron intake). The taste isn’t as sweet as Cocoa Puffs but has just enough cocoa to satisfy a chocolate craving and yes the milk gets chocolately! Here's a yummy prescription for that chocolate itch: add a half cup of Chocolate Cheerios to a container of Yoplait Whips Chocolate Mousse (only 225 calories and 5 grams of fat and you get a boost of calcium and protein).

Peter Pan Whipped Peanut Butter – What a great way to improve a nutritious but high fat staple: simply whip in air and you remove almost a third of the fat without sacrificing flavor. You also get a product that is remarkably lighter and easier to spread than the original. My knife literally flung out of the jar when scooping out the spread because the consistency was so much lighter than I expected, almost like that of a chocolate mousse. Nutrition-wise, Peter Pan original peanut butter has 210 calories, 17 grams fat, and 8 grams protein per serving; Peter Pan Whipped contains 150 calories, 12 grams fat, and 6 grams protein. Although I don't mind the taste of reduced fat peanut butters, they can be sticky and hard to spread. This whipped version glides easily onto thin crackers and apple slices. Keep in mind it's still a high calorie food that is very easy to overeat, so stick with the serving size of two tablespoons.


Craving Water

What’s with all these flavored vitamin waters? And why do they taste so good? I never liked the early version of fruit-enhanced waters that tasted sour. But the newer ones are sweet, yet still low in calories or calorie-free. They’re also very thirst-quenching, almost as effective as an icy Coke. To make them even more attractive to consumers, many contain fancy nutrient additives like vitamins and minerals or herbs that "soothe" or "energize." I don't care much for those extras because I can get them from food or exercise class. It's the taste I love: I had such an addiction to 10-calorie Glaceau Vitamin waters (something about them reminded me of Jello), I'd buy cases at BJs and dilute them with juice or seltzer to make them last. More recently, I'm a SoBe Lifewater fan with flavors like Yumberry Pomegranate, Cherimoya Punch, and Fuji Apple. It's great that I'm drinking more water but are these really healthy? Like diet sodas, they must be filled with artificial colors and flavors. I’m also convinced they contain an addictive substance to make me crave them so much that I'd willingly create waste by buying all these individual bottles when I could easily drink plain water out of my trusty Nalgene refillable bottle. 

After studying the ingredients, I realized they're not too terrible. Some of the ingredient names were obviously spruced up like "reverse osmosis water," in other words, filtered water! All contained low-calorie sweeteners, erythritol being the most common. Erythritol is a relatively natural sugar substitute (sugar alcohol) extracted from plants. The waters also contained some kind of gum (typically derived from the sap of trees)—gum acacia, gum arabic, or ester gum—used as natural stabilizers to keep the liquid texture smooth, and as thickeners, likely contributing to the Jello-ness I mentioned earlier. These gums are FDA-approved additives commonly found in candy, soda, and fruit drinks. I was happily surprised that the waters' coloring came from natural ingredients like beta carotene and vegetable juice extracts. Depending on the type of water, there might also be vitamins and minerals thrown in. So, overall, these waters are probably a little healthier than diet soda and a nice alternative to plain water, especially during the winter months when we need to stay hydrated but are drinking less because we don't feel as thirsty.


Holiday Pounds: Be Gone!

As you may have noticed, it's hard to not gain weight over the holidays. Even to just maintain is quite a feat! There are a lot of useful weight loss tips out there but here are a few of my favorites for the new year.

Eat a handful of nuts a day.  It may seem counterintuitive to eat fat to lose fat but nuts may become your best diet ally, especially if you eat them in place of high calorie, high saturated fat snacks. Nuts are a nutritious plant protein packed with minerals (iron, potassium), B vitamins, fiber, and healthful fats. Recent studies have looked at the type of fat in certain nuts—unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids—that can help lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation in the body (that may lead to diseases like cancer). Studies have also shown that dieters who eat nuts daily are more satisfied and able to keep weight off. Try these when you need that last snack before bed to keep your stomach happy through the night. All nuts are high in calories so keep the portion to a small handful a day. A mixture of a few almonds, walnuts, and peanuts is your most nutritious bet.

Keep a food journal.  If you think you're eating all the right foods and still not losing weight, you must try this. Study after study shows that people underestimate the amount of food they eat, specifically portion sizes. I don't advocate living a life of counting calories, but if you're in a weight gain rut, do this for a week (or at least three days, including one weekend day). Becoming more aware of what goes in your mouth and the true amount of calories you're taking in might be quite a shocker!

Move it.  The main benefit of exercise isn't really to burn calories because studies have shown that people may think of exercise as a ticket to a free-for-all eating binge afterwards, negating the benefit of those calories burned. The perks of exercise are that it gives you energy, increases your self-esteem, and helps you stay motivated to follow a well-rounded healthy lifestyle plan. Here's a simple but effective prescription to work up to: Do a favorite one-hour cardio exercise class three times a week (step, rebounding, kickboxing, spinning, dance) and at least 30 minutes of strength training (muscle toning, Pilates) 2-3 times a week. And switch it up! Participating in a variety of classes ensures you are training a wide range of muscles. It also helps prevent boredom, a big reason why people stop exercising.