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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.


It’s Greek to Me!

Soon after tasting a most delicious Greek red pepper and feta spread at Sugar, a new Greek food market opened near me aptly named Greek International Food Market, on the corner of Grove and Washington Streets in West Roxbury. The owners also run the longstanding restaurant Farm Grill & Rotisseria in Newton, serving traditional Greek fare. When you first enter the market, you may be struck by the scent of food that seemingly has been simmering all day. There is actually a kitchen below the store where they cook fresh food items daily to be sold in the deli. Then you may notice the bright and cheerful interior with neatly stocked shelves: long rows of olive oil in various tints of green, bags of bulgur, jars of mysterious spreads and pickled vegetables, frozen phyllo dough, and endless goat and feta cheeses. There were so many products I'd never seen, and it didn't help that at least half of the food labels were written in Greek. I’ve been to Greece so I guess I’ve eaten authentic Greek food. Unfortunately I don’t recall much about it, except that everything was served at room temperature including drinks (even if it was 98 degrees out!). Surprising since the red pepper spread and other items I tasted from this market are rich with memorable flavor. I tried a freshly made cream-colored Two delicious eggplant spreadseggplant spread from the deli and then a sweet and sour jarred eggplant salad with a tomato base called caponata. Both were low in calories and fat and very delicious on fresh pita or mini-toasts. They can also be used as a topping in sandwiches or wraps or served over chicken or fish. Greek food typically brings to mind meat gyros and kabobs marinated with a mélange of spices. But there are many vegetarian options at Greek International Food Market as seen with the bags of couscous and bulgar, imported pastas, dried legumes, a beautiful olive bar, and seasoned vegetables not found at traditional markets. Even the sweets of Turkish delight, baklava, and light biscuits are out of the ordinary. The staff is friendly; don't be shy in asking for advice on how to use their food products. Greek International Food Market is open Mon-Sat 8am-8pm with plenty of parking.