Thursday, August 26, 2010

You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to.

One of the few regrets of my post-college graduation European backpacking adventure was not making it to La Tomatina in Spain. My friends and I had to choose between Pamplona's San Fermin festival - aka the Running of the Bulls - in early July or the giant tomato food fight, which is always held on the last Wednesday of August near Valencia. While we enjoyed our time in Pamplona, I've always wondered what it would be like to watch up to 40,000 people whip over-ripe tomatoes at each other on the streets of a small Spanish town.
Talk about entertaining...apparently the festival can't begin until one brave soul has climbed to the top of a two-story high, greased-up wooden pole to reach a coveted ham at the top. Yes, you read that right. And once the fight begins, participants are encouraged to "wear protective safety goggles and gloves." Cool!
Here's a little history about the event, in case you were wondering: The tomato fight has been a tradition in Bunol, a small town near Valencia, since 1944 or 1945. No one is completely certain how it originated, but theories include a local food fight among friends, a juvenile class war, a volley of tomatoes from bystanders at a carnival parade, a practical joke on a bad musician and the aftermath of an accidental lorry spillage. My favorite theory, though, is that disgruntled townspeople attacked city councilmen with tomatoes during a town celebration.
Regardless of La Tomatina's founding, it is still going strong all these years later, as photos of yesterday's event prove.
Some day, I hope to get back to Spain to check out the festival. Until then, I'll just have to enjoy my homemade Caprese salad, featuring wonderful Brandywine tomatoes and fresh basil from a friend's garden. Best.Lunch.Ever!
For all my fellow tomato fans, here are some wonderful, low-calorie recipes featuring all things tomato.

Tomato Raspberry Salsa
Sweet and Spicy BLT
Chicken with Red Mole

Friday, August 20, 2010

When life hands you lemons...

Stop me if you've heard this one...a group of health inspectors shut down a little girl's lemonade stand because she didn't have a temporary restaurant license. Sounds like a satirical Onion article or the beginning of a bad joke, right? Well, that actually happened in Oregon a few weeks ago. The Department of Health in Multnomah County shut down 7-year-old Julie Murphy's lemonade stand - where she was selling the refreshing drink for 50 cents a pop - when she couldn't produce a "temporary restaurant license." County officials later apologized for the incident, claiming that "a lemonade stand is a classic, iconic American kid thing to do," and that in the future, inspectors should use discretion and consider that food-safety laws are aimed at adults engaged in a professional business, not kids hawking lemonade. Seriously, people, what American child has NOT set up a lemonade stand? I know we used to do it all the time growing up, especially during those sweltering summer days. Speaking of lemonade, today is National Lemonade Day! So if you can't find a kid with a cheap lemonade stand in your neighborhood, try mixing up a batch of one of these. The sucralose-sweetened recipes are super yummy. Happy Friday!

Pear-Ginger Lemonade
Watermelon Lemonade
Blackberry Twist Lemonade

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cool Running

Once upon a time, back when I was young and skinny, I was a little speed demon. Seriously y'all, I could run! I was on the cross country team and was always one of the first to cross the finish line in any gym class race. And then, thanks to family genes, I started to struggle with knee issues. And while I continued competing in other sports, I gave up running. In recent years, I could barely even run a few blocks without feeling stiff and wheezy. Until now...
Inspired by some racing friends, I've decided to get back into the game. Several of them pointed me to this program, which eases newbies (or out-of-shape folk) into running. Your first couple weeks on the The Couch-to-5K ® Running Plan, for example, you might alternate jogging and walking for 20 to 30 minutes increments three times a week. The longer you do it, the more you run. So far, I'm really enjoying the routine. So for any other fellow couch potatoes, take a look at the program and see if it works for you. Maybe we can all compare triathlon notes in a year or two!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Do you understand calories?

Hmmmmm, this is pretty interesting stuff. According to a recent USA Today article, most people don't know how many calories they should consume in a day to maintain their current weight. A nationally representative online survey of 1,024 people revealed that 63% can't accurately estimate the number, 25% won't even venture a guess and only 12% actually know the answer.
Experts say that calorie requirements are unique to each person, depending on gender, age, height and physical activity level. But more than 58 percent of respondents said they don't try to balance the calories they consume with those they burn.

Other survey findings:
•70% of people say they are concerned about their weight.
•54% say they are trying to lose weight; 23% are trying to maintain; 19% are doing nothing; and 4% are trying to gain weight.
•Of those trying to lose or maintain weight, most say they are changing the amount and types of food they eat and doing physical activity; 65% say weight loss is the main reason they're eating better.
•Among roadblocks people give for not sticking with weight loss attempts: lack of willpower, lack of time, not seeing results quickly and boredom.
•77% don't meet the government's guidelines of 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.

If you're serious about weight loss and need help counting calories, visit the Healthy Weight Tool Kit section of the Calorie Control Council website. The beneficial page features food calorie, BMI, diet assessment and exercise calculators as well as an online food diary. You can also visit and enter your age, weight, height and activity level to pull up information on how to balance calories burned with those consumed.

Remember, there are a number of online tools to help assist in weight loss efforts. While you don't have to sacrifice all of your favorite foods to maintain a healthy weight, you certainly need to keep an eye on those pesky calories!

Friday, August 06, 2010

A low-calorie recipe on a summer day

Truth: other than cherry-flavored diet soda, ginger ale and root beer, I'm just not a big fan of carbonated soft drinks. One of my favorite sweet treats, though, is a root beer float. There is just something so satisfying about the combination of the ice cream with the beverage. Why? No idea. I just love me a root beer float on a hot day. Needless to say, I was thrilled to discover that today is National Root Beer Float Day. You better believe I'm going to celebrate this particular food holiday. By mixing a Diet Barq's (or Mug or A&W, etc.) with a scoop or two of Breyers CarbSmart vanilla ice cream, you will find yourself with quite the delicious - yet low-cal summer treat. Go on and try it too. I dare ya!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Weight-Loss Websites That Work

Just read this article from U.S. News & World Report about effective weight loss websites. Speaking from experience, I've used both the Weight Watchers and SparkPeople sites and I emphatically agree that they can make a positive impact on weight loss or maintenance efforts.
According to the article, participants in a recent study that entered their meals and physical activity in online diaries at least once a month for roughly two years were more likely to lose weight—and keep it off—than others who did so less diligently. What I like about some of these weight-loss sites is that they're so interactive, providing everything from record-keeping tools, nutrition tips and recipes to message boards and support groups. Some are even personalized, tailoring meal plans and workouts to the individual.
So here are the five best ones, according to the article:

CalorieKing ($12 monthly, $85 for a year) - A food and exercise database linked to a personal diary converts meals and activities into calories so you can visualize if you're hitting your weight-loss goals. A drag-and-drop interface makes meal plans easy to create, even for the least technologically savvy. Guidance to successful meal planning is provided.

Nutrihand ($9.95 per month or free when you join with your nutritionist or dietitian) - It allows you and your counselor to work together online on meal plans, shopping lists, and fitness goals. You can print out reports to bring to your sessions. Diabetics who use insulin pumps can upload data from their glucometer on a private and secure network and chart or graph glucose levels, blood pressure, and other personal data to tweak pump settings and track health status.

SparkPeople (free) - The focus is on meeting simple goals: eat less, exercise more. Users can create meal plans based on calories and dietary restrictions, plan meals up to a week in advance, and save favorite meals to a daily log. Members exchange advice through forums, blogs, and message boards.

Vtrim ($695 for six months) - From the University of Vermont, Vtrim allows users to sign on for a six-month commitment consisting of 24 one-hour classes with approximately 20 other members guided by a Vtrim-certified "facilitator" trained in diet, nutrition, or weight management. Groups meet weekly in chat rooms to discuss specific habits geared towards healthy living. They utilize graphs, charts, body mass index, featured recipes, and other tools to help track calories. Although the price tag packs a hefty punch, Vtrim takes a sensible approach to dieting that focuses on changing behavior, not starvation.

WeightWatchers ($47.90 for the first month and $17.95 for each additional month, plus a $23.95 start-up fee) - Best known for its "points system," WeightWatchers bases its program on choosing healthy foods that satisfy hunger as long as possible. The site keeps track of food intake; provides recipes, meal ideas, and dining out tips; and creates personalized weekly progress charts. Signing up online won't allow you to attend local meetings, but it does allow you to access your plan from your cell phone.