Thoughts for Food

A blog for people who think about food.


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Kicking caffeine

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I admit I’m a caf-fiend after working three years as a barista and drinking coffee every day for ten years. Up until this summer, singlehandedly finishing a pot of coffee before noon was not unheard of, or even that much of a challenge for me. It’s how I, along with many other students, survive a day of work and classes but we don’t fully understand caffeine’s effect on our health.

There are never-ending arguments for and against coffee as more research is conducted.  Students don’t necessarily have to take a pro-coffee or anti-coffee stance, but they should notice how it effects them. Everyone processes different foods and substances differently, especially stimulants such as caffeine. Some people are barely effected while others break out in a cold sweat and tremors after consuming a few cups of coffee.

For the most part, people assume caffeine is harmless despite findings indicating it can be dangerous in some instances. This research fails to take into consideration everyone’s unique response to caffeine. However, if a person has adverse effects to caffeine it may be doing more damage than they are aware of. To me, I think it is important to be aware of your body and make an effort to adjust caffeine consumption based on how you feel.

This summer I cut back on coffee to only one cup each morning because of a new work schedule that wouldn’t allow me to drink coffee throughout the day. It was surprisingly easy to kick the dependence as long as I stayed hydrated and kept myself busy. I also made sure to get enough sleep and eat healthy foods throughout the day, focusing on small, easy-to-digest snacks. After a few weeks I found that my sleep, alertness, headaches and skin improved. Time will tell if I’ll be able to keep up with my limited caffeine intake throughout the school year but I plan on using alternatives such as tea and juices for energy boosts throughout the day.

Have you ever tried to give up caffeine? Share your tips on kicking your dependence in the comments.

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The green mile

College students rarely think about where their food comes from. Supermarkets and dining halls do little to educate consumers about the origin of their food, but that is expected to change this summer thanks to more than 10 years of congressional debate on food labeling laws. Because food cannot be grown year-round in all locations, food providers ship the products into the store from places all over the world. Oranges from Florida, apples from Washington State, coffee from Colombia… the typical meal has become a global dish. Refrigeration does help maintain freshness during transit, but the average piece of fish on sale at the local grocery store is already as much as 16 days old. You don’t need a college degree to realize that food, particularly produce, loses flavor and nutritional value with time. To compensate, grocers treat their products with gasses and chemicals to maintain as much freshness as possible.

Since grocery stores typically don’t want to advertise their products’ food miles, it’s up to the consumer to figure out how far their food has come. The first step is to know which foods are seasonal. Seasonal food is more likely to be fresh and shipped locally than out of season foods. The chart below shows the time of year in which certain fruits and vegetables are in season.

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From this, you can plan your meals around the most seasonal appropriate foods. Shopping at farmers markets also helps. The food there is grown by local farmers, meaning the fewer food miles. Most cities will host farmers markets on the weekends and can be a fun way to shop for groceries, it just takes some asking around to find out when the nearest one is.

Healthy food can be expensive, particularly for college kids. It makes sense to care about how far your food has come because you don’t want to be paying for low-quality products on top of the shipping costs.

What are some of your favorite seasonal dishes? Share your recipes and ideas in the comments!


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Beer could be giving you more than a hangover

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Every Wisconsinite has thought about drinking a beer from time to time, especially college students. It’s a cheap and tasty way to enjoy the weekend that can even come in flavored and low calorie options. What could be better?

The truth is, many popular beer is brewed with harmful ingredients that manufacturers don’t legally have to include on the label. I’m not going to tell you to never drink beer again, but there are certain brews you should definitely stay away from. Organics.org published a list of eight beers with ingredients such as ammonia, genetically modified corn and fish bladder which are obviously not the best things to be consuming throughout your nights out.

Popular brands such as Budweiser, Guinness, Corona and Miller Lite were all named as beers to avoid. Unfortunately the college-kid favorite Pabst Blue Ribbon also made the list for its GMO ingredients.

But what are GMOs and why are they so bad? GMOs are genetically modified plants and seeds designed to withstand pesticides so farmers can theoretically produce more yields while avoiding weeds and insects.  However, there are studies showing GMOs have adverse effects on health and are now banned in nearly every developed country except the United States.

For additional reading on the risks of drinking beer, read Food Babe’s blog post.

Now that you know that beer is giving you more than a growing waistline and a second-day headache, it’s time to figure out an alternative to your drink of choice.

Mixed drinks can contain a lot of calories and harmful ingredients as well, but the simpler you keep your drinks, the less risk you’ll run of consuming too many calories and GMOs. There are many tasty options you can order at the bar, but if it’s beer you crave there are some healthy options available.

If you’re like me you put some thought into what you eat and you don’t want one night of fun to undo a whole week’s worth of clean eating. By remaining informed and aware of your options you can still have fun and drink responsibly.


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Bread is dead

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The gluten free movement has gained a lot of momentum in the past few years and today there are more gluten free products than ever before as people are adopting gluten free lifestyles.

Prior to 2012 I had never even heard about gluten intolerance or how it affects the body. Before eating your next sandwich or bagel, you should do a little research about gluten and its effects on the body.

 

gluten-free-infographic-purebarIt is not only unhealthy but potentially dangerous, increasing the risk health concerns such as for Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression and ADHD.  In “This is Your Brain on Gluten,” author James Hamblin explains how gluten raises your blood sugar upon eating it, which is why people crave carbs, and can deteriorate neural pathways in your brain over time with the sudden and unpredictable surges in blood sugar. The effects of gluten on the brain go further than just neural pathways, gluten intolerance can manifest itself anywhere in the body.

Many people are not aware of their gluten intolerance, but researches say nearly everyone has some form of gluten intolerance, it’s just a matter of pinpointing your symptoms. Doctors are still trying to find the best method to diagnose gluten intolerance, so many people are left to self diagnose themselves based on what they notice. Here is a self diagnosis that will tell you if you are gluten intolerant or not.

The easiest way to avoid the health risks associated with gluten is to cut out gluten products from the diet, especially grains, sauces and some alcohols. Personally I try to avoid bread as much as possible because I’ve found it makes me feel tired a few hours after eating it, making it hard to concentrate and stay awake throughout the day. Instead, I eat fruits and nuts for lunch instead of sandwiches.  Students have a particularly tough time with this because eating on the go usually includes bread of some sort and gluten free options can be quite expensive. Instead of purchasing gluten free bread products, each day I make sure I have some vegetables and fruit in my bag before I leave. I also keep hard boiled eggs in the fridge to cut up on salad or to have as a snack. Little changes like this can make eliminating gluten relatively easy. There are also a growing number of gluten free websites on the internet that feature gluten free recipes.


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Tips for your first detox cleanse

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Sometimes our bodies can get bogged down with fats, chemicals and other unwanted substances from processed foods and unhealthy diets. My quickest fix when I’m feeling a little “blah” is a detox cleanse.

There are a lot of cleanses out there, and pinpointing which cleanse is right for you is a challenge. When looking for a cleanse, stick to these guidelines.

One cleanse I love doing from time to time is Dr. Oz’s three-day detox cleanse. The smoothies and tea aren’t bad and three days is very manageable. After day three I always feel refreshed, my skin is much clearer and I have noticeably more energy.

This is a great first-time cleanse and all you need is a blender, the required ingredients and some willpower.

The first time I did this cleanse it only cost me $40 because I found a friend to split the cost of ingredients with. Some of the required ingredients like coconut oil and almond butter are a little expensive. Find someone to do the cleanse with you, you’re not only saving some money but also getting some much-needed moral support.

Here are some other tips I wish I knew before my first cleanse:

1)    The second day will be the hardest. No matter how long your cleanse is, the second day will be terrible and all you will think about is candy, pie and whatever treats you were used to being able to eat. Stay strong and keep your mind off of food because the results are worth more than satisfying a craving.

2)    Coffee addicts: prepare yourselves for a shock. Coffee is very rarely allowed during cleanses. Luckily most cleanses will allow tea which has a small amount of caffeine but I still wouldn’t suggest planning your cleanse to fall during midterms.

3)    You may or may not lose weight. During my first cleanse I lost six pounds, other friends who have tried the same cleanse didn’t lose anything. It all depends on how strictly you follow it and how your body reacts to detoxing. Cleanses shouldn’t be about losing weight. Instead focus on how it makes you feel and take note of how your body responds. Maybe it will inspire you to make more long-term changes on how you eat!

 

Have you ever tried a cleanse? What did you think? Leave your stories in the comments below!


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Cha-cha-chia for your health

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I’m a big fan of simple ways to stay healthy. Diet programs, complex smoothies and confusing recipes often don’t impress me very much.

Two years ago I learned about the benefits of Chia seeds and how easily they can be incorporated into everyday foods. Chia seeds are small, flavorless seeds made famous by Chia Pets in the 90s. What no one realized was that Chia also had lots of health benefits from their high fiber content and digestion support.

When Chia seeds get wet they form a gelatin-like substance. According to the documentary Food Matters, when the gelatin hits your small intestine it draws out toxins and other harmful chemicals and helps your body pass them instead of letting them sit in your body. One tablespoon also gives you more calcium than a glass of milk, more Omega-3s than a piece of salmon and more antioxidants than blueberries. They can also help slow the digestion of carbohydrates, giving you more energy and stamina since the food is taking longer to be digested.

Chia seeds are extremely easy to add to your diet. I would simply mix a tablespoon of them into yogurt, soup, a smoothie or sprinkle some on a salad. You don’t even realize you’re eating them but I noticed how they benefited digestion and metabolism within a few weeks of eating them.

Chia seeds can be found at health food stores and are usually about $10 for a medium sized bag.


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Why college kids should invest in vitamins

Choosing healthy foods in college can be a challenge, which may be why more than 67% of students report getting less than the daily recommendation of fruits and vegetables each day, according to the American College Health Association‘s Spring 2013 National College Health Assessment. Poor eating habits amongst college students are attributed to factors such as hectic schedules, prices of healthy foods, and inadequate nutritional education.  These poor eating habits can lead to more than just the “freshman 15.” Frozen and processed foods may seem like the only option for some but often college students complain of fatigue and being sick. This can be from a combination of a lack of sleep, certain lifestyle choices and also poor nutrition. That is where vitamins and supplements can come in handy for college students. An article published by the Mayo Clinic said people should not rely on daily vitamins for nutrition, but they can help if your diet does not provide the recommended amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy, meat and fish.  Greatist.com compiled a detailed list of vitamins and minerals and why they are important for health, many of which can be found in common multivitamins available at any drug store. Vitamins have many benefits including increased immune support and better physical appearance but college students see these as an unnecessary expense. However, students should realize spending $10 for a bottle of 100 multivitamins can help stave off illness, increase energy and aid in weight loss. The infographic below breaks down who does and does not take dietary supplements. Unfortunately, college-aged individuals with low incomes are some of the most unlikely people to take supplements. A bad move if they want to stay healthy, especially on college campuses where they are surrounded by hundreds of people each day. Instead of heading for the Pop Tarts or frozen pizza the next time a student makes it to the grocery store, they should stop by the vitamin aisle and see if $10 is really too much to pay for a little pill full of big benefits. ImageInfographic courtesy of Council for Responsible Nutrition