Let’s talk about MSG – Monosodium Glutamate

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I’ve talked about Monosodium Glutamate quite a bit but the battle never ends to avoid it. MSG is an excitotoxin which means that it stimulates brain cells into such a high state of euphoria that they physically explode. No wonder those sour cream and onion chips taste so good and no wonder Lays says “betcha can’t have just one!” Because you can’t! It’s a drug. MSG is also a flavor enhancer and can make any food and any flavor taste better, more powerful, and more savory.

Why is this bad? Besides having food give you a drug-like reaction, MSG also makes you want to eat MORE! Even after you’re full, even after you’re done eating that specific food. Remember the Dominos times? It makes your brain crave more. So while you may only be eating 1500 calories a day, if you’re consuming products with MSG (which hides under a dozen (more like 40 actually) another names as well) you’ll find yourself having a harder time sticking to your goals. More and more people are battling with good addictions and while it’s a real thing, MSG isn’t helping!

You can view a list of other names for MSG here.

 

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There’s WHAT in my pantry?! A look at hidden ingredients in your food

Like most people, I like to have a general idea of what’s in my food and what I’m putting into my body. I know that choosing a bottle of water over a bottle of soda is a better choice for a variety of reasons. But it wasn’t until recently that I started giving more thought to, well, everything I eat. The ingredients in any processed food I buy. I don’t know, I never thought I really needed to worry.

Last night I found out that my pantry and my fridge had some of the most dangerous substances in them when I started to really read the labels. I always used to think that people who bought organic everything and read all the labels were just —— assholes. No joke. Like it was some pretentious club “oh we’re better because we can buy more expensive margarine that saves whales and cures aids cancer at the same time” and while there are pompous jerks like that out there I realized that no, most of these people are just well-informed and have done their research. Something that I’ve avoided doing for so long because I already knew it wouldn’t be something I’d want to hear, realize, or accept.

What really had me start reading labels over a year ago was fake sugars. Sucralose, aspartame, stevia, you name it, they are in just about EVERYTHING and you can read more about my sugar rants here. The more conscious and I was about what I was putting into my body and what was in foods, the more aware I was that there are chemicals in so many food products and I don’t even know what 90% of them are or do.

So last night I decided to start reading the ingredients on some staple things I always keep in my kitchen. Re-fried beans for Taco Tuesdays, canned chili for when I need something in a rush, mayonnaise in my fridge; food items that I use often, food items that tons of people use often. I expected to see chemicals and things I didn’t know about, but what I didn’t expect to see was just HOW harmful these chemicals were when I started researching them.

The first thing I reached for was my beloved mayonnaise. I know it’s not healthy, at all really, but I LOVE mayo. I use it in my tuna salad, when I make egg salad, on sandwiches. It’s your typical bottle of generic store brand mayo.

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Then I turned it over to read the label.

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What the crap is Calcium Disodium EDTA and what exactly does “protecting flavor” mean? Immediately reaching for my laptop, I nearly dropped the bottle on the floor. Calcium Disodium EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) is a food additive commonly used in things like pickled canned goods and canned beans. It’s made up of three ingredients:

  • Sodium cyanide – this ingredient is an inorganic compound, which means it is not considered organic, has been synthesized and is typically not found in biological systems. “Cyanide salts are among the most rapidly acting of all known poisons.
  • Formaldehyde
  • Ethylenediamine – this compound reacts in humid environments with air creating a toxic mist. It is commonly used in coolants and paints as a corrosion inhibitor, which helps prevent the corrosion of a metal. It is also used as a chemical in fabric softeners, adhesives, dyes, and clearly as something to keep mayonnaise from spoiling.

No wonder mayonnaise stays good for so long! It has so many preservatives in it! And if you’re like me, you may also be thinking “oh it’s just TRACE amounts, this isn’t THAT big of a deal, of COURSE they have to put something in it to keep it fresh…I mean…it’s not a big deal.” But isn’t it though!

Next up was the so called “no fat” refried beans. Anytime I’ve seen fat free, sugar free, light, or anything of the sort, it’s usually full of added sugars or fake sugar substances. But did you know most processed food products are also full of trans fat, MSG, and other chemicals? Gross!

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Notice that these are labeled “no fat” not “fat free” and there’s a reason. When I usually grab this in the grocery store, like most people, I expect to be able to believe the labels. No fat should mean no fat, right? The problem is that labels aren’t regulated, even organic items are labeled differently and have different requirements to meet depending on the type of organic label used.

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GAH! We were doing so well, Rosarita, until you got to autolyzed yeast extract (a cheaper chemical extract similar to MSG but with less glutamates) and partially hydrogenated soybean oil – which “adds a trivial amount of fat.” OH SO BY “NO FAT” YOU MEAN JUST TRIVIAL AMOUNTS OF TRANS FAT -__- Define “trivial.” This makes me mad for so many reasons. Products are allowed to make claims on their labels that simply aren’t true or that in exchange have fake or extracted ingredients and isolates. Partially hydrogenated soybean oil is the most commonly used trans fat in processed foods. Why? Because it’s inexpensive compared to butter and coconut oil. These oils go through a process called hydrogenation which sends hydrogen bubbles through the fat cells, making them more dense. Giving you that creamy, savory texture in foods. The problem is that these trans fats aren’t normal for the body, they don’t work like normal cells and they can cause major issues for your heart health.

When I reached for my Quaker oatmeal, the kind I had so lovingly eaten my entire childhood, I was outraged.

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Maltodextrin – a substance that forms into MSG in your system. More partially hydrogenated soybean oil – at least this one SAYS its trans fat. But what’s the point in saying “adds a dietarily insignificant amount of trans fat” – it’s still awful for you! Comparisons that I’m now going to make to that statement:

  • Going to get a massage and having them poke you with a sharp toothpick briefly once every 10 minutes
  • Adding a drop of gasoline to every gallon of water you drink
  • Having your boyfriend or girlfriend kiss another guy or girl once a year – what! It’s an insignificant amount!

My main point here is that these things shouldn’t be in our foods but they are. Companies have solid reasons to add them: to retain their shelf life, so you can use them longer, so the expiration date doesn’t expire so soon, so they can spend less and make more money.

And while we do have a choice to make better and more informed decisions about the foods we eat, we’re also limited. Limited by how much money we even have to spend on food, limited to the amount of whole and organic foods available in our neighborhood, city, or region. Believe it or not there are places where people don’t have access to fresh produce.

Things are slowly changing but there’s still plenty of changes that need to be made!

 

 

 

Springtime Smoothie & Antioxidant Benefits

Spring is here and the colors are bright. Today after my workout I decided to whip up something with LOTS of berries. This smoothie is sweet, tangy, creamy, and ever so healthy! What a treat for lunch to enjoy outside in the sun ūüôā

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I’m not sure what I love most about my recent smoothie kick. All the ingredients are plant-based and make me FEEL clear-headed and energized. The more whole foods I eat, the clearer my mentality and focus, the better my mood, I find myself just randomly smiling more often and feeling excited about the little day-to-day things in life. Eating healthy and clean really does make me feel better and then in turn I want to workout more and keep the process going.

This smoothie also contains 2 cups of berries which are full of antioxidants. I feel like we all hear that we should eat more foods rich in antioxidants but we often don’t know why and how they work. Well, I’ll tell you.

Antioxidants play a vital role in combating free radicals in your body by counteracting the oxidation process in your cells. ¬†Did you know that antioxidants aren’t actually a substance but a behavior? Free radicals are unstable molecules that latch onto or give electrons to other atoms. When free radicals have their way, they can damage various cell structures which can lead to cancer, Alzheimer’s, and various other diseases we’re constantly trying to avoid and cure.

When we eat foods rich in antioxidants we’re helping keep our bodies healthy but this doesn’t mean that eating pounds of strawberries everyday will keep you save from cancer either. While all of these choice we make are important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, feeling good and keeping energized, they are all just one piece in the giant puzzle of our health.

You can find a list of foods with high levels of antioxidant properties here. The importance of eating a balanced diet filled with fresh fruits, veggies, berries, etc also provides you fiber and tons of other nutrients! Ok so enough with the science talk. Let’s get to the recipe!

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  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or any milk of your choice)

Blend ingredients together and pour into you favorite glass or mug. I just happened to have a huge wine glass in front of me. I want to invest in some cute glass jars soon so I can take smoothies with me. I also topped it with a few of the frozen berries that are fun to chew. The consistency is super creamy thanks to the avocado. Just make sure to check your teeth for berry seeds before you head out the door!

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The entire smoothie has around 350 calories and almost 20 grams of fiber!

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How Sugars Effect the Body: Fructose vs. Glucose vs. Artificial Sweeteners

Fake sugars are everywhere nowadays and even though many media sources have “hyped” up the dangers of varying products, there are still many considerations people should be aware of when choosing products to eat and the types of sugars to use when cooking and baking.

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What this post will be about:

  • How Sugars Work in the Human Body
  • How Fake Sugars and Artificial Sweeteners Interact in the Human Body
  • Why I Choose Not to Eat, Bake or Cook with Fake Sugars

What this post will NOT be about:

  • Arguing about whether or not fake sugars are linked to cancers or various diseases

How Sugars Work in the Human Body

When simple carbohydrates are broken down in the body, they produce monosaccharides (glucose, fructose, and galatose) and disaccharides (sucrose, lactose, and maltose). Simple carbs can be can be absorbed into the bloodstream immediately.There are 3 types of monosaccharides or “simple sugars”:

  1. Glucose also know¬†as¬†“blood sugar” or “dextrose”¬†(which is used as fuel for most body functions)
  2. Fructose or “fruit sugar”
  3. Galactose which is part of “milk sugar”

Disaccharides or “double sugars” are what happen when single sugars are combined. Double sugars first have to be broken down and digested by enzymes in the intestines before they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. A good way to tell if something is a sugar is if it ends in “ose.” There are also 3 main double sugars:

  1. Lactose “milk sugar”¬†= glucose (blood sugar)¬†+ galactose
  2. Maltose “malt sugar”= glucose (blood sugar)¬†+ glucose (blood sugar)
  3. Sucrose “table sugar” = glucose (blood sugar)¬†+ fructose (fruit sugar)

It’s important to note that fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose (blood sugar) are made up of a different chemical structure and are processed and metabolized differently in the body. This is why the sugar you eat from an apple is lot different from the sugar you get from other sources. However, just like any other food, this doesn’t mean that you¬†should eat as much of it as you want, either. More on that later. While glucose is metabolized in various places in the body, fructose by itself is metabolized in the liver and then used as glycogen storage in the liver. Think of glycogen as the storage unit for glucose that’s stored in both the liver and in muscle tissue. Basically, it’s as if your liver is a giant warehouse with tiny rooms full of plastic tubs that contain sugar.

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Fructose (as outlined above) creates table sugar or refined sugar when it is combined with glucose. This is why when you eat products with added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and even processed honey or agave nectar, the body reacts in the same ways. There really isn’t one processed sugar that’s better than another. When these products contain amounts of both fructose and glucose, they are table sugars, plain and simple. Just because it’s from honey or agave, does not make it any healthier as it’s processed in your body.

Another thing about fructose is that it is not a secretogogue, in other words, it does not alert the body to secrete insulin. The problem, however, is that it’s rare to only ingest fructose alone.

Bunch of bananas

So enough with all this science talk! What’s the overall take-away here? Basically, sugar is sugar. While fructose is processed in the liver and alone doesn’t cause insulin secretion, it still acts as a sugar in the body and when combined with other monosaccharides, it can be broken down into blood sugar as it’s digested.

The truth is, that our bodies do need glucose and sugars to function and operate. The key like anything in life is to not over do it. Having a piece of fruit is still an extremely healthy option. Fruits contain a variety of nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants that are vital to our bodies sustainability and long-term function. But jumping into a fruit-only diet wouldn’t work out well in the long run, either. It’s all about balance. Our bodies are complex and fascinating. This is why the idea of a “balanced diet” has become so prevalent. It’s important to eat a mix of foods and nutrients in our diets every day. Checkout this article from¬†LifeHacker¬†for more details on sugars.

How Fake Sugars and Artificial Sweeteners Interact in the Human Body

Now that you have a relatively good idea of what most sugars are and how they interact in the body, let’s take a brief look at fake sugars and what they do in our system. A couple of summers ago, I decided to indulge in some sugar-free candy. The outcome was horrible and I went on a long rant about how awful fake sugar is as well as how it can affect the brain (feel free to read that here).

But more importantly, it’s good to know what happens when you eat something.

  • How does it make you feel?
  • What does it cause your body to do?
  • Does it make you want more of it or crave something else?
  • These are the kinds of things trigger foods can do that vary from person to person but fake sugars do a lot of things that many people might not realize.

Fake sugars are chemical compounds that taste just as sweet (and often more sweet) than regular sugar. They often contain fewer calories or because of how sweet they are, you can use much less than regular sugar with the same amount of calories per serving. Splenda (sucralose), for example, is 600 times sweeter than regular refined sugar. SIX HUNDRED! 0_O Many fake sugars cannot be digested by the human body, which is what makes them virtually zero calorie. However, some studies are finding that sweet tasting compounds can be found by the pancreas and within the gastrointestinal tract and can then trigger the release of the hormone insulin much like regular sugar would.

So what are the main types of fake sugars we hear about and what’s in them?

Artificial Sweeteners

  • Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
  • Neotame
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)
  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low, SugarTwin)

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Natural Sweeteners (although still processed)

  • Agave Nectar
  • Honey
  • Maple Syrup
  • Molasses
  • Date Sugar
  • Fruit Juice Concentrate

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Sugar Alcohols

  • Xylitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Maltitol
  • Lactitol
  • Mannitol
  • Isomalt
  • Hydrogenated starch hydrolysate
  • Erythritol

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Novel Sweeteners

  • Tagatose (Naturlose)
  • Stevia Extracts (Pure Via, Truvia)
  • Trehalose

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One thing to be aware of is that many products can still say that the sweeteners they use are “natural” and while many of them may come from natural sources or are extracts of plants, that does not mean they are healthy OR safe. Sucralose (Splenda) for example is an extract from sugar and stevia is an extract from plants in the sunflower family. While eating stevia leaves or a banana or even¬†a teaspoon of straight sugar won’t kill you, it’s best to avoid eating added sugars when possible. One main concern about these sugar extracts, like stevia and sucralose, is that they are highly concentrated forms of sugar and while you may come across them in nature, you never would find them as dense in form.

The newest fake sugar I’ve been seeing a lot of lately is Xylitol, which is a sugar alcohol. You can even buy it in the bulk section at health food stores. And again, even though it may be pulled from a natural source, when highly concentrated and eaten in larger amounts, can we really call it a natural substance? One thing about xylitol is that it is not converted into harmful acids in the mouth that cause tooth decay unlike sugar. In fact, it has been used to decrease decay-causing bacteria in saliva. But even with that being said that doesn’t mean it’s safe in the digestive system or would have any health benefits to your intestines. In fact, there are warning labels on xylitol products that state that eating high amounts of the product can cause extreme cramping, gas ¬†and diarrhea.

Why I Choose Not to Eat, Bake or Cook with Fake Sugars

There are tons of great and amazing recipes out there on blogs for clean eating and living a healthy lifestyle. That is one thing about our rise in nutrition knowledge and information that is inspiring and fun to participate in! However, I am always sad to see so many “clean” recipes that call for Splenda, Truvia, or Xylitol. While a little fake sugar in your life won’t kill you, just like real sugar won’t either, my main point in life is to find ways to eat less of sugar in general instead of finding ways to “cheat” the system.

I am a true believe that if I’m going to bake with a little sugar for something sweet, then I’m going to use real sugar. Just the way I believe that eating real butter is a lot better than margarine or canola oil spreads. The best thing we can do for our health is to get in the habit of making better habits. To drink less soda, eat less processed foods, and find healthier ways to cook and eat our favorite foods. This is why you’ll NEVER see me post a recipe that calls for fake sugar or alternative sweeteners. I’d always rather eat a tsp of regular sugar than a tsp of a chemical compound that hasn’t been around long enough to know what it’s long-term effects are.

Just because something doesn’t immediately make you sick, doesn’t mean it won’t hurt you in the long run if it becomes a regular habit. Although, personally, I hate the taste of fake sugars and get super shaky within minutes of eating them.

Thanks for reading!

Sleep: The Ultimate Variable in Your Success

Everyone knows that sleep is important, really important. I’ve covered this topic in a past post as well, but what really happens to our bodies and our minds when we don’t get enough sleep? And how can we really make the effort to get enough on a regular basis?

Let’s be Honest

Chances are you’re not getting enough sleep. Now that we can all admit this to ourselves we can move forward. Simply “going to bed” can often mean getting into bed and watching Netflix for 3 hours, exploring Pinterest on your phone, or playing the YouTube game where one cat video leads to another….and another….and….you get it.

What Happens to Your Mind. The American Pyschological Association also lists symptoms here.

  • Unable to multitask
  • Irritability and moodiness sinks in
  • Easily distracted
  • Slower speech and information recognition
  • Lack of empathy and lowered emotional responses – you know, when it looks like you’re not listening or caring and people ask “you tired?”
  • It’s hard to remember things
  • Lack of concentration
  • Persistent clumsiness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Increased stress

What Happens to Your Body. As if the emotional and mental symptoms above aren’t enough, our body also goes through a number of chemical responses and processes when we do or don’t get enough sleep. Our bodies are triggered to release hormones at different times of the day and many of them when we sleep. Children especially need enough sleep to allow growth hormones to be released efficiently. The protein¬†prolactin is also released during sleep which aids in immune system regulation and cell growth and cell cycle proceses, which down the line help aid in water and salt balance within the body.

Ever notice how hungry you feel after a restless night? That’s because hormones that help regulate our appetite and glucose levels are often released while we sleep. I’ve touched on the roles of ghrelin and leptin before but mostly we can take note that ghrelin is the hormone responsible for our hunger and instense cravings, it’s¬†the meal initiator,¬†while leptin is the hormone known for balancing your bodies energy stores, it’s also referred to as the fullness hormone as it triggers your brain that you are done eating and satisfied, it’s the meal ender.

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Common Myths about Sleep

  • Everyone needs the same amount – actually people can differ in the amount of sleep needed. Most adults need 8 hours of sleep to function properly but some can avoid most symptoms listed above after 6 hours, while others really need 9 or 10. Take time and note of the balance you need.
  • The older you get the less sleep you neednot true. Throughout your adult life you will still need the same required amount of sleep, however, it may be more difficult to sleep straight through the night like you could when you were younger.
  • Quantity over quality – I have to point out that just because you got 10 hours of sleep doesn’t always guarentee you’ll feel super rested. The Quality of our sleep matters, too! It’s important for our bodies to get into R.E.M. sleep or rapid eye motion. This is when our brain is super active and cells are regenerated in our brains. Just because YOU are asleep doesn’t mean parts of your body shut down. Think of your brain as a puppy that’s at home all day while you’re awake and its just WAITING for you to go to sleep so it can go outside and run around.
  • You can easily adjust to a new sleep schedule but staying up late or sleeping in much longer false. The body CAN adjust to a new sleep schedule over time but only at a rate of about 1-2 hours per day. That means if you’re about to work a night shift from a regular 9-5 day, it’s going to take your body some time before you feel “normal” and rested again.

My Experiment

Yeah – I lost sleep over my blog for you guys – ok not entirely true – but for the past week I haven’t been getting enough sleep. I get up around 4:30 every morning to hit the gym, yes I am crazy but I also don’t know my own name until after I’ve chugged a cup of black coffee – thank god for self starting coffee pots. This past week I wasn’t going to bed until 10, sometimes 11pm. Yeah, that’s maaaaaybe 5 1/2 or 6 hours of sleep a night. YIKES! Here’s what happened:

  • Mentally drained and exhausted
  • Moody and irritated – just ask my boyfriend
  • A complete lack of emphathy or symptahy – I’m pretty sure “suck it up” was my motto during this past week
  • Complete absense of motivation
  • Excuses GALORE – suddenly all my long-term and short-term¬†fitness goals were now “unrealistic” and “unnattainable”
  • EXTREME hunger throughout the day especially from 3-6pm, my stomach ACHED and I couldn’t eat enough after I got home
  • Sugar cravings – had you presented me with a cake, I would have punched a baby penguin¬†to eat the entire thing
  • Fast food cravings
  • Depression – after about the 4th day, I was ready to give up on everything, my diet, working out, I just¬†wanted to go drink beer and was already planning happy hours in my head

Then last night I actually got enuogh sleep. Today is like a WHOLE NEW WOOOORLD!! My motivation is back, I’m ready, I WANT to eat healthy and I’m not starving like crazy after all my healthy snacks.

Realistic Ways to Get Enough Sleep

So now that we’ve went over some of the science and personal experiences of sleep deprivation, how can we all realistically GO TO BED ON TIME??????

Here are my suggestions:

  • Set a time to GET into bed –¬†if you know you like to spend 30 minutes shooting aliens on your phone, then alot the time for it
  • Go to bed around the SAME TIME every night – yes even on the weekends, try not to venture too far off from your normal routine. When I stay up to 1am on a Friday night, it doesn’t seem to matter how much I sleep in, my body is exhausted and confused
  • Do things that make you tired an hour before bedtime –¬†read a book, light candles, take a bubble bath, listen to soothing music, brew some tea, get away from computer and TV lights, let your mind calm down from the busy day.
  • Be strict – it’s easy and certainly ok every now and then to make an exception and head to a late event on a weeknight, but if you do this all the time, you won’t be alert or happy the next day.
  • Keep track of how you feel when you DO get enough sleep – sometimes the motivation around bedtime can be hard. We have the night self and the morning self. Getting in the habit of going to bed even when you don’t want to will make hearing that alarm clock in the moring less awful.
  • Look for apps to help track your sleep and monitor your Circadian Rhythm