Friday, June 30, 2006

Common trans-fatty foods

If you've read my post about trans fats, you know that I do my best to avoid foods that contain them. When you're better off putting lard in your system than this stuff, shouldn't you do your best to avoid them too?

Some of you already read ingredient labels. That's awesome. That will be your best defense. But some of you maybe are too lazy to do it, or get intimidated searching through all that tiny print. I'd like to make a quick list of common foods that you may or may not be aware are on "the bad list" by containing partially hydrogenated oils.
  • Margarine - You already know this one, right? I hope so! This is the worst item on the list.
  • Cool Whip - About as bad as margarine. You're much better off with real whipped cream.
  • Peanutbutter - Some brands don't have trans fats, such as Laura Scudder and the brands sold in Trader Joe's. But the common ones like Skippy and Jiff are best avoided.
  • Non-dairy Coffee Creamer (like Mocha Mix) - If it's trying to be fake dairy, it's likely made of trans fats. This includes the powder stuff.
  • Nearly all common cookies and crackers in the snack aisle - Trans fats increase shelf life, therefore they're used in things that need to sit awhile, like pre-packaged foods. Even stuff marked as "healthy" may contain them.
  • Cereal - I was hit hard by this one. I love cereal. But the vast majority of cereals in that aisle are tainted with trans fats. Look for cereals made by smaller brands instead of General Mills and Kellogg.
  • Cake Mixes - Most boxed cake and muffin mixes contain trans fats for longer shelf life.
  • Commercially deep fried foods, especially fast food - Trans fats take high heat very well (they were created by high heat to begin with) so most commercial places that do a lot of deep frying use large vats of partially hydrogenated oils to do the frying. I try to avoid fast food altogether.
  • Croissants from cheap sources - Croissants are flaky and yummy, supposedly with buttery goodness. However butter is 3-4 times as expensive as margarine, so places that mass produce croissants (like Costco or any store brand) probably use margarine.

You wouldn't put dirty fuel into your car, would you? That's why you need to be choosy about what you eat. Avoiding the foods on this list is a step in the right direction. But if you can help it at all, read those ingredient labels!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

TMI about BMI

Maggie asked a good question about body mass index, also known as BMI. What is it and how is it measured? It's basically a measure of a person's body fat by calculating one's weight relative to their height. You can calculate this yourself by taking your weight in kg and dividing it by your height in meters, squared.

But if you're a mathaphobe like me and don't want to deal with the metric system or equations of any kind, it will be so much easier to just use an online BMI calculator like the one found here. The resulting number you get is supposed to tell you if you have a healthy amount of fat on your body.

Under 18.5 = Underweight
18.5 - 25 = Healthy Weight
25 - 30 = Overweight
30 - 40 = Obese
Over 40 = Severely obese

This measurement can be a little flawed, however. It can't determine whether your weight is from fat or muscle. Muscles mass is naturally heavier than fat, therefore your BMI will be inaccurate if you work out a lot. The BMI calculations were designed more for measuring sedentary folks like me and most bloggers.

My personal opinion (and I have no training whatsoever, so please remember this is just my opinion) is that these types of generic measuring systems are too broad for people to take much stock into their results. They don't take into consideration any special circumstances. My bones are very dense, which I'm sure translates into more weight for me. Chances are you already know if you're overweight or not. You don't need a forumula to tell you.

For more detailed information about Body Mass Index, check out this page.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Resisting the call of junk food

One of the most difficult things about eating healthy is resisting the junk food. They're everywhere and so easy to get a hold of. How do we say no? Here are a few things that have worked for me...

Find alternatives to junk
We often snack out of boredom. Our mouths just want something to do, so give it something to do. I find that keeping a bag of munchable veggies is handy for this. Baby carrots and sugar snap peas are great for this. They're crunchy, slightly sweet and can satisfy your mouth's boredom. Any of you who know me know that I looooove me some ice cream. I've found that sometimes I can stave off that craving by eating yogurt instead. It's also sweet and creamy, and after finishing the cup I find I don't need the ice cream anymore.

Drink some water
A lot of times when we crave snacks, we're actually thirsty. For some reason our bodies aren't that great at informing us of thirst. Most people go through their day to day in a mild state of dehydration. I've read different articles on how much water you're supposed to drink a day. My take on it is it varies from person to person -- not just what size you are, but how active you are as well. Here's a good article about how much water will work best for you. Next time you in a snacking mood, have a nice, long drink of water instead.

Think about all the crap
I know what nasty things trans fats can do to you, so I avoid foods that contain them whenever I can. The vast majority of junk foods have it. When I think about that crap hanging around in my body, it turns me off and I no longer want what I was craving.

Resisting temptations is a mind game you play with yourself. It's the angel and the demon sitting on your shoulders. Which one are you going to listen to?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Giving in to temptation

Over the weekend my sweetheart had a craving for some Kentucky Fried Chicken. She's actually been wanting it for about a month and I've been a big bitch by talking her out of it every time. That stuff is so not good for you. The chicken itself might be fine, but what everyone needs to remember is that fast food restaurants use trans fats for frying purposes. It sustains high heat and repeated uses very well, plus it's much cheaper than normal oils. (Why do you think margarine is a fraction of the cost of butter?) But it is evil and not really food at all.

Anyway, her pouting always gets to me, I have little willpower against it, so finally I said yes. We went and picked up a bucket-o-chicken. We had ourselves a nice little dinner. However an interesting thing happened. After we sat back, our appetites sated, she turns to me and says, "You know, it wasn't as good as I remembered it."

It had been many many months, maybe even a year or more, since we've had KFC or any kind of fast food fried chicken. Maybe we lost the taste for it, which is a really good thing. Some studies have shown fast food to be addictive. Maybe our memories became amplified over time. Whatever happened, it's highly unlikely we'll ever buy KFC again. This seems to be one case of giving in to temptation that actually worked in our favor.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Monitors again: LCD, CRT, WTH?

One thing about monitors that I only learned recently is the difference in eye strain between LCD and CRT monitors. (LCDs are the cool flat-panel monitors while CRTs are the traditional heavy monitors with the gigantic ass.)

All my life I've used CRTs because they are cheaper. I'd used LCD monitors, and they were neat, but I never used them enough to notice any difference in terms of how my eyes were reacting to them. On some days when I took fewer breaks from computing, I would develop headaches. Closing my eyes would make me immediately feel better, but I had to keep working.

One day they hired a new web developer at the office. We got to talking about monitors and he was saying that he only uses LCDs, and since he started working here he's been going home with headaches because they only have CRTs here. I wasn't sure if he was exaggerating or not, but it might explain my own headaches.

Soon after that we were sent to a training facility to learn some new software they were going to have us use. That whole week we worked on LCD monitors. We stared at those screens all day that whole week and I never once developed a headache. This confirmed for me that what my coworker was telling me was true.

I learned that the biggest difference between the two types of monitors (besides the obvious size difference) is that CRTs flicker while LCDs don't. You can set the refresh rate on CRT monitors to improve things, but even if the flickering is imperceptible to you consciously, your eye still perceives it. LCDs don't have this problem, which allows you to stare at it for longer periods of time without becoming fatigued.

This doesn't mean you don't need to take breaks. You really should, every half an hour if you can. But LCD monitors will really help reduce any eye strain you might be experiencing. They cost more, but I think they're worth it if you spend lots of time in front of it. And who couldn't use the extra desk space?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Monitor the height of your monitor

The positioning of your mouse and keyboard aren't the only things important in combatting repetitive stress injuries. Your monitor plays a role too. I used to work at the front desk of a hotel and the computer monitors there were embedded into the front desks's counter. It was horrible. I had to bend my head to look down at it all day, straining my neck muscles in the process. And because I spent so much time on the computer at home, the problem only worsened. My neck and shoulders were constantly tense.

Ideally, when you are in a comfortable sitting position, your eyes need to be level with the upper third of your monitor. You can accomplish this by either adjusting the height of your chair or adjusting the height of the monitor. Office supply stores carry various fancy monitor stands, but plenty of low-budget solutions will work too. For years I had the city phone book and a full Staples catalog stacked under my monitor. There are also surge protectors designed to double as monitor stands.

Neck strain will lead to headaches due to the constant tenseness. Taking a few easy steps to put your monitor at the correct height is an easy way to avoid this. Sometimes a simple change is all you need.