Would Amanda Eat It?

One of the things that drives me craziest in the nutrition side of my business is questions about processed food.  If it comes from a box, has a label, or has a shelf life of over a couple of weeks, it’s probably not great for you.  Sorry kids, that’s the cold, hard truth.

As you know from past Would Amanda Eat It? posts, that’s not to say I don’t understand why someone would need to eat a processed food from time to time – Quest bars being my own convenience food of choice when I’m running from client to client.

It’s just that I get a lot of submissions asking about this type of chip or that kind of fruit snack, and the overarching answer is usually – skip the junk, make it yourself, or find an alternative.

That leads us to today’s Would Amanda Eat It? – not technically a processed food (I mean, it does come in a bag, typically), but not technically a fresh one either.  The product in question today is dried fruit.

But it’s fruit!, you may cry, wondering how I could even question the merit of nature’s candy.  Sure, it was fruit.  But does it still count as fruit when it’s been dried, (often) sugared, and packed up?  Here’s the info:

The good:

  • At its best, dried fruit is simply a dehydrated form of fresh fruit – when it has no added sugar, you are getting most of the benefits of the fresh fruit (for example, fiber and iron from prunes, vitamin E and B6 from figs, or beta-carotene in dried apricots)
  • The portable, long-lasting benefits of dried fruit mean you can take it anywhere, pack it in purses or bags, and/or mix it with unsalted raw nuts for a powerful protein and carbohydrate combo

The bad:

  • let’s be real, peeps – a lot of the dried fruit you get at the grocery store has a ton of added sugar – and even if it has none, the concentration of the sugars natural to the drying process means that you’re getting a big dose of fructose – and calories – with every (tiny, tiny) serving of dried fruit (you only get 4 dried apricot halves, and even that has quadruple the calories of a nice, fresh apricot)
  • beware of course the “commercial” dried fruit (i.e. not the nice, natural kind from Whole Foods or the farmers’ market) – one meager 1/4 cup of Craisins has most of your sugar for the entire day (29g out of a total 40g) – and you know those little bad boys are so addictive it’s hard to stop at 1/4 cup!

The alternative:

  • Um, no brainer here – the alternative to dried fruit is fresh fruit!  Delicious, skin-on, water-filled, healthy and delicious fruit.  Sure, you may have to think ahead a bit more (you can’t just stash bananas in your car for a week), but it’s way worth it to grab an apple rather than an apple chip, an apricot rather than a Turkish dried apricot, or a big bunch of grapes rather than a tiny 1/4 cup raisins.
  • If you must get your dried fruit fix, look for those with no added sugar, use them sparingly (like sprinkled over a salad, rather than a big handful), or just bite the bullet and dehydrate your own fruit (in the oven – no extra gadgets needed!) – that way you know where it’s from, what’s in it, and how much you’re really eating.

Are you a dried fruit fan?  What’s your favorite kind, and where do you get it?

Would Amanda Eat It? – Double Dose Edition

Oh yes, my friends – even on a short holiday week, we here (ok, me here) at TFB know you have to get your weekly dose of Would Amanda Eat It?  And in honor of Thanksgiving, I want to give you a second helping of information – two foods for thought!

First up: KIND bars.  I feel like these things are ubiquitous these days; I get them in every race goodie bag, I see them in the hands of kids at the mall; I watch yogis pop them open after class.  So what’s the appeal?

There are a plethora of KIND bars/products out there, so for the purpose of this entry, I’m going to focus only on the one I see the most – the bar – in the flavor Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond.

The good:

  • I can pronounce every ingredient in the bar, and sugar doesn’t come in until #3
  • Fiber is sky-high (7g)
  • Protein is decent (6g, though for 200 calories you could get nearly 50g, to put it in perspective)

The bad:

  • The ingredients include three (!) types of sugar – sugar, honey, and non-GMO glucose
  • The bar contains palm kernel oil, which is basically condensed saturated fat, in addition to cocoa butter, which is another form of saturated fat
  • 5g sugar doesn’t seem like a lot compared to, say, a Snickers bar – but consider that you’re only supposed to have 40g (MAX) added sugar in a day, and 5g isn’t fabulous

The verdict:

  • Sorry, KIND.  I have yet to find a processed food bar (i.e. one I didn’t make myself) that I would eat or recommend to clients.  The calories, sugar and saturated fat are too high to provide such a low amount of protein, and let’s be honest – you’ll be hungry 2 hours later (if that).  Try making your own bars for a whole food alternative – and save some money to boot!

Up next – round two – one my clients claims her daughter loves this product but was wondering about my take on its contents.  Consider next Dr. Praeger’s Spinach Cake:

You may have seen them in Whole Foods or Sprouts and wondered hmmm – are these really a decent alternative to potato pancakes and/or grain sides?  Here’s my take.

The good:

  • The first three ingredients are all actual whole foods (spinach, potatoes, onion)
  • There’s no saturated fat and only 80 calories in the whole cake
  • 3g of protein is actually not bad for something primarily made of vegetables

The bad:

  • A little higher in sodium than I’d prefer – 160mg for one cake (though not terrible)
  • A cup of actual spinach has 56% of your daily Vitamin A; this little cake only has 20% – so it makes you wonder how much spinach is actually in it
  • It contains canola oil, which isn’t the healthiest oil (by a long shot)

The verdict:

  • Heck yes I’d eat these – and I’d recommend them to moms struggling to sneak veggies into their kids’ diets.  They come in other varieties (though, beware – not all as awesomely healthy as the Spinach Cakes) and are made with whole, clean ingredients and minimal additives.  A definite win in the “creative veggies” department – though they’ll never replace a good old-fashioned spinach salad. 😉

That’s it for this week folks – leave a comment or visit my Facebook page to make your request for next week’s Would Amanda Eat It?

Pumpkin Power

Call me a bandwagoner, but I love pumpkin.  Like, love it.  My fiance and I keep a pumpkin pie in our fridge and freezer all year long – one ready, one on deck.  It’s a very serious relationship.

But come this time of year, everyone starts kicking into high-cal pumpkin mode – those insanely chemical-ridden pumpkin spice lattes, the Pinterest-worthy pumpkin baked goods, and even the occasional pumpkin-shaped cheese ball (say what?).  Sure, I’d love all of these treats, too.  Thing is, my waistline wouldn’t.  And so each fall I seek ways to get my pumpkin fix without completely losing the calorie battle (especially before the holiday season even kicks in!).

First of is my daily treat – the pumpkin pie oatmeal.  True story: if you put pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice in just about anything, you can convince yourself you’re having a treat.  And guys – canned pumpkin is super healthy!  The plain stuff (not the canned pie filling – steer clear!) is only 50 calories a half cup and packed with fiber.  Pumpkin IS a veggie, after all.

Need a snack?  Pumpkin mixes gloriously well with Greek yogurt for a kind of faux-cheesecake effect, which you can savor anytime of day (just watch the added sugar – you rarely need as much as the recipes suggest, and you can always sub Stevia or even raw maple syrup for a healthier, lighter sweetness).

While you have your Greek yogurt out, might as well throw it in some batter for these amazing protein-packed pancakes – seriously guys, it’s like a little piece of heaven on a Sunday morning, and combined with a healthy syrup option, you can pretend you’re having a crazy indulgent meal but staying completely on track.

And finally – I get it.  You need the whole pumpkin spice latte thing to make it through the season – I’m not gonna hate.  This one – which, yes, takes a bit of commitment but for a huge payoff – is worth your time.  You can make a batch and heat ’em up all week!

Do you have any go-to pumpkin recipes for the fall season?  How do you enjoy your pumpkin in a healthier way?

Splurge & Save: Fitness Edition

We all have those things – those expensive-but-worth-it things, those gotta-have-it-at-any-price things, those splurge-but-i-need-it things – and then there’s the other stuff.  The stuff that’s not worth putting your life savings into, but can be fun for a little impulse buy or pick-me-up.  And I want to address both of those categories in today’s post.

For example, I always splurge on running shoes.  AL.  WAYS.  There is no substitute for proper fit, alignment, and form when it comes to distance running gear, and going into an actual running store, getting professionally fit, and purchasing your first pair of “real” shoes from a pro shop is a must.  That said, once you know your style and arch type, you can go online and search out the best deals for your shoes (for my Asics, Kelly’s Running Warehouse is tops) – and save a bit o’ cash.  (I’m currently running in these lovelies – Asics Gel Evate – which I bought for under $80 at the Asics factory outlet).

That said, I never spend more than $30 on walking/crosstraining shoes.  Granted, I am on my feet over 10 miles a day (friend me on Fitbit for proof!) but all I need in this arena is a nice, supportive, decently stylish shoe – I’m not as worried about mechanics as I am long-duration comfort.  So I hit the shelves at Nordstrom Rack, Marshall’s, or even Ross for these (and have picked up several name-brand, last-season pairs – Adidas, Nike, New Balance, and Brooks – at my price point!).

Another splurge?  You guys just read the most – waterproof longwear makeup.  There is no fooling around when it comes to my cosmetics, and I will accept nothing less than the best when it comes to my products.  But a dedicated save?  Makeup remover.  A friend recently turned me on to the magic of using Johnson’s baby shampoo (no more tears!) to get off my most stubborn eye makeup (yes, even liquid eyeliner, waterline pencil, and mascara) and it changed my life.  Buy a bottle and believe.

Speaking of workout necessities, lululemon pants are a must.  Disclaimer: they’re about a hundred bucks (!).  But also know this: they last forever (I recently just wore out my first pair ever from 2006, and remember I wear them at least once a week).  I don’t care if you have a thousand pairs of black capri workout pants; if you don’t have at least one lulu (my fave is the Inspire Crop), you have nothing.  Your butt has never looked perkier, your legs never smaller, and your torso never leaner than you will look in these pants – and I’m serious.

But whereas the pants are worth the cash, workout tops are (somewhat) a dime a dozen.  Once you’ve got yourself a sturdy sports bra, what you put on top is going to get covered in sweat, makeup, gym filth, etc. – so it’s really not worth paying a pretty penny to put on your bod.  I actually find that some of my favorite tops are from the clearance rack, or even not workout tops at all – I wear a racerback lacy black shirt that always gets compliments and is definitely from Wet Seal.

And finally – when it comes to healthy living – you gotta feel confident splurging on organic and healthy food.  Sure, the organic kale is twice the price.  Yeah, I known the organic apples don’t last as long, and the organic grass-fed beef is about a zillion times the price of the Wal-Mart ground chuck.  I get it.  We’re all on a budget.  But whereas people will shell out four bucks for a giant coffee drink, they shudder to pay a couple extra dollars for premium food in the supermarket – a decision that makes no sense for your wallet, your body, or your waistline. 

If you want to save a few bucks in the supermarket, go for bulk – bulk bins, that is.  Grocery stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts have bulk-bin areas where you can buy what you need by weight – at significantly lower prices.  I rely on bulk oats, nuts, flaxseed, spices (this is a boon when you want to try a new recipe but don’t want to commit to a whole $6 bottle of za’atar), and even freshly ground natural peanut butter to stretch my grocery dollar a bit further while still getting the natural, whole foods I love.

What healthy stuff do you consider “essential” splurges, and where do you try to cut costs?


Lean Lunches

A friend (and technically, “client,” since I wrote her a workout program way back when!) of mine requested a blog post dedicated to what trainers actually eat for lunch – and how she could adapt some simple recipes to make multiple lunches throughout the week.  

I am happy to oblige – and for the record, like your favorite radio DJ, I DO take requests for post topics – so always feel free to ask via comments – or email thisfitblonde@gmail.com!

Back to lunches.  Lunch is an odd meal; it sits right in the place where you can make or break a healthy day.  I know a lot of folks that can easily suck down a healthy breakfast, but then they go off to work and grab a burger.  Or stay at home and snack off their kids’ mac n’ cheese.  Or skip the meal entirely and go on a mad candy binge at 3pm.  Any of these sound familiar?

The first key point here is that yes – you will have to prep your meals.  Sorry, non-cooking people.  If you don’t want to prep your meals, you will have to spend mucho dinero on healthy prepped options (think Trader Joe’s Just Chicken or Organic Cooked Quinoa Bowls) – and even then they’re not always convenient (and are often laced with more sodium than a true clean eater should have).

So what’s a busy person to do?  BATCH COOK ON SUNDAYS, BRO.  With just a few chicken breasts, a couple cans of tuna, a bag of your favorite whole grain, and a couple bags of salad, you have the basics for healthy meals all week.

I’m not really in the business of creating my own recipes – I wish I was that creative.  Moreover, I just “combine” the foods in ways that meet my preferred macro ratios while ensuring that I get enough veggies to count toward my 7-9 daily produce servings.  Some examples:

Egg Whites on a Tortilla.  I mean, if you put the egg whites IN the tortilla, this bad boy becomes a burrito, but I kind of like to tear up the tortilla and scoop my egg whites with it.  Make sure the tortilla is Ezekiel brand, the egg whites are cooked without extra oil or butter, and you integrate at least 2 veggies into the wrap – my faves are spinach and broccoli.  Throw some Sriracha on that bad boy and it’ll keep you full for a good long while.

Yogurt Parfait.  Fage Total 2% Greek Yogurt (yep, I keep the fat – keeps you full longer than 0%) with old-fashioned rolled oats, berries (your choice – up to a full cup!), a teaspoon of Manuka honey, and some slivered almonds or walnut pieces is awesome for those days you don’t really feel like a more “savory” lunch but want to make sure you’re getting a full meal.

Chicken Tabbouleh Salad.  Bulgur is the traditional grain in this salad but whatever you have on hand is fine – chop everything small and diced to make the texture most pleasing.  Common ingredients for me include chicken breast, cucumber, chopped spinach, tomato, bulgur, olives, mint, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes, stirred up with lemon juice and a shake of olive oil – and sometimes tossed in with harissa and an ounce of crumbled goat cheese.  I’ll make a HUGE batch and eat it all week.

Curry Tuna Salad.  Another use for the Greek yogurt; mix it up as you would mayonnaise with a can of tuna, some slivered almonds, curry powder, cilantro, red onion, and spicy mustard.  You can throw this bad boy in a tortilla, smooth it over a slice of Ezekiel bread, or eat over greens (my preference is arugula) and again – it gets better overnight as the flavors marinate, so make a big serving.

The Salad.  I call this “the salad” because for me, it is my definitive go-to salad – for those times when I literally just feel like eating a salad (disclaimer: I am not a “salad girl” by nature so just throwing down the protein and greens is a big effort for me).  The key to my version of deliciousness is arugula, walnuts, chicken, apple, goat cheese, fig jam (or if you have access, chopped fresh figs) olive oil, and white pepper.  It’s a little spicy, a little sweet, and a lot filling – for hours and hours.

My main point here is that keeping a few simple ingredients ALWAYS on hand will mean that you ALWAYS have lunch options for when hunger strikes – and you won’t be stuck ordering in or munching on junk when you know how to combine those simple ingredients in ways that are varied enough to be interesting but healthy enough to be mainstays.  So eat up!

Are you a batch cooker or do you go day to day?  What are your favorite healthy lunches?