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Saturday
Feb212015

My Quest for the Perfect Fitness Headband

Since becoming an exercise instructor, I've learned a lot about fitness attire. I don't spend much on clothes in general as I could care less about fashion, so I'm willing to spend more on exercise stuff. I've tried super expensive brands from boutique stores and low end brands from Target and even Walmart. In the Boston area, Lululemon is no longer the only store of choice for fitness enthusiasts (though I will always love you Lulu!). My requirement is simple: the clothes should be so comfortable as I'm moving that I completely forget about them. I shouldn't be tugging up the waist or picking at a wedgie...and of course I'm sorta vain that I don't want a muffin top showing above the hips, or underarm flab with a too-tight bra. Doesn't seem too demanding, but it's taken me years to find clothing that fits the bill!

I'm even finicky about headbands. I have to wear them because I sweat like a faucet. Once the drips start, they don't stop. The problem is that I have a large head and flat forehead, as you can see in the profile shot below. So most headbands are too tight, and at the same time slide down my face. Ugh it just happened this week mid-class: I wore a Lulu headband with the sticky grips underneath, but once it got soaked it slid off despite the grips. So I was super interested in these non-slip headband scarfs by Klara Kelly, a Boston-based company that launched in February 2014. The website says the headbands "legitimately won’t move” and I appreciate that they're an adjustable one-size-fits-all. We had connected on Twitter and I purchased a few to test out.

The first thing I noticed is that the material was high quality, very soft with a bit of weight. When I tied it on, it felt really comfortable and, true to its promise, didn't move! The width was generous to help soak up a lot of sweat. The headbands are $22 each and come in a wide range of solid colors and prints. Lululemon's wider width headbands range from $18-22 but are not adjustable. These headbands looked great and stayed put even after intense sweating, yay!!

Trying to pose pretty after my sweaty Zumba class

Thanks to my student Sherry for whipping out her iPhone for these pics!

Overall I love these headbands despite the higher cost. A tip on caring for headbands is to do a quick prewash immediately after your workout: rinse with water and a little soap, to ring out the excess sweat. Then hang dry and wash with your fitness clothes later on. When I used to toss them directly into the laundry basket but not wash them for a day or two, residual odors would collect.

Right now Klara Kelly sells online on their website and at fitness studios and boutiques across the country. Check out their other fitness gear like leggings and ponchos! If you're a fitness instructor, they offer discounts through their ambassador program

Friday
Feb132015

Healthified Chocolate

Thankfully the verdict is out on all counts that chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, is a healthful food. Of course if you're eating milk chocolate that is higher in sugar and fat, or eating too much of any chocolate that piles on the calories, you'll likely negate those health benefits. So what's the best way to enjoy this food and reap the health benefits?

  • Choose dark chocolate or unsweetened cocoa. The cocoa bean is a plant that, like other plant foods (fruit, veggies, whole grains), contains special nutrients and antioxidants. Flavonoids are the specific type found in dark chocolate that research shows can help make blood less sticky, thereby improving blood flow throughout the body. It also can help relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Unsweetened cocoa powder that is not treated with alkali or has not undergone Dutch processing (which lower the flavonoid content) and dark chocolate with 70% or more cocoa solids contain the most flavonoids. Flavonoids taste bitter, so enjoying very dark chocolate can take some getting used to!
  • Eat 1-2 ounces a day—that's about the size of a standard Hershey's Bar. The kind of fat in dark chocolate includes a blend of saturated and monounsaturated fats. Good news that the saturated fats in dark chocolate do not affect blood cholesterol levels, but all fats are rich in calories so you can't eat too much without paying for it!

The lower sugar Craisins on the right have 14 grams sugar vs. 29 in the original, and 10 grams fiber vs. 3 from added corn fiber. It contains sucralose to make up for the lower sugar. I've posted about homemade chocolate bars before but I'll share again one of my favorite ways to "healthify" chocolate. I mix in ingredients to add more texture and different flavors, while boosting the nutritional value even further. For this version I added crunchy low sodium, low sugar Kashi Original Go Lean Cereal to bump up the fiber and protein content, ground flax and chia seeds to boost omega-3s and fiber, and reduced sugar dried cranberries to balance out the bitter flavor. Dried cranberries are another great source of naturally occuring flavonols and even drying this fruit does not greatly change its antioxidant content! I just found Reduced Sugar Craisins, which have about half the sugar as regular and are fortified with fiber. They have a diluted flavor compared with usual tart dried cranberries so I didn't love them. Use whatever dried fruits you like, or omit entirely.

  1. Start with a good quality dark chocolate or chocolate chips. It's hard to find >70% dark chocolate; I used Guittard extra dark chocolate chips with 63% cocoa solids. Pour the package into a large microwave-safe bowl and heat on high for 1 minute. Stir well and microwave for another minute. Stir again until creamy smooth and completely melted. 
  2. Add 1 cup Kashi Go Lean Original Cereal, 1/4 cup ground flax and/or chia seeds and 1/2 cup Reduced Sugar Craisins or preferred dried fruit. Mix until incorporated. The batter should be very chunky!
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and spread the chocolate batter into a thin or thick layer depending on your preference. Allow chocolate to completely cool and harden. Or place sheet in refrigerator for 5-10 minutes to speed up cooling process.
  4. When chocolate feels firm to touch (no chocolate residue on your fingers when pressing it), cut into small squares and enjoy! Store at room temperature in a sealed container.

You can use a food scale to measure out 1-2 oz. portions, or just cut into very small squares. This is a rich, very satisfying treat so eat it slowly and savor it! I love to enjoy it at night with a large mug of green tea (to get even more antioxidants). 

Monday
Feb022015

Want a Healthier Chip? Try Simply 7

Is there such a thing as a healthy chip? There are a lot of “healthier” chips out there, but often that means less fat and calories, not necessarily a more nutrient-rich food. Simply 7 Snacks showcases 7 standards, aiming to create a gluten-free product with no trans fats, cholesterol, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, and using simple ingredients with all natural recipes to produce “simply delicious” chips. Although all natural doesn’t technically mean anything, Simply 7 defines this term as using ingredients that are closer to their original form (i.e., less processed).

That all sounded just fine to me so Simply 7 sent over a big box of their chips to taste-test, which included quinoa, lentil and hummus chips (4 flavors of each type). Geez, it was definitely what you'd call snack heaven!

My downfall with snacks, especially the salty-crispy-savory kind, is that I can’t stop munching...until my fingers hit the bottom of the package. They’re never filling so it’s easy for me to keep going. So I rarely keep these types of snacks in the house. This weakness of mine is the one and only negative I’ll place on Simply 7 Chips. But that’s entirely my fault of no self-control, so here’s my more objective nutritionist view:

Ingredients:  Simply 7 Chips do contain real quinoa, lentils and chickpeas but in flour form, along with other starches like potato starch, rice and corn flour. Because these flours are stripped of natural fibers, the chips are not a good source of dietary fiber (<1 gram per serving). Expeller pressed safflower oil is used in all the chips. I looked up “expeller pressed,” which means the oil is extracted from the safflower seed through basic mechanical force rather than with use of chemicals (therefore felt to be healthier); read more about that here. Various spices and sea salt are the other common ingredients. Depending on the flavor, you'll see other ingredients but as Simply 7 promises on its website, they are recognizable.

Nutrition:  The chips have no artery clogging trans fats or cholesterol, and are low in saturated fat (≤0.5 grams) and carbohydrates (12-18 grams per serving). All varieties contain about 130 calories and 5 grams fat per 1-ounce serving; the lentil chips are smaller so you get about 30 chips per ounce in comparison with 20 chips with the quinoa (with classic potato chips, you'd be eating twice the fat at half the portion size). The big bonus with the quinoa chips is 9 grams of protein per serving. Considering I’d eat at least two servings, that’s a nice boost of protein from a snack. They’re not low in sodium ranging from 260-420 mg; something to keep in mind if you're prone to bloat!

My childhood snack of pastel deep fried shrimp chips. Photo source: Kirbie's Cravings. Click on the image to see the blog post.Flavor:  Overall they tasted great! The texture reminded me of the Asian shrimp chips I grew up with—minus all the grease. These chips were satisfyingly crunchy and zesty but not at all oily. The Roasted Red Pepper Hummus and Sour Cream Quinoa tied for my favorite flavor. Close second was the Cheddar Quinoa. The best basic no-frills chip was the Sea Salt Quinoa with just a hint of salty flavor though it was actually lower in sodium than the other varieties, at 260 mg.

Bottom Line:  Since the flavor of the quinoa vs. lentil vs. hummus did not differ greatly, I’d choose the quinoa for its protein value. But back to my one negative, my weakness of portion control…each bag is only 3.5 to 4 ounces, meaning there are 3.5 to 4 servings per bag. As I would easily eat at least two servings and the retail price is $3.69 a bag, it’s not likely I’d add these to my weekly shopping list. However, these would definitely be my go-to chip if I had a salty snack craving. They taste great even if healthy is not your focus. If you can control the portions (or don’t care about that), then absolutely check these out. You can get them discounted on Amazon when you buy in bulk.

1-ounce servings of the hummus and lentil chips

Disclosure: I received a shipment of Simply 7 Chips to help facilitate this post. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.