These nasty ingredients are in your food

They’re banned in other countries, of course…

How does it feel to know that chemicals that have been linked to harm to children’s brain growth, cancer and a plethora of other maladies, that have been banned in several countries, are widely used here in the United States? I hope it makes you want to storm the castle and at least demand some quality grain, like it does me.

It turns out that Burger King in the UK uses horse meat in their sandwiches. That’s pretty gross, but a horse really isn’t much different from a cow in terms of meat or ethics, is it? Given that the people who are grossed out by this are meat eaters, I would think that they’d be more grossed out if they knew that, say, cigarette filler is used in some milkshakes, or that the beloved McRib from McDonald’s is filled with GMOs and tons of chemicals, including a banned chemical found in freakin’ yoga mats.

If you want to get even more grossed out about the chicken nuggets, salads and other fast food items you eat, check out the link above. You’ll get to gross your friends out for weeks! Just wait until lunch time—especially if coworkers return to the office with little bags displaying the golden arches.

Body positive resolutions

What’s yours?

My mother and I have made some body positive resolutions this year—namely, we just want to move! We both work at home and often find ourselves homebound or simply sitting for a long, long time, and we want to get strong and stay strong for the rest of our lives by making sure we move our bodies. That’s it.

No weight loss (any would be welcome for us, but not required—kind of a like a birthday party for the kid who has everything), no pressure, no guilt. Just movement and having fun, enjoying our bodies and ourselves. Her plan is to work out by walking when it’s nice out and using her elliptical trainer when it’s cold.

My plan is also to walk, as we rejoined the rec center, as well as to do my dance and workout DVDs each day. I’m not up to a full hour yet, but I’m getting there, and I adore Latin dancing. I really recommend Latin Grooves, which is all about having a good time. The leader never mentions weight loss, though she does mention being beautiful, sexy and strong.

I see a lot of bad reviews on Amazon about this program, and I feel like I need to post a rare review because I love it! The heart and soul of Latin dance—combined with some funky tribal steps—are just so apparent and I have so much fun doing it. I lived in Spain for a few months, so maybe that’s why I really enjoy it.

What’s your body positive resolution? If you don’t have one, you can watch this body positive video and think up one for yourself today. And don’t worry about it being too late in the year; you can start any day, any month! Here are a few ideas that you might want to use for a body positive resolution…

Choose a way to move every day that makes you feel good, whether it’s aerobics, walking or dancing with your children.

Make peace with food. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Eat what makes you feel good!

Compliment yourself every day in the mirror. Say “I love you,” or just tell yourself how gorgeous you look and feel. I told myself, “I’m so proud of you!” yesterday and made myself cry. I’m serious, this is a good thing!

Drink lots of water to hydrate yourself when you are thirsty.

Tell Whole Foods to go fair trade

How whole can they be when they sell child trafficked food?

Lots of us think that human trafficking is limited to sexual slavery, but in reality, slave hands have touched many of the products we use today, from computers to clothing to chocolate. Make no mistake: children trafficked through slavery rings are the ones who harvest Hershey chocolate. Their hands are considered small enough for the labor, which is free, and when they die, nobody gives a damn. They aren’t paid. They aren’t fed well. And Hershey makes a huge profit.

Stores that sell Hershey products could take a stand against the company until they agree to stop selling unfair trade products; indeed, many have signed on to the letter demanding that Hershey use fair trade chocolate.

Ironically, Whole Foods is not one of these companies. You would think that given their image and their propensity for healthy foods, the store would pressure Hershey to use fair trade chocolate and not support the horrible lives and quick deaths of the children and adult slaves used in the chocolate trade. However, they have yet to even indicate concern.

Click here to tell Whole Foods that slave chocolate isn’t a whole food by any means and that you’d like for them to pressure Hershey to sell only fair trade products starting now.

Vending machines in health centers

Um, why is this still even happening?

My family and I have been becoming more health conscious—spending more time at the rec center (which we really can’t afford, but then again, can you afford not to?), walking, and gardening in our free time. Much of it has been enjoyable, but there’s something that I just don’t understand.

When you see movies featuring a rec center or fitness business, there’s always some kind of health food bar where you can get, I don’t know, power smoothies and bananas or something. But our rec center just has vending machines featuring the same kinds of nasty calorie-laden, sugary or salty junk food you’ll find in, say, a school cafeteria—which shouldn’t be selling them either, by the way.

What the heck is with this? Is it a ploy to get you to stay unhealthy and thereby in need of the recreation center even more, or perhaps a simpler scenario in which the cheapest food is what’s available? Either way, I don’t like it, and it’s not just at the rec centers.

It’s in the schools, as I mentioned above. It’s at my daughter’s gymnastics studio (as well as other gymnastics and dance centers). It’s pretty much everywhere, and I’m getting really tired of everyone from Michelle Obama to supposed fitness gurus crying foul about obesity when all we have to choose from is the chocolate bar or the bag of chips!

Why not mandate that these machines HAVE to serve at least SOME healthy options? Better yet, why not get rid of the cash cows altogether (well, there was my answer at the same time) and install fresh fruit and vegetable bars, green tea options, and water refill stations instead? It’s more sustainable and healthy for all involved. Even granola bars and Gatorade would be better—and at least they’d make sense for the power athletes, after all.

I get that we can’t do this at, say, truck and rest stops (though we can have some healthy options available), but there is absolutely no reason why places you go to be healthy should continue to offer snacks and drinks that don’t allow you to be! Every time I leave the rec center seeing someone leave with a soda or a candy bar or an iced coffee (that last one tempts me every time), I just squint my eyes and shake my head, wondering why those options are available in the first place.

The most ridiculous products to hop the whole grain train

Why "whole grain" is not a synonym for "healthful"

Guys, I get it. Ever since health researchers declared that a complete grain was way better for you than the ultra-processed powdery stuff that's somehow still considered food, marketers have been hopping all over the whole grain bandwagon. And yes, it's generally true that the closer your food is to a whole, untouched plant, the better for you it'll be. But just because you're making something out of brown flour doesn't mean that it's automatically a Godsend for your body. 

I mean, marketers are really stretching the limits of this trend. The other day at Target, I saw that they had slapped the "whole grain" label across their house brand of microwave popcorn. Yep--Target popcorn's proudly a whole grain. As opposed to all those other partial grain popcorns out there on the market. How exactly would those work? How are you supposed to pop a refined kernel? What is going on with America?

While microwave popcorn comes out on top in the totally ridiculous while technically true claims to whole grain status, here are the next most absurd products to be branded as healthful, wholesome foods--just because the flour they're made from hasn't been stripped away to pure sugar.

Whole Grain Cheez-Its/Goldfish 

These are essentially the same snack in different shapes, so they share an entry. And yes, both came out with a whole grain version in an attempt to reach out to health-conscious parents trying to feed their kids less poison. Too bad these crackers are still a hyper-salty, ultra-starchy mess riddled with powdered cheese and orange dye. Not exactly the epitome of wholesomeness.


Chef Boyardee Whole Grain Beefaroni

How do you make canned pasta in meat sauce a healthful option for the whole family? You open the can, empty the contents into a plot of soil, and grow a vegetable garden on top of it. Then you feed the vegetables to your children, ensuring they're getting all the vitamins and minerals they need from a fresh, wholesome dinner. Or...or you could swap out white flour for wheat in your pre-cooked, rubbery noodles. Or that.


Eggo Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat Waffles

These are made with whole wheat, but they're still mostly just white flour. And pro-tip: anything you slather with butter and corn syrup automatically becomes the opposite of a health food.


Lucky Charms/Cocoa Puffs/any other General Mills sugar-cluster

Speaking of healthy breakfast options...yeah, Lucky Charms didn't really come to mind for me at first, either. These wheat-embellished, rainbow-colored sugar crystals might technically have eight grams of whole grains per serving, but come on now. They're still giving your kids diabetes. 


Kellogg's Cinnabon Crunchy Cinnamon Multigrain Cereal.

Oh my God. They had the gall to put "multigrain" on a Cinnabon breakfast cereal just because it's got corn, rice and wheat flours all rolled in together. Somewhere, some marketing executive thought he could hatch a plan to get people to think of the gooey, glistening Cinnabon as a healthy breakfast option--even if just in cereal form. I think I need to go throw up somewhere. Preferably on America's face. 


Let vegetables be vegetables already

Overdressed salads take away from the natural flavor of greens

I'm done with deli salads. I've been doing this thing where I mean to make myself something for lunch before I venture out of the house into the world where I work, but I never seem to be able to scrounge up enough minutes. Instead, I end up spending too much money for sub-par snacks at various coffeeshops and delis between the two jobs I hold out in the physical realm. Being a mostly vegan lover of all things plant-based and edible, I've gone through quite a few pre-prepared salads. And I've come to the following conclusion: most people have no idea how to accent a vegetable's flavor.

I've seen perfectly good bean salads ruined by some unspeakable syrup draped over the aging legumes. I've seen cucumbers and tomatoes glued together with weird tangy dressing. And I've seen so many perfectly good greens plain ruined by salt-clogged cream-based sauce. It seems we've become so attached to the idea that bare plants aren't “real food” that we go ahead and smother the good unprocessed stuff with horrible synthetic muck, just so we can feel like we're eating something that isn't a vegetable.

Where on earth did we get the idea that stuff that grows out of the ground doesn't have its own flavor? A salad might not taste like much if you're basing it around pale iceberg lettuce that's hardly more than water, but throw some fresh, green arugula into the middle of that bowl, sprinkle it with black pepper and arm it with a sharp extra-virgin olive oil and you've got a salad that will kick your mouth halfway back around your head. Cut open a lemon and squeeze it out over that same cucumber and tomato blend and you've already got yourself a bright, springy, full meal. And don't even get me started on swiss chard, spinach or bok choy. I could eat all the darkest of greens in the world, buck naked, all the time.

Bad food may taste good, possibly even because it's bad, but that doesn't mean the inverse is necessarily true. We don't have to drown the healthy stuff in sugar, dairy or other harmful additives just to get them to taste like all the stuff that makes us sick. Start with good quality produce and you'll find yourself with a meal that's as tasty, filling and interesting as any thoroughly prepared dish—no drenching in dressing required.


Eating berries may stave off memory decline

New study shows that berries may prolong your cognitive abilities

One of the most terrifying prospects of old age is the thought that my mind might go before the rest of me does. I don't much fear dying--hey, we've all got to do it sometime--but the idea of hanging around in a weird, half-conscious limbo where I'm alive but don't recognize any of the people I used to love is really, really scary. I'm the all or nothing sort. I'd rather just peace out in a sudden car crash than wither away with a slowly emptying brain. 

The mechanisms by which brains decay are not 100% understood, but it's generally accepted that mental stimulation works much in the same way physical exercise does: you can do it often to prevent atrophying. Sudoku puzzles, crosswords and FreeCell can all help to stave off the effects of diseases like Alzheimer's. Turns out they're not the only things, either. A new study indicates that a diet rich in berries might help you hold on to your senses for longer. 

The study surveyed more than 16,000 women over the age of 70, asking them questions about their diet and their cognition. The data showed that women who ate at least a half a cup of blueberries or a whole cup of strawberries were lucid for two and a half years longer on average than women who didn't eat berries at all. So if you want to buy yourself some extra thinking time before your grey matter disintegrates, better keep wolfing down those fruits.

To be fair, the study was more expansive than it was strictly scientific. Researchers trusted women to recollect their own eating habits, but had no way of proving that the women who said they ate berries actually did as frequently as they claimed. And the study didn't screen for people with a genetic tendency towards Alzheimer's, nor did it take into account any of the other factors that might contribute to the disease or similar conditions. Some people have also raised eyebrows at the fact that the study was funded in part by the California Strawberry Commission. 

Despite its flaws, the study does seem to make sense with what we know about berries. They contain high levels of antioxidants, which help protect your cells from damage and mutation. That's good news from all kinds of cells, brain cells included. And while they may not be the only great source of antioxidants you can add to your diet--most fresh, whole fruits and vegetables will do the trick--they are a tasty way to brighten up your daily meals. So grab a handful and keep on thinkin'.

Oil of Oregano

My mother has been raving about Oil of Oregano, which is different than the oregano you shake on your pizza, for several months now. I decided to do a little investigating to see exactly what benefits one can derive from this all-natural supplement.

According to the Global Healing Center, Oil of Oregano has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-microbial properties. It can even prevent certain illness when used over the course of time.

My sister and I decided to purchase a bottle of Oil of Oregano in liquid form and give it a try. My mother drips a few drops under her tongue each day, but does admit to adding it to my nephew’s juice because it is very hot. We decided to simply add it to 1 Tablespoon of water and swallow it down. We did it together on a count of three. Everything that touched that spoonful of water instantly went on fire. It was 20 minutes later before I could feel my lips and throat again. It is a good thing this very beneficial supplement is sold in capsule form because there is no chance I’ll be taking it in liquid form every again!

Some things Oil of Oregano are said to aid in are the common cold, sinus congestion, skin infections, and digestion. It also prevents food poisoning, prevents bacterial infections, prohibits the growth of parasites, and is even sometimes used as a pain reliever.

  • Women who are pregnant should not use Oil of Oregano. It can stop the body from absorbing the amount of iron it needs on a daily basis.
  • Individuals who are allergic to sage, basil, and mint may also be allergic to Oil of Oregano.


Homemade Mozzarella Cheese Sticks

There are plenty of fast food dishes that are made healthier simply by cooking them from scratch at home. My kids and I love to eat French fries and mozzarella cheese sticks, but we don’t want to eat them at the expense of our health. This is why we stick to eating our own homemade versions.

You will need the following ingredients to make your own mozzarella cheese sticks:
  • 8 oz. block of mozzarella cheese
  • 4 oz. fat-free milk
  • 8 oz. bread crumbs
  • 16 oz. olive oil

Follow these instructions to create your own mozzarella cheese sticks:

Cut your block of mozzarella cheese into strips that are the length of the block, but only 1 inch in width.

Step 2:
Pour the fat-free milk in one bowl, and the bread crumbs in another bowl right beside it.

Step 3:
Dip the mozzarella cheese stick in the milk to coat it all the way around, and then set it in the bowl of bread crumbs. Roll it around until the bread crumbs cover all sides. Set each stick on a paper plate until you are ready to put them in the frying pan.

Step 4:
Heat up your olive oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Olive oil actually has health benefits, so I prefer that to vegetable oil. It doesn’t affect taste at all.

Step 5:
Set the mozzarella sticks in the heated oil with a pair of tongs so you don’t burn yourself. Cook until all sides are golden brown. Remove with your tongs and set on a couple paper towel sheets. The paper towels will absorb any excess oil.

Step 6:
Serve hot.

Healthy Zucchini Side Dish

I am always looking for a way to make vegetables more appealing to my daughters. I can’t just offer them a zucchini and expect them to get excited. Of course, one thing that never proves to make a vegetable look boring is cheese. That is why I decided to use cheese as my secret weapon in this healthy zucchini side dish recipe.

You will need the following ingredients to make your healthy zucchini side dish:

  • Baking pan
  • Olive oil
  • Zucchini
  • Fresh garlic
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Monterey Jack cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Black olives

Follow these steps to make your healthy zucchini side dish:

Step 1:
Rinse your zucchini off and cut it in half lengthwise. Some people like to refer to these as zucchini boats.

Step 2:
Set your zucchini halves in your baking dish. If you want you can cut them so that you have quarters. I like to do this as each quarter is about the size of what I would serve each of my family members.

Step 3:
In a small bowl combine 1/8 cup of olive oil, 3 garlic cloves diced, and 1 Tablespoon of parmesan cheese. Spread this mixture over your zucchinis.

Step 4:
Place a few diced tomatoes on top of the zucchinis and set in an oven that has been preheated to 350 degrees F.  Cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

Step 5:
Sprinkle a mixture of mozzarella and Monterey Jack cheese over the top of the zucchini halves. Decorate with a few olive slices.

Step 6:
Bake the zucchinis another 5 minutes, or until the cheese completely melts.

Step 7:
Serve hot.