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On the THIRD Day of Christmas–yes, the Third Day…go ahead and google that, I can wait…I offer you a post about OATS. (Better than three French Hens, and easier to prepare, too.)

Why Oats?

Earlier this year, I used my first Inside Tracker test. (I’m reminded of this as I am about to take the next one on Friday.) Inside Tracker tests your blood for certain biomarkers–including the ones your doctor is interested in, such as triglycerides and cholesterol. Each is assigned to green (optimized), yellow (needs work), and red (take action immediately). Based on the results of the blood testing, as well as your goal input, Inside Tracker recommends specific actions you can take to improve those biomarkers (for example, to lower your cholesterol). These actions include food and supplement recommendations to move your biomarkers into the green zone.

One of the foods Inside Tracker recommended for me? Old fashioned rolled oats. Inside Tracker described the purpose like this: “Oats are high in soluble fiber, which can reduce cholesterol levels and raise HDL. A serving is 1/2 cup raw or 1 cup cooked. Enjoy one serving each day.” Being the nerd I am, I immediately started in on the research.

Nature's Path Love Crunch
Nature’s Path Love Crunch, like many granolas, features rolled oats as the main ingredient

Dietary Fiber: Soluble v. Insoluble v. Resistant Starch

First, let’s talk fiber. As I recall, fiber only had two types when I took my freshman nutrition class, but now there are three? Actually, that depends on which source you consult. (If you’re truly interested, the Wikipedia entry on Dietary Fiber breaks it all down for you.) Dietary fiber comes from plants: fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.  In general, dietary fiber is a carbohydrate component of food that cannot be completely broken down by your digestive system.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and makes a gel-like substance. According to the Mayo Clinic, soluble fiber is helpful in controlling blood sugar and can help reduce cholesterol. Sources of soluble fiber: oats, barley, flaxseed, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruit, carrots, psyllium. As the FDA points out, soluble fiber is broken down by bacteria in the intestines, and does provide some calories to the body as a result.

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. This is the fiber that makes up the bulk of feces. It helps move material through your digestive system. Sources of insoluble fiber: whole wheat, wheat bran, beans, cauliflower, green beans. This type of fiber passes through the body undigested, and is not a source of calories.

Resistant starch is a type of insoluble fiber. It can be fermented in the gut. Resistant Starch develops during the heating and then cooling of some foods such as potato, pasta, and rice; it also exists in raw bananas. There are also some grains that were developed specifically for their high resistant starch levels including high amylose corn and high amylose wheat. Foods high in resistant starch often have a low glycemic index, which means they have a relatively lower impact on blood glucose levels.

Sources of fiber. For a list of foods that are good sources of fiber, check out this list by Today’s Dietician.

In addition to positive affects on blood sugar and cholesterol, dietary fiber also regulates bowel movements, and helps create a sense of satiety so you feel fuller when eating less than you would (if you only had low-fiber foods). Fiber also slows the passage of food through the digestive system, which helps you feel full longer after you eat. Researchers are looking at the effects of a high-fiber diet on risk for colon cancer, and how fiber affects the microbiota in the gut, which has implications for obesity prevention. (PubMed has at least a dozen articles on this research.)

All About Oats

As a vegetarian, of course I appreciate fiber–most of what I eat should fall into the high-fiber category, right? Well, not exactly. Processing affects the amount of fiber in foods–and grain processing often removes the fiber! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Oat basics. According to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “Oats, formally named Avena sativa, is a type of cereal grain from the Poaceae grass family of plants. The grain refers specifically to the edible seeds of oat grass[.]” Their page on oats states oats are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, phosphorus, thiamine (also called vitamin B1), magnesium, and zinc. For more, check out Harvard’s page on oats.

More about oats.Oats require a cold climate to grow. Oats do not exist as a Genetically Modified Organism or GMO, so if you are buying oats that have a non-GMO label, you’re paying extra for that label which could be applied to every oat in the universe. Oats themselves have no gluten, and are therefore gluten-free. However, if you have Celiac Disease you should proceed with caution and only purchased oats that are certified gluten-free. This is because (1) oats can be contaminated if they are grown on a field that previously had a gluten-containing crop on them, and (2) oats processed in a facility that also processes gluten-containing products may be cross-contaminated.  (Thanks to the Prairie Oat Growers Association for this data.) Finally, there is some evidence that some people with Celiac Disease may have adverse reactions to oats. This may be because oats contain a protein called avenin, which is similar to gluten.

Types of oats. The Oldways Whole Grains Council has a wealth of information on oats, and has photographs of each of the types of oats, which is helpful in understanding the difference.

  • Whole Oat Groats are the entire grain kernel. They take a long time to cook, and are usually only found in health food stores. If you harvest oats and then take off the hull, that’s a whole oat groat.
  • Steel Cut Oats are whole oat groats that have been cut into pieces (using steel, right?). Irish Oatmeal is steel cut oats.
  • Stone Ground Oats are whole oat groats that have been ground up using stones (traditionally) instead of cut with blades. This results in smaller pieces and a creamier texture when cooked. Scottish Oatmeal is stone ground oats.
  • Rolled Oats are whole oat groats that have been steamed and then smashed flat. This turns them into flakes. When you see oats in oatmeal cookies, those are usually rolled oats. Rolled oats are also called old fashioned oats.
  • Quick Oats and Instant Oats are rolled oats that have been steamed longer and/or ironed into thinner flakes. This makes them cook faster, but changes the texture. Quick oats/instant oats ARE whole oats, and therefore a whole grain.
  • Oat Flour is whole oat groats that have been ground into a flour.

Some non-whole grain forms of oats include oat germ and oat bran. Prior to doing this research, I didn’t realize that rolled oats and quick oats have the same exact content as stone ground oats! Did you?

Research on the benefits of oats

Harvard’s page on Oats (linked above) identifies all sorts of neat health benefits:

  • Beta-glucan (the primary type of soluble fiber inoats) slows digestion, increases feelings of fullness, and suppresses appetite
  • Beta-glucan can bind to cholesterol and help move it out of the body
  • Phenolic compounds and phytoestrogens are antioxidants that reduce chronic inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes

The Harvard page also identifies specific studies about oats and heart disease, diabetes, weight control, and digestive health. The Whole Grains Council—which has more of an interest in promoting the health benefits of oats than Harvard’s School of Public Health—has a page with descriptions and links to studies that reach the following conclusions about oats and health:

  • Oats may reduce asthma in children
  • Oats may boost nutrition in gluten-free diets
  • Oats increase appetite-control hormones
  • Oat beta glucans improve immune system defenses
  • Oats help cut the use of laxatives
  • Oats may help reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes
  • Oats may improve insulin sensitivity
  • Oats lower bad cholesterol
  • Oats help control blood pressure

Adventures in Oats!

Since eating more oatmeal cookies would make me happy but not necessarily advance my health goals, and I don’t have time to cook steel cut oats every morning, I looked into other ways to eat more oats. My initial foray into making “overnight oats” via an online recipe turned out to be…disgusting, in a word.

Oats Overnight items included in the prize
Oats Overnight Blender Bottle and individual serving packets

Oats Overnight.

Since my own overnight oats were terrible, I decided to try some pre-packaged ones. Unlike other types of overnight oats, Oats Overnight is intended to be drinkable. The main ingredient is whole rolled oats. Preparation involves putting a packet into a Blender Bottle minus the plastic blender ball, and adding milk or a liquid of your choice. Pop it in the fridge overnight and poof! Breakfast! Pros:  Added protein. Easy to prepare. There are now a variety of flavors including three vegan options that use pea protein. The oats are certified gluten-free. The “classic” flavors are made with whey protein and the mocha flavor has caffeine. Shaker bottle can be reused an infinite number of times (unless you leave it somewhere hot with milk still in it, in which case the plastic might take on a permanent odor). Cons: If you like to chew your breakfast, this is not your best option. Individual serving packets are not recyclable.

 

Maker Oats
Maker Oats five-pack and glass jar (not included in giveaway prize)

Maker Oats.

Another type of overnight oats, the Maker Oats starter kit comes with a glass jar, but you could easily use any jar (so long as you don’t add too much liquid). Similar to Oats Overnight, you put a packet in the jar, add your milk or plant-based milk, shake, and stick it in the fridge. Poof! Breakfast! The main ingredient is thick cut rolled oats. The consistency is much thicker and more substantial than Oats Overnight. The starter set includes a jar and packets, otherwise you buy a box with packets. Pros: Thick, spoonable oats. If you like them hot, you could easily heat them in their jar (just watch out as glass gets hot). You may find that a single “serving” is enough for two breakfasts. Maker Oats also contain chia seeds. Cons: So far there are only three flavors, so you might get bored. No added protein, so if you use plant-based milk or nut milk this is not a high-protein breakfast. If you have Celiac Disease, these may not be your best choice as they are not certified gluten-free. Like the others, individual serving packets are not recyclable. To date, these are my favorite!

Bob's Red Milll products
Bob’s Red Mill single serve oatmeal and muesli samples

Bob’s Red Mill.

I live in Oregon–how could I not love employee-owned Bob’s? Bob’s Red Mill makes a variety of products containing oats. There are single-serve oatmeal cups (pineapple coconut, fruit and seed, cranberry orange, classic, and gluten-free varieties: blueberry hazelnut, brown sugar & maple, apple cinnamon oatmeal) and bagged multi-serve oatmeal (regular rolled oats, thick rolled oats, steel cur oats, Scottish oatmeal, old fashioned rolled oats, quick rolled oats, and several gluten-free varieties). Pros: multiple options, including both flavored oatmeal and plan oats. Sign up for the mailing list and get coupons by mail. If you’re not into oatmeal, you can try the museli, which also contains oats. Most of the oatmeals also contain flax and chia seeds. Cons: the flavored varieties tend to be higher in sugar than either Maker Oats or Oats Overnight. The single-serve cup packaging is not reusable.

 

The Soulfull Project
The Soulfull Project: eats for me and a donation too? WINNING.

The Soulfull Project.

The Soulfull Project is a certified B-Corporation. The Soulfull Project’s cereals are all multi-grain; as far as I can tell, they all have rye, oats, quinoa, flax, and chia (but I didn’t examine every label so this might not be 100% true). Their big selling point is that for every serving they sell, they donate a serving to a food bank or other community-based group fighting hunger by providing meals, and you can see where their donations go on the website. The Soulfull Project products come in single-serve cups, 5-packs of single servings in plastic bags, and in multi-serving pouches. Pros: All of the products are vegan. Some products are certified gluten-free. If you don’t add too much liquid, the resulting cereal is thick and sticks to your spoon. Single-serve plastic cups might be recyclable (depending on where you live). Cons: The flavored products tend to be higher in sugar than Maker Oats and Overnight Oats (up to 12 grams of sugar).

The Giveaway!

There is ONE prize pack up for grabs to one winner with a United States mailing address. (Sorry international friends, but postage is dear and I don’t know what the rules are for shipping food to various other countries.) This prize is not sponsored by any company or brand, though I received some (but not all) of the contents at trade shows. Contents:

  • Oats Overnight Blender Bottle and 4 individual packets (chocolate peanut butter banana, strawberries & cream, green apple cinnamon, peach upside down cake) (retail value: $22.00)
  • Maker Oats, apple & coconut (one serving package) (retail: $2.00)
  • The Soulfull Project 4 Grain Blend, full size (retail: $6.50)
  • Bob’s Red Mill Oatmeal cup (cranberry orange one serving package)
  • Bob’s Red Mill Fruit & Seed Muesli, 2 servings (one serving packages)
  • Grandy Oats original Coconola coonut granola, grain free (sample size)
  • Better Oats Steel Cut Oats, maple & brown sugar (one serving)
  • Nature’s Path Love Crunch dark chocolate and red berries (sample packet)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The first time I used turmeric, I was cooking from a recipe for an Indian curry in the kitchen of the very first apartment I rented by myself. As I was cleaning up, I spilled some of the curry on the brand-new white linoleum. Immediately I wiped it up but it left a bright yellow spot on the floor. Eek! Terrified to lose any part of my security deposit, I grabbed the first liquid cleaner I could find. The bright yellow? Promptly turned bright purple!!

Fortunately it only took a damp washcloth to wipe away the bright purple. (whew!)

Brightly colored turmeric
The vibrant color of turmeric can stain! Beware!

Turmeric is the hot ingredient du jour, and played a major role at Expo West in 2017 and 2018. Since I’m not a big fan of the “golden milk” flavor, I’m giving away a turmeric prize pack (more on that below), but first I thought I’d do a deep dive into the truth about turmeric.

Disclosure: I received the contents of the Turmeric Taster Prize Pack as a New Hope Blogger Co-op member. All of the content in this post is mine, and none of the brands included even know I am writing this.

Get Your Nerd On!(Or Start Scrolling)

Since I’m an attorney for my day job, let’s start by defining turmeric. In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21 (Food and Drugs), Part 73 (Listing of Color Additives Exempt from Certification), Subpart A (Foods) defines turmeric:

(a) Identity. (1) The color additive turmeric is the ground rhizome of Curcuma longa L. The definition of turmeric in this paragraph is for the purpose of identity as a color additive only, and shall not be construed as setting forth an official standard for turmeric under section 401 of the act. [Bain: Section 401 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act is “Definitions and standards for food.”]

Tur Latte mix
Tur Latte mix–included in the giveaway!

(2) Color additive mixtures made with turmeric may contain as diluents only those substances listed in this subpart as safe and suitable in color additive mixtures for coloring foods.

(b) Uses and restrictions. Turmeric may be safely used for the coloring of foods generally, in amounts consistent with good manufacturing practice, except that it may not be used to color foods for which standards of identity have been promulgated under section 401 of the act, unless the use of added color is authorized by such standards.

(c) Labeling. The color additive and any mixtures intended solely or in part for coloring purposes prepared therefrom shall bear, in addition to the other information required by the act, labeling in accordance with the provisions of 70.25 of this chapter. [Bain: this is the labeling requirements for color additives, other than hair dyes, 21 CFR 70.25]

Golden Turmeric cereal
Golden Turmeric cereal

(d) Exemption from certification. Certification of this color additive is not necessary for the protection of the public health, and therefore batches thereof are exempt from the certification requirements of section 721(c) of the act. [Bain: Section 721 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act is “Listing and certification of color additives for foods, drugs, devices, and cosmetics.”]

21 CFR 73.600 (revised as of April 1, 2017). There is an entire separate definition for “turmeric oleoresin” at 21 CFR 73.615 (which is “the combination of flavor and color principles obtained from turmeric by extraction using any one or a combination of” specified solvents).

Hey, this is what you get when you cross a nerd with a blogger.

If you read that and wondered what the part in (a) is about “definitions and standards for food,” here it is:

Turmeric tea sampler
Multiple companies are making teas infused with turmeric

Whenever in the judgment of the Secretary such action will promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers, he shall promulgate regulations fixing and establishing for any food, under its common or usual name so far as practicable, a reasonable definition and standard of identity, a reasonable standard of quality, or reasonable standards of fill of container. No definition and standard of identity and no standard of quality shall be established for fresh or dried fruits, fresh or dried vegetables, or butter, except that definitions and standards of identity may be established for avocados, cantaloupes, citrus fruits, and melons. In prescribing any standard of fill of container, the Secretary shall give due consideration to the natural shrinkage in storage and in transit of fresh natural food and to need for the necessary packing and protective material. In the prescribing of any standard of quality for any canned fruit or canned vegetable, consideration shall be given and due allowance made for the differing characteristics of the several varieties of such fruit or vegetable. In prescribing a definition and standard of identity for any food or class of food in which optional ingredients are permitted, the Secretary shall, for the purpose of promoting honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers, designate the optional ingredients which shall be named on the label. Any definition and standard of identity prescribed by the Secretary for avocados, cantaloupes, citrus fruits, or melons shall relate only to maturity and to the effects of freezing. [BTW: the official version use “avocadoes” which makes me think former Vice President Quayle did the editing!]

21 USC 341. (You can find all of the nerdy goodness at http://uscode.house.gov in Title 21, Food and Drugs.)

If you don’t care about the legal stuff, start reading here.

Turmeric Taster Prize Pack
Part of the Turmeric Taster Prize Pack

I was surprised to learn there are six different plants called “turmeric” (see the disambiguation page here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turmeric_(disambiguation) The one I care about, of course, is the gold-yellow one: curcuma longa, ”a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae.”

In English, it’s a plant that has underground stem that sends out roots and shoots, and if you separate that piece it can become a new plant (“rhizomatous”). It does not have a permanent woody stem, but has a stem that dies at the end of the growing season like a potato or a carrot (“herbaceous”). While the stem dies at the end of the growing season, a part of the plant survives underground and the plant can grow a new stem in the next growing season (“perennial”). This means that unlike some other plants that Americans have fixated on over the years, it’s unlikely we’re going to accidentally wipe out turmeric.

Uses of Turmeric

As a plant dye, turmeric has been used to dye clothing. (Wikipedia reports it isn’t very good for that purpose as it fades in sunlight, but another site I found claims Asian monks use it to dye their robes.) Turmeric is also used as a dye in food products, as well as in cosmetic products. (According to UKfoodguide.net it is sometimes identified by E100 on labels.) You can find turmeric as a colorant and a featured ingredient in soaps, teas, cheeses, and more.

Penzey’s Turmeric Root

In cooking, the turmeric root is ground up and used as a flavoring. Turmeric is what makes yellow mustard yellow. It flavors and colors a variety of curries. A little turmeric in rice turns the dish yellow and adds a little flavor. If you just run a quick web search, you’ll find millions of recipes that use turmeric. (Here are a bunch from my friends at Luvo, and here is one for roasted carrots that I think looks delicious!)

The part of turmeric that does all the cool things is called curcumin. (Note this is not the same as cumin, which is an entirely different plant.) Curcumin’s chemical formula is (1,7-bis(4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-1,6-heptadiene-3,5-dione),  and it is also called diferuloylmethane; it is a polyphenol. [Hewlings/Kalman for that factoid, and for most of the rest of this paragraph.] Not all that helpfully, Wikipedia explains that polyphenols are “are a structural class of mainly natural, but also synthetic or semisynthetic, organic chemicals characterized by the presence of large multiples of phenol structural units.” Curcumin is also a curcuminoid (which has an equally unhelpful definition for those of us who are not chemistry majors). That category includes curcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, and demethoxycurcumin. The FDA labels curcuminoids “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS), even at amounts much longer than you are ever likely to ingest (12,000/mg day).

Tasty in Curry, Questionable as Medicine?

With all the hype turmeric has gotten in the past few years, you’d think there is a bunch of science backing the effectiveness of turmeric. Nope!

Turmeric tablets
What’s old is new again, as youtheory demonstrates with their Turmeric tablets

Sure, ancient people did not have microscopes and the period table, or even a basic understanding of biology (just look at the history of “hysteria”), but there wasn’t any interest in proving turmeric had health benefits until recently. Call me cynical, but that interest seems to coincide with the natural product manufacturers’ realization that adding a health claim to a turmeric product would make it much more profitable. Saying, “it tastes nice” is one thing, but if you can say “contains anti-oxidants” then you can up the price.

Ready for a total oversimplification of the science? The two main ways curcumin acts within the human body are as an antioxidant and as an anti-inflammatory. There is evidence curcumin acts to reduce markers of oxidative stress in the body. [Hewlings/Kalman]  Oxidative stress and inflammation are like BFFs, and as near as I can tell from reading what’s on PubMed, one can cause the other. There is some evidence curcumin can downregulate (stop the action of) things that cause inflammation. While we’re on the topic of inflammation, that word gets tossed around WAY too much these days, especially in the fake-science and pseudoscience that is running rampant on the internet. You’ve got two ways to know you have real inflammation, and pretty much only two: one, observing something that is inflamed like a bruise or an injured body part or two, diagnostic testing by a qualified medical professional, like a blood test (other tests may be appropriate to diagnose inflammation). If you vaguely feel crummy, you can’t just magically tell inflammation is the cause or get diagnosed over the internet.

Some of the promising research on curcumin (not turmeric) has been for arthritis and the cluster of symptoms known as metabolic sydrome. The Hewlings/Kalman article has a decedent overview and summary of the state of the research up to 2017. Unfortunately, most of the research to date has been animal research, not human research; and while we have some means to logically extrapolate, the results of even well-designed animal studies do not always translate to how a substance actually works in humans.

Turmeric has been used medicinally for a long time, though until recently there wasn’t much research to support the effectiveness. While we now have additional research and data out, the health benefits of turmeric specifically, and curcumin generally, is not as rock-solid as the ads for turmeric-based products would have you believe. Even the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states, “Claims that curcuminoids found in turmeric help to reduce inflammation aren’t supported by strong studies.” [NCCIH]

Important Safety Tips!

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist. As with ANY supplement, herb, vitamin, or mineral you use on a regular basis: tell your doctor! If you’re interested in trying a supplement of any kind and you also take prescription medication, please talk to your doctor or pharmacist first. You’ve probably come across at least one mention of an older person who got sicker or died because they drank grapefruit juice with their medication. There is some evidence that curcumin can affect anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, and interact poorly with GERD and some other health conditions.

natural Factors Muscle Recovery and
natural Factors has an entire line of supplements, the curcuminRich line

Understand this: turmeric is NOT what’s been studied. Remember that all of the studies and papers out there are testing refined curcumin compounds and NOT mere ground-up turmeric like you can buy in the spice section. Turmeric is only about 3% curcumin!! In addition, most of the studies don’t use pure curcumin because the human body can’t simply grab all the goodness out of the curcuminoids; instead, they enhance the bioavailability (making it easier for your body to grab the goods) by adding another substance. One of the more common ways to enhance the bioavailability of the ingredients in certain supplements that I have observed (by reading labels) is something called piperine, which is a substance extracted from black pepper.

Remember, you’re not a lab rat. In addition, most of the studies of curcumin have been done either in petri dishes or in animals–not in people. This makes sense, since it’s unethical to test potential medical things on human being until there is sufficient evidence that (1) it’s safe, and (2) it’s probably going to be effective. After all, if there is a treatment that will definitely cure your cancer, and something that will probably work but if it does not then you will die, it would be cruel to put you in a double-blind study instead of just giving you the treatment that is proven to work. In any case, animal studies can be useful, but human bodies do not respond the same way that mouse bodies (or any other animal bodies) do. Oh, and some of the published studies were retracted due to problems with potential data manipulation (read: lying). [Blakemore]

As with any substance, too much can cause problems. With turmeric, you’re pretty much good to eat your curries every day–remember curcumin is just one component of turmeric. If you’re scarfing down huge quantities of curcumin, like drinking the tea all day and swallowing a fistful of capsules as well, you might have some unfortunate side effects. Most things you eat too much of will cause some tummy troubles, from indigestion and nausea to vomiting and diarrhea. [Hall]

gaia herbs golden milk
“Golden Milk” mixes are readily available in the grocery store

References

Harriet Hall.” Turmeric: Tasty in Curry, Questionable as Medicine.” Science-Based Medicine, June 17, 2014. Available online. This is now four years old, but is a very readable overview.

Susan J. Hewlings and Douglas S. Kalman. “Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health.” Foods. 2017 Oct; 6(10): 92. PMCID: PMC5664031; PMID: 29065496. Available online. Not as old, but much more technical; great for getting your nerd on.

NCCIH (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health), “Turmeric.” https://nccih.nih.gov/health/turmeric/ataglance.htm (This article has a bibliography at the bottom that includes many articles available online.)

Gid-MK. “The Bitter Truth about Turmeric.” January 30 2018. Medium. Super readable, mostly focused on poor (misleading) media coverage of the study on curcumin and Alzheimers.

Erin Blakemore. “What should you make of the health claims for turmeric?” August 20, 2017, Washington Post. A quick read, covers some of the potential problems with studies in curcumin, including that it might be some other compound delivering the claimed benefits.

Turmeric Taster Prize Pack!

There is ONE prize, which consists of the following items:

  • natural Factors Muscle Recovery & Growth Curcumizer  5.5oz (approx. retail $22)
  • gaia herbs golden milk 3.7 oz (approx. retail $15)
  • Golden Goddess Turmeric Chocolate Elixir sample x2, Turmeric Chai Elixir sample x2, and turmeric infused tea sample tin
  • Tea samples: yogi tea Honey Chai Turmeric Vitality, pukka turmeric glow, Republic of Tea turmeric
  • Nature’s Path Golden Turmeric cereal sample x2
  • youtheory Turmeric tablet samples x2
  • Raw and Root Organic Tur Latte Golden Milk Infusion ($22 on Amazon)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Disclosure: The fine folks at Click sent me a canister of CLICK All-In-One Coffee and Protein Drink Mix (caramel, nomnom!), a canister of CLICK Active All-In-One Coffee and Protein Drink Mix, two sample packets of other flavors, and a CLICK logo Blender Bottle. They are also generously providing a giveaway prize! As always, this review is my work, and contains my opinions. I wrote this–there is no ghost-written or “sponsored” content in this post.

Ice, shaker, CLICK, water, GO!

#CoffeeYesCoffee #ButFirstCoffee

Coffee is one of the greatest things on Earth. (If you disagree, you might be reading the wrong blog.) I love, love, love coffee. The best part of my Saturday (after sleeping in!) is grinding whole beans and making a fresh pot, then settling in for a mini-staycation. Coffee, however, is not breakfast. Even with milk and “fixin’s” coffee just doesn’t have the staying power I wish it did, and it definitely doesn’t have the nutrition to be a meal–if you’re drinking a coffeehouse coffee in the morning, it’s basically a sugar-bomb; if you’re drinking it non-fat to “save calories” you’re removing part of what could help your tummy feel satisfied even if I do get that you don’t need your mocha to have 450 calories (that’s a venti Starbucks mocha with 2% milk and whipped cream).

Right before I moved from Oakland to Portland, a friend told me about CLICK, a new drink mix that is real coffee with protein. Not coffee-flavored protein, but coffee with protein. Actual coffee, not faux-coffee. Protein is an important part of breakfast because it helps you feel full. Intrigued, I dashed off an email to the founders to learn more. Naturally the box with the goodies arrived right as I was moving and everything was in chaos, so I set it aside instead of tearing into it immediately. (This was not easy. I love opening boxes!)  I decided to wait until the road trip part of the move, for two reasons. One, taking CLICK with me meant I would have an easy breakfast every day. (Important when you are driving hundreds of miles with a cat and his many accessories.) Two, there is some data that starting a new habit while away from home will help you carry that habit over when you get home. (If you’ve read any books about habits and willpower, I’m sure you already know a few things about habit change. If you haven’t, I highly recommend Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonical, and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. They tread some of the same ground, but approach the topic from different angles.)

With traffic at a dead-stop for the visible mile ahead, so glad I had breakfast with me!

As an adult, I’ve become a serial breakfast skipper. (Or should that be cereal? I snap, crackle, pop myself up!) I know my body pretty well, and I can definitely feel my work and workouts suffer when I skip breakfast or just have coffee. When I skip breakfast, I am generally super ravenous by the time lunch rolls around, ready to stuff All The Foods into my face. As annoying as moving is–don’t ever move, ever–I decided to leverage the move as a life re-set. In “my new life” I have enough breakfast to make my body happy until lunch. While I doubted the CLICK literature asking if my coffee pot felt neglected (because no way am I giving up coffee!), I was game to try it.

Wait, what’s in CLICK? CLICK is an instant drink mix made from real coffee. (I promise, it tastes NOTHING like that bland “instant coffee” or “freeze dried coffee” stuff your parents had in the 1970s.) CLICK is intended to be a breakfast (or other meal or snack) replacement, though you can drink it in place of any regular coffee drink (saving calories and adding nutrition). In addition to two shots of espresso, CLICK has protein and 23 essential vitamins and minerals. Yes, it has sugar, but not much (5g per serving). If you make it with water, a serving is 110 or 120 calories, depending on which flavor you choose and how much you use. (If two scoops is too much flavor for you, try using just one scoop. My sweet spot is around one and a half scoops.) To make CLICK, you put CLICK in water and shake/stir. You can make it with milk or a milk substitute. You can make it hot or cold. You can make it fancier in a blender. You can make it in a box, you can make it with a fox! Oh, wait. Wrong story. Carrying on… CLICK is NOT for you if: One, you are vegan. CLICK contains milk. (If you’re interested and enough other people pester them too, I bet a vegan CLICK could be in the works.) Two, you are allergic to soy. CLICK contains soy-based ingredients. Three, you hate coffee. CLICK is coffee. If you hate coffee, can we even be friends?!?

The first taste test: cold-ish. It sounds silly now, but the first time I mixed CLICK I panicked. What if I don’t like it? What if it tastes weird? It sounds silly for many reasons, but at that moment I was on a very tight budget and this is what I had planned for breakfast. (Plus I had agreed to write an honest review, and no one likes to have to tell someone “hey I tried your product and it was icky.”) To me, a yucky breakfast is almost worse than no breakfast at all. The number one thing I fear in a drink mix is grittiness, and most drinks mix better in warmer rather than colder water, so I started with cold-ish water. I was particularly worried  because I was using water as a base, which would make any grit even grittier. If you’ve ever had protein powder, I’m sure you know what I mean–there’s nothing like drinking a glass of sand. Cautiously, I put the shaker ball into the Blender Bottle, added CLICK, added water, closed the lid (very important step!), and gave it a few shakes. It quickly dissolved. I took a deep breath, followed by an itty-bitty baby sip and…

IT WAS DELICIOUS!

First, the flavor was delicious. The caramel tasted like a fancy cold coffee drink treat. Second, CLICK dissolved completely. The resulting drink had a 100% smooth, completely liquid consistency without any lumps. There was NO grittiness at all, not even a little bit, and no weird crunchy bits left at the bottom (you know, those weird protein powder dregs). I quickly hoovered the remainder. Afterwards I felt like I’d had a coffee drink, and a little breakfast. My tummy was happy until lunch.

Icy cold coffee! The next day, I decided to try iced CLICK. The container said I could ice it, but I wasn’t sure I believed (yet). Also, some drinks are much better if you make them hot and ice them later. Since this was a test, I put the mixer ball in the Blender Bottle, filled the cup with ice, added CLICK, and then filled the cup with water (as cold as the tap would allow). After putting on the lid and shaking, I was shocked that CLICK dissolved completely! Even though it dissolved well at room temperature, I honestly thought it would be a little sandy-tasting when iced. Nope! I really like CLICK icy cold, so this is how I have been making it ever since. I’m still amazed that a powdered drink mix with protein dissolves this well without using an electric blender.

How much do I love CLICK?

Portability is key for breakfast on the go

For starters, I’ve continued to start every work day with iced CLICK (except the days I have been out of town–I need to get some little containers to put single servings in so I’m not relying on single-serve packets or plastic bags). I had planned to try making a hot CLICK, but Portland has been pretty warm since I moved and the thought of commuting on MAX with a hot beverage is not appealing. (That will change, I know!) When I reached the bottom of the canister, I hustled over to the website for more. As a result, I’m happy to report the vanilla latte flavor is also very yummy. (I haven’t opened the chocolate yet, as it seems overly decadent to have three canisters open at once.) Not only did I spend my own money on this–no special discount code or anything–I opted to buy the four-pack of canisters (and it comes with a cute hot drink mug). This is not a fling, my friends, this is a long-term relationship. I might need to go change my Facebook status. (My coffee pot is super jealous. I haven’t purchased a single bag of coffee beans since I moved.)

CLICK Active is another super yummy coffee-based drink mix with protein. CLICK Active is designed to take advantage of that magical post-workout “window of opportunity” when your (now worked-out and tired) muscles are extra-ready to suck in the nutrition to help repair and build muscle. You can read more about post-workout nutrition in general on my favorite nutrition site, Precision Nutrition. In a a nutshell, in a post-workout situation, nutrition helps the body to replenish glycogen, decrease protein breakdown, and increase protein synthesis. That’s what CLICK Active aims to do–and it’s still a better plan nutritionally than a venti mocha. CLICK Active has protein plus branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are the building blocks of protein, and therefore also of muscles. BCAAs are more easily digested than protein (which your body has to work to break down into amino acids before your body can use them).

The difference between CLICK and CLICK Active is basically the difference between a meal replacement drink and a recovery drink. No, the two are NOT the same thing! Think of CLICK as a low calorie breakfast or snack to help keep you on track nutritionally, and CLICK Active as a post-workout drink that helps your muscles recover. You can read more about the difference on the CLICK website’s blog. The CLICK website has all sorts of useful information, including a weight-loss plan (focused on portion sizes, making good choices, and exercise!) and recipes for shakes and snacks (coffee protein CLICK pop, anyone?).

My cat observed, “She haz a sad.”

How much do YOU love CLICK?

You won’t know until you try it, right? So you should enter to win it!

My new friends at CLICK are offering one prize: your choice of a canister of CLICK or CLICK Active, in the flavor of your choice (assuming availability) and a snazzy purple CLICK branded Blender Bottle to go with it.

Since I practice law and all, here are the rules: (1) this contest is not sponsored or endorsed or in any way affiliated with any social media outlet (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap, Tumblr, Pinterest, mySpace, Livejournal, or anything else you can name); (2) there is no purchase necessary to enter; (3) entrants must be 18 or older because I don’t want to violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and because in the U.S. minors can’t enter into a binding contract, and because teenagers don’t need to start the day with two shots of espresso; (4) there is one prize and will be one winner, who will be required to submit their shipping address for prize delivery purposes; (5) the winning entrant will be contacted by email, and must respond to that email within three days or a new winner will be selected; (6) this contest is void where prohibited (I’m pretty sure that still includes Quebec, sorry!); (7) if I missed any major legal points I reserve the right to add them here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I attended Natural Products Expo West on a Press pass. This post is not sponsored, endorsed, written, paid-for, etc. by Expo West (or any related entity) or any of the companies and products discussed below. The giveaway prize consists of samples I picked up at the Expo or purchased. Per usual, the topic was my idea and the opinions are all mine. Happy reading!

Chickpeas are everywhere this year. (Beets too, but that’s another post.) At Expo West I saw chickpeas in soups, ready-to-eat meals, baked goods, flour, chips, puffed snack foods, frozen snacks and entrees, and pretty much every category (other than beverages–maybe next year?). I’m not sure if I’m obsessed with chickpeas because I never ate them as a kid, so as an adult they are still a novelty, or because I know they are packed with protein and fiber, making them a great addition to my eating plan.

These are my favorites:

Vana Green Chickpea Superfood Bowls

Vegan, certified gluten-free, soy-free, non-GMO

There are so many good things to say about these that I don’t want to forget the most important: they are yummy! Vana Life Foods makes four varieties, each featuring green chickpeas: chipotle, black beans, and sweet corn; chimichurri, coconut, and butternut squash; kale, potato, rosemary, tomato; coconut, lime, cilantro, bell pepper, sweet potato. I’m not going to lie, I took lousy notes as I tasted my way across the expo, so I can’t remember which one was my favorite. The kale/potato/rosemary/tomato was sort of Italian-food inspired, not too zesty, with the kale sufficiently hidden that I didn’t feel like I was chewing on the lawn. The coconut/lime/cilantro/bell pepper/sweet potato also has lemongrass in it, and the flavor reminded me a little bit of Thai food. The chipotle/black bean/sweet corn has a vaguely Cuban flavor about it, zippy but not so spicy that it puts your mouth on fire. Finally, the chimichurri/coconut/butternut squash has to be South-American-inspired (as google tells me chimichurri sauce comes from Argentina).

If you open the package at the notches and microwave it, the bottom part of the package serves as a bowl.

Don’t fear the green chickpea. If you’ve never eaten one, pretend it’s like the first time you ate green pasta, or colored frosting. Why are they green? As Vana’s website explains:

A green chickpea is a garbanzo bean harvested from the vine in its optimal nutritional state that is immediately blanched and flash frozen to preserve all its inherent goodness. That’s because when it’s green, the flavorful young legume is packed with protein, fiber, A, B, and C vitamins, and minerals—while being low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Basically, it’s a superfood at its best.

Seattle-based Vana won the Expo West NEXTY (sort of like an Oscar for natural food) for Best New Packaged Food. The shelf-stable pouch has two places you can tear across the top to open (little notches help you tear it properly). Tear at the top line to pour out into a bowl, pan, etc. Tear at the bottom line if you want to keep the food in the package and microwave it–it turns into a bowl! (This is really a pretty cool trick.) There is no BPA in the packaging, and it is recyclable.)

When I left the booth, I told the great folks at Vana that there were only two things wrong with their product: (1) there are only four flavors (for now–looking forward to next year!), and (2) there aren’t any in my office desk drawer. The website has a store locator. You can also buy these green chickpea pouches through the Vana website, or via various other online vendors (e.g. Jet, Amazon). The price varies, but is generally $4-5; on the Vana website, a single pouch is $4.99 while a six pack of the same flavor is $26.94 (cheap compared to eating lunch out, even if you factor in the additional cost of a piece of fruit or side and a drink).

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Banza: Pasta Made From Chickpeas

Gluten-free, kosher, soy-free, allergy-friendly, produced in a nut-free facility, vegan (except for the mac n cheese varieties)

Technically this one is “cheating” since I first met Banza at IDEA last summer, but they were at Expo West this year.  (In 2015 Banza won the “People’s Choice” NEXTY at Natural Products Expo East.) You know how when you make traditional pasta you can eat a bowl the size of your butt, and then you still want seconds? So you love pasta, but maybe think you shouldn’t eat it so often? Banza is your dream, baby. Over 90% of the pasta is chickpeas, and the protein and fiber ensure that not only do you have to eat a smaller portion, you aren’t going to be starving and go back for seconds (or thirds). Banza cooks like regular pasta, though the water might foam up a tiny bit more (because hey, chickpeas). Just like regular pasta, you have to keep an eye on it towards the end to make sure it comes out al dente and not all mushy.

My personal favorite is the rotini shape, which I douse in warm italian spaghetti sauce mixed with Beyond Beef crumbles and then top with grated parmesean or mozarella shreds. (The ridges on the rotini help hold the saucey goodness.) Banza also make macaroni/elbows, spaghetti, penne, and shell shapes, and offers four varieties of mac and cheese. My favorite thing about Banza is that unlike several other non-wheat pastas I have tried, this one has the right toothiness to it, so when you chew it is just like chewing regular pasta.

Banza started in Detroit in 2013 with a non-cook 23-year-old kid messing with his food (or so the legend goes). I love a scrappy start-up with a great product, but I’m not sure you can call Banza a start-up anymore, since you can buy their pasta in Target and they are part of the inaugural class of the Chobani Food Incubator. At any rate, you can find Banza in 2,700+ stores in the US and Canada, including Shop Rite, meijer, HEB, Wegmans, Sprouts, Fairway, Marianos, Whole Foods (select regions–but if you bug the manager at your local store you can probably get it too), and Eataly. You can also buy from various online sellers such as Thrive Market ($2.95/box), where prices are $3-5, or buy directly from the Banza website (6 boxes for $30 though if you choose the subscription option, you also save 20%).

Hippeas: the vegan improvement on cheese puffs

Certified gluten-free, vegan, corn-free, and have no added MSG, trans-fats, or artificial preservatives

Clear, clean, consistent messaging from Hippeas

If you were at Expo West, it was really hard to miss the cute Hippeas swag themed to match their packaging. The Hippeas booth was strategically located at the corner of the room closest to the door, so a ton of people hit it up immediately when the Expo opened for the day, meaning tons of bright yellow bags with smiles on them (the eye is a chickpea, of course). If you weren’t at Expo West, you may have seen Hippeas at Starbucks and wondered what’s inside those yellow bags. The best I can put it, it’s a crunchy snack with the texture of those cheap cheesy puffs but with unusual flavors and a MUCH better nutrition profile.

Hippeas flavors include far out fajita, sriracha sunshine, vegan white cheddar, maple haze, pepper power, and happenin’ hickory. Far out fajita–the flavor I’m putting in the prize pack–is described as “A fiery stash of chilli, paprika and cumin puffs to take on your journey to self-discovery” on the website. They are definitely flavorful, so you might want to watch out what you pair them with! A single serving has 4g protein and 3g dietary fiber. It’s not the same as eating the chickpea, but it’s a definite snack improvement.

Hippeas also gives back. You can head to their website and read about current initiatives, including their support for Farm Africa. Oh, and they are hiring.

Chickpeatos: a crunchable munchable

Organic, kosher, gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO

When I tasted these in the fresh ideas pavilion, I was trying to describe the new Popped Chickpeatos to the guy working the booth. “They are like a Cheeto but made of chickpeas!” Um, duh, that’s why they are called ch-ickpea-tos. I immediately felt stupid and stuffed some more chickpeatos into my mouth so I had to stop talking.

Popped Chickpeatos

The non-popped Chickpeatos are roasted–NOT deep fried–in olive oil (except for the cinnamon toast flavor, which is roasted in coconut oil). Right now you can buy rosemary, spicy cayenne, and tomato basil (and cinnamon toast). They don’t have a lot of fussy ingredients; for example, here’s what’s on the ingredients list for rosemary chickpeatos: chickpeas, olive oil, rosemary, salt, garlic powder. Most of the ingredients are organic.

the not-popped Chickpeatos

Chickpeatos are great by themselves (I know, I tried them all!) but the company that makes them, Watusee, also has great recipes on the blog. How about chickpeatos instead of croutons? How about a recipe to use up the spices and crumbs that remain in the bag when you’re done? Check the blog. They have you covered. Watusee also makes a one-ingredient bread crumb substitute: chickpea crumbs! Anything you would use bread crumbs or panko on, you can use chickpea crumbs. It’s a sneaky way to add a wee bit of protein and fiber to any dish. Watusee also works to fight food insecurity–a huge problem in the United States–by donating products and supporting the Capitol Area Food Bank and D.C. Central Kitchen.

Chickpeatos have some nutritional punch that makes them better than your average chip. One serving has 6g protein and 5g fiber. A case of 12 bags (5 oz, 5 servings per container) purchased directly from Watusee is currently $45. They charge a flat $5 to ship.

 

 

But Wait! There’s More!

Chef Soraya can make my lunch any day–great to stash at work!

I could literally go on for another two blog posts on all the ways I saw chickpeas at Expo West. For example, I haven’t even mentioned hummus yet! Truitt Family Foods is a brand I knew before Expo West, as they were a BlogFest sponsor. I am a huge fan of the Fiesta Chili Lime hummus in go-cups (which I eat completely, then rinse the container to recycle it). Technically that flavor isn’t a chickpea product (the base is white beans and Greek yogurt, but the go-cups don’t require refrigeration), but I love it so much I had to mention it. I also visited Hope Foods, who I first met at Expo West last year and have subsequently seen at various race expos. If you haven’t tried the coconut curry hummus (or the frozen dessert hummus–yes! it’s a think!), try them at your first opportunity. Their booth always has so much energy, and they make all sorts of unusual flavors (lemon peppercorn, kale pesto, spicy avocado, to name a few).

Lilly’s hummus to go packs

This year I tried Lilly’s Hummus for the first time. Super smooth, based in Oregon, what’s not to love? My favorite is the roasted red pepper, and I just learned Lilly used hazelnut briquets (not the nuts, just the shells) to do the roasting. Great re-use of what is otherwise a “waste” product.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hummus Pods are a brilliant way to enjoy hummus warm (and with tidy fingers)

But instead of going on and on, how about a giveaway?

Crunchy chickpeas! (Not in the prize pack, but I had a picture…)

Chickpeas Prize Pack! The prize pack includes a full-sized box of Banza penne, Hippeas swag (tote and buttons), Hippeas 4oz bag in far out fajita, Maya Kaimal chickpea chips in lightly salted flavor, Biena foods chickpeas in sea salt, information on Watuse Chickpeatos and Vana Life Foods, and misc. other Expo West goodies (to fill the box, because partially empty boxes are sad). Again, this prize is NOT sponsored, endorsed, whatever by any of the companies included. There is one Chickpeas Prize Pack. Open to mailing addresses in the United States and Canada only (sorry everyone else, but postage…)

Runner-up Prize Pack! This prize pack will consist of a selection of snacks and goodies from the Expo West show. It’s a pot-luck assortment, and will likely include some exotic chips, nuts, and fruit snacks. Again, there is one Runner-up Prize Pack. Again, open to mailing addresses in the United States and Canada only.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: this is NOT a sponsored post (no compensation, product, or freebies were offered to entice me to write it), and is neither written nor endorsed by Good Farms. Per usual, the choice of subject matter and all of the opinions here are mine. This is the first of my posts inspired by #ExpoWest 

This weekend was the industry meeting, trade show, and adult trick-or-treating extravaganza known as Natural Products Expo West: a gathering of more than 100,000 people with exhibits/booths for more than 3,000 companies. For 2017, I can’t think of a better find to spotlight than Good Farms. Remember my last post about food waste? I had a lot of conversations around food waste at Expo West (which itself produces quite a bit of waste, but that’s a subject for another time). One of the most promising trends in the natural foods space is using “waste” products instead of putting them in the trash. (All that fancy coconut water people are sipping? Did you ever think about where the rest of the coconut goes?)

Enticed by strawberry juice! Friday morning I made my way to the Arena section, an entire room I missed last year, when I came upon a booth decked out in strawberries with a video slide show. If you know me, you know I’m a total strawberry junkie: I have fond memories of spending a day each summer picking strawberries with my family at Blessed’s Strawberry Farm (“one for the basket, two for me”) and filling the “way back” of the station wagon with berries; when I lived in Oregon I anxiously awaited the annual Burgerville strawberry milkshake season; most recently I wait for the spring farmer’s markets to open so I can buy directly from the farmers. When I saw strawberries, I was drawn like a bee to a blossom and let me tell you–SO worthwhile!

Right,back to the juicy goodness. Good Farms’ cold-pressed, organic strawberry juice is simply wonderful. You can smell the strawberries as the cup nears your face (since the juice is not heated, the volatile organic compounds that create the strawberry’s aroma remain mostly intact). The juice tastes just like biting into a strawberry, minus the pulp and seeds. It is very flavorful–I could see using a few splashes in my fizzy water to make a refreshing mocktail. While I didn’t check the nutrition label, I know it is fruit juice…so I’m glad it comes in 14.5 ounce bottles instead of gallons (as otherwise I’d drain the whole jug much too quickly). If you’d like to get your hands on some, try Costco, Whole Foods, Chick-fil-A, Panera, and meijer. (Note those are the Good Farms partners, not necessarily all of them will have the strawberry juice, which is currently in limited production.)

Boxed berries with a glass of the juice

Ugly reject strawberries make great juice. That’s because there are nothing wrong with the strawberries, which come from organic strawberry farms in Mexico; they simply don’t meet the beauty standards supermarkets set for strawberries. Using these berries instead of treating them like garbage not only results in delicious juice, it also makes sure farmers get paid for their crop, farmworkers can earn a better wage (more sold produce = higher profit = more money to pay wages), and it is a responsible use of the resources that went into farming the berries in the first place (including water, soil/dirt/land, and labor). Finally, it prevents the berries from ending up in a landfill, where they would either remain intact for centuries (as in a standard landfill, where the ever-increasing materials on top deprive those on the lower levels of the air necessary to rot), or decay and produce gases and contribute to climate change (if put onto a dump-style trash pile).

But wait, there’s more! If you’re following along to this point, you may have the same question I had: “Wait, after the strawberries are juiced, what happens to the smushed-up berry parts?” That’s wasted, right? WRONG! At Expo West I had the opportunity to talk to some of the Good Farms project team. The great guys in the booth were kind and patient with all of my questions. They explained that the juice project is currently a small operation–two trucks of berries per week–because it is important to get the process, production, and finished product done well before scaling up. (That way you can scale as time and resources permit, staying true to your original vision.) They are working to connect the farms with secondary markets for the smashed berry parts, such as companies that make all-fruit frozen pops. I imagine those berries would also be useful to companies that make yogurt, smoothies, and dried fruit products.

It’s not just about the strawberries–it’s about the farmers. Every piece of produce has people behind it. In the US, we have typically treated farm workers poorly. While I haven’t studied the socio-economics of why, I imagine the shift from slave labor to poorly paid sharecropper labor (read: racism and the resulting racial and economic inequality) play a role. The framers of the US Constitution were landed, white gentry who definitely thought themselves more valuable and worthy than everyone else (e.g. the First Nations who already lived in the Americas, slaves, indentured servants, women). The Good Farms strawberry farms are in Mexico; in the US the workers who pick strawberries are almost always migrant farm workers, typically without access to education, social services, or medical care. Farm workers tend to move to follow the crops (where the work is), which means children who should be in school may be in multiple schools each school year, every year, making them more likely to fall behind academically and less likely to graduate from high school or pursue higher education. Female farm workers are subject to a high level of sexual harassment and assault, often at the hands of the bosses who are supposed to be protecting them. One report I heard on NPR (morning of 3/13/17) estimated that 45% of the farm workers in California are undocumented, which means they don’t enjoy many of the legal protections that US workers are entitled to, such as minimum wage, rest periods, and meal breaks. It also means that women who are sexually harassed or abused are less likely to seek help for fear of being deported and separated from their children. California only recently (since I moved here in 2008) passed laws mandating access to shade and clean drinking water for farm workers. We’ve got a LONG way to go here.

Good Farms is moving the needle. Good Farms is a stakeholder in the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI). You can read more about EFI on their website, but the basic gist is this: treating workers better (through fair wages and labor practices, access to education, sensible pesticide policies, proper protective equipment and safety protocols) is the right thing to do. EFI goes beyond third-party audits (like when OSHA shows up to spot-check your operation) by creating an on-farm team that is responsible for implementation and maintenance of their program. EFI partners include the United Farm Workers Union and Oxfam America. This is true of all of their farms, not just the strawberry farms. The Good Farms strawberry farms are also fair trade, certified by Fair Trade USA. You probably don’t even consider whether terrorists or slave-labor was involved in producing the food on your plate, but Good Farms does: C-TPAT (Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism) helps them keep terrorists and terrorism out of the food chain by working with companies to protect and secure cargo, and with CIERTO to create transparent, safe labor contracts and help eliminate slavery. (Maybe you’ve heard about child slave labor used to obtain cacao? Slavery isn’t just a chocolate problem.)

I couldn’t capture the entire slide show, but you get the idea

A few other notables. Good Farms works with Feeding America and other food banks to donate produce instead of wasting it (not just strawberries, of course), to the tune of 350,000 pounds in 2016. They have outside auditing for their organic standards (CCOF) and food safety (PrimusGFS). Good Farms helps their farmers in Mexico by partnering with Mexican social responsibility programs that educate workers on their rights and how to exercise them; they help undocumented Mexicans living in Mexico obtain birth certificates (because without them, you can’t fully participate or exercise your rights–yet many economically disadvantaged Mexicans have never had a birth certificate). Good Farms partnered with Costco to provide disaster relief. With IEEA they provide education to farmworkers, by giving children backpacks with school supplies they reduce barriers to childhood education, and by maintaining websites and consumer outreach they teach us how to eat more vegetables and enjoy them.

Food security is a privilege. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you are a lot like me: safe place to sleep tonight, not worried about where my next meal is coming from, enough income from my relatively-cushy job (where I do not perform manual labor in a hunched-over position like the farm workers in this video on the UFW facebook page) to make discretionary purchases, leisure time to pursue personal interests. I’ve never gone to bed hungry because I have always had access to plenty of food. My parents had access to education and paved the way for my life, where I had even better opportunities. Most of the world is not so lucky. I’m willing to pay a little more for a quality product that improves the lives of those whose work produces the food on my table, because I can.

How about you?

 

How much food do YOU waste?

Yes, I agree that “clean your plate” is a dated rule (better option: “watch how much you put on your plate in the first place”), but I’m betting that’s the first thing the term “food waste” brought to mind. Most Americans likely associate food waste with at-home table scraps, or restaurant leftovers that go from plate to trash. The problem is much, much bigger than that. In August 2012, the Natural Resources Defense Council published an issue paper titled Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40% of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill. You read that right, FORTY percent. What I found most shocking is that most of that 40% has nothing to do with throwing out leftovers or not doggy-bagging your restaurant leftovers!

Some of Hungry Harvest’s offerings

Why you care about food waste:

  • 80% of the fresh water used in the United States is used for agriculture (source) and roughly 25% of the entire fresh water supply is used to produce food that gets wasted (source)
  • roughly 50% all produce in the United States is thrown away—some 60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce annually (source) and up to 1/3 of all food produced world-wide (source)
  • about 1 billion unpeeled/unopened food items are discarded annually in American schools (source)
  • wasted food that goes to landfills–not all of us have access to composting–generates methane (source); food waste has a carbon footprint of 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases, making food wastage the third top GHG emitter after the U.S. and China (source)
  • the United States produces enough food to sustain roughly 860 million hungry people, more than twice the amount needed to feed the true population of the United States (source) yet in 2015 42.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households [that means, roughly, they are not certain that food will be on the table for all upcoming meals] including 29.1 million adults and 13.1 million children (source)
  • Food Waste and Hunger Facts

But forget about the doggy-bagging and leftovers, as a whopping 38% (source) or more is wasted before it even has the opportunity to be eaten! Ever wonder why all the apples, in the grocery store are about the same shape and size? Or the carrots are all straight and about the same length? It’s because the nonconforming, weird-looking, too-big, too-small pieces are THROWN AWAY. It’s bad for farmers–they don’t get paid for the goods they grew–and it’s bad for the environment and the planet.

How can YOU reduce food waste?

Easy! Buy ugly produce! In California (SF Bay Area, now rolling out neighborhood by neighborhood in LA!), and UPDATE! Oregon too! check out Imperfect Produce (scroll down to score $10 in free goods!). In Baltimore, D.C., Virginia, Philadelphia, New Jersey and the surrounding areas check out Hungry Harvest (see below for a discount code!). Both are small businesses fighting food waste AND hunger. What do they sell? Hungry Harvest calls their produce “recovered” and explains it this way:

“Recovered” produce comprises fruits and vegetables that are perfectly fine to eat, but would have otherwise been thrown away. Recovered produce is often discarded because of aesthetic imperfections (think misshapen eggplants or off-color apples) or logistical inefficiencies (when grocery stores over-order produce, they can reject truckloads, and that usually gets thrown away).

Imperfect Produce calls their produce “ugly” but wants to assure you it tastes the same:

The produce we source is rejected purely for cosmetic reasons, meaning that taste and nutrition aren’t affected. Common reasons for produce being classified as “ugly” are: too small, wrong color, misshapen. We only source the most delicious fruits and vegetables, and we have strict quality-control measures in place to ensure that what ends up on your doorstep is fresh, delicious, and nutritious. If we wouldn’t eat it, we won’t sell it. We’re redefining BEAUTY in produce, not taste! And if for whatever reason you’re not satisfied with an item in your box, we will either replace it or refund the cost of the box that week.

It’s a win-win-win. Farmers get paid for produce that would otherwise become garbage. You get cheaper produce that may (or may not) look funny. Both companies donate produce to fight hunger, too! It works something like this:

My Imperfect (Perfect!) Experience

My neighborhood’s delivery day is Saturday, so I have until 3:00 Wednesday to customize my box. I get a small box of fruits and vegetables, since I travel a lot and live by myself. The basic cost (if I get whatever was assigned to the box that week) is $11-13 plus a small delivery charge ($2.99). On Monday or Tuesday I get a reminder email to check in and customize my box. (There is an option to not customize the box–surprise!–but since I’m picky I don’t often use that; you can also opt for just only fruit or only vegetables.) One of the things I like is that I can decide how much of something to get, and the Imperfect site tells me why it is “imperfect” as well as where it originated. Right now, Imperfect works mostly with larger family farms in California, but they are also working to source produce from Mexico and smaller family farms. I’m really excited to see what they can do!

Does anything in here look “imperfect” to you?? (My box this week)

My box this week had 1 pound of organic brussels sprouts, a blood orange, 2 pounds of carrots, 1 pound of creamer potatoes, a grapefruit, 1 pound of onions, a 1/2 pound of red bell peppers, romaine lettuce, 1 pound of mangoes (rejected for being too small, I can easily hold one in my hand), and 1 pound of organic lemons. I paid just $15.39, including the delivery charge. There were a ton of other choices, too. Each box also includes the “Weekly Beet,” a card that introduces a team member, gives a quick fact about one of the items offered that week (the asian pears offered the week of September 19th would have been rejected due to scarring and were grown in Kingsburg, CA), and a tasty recipe. Some of the recipes I have received are Blue Cheese and Asian Pear Tartines, Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps, Celery Root and Carrot Soup, Lebanese Pumpkin Hummus, and Fuyu Persimmon Salad. (You can find more recipes at imperfectproduce.com/recipes)

Some of the cards from my Imperfect Produce boxes

The pre-Thanksgiving box included a recipe booklet. Imperfect Produce does fun things, too. Once we got googly eyes in the box to decorate for a contest, and they recently sponsored a contest with Cape & Cowl, donating an additional five pounds of produce to the Alameda County Food Bank for every entry. I can easily set my box to “temporary stop” for vacation. I try to remember to set out my empty boxes Friday night, as Imperfect Produce can re-use them.

To score a $10 discount on Imperfect Produce: when you sign up for your first delivery, put my name (Elizabeth Bain) in the “referred by” box at checkout. (I hope you don’t mind that as an Imperfect Produce customer, this gets me $10 too.)

Hungry (for a) Harvest?

Clearly, I don’t live in Baltimore, D.C., Virginia, Philadelphia, New Jersey and the surrounding areas, so I’m not a Hungry Harvest customer–but if I lived there, I would be! I found Hungry Harvest on Twitter, and I’m thrilled to see there are other organizations doing the work Imperfect Produce does in other parts of the country. (I was extra excited to see they scored a deal on Shark Tank, which also helped fund some of my other favorite small businesses, including Wild Friends nut butters and Bombas socks.)

The Shark Tank set-up

So while I don’t have first-hand experience, it looks like Hungry Harvest shares pretty much all of the characteristics of Imperfect Produce. Delivery days are assigned by zip code, and there is a modest delivery charge. You can even have your produce delivered to your  office! Hungry Harvest also offers add-ons (Imperfect Produce has these on a variable basis). Add-ons include products from other food makers that could go to waste while still being perfectly good to consume: fresh baked bread, coffee, granola, peanut butter, jam, pesto, and produce staple add ons (lemons, limes, etc.).

Sample box from Hungry Harvest

Like Imperfect Produce, Hungry Harvest sources mostly local produce but is also reaching out to prevent food from going to waste, offers organic options, allows you to customize your box (and choose a size), has easy cancellation/temporary hold, and shares recipes to use your yummy produce. For every box they deliver to a paying customer like you, Hungry Harvest donates 1-2 pounds of produce to those in need. Hungry Harvest has a unique partnership called “Produce in a SNAP,” a partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools to bring fresh, affordable produce to food deserts to promote healthy eating and fight hunger. The program allows food-insecure families and individuals who could benefit from affordable produce, including those on government assistance programs such as SNAP/EBT, WIC, and SSDI, to stretch their food budgets and put nutritious produce on their dinner table. (I cribbed that from their website, because I couldn’t say it better.)

Hungry Harvest can’t reuse the boxes, but can pick them up for recycling if you don’t have access to recycling. (No recycling? Seriously, the 1970s called and they want their wasteful environmental policies back.)

To score a discount on Hungry Harvest: enter code TRAINWITHBAIN at checkout.

 

Beyond Eating?

You know you can also support your local farmers’ market, especially if you don’t have an Imperfect Produce or Hungry Harvest nearby. (Most don’t have beauty pageant standards for their produce, so the weirdos can show up there.)

You can commit to less food waste in your household: freeze small amounts of vegetables for use in soups and stews, chop and freeze that onion before it goes bad, share with a neighbor. Compost food scraps using a commercial service if available, or a backyard compost or under-sink worm bin.

Local and state laws have a HUGE impact on how much produce gets wasted. The NRDC report details a few items you might watch for and ideas to reduce food waste. These include tax breaks for farmers that donate produce instead of trashing it, laws that allow individuals to donate produce from their home gardens directly to food banks (this is huge in California, where one lemon tree can shower an entire block with lemons), and changes in food labels’ use of terms like “sell by,” “best by,” and “use by” (currently under discussion at the federal level in the United States).

How do you save the vegetables?

Disclosure: Earlier this year, I received complimentary Luvo entrees because I am a BibRave Pro. (Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.) You can read my original review HEREPlease note that while Luvo generously provided the free entree coupons for the giveaway, Luvo had exactly zero input on the content or timing of this post. All opinions are my own.

I’ve been a Luvo fan since I first tried their steam-in-the-bag entrees in February, so I’ve been gently stalking them since them to see what might happen next. If you saw my review (hint: go read it now) you might remember I ended on a hopeful note, looking forward to more vegetarian entree options.

Later in March I was lucky enough to chat with the team behind Luvo at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, the premier trade show for everything in the natural foods, body products, lifestyle, and ingredients space.

The Luvo kitchen at Natural Products Expo West
The Luvo kitchen at Natural Products Expo West

Luvo had a brightly colored, multi-space booth featuring a see-inside kitchen and orange-clad waiters passing samples on trays. You’d better believe I accepted every vegetarian option I was offered! It was cool to get to chat with some of the faces behind the meals.

Since then, a new round of BibRave Pro team members have tried Luvo. Jeremy over at Confessions of an Amateur Athlete liked that they don’t come in wasteful plastic trays, but instead in small steam pouches. He also liked that Luvo takes pride in NOT adding a ton of sugar (and having just read Salt, Sugar, Fat I now know what a big deal that is–the vast majority of packaged foods have added salt and sugar to enhance or disguise their flavors). SlackerRunner had some issues remembering how to work the microwave–not an issue I face, sadly–but liked the taste of the no-soy, no-dairy, no-nuts, no-fish entrees she tried. Arizona Sun Goddess, on the other hand, called the new flavors she tried, “steamazing.” Melinda over at 30 Something Therapy liked some of the ones she tried better than others, and she’s on a gluten-free diet from what I’ve read. Carolyn from Run Fierce, Live Fit was initially skeptical about prepared frozen foods (she doesn’t eat much processed food), but Luvo won her over.

The Swag Mama really liked the variety of choices available but honestly didn’t love EVERY flavor she tried. Which brings me to the thing I was so excited to learn today and can’t wait to try Planted Bowls from Luvo:

COMING SOON! New vegan, gluten-free options from Luvo!
COMING SOON! New vegan, gluten-free options from Luvo!

Okay, busted, I’m also gently stalking Luvo on social media. (Got a brand you love? I highly recommend this strategy for getting the scoop first.) I cannot wait to hunt these four–and their comrades–down and put them in my belly. Seriously, my schedule always has me on the hunt for healthier choices like Luvo, since I rarely have time to cook a whole meal for myself. Just as an example, I was only home for 30 hours for about 21 days of October.

Luvo's Expo West booth displayed the goodness inside on the outside!
Luvo’s Expo West booth displayed the goodness inside on the outside!

While I confirmed on Facebook that the new vegan bowls will be available at Expo West, I am hoping I can hunt them down much sooner. (I can never have enough fast and easy vegetarian lunch options that don’t involve the deep fryer in my building.) They are already on the Luvo website, so cross your fingers and think good thoughts that the Whole Foods in Oakland on Bay Street will start to carry them for me, okay? (That’s walking distance from my office.)

If you love your tweeps, click here so they can enter to win lunch/dinner from Luvo too.Click To Tweet

Want to try out Luvo for yourself? I have FIVE free entree coupons for you! These are manufacturer coupons that expire February 28, 2017 and it will be up to you to find your nearest Luvo dealer, I mean retailer, and redeem them before they expire. (Hint: check out Luvo’s “where to find” page to see if there is a grocery near you.) If you win, I will pop them in the mail to you when the giveaway ends.

A few bullet points on the high points of Luvo
A few bullet points on the high points of Luvo

 

 

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Disclosure: the prize for this giveaway will be provided by siggi’s (legally: The Icelandic Milk & Skyr Corp.). Everything in this post is my own creation unless otherwise indicated. The folks at siggi’s did not preview or edit this post, it’s all me, baby!

A few years ago I stumbled on siggi’s and fell in love. Since then, I’ve learned more about the siggi’s story, and even met Siggi himself! As I’m writing this from Oakland, California I’m just one week out from the third IDEA World/Sweat Pink BlogFest, which siggi’s has sponsored for the past two years. Actually I SHOULD be in Indianapolis at FitBloggin’ and FitSocial 2016–which siggi’s is also sponsoring this year–but as you may have heard, Southwest had a little computer issue, and that left me stranded. Oops. In any case, I am thankful and happy to have siggi’s sponsor these events for health and fitness bloggers. I’m even more thankful they make a protein-packed, yummy skyr.

But back to the story. A few years ago I fell in love with siggi’s. At that time, siggi’s had one product: Icelandic style skyr, a strained non-fat yogurt. I wish I could tell you the story, but I honestly do not remember how it happened! I do remember two things.

set up for tasting
Set up for a recent skyr tasting

First, I was very impressed by the ingredients list. Here is the ingredients list from the peach flavor in front of me:

pasteurized skim milk,

peaches,

cane sugar,

fruit pectin,

live active cultures

That’s it. Five ingredients, and I know what each one of them is and why it is there. (The package has a list of the live active cultures, in case your nerdy streak runs deep.) This was around the point that I started to get more picky about my food. While I still indulge in some items that are absolutely, inexcusably, 100% junk food, I’m trying to be more conscious of eating more whole foods. I really liked that siggi’s doesn’t have any artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, or artificial anything else. I also really loved that there isn’t a ton of added sugar. The peach skyr sitting in front of me (150g serving size) has 11g of sugar, and 14g of protein, for example. Compare this to other yogurts and you’ll see how awesome this is.

No weird stuff in the ingredients means I'm happy to share
No weird stuff in the ingredients means I’m happy to share

Let’s compare strawberries to strawberries. A serving of siggi’s strawberry skyr is 150g, and contains 11g sugar, 16g protein, and 120 calories. (I picked those data points because they are important to me.) Data from the respective manufacturer’s websites:

  •  original Yoplait strawberry, serving size not listed on website (currently has 18g sugar, used to have 26g; 6g protein; 150 calories
  • thick ‘n’ creamy Yoplait strawberry, serving size not listed on website (28g sugar, 7g protein, 180 calories
  • Greek yogurt Yoplait strawberry, serving size 150g (18g sugar, 11g protein, 140 calories)
  • Dannon creamy strawberry, serving size 113g–note smaller serving size (12g sugar, 4g protein, 80 calories)
  • Dannon Oikos Greek strawberry, serving size 150g (18g sugar, 12g protein, 120 calories)
  • Chobani (fruit on the bottom style) strawberry, serving size 150g (15g sugar, 12g protein, 120 calories)

I’m not picking on these guys–they are no better or worse than any other brand, store brand, etc.–those are just brands that immediately popped to mind when I thought of yogurt. I didn’t even bother to compare other “fruit on the bottom” styles to siggi’s, or the dessert flavors (i.e. anything with “pie” in the name) as those are a hot mess of sugar…and let’s not mention the yogurt marketed to kids with cartoon characters on it. Seriously, you might as well hand your kid a Snickers. Now sometimes you WANT a dessert, and I’ve been known to pick a certain coconut cream pie flavor of yogurt instead of a pudding…you make your own choices 🙂

My very favorite, as I love all things pumpkin spice and fall!
My very favorite, as I love all things pumpkin spice and fall!

The “not a lot of sugar” brings me to the second thing I remember: the taste! One of the things I liked about the initial wave of Greek-style yogurts is that they are thicker than what I will call mainstream yogurt; I also liked that the initial offerings of those yogurts didn’t seem as sickly sweet as mainstream yogurt. My first taste of Skyr blew my mind! It’s thick and smooth and creamy. If you open a container and hold it upside down (don’t squeeze!) it is so thick that it will stay in the container. When I eat it, I feel like I am eating something of substance–and not just because of the 14g of protein–because it has a creamy mouth-feel. While you don’t have to chew it (it’s yogurt), it feels more satisfying to me than mainstream yogurt, more like a solid breakfast. I learned it takes four times as much milk to make a serving of siggi’s as it does to make a mainstream yogurt.

IMG_0821
As seen in my local grocery!

After I decided I loved the products–seriously, I said “goodbye!” to the rest of the yogurt world and haven’t looked back–I became a member of the inaugural siggi’s Culture Club. Each month we had a challenge to focus on, all about sharing the love of siggi’s. I took coupons for freebies to my yoga students and they universally loved siggi’s. My current favorites are seasonal flavors: pumpkin in the fall, and strawberry basil in the summer. Other flavors in the siggi’s family include peach, raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate & passion fruit, blueberry, orange & ginger, vanilla, mixed berries & açai, and (of course!) plain (with no added sugar). All of these come in single serving cups, and the vanilla and plain come in economical 24 oz. packages as well.

Whole-fat milk skyr is even thicker and creamier
Whole-fat milk skyr is even thicker and creamier

siggi’s now makes other products in addition to the Icelandic style skyr strained non-fat yogurt, including a low-fat mile skyr (2%milkfat), whole-milk skyr (4% milkfat), filmjölk (a drinkable yogurt), and tubes (a kid-friendly to-go product with 5g sugar and the same five basic ingredients). I haven’t tried anything but the skyr yet, though I’m stalking my local retailers for the others.

But enough about my experience, here’s a chance to win your own!

The fine print: There is ONE prize, which consists of coupons for free siggi’s. If you eat one a day, it’s a 30-day month’s worth. After I contact you, you’ll have seven days to claim it; at that time you must provide your mailing address so I can send it to siggi’s and they can send you the prize!
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Disclosure: I received free samples of MeStrength because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.

Psst! Want a discount on MeStrength? Through September 30, 2016 you can get MeStrength for 25% off by using the code bibchat716 at the MeStrength online shop.Click To Tweet
Sampler pack of all the flavors
Sampler pack of all the flavors

Runners today are lucky to live in a world with unlimited hydration options. Do you like flavored or unflavored? Liquid, powder, tablet? Single serve or bulk? Sugar, monkfruit, stevia, sugar alcohols? Carbs? Caffeine? Electrolytes alone, or in combination with fuel/protein/something else? Pre-workout or post-workout? Strawberry, grape, lemon-lime…we could be here for awhile. Anyway, you get the point.

MeStrength is hydration with creatine. “Creatine?” I can hear you asking. “Isn’t that something that 1970s musclehead lifters use?” Au contraire, and that is the focus of this review.

(If you want to read about all the details that make MeStrength a fine product–such as the attention to detail in the manufacturing process, or how the electrolytes are isotonic which is the same as they exist naturally in your body–you can head to the MeStrength website. There are too many specifics to cover in my one little review.)

What is Creatine and Why Should You Care?

Let’s start at square one. “Creatine is a nitrogenous substance, derived from arginine, glycine, and methionine, found in muscle tissue.” Your body makes it in the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. It is part of creatine kinase, which is an isoenzyme found in muscle and brain tissue that catalyzes the formation of ATP (remember that from high school biology?). Creatine is present in HIGHER amounts after muscle injury, which should make it very interesting to anyone involved in sports training, since part of what you do when you work out (and race) is break down muscle tissue (that’s injury).

Creatine is considered a non-essential nutrient. Precision Nutrition defines a non-essential nutrient as “food-based nutrients that either the body can make itself, assuming adequate nutritional intake, or nutrients that aren’t needed for normal physiological functioning.” Creatine falls into this category, along with glutamine, the other non-essential amino acids, caffeine, and green tea extract.

Creatine is also one of the best-studied potential supplements. According to the Precision Nutrition textbook (see Resources section), there are over 500 published studies on creatine supplementation. When I did a search in PubMed specific to creatine and exercise, I found 414 studies (and remember, PubMed doesn’t index every published study). Oh, and in case you have Olympic dreams, creatine isn’t on the World Anti-Doping Agency banned substances list.

Highly portable MeStrength
Highly portable MeStrength

Let Me Drop Some Science On You: ATP and Energy In the Body

ATP is adenosine triphosphate; basically that’s adenosine (A) with three phosphate molecules (P) attached. One of the ways the body makes energy is to break the bonds that hold the A to one of the P, creating ADP (adenosine with two phophates) and P (just the phosphate, all by itself); the body then regenerates the ATP, basically recycling it. This all happens through the ATP-PCr system. Creatine kinase breaks up phosphoecreatine (PCr) into two parts, creatine (Cr) and phosphate (the same P we’ve been discussing), by breaking the bond that holds them together. That creates both energy from breaking the bond, and extra P that can be used to make more ATP (by combining with

The body stores about 80-100 grams of ATP, which is enough to fuel maximal exercise–think crazy hard sprint–for a few seconds. When you engage in intense exercise, the body’s natural supply of PCR only lasts about ten seconds. Once that system is maxed out, you MUST slow down–your body can’t carry you faster.

Creatine Benefit #1: Improved Muscular Performance

If you train hard, doing the type of high-intensity exercise that is dependent on the ATP-PCr system (hill repeats? strength training?wind sprints?), and would like to add lean muscle mass, creatine supplementation can help you. (In contrast, if you do low-volume or infrequent exercise, or always run in the very comfortable jog-zone, creatine isn’t likely to offer you many benefits.)

Supplementing with creatine improves your performance in a very specific way: “By increasing the intramuscular creatine pool, more creatine (and PCr) will be available for high intensity, short-bury muscle contractions. Research has shown that higher concentrations of intramuscular creatine are linked with improved force during maximal contraction, and improved staying power with high intensity exercise.” (74) In other words, adding creatine helps your hard training by letting your body continue to recycle the ATP, and that gives you strength and longer endurance (for the high-intensity periods like sprints or lifts you can improve your staying power past the usual ten seconds).

Creatine Benefit #2: Improved Muscle Recovery

If you’ve read anything about training or worked with a trainer, you’ve probably heard about the SAID principle which states that the body responds to training with Stragetic Adaptation to Imposed Demands.  In other words, if you repeat an exercise over time your body will get better and more efficient at doing that exercise. (This is also the reason why you eventually burn fewer calories doing the same workout, and why trainer Tony Horton’s programs all vary exercises instead of sticking with the same program over and over; he calls it “muscle confusion,” but let’s be real: your muscle isn’t confused, it’s just getting better at performing something it has rehearsed many times.)

The body’s responses to training include increases in stored ATP and increases in stored PCr. The more you engage in high intensity exercise, the better your body adapts to using the ATP-PCr cycle to fuel the system, and the faster it can do it. This has an additional benefit: “Increasing the rate of creatine phosphate resynthesis during intense exercise appears to lower blood lactate accumulation and ammonia levels, both byproducts that inhibit peak performance output,” according to research cited by Elliott Reimers (see Resources below).

Translated into everyday language, that means two things. First, in doing high intensity exercise, your body recovers faster so you can spend less time resting  between intervals. Second, your final recovery may also be easier (as your body will have less muscular waste product–lactate and ammonia if you supplement with creatine). There is at least one study that shows creatine supplementation can help with recovery following injury.

MeStrength

Packaging. MeStrength comes in individual “stick” style packets, making it portable and easy to use while on the run (or at the gym, if that’s your schtick–see, I’m funny!). The instructions say to mix with 20 oz of water, though if you happen to have a water bottle that only holds 16 oz (as I did during one test), it just ends up with a slightly stronger flavor, and you can always add more water later. As with any supplement (and pretty much any other consumable product I can think of, from canned tomatoes to toilet paper), buying the larger package is more economical.

Usage. While I initially thought of MeStrength as a pre-workout because that provides the benefit of pre-hydration and available extra creatine within the body, it also works well as an in-workout hydration product. Given the study showing creatine can aid recovery, and I don’t know anyone who is properly 100% hydrated following a hard workout, there is also evidence it would make a good post-workout/recovery beverage.

Ingredients. Setting aside creatine, what’s in it? MeStrength contains five electrolytes: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. Personally, I find this superior to the hydration products that rely exclusively on sodium and potassium. I’m a sweaty girl, and I’m sure I lose ALL the electrolytes during an intense workout. It’s definitely better than consuming only potassium (which can cause cardiac issues in some individuals) or just sodium (which makes some of us feel water-logged but still thirsty).

The other ingredients are citric acid, natural flavor, vegetable and fruit juice for color only, and stevia (for a touch of sweetness).

  • Citric acid exists in nature in fruits and vegetables, and is often used as a preservative. It also occurs in the citric acid cycle, part of the metabolic processes in humans (and other living things).
  • Natural flavor has a very specific meaning in the administrative code relevant to the FDA:  “[natural flavor] means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.” Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 21, Section 501.22 MeStrength is a vegan product, so the natural flavor does not come from meal, etc. You can safely ignore all the fear-mongers who claim the term natural flavor is a way to hide mystery ingredients in food.
  • Vegetable and fruit juices for color only means the small amount of juices present do not add nutrients (or calories) to the product.
  • Stevia is a sweetener/sugar-substitute that comes from the plant Stevia Rebaudiana. It has a slightly bitter aftertaste so it isn’t usually used as the sole sweetener, but I didn’t notice any bitter aftertaste in MeStrength.

Taste & Opinions. Overall, I liked the taste of MeStrength, with my favorite flavor being fruit punch. (That’s almost always my favorite flavor in supplements. Something about how much I loved Hawaiian Punch as a kid.) It isn’t super sweet like, say, full-strength Gatorade or Powerade. As I mentioned above, there isn’t a bitter aftertaste. I’m willing to bet those who complain they don’t like the new Nuun formulations due to the stevia won’t even notice it in this product. I also like that this product separates hydration (electrolytes) and supplementation from fuel. I tend to need hydration at a more rapid rate than fuel, and my stomach cramps if I rely on a two-in-one product. This way I can use MeStrength by itself, add it to a fuel product, or consume separate fuel (like actual food!)

Fruit punch is my favorite!
Fruit punch is my favorite!

Resources

The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Certification Manual, second edition. John Berardi, PhD; Ryan ANdrews, MA, MS, RD. (All of the material in quotation marks above is from this textbook, numbers indicate page numbers.)

“All About Creatine.” Ryan Andrews

“Body Fuel: Creatine Myths” John Berardi, PhD

“Does Creatine Impact Recovery & Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?” Elliott Reimers

My search on PubMed returned 414 results on July 12, 2016. (Search terms: “creatine supplementation and exercise performance”)

 

Disclosure: I received raspberry Ultima sticks and a lemonade Ultima canister because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like. All opinions are my own.

Spread the word! You can save 35% and get free shipping on Ultima with code BIBRAVE2016Click To Tweet

It’s summer, which means I need to up my hydration game. (Sadly, wine doesn’t count.) That’s part of why I asked to be one of the BibRave Pro Team members to test the new and improved formula of Ultima; I’m always looking for variety in my hydration game.  Ultima sent me a 30-serving container of lemonade, as well as a box of raspberry individual stick-style packets. Ultima is a hydrating electrolyte beverage, NOT a fuel product. There are no carbs, proteins, or fats in Ultima (and therefore nothing for your body to use as fuel). Ever since I learned you can separate hydration from fuel, I’ve been a huge fan of taking that approach. First, since I sweat a lot (especially in the heat!) I need hydration more often than I need fuel. Second, separating hydration and fuel allows me to fuel with real foods and fat-containing foods, such as peanut butter. Third, the science is with me on this one: gastric emptying (stuff leaving your stomach and getting into the other parts of your body) is slowed by the addition of carbohydrates. (See resources below.)

First Thing’s First: How Does It Taste?

Flavor: Raspberry. If you’re like me, you need your hydration (and nutrition) to taste good. I can’t count the number of people who don’t drink enough water because “the water where I live tastes bad” (or some variation of that excuse). There are plenty of hydration options I don’t like because they are too sweet, too sour, too salty, taste like old socks, etc. To me, the raspberry flavor smells like a red popsicle. It has a pleasant taste that I like enough to both look forward to drinking while out running, and to drink at my desk to encourage me to stay hydrated. While it is sweetened in part with stevia, I had to try very hard to taste the stevia. At least one of the BibRave Pro team members  (Heather from Heather Runs Thirteen Point One) loathes stevia and gave up on her prior hydration when the stevia flavor in the new formula got to be too much for her. (Note: I do not have this problem. I also like cilantro. That said, I’m sympathetic to those who have the genetic disposition that makes cilantro taste like soap. Perhaps there is a similar thing for stevia?)

Can you see why I thought this cute little scoop was too small?
Can you see why I thought this cute little scoop was too small?

Flavor: Lemonade. Since the raspberry Ultima I received came in sticks, it was easy to measure. (Cut one open, dump it in the glass, boom.) My lemonade Ultima came in a tub. By the way, I LOVE this. Thirty servings fit in the palm of my hand! This is a bonus to me because it means Ultima doesn’t hog a lot of pantry space and is travel-friendly. Of course a smaller package is also more environmentally-friendly (e.g. uses less plastic in the packaging, takes less fuel to transport, etc.) and a bulk package is less expensive than individually wrapped sticks (cost is about $0.66 per serving instead of $1 per serving). If you buy the larger canister (90 servings) the cost goes down to around $0.33 per serving. Anyway, when I first pulled out the teeny-tiny scoop I thought for sure it was too small to be the actual serving size, and mixed a heaping scoop with water. Bad move! It tasted like a non-gritty Country Time Lemonade mix! WAY too sweet! When I actually used the scoop to measure a level scoop–the real serving, and it seems tiny–it came out much better. The taste is lemonade, but a sweetish lemonade, not a sour/tart one. It’s not overly sugary, and I bet it would make a nice margarita when mixed with tequila.

Other flavors. Ultima also comes in orange, grape, cherry pomegranate, and “toddler berry punch” (which as the name implies, is intended for kids–a useful thing to have in your arsenal when your kid is getting dehydrated due to vomiting and diarrhea, for example). I’m using the BibRave discount to buy a big tub of cherry pomegranate the instant it comes back in stock.

Raspberry after initial mixing (the clumps around the sides dissolved too)
Raspberry after initial mixing (the clumps around the sides dissolved too)

Mouth-feel. I hate gritty drink mixes. Many powdered drink mixes seem to not fully dissolve, leaving little sand-like particles floating around in the drink (and this makes me crazy). Initially I was afraid that might be the case for Ultima, but it turns out I was just being silly–like most powders, if you mix Ultima in ice water it isn’t going to dissolve very well. Oops. When I tried very cold water (from a pitcher that had been refrigerated overnight), I put the Ultima in the bottom and poured the water over the top. This time, some powder rose to the top almost like bubbles. A quick swish with a spoon and they were gone. The resulting beverage was translucent pink, and smooth like water. The very bottom of the glass had a small amount of undissolved solids, but that didn’t bother me (though the very last sip had a tiny bit of a granular texture, it wasn’t sandy, and overall didn’t bother me–plus when I’m running I almost never get all the way to the bottom of the bottle before I refill).

What is NOT in Ultima?

Ultima’s website and packaging spend quite a bit of space on what is NOT in Ultima. Since that may also be important to you, here’s a list:

  • No sugar
  • No calories
  • No artificial flavors
  • No artificial colors
  • No GMO ingredients (Non-GMO Project verified)
  • No gluten (certified gluten-free)
  • No animal products (certified vegan)
  • No caffeine
  • No added maltodextrin (the natural flavors have a tiny amount)
My Ultima arrived all wrapped up like a present!
My Ultima arrived all wrapped up like a present!

What is actually IN Ultima? A bunch of things.

You probably know you lose “salt” when you sweat, especially if you are a salty sweat-er (you can feel the grit on your face when you are done). Many people rely on salt packets when they run, but this is a mistake (outside the scope of this article, read the science-y bits of the article cited below). The short story is that you need to replenish ALL of the electrolytes you lose through sweat. (Did you know you sweat out iron too, especially in hot weather? That’s also a blog post for another day.)

Since many of the ingredients are familiar to the average person as “something from the periodic table” or “a chemical,” I thought it might be helpful to understand what each of these ingredients does inside the body–yes, every one of the main ingredients in Ultima already exists inside your body AND is critical for it to function at peak performance. I’ve included a quickie description, but also a link to that nutrient’s page on the Precision Nutrition Encyclopedia of Food. That way you can read more about food sources for that nutrient, as well as more than the examples I’ve given of problems that a deficiency may cause, and find out where that item lives in your food/diet.

The name in parenthesis is the form found in Ultima. (That way if you are as nerdy as I am, you can use your Google-fu for more information, and compare the bioavailability of various forms.) Potassium, for example, can combine to form many chemical compounds including potassium chloride, a common substitute for regular table salt (sodium chloride). In selecting the forms to include in Ultima, the creators tried to use the form that your body can most easily access and use (known as the most “bioavailable” form).

  • Potassium (potassium aspartate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Assists in keeping the proper electrochemical gradient across cell membranes; this is important for nerve impulse transmission, cardiac function, and muscle contraction. The proper electrochemical gradient allows nutrients into the cell and waste products to exit. Deficiency can cause cardiac problems and muscle cramps. Read more.
  • Magnesium (Magnesium citrate and Magnesium aspartate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Helps your body metabolize fats and carbohydrates, involved in DNA and protein synthesis, plays a role in wound healing. Deficiency can cause hypokalemia (deficiency of potassium in the bloodstream).  Read more.
  • Chloride (sodium chloride)
    • Essential mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Like Potassium, assists in keeping the proper electrochemical gradient across cell membranes (see above); also aids in the digestion and absorption of many nutrients. Deficiency can cause low blood pressure and weakness.  Read more.
  • Calcium (calcium citrate and calcium ascorbate)
    • Essential mineral, and the most common mineral in the body
    • Electrolyte
    • We all know it plays a role in healthy bones and teeth, but did you know it also regulates nerve impulse transmissions, muscle contractions, and hormone secretions? Deficiency can cause skeletal problems (e.g. rickets, osteoporosis), among others. Read more. 
  • Selenium (amino acid chelate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Helps create antioxidant balance in the body, works in concert with certain proteins and enzymes. Deficiency can lead to problems with cartilage development/formation, among other problems. Read more.
  • Zinc
    • Essential mineral
    • Helps with growth, development, neurological function, reproduction, and immune function (that’s a lot of different things!); acts as a catalyst in some chemical reactions within the body; forms/sustains cell structure; regulates genetic expressions, signaling among cells (including in the nervous system), and release of hormones. A zinc deficiency can slow wound healing. Read more.
  • Phosphorus (potassium phosphate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Yes, this is the stuff on match tips (but please don’t go eat them!). It forms bone structure, plays a role in energy transfer, helps with hormone production and enzyme production, signals cells, and facilitates binding site activity for hemoglobin. Deficiency is pretty rare. Read more.
  • Sodium (sodium chloride)
    • Essential mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Often painted as the dietary bad-guy, sodium is something you lose through sweat, and replacing it is important! Like Potassium, Sodium assists in keeping the proper electrochemical gradient across cell membranes. It also regulates extracellular fluid (fluid outside of your cells) and is key to blood volume and blood pressure. A sodium deficiency spells race day disaster: nausea, vomiting, disorientation/confusion, cramps, headache, and fatigue. Read more.
  • Copper (copper citrate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Pennies might not be made of it anymore, but copper does help make up some neurotransmitters and the myelin structures that coat your nerves. (No copper? Nervous breakdown, ha ha!) Copper helps with collagen and elastin structures, and helps with protein synthesis and cell energy. Deficiency can cause anemia that doesn’t respond to iron treatments, and cause imbalances/deficiencies in your white blood cells. Read more.
  • Manganese (manganese citrate)
    • Essential Mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Tiny but mighty? That’s manganese. It helps metabolize carbs, cholesterol, and amino acids (the building blocks of protein); it helps the antioxidant enzymes of the mitochondria (the “powerhouse” organelles inside your cells). Deficiency is rare. Read more.
  • Molybdenum (sodium molybdate)
    • Essential Mineral
    • Acts as a cofactor (a substance required for enzymes to do their jobs) for the enzymes in the carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycles; also helps with metabolism of drugs. Read more.
  • Chromium (chromium dinicotinate glycinate)
    • Essential Mineral
    • Enhances the effects of insulin and assists in metabolism of glucose and fat. Deficiency (predictably!) can cause impaired glucose tolerance and elevated circulating insulin. Read more.

There are some additional ingredients that vary by flavor (for example, beta carotene exists naturally in oranges, so it is present in orange flavor). You can read Ultima’s description of their ingredients on their website.

That’s The Basics. You’ve probably now learned more than you ever needed or wanted to know about Ultima, but in case you need more, do go to the website: http://www.ultimareplenisher.com/ The website can tell you where to find Ultima in stores near you, but the code BIBRAVE2016 which gets you 35% off plus free shipping will only work on the Ultima website.

Selected References:

Happy Running! NERD OUT!!