Disclosure: Amphipod provided the prize for the giveaway in this post, because I am a BibRave Pro. Amphipod did not exercise any editorial control, or provide any content, for this post. All content reflects my own research, experience, and opinions. 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 are just a big bag of water.

Let’s talk water. Did you know that about 60% of your body’s weight is water? Think about that for a minute: a 200 lb. man is 120 pounds of water. You’ve got water in your cells and water in between your cells. Basically you’re a carbon-based container of mostly water.

You are what you drink (water). Everything your body uses to run contains water. Your blood, which carries oxygen and nutrients to your working cells, is 83% water. Your body fat, which you might be burning as fuel, is 25% water. Your muscles that propel you along at 75% water. Even your bones are about 22% water.

You run on water. Again, literally. Every system in your body needs water while you are running (and while you are not!). Water dissolves and transports various substances, moving nutrients into cells and waste products out of cells and eventually out of the body as urine and feces. Water plays a role in the synthesis of proteins, glycogen, and other nutrients. Water keeps you moving by lubricating your joints, and serves as a shock absorber for your eyes and in your spine (and for your fetus, if you’re pregnant).

The Sweaty Life. If you lead an active lifestyle you’re more than familiar with water as a temperature regulator. Exercise heats the body, which sends water outside of the body to the surface of your skin, so that it can evaporate and cool.  The more you exercise, the more efficient your body becomes at cooling itself. Translation: you start to sweat earlier, and likely sweat more. Since each body is different, some of us sweat more than others. Sweat isn’t the only way you lose water while exercising though.

You lose water 24/7: It’s not just about sweat. Breathing also requires water, as your nose and mouth hydrate dry air on the way in, and release vapor (water in gas form) on the way out. The harder you work out, the more demand your body has for oxygen, the harder you breathe. Tissue in your nose, nasal passage, throat, bronchial tubes, and lungs is more sensitive when it is dehydrated. As a practical matter, that can trigger asthma, allergies, and COPD; if you have none of these, it still means you’re more likely to be irritated by pollen, dust, and fumes.

Sleep is dehydrating! Just think about it–you go 8 hours without taking in any liquids, but you continue to breathe, losing water. Maybe you sweat a little at night.

Dehydration is BAD. You’ve probably read that dehydration–not enough water in the body–contributes to heat stroke and heat exhaustion, as reduced water reduces your body’s ability to regulate body temperature. It’s worse than that. If you are down a mere 0.5% of your body water, you have an increased strain on your heart. (Think about it: less water, less blood volume, sludgier blood, takes more effort to pump it through your body.) At 1% loss of body water, your aerobic endurance suffers. At 2%, your muscular endurance declines; basically if you hit 2% as a runner, you are nowhere near the top of your game. At 4% you have not just reduced aerobic and muscular endurance, but also reduced muscle strength and reduced motors skills–and you’re at a risk for heat cramps. Seriously, you’ve got to keep that water loss below half a percentage point.

Did you know sleep is dehydrating? Check out more tips from @TrainWithBainClick To Tweet

As a runner, you MUST be on top of your hydration game.

Water intake isn’t the whole story. You can drink boatloads of water, but unless you give your body some electrolytes, that water might just pass right through, useless. Electrolytes are compounds that dissolve in water and keep an electrical charge, allowing them to regulate the flow of water (and other substances) in and out of cells. Electrolytes form the salty grit on your face if you’re a sweaty runner (and even if you are not, since they regulate the release of water from the cells of your body). Electrolytes include: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, chloride, manganese, sodium, and potassium.

Carbohydrates love water. You’ve probably read that for most athletes, the notion of “carb loading” before a race to replenish glycogen stores is neither necessary nor particularly helpful. But wait, there’s more: carbohydrates love water, and for every gram of carbohydrate stored in your body, you’ve also got 3-4 grams of water hanging out. (This is why low-carb, high-protein diets initially show a quick weight loss–depleting the carb stores means water goes away, plus a high protein diet contributes to fluid losses to remove urea from the body.) This is also why most electrolyte drinks have some amount of sugar or carb in them. Like to eat pasta? You’re welcome.

It’s harder to judge dehydration that you think. By the time you’re thirsty, you’re already partially dehydrated–and now you know how bad even half a percent of body water loss is. Urine color is favored by some, but you’re unlikely to see your urine on race day (I don’t know about you, but I’m NOT looking into that porta-potty!), and a number of popular supplements and foods (beets!) can darken your urine and give a misleading impression.

Top Five Tips for Building Your Hydration Strategy

What's your hydration strategy? Do you know the basic facts?Click To Tweet
  1. Know your body. Learn to recognize the pre-thirst indicators of dehydration in your body, monitor your water loss through sweat, pay attention to how you feel during training runs and workouts. So many factors affect your hydration needs–body weight, body composition, environment, medication usage, diet, and more–that the best advice is to learn and listen to your body.
  2. Practice good hydration when you’re NOT running. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruit (they are good sources of water, as well as electrolytes and other vitamins and minerals). Sip on beverages throughout your day. Like coffee, tea, soda? Current research shows they aren’t automatically dehydrating, but they are not as hydrating as other choices.
  3. Pre-hydrate before a workout or a run. Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning to make up for water loss while you’ve slept. (Adding a lemon to it makes it taste nice, but it’s not going help you lose weight, burn fat, “detox,” or any other popular yet silly-and-unscientific claim. Watch your teeth if you take that option, lemons aren’t kind to tooth enamel.) If you’re taking a heated class like hot yoga, tank up before you go.
  4. Test your hydration products BEFORE race day! Nothing new on race day. Seriously, you don’t want to discover that your tummy doesn’t like XYZ Hydration Brand at mile 4. Anything you’re going to use at a race, take it for a test drive. Find out what hydration the race plans to have on the course, so you can evaluate whether to use what they provide or bring your own exclusively.
  5. Carry hydration–and emergency cash. I need sips of fluids more often than every two miles (how aid stations are frequently spaced at races) to stay fresh and properly hydrated. Once I ran a race where the second aid station, manned by well-meaning but clueless high school students, completely ran out of water and electrolyte beverage! Fortunately I had my emergency fiver, and ran into a nearby CVS.

Enter (to win) the Amphipod.

I'm giving away THIS exact Amphipod, an Ergo-Lite Ultra.
I’m giving away THIS exact Amphipod, an Ergo-Lite Ultra.

To help you up your hydration game, I’ve got an Ergo-Lite Ultra Amphipod to give away, courtesy of Amphipod. (Amphipod provided this exclusively for this giveaway; it was not sent to me for testing purposes.) It’s brand new, never-used, and only came out of the box so I could take a few pictures of it.

All of the BibRave Pros who tried out the Amphipod liked it, even those who had previously shied away from hand-helds for various reasons. Like Running for the Average Joe, most of us hated the idea of running “while holding something.” But as he pointed out, the Amphipod isn’t something you hold, it’s something you wear. Dr. Runner liked the one-way drinking valve (you have to suck on it or squirt to get the water out).

Hand elastic showing both the ergonomic thumb hole and the loops for gels or fuel
Hand elastic showing both the ergonomic thumb hole and the loops for gels or fuel

The thumb holed was a hit with Runner Transformed, who liked the more ergonomic fit. Run Away with Me liked the softness of the fabric (we all agree that chafing from stiff fabric is BAD).  If you look at the various photos accompanying the reviews, you can see that the Amphipod works well on either hand, something Samantha Andrews liked.

The products are durable, and might just save your hand if you crash on the trail, as My Name Is Dad learned. Unlike some bottles, it’s also easy to clean, as Fun Size Athlete noted. That said, if you leave it in a hot car, the sleeve might discolor the bottle (as Darlin’ Rae learned). Maybe wash the sleeve first?

The storage pocket has a key loop inside
The storage pocket has a key loop inside

All of the Pros liked the amount of storage in the pocket, and The Caffeinated Runner found it had enough room to carry doggy essentials when running with her pooch.

Seattle-based blogger Sweet Blonde’s Fit Life points out these are made in USA and, specifically, in Seattle!


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Now that you’ve learned about hydration, why not hop over to the internet home of the Arizona Sun Goddess and read about solo running adventures?

Selected References:



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,


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.

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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As a kid, I thought coffee was disgusting. As an adult, I learned that drip coffee made from ground beans so old they’ve been in the metal can longer than most wine is aged, that’s disgusting. Good coffee? Mmmm, I love coffee.

This month, I’m giving a jolt of caffeine to the But First Coffee blogger linkup: every month, we start with coffee. No April foolin’, just posts about coffee. (If you’re a blogger and want to join, just reach out.)

53x11 direct to me!
53×11 direct to me!

Last year, while I was researching the impact of caffeine consumption on distance athletes, I learned that Hammer Nutrition has their own line of USDA certified organic and Fair Trade coffee, called 53×11. (Based on the graphics, I assume 53×11 is some super-secret cycling reference intended to taunt me into doing a triathlon. Nice try, but still NO.) According to Hammer, “Originally created by cyclists, for cyclists, 53×11 Coffee today is dedicated purely to delivering the best cup of organic, fair-trade coffee in the world. We utilize only sustainable organic, pesticide-free farms, and support trade wages and direct purchasing to give more to those growing the beans.” That, plus if you join the coffee club (2 bags/month on autoship) you get some freebies and perks (pun intended).

There are four blends in the Hammer coffee line-up: Chain Breaker, Big Ring, Early Break, and Downshift (which is decaff, so why would I bother??). All blends come in the standard 12 oz. bag–word to the wise, nobody seems to sell coffee by the pound anymore–and in whole bean or ground. Personally, I think the money I invested in my coffee grinder has paid dividends in better-tasting brews, and I recommend doing the same. (I bought mine at Target for about $15; Hammer sells a fancier model for just under $30.)  I ordered the obvious three and here are my thoughts.

IMG_3171Chain Breaker: Our signature espresso blend is the perfect choice for those who favor a darker roast. This rich, nutty blend is equally extraordinary for espresso or drip use. The Chain Breaker consists of beans from Africa, Indonesia, and the Americas which results in a complex, yet smooth cup. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.

Much to my surprise, this is the coffee I liked the least out of the three–and I expected it to be my favorite! I usually make dark roast coffee like an espresso blend, quite strong, and then add some form of milk and a little cocoa to it. (Exceptions for exceptionally smooth, low-acid coffee, like the Jamaican coffee I had while actually in Jamaica.) Generally speaking, the darker the better. This is definitely DARK coffee. It isn’t as acidic as most of the dark roasts I like, and I suspect that threw off the flavor profile at least as far as my taste buds were concerned. Don’t misinterpret that–this coffee was just fine. If you like strong coffee before a run (or ride or whatever) but the acidity messes with your stomach, this is a great choice.


Big Ring: Our 100% organic Sumatra single origin coffee, medium roasted and shade grown under a canopy of diverse species of trees that provide a viable habitat for migratory birds. The Big Ring represents the classic Sumatran flavor profile with low acidity and full body. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.

This coffee is delicious! It is definitely my favorite of the three…so much so that when I switch to two bags a month, I might make them both The Big Ring. If I made this coffee at Midwestern strength, I could probably drink it without anything added. Life on the Left Coast has led me to prefer my coffee made just strong enough to start to dissolve the spoon (kidding!), so that’s unlikely.

What I liked most about The Big Ring is that it delivered exactly what it promised: a full-bodied flavor with low acidity. If you’re only going to try one of Hammer’s coffees, THIS is the one.

IMG_3170Early Break: A morning staple at the 53×11 office. This medium-roasted blend of Central, South American, and Sumatran beans represents a well-rounded, mildly acidic cup with a clean finish. The Early Break is a great “everyday” coffee. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.

Again, this one promised what it delivered: balanced body, rich flavor. (That’s on the label, but if you’re a Runner of a Certain Age like I am, you might not be able to read it.) It’s also low in acidity. When I brew this one I up the amount of coffee in the coffee-to-milk ratio. I like this one with some Califia almond milk and a small splash of quality vanilla extract. (Feeling daring? Try a dash of cinnamon too.) I like this one for the weekends, when I want to sit down and get to work while drinking more than one giant mug of coffee. (That would be a a BAD idea with the Chain Breaker, at least for me…I might get more done, but I’m pretty sure the typo level would increase dramatically!)

As I mentioned previously, I didn’t try the decaff blend. Seriously, what is the point of unleaded coffee? In case you’re curious, here’s how Hammer describes it: Down Shift: A decaffeinated version of our beloved Chain Breaker signature espresso blend. No shortcuts were taken here. This blend represents the four major coffee growing regions as well, resulting in a remarkable decaf. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean. Based on the other three, I’m sure it is lovely, but I don’t see the point.

In addition to the four coffees, Hammer can also hook you up with an electric kettle (great for making drip coffee at the office), a refillable Keurig cup (because seriously K-cups are the most wasteful, non-recyclable, non-compostable thing on the planet), a french press pot, and pretty much anything else you might need to partake of the coffees. Join the coffee club for a free mug, coffee filters, and drip-into-that-mug maker, plus lower prices.

By the way, Hammer makes all manner of other nutrition products for athletes. I’m working my way through the ones that are appropriate for me–and they have actual, real, live people to talk on the phone or chat online if you need help deciding what is best for your personal goals. So far, customer service has been GREAT. Before every coffee club shipment, I get an email reminding me that it’s about to ship, and have the option to delay or modify the order. The Hammer website also has loads of information on nutrition and endurance sports. If you’re thinking about making your first order, might I suggest you use my referral code? If you do, you’ll get 15% off your first order and a special packet of goodies including samples of some of the most popular Hammer products. Just place your order, and in the “referred by” section: Elizabeth Bain, email address bananafishie AT gmail, and code 252426. Voila!

Want to try before you buy?

Enter to win a bag of Hammer 53×11 coffee from Train With Bain! Just follow along on the Rafflecopter widget below. Please note the following: (1) This giveaway is in no way sponsored by Hammer Nutrition (or any other company or person or animal or alien), it’s 100% Train With Bain, baby. (2) I will happily ship to you for free within the US and Canada. If you’re in another country, I’ll have to look at postage…if it is extreme, I might ask you to help pay for it (or donate to a charity in lieu of paying postage). (3) Winners have to contact me with their shipping details within a reasonable amount of time–if I haven’t heard from you in a week, I’ll assume you are not interested.

Prizes: one bag of Hammer 53×11 coffee (new, unopened, fresh). The first winner to get back to me gets first pick of the blends!

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Like coffee? Why not take a spin around the April But First Coffee loop? It’s a short one this month! Next in line is Endure, Run Conquer

Imagine a building that is about the size of a medium-sized airport, with at least as many people as you’d find in a medium-sized airport. Spread out as far as you can see (and then some) inside are more than 6,000 exhibitors, some of whom have more than one booth space. The path to the front door is backed by a stage, flanked by sampling stands, and swarmed with perky teens and twenty-something offering samples–breakfast bars, gluten-free snacks, yogurt, ice cream, fizzy fruit drinks, and more. Everyone wants to hand you something!

If you can picture that, you might come somewhere near picturing Natural Products Expo West. It filled every big ballroom in the Anaheim convention center (including the lower level and third floor), plus two giant rooms in one of the adjoining hotels–and that’s just the product and ingredient exhibitors! There were also educational sessions, meet-ups, morning yoga, and various other activities filling the area. 2016 was my first year at ExpoWest, and it gave me enough food for thought (figuratively and literally) to blog about for weeks. Lucky for you, it also gave me more than enough snacks, samples, and coupons, so I’m going to share them with you! But first, a quick word on a very important topic:

What does “natural” mean?

Even gluten-free products can rock your taste buds these days
Even gluten-free products can rock your taste buds these days

First, “natural” does not mean “organic.” Organic has a very specific meaning, and there are loads of rules about what can be labeled organic, and who can certify that something is organic. (To read more about what organic means, check out Organic.org) Organic things are arguably natural, but things bearing the natural label are not necessarily organic.

Second, “natural” does not automatically mean “good for you to eat.” Many, many things that you and I would both agree are natural products are also things we would both agree we do NOT want to eat! Need a few examples? Here they are: arsenic, mercury, moose feces…oh wait? You want me to limit the list to plants and animals? How about hemlock, poison ivy leaves, cyanide, dart frogs, black widow spider venom…I could go on for quite a few pages. As several comics have noted, nature is always trying to kill you. (See also, lightning, earthquakes, sunburn, poisoning from naturally occurring radiation, and food allergies.)

Third, “natural” does not mean “unprocessed.” Let’s take a peanut butter made from only peanuts (zero other ingredients). Wouldn’t you agree that is natural? How about raspberries that are picked, washed, and frozen–aren’t those natural too? Is cider made from pressed apples (and nothing else) natural? What about flour made only from ground rice? ALL of these examples are processed food. Since the term “processed” has gotten a bad rap lately and many bloggers are quick to condemn anything that comes in a package (as all of my examples do), I’d be straying from my mission if I didn’t point this out.

So…wait, what does “natural” mean? As I write this, if you see the word “natural” on a package, it means anything the product manufacturer wants it to mean. You read that right. “Natural” currently has no legal definition. If I want to make a product using meat I grew in a petri dish seasoned with chemicals cooked up in the lab next door,and add some high-fructose corn syrup, I can legally label that product “natural.” (You might find this surprising, given the level of detail given to the Code of Federal Regulations–think of it as the federal food rules–gives to the definition of “cheese” versus “cheese product” versus “cheese food.” I am not making this up–go check out Part 133, Cheeses and Related Cheese Products.)

BUT WAIT! In response to confusion from the public, the FDA (federal Food and Drug Administration) is currently considering new rules to limit the use of the term “natural” on food. You can read more about the proposed definition and limits and–much more important–provide YOUR input to the FDA, by clicking over to the “Natural” on Food Labeling page of the FDA. Seriously, this is your chance to help shape food policy in this country. Please, let your voice be heard!

So, on to Expo West!

Next, a little overview of things to come… Expo West is a trade show for the natural products industry, and covered everything from sourcing ingredients, manufacturing, and packaging through finished products to eat, wear, and use. The ingredients-focused section is known as Engredea. Since I’m not in the market for organic cane sugar syrup or hypoallergenic pouches, I took a fairly brisk walk up and down the aisles of this section without doing more than looking. I think you might be shocked at the variety of ingredients available to use in natural products. Anyway, my goal was to check out the natural foods exhibitors, and seek out the top trends in the natural food industry. Here’s what I observed:

Snackification. Holy cow, everything is a snack. New Hope Network natural media had been documenting this trend prior to the show, but I had NO idea. Whether you’re on a six mini-meals per day plan or just get hungry between meals, it turns out that Americans now get a significant number of daily calories from snacks. Apples and celery are not always at the ready, right? Expo West contained more snack bars—paleo, protein, meat-based, vegan…so many options there!—than I had ever dreamed of, plus other ways to snack: Mamma Chia squeeze pouches, cooked fruit in pouches, Cracked nut butters, Hope hummus dips in individual servings, Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods heat and eat soups, chips made from fruit or veggies or both or beans…

Who doesn't love popcorn?
Who doesn’t love popcorn?

Popcorn. It’s everywhere. There are snacks based on popcorn, like PopCorners. There are bagged popcorn snacks, like Gaslamp Popcorn in flavors from white cheddar to birthday cake, and Beer Kissed popcorn; Boulder Canyon, POP! Gourmet, Kettle Foods, and Angie’s Boomchickapop. I was happy to see Halfpops, a snack for those of us that dig the not-quite-popped kernals from the bottom of the bag—I know them from many race expos. New to me was Black Jewell Popcorn, a popcorn with almost no hull (outer shell); if you shy away from popcorn because it gets stuck in your teeth, THIS is your solution. (I tasted it myself—no joke, there is almost nothing to stick in your teeth.) Popcorn is gluten-free, FODMAPS friendly, and one of my personal favorites. Several companies were also popping popcorn in coconut oil, which reminds me how the thought on this has come full circle: first we ate popcorn at the movies popped in a butter that was mostly solid at room temperature, then we decided those fats solid at room temperature were bad so all the cinemas switched to oil, and then we discovered that hm, maybe those medium-chain triglycerides were okay after all and here we are back at popping in coconut oil. It made the expo smell delicious, and the popcorn popped in coconut oil rich in MCT (medium chain triglycerides) tasted amazing with just a tiny bit of salt. I’ll be trying this at home…

This is my jam
This is my jam

Nut butters. As a kid I was a picky eater, so I ate A LOT of peanut butter and jelly. I thought I was in heaven when I discovered macadamia nut butter as an adult (at like $12/jar!) but I have since been blown away by the amazing, nutritious, tasty goodness in today’s nut butters. I finally got to meet two of my heroines (and Shark Tank favorites), the Wild Friends nut butter founders (try the cinnamon raisin peanut butter, and you’ll understand why jam is optional). My friends from Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter were there with their simple-ingredient, super tasty, family-owned peanut butters. Expo West gave me the opportunity to meet Bliss Nut-Butters (cinnamon chia seed peanut butter for the win!), and Cracked Nut Butter (the pouched chocolate chip cookie dough is SO going with me on my next run!) Peanut Butter & Co., Justin’s, and Once Again were also there with their tasty nut butters. Allergic to peanuts? How about a creation from San Diego-based Nuttzo, which has non-peanut options. Many of these delicious nut butters also come in individual-serving-sized pouches, perfect for hitting the trail or the road.

Tastes like butter!
Tastes like butter!

Vegan food that does not suck. If you’ve ever met me in person and talked food, you know I always say maybe I could be vegan, but I’d miss the butter and cheese. I can’t say that anymore! Expo West introduced me to Miyoko’s Kitchen, which is just up the peninsula from my home in Alameda. Miyoko’s makes a vegan butter that tastes buttery! I don’t mean “tastes like butter flavored margarine” I mean tastes just like butter! (What’s in it? Organic coconut oil, water, organic safflower oil or organic sunflower oil organic cashews, soy lechitin, sea salt, and cultures. Nothing weird.) I also tried Miyoko’s Fresh VeganMozz, Aged English Sharp Farmhouse, and a vegan pizza featuring their products. HEAVEN! I also tried some frozen pizza from Oh Yes! (vegan and non-vegan, gluten-free and non-gluten free varieties), which as a bonus also “hides” a serving of vegetables. Those were just two of the brands of vegan food you could easily slip to a meat-eater to change their opinion of vegan food.

Honestly, made from vegetables!
Honestly, made from vegetables!

Non-dairy milk. Speaking of vegan, the world of milk has gotten so much better since you first tried soy milk. While I was thrilled to meet the family behind Califia Farms—the almost milk I “discovered” at my corner grocery the week before Expo West—there are now so many more options than you imagined in the non-dairy milk section. Want a coffee creamer that tastes creamy? Califia makes that too—and a whole line of packaged coffee drinks. Milkadamia is made from macadamia nuts. Rebel Kitchen makes Mylk, a coconut milk with no refined sugar. My favorite discovery is, sadly, not-quite-yet available in the United States: Veggemo is a milk made from actual vegetables, yet it has the consistency and texture of 2% dairy milk. It even tastes milky, not vegetable-y. Trust me, you want this as soon as the nice folks in Canada let us have some!

Coffee, oh yes, please, coffee
Coffee, oh yes, please, coffee

Coffee. Oh #coffeeyescoffee and #butfirstcoffee because there were some amazing coffees at Expo West! I got to see and handle the recyclable k-cup style coffee pods by Marley Coffee (and more important, drink the coffee!). I met the folks behind Steamm, which I’ve stalked during its crowd-funding phase. Café Kreyol introduced me to the boots-on-the-ground work they are doing in Haiti and how coffee can be a force for economic growth in developing nations while still being amazing (I didn’t even put cream in that coffee). Intelligensia Coffee, another staple from my corner store, was there, along with innovative and amazing non-dairy creamers and milk-based creamers, and creamers with functional benefits. Trust me, I’m going to be writing about coffee…

But this is getting long.

So how about a giveaway? I was only able to hit Expo West for two days—the beloved day job expects me to attend—but I still want to share the love and the swag! On Saturday as I was driving to parking, a guy at the intersection gave me two sealed packs of Expo West-related goodness, and I’m giving one to you! This prize pack consists of Naturally Healthy, a special issue of Gourmet News issued just for Expo West, so you can read about innovations in the natural food space; Modern Oats 5 berry all natural oatmeal; Fig Bar in raspberry; Cosmos Creations Coconut Crunch premium puffed corn; fruit bliss organic Turkish mini figs; and a few surprises! You’ve got two weeks to enter, so don’t delay!

Some of the goodies in this giveaway
Some of the goodies in this giveaway


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I’ve been a huge fan of keeping a food and exercise log/journal since I first started to dip my toes into the health and fitness arena. I call it “tracking,” largely because that’s how my Weight Watchers peeps refer to it. Yes, it’s kind of a pain in the butt sometimes, and I’m not 100% compliant with my own goal of tracking every day, but in my experience it’s been a huge help. When I write it down, I stick to my plans. I tend to eat healthier (because who wants to write down, “Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby, 1 pint”??). I tend to workout more because I can see lots of blank space when I haven’t been exercising.

There are many electronic options to track, including free and paid apps and websites where you can track both exercise and food (e.g. My Fitness Pal, Livestrong, FitBit) but I do best when I write things down. For one, I spend so much time on my phone and computer that I don’t really need to find another reason to do that. For two, when I’m using pen and paper it’s easy to track what I had planned versus what I actually did. Or doodle in the margins. Or reward myself with a cool gel pen with funky ink. Finally, I’m more like to review my data if I can thumb through the pages and compare multiple pages at once.

So you might wonder, why bother with tracking? Trust me, it’s not just my personal obsession.

Three reasons you might track

1. Lose Weight

My first experience with tracking was actually when my office started a Weight Watchers group. As part of the program, we kept track of what we ate each day, working to stay within our “points” allowance. Tracking to lose weight is a proven method for adherence to a weight loss program.A study called Long Term Weight Loss Maintenance indicates tracking is also useful for maintenance, noting that some of the factors for long-term success (taken from the National Weight Loss Registry data) include “self-monitoring weight, and maintaining a consistent eating pattern across weekdays and weekends.” (You can read the rest of the abstract for more.)

Mileage Data (Believe Journal)
Mileage Data (Believe Journal)

2. Collect Data

If you’re tracking food intake, you probably know to write down what you ate. Don’t forget to write down how much! You might also write down how you felt afterwards. (I know people who have discovered food sensitivities this way.) Food is really tied up in emotions, and you might discover you’re eating because you are upset or bored!

If you’re tracking workout data, what you track probably depends on what you’re doing. In the P90X programs, Tony Horton recommends writing down how many reps you got through of each exercise (in addition to how much weight you used). If you’re running, you probably want to track time and distance, but you might also want to track weather, road conditions, and other factors that could affect your run.

Tracking both food and exercise allows you to see whether there are correlations (I always run better after a half cup of coffee, I’m miserable if I had champagne the night before), or if you’ve fallen into a habit you’d like to keep up or break up with. Right now I’m also tracking my water intake and hours of sleep.

If you’re really into the idea of collecting up data, you might want to check out the Quantified Self movement and see if there is a meet-up or conference near you.

The big picture page (FitBook)
The big picture page (FitBook)

3. Plan Ahead

If you are training for an event, you probably have some kind of training plan. Runners often plan a certain number of miles or minutes per training day. But planning isn’t just for “those people” (if you’re not one of them!). Maybe you need to plan out your workouts because you’ve got a busy schedule and a full plate, and planning it out ensures it will happen. You could put the workout in your regular calendar like an appointment, then write out the details in your tracker. If you’re following a training plan from a book or magazine, you can pre-write your workout in your tracker. I find carrying my small FitBook much more convenient than bringing the magazine, and I can always note where I made changes or did more reps. Another example, you can use a tracker to plan meals for you or your family (and from that, create your grocery list!). It can save you a bunch of time and money if you plan your meals that way.

Trackers I have known and loved

First, true confession, I’m actually tracking different things in different places. I have a FitBook for food and workouts. I have the Believe Journal for running, where I also write about how the run felt, what I got right and wrong, and my general thoughts about events, etc. I track my weight in the FitBit app. It might seem horribly inefficient to have all this data in different places, but it works for me–I want the graph the FitBit app makes, but I want space to write about my runs. I use the food section of FitBook to track container equivalents from the 21-Day Fix eating plan, but formerly used it to track points.

While you can just grab any notebook and start your own tracker, I’ve not have great success with this. The main issue for me is that since the pages are not organized into days and weeks, it is just too easy to skip a day, and “just for today” turns into “I don’t track anymore.” When I first started tracking I wasn’t sure what I wanted to track, and I tried to do too much, which also made the blank notebooks less than effective. I enjoy the graphic elements of the published trackers as well.

An example of my inspiration collages
An example of my inspiration collages

Weight Watchers

There is a WeWa app now, and some of my friends love it. I’ve never tried it, in part because I found the website quite buggy when I tried to use it to track. Instead, I used the spiral-bound purse-sized trackers. Note that there is a free downloadable tracker, and those attending meetings can pick up single-week trackers (or used to be able to do so–I’ve not checking up on it lately). The link leads to the current journal, which is a 12-week hardcover, because I couldn’t find the spiral-bound one online. Pros: highly portable, used the covers for inspiration collages. Cons: not much room to track exercise, frequently ran out of room to write.

Red for 2015; Lavender for 2016!
Red for 2015; Lavender for 2016!

Believe Journal

This is a running-specific journal, with information, inspiration, and worksheet-like activities between the regular weekly tracking pages. It was created by professional runners Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas. You don’t have to be a runner to use it though–you could use the weekly pages for any activity, the yearly overview for planning, and the worksheets apply to almost every sport. There are some runner-specific information sections that don’t cross-apply though, including a variety of speed workouts, pace charts, and training plans.  Pros: plenty of room to write, spaces are customizable, textured cover, knowledge bombs/content. Cons: too large to carry around in a purse, not designed to track both exercise and food.

Workouts on the left, foods on the right
FitBook: Workouts on the left, foods on the right


I first met FitBook at IDEA World in…wow, 2010. FitBook had a table at the expo, and I was so excited at how much better the format would be for my purposes. FitBook has a place to record stats other than weight, a weekly planning page, and a weekly summary page with space to journal, reflect on the week and how to move forward. There are two daily pages; the left side is for exercise and the right side is for food. The FitBook website and email newsletter deliver some great content for free, including inspiration, receipts, and printable calendars and goals worksheets. Pros: lots of space to track both food and exercise, largely blank areas are highly customizable, spiral binding lays flat for easy use. Cons: some might find it too big to carry daily.

A giveaway!

FitBook and FitBook Lite
FitBook and FitBook Lite

I’ve got ONE brand new FitBook Lite! The “lite” version of FitBook is a six week version of it’s big sister, FitBook. Once you’ve got FitBook Lite in your hands, you can downdload a free kickstart ebook with a meal plan, recipes, tips, and a workout plan guide. Please note: this giveaway is not sponsored by FitBook (or anyone else) in any way.

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Disclosure: I am a 2015 Nuunbassador. This post is not sponsored by Nuun in any way. The giveaway is not sponsored by Nuun. All opinions are my own. Many thanks to Briana of Mat, Miles, Medals for the image above.

December is more than half over, and the new calendar year is almost upon us. (I know, I know–I have to keep saying it to myself over and over, because I barely believe it!) I was fortunate enough to be selected to be a Nuunbassador in 2015, and it’s time to celebrate that adventure coming to a close.

By the way, I decided not to reapply for 2016. That decision had nothing to do with Nuun–which I still drink all the time and am just shy of obsessed with–or my experience (it was great!). So many of my friends were really excited to apply, and really deserved a chance to represent Nuun in 2016. They wanted it SO badly! Since I already had the chance to represent Nuun, and I have my fingers crossed that I’ll be chosen as an ambassador for the Detroit Marathon, I decided to step aside this year. (Hey Nuun, maybe let’s get together again in 2017?) No need to be greedy, and I want to continue to do an excellent job for BibRave in 2016.

So, let’s talk Nuun!

Nuun’s major innovation is to separate hydration from fueling. Most sports hydration drinks are designed to do both, which is why they are filled with sugar–simple sugar can be readily broken down for use as fuel. Unfortunately, many endurance athletes find that consuming too much sugar while hydrating leads to…let’s just call it unpleasant digestive side effects. Nuun decided to separate the hydration (and and accompanying electrolyte replacement) and fueling.

Nuun Active is the original, and comes in the widest variety of flavors. Nuun Active contains the optimal blend of electrolytes because you need more than sodium when running (this is why salt packets are not the best electrolyte replacement!). Nuun has sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Here’s the nutrition facts and ingredients for my favorite flavor, tropical.

Some advantages to choosing Nuun Active for hydration:

  • light flavor
  • highly portable tablet format
  • easy to change or mix flavors
  • thin, non-sticky consistency
  • add more/less water to adjust taste and consistency
Nuun fizzes a bit as it mixes itself. Only add a half tab to champagne.) Image courtesy of Mat, Miles, Medals.
Nuun fizzes a bit as it mixes itself. Only add a half tab to champagne.) Image courtesy of Mat, Miles, Medals.

Since Nuun ships as tablets in a recyclable tube, I suspect it also has less of an environmental impact, at least on the consumer side–no water is shipped so you can move more Nuun with less fuel, and using your own bottle means no disposable plastics. Finally, while the tube is recyclable, many people wash and re-purpose the tubes.

Repurposed Nuun tube. Photo courtesy of @cratina. Follow her at http://fabulosi-t.blogspot.com/
Repurposed Nuun tube. Photo courtesy of @cratina. Follow her at http://fabulosi-t.blogspot.com/

They are just the right size to carry Energy Bits, or store change for parking meters. If you travel as much as I do, you might also use the tubes to pack cotton swabs, part of a Lush bubble bath bar, or earrings.

2015 #TeamNuun kit
2015 #TeamNuun kit

Nuun Active is what I used all year for running. (Nuunbassadors do get a product discount, but frankly the expo special is a better price so I rarely used it.) In addition to my regularly scheduled events, this year was also the first virtual run co-sponsored by Nuun (with Motigo and the website now known as FitFam). Only Nuunbassadors and Team Nuun members could participate, and the run included a cute fitted shirt and medal. Athletes representing Nuun also had the opportunity to purchase specialty Nuun apparel twice during the year. Pactimo prints the Nuun team gear, which is quality technical gear. Most of Pactimo’s styles are for cycling, not running. So, for example, there weren’t running tights, or singlets. I opted for a pair of cycle shorts (encouragement to go to FlyWheel more often!) and a cycling jersey. (It’s got pockets on the back, so I know it wasn’t made for running.)

Andrew--find him on twitter @smartwatermelon--uses Nuun Plus in tri training
Andrew–find him on twitter @smartwatermelon–uses Nuun Plus in tri training

Nuun Plus is the newest Nuun invention. It contains electrolytes and sugar (dextrose and sucrose). Basically, it’s a way to add the fuel into your Nuun. You can easily adjust how frequently you fuel by adding Plus to some bottles, but not to others. I haven’t tried it yet, but my friends who have tried it do like it.

Nuun Energy is my favorite product, especially the cherry limeade. Like Nuun Active, it contains an optimal blend of electrolytes. Unlike Nuun Active, it also contains a B vitamin blend and caffeine. I keep a tube of the cherry limeade on my desk at work, so I have a low-calorie, less junky, option when I need an afternoon boost. (My non-Nuun choices are coffee drinks and sodas.)

Nuun All Day is a multi-vitamin disguised as Nuun! My favorite flavor is the blueberry pomegranate. The flavors are a little different, in part because the vitamin/mineral content is different. I’m not a huge fan of all of them, and as a friend of mine observed, it tastes a little “vitaminy.” I like the blueberry pomegranate all by itself, but you can easily mix it with another flavor (say half tab of each) or mix it into a beverage other than water (such as iced tea).

Finally, there’s U Natural. I’ve never tried it. U Natural is intended for use as hydration in less intense physical activities. (This is not the marathon runner blend.)

You can buy Nuun online, but buying it at your local sports or running store helps them to keep the doors open. The best price for Nuun right now is always at a race expo, where the expo special is two tubes for $10 plus a free refillable bottle.

Speaking of those bottles, I’m a bit of a water bottle junky. I came across an impressive photo of a Nuun bottle collection that essentially took up an entire kitchen cabinet. While I don’t have that many Nuun bottles, I do have quite the collection of other bottles too. When I started this year, I had two Nuun bottles: one Rock ‘n’ Roll, and one Active. I seemed to have crummy luck, and missed all the specialty bottles–the Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas, the Kara Goucher…but really, how many do I need??

The Nuun Vegas bottle, courtesy of @crantina
The Nuun Vegas bottle, courtesy of @crantina

Throughout the course of the year it became clear I was going to end up with MANY more bottles, so I made a rule: I can only keep one in each design. I haven’t used any of the rest of them–that’s where the giveaway comes in!

I’m giving away my extra, brand-new, un-used Nuun bottles! I’ll also put some Nuun samples inside for the lucky winners! Important Note: the samples are not the Nuun-factory-sealed samples. They will be untouched Nuun tablets, poured directly from the Nuun tube into a fresh snack-sized Ziploc bag. (Remember, this isn’t sponsored by Nuun! Cut me some slack, since I’m paying for the product and the shipping; I’d hate to send you a tube and it turns out you hate that flavor.)

Nuun bottles! There will be at least 3 prizes!
Nuun bottles!
There will be at least 3 prizes!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I presented Legal Advice for Bloggers at IDEA World BlogFest 2015 and am a member in good standing of IDEA. This post and the accompanying giveaway are unrelated to my presenter duties, and are not sponsored by IDEA, Sweat Pink, or any other entity. All opinions are my own–you know I’ve got plenty to go around!

BlogFest and IDEAWorld gave me enough to write about for a year (but not the extra hours in the week to #writealltheposts). This is just a re-cap of my top take-aways from the BlogFest portion.

Be your own flower
Be your own flower

#1: Authenticity is the new buzzword.

The word “authenticity” must have come up at least as many times as I am years old. As an undefined intangible in a culture that highly values individuality, it’s a perfect addition to the word collection that includes “disruptor” (formerly known as “paradigm shift”). Everyone said “authenticity” and no one defined it. At the risk of being glib, I would say it is now-speak for “be honest.”

One of my great teachers once said, “Be yourself. All the other jobs are taken.” (Yoga, philosophy, and Sanskrit expert and academic, Douglas R. Brooks.) It is just as true in the blogging world as it is in every other part of the world. The world is filled with blogs, but trying to imitate another blog (or another blogger) is pointless. You can never be as good as they are at being them. Why not be yourself? When I created my blog, I sat down and thought about what is important to me, who I am, and how to keep my blog in line with me.

For example, I’m not obsessed with partnering with brands or accruing swag (not going to lie, I do like both), and it doesn’t make sense to me to pretend to be something or someone I’m not in order to land a partnership. Seriously, if a brand wants a hardcore dedicated runner, they’re going to be disappointed. Even if the brand and product seem like a good fit, I will only promote products and services I use and truly believe in (my recommendation is my reputation, so why would I throw that away for someone else?). Another example is that I don’t like reading “breakfast lunch and dinner” posts (it seems we are calling them “lifecasting” today) so I’m not going to write them. I just don’t enjoy it. If you do, that’s fine–go be you!

Not everyone is going to love you, and that’s okay. Love yourself, be yourself, and remember that what other people think of you is largely none of your business.

Just like lunch, there is plenty to go around.
Just like lunch, there is plenty to go around.

#2:  Stop living in a scarcity mentality.

No one expressly stated this during BlogFest, or at any session I attended at IDEA, yet I thought about it all weekend.

There is enough of EVERYTHING to go around. No matter what you hope to get from your blog–a job, an ambassadorship, a certain number of regular readers, a pat on the back–there is enough for you, and me, and every other blogger. (This is, in part, because we are all different–that pesky “authenticity” thing–so we’re not really competing against each other.)

When I started teacher training at Yoga Kula in Berkeley, one of the teachers there used to collect information on all of the yoga classes in that style taught all over the Bay Area and put them into a single schedule including all teachers and all studios and locations. Some people thought she was nuts (“won’t that drive students to other classes?”) but she explained that (1) that is a scarcity mentality, based on the assumption that there are not enough students to fill all those classes, and (2) there is no “my students,” because you don’t own or control who decides to come to your class. The same is true of blogging. Sharing, promoting, or helping another blogger is not going to drive “your readers” or “your partnerships” away, and you know what they are not really YOURS in the first place! If anything, helping someone else benefits you; you look good for being kind and helpful, and you stick to being who you are and what you do best. Everyone wins.

I regularly tell my yoga students, “hey, I’m an acquired taste. If you don’t like me or don’t like my class, come talk to me. I’ll help you find another teacher and another class that better suits your needs.” Trying to keep every single student happy and returning to my class is exhausting and doesn’t serve me, but more importantly it does not serve my students. There is lots of yoga in the world. To help more people do yoga, the best thing I can do is help them find their yoga. The same is true in blogging. Sure, I know I’m going to keep evolving over time and things may change, but it’s not in my nature to write very short posts (I have Twitter for that!), I don’t rock a highly artistic and sensually beautiful design, and I’m not going to promote meat-based recipes (dude, I’m a vegetarian). If that means my blog is not for you, thanks for visiting. There’s a blog out there for you to read. If you tell me what you’re looking for and I know where you might find it, I’ll tell you.

A rising tide lifts all boats, says the proverb. As the blogging community grows and each of us gets better at what we do, we all win.

Rise and shine!
Rise and shine!

#3: Commit and Follow-Through:
Hard work is always in style.

Ignore the “under promise and over deliver” mantra of the “I’m too cool to sleep” decade. Instead, do what you say you are going to do. If you have time to throw in some bonuses, great. If not, don’t fret.

Personally, it is important to me to follow-through on what I say I am going to do. It is like keeping a promise: the best way to ensure you keep it is to think carefully about what you are committing to do before you make the promise, and then creating a plan to get it done. I’m always surprised when I hear that bloggers who committed to a campaign, or event, or whatever, simply flaked and didn’t do the work. What the what? Guys, unless something truly serious and unanticipated happens–thing emergency, injury, computer goes for a swim in the ocean–follow through on what you say you will do.

It’s ridiculously easy. For example, as a member of the BibRave Pro team, I am sometimes given the opportunity to test out products or services (or run races) related to running. If I accept an assignment, I know that means I am responsible for tweeting about the item/event, attending the #bibchat sponsored by that item/event, writing a blog post, and tracking my social media engagement. If I can’t do those things for whatever reason (maybe the time frame is wrong, for example), I don’t accept the assignment.  Going back to point #2, there is plenty to go around. I don’t need to do everything, but the things I do, I need to do well.

#4: So are genuine kindness and generosity.

This weekend many people generously shared their stories, their advice, their experience, and their knowledge. “Generosity” means freely giving what you are able to offer, without any expectation that the recipient(s) will reciprocate. Mom used to explain to me that life puts you in situations where you are absolutely forced to ask for help or rely on others. (This was definitely true when I was in high school and in a serious car accident that put me in the hospital for two weeks. My terrified parents came to visit me every day. While they were away, other people cooked meals for the family, did the laundry and the dishes, drove my brothers to sports practice and to pick out a new coat; it was actually Mom’s first day at a new job, and the man she was to replace stayed on longer in order to let her spend her time with me. Some of these others were neighbors and close family friends, but even people we did not know well at all–people who were friends of friends of friends–stepped in and did things.) Realistically, there is no way you will ever get to pay back all the people you “borrow” from, and in many cases you won’t even know who they are. Instead, Mom would say, you “pay back” by lending a hand to anyone who needs it when you are able to offer it. (This was long before “pay it forward.” I guess it is a similar idea though.)

During BlogFest, bloggers taught how to do many things (grow a social media following on different platforms, optimize SEO, work with brands). In most cases, this was less textbook information and more “secret sauce”-like things that these bloggers learned by trial and error and trying again. Sometimes it was specialized knowledge from experience in a specific industry, such as my presentation on basics of law for bloggers.

When I first started blogging, I had no idea what I was doing. I don’t have a technical background, and each new thing I try to do still involves some learning and moments of painful frustration. Heck, I still run into “why does the picture keep doing that weird thing?” and “how do I do that?” I’m fortunate to have developed a nice network through Sweat Pink, FitBloggin‘, and groups like Rock ‘n’ Blog, and when I have a question, I ask.  If by some miracle there is a question I can answer, I do.

My favorite slide from BlogFest. Thanks, Melissa Burton!
My favorite slide from BlogFest. Thanks, Melissa Burton!

#5: Page Views and Followers: Not The Only Thing (Maybe Not A Thing)

If you are a blogger, you know that any discussion of blogging inevitable includes at least some mention of SEO (search engine optimization), promoting your blog, and analytics. It kind of makes sense, because most people writing a blog would like it if other people read the blog. New bloggers often find this aspect overwhelming (especially if the actual blogging is already more than enough work!). Going back to that scarcity mentality, many bloggers also worry that their low page-views will prevent them from getting the “good” opportunities.

Seriously, that can’t be the case–because I’ve scored some great opportunities and I don’t have a huge readership. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to try and review new Clif Bar products, serve as a Nuun ambassador, and be on Team Rock ‘n’ Blog. If all opportunities were based just on page views, I’d probably never have any of that because when I applied I didn’t even have an analytics widget installed.

Several of the presenters at BlogFest brought up the idea that bloggers and companies are catching onto the reality of blogging: it’s not a numbers game. One of the presenters, Katy Widrick, asked, “would you rather inspire 10 people, or have 10,000 pass through your blog?” Sure, we’d all like BOTH. But if you had to pick, which would you choose?

Bonus #6: each one of these points is applicable to the unwritten blog that is your life.

Two winners will share these goodies.
Two winners will share these goodies.

BlogFest “wish you were here” pack giveaway!

Please note that to win this giveaway you must NOT have been at BlogFest. (If you were there, you already have this stuff–so share the love! Invite your friends who were not there to win some swag.) By entering this contest, you expressly and affirmatively state that you were not at BlogFest 2015. I am obsessed with water bottles, and they are starting to take over my kitchen. Because of this, I’m going to give away the two water bottles I got at BlogFest. I’m throwing in a bunch of freebies, coupons, and swag too.

Important tip: if you win, you might have to wait a little while before I am able to ship the goods. Patience, grasshopper!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received samples of Everlast Vegan Protein because I am a BibRave Pro and because I am a fitness professional member of IDEA. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com!

As many of you know, I eat vegetarian and have been trying to reduce my egg and dairy intake. As part of my quest to keep a healthy, balanced diet I’ve been in search of a vegan protein powder. Since I drink Shakeology daily, I don’t need a protein powder with added nutrition–I’m just looking for the protein, thanks. I jumped at the chance to try Everlast Vegan Protein!

After I received the samples, I bought the full-sized bag, so you can enter to win those samples. (There is a great sale on right now–the regular price is $68.99, the sale price is $39.99–plus I saved 5% with code TRAINWITHBAIN and scored free shipping and a shaker cup.)

Everlast Vegan Protein
Everlast Vegan Protein

Everlast Vegan Protein currently comes in one flavor, “light vanilla flavor.” It has no dairy, no gluten, no sugar, and no soy. If you have severe allergies, you should know it is made or packaged in a facility that also handles products made with milk, eggs, wheat, and soy (and the package has the required FDA allergen warning on it).

Ingredients. Many protein powders either have a bunch of weird or unnecessary additives. Yes, protein powder is a highly processed food, but I still like to know what is in it and make the best possible choices.

Bag, back view
Bag, back view
  • Pea protein
  • Carrageenan
  • Sea Salt
  • Natural flavor
  • Rice protein
  • Hemp protein
  • Stevia glycoside

The protein blend includes yellow pea protein, rice protein, and hemp protein.  This mix avoids the most common allergens (e.g. soy) while delivering a protein that covers a complete BCAA profile. (Branched-Chain Amino Acids–BCAAs–are the building blocks of protein: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. You can read more about what BCAAs do on the Precision Nutrition site.)

What about the non-protein ingredients? Sea salt is exactly what you think it is. The term “natural flavor” is regulated by the FDA, and is used on the labels of many food products and supplements–and since this protein powder has a flavor, the label has to identify it. If you really want the technical definition, here it is, direct to you from the Code of Federal Regulations:

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring 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.

Since this is a vegan protein, you know the flavor isn’t from meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, or dairy products. (I know, you’re thinking, “why not just say ‘vanilla’?” My guess? That’s complicated, as in there are separate sections of the Code of Federal Regulations with specifications for vanilla. Title 21, Part 169, Subpart B defines:  § 169.176 Concentrated vanilla extract; § 169.177 Vanilla flavoring; § 169.178 Concentrated vanilla flavoring; § 169.179 Vanilla powder; § 169.180 Vanilla-vanillin extract; § 169.181 Vanilla-vanillin flavoring; and § 169.182 Vanilla-vanillin powder. Vanilla is derived from a variety of orchids from the genus vanillia; different flowers grown in different parts of the world produce different flavors. If you want to keep the taste of your product consistent, ideally you’d use the exact same type of vanilla flavor…but vanilla is a picky little diva of a flower that can only be grown in certain places. Any change in the flowers could change the flavor, which means re-sourcing the vanilla. Re-sourcing the vanilla could mean changing from one type of regulated flavor to another–for example from extract to powder–which would require a change in the label, which would lead to a delay in production. In other words, major pain in the butt.)

That leaves carrageenan and stevia glycoside. The dairy industry has worked hard to demonize carrageenan through production of commercials about nut milks. (Backstory: the biggest dairy producers and processors convinced some legislators to introduce a bill that would limit use of the word “milk” to dairy products; they are unhappy that in the current nutritional climate, many people are turning to soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, and similar beverages. When this bill failed, they started to run commercial advertising to influence public opinion by providing just one tiny slice of information about non-dairy milks. Basically, sore losers.) Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed. The Irish began using it in food hundreds of years ago (if not earlier–there’s only so much history we can trace). The Food Babe points to it as one of the most evil things in food, but she relies on animal-only studies that studied poligeenan (which is a different substance) and studies that used huge amounts (more than you’d consume even if you ate all-processed, all the time). (You can read one simple counterpoint to the fear-mongering at the International Food Information Council site. Click the links, use Google Scholar and PubMed, and understand the science.) Carrageenan serves two functions in a protein powder. One, it preserves the nutritional value of the protein. Two, it allows the protein to suspend evenly in liquid, instead of clumping up and floating to the top or sinking to the bottom.

Finally, stevia glycoside. Steviol glycosides are the compounds in the Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plant–at least ten of them–that make the plant sweet. Pure stevia actually has a bitter aftertaste, which is why commercial sweeteners containing stevia usually don’t contain much stevia–and why Truvia (which is like 95% erythritol, a sugar alcohol) is being sued for misleading consumers. The difference is important; stevia, which has been used for over 100 years as a sweetener, does not have an impact on blood sugar, while some sugar alcohols not only impact blood sugar but also affect gut bacteria and may cause intestinal upset in sensitive individuals.  You can read more than you ever wanted to know about stevia from the International Stevia Council. (Yes, it is their job to make stevia sound awesome. Feel free to cross reference with Google Scholar and Pub Med.) Oh, and the amount of stevia added is just enough to make Everlast Vegan Protein not-sour, not-salty. This isn’t a sugar bomb “tastes like a cake mix” product.

My kitchen is the laboratory: Touch Test. Okay, so this might not technically be a test, exactly, but in my experience the texture of the mix affects the final product. The protein powders my brother used in high school were gritty and felt like they contained bits of ground-up gravel in them. The resulting sludges had a sandy texture to them, and any un-mixed lumps brought me right back to falling off the swingset and doing a face plant in the sandbox. Yuck. Birds need to eat gravel and grit, but I surely don’t!

Thankfully, there is no sandy, gritty stuff in Everlast Vegan Protein powder. The dry texture is more like a weightier powdered sugar, or a very soft and creamy powdered makeup. While in the sealed bag, you can almost knead it like bread dough.

pint glass with full scoop of Everlast Vegan Protein
pint glass with full scoop of Everlast Vegan Protein (just pretend you can’t see parts of my kitchen, okay?)

My kitchen is the laboratory: Mix Test. The first test I perform on any drink or protein powder is a mix test: I take the full serving size, put it into a pint glass, and add either water (for fruity-flavored supplements) or skim milk (for protein powder), then stir with a spoon. I don’t always have a shaker cup with me, and sometimes you need to adjust serving sizes to get an optimal mix. Yes, I realized while I was stirring that it is a little ironic that my first test on a vegan protein powder is to mix it with dairy milk. Oops.

The majority of the protein powder mixed thoroughly and dissolved. In hindsight, the amount of space the protein powder took up in the glass means it is unlikely I got the recommended 8 to 12 ounces of liquid in there. Oops. There were a few globs of not-quite-dissolved powder; when I tasted them, they were smooth, like a thick pudding (not at all gritty like my brother’s high school sludges). The resulting protein drink was smooth and had a nice texture. To my surprise it was also very filling, even though a single serving is only 110 calories (plus the approximately 90 calories in the 8 ounces or so of skim milk I put in there).

The flavor was light, as described on the package. It didn’t scream VANILLA! like some vanilla-flavored things. Personally, I consider this a major win, as my search for a protein powder is in part so I can add it to recipes and shakes where I don’t want it to overpower the other ingredients.

One serving mixed with skim milk (opacity = evidence of complete mixing)
One serving mixed with skim milk (opacity = evidence of complete mixing)

My kitchen is the laboratory: Blender Test.  At IDEA World last year, I stopped by the Ninja Kitchen booth, had some delicious green juice, entered a twitter contest, and won a Ninja Ultima! The blender is now my go-to appliance (because it works like a ninja, and because it is so easy to clean) and I use it pretty much every day to make a breakfast smoothie using the single-serve Nutri Ninja cups. Since the mix test above convinced me that I needed more liquid for a full scoop of Everlast Vegan Protein, I made one of my usual recipes and added a half scoop (without changing anything else about the recipe). I was a little afraid that I should have added the liquid first–some of the powder hit the bottom of the cup, and I wasn’t sure whether the Ninja could get it fully mixed-in, given the softness of the product.

Fortunately the Ninja worked like a champ, and the Everlast Vegan Protein blended into the smoothie 100% (no unblended bits). The smoothie tasted pretty much like I expected it to taste, with a subtle hint of vanilla in there. I could definitely tell I had added more protein, as the smoothie had a little more weight to it, and I felt sated longer than I usually do after a smoothie.

The not-so-good. The only downside to Everlast Vegan Protein is the packaging. (I was going to add the flavor–there’s a thing called “flavor fatigue” if you always have the same thing–but the flavor is so light that you can add anything to it, or add it to anything, and come up with a million tasty flavors.) I like that the packaging is minimal, just a single, theoretically re-seal-able bag. I’m trying to cut down on how much trash I generate, and since I own plenty of portable containers and such there isn’t any reason why I should need individually-wrapped servings. I like that it’s not a giant plastic canister like most other brands of protein, as those take up way too much space in my kitchen and are usually about 25% larger than necessary.

I count the packaging as a downside, because the ziploc-style re-seal-able top is incompatible with the product. When I tried to re-seal the bag, the single set of grooves refused to mate and seal; both sides of the bag had the fine dust of Everlast Vegan Protein thoroughly filling in the groove. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get the bag to seal shut again. This led me to dump the bag into a Tupperware-type square container with a tight-fitting lid. Unfortunately, the fluffy texture of the powder meant that even though I tried to prevent any giant dust-poof (if you’ve ever poured flour into a storage jar, or tried to seal a flour bag shut, you’ve met the dust-poof), the product got all over my counter and myself. Oops. Now that it is in the container, and I’ve washed and dried the scoop (which I put into the container with the handle OUT of the product), I’m good to go.


Since I went all-in and bought the two pound Everlast Vegan Protein bag, I don’t need the samples. Since I have a bit of a drinking vessel habit–seriously, I can’t resist a cute water bottle or shaker cup–I don’t need the shaker cup either. (Trust me, it pains me to give this one away, but I’m trying SO HARD not to turn into my packrat Nana.) This giveaway features TWO prizes! Prize #1: two samples of Everlast Vegan Protein. Prize #2: two samples of Everlast Vegan Protein plus an Everlast shaker cup.



a Rafflecopter giveaway

P.S. remember there is a great sale on right now–the regular price is $68.99, the sale price is $39.99–plus I saved 5% with code TRAINWITHBAIN and scored free shipping and a shaker cup. (That code is good on anything on the Everlast Nutrition site, and does not expire.)

P.P.S. Want to see what the other BibRave Pros thought about Everlast Vegan Protein?

Disclosures: (1) I received an advance copy of The Food Babe Way. In consideration for the advance book, I committed to review the book. I was not asked to say (or refrain from saying!) anything. (For the record, I would never accept anything for review that required me to include specific content in my review and pass it off as my opinion.) Prior to receiving the advance copy, I had ordered a copy through Amazon.com All opinions in this review are my own. (2) I have monitored Ms. Hari’s blog, Food Babe, for several years and have signed some of her petitions asking food manufacturers to disclose ingredients or reformulate products without certain ingredients.

In order to evaluate a book review, you need to know a little bit about the reviewer and the reviewer’s bias. The following points may help you evaluate my opinions on this book:

  • I’ve spent a lot of time in school and otherwise immersed in academic writing. Nutrition and food fascinate me, and I’m studying for a nutrition certification with Precision Nutrition. I read research and papers on topics that interest me for fun. My job requires me to read voluminous medical records and published medical studies. When evaluating claims, I want to read published studies and reports as well as criticism of them. Not every claim has been scientifically studied, of course, but I want to read the state-of-the-art whether that is peer-reviewed research or the pros and cons of an untested theory.
  • Food is not just “fuel,” because what your body builds and rebuilds itself by using the food you eat. “You are what you eat” is more than a trite saying, it is a scientific truth. I’m not suggesting that you’re going to turn into a chickpea, but if you eat a chickpea, your body will act like the Star Trek’s Borg and assimilate it. (Science and science-fiction in one sentence! Nerd alert!)
  • I believe people have the right to know what is in the food they are eating. I think every ingredient in a food product should be on the label. I think packaged food should be much more regulated than it is in the United States (as it is currently much more highly regulated in Europe, for example, and the economy hasn’t died). Realistically, very few people are going to just stop eating all packaged or processed food and for some–including those living in domestic violence shelters or other situations without access to refrigeration–it is impossible.
  • Not every “chemical” is a “toxin” or “poison” that deserves a bunch of hype. I understand that “chemicals” include things that are beneficial and that I absolutely want to consume every day. (Dihydrous oxide, anyone? Bottoms up!) I understand that heavy metals are harmful to human health when present in large quantities, and that heavy metals occur naturally in even the best soil and thereby become part of plants. Whether something is a “toxin” often depends on the dose; it is possible to die from drinking too much water, for example, and eating apple seeds (which contain a trace amount of arsenic) is not harmful to health over the long term. Further, some substances–such as fluoride–are still hotly debated and there is a lack of scientific consensus on their use. Finally, your body uses the digestive system, including the kidneys and liver, to remove the majority of “toxins” from your body. The easiest way to “detox” is to drink water, get some exercise, and stop putting “toxins” into your body. (People trying to sell you a juice cleanse, detox cleanse, herbal cleanse, herbal detox, etc. just want your money.)
  • I’m aware that the word “natural” is not legally regulated on product or food packages, and that manufacturers can use the word “natural” on product labels to mean anything they want. Not all “natural” things are good for human beings to eat, drink, or breathe. Crocidolite asbestos and arsenic are both “natural” by just about any definition of the term, but I don’t want either in my food.
  • As for GMOs, whether you believe that eating them is harmful to humans doesn’t matter to me. There are plenty of other reasons not to eat GMO foods, including, for example, my extreme distaste for Monsanto’s actions in and out of the U.S. and Canadian courts, and the fact that GMO crops are designed to be doused with pesticides (the opposite of the organic farming methods I’d like to see take over the majority of food production).

Let’s Review A Book!

Since the majority of this review is turning out to be constructive criticism (with very little cheerleaderage in there), I want to point out that I like this book. This book does three specific things that I find valuable. First, it encourages readers to think about what they eat, read labels, and make deliberate choices. Second, it provides an example (granted it is the author) of one person who changed her eating habits and benefitted from it.  Third, the most important part, this book outlines very specific steps the reader can take to improve food habits.

Is this a good book? That depends on your criteria for a “good” book. If you want to know where Vani Hari (aka Food Babe) comes from, her personal experience with food and changing her food choices, specific steps Ms. Hari recommends for changing eating habits, and some tasty recipes, this is a great book. If you are looking for an in-depth treatise on nutrition, or a scientific explanation that cites every study in favor of food additives as well as those against it, this isn’t your book. Ms. Hari is a food blogger, not an ivory tower academic, and a person with strong opinions–she makes absolutely zero pretense to be an unbiased journalist.

At the outset, I’m not a fan of the book’s full title, The Food Babe Way: Break Free from the Hidden Toxins in Your Food and Lose Weight, Look Years Younger, and Get Healthy in Just 21 Days! I’m sure the editors and publishing house had a great deal of say in this, as their job is to market the book and sell books. Also, from reading about advertising, public relations, and the book industry, I’m aware that books that promise to deliver a result within a specific number of weeks or days sell very, very well. (Examples: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 10-Day Detox Diet, 40 Days to Personal Revolution.) Book marketing experts suggest making a big promise in the title to help sell the book. (See “Book Marketing, the 10 Commandments of Nonfiction Book Title Success” by Roger C. Parker, on bookbuzzr.com He also recommends the numbers strategy.) Personally, I think the subtitle hurts Ms. Hari’s big-picture message, which is about making informed food choices and creating food habits that are sustainable in the long term. It also begs to have the credibility questioned due to the big claims and use of “Hidden Toxins.” Seriously, even my eyes rolled when I saw that! At least they didn’t try to put the word “diet” in the title. (I hate the word “diet,” but that is a topic for a separate post.)

One of the things that sets Vani Hari apart from other food bloggers is that when she publishes a post (or “investigation”) dedicated to a specific topic, she doesn’t just rely on fear-mongering (chemicals!) or her own opinion (it’s bad!). Instead, she takes the time to do some research on her subject. For example, in her February 5, 2015 post regarding the use of BHT in breakfast cereals, Ms. Hari backs her claims with citations to outside sources. Even if you disagree with the politics of the Environmental Working Group, the citation she provides is to their summary of publications about BHT, which includes the information necessary to go read those publications yourself. She also cites to articles available via PubMed, including one from the Oxford University publication Carcinogenosis, and articles available via Wiley; there are also citations to publications by the European Food Safety Authority (a European Union agency). You can click on the citations and go read the research–you can see for yourself if Ms. Hari is blowing smoke or accurately representing the research. That’s transparency, and it is a good thing. (See “Kellogg’s & General Mills: Drop the BHT From Your Cereal – Like You Do In Other Countries!” at Food Babe.)

FB book

But let’s talk about the actual book now, right?

The Foreward by Mark Hyman is very complimentary, yet the excessive hyperbole–comparing Ms. Hari to Rachel Carson and Marin Luther King Jr.–is a bit much. Dr. Hyman made a more apt comparison when he described Ms. Hari as “a modern-day David, facing the Goliath of the trillion-dollar food industry[.]” Since Ms. Hari cites his work and lists his books in the recommended reading list, it looks a little mutual-love-festy. Meh. I’m not sure that anyone but me and the other dyed-in-the-wool nerds actually reads forewards anymore, so let’s move along.

The Introduction begins en media res, just as any good tale should (at least according to what I learned in my college literature classes): with Ms. Hari in a conference room trying to convince Kraft Foods to take the artificial dyes out of their macaroni and cheese in North America. (As she points out, they had already done this in Europe, so it wasn’t some impossible quest.) Ms. Hari is very opinionated and refers to the artificial dyes as poison and chemicals, which is a legitimate point of view–they are petroleum products that can cause allergic reactions–but starting the book out this way is going to turn off a large percentage of potential readers. It’s clear to me at the outset that this book was written specifically for the “Food Babe army” (people who read Ms. Hari’s blog or follow her on social media and often join her in petitions to change the way processed foods are made) and not to convert the unbelievers. The Introduction continues with a brief before and after of Ms. Hari. It explains how she ate growing up as a kid, and later as an independent young adult. You learn how she got the name “Food Babe” and how she attributes positive changes in her life and body to radically changing how she ate (basically moving from eating mostly fast food and packaged foods while drinking tons of soda, and towards eating mostly whole and unprocessed foods while drinking tons of water and some teas). Like any good social media offering should, the Introduction ends with a “call to action,” first by asking questions (e.g. “Do you find yourself unable to focus during the day?”) and then by making promises (e.g. “I will show you how to…Develop twenty-one positive, everlasting habits, a day at a time, that will get you off chemical-laced food.”)


Chapter 1. Easing readers into the “why” behind the call to action, Ms. Hari continues with stories about the ingredients in Yogoforia, Chipotle, Chik-fil-A, and Subway. She also tells how she ran for a delegate seat to the Democratic National Convention so she could start a conversation about genetically modified organisms (GMOS). In the two days since the book launched, I’ve read multiple criticisms of Ms. Hari’s extremely simplified explanation of what a GMO is, but I have read zero criticisms of the reason Ms. Hari gives for fighting GMOs: “Genetic modification is done to make a fruit or vegetable more hardy or impervious to the application of specific pesticides. These pesticides are linked to myriad diseases.” Unfortunately the end notes don’t include a citation to back that claim. I’m not bothered by this because I’ve listened to enough radio reports on asthma, lung ailments, and cancer in the farmworkers of California’s Central Valley, where pesticide application is epidemiologically linked to these health problems. (Remember Cesar Chavez and the grapes, anyone?) Further, I’d add (because Ms. Hari does not) that pesticides don’t just “go away” after they are sprayed on crops or rinsed off of produce, and there are more sustainable farming methods available to us. After explaining why she targets food companies instead of the government, she gives a super-short history of the FDA. (For a longer, more thorough explanation with a more neutral tone, I highly recommend reading Pandora’s Lunchbox by Melanie Warner. Ms. Hari cites it in Appendix B: Recommended Reading and Resources, and I found it a quit and easy read.)

Chapter 2 focuses on what Ms. Hari calls “The Sickening 15.” These are:

1. Growth Hormones in Meat
2. Antibiotics
3. Pesticides
4. Refined and Enriched Flour
5. Bisphenol (BPA)
6. High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
7. Artificial Sweeteners
8. Preservatives
9. Trans Fats
10. Artificial and Natural Flavors
11. Food Dyes
12. Dough Conditioners
13. Carrageenan
14. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
15. Heavy Metals and Neurotoxins

This section is overly ambitious in the amount of material it tries to cover. Each of the 15 gets just a cursory treatment (though there are citations relevant to some of them in the end notes, but most people won’t read them). Some of the items on this list are pretty easy and don’t require a lot of space to convince most people they probably don’t want to eat them. For example, BPA, MSG, and trans-fats have been widely covered by the news media, and it’s going to be hard to find anyone who actively promotes eating antibiotics and pesticides or something called a “neurotoxin.” (Side note: Ms. Hari puts the hotly debated fluoride in this category, right in between ethanol and lead and along with arsenic PCBs, and DDT.) A few of the other categories are much less convincing.

Let’s take #4, for example. Ms. Hari gives a two paragraph critique/explanation. First, this flour is stripped of its fiber and nutrients during processing, and the manufacturers then add “synthetic nutrients” back in, and may bleach it to obtain a whiter color by using chlorine or peroxide. Second, “a number of breads are loaded with added sugar to make them taste better.” A critical reader is not going to find this a convincing reason to put white flour on the same list as pesticides. I get that the fiber is taken out and Americans have notoriously low fiber-intake. To be more convincing, I would like Ms. Hari to explain why “synthetic” nutrients are inferior to non-“synthetic” nutrients. While it sounds scary to say the flour is then bleached with chlorine or peroxide, is there any evidence that chlorine residue or peroxide residue remains in the finished ingredient (flour) or product (bread or other baked good)? If so, is there any evidence that chlorine or peroxide residue is harmful if eaten? I mean, I’m CERTAIN that I’ve swallowed some swimming pool water so surely I’ve gulped down in a few mouthfuls of pool water more chlorine than is in a slice of Wonder bread. As for peroxide, I used a home remedy mouth and tooth wash after getting my wisdom teeth removed that contained (among other things) hydrogen peroxide. Wouldn’t two weeks of brushing with that concoction give me a higher dose than eating a muffin? Finally, the entire second paragraph is about sugar added to bread, not about what makes “refined and enriched flour” something to leave out of my diet. (Though that–and “the Food Babe Way” paragraph following it–are good arguments for avoiding junky white bread and reading labels.) While there is more information on white flour later in the book in the section about choosing carbs, it really belongs here, where it might encourage someone to read far enough to get to the section about choosing carbs.

To be clear, I am not a giant fan of refined and processed white flour. I think Ms. Hari is right on the money, but could have done a much better job of explaining it and documenting the state of the science and nutritional knowledge.

Chapter 3‘s title, “Cut Out the Chemical Calories” is, again, an indicator this is preaching to the already-converted. Over-reliance on the word “chemical” is a legitimate criticism of this book. (I would have called this chapter, “Cut Out the Fake Food.” Not that anybody asked.) This section is again overly ambitious, in that it attempts to cover a large amount of territory in a small amount of space. As a result, the quality of the information presented is somewhat uneven. The topic of obesogens gets a mere two pages (of which only two and a half paragraphs explain it), sufficient to potentially induce panic or fear but insufficient to provide an education. The claim that fructose is “metabolized in the body like a fat,” is not exactly true. (See: “All About Fructose” by Ryan Andrews at Precision Nutrition.) Fructose is initially digested like any other monosaccharide, though it has some unique properties. Fructose is then metabolized exclusively in the liver, where it can be converted to glucose derivatives and eventually stored in the liver as glycogen. Because the liver has a limited amount of space to store this glycogen, any excess fructose will be stored as fat. As Mr. Andrews explains, “a very high single-serving dose of fructose is much more likely to find a home around your middle.” Hopefully Ms. Hari will correct this in subsequent editions of the book, explaining that due to the manner in which it is metabolized in the liver, fructose is more likely to be stored as fat than used as energy.

One area where Ms. Hari could have saved space is in her critique of various “diet” plans, as her criticisms of the various diets are basically the same (i.e. all can include GMOs, pesticides, and those nasty “chemicals” and for those that include meat they can include antiobiotics). She could also have omitted every one of the sections titled “the chemicals you might eat on this diet” as with the exception of raw foods and paleo, each one is just another example of how processed foods contain a wide variety of additives that we might want to reconsider eating. This wasn’t particularly helpful or persuasive. By skipping this section, Ms. Hari could have spent more time clearly explaining obesogens and presenting more of the science and facts about the “Sickening 15.” By the way, may of Ms. Hari’s critics have written Amazon reviews that claim nothing she says in the book is backed by research. This clearly indicates they have not read the book, which includes 10 pages of end notes in Appendix D. I assume the choice to use end notes instead of footnotes was made by the publisher, as many readers are turned off or intimidated by footnotes. Personally I find it unfortunate, as it means critical readers have to constantly flip from the chapter they are reading back to the end notes to determine whether there is a note applicable to the fact, claim, or recommendation they are reading.

Part II: 21 Days of Good Food and Good Habits

This section is broken up into three sections that roughly translate to habits around drinks, habits around food at home, and habits around food elsewhere (e.g. travel, grocery store). Think of it as eat, drink, and be merry. (Or in order, drink, eat, and be merry.) These are a set of 21 habits Ms. Hari personally practices and recommends. It is set up so the reader can add one new habit each day for three weeks.

Chapter 4: “Fluid Assets for Food Babes.” The first seven habits can be summarized as follows: (1) warm lemon water each morning; (2) green juice or green smoothie daily; (3) NO drinks with meals (also don’t chew gum and maybe drink ginger tea); (4) “Be Aware of What’s in Your Water” (filter all water, also applies to showering); (5) eat less dairy; (6) quit soda; and (7) “Love Your Liver” (a discussion of alcohol, including additives in beer). In principle, I think most people who are on board with consuming fewer additives (or avoiding the “Sickening 15”) would be on board here. Drink more water? Get some of your greens in by hiding them in a drink? Quit soda? Of course! We all know we should be better at hydrating ourselves, right? And if you want to avoid hormones and antibiotics, conventionally produced dairy is a good way to start. All of these recommendations sound like fine and healthy habits to me. At the minimum, even the most conservative reader or the most voracious critic is going to have a hard time arguing any of these habits are harmful.

While none of the habits recommended in this section are actually harmful, this is an area where the skeptics are going to have a “Where’s the science?” field day. For starters, there are no citations to back up the claims Ms. Hari makes in the chapter on drinking hot lemon water or apple cider vinegar.

  • Of the six citations in the end notes, two are to The Townsend Letter, a source of dubious credibility and quality: (1) content includes articles on practices not backed by any science, such as iridology; (2) the doctor who maintains Quackwatch.com lists it as “not recommended;” (3) the publication website admits in the disclaimer that “We encourage reports which frequently are not data-based but are anecdotal. Hence, information presented may not be proven or factually correct.”; (4) publisher and editor, Dr. Jonathan Collins, has been publicly criticized for using chelation therapy (FDA approved for treatment of mercury and lead poisoning) for vascular disorders (See http://www.ncahf.org/nl/1996/7-8.html) but there is no evidence that chelation therapy is effective for this use, according to the Mayo Clinic (see http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/chelation-therapy/basics/definition/prc-20013013).
  • A third citation from a more than dubious source is to the Gerson Healing Newsletter, which is published by the Gerson Institute, which describes itself as ” a non-profit organization located in San Diego, California, dedicated to providing education and training in the Gerson Therapy, an alternative, non-toxic treatment for cancer and other chronic degenerative diseases.” (Text taken from http://gerson.org/gerpress/about-us/). Yet Gerson Therapy, which includes coffee enemas, juicing, and supplements, hasn’t proven to cure cancer, and has caused life-threatening infections via their treatments. (See http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/cancer.html for a thorough explanation and citation to sources of underlying facts.) So that’s 3 out of 6 references that are untrustworthy.
  • A fourth reference is to Reverse Aging, a book that recommends drinking alkaline water (not acidic water like lemon water) and isn’t a worthy reference even on the topic of “reverse aging.” (See The Healthy Skeptic by medical journalist Robert J. Davis, especially chapter 9 and “Position Statement on Human Aging” written and joined by a crowd of MDs and PhDs published in the Journal of Gerontology at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12145354?dopt=Abstract or http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/antiagingpp.html).
  • That leaves us with the only two citations for the entire chapter that have any merit:
    • One, an article from the peer-reviewed European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “Vinegar supplementation lowers glucose and insulin responses and increases satiety after a bread meal in healthy subjects.” Nothing at all to back the claims about drinking warm lemon water or apple cider vinegar every morning (and who eats “a bread meal”??).
    • Two, an article from the Environmental Nutrition newsletter, “Pucker up for lemons and limes: tart, refreshing and healthful.” Unfortunately this article is only available to subscribers, so I wasn’t able to see more than the first paragraph. I actually found two articles with this title, both of which appeared to have recipes.

I spent about an hour with Google, PubMed, Precision Nutrition, and WebMD, looking for any publications to back the claims about drinking lemon juice and came up with nothing. What I don’t understand is why Ms. Hari didn’t either cite to a respected publication about Ayurveda or interview an Ayurvedic clinician who also teaches; drinking warm lemon water in the morning is a practice I recognize as recommended by some yoga teachers and Ayurvedic practitioners. No, this is not the same as providing a citation to peer-reviewed, published research, but as others will point out if I don’t: who is going to fund and conduct a study on drinking lemon water? (You can’t patent it. You can’t put it in a pill and sell it.)

Does this  mean there is no benefit to drinking lemon water in the morning? NO! In fact, I’m actually going to try it out for a few weeks and see how it feels in my body. It seems logical that starting the day by hydrating is a good thing, since sleeping means hours spent losing water through respiration and not taking in any fluids. Since dehydration is often confused with hunger signals, I’m not at all surprised to read individual anecdotal reports that people ate less after adding more fluid to their bodies.  At least one article I read hypothesizes there might be a psychological effect, in that starting the day with what feels like a virtuous act may encourage you to make better choices throughout the rest of the day. Plus hey, it tastes nice.

As for apple cider vinegar, I think it is lovely in salad dressings.  Alas, WedMD reports there is insufficient evidence to support health claims. See Apple Cider Vinegar. If you really want to drink it, go right ahead–just be sure to dilute so you don’t get an unpleasant burning sensation in your mouth/throat or take the enamel off of your teeth.

Two more points I’d be remiss without addressing.

One, in the section that discusses drinking more water–specifically filtered water–Ms. Hari also recommends installing water filters for the shower/bath. Initially this sounded a little extreme to me, but then I rent a place connected to plumbing laid down in the 1950s that does all it can just to pump the water to my house, and I have neither permission nor incentive to install water filters. (Also, I’ve read my local water utility reports on water quality, and investigated where my water comes from and how it is processed.) Setting that aside, if you are worried about additives and chemicals in your bath water, you’d probably better step out of the bath and examine the bath products, soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, cosmetics, and other lotions and potions you apply to your skin. You think processed food is complicated? It doesn’t hold a candle to beauty products! (If you are interested, check out Look Great, Live Green: Choosing Bodycare Products that Are Safe for You, Safe for the Planet by Deborah Burnes and start making your own body care products.)

Two, in the part about reducing dairy intake, Ms. Hari recommends raw milk, which is unpasteurized (non-homogenized) milk. She does not even pay lip service to the potential hazards of raw milk or explain what pasteurization is or why milk in this country is generally pasteurized. Since she didn’t explain, I will. Pasteurization is a process that prevents infected milk from entering the food supply. The process was invented after the initial discovery of germ theory in the 1890s. The idea was that treating the milk would prevent the milk from spreading diseases from cows to humans. Before we had a way to test milk for bacteria, pasteurization was the best way to prevent diseases from spreading. Unfortunately, the old version of “Big Food” wasn’t any more trustworthy than the modern one, and after the discovery of tests to determine which cows were infected with things that could be passed on to humans there were some unscrupulous farmers who lied and falsified test results, so unpasteurized milk still had a decent chance of passing on a disease or two.

Now we know that E coli, Listeria, Salmonella, tuberculosis, diphtheria, thyphoid, strep, and other potential disease-causing organisms can be present in raw milk. These are especially dangerous to people with weak immune systems (including very young children, very old people, pregnant women, and those going through chemotherapy). That’s why the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services, and other agencies recommend those people avoid raw milk. This isn’t to say there is no safe raw milk in the world. (I find it very reasonable that Ms. Hari’s grandparents and neighbors, who shared a cow they had a vested interest in keeping very healthy, drank and cooked with that cow’s raw milk.) This IS to say that if you choose to consume raw milk, you need to be aware of the potential dangers and be very careful about where you buy raw milk and how you handle and store it. I also recommend you read the article, “Got E. Coli? Raw Milk’s Appeal Grows Despite Health Risks” in Scientific American, and keep yourself up to date on the state of the research regarding raw milk and the motivations for the political arguments on both sides of the raw milk debate.

Chapter 5: “Food Habits for Food Babes.” The next group of habits revolves around making better food choices. If you are following the 21-day plan, habits #8 through #14 are about making little changes in how you choose what to chew. Skip fast food? Makes total sense. Eat less sugar? Of course that’s a healthier habit! Get choosey about which meat you choose to eat (if you eat meat at all–I don’t)? Yes, all for it! Eat more fresh, raw produce? Great idea!

Again, there are many items that could be better researched, documented, and explained.  Yes, cellulose is “the same ingredient that is in sawdust” [page 149] but it is also in kombucha (“The kombucha culture is a collection of yeast and bacteria encased in cellulose.” Precision Nutrition article, “All About Kombucha”) and in most plants, including plants you eat (see discussion in “All About Raw Food” on Precision Nutrition, and “All About Fiber” on Precision Nutrition, as well as any basic biology textbook). Day 9, “Detox from Added Sugar,” could be much better documented, especially regarding the potentially unhealthy effects of consuming artificial sweeteners. I know there are reputable publications because I’ve seen them. While Ms. Hari accurately points out that Truvia, the Coca-Cola Company’s “stevia sweetener,” also contains erythritol, she doesn’t point out that erythritol is actually the main ingredient! Day 10, “Eat Meat Responsibly,” spends more time explaining Ms. Hari’s relationship to meat than explaining exactly how grain-fed (factory farmed) beef differs nutritionally from grass-fed beef; this would have been a great opportunity to set out a more detailed explanation of the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio, foreshadowing Day 13’s focus on a healthy fat balance.

Since she spent half of page 69 dumping on the raw food diet, Day 11 (“Eat Raw More Than Half the Time”) would have been a great location to remind readers that the nutritional content of some foods increases when cooked (Ms. Hari cites carrots and tomatoes on page 69), set out those foods and some credible sources explaining why and how that is true. She also misses a prime opportunity to re-hook the reformed dieters in her readership with the fact that because raw produce has a larger volume than cooked food (or meat or processed food) with similar caloric value. Read: raw foods full up your tummy, triggering the satiety hormones that signal your brain to stop eating. I take issue with the Day 13 proclamation that “cooking oils are largely responsible” for screwing up the omega-3 to omega-6 relationship (because clearly factory farm, grain-fed beef–what’s in the processed food and fast food and even the butcher shops in this country–plays a gigantic role here). Also, Ms. Hari falls prey to the “coconut oil is healthy!” fad, without addressing the differences between what the only published research studied (coconut oil with a very high medium-chain fatty acid content) and what we can buy at the store (not so much with the medium-chain fatty acids). Day 14’s discussion of adding in superfoods could have referenced Mario Villacorta’s new book, The Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Super Foods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss, especially regarding pichuberries (which I suspect are the same as the “golden berries” discussed on page 209). I’m a little surprised Ms. Hari didn’t mention Energy Bits (a small U.S. company that produces algae tablets that are 100% pure algae and third-party certified GMO-free). Perhaps in the second edition? (Ms. Hari if you are reading this, I’d happily send you a sample of Energy Bits. I love them!)

There are some things that are done well too, of course. The day focused on carbs briefly addresses ancient grains, using zucchini and squash “noodles,” bean pasta (processed food, to be sure), and intact grains. Most people think “carbs” means “white bread and pasta” and don’t think beyond that to the better-for-you choices, like sprouted breads. Each time one of the new habits involved “taking away” something–like fast food–Ms. Hari points out a variety of substitutes or better choices. Plus there are recipes in the back of the book, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Chapter 6: “Feats of A Real Food Babe” is the last piece in the third section of this book. This section is all about habits involving food choices and environments. It addresses GMOs, dining out,  what to keep in the kitchen, the grocery store, cooking (as opposed to heating up things from packages), sleep (“fast every day”), and travel.

This section is where the very hands-on advice comes into  play, and is probably my favorite of the three chapters in this section of the book. The pages on shopping provide concrete advice on how to keep the grocery bills down, directly contradicting the naysayers who complain, “eating healthy is to expensive!” For example, she points to private-label (“store brand” or “house brand”) options available at even Walmart and Target. She provides a list of priorities for choosing organic over conventional (to avoid pesticides, etc.) and refers to the Environmental Working Group’s “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen” lists for more information. Ms. Hari also provides a list of places to find coupons, online shopping choices, what to freeze, what to make from scratch to save; she also highlights strategies such as planning in advance (how many people do you know that either shop without a list or buy random things not on the list?), shopping at farmers’ markets, and CSAs.

Part III: The 21-Day Food Babe Way Eating Plan and Recipes

True confession: I’m not a big meal-plan follower. It’s a combination of things…I’m lazy (or busy, or tired, or whatever), I travel a lot for work, and I don’t like to cook on weeknights. If you are a fan of a plan, there are 21 days of meals set out for you, as well as a bullet point list of multiple snack options.

The eating plan starts out with a brief note on ingredients–guidelines for choosing the staples you need to cook (butter, flour, oils, soy sauce, etc.). There are more than 50 recipes for beverages, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts, and pretty much any other ordinary occasion you might want to eat. The recipes include relatively ordinary options that probably won’t scare your average American too much: sweet potato fries, lemon lime cooler, frittatas, tomato kale soup, white bean chili, mac ‘n’ cheese. There are also some more adventurous choices, such as My Perfect Green Juice, quinoa veggie scramble, carrot ginger salad dressing, Moroccan veggie and chickpea soup. None of the recipes calls for fancy cooking skills or complicated techniques. Most of them are limited to 6 or fewer steps, and include instructions to chop/slice/dice, heat/simmer/boil, and similarly familiar actions. The My Basic Green Smoothie recipe translates roughly to “throw this stuff in a blender and hit go.” These are non-intimidating recipes that should be accessible to most people, even some kids who are old enough to be trusted with sharp objects.

The End

When I was a kid, we wanted to stay up as late as possible. When the movie credits started to roll for The Wizard of Oz (a once-a-year televised treat in those pre-VCR days), we begged Mom to let us “watch the over part.” The appendices in this book are a pretty good over part.

Appendix A outlines the basic steps for creating an online petition to change the food system.

Appendix B is a list of recommended resources. The items on the list are principally things intended for popular consumption, such as Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser; the list of blogs is longer than the list of books. The recommended websites don’t include Pub Med (or even WebMD). The items on the list vary wildly in quality. It is my personal opinion that Ms. Hari’s continued recommendation of Dr. Oz and Dr. Mercola tarnishes her reputation and needlessly opens her to criticism. (For those who are unaware, a recent review of the advice and recommendations on the Dr. Oz show found that “For recommendations in The Dr Oz Show, evidence supported 46%, contradicted 15%, and was not found for 39%.” This study was led by Cristina Koronwynk at the University of Alberta and can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g7346 Mercola, an osteopath–not MD–who has appeared on the Dr. Oz show much to the dismay of most of the medical profession, and has received repeated warning from the FDA to stop making illegal claims about the supplements and other devices he peddles on his website–which include a tanning bed and multiple types of vitamins. Read “FDA Orders Dr. Mercola to Stop Illegal Claims” on Quackwatch for the dates and descriptions of the FDA warnings, as well as other citations.
While there is a decent set of end notes, Ms. Hari does not clearly distinguish between and among peer-reviewed published research, published articles, studies, news articles, and publications that are editorial or opinion.

Appendix C is a chart listing companies and the amounts of money they contributed to fight bills for mandatory GMO labeling from Oregon, Washington, California, and Colorado. Since all bills are subject to unsavory amendments and additions or deletions, and many are poorly drafted at the outset, I would have liked to see the texts of these bills included. (I might be the only one though; I’m nerdy like that).

Appendix D is the bibliography/end notes



Writing a book is a TON of work. Vani Hari’s first foray into the book world is an ambitious attempt to cover a lot of material in one volume. While it falls short of my expectations in terms of fact-checking and documentation, I recognize that I’m trained to be a critical reader and that the vast majority of the Food Babe Army (and the rest of the world) is likely to find me a nit-picky rhymes-with-witch. (I’m good with that.) I’m excited to try out the recipes, and implement some of the suggestions for eating while traveling. I really do hope there is a second, expanded edition in which Ms. Hari edits and adds, explains and educates, and maybe reorganizes some of the contents a bit.

We need a reasonably sane “voice of the people” type of food activist on our side, the side of the people who need to eat and would to know what it is we are eating and how it might affect us. Publicly criticizing large, rich food manufacturers is not a recipe for popularity. It makes you a target. I’m glad there is someone willing and able to publicly take concrete actions. A big old-fashioned protest is nice, but mass mob scenes don’t get results. Focused and carefully thought out demands, backed by a small army of consumers, DO get results–as Vani Hari has demonstrated repeatedly.

Win a book!

Want to win a copy of The Food Babe Way? Since I now have two–the one I pre-ordered and the one I received to review–I’m giving one away. It’s an easy read, and even with all the things I criticized about the book I still think it is a worthy read. If nothing else, it is guaranteed to give you some new things to think about food AND some tasty recipes that are pretty easy to make.
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