Friday, January 29, 2010

Snack survival guide: Super Yogurt

Luckily, Greek Yogurt isn't useless and awful like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"

One of the main habits that separates the fat and the merely out of shape is manic snacking. A little pressure rolls your way or you miss a meal and all of a sudden you're mainlining bacon grease and raiding your children's Lunchables.

It may sound difficult, but the trick is to eat meals that fill you up, drink lots of water and when you do snack make sure it provides a true benefit.

That's why I've come around to a few healthy snacks that can be combined to form a Justice League Task Force of kick-ass delicious nutrition.

Snack suggestion:

Individual packs of Greek Yogurt (warning: it - or at least the Oikos brand organic stuff I bought - is kind of smelly and weird at first. You have to stir that sucker up or things might fall apart.)
Real blueberries
Raw walnuts and/or almonds
Optional: flaxseed powder, other nutty add-ins

Review: I've only had the chance to try Oikos, which come in work-friendly little yogurt packs. It can be difficult to pack the blueberries and nuts with much finesse, but sometimes you simply have to sacrifice cool points. If you're like me, you're already far in the "negative" column so fuck it, right?

Ultimately, it's not good to "midnight snack" but this combo beats my hunger to death. Give it a try for breakfast as well since it will give you a nice combo of vitamins, healthy fats and protein. Jackpot, son. Jackpot.

Blueberries (Nutrition facts) are one of the most ideal snacking fruits. They give you that horrific food shoveling rush normally covered by potato chips or what have you. Blueberries pack a nice array of vitamins and fiber, plus they're pretty tasty and don't get your hands sticky. I eat a cup of them almost every day.

Walnuts (A goober-tastic gushing post about Walnuts) are considered to be among the most useful nuts (besides my own, HEY-OH!!!) and they provide a solid crunchiness to boot. It's best to eat these in their raw, unsalted form. In this yogurt or even munching on a small handful, I must say I didn't miss the evil addition of sodium. If nothing else, it can be covered in creamy yogurt to distract you from the lack of cheating.

Almonds (The "World's Healthiest Foods" entry regarding Almonds) might not be mandatory, but provide a crunch that can be great for stress eating. I usually sprinkle both walnuts and almonds in the yogurt concoction to provide a nice, crunchy counterpoint to the blueberries.

The nuts also make the meal quite a bit more filling, so that's a nice bonus.

Flax seed (Nutrition facts) are added when I feel especially risque.

The mixture of nuts and nutty products might make this a bit of a fatty meal, but the yogurt and blueberries are calorie-friendly. I'd recommend only putting a small mixture of the nuts/flax seed and a generous helping of blueberries. It keeps this treat varied and healthy.

Feel free to leave your impressions on this snack and similar concoctions of your own.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Making the correct stops at Subway

When you don't do your homework, you might assume that whatever you stack on your Subway sandwich is good for you as long as it's one of the 6 grams of fat subs. Bad news: that measurement comes without all the globs of mayo, pounds of cheese and horrible salami you stack in there.


Before I get into the tips, here's a quick guide to Subway's $2.49 Sub of the Day deals so you can know when to go. (Note: I'm not sure if these change from region-to-region, let me know if these are different in your neck'o'the woods.)

Sunday: Oven Roasted Chicken
Monday: Turkey and ham
Wednesday: Turkey

Every other day: bad, bad, bad!


So, after giving you Chipotle tips it's time to review some of the important Dos and Don'ts for what can be another choose-your-own-misadventure.

1. $2.49 Sub of the Day > Five Dollar Foot long (hell, even a DOUBLE MEAT 6-footer is better than a FDFL!)

A five-dollar foot long will be costly in bread (and therefore unneeded calories and carbs). Apparently, it's actually a better choice to double the meat on a 6-inch sub instead if you need more sandwich.

2. Choose your bread wisely

The range in calories isn't big, but Honey Oat and Wheat bread provide far more fiber.

3. Condiments change everything

The dressing is where you can really ruin your sandwich, though.

I recommend: Mustard, Honey Mustard (my favorite compromise), Sweet Onion (whatever the fuck that is), Red Wine Vinaigrette (a little too sweet IMO) and maybe another sauce or two.

Stay away from ranch, mayo and generally anything creamy. Also, Oil & Vinegar is a bad move because you're likely to get a heavy dose of oil. Stick with less dangerous options.

3b. Be stern

You really have to stay on them if you do get ranch or another unhealthier dressing. Tell them "just a little" and blurt out a stop message once they start pouring it on haphazardly as they'll forget since they hate their jobs and don't care that you're trying to lose weight. The dicks.

(It's actually surprising that Subways actually do vary in quality even though their food tastes eerily similar across the country. Why? Better, more attentive staffs means less itchy sauce trigger fingers.)

4. No chips, no soda

You know you've done this before: you buy a decent Sub but then you get a 32 oz. Coke and Cheetos. Well, guess what? You fucked up.

My recommendation is to pick up a sandwich if you can.

5. If you must have a combo:

Get Unsweetened Iced Tea and Apple Slices. Or, if you must, Diet Soda (really don't recommend Diet though) and Baked Lay's.

That might sound hard, at first, but ask yourself this: how much do you taste fries/soda when you're eating lunch? If you're a fatty like me, you usually barely even chew your food enough to actually taste anything.

If you hate Baked Lay's (the BBQ, Sour Cream and Onion and their weird pepper or Chipotle varieties are solid) then go with Sun Chips. Sun Chips are still pretty high in fat (usually 9 grams, possibly more than your sandwich) but they add a decent amount of fiber.

6. Veggies make the sandwich

The other day, I finally had a cheese-free sandwich. I did so by stacking my sandwich with an impressive array of veggies: tomatoes, lettuce, green and yellow peppers, black olives, pickles and onions. It was delicious.


So, those are my Subway tips. It's not a perfect place to eat, though. These meals still tend to be pretty high in sodium (the monster I'm still fighting) and the veggies can be a little shaky sometimes.

Still, Subways are everywhere and can really allow you to control your caloric intake while eating something satisfying. Just make sure to avoid the dreaded Health Halo and channel your inner Jared.

See Also:

Subway Official Nutrition Information (they also have some really good "weight management" advice that you should take a look at.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Adios, French fries (or the importance of a good side-kick)

It's all about the company you (and your entree) keep.

While I'm personally trying to pack nutrition into every meal, it's quite possible that many of you just want to cut some calories each day. That's cool, brahs and brahettes.

There are plenty of ways to do that, but one thing that gets overlooked is what surrounds your heaping portions of meat (or vegan main course?). You already know this, but if your cross hairs aren't necessarily aimed at the ceiling, you'll marvel at how much you can save by (take a deep breath) cutting out french fries, potato chips and their fried kind.

(Another way? Cut back or completely cut out empty soda calories, but that's another post for another day. Although I will prematurely sing the praises of unsweetened iced tea, as diet soda is kind of bad for you too.)

Just to give you a quick comparison, I've been combining Chick Fil A's Chargrilled Chicken sandwich (a quite tasty 300 calorie sandwich whose only sin is a high sodium count) with their side salad instead of fried chicken and fries yet still ending up with a VERY filling meal. In fact, I'd argue that the meal ends up appeasing my hunger for much longer.

Let's compare some of the side options at the wacky Mormon (they're Mormons right? I know they close on Sundays ...) chick joint, with the fruit cup being another great option, although I doubt that it would be enough to keep me full through the day. You may disagree, and good for you, because it's even better for you than the salad option.

Anyway, let's compare and contrast.

Grilled chicken and a healthy salad make a dynamic duo. (G-get it?)

(Oh, and Chick-Fil-A has its own calculator, so you can mix and match to your heart's content.)

Bad move:

Fried chicken sandwich, medium Waffle Fries and a medium Coke:

Calories: 980; 38 grams of fat; 1575 mg of sodium; 131 carbs; 7 g of fiber; 54 g of sugar; 35 g of protein

Comments: The sad thing is that this is a relatively decent meal in the fast food world. It just shows you how much damage you can do when every move you make is a bad one. Horrible sugar, carbs and calories. And, again, there are burgers alone out there that can cause similar caloric problems.

Intermediately Bad:

8-piece nuggets, medium Waffle Fries and a medium unsweetened tea.

Calories: 650; 33 grams of fat; 1190 sodium; 57 carbs; 5g of fiber; 2 g of sugar; 32 g of protein

Comments: Still a bit costly, but if you're going to be bad this isn't a catastrophe. Bump it up to 780 calories and 38 grams of fat if you go with the 12-count of nuggets.

My choices:

Note: for the side salad, there's three options: a reduced fat berry balsamic vinaigrette, a low fat Italian and fat-free Honey Mustard. In this case, I chose the berry balsamic, but that's mainly because of the high salt content of the Italian (which sports less fat and calories) and because I'm already using mustard as a Ranch-killer.

The Meal
  • Chargrilled Chicken sandwich (make sure to get the regular one, which I think was #2, instead of the Club - I believe #6 - which has bacon and cheese to ruin the value)
  • Side salad w/ a little less than half a packet of reduced fat berry balsamic V dressing [don't use the croutons, but I did throw in a bit of the sesame seeds they provide. You don't need the whole packet on a small salad, BTW.]
  • Unsweetened Iced Tea.
The Stats

440 calories, 10g of fat (probably 15 with the sesame seeds), 1390 mg of sodium, 55 carbs, 5g of fiber, 21g of sugar, 34 g of protein

Comments: A nice, filling meal that I typically augment by bringing a fruit cup for later in the work day. It's not perfect, but you save 200-500 calories by choosing a better side, better drink and grilled chicken. That way, you make the most of your calories and can avoid those dreadful mid-afternoon sugar crashes.

Keep in mind also that with chicken nuggets it's almost inevitable that you'll add some bad sauces to the mix, making the grilled chicken w/ salad shine through even more. If you decide on the chicken nuggets, maybe ask for one of the health(ier) dressings instead? Hmmm?


Going forward, I'll try to find more solid substitutes for French fries. If you're at a Subway, you might be surprised how decent the Baked Lay's are (even if they share the same un-filling problems as their fattier bagged brothers). But I can expand on that later.

Oh, and Chick-fil-A also has salads and other helpful suggestions if you'd really like to avoid carbs or just want a variety of options ...

Not sure you'll find much there if you're a vegetarian, though. But I'll try to look out for your interests whenever possible. No, really.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Today's thoughts, including how to eat pizza like less of an idiot!

You might as well cremate yourself in the brick oven after eating this death 'za

Before I get to this, it's important to note that many of my "theories" and deeper findings come from scouring Men's Health outstanding Eat This, Not That Web site. Before that, I thought that my food selections would have to be greatly reduced in order to eat better. Once I started to really dig around there, I realized that I just would have to really do my homework.

Thankfully, this kind of homework can help you look better naked. And it can be delicious to boot.

Before I get specific, here's What I Learned about Lessening Pizza Evils

1. The thinner the better

Kate Moss is a good role model for your pizza. For your daughter? ... Not so much.

Unlike a human being, the general rule of eating health(ier) pizza is to look for less depth. Deep dish pizzas provide heavier doses of carbs but also have more space for more calories. The bread-to-good-stuff ratio should be as close to 1:1 as you can get.

2. Meat will be the only thing you'll be loving anytime soon ...

Apparently pepperoni is one of the worst things you can put on a pizza. It's probably worth noting that anything approaching "mystery meat" isn't great for you.

Abel won't like this, but Canadian bacon tends to be a MUCH healthier alternative than it's American cousin and most other ham-ish substances. Or whatever the hell goes into salami, sausage and pepperoni.

3. Find clever ways to give yourself less slices

Today, I cooked only half a pizza and gave a way a third of that half.

This means that I was able to eat approximately the suggested serving size of the Krogen brand Italian Margherita Pizza that was the centerpiece of a pizza and spinach salad dinner that blew my mind tonight.

If I indeed only ate 1/3 of the thin crust pizza, that means I only consumed a perfectly reasonable 290 calories and 12 grams of fat. While it wasn't greasy with processed meats, it provided a delightful little mixture of cheese, tomatoes and fancy spices. If nothing else, it scratched that eternal pizza itch.

The spinach salad helped me to refrain from heating up the other half of the pizza, but simply not having that other half of the pizza to temp me with its sad "take me" stare really helped make my dinner a fairly reasonable meal.

Which brings me to a few products I've been using lately.

Now, keep in mind I'm not a doctor and the stuff I'm using is far from perfect. Still, I've been able to find some half-decent substitutes that either have some nutritional value or greatly reduce the harm normally associated with given foods.

The Margherita Pizza is a good example, as its crust is thin, its calories are limited and the ingredient list seems pretty simple (a very important factor in judging foods). If you eat the whole thing, you're looking at a little under 900 calories and 36 g of fat ... but it could be even worse.

(Don't eat the whole thing though. You don't need it. I promise.)

Anyway, here are two other nice little options if you cannot live without their fattier or less beneficial brothers. (And they're all approved ... by my taste buds, at least)
  • Ken's Steakhouse "Healthy Options" olive oil & vinegar dressing
Stats per serving: 50 calories, 4g of fat and 240 mg sodium

Comments: I imagine there are lighter options for Italian/vinaigrette type dressings (feel free to leave recommendations in the comments), however, this dressing tastes just as good as any full-fat Italian dressing with minimal harm.

Advice: I've always found it difficult to "eye-ball" the right amount of dressing to put on a salad, particularly with the most common wide open lids. I always Peter North my salads in a sad eruption of oils and salts. So I just made it simple enough that even an idiot like me can figure it out: I simply drop two tablespoons (the recommended serving) on the salad and it works fine.

If you're really picky you can try one tablespoon, but for me, I just want to enjoy the bejesus out of a spinach salad and that's happening every night. I'll take 4g of fat to make spinach a part of my daily life.

Drawback(s): Not much nutritional value, aside from the salad you're covering. That being said, it's made from virgin olive oil, so it might be comprised of "good" fat. Bonus ... unless I'm wrong. *shrug*
  • Mission brand Carb Balance PLUS! Flour tortillas (small tortillas)
Stats per tortilla: 2g of fat, 80 calories, 12g carbs, 7g of fiber, 3g protein and 220 mg sodium

Comments: I haven't done much comparison shopping with tortillas, either, but this is a very impressive little wrap. You truly might be able to threaten a day's worth of fiber intake merely by throwing a heaping portion of black beans in this bad boy.

An inventive Chipotle alternative?

My friend Tyler was skeptical about going with a Burrito Bol, but what if you brought Chipotle back home and put a bol's worth of goodness in a couple of store-bought tortillas? After all, consuming 44 extra carbs late at night - not even counting rice and other fillings - is a recipe for disaster.

For the sake of comparison, I'd say that two Mission tortillas could be a reasonable (though still not as large) answer to one Chipotle monster burrito. If nothing else, it could be a decent compromise.

Humor me and take a look at how they compare:

2 Mission brand tortillas: 4g of fat, 160 calories, 24 carbs, 14(!) g of fiber, 6g of protein, 440 mg of sodium


1 13" Chipotle tortilla: 9g of fat, 290 calories, 44 carbs, 2g of fiber, 7g of protein, 670 mg of sodium

So, the two Mission tortillas cut the fat in half, cost 130 less calories and a considerable 20 less carbs while giving filling fiber and less salt. You lose 1 g of protein in the deal. Considering the crazy amounts of protein in Chipotle's meat, beans, guac, etc., you're almost better with less protein.

To me, that's an obvious substitution if you just can't live without a burrito. If you try this option, I think you'll find that Chipotle is delicious because of its fine meats, sauces and accessories. Not what holds it. And maybe you'll move on to a more logical, less tortilla-heavy existence.

Note: even if you did three tortillas, it would still cost you less calories, carbs and fat. And you'd poop like nobody's business.

Drawback(s): The ingredients list is a little longer than I'd like to see. Be careful to not eat TOO MANY of these, as 7g of fiber per tortilla can add up and be a bit much.


So, feel free to share your thoughts. How do you avoid scarfing down pizza? Any other grocery store Italian-ish dressings you'd recommended? Tortillas? More?

I'd love to hear feedback so don't be shy folks.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Restaurant guides: Chipotle

Note: I might fine-tune this post a little bit later, but I figure it couldn't hurt to put it up as is for the purposes of feedback and corrections. Hope this helps!

At one point in my life, Chipotle was the site of horrible, high-calorie disasters. You throw a huge burrito around a collection of meat, sour cream, rice and cheese and you've destroyed any reasonable diet. When I think of the sad disintegration of one of my longest relationships, I think of how doughy we became due to Chipotle-sque calorie orgies.

So it stunned me when Eat This, Not That named Chipotle a do-gooder in many ways. You see, Chipotle is the quintessential example of the wide pendulum of many restaurants, as the venue can swing from awful to quite decent nutritionally.

With that, I'll break down eating at Chipotle. If you want to calculate your own meals, this site is fabulous. Chipotle Fan's calculator is a great way of weighing the pros and cons of items in your food.

Burrito bol you over (hey-oh!)

At first, losing these items is going to sting. But the thing is, if you take them out, you can eat DELICIOUS food without much more than sodium regret.

Get a burrito bol, not a huge burrito or the tacos

Yes, Chipotle markets their huge tin foil-draped burritos and they're very tasty, but they're pretty awful for you. If you want to lose weight, you do have to make some compromises but I've found that the burrito bol isn't that tough, at all. It's like eating a salad of awesome.

According to Chipotle fan, here's the key facts with the food joint's other food holders:

The trademark 13" Burrito
Calories: 290 (!), Fat: 9 grams (!), Sodium: 670 mg, 44 carbs, Protein: 7g
Comment: You can have a 400+ calorie meal if you take this option out and you won't hurt for protein. Stunning, right?

The soft tacos
Calories: 270, Fat: 8 grams, Sodium: 600 mg, 39 carbs, Protein: 6g

Hard tacos
Calories: 180, Fat: 6 grams, Sodium: 30 mg, 27 carbs, Protein: 2g

So if you HAVE to eat what holds your food, I guess hard tacos are a reasonable choice although I'd rather replace that with guacamole and take a little more fat (but good fat) and get much better health benefits.

No cheese or sour cream, sorry folks. You won't miss them as much as you think.

Don't eat the chips

You're better off getting chips elsewhere, because that bag hits the 570 calorie, 27g of fat mark. In other words, it's worse for you than a burrito bol I had with steak, rice, black beans, two salsas and lettuce. Take a wild guess which of those choices is more filling and more nutritious ...

One note if you choose a salad

You're better off dressing the lettuce with guacamole or salsa (or both) than getting the dressing.

The dressing provides a walloping 25g of fat and 260 calories while providing none of the vegetables of salsa or the many benefits of guacamole.

Building a good bol or salad

1. Black beans might be the best thing on the menu.

For only 120 calories and 1g of fat, black beans provide a nice flavor along with a stunning 11g of fiber (a nice chunk of your daily need) and an impressive 7g of protein. I think this has benefits for anyone, but these are especially good for vegetarians (unless they've been clandestinely rubbed with meat or something).

2. I like meat, therefore I will usually choose one.

It seems like the meats are all pretty similar in calories and fat, with the main variance being sodium. They all add quite a bit of fat and calories, but they're the anchor of a meal ... and if you're used to tacos or burritos wrapping your food, it might be best to take baby steps. Plus, the protein will fill you up well into the rest of your work day.

3. Salsas are a cheap source of flavor, but beware of sodium. They also have minor benefits I wasn't expecting.

Salsa is bad ass. It gives you a nice helping of vegetables and adds a ton of taste. Just be careful about sodium, especially if you like to add more than one like me.

My favorite salsa is the Green salsa (probably called Green chile, but lay off me I'm a gringo). It only costs you 15 calories and a semi-reasonable 230mg of sodium and even has a gram of fiber to boot. It also is my favorite tasting one.

The tomato (or basically pico de gallo) salsa is another favorite, although it's pretty salty at 470 mg.

I'm impressed by the corn salsa's 3g of fiber and it's not too bad at 80 calories and 2g of fat. The sodium is kinda high too, though, at 410 mg.

The hottest salsa is a bit too much for me, but it does have its benefits. Not surprisingly, it has the highest sodium count at 510 mg. Still, it does provide a surprising 4g of fiber and 2g of protein. When you consider that Subway's honey oat bread stands out for providing 5g of fiber, a mere salsa that brings almost as much is pretty damn stunning.

Still, I think I'll stick with one or more of the other three. That hot salsa is a bit ... painful.

4. The guacamole wild card

The avocado-based condiment comes with an extra charge (usually about $1.75 extra) and some at-first intimidating fat content (13g) but it's also a great substance to add to your food, especially if you need some filler without meat.

For one thing, 150 calories isn't too bad when you consider the flavor, impressive 6g of fiber, small influx of protein and of course the good fat that comes with it.

It really depends on how picky you're being with calories, but my advice would be to have guacamole at least once every three visits. It's delicious and will keep you from eating other things if the rest of the meal isn't filling enough for you big eaters.

5. The rice question

It's not brown rice, so it's not the best rice for you. And from what I've read, rice is more or less filler anyway. At 130 calories and 3g of fat with 23 carbs and 2g of protein, it seems negligible nutritionally.

So far, I've laced my burrito bols with their tasty rice (mmm cilantro), but I'm still on the fence about the company's signature filler.


OK, that's my take on Chipotle so far. I might come up with a list of concoctions to give people a few different ideas, but you can use that Chipotle calculator to know exactly what you're getting yourself into.

Hopefully this helps you, because if you have a Chipotle nearby, you stand to benefit from a meal full of organic foods, reasonably decent meat and lots of good stuff. For fast food, there are few better.

Yet it's amazing to note that my old favorite (steak, rice, big burrito, fajita vegetables, sour cream, cheese, two salsas) was a mind numbing 885 calories, 38 g of fat and only 4g of fiber. When you count the Coke I'm slowly turning into unsweetened iced tea, I'd imagine my meals would clock in at a troubling 1000 calories.

500 calories sure looks pretty damn good, now.


There are a million health/fitness/get-thin-quick schemes out there and I don't claim to have "the answers." In fact, I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist. To be honest, I'm actually kind of a fat idiot.

So some of these things will need to be taken with a grain of salt (or perhaps a piece of whole grain wheat bread).

That being said, about 6 or so months ago I reached a blubbery level that went from unsightly to downright dangerous. When your body doesn't feel right, you know it and finally I decided to make a change.

In the last 3-4 months, I've lost approx. 15 lbs. and haven't even really done much exercising. It started very unscientifically, with simple decisions like "stop being an asshole who settles for fried food all the time" to eating grilled meat to a burgeoning obsession with semi-accurate calorie counting.

This experience clued me into something: there's a lot people out there who don't give a shit about getting healthier and are totally resigned to scaring hippos with their similar, territory-defining waddles. That being said, my belief is that most Americans (and other fatties) simply don't know what the fuck they're doing.

Do I? No, not really. But I'm going to try my hardest to get there.

What I'm here to provide is an account of my "journey" and (hopefully) a helpful source of practical information. It's easy to say "eat fruits and vegetables; drink more water" but it goes further than that. We, as Americans, are surrounded by deep-fried easy choices and misleading menus with healthy-sque buzz words.

Again, I'm no expert, but I'm here to provide the little tricks I'm learning. At some point, if people enjoy this blog, I'll find a vegetarian and/or vegan and maybe some other writers (perhaps a truly fit person, even?) to round this out and give everyone healthy lunch/breakfast/dinner options. Even from seemingly devious fast food restaurants.

For the time being, I'm going to throw a lot of crap at the wall and see what sticks. Maybe eventually I'll even develop a true "system."

Please correct my health-related ignorance and misconceptions when you see them. Feel free to share your stories, advice and struggles.

The reason this blog is called The Food Evangelist is because better eating is the first thing I've truly felt the need to preach about. Americans (and people in general) need to eat better and the answers (although maybe not ideal) are not as hard to find as you might think.

Welcome to my wacky little food blog, world.