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8 Tips for Deciphering Diet Claims

Though food is supposed to be one of life's simple pleasures, few things cause more angst and confusion. It's no wonder why. We're constantly being told which foods we should eat to be healthy, which diets we should follow to be skinny, which preparation methods we should use to be safe, and which chemicals and contaminants in food we should shun to avoid illness. It's enough to give anyone indigestion. If you're confused about what to believe, you've come to the right place. In "Coffee Is Good for You," I'll give you the bottom line on an array of popular diet and nutrition claims in a quick, easily digestible way. Research about diet and health rarely yields the equivalent of DNA evidence, which provides incontrovertible proof. All types of studies come with caveats. However, if interpreted properly, a body of research can allow us to make sound judgments about how believable a claim is. Trying to make sense of the seemingly endless stream of food and nutrition claims can be overwhelming. Remembering the following 8 rules will make the task easier and allow you to stay focused on what’s really important:

  1. Don’t fixate on particular foods. Be wary of lists of miraculous “superfoods” you must eat or “toxic” foods you should never touch. Rather than worrying about squeezing one food or another into your diet, focus on your overall eating patterns, which should include plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, legumes, and good fats, and limited amounts of refined carbohydrates, junk food, red meat, and trans fats.  
  2. Look beyond narrow categories like carbs and calories. Many diet books and seals of approval on foods emphasize one or two factors, such as the calorie or carbohydrate count, while giving short shrift to other important things, like fiber, sodium, or trans fat. The fact that a hamburger is lower in calories than a salad doesn’t necessarily make it a better option. Likewise, just because fruit punch or cereal has added vitamins doesn’t mean it’s healthful. What’s important is the overall nutritional profile. You can get this from comprehensive food- scoring systems such as NuVal, which ranks the healthfulness of foods based on more than 30 factors.  
  3. Forget about fad diets. A plethora of weight- loss plans promise to melt away pounds quickly and easily. But in the long run, they rarely work. About 95 percent of dieters eventually regain lost weight. Instead of searching for the secret to skinniness, which doesn’t exist, try to eat more healthfully and be mindful of how much you’re consuming. Combined with exercise, this approach can prevent weight gain and, over time, lead to weight loss. And unlike dieting, it’s something you can stick with long term.  
  4. Recognize the limits of vitamin pills. While vitamin and mineral supplements can help make up for deficiencies of nutrients, they generally don’t live up to their billing when it comes to preventing disease, boosting energy, or improving your overall health. Supplements pack far less nutritional punch than food, which contains multiple nutrients that interact with one another and with other foods in a variety of complex ways. As a result, vitamin pills can’t compensate for an unhealthful diet. And they can cause harm if you take too much of certain nutrients.  
  5. Ignore health claims on food packages and in ads. A few such claims, such as those related to sodium and high blood pressure, are officially approved by the FDA, but most aren’t. They fall under a loophole that allows companies to use sneaky language like “helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels” or “helps support a healthy immune system.” Because these phrases don’t explicitly say that the food prevents or treats disease— even though that’s what any normal person would infer—manufacturers don’t have to provide any evidence. What’s more, there are no strict definitions for frequently used terms such as all natural, low sugar, and made with whole grains or real fruit. Because it’s virtually impossible to distinguish between legitimate and misleading claims by manufacturers, the best approach is to disregard them all and get your information from the Nutrition Facts panel on the package.  
  6. Verify emails before forwarding them. The vast majority of emails about food and nutrition are half truths or outright hoaxes. If someone forwards you an email claiming, for example, that canola oil is toxic or that asparagus cures cancer, assume it’s not true, no matter how scientific it sounds. Check it out with a reputable source like Snopes. com or Urbanlegends. about. com. Forwarding unconfirmed claims only adds to the hype, misinformation, and confusion.  
  7. Don’t be influenced by just one study. When you encounter news reports about the latest study, don’t jump to conclusions based on that alone. Remember that it’s just one piece of a puzzle. What matters is the big picture— what scientists call the totality of the evidence. For a credible overview of the science, check out online sources such as the Nutrition Source from Harvard School of Public Health, or newsletters such as Nutrition Action Healthletter, the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, and the Berkeley Wellness Letter. Or go to www. pubmed. gov and look up the research yourself.  
  8. Enjoy eating! As I said at the beginning of this book, all the admonitions about which foods we should and shouldn’t consume can make eating a stressful chore. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Using science as your guide, focus on the claims with the greatest credibility and relevance, and tune out the rest. That way, you’ll feel less overwhelmed. While following sound nutrition advice is important for good health, it need not spoil your dinner. Bon appétit!
   Adapted with permission from "Coffee is Good for You" by Robert J. Davis, PhD, by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2012 by Robert J. Davis, PhD, MPH. Article Source:

How to Grow Your Own Herbs for Cooking

The next time a recipe calls for fresh basil, skip the poor substitute of dried basil, forgo the last-minute dash to the supermarket for some overpriced wilted basil, and just pluck a few tender leaves off of the basil plant you have growing in your very own herb garden.  What? You don't have fresh basil growing in your garden? Well consider this your invitation to start. Growing your own herbs is a simple and inexpensive undertaking that pays off big for your taste buds and your budget.  If you can keep a houseplant alive, you can sustain an herb garden.  Here’s how. Decide what you want to grow.  Some popular choices from home cooks are listed here along with their care instructions.  Start with just a few that you know you’ll use regularly, and then branch out from there. Herb Special Care How to Harvest How to Use Basil Pinch off any flowers that appear. This preserves the plant’s flavor, and will also help increase the leaf density of each stem. Harvest the upper leaves first, taking just a few leaves from each stem at a time. Add raw to salads, sandwiches and wraps, cook into soups and sauces, chop and sprinkle on pizza, make pesto. Parsley Parsley has a longer than average germination period of three to four weeks, so extra patience is required. Cut the outermost stalks just above ground level, which will encourage further growth. Both the leaves and stalks can be eaten in salads, soups, and Mediterranean dishes like Tabouli. Chives If you don’t intend on eating the flowers, pinch them off as soon as they begin to appear. Cut the leaves with scissors, starting with the outside leaves first, allowing about 2 inches of the leaves to remain. This entire plant can be eaten from top to bottom— the bulbs taste like mild onions, the leaves can be used in salads and other dishes, and even the flower heads can be tossed into salads. Cilantro Cilantro does not like hot weather. If the soil temperature reaches 75 degrees, the plant will bolt and go to seed, making this a short-lived herb. Aggressive pruning will extend its life, so be ready to use or store it. Save the seeds to use in cooking (the seeds are called coriander) or to plant. There are two methods of harvesting cilantro. When the plant reaches about 6" in height, you can remove the outer leaves with a scissors, leaving the growing point intact for new growth. Or you can wait until the plant is almost completely grown and pull it from the soil by its roots to use the whole bunch at once. Salads, wraps, dips, and many Mexican recipes. Rosemary This plant can be difficult to start from seed, so you may wish to buy a mature plant. And be careful not to overwater—rosemary likes its soil on the dry side. Simply cut off pieces of the stem as you need it. Many culinary and even medicinal uses. Thyme This plant can take awhile to start from seed, so you may wish to buy a mature plant. Drought-tolerant thyme is extremely easy to care for, and prefers drier soils. Simply cut off pieces of the stem as you need it. Often used to flavor meats, soups, and stews. Dill Drought-tolerant dill is extremely easy to care for, and prefers drier soils. Don't start harvesting dill until it's at least 12 inches tall, and never take more than one-third of the leaves at any one time. Great flavoring for fish, lamb, potatoes, and peas. Mint Mint is an invasive plant so stick to container gardening with this one. Pinch off sprigs as you need them. Mint is extremely versatile, and can be used in salads, desserts, drinks, and many other recipes. You can even chew it by itself for a pleasant, refreshing flavor.   Decide where to plant your herbs. Many herbs grow well indoors and outdoors in the ground or in containers.  If you have a little space with at least 5 hours of direct sunlight a day, you may prefer to grow them indoors, as the herbs will be much more accessible for cooking and watering, and not subject to threats of pests, weeds, or variations in temperature. Decide whether you’ll start from seeds or seedlings.  Seedlings are very young plants that you can transplant into your own garden. They are typically only available in the spring and summer from gardening centers and farmers markets.  Seeds cost less, but take more time and resources to grow from scratch (here's how). Gather your materials.  You’ll need a few gardening tools, like a small shovel or spade, some gardening gloves and pots or containers (optional since herbs can also be planted directly into the soil). You’ll also need some fertilized soil.  If you have a compost pile, you can use some fully decomposed compost to fertilize the soil.  Otherwise, you can use a general purpose compost solution, available in any gardening store.   If you’re container gardening, use a packaged potting soil mix, which will be free of pests. Start planting.  If you’re starting from seeds, sow into moist soil and cover with 1/2 inch of soil on top.  The seeds should germinate in about one week.  If you’re using a pot or container for seedlings, follow these steps.

  1. Ensure proper drainage by filling the pot with a shallow layer of course gravel.  
  2. Fill the pot about 1/2 of the way full, and place the plant, still in its original container, into the new pot.  Add dirt around the plant, gently packing it into place, so that the top of the new soil is at the same level as the top of the plant’s original soil.   
  3. Remove the plastic pot, tap it so you can easily slide the plant and all of its soil out, and place the plant and all of its soil into the hole in the soil of the new pot.
Care for your plants. Water at the base of the plant when the soil begins to feel dry, at least once per week.  Pull weeds that appear near the plant, because they will steal the nutrients from the soil.  If growing outdoors, bring them in before the first frost. Harvest the herbs.  Most plants will grow new leaves if you don’t pick the stems bare. You can pick the leaves with your fingers or snip them with kitchen shears. Use or store the herbs.  Many recipes call for fresh herbs, so simply pick your herbs, wash them and pat them dry before using in your favorite recipes. To store, you can preserve your herbs for future use by freezing them or drying them.  In either case, you must first prep them.  First, remove any soil or bugs by rinsing in cold water.  Then, remove flowering stems and flowers and gently remove excess water by patting with a paper towel.  Once your herbs are prepped, you can choose your method of storage:
  • Air drying:  Cut the stems at soil level and hang upside down in bunches (so that the flavorful oil travels into the leaves) to dry for one to two weeks.  Once dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store in a dry, airtight container for up to a year.  
  • Freezing:  The benefit of freezing, as opposed to drying, is that the herbs retain more of their just-picked flavor.  Place clean herbs directly into freezer bags, or try the cube method: Place a few teaspoons of chopped, fresh herbs into each cell of an ice cube tray.  Fill the trays with water, and freeze.  When cooking, just pop out a cube and add it to the pot like you would fresh herbs!
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Jessi Kneeland Recaps the First Season of GreatistYou

Welcome to GreatistYou, a new social experiment where we see what happens when five people decide to change their health—and broadcast their journeys for everyone to see. Four goals, five contestants, and six weeks to crush said goals for the promise of a better life (oh, and $1,000!). The first season of GreatistYou is officially over, meaning you've got six weeks of running, sweating, punching, and dancing to catch up on. We invited Jessi Kneeland to Greatist HQ to discuss everything that happened over the past month and a half—and give some final advice to our contestants.

9 Ways to Save Serious $ at the Grocery Store

Make a list. Don't hit the grocery store when you're hungry. Clip coupons. Buy stuff on sale. You've heard the same obvious grocery shopping advice before, but here's the reality: Your mad supermarket dash after work (or squeezed between brunch plans and a quick workout on the weekend) isn't always planned. These research-backed tips can make your next grocery run more efficient and way easier on your wallet. 1. Limit the number of aisles you cruise. Pick the key aisles you need to hit (produce, meat, dairy, almond milk) and avoid those strolls down the spice, snack, or frozen-goods aisles just in case you "forget" something on your nonexistent list. Shoppers who hit most or all of the aisles in a store check out with plenty more impulse buys (researchers like to call this "in-store decision-making") than shoppers who visit fewer aisles, according to a study conducted for the Marketing Science Institute. 2. Scan your own groceries. Remember when you were a kid and loved to play pretend grocery clerk? Your childhood dreams are coming true. Most self-checkout lanes aren't packed with tempting racks of candy, trashy novels, tabloid magazines, and novelty toys—impulse-buy items designed to grab your attention (and money) while you're waiting for the clerk to get a price check on a can of tuna. In fact, impulse buys dropped 32.1 percent in women and 16.7 percent in men using self-checkout lanes, according to a study from IHL Consulting group. 3. Plug in to your workout playlist. Bring headphones and tune in to your most up-tempo, upbeat playlist while shopping. Why? It'll keep you zipping down the aisles quickly. The slow-paced easy-listening music played on store speakers actually encourages you to move slower, which can lead shoppers to buy 29 percent more, says Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy. 4. Skip the handheld basket. You'd think small basket = fewer groceries = less money, but a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research found that pushing a full-size cart could help you make smarter food choices. (Who knew?!) In the study, shoppers holding the basket opted for more pleasurable impulse buys (like junk food). One possible reason? The uncomfortable sensation of holding a basket may prompt people to choose items that offer immediate gratification. 5. Buy fresh and whole vs. prepared. Pre-cut fruits and vegetables; pre-shredded cheese; deli-prepared salads; and boneless, skinless chicken cutlets may be more convenient when you're cooking, but every extra step it takes to get food from the source to your basket increases its price. Example: The average retail price of a head of broccoli is $1.64 per pound. Cut broccoli florets average $2.57 per pound, and frozen broccoli averages $1.87 per pound. Pre-shredded cheese is not only more expensive per pound than block cheese (about $2.50 per cup compared to $1 per cup for basic cheddar), shredded cheese also contains additives like cellulose and potato starch to keep the cheese from clumping, and natamycin—a "mold inhibitor." 6. Skip the health and beauty aisle. Items like toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, and soap tend to be more expensive at your grocery store (where sales volume is low) compared to big-box stores like Target or Wal-Mart, where high volume sales keep prices lower. Of course, there's always Amazon. 7. Buy spices in bulk or at an international food market. Ounce for ounce, tiny jars of ground spices in the grocery store are significantly more expensive than the spices in bulk bins. You can also buy the exact quantity of spice you need. (The longer a dried spice sits unused, the more it loses potency.) International food markets are great resources for inexpensive (and exotic!) dried whole and ground spices. 8. Look high and low. Always check the shelves above and below chest-level height—grocery stores tend to stock higher-priced items where they're easiest to reach. One study states it clearly, "Eye level is buy level, indicating that products positioned at eye level are likely to sell better." Look up, down, and all around. 9. Think beyond grandma's coupon clipping. Apps like Coupon Sherpa have changed the grocery-savings game —this is not the old-school coupon-clipping session from the Sunday newspaper. You can search for digital coupons as you're shopping or use the app to find other deals in the store. ShopSavvy, with a bar-code scanning function, makes price comparisons super easy. Scan the barcode, and the app searches for the lowest price at various local stores and websites.

How Being a Photographer Helped Me Accept My Body, Flaws and All

I’m a freelance photographer, meaning the majority of my job is taking pictures of people who are not used to having their photo taken. I hear it all: “You can retouch me to look 10 years younger, right?” a stunning 30-year-old woman asks sarcastically. “Can you smooth out my wrinkles?” “I don’t like how my hair looks on this side. Can you make sure to always shoot from the left?” “Ahhh! I have two chins!” Hold on. Aren’t we supposed to be more accepting of our bodies these days? We've got Dove’s incredible Real Beauty campaign; all the body-positive, #nomakeup, #fatkini, and #realnotretouched movements on Instagram; and clothing companies like Aerie and Runway Riot trying to be more diverse in size, color, and shape. But a lot of times when I'm behind the lens, it seems like all of these efforts aren’t diminishing our negative thoughts about our bodies. It seems like all of these efforts aren’t diminishing our negative thoughts about our bodies. I’m guilty too. In sixth grade, I found out that I had frowth hormone deficiency, and most likely would only grow to about 4 feet 4 inches as an adult. I prayed to God every night, asking to grow taller. My prayers would come true—if I took growth hormone shots every day. After many tearful nights, I decided it was worth it. My world became a blur of doctor visits, the constant smell of alcohol wipes, monthly blood tests, and small bruises that covered my body from the shots I took night after night. Eventually, I had to learn how to give myself the medicine, because my mom was not about to join me on every camping adventure and sleepover. I would sit in the kitchen, crying until I built up the courage to do it, and my parents would steer clear so that I could learn to calm down and not rely on them. I felt like I had no choice. I didn’t think I could be happy if I stayed 4 foot 4. I grew almost five shoe sizes in one year and made it to five foot one, so you would assume I was content and happy with my height, but that was not the case. I could always find something to feel self-conscious about: my pale skin, the chicken pox scar on my forehead, how I have to wear shorts under my dresses because my thighs hurt when they rub together, or how my eyes can cross a little when I look at something close up. The list goes on, but what finally helped me triumph over those insecurities was more than just saying, I’m going to accept myself. Instead, I started asking, Where does my worth come from? Thinking I am ugly, not valuable, or unimportant only leads to self-hatred, depression, and insecurity. What changed it all was the process of intentionally seeking value in other people. As a photographer in New York City, the capital of the fashion world, I understand how easy it is to feel defeated when seeing an unflattering photo of yourself. I understand why someone dislikes the way their nose looks from the side. I understand what it feels like when you don’t see more images of women that look like you in the media. I wish I could change all of it, but even if I take the most beautiful photo of you, it will only make you feel beautiful temporarily. I get to share the magic found in normal people, magic that can be captured in anyone. That is why photography is much more than taking a polished picture. Instead of selling a product, a physical feature, or an ideal, I get to share the magic found in normal people, magic that can be captured in anyone. Portraiture allows me to find dignity, power, and magic in the ordinary. A young woman around my age said it best when I asked her what she thought about having her portrait taken: “I've always been shy about having my picture taken: in part because it was a rarity for so long, but also because of how distorted my self-perception used to be. I was shocked when you asked to take my picture; I was shocked that the beautiful face you captured was mine. Having my picture taken reminded me that it's a healthy, and dare I say, holy practice to seek beauty in ourselves as well as others. If I think terribly of myself, then there's no telling who else I'm underselling.” That is what being a photographer is all about for me. I get to intentionally create a space where someone knows that I find them worth photographing, worth getting to know, worth the time, and worth my attention. Stepping behind the lens has allowed me to see beauty in others time and time again, and ultimately reminds me of the beauty in my own life, even when I can’t see or feel it. My life is important. The way I act, the work I create, the people I invest in, my faith, and the legacy that I leave are important. And that to me is way more valuable than growing six more inches. It's a continual fight of reworking what I interpret from the world and the media, but it's worth it. And each day I get to encourage myself as I encourage those who step in front of my camera: You are worth so much more than a photograph or what I can offer you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life and for being part of mine. SaveSave

7 Better-for-You Rosh Hashanah Recipes for a Sweet New Year

With good tidings for a sweet new year, we're also hoping for a thick slice of challah topped with a glob of honey. Much as we love that pillow-y, braided bread, we're also looking for the best possible mains and sides to cram on our plate the moment the sun sets. Take a tiny piece of Grandma's kugel to be polite, and then go to town on these seven Rosh Hashanah-approved dishes. 1. Slow-Roasted Brisket We’ve piled brisket atop a hunk of challah: Please leave us alone for the rest of the night. Seriously, if there’s no slow-cooked, caramelized, uber-tender pulled meat on your Rosh Hashanah table, you may as well just make a PB&J. Roast the beef slowly for six hours and no less… we know it’s a long time, but just wait until you take a bite. 2. Bourbon Apple Cider Ring in the new year with no cocktail? Didn’t think so. Toast l'chaim with this seasonal apple cider and honey drink, complete with lots of bourbon. A warm mug of this plus a toasted slice of challah sounds like the only way to start (and finish) the evening. 3. Pomegranate Chicken Not in the mood to make a six-hour brisket? We get it. Try this sweet and sticky pomegranate chicken instead. Pomegranate juice, chili sauce, and rice wine vinegar may seem an unlikely combination, but you’ll change your tune once you have a wing in each hand. Who brought the napkins? 4. Ful Medames With Hummus A popular Middle Eastern dish, ful medames is a soupy dip of cooked fava beans with lemon and garlic. Hummus, an everyday spread in Israel, complements the warm beans without offering a completely different flavor (looking at you, roasted red pepper-topped hummus). Serve as an appetizer covered with chopped herbs and hard-boiled eggs, and large pieces of pita or challah, preferably warmed in the oven for dipping. 5. Whole-Wheat Challah Challah isn’t hard to make and doesn't require much active prep time. It does, however, need hours at a time to rest and bake (didn’t you say you were going to fold your laundry tonight? Now is the time!). Sweeten the whole-wheat dough with just a bit of brown sugar, and we guarantee you’ll want to save half to make challah French toast in the morning. 6. Orange and Pomegranate Salad Looking for luck in the coming year? Munch on all the sweet pomegranate you can get your paws on, starting with this bright salad. Crunchy fennel draws some of the sweetness from the oranges, and peppery arugula matches the spicy-sweet honey vinaigrette bite for bite. Green salad who? 7. Honey-Apple Cake Apples and honey are a must-have combo at the Rosh Hashanah table (you want to have a sweet new year, don’t you?), and this cake is the best-tasting solution. Sweeten simply with—you guessed it—honey and paper-thin apple slices, and layer the tender oat and almond flour batter between the fruit. Cut a big slice while waving buh-bye to Aunt Marsha’s store-bought cake.

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