Monday, June 23, 2008

REVIEW: Zevia Diet Soda

Artificial sweeteners seem to be both a blessing and a curse. As it helps some people break their sugar addiction, others report using things like Equal and Splenda cause headaches, nausea, joint pain, monsterism and the condition known as 'hotdog fingers'.

Alternatives to mad scientist inspired sweetener products are sought after by low carbers, diabetics, and parents who don't want to pay a plastic surgeon to remove their child's chemically induced 3rd ear or finance a dentist's vacation home. They all want to avoid the evils of sugar and high fructose corn syrup without accidentally turning themselves into a newt. One natural sweetening option is Stevia.

Stevia is an herb known as "sweet leaf", and, while it is sweet, it also can be bitter and has a bit of a licorice aftertaste. Stevia products I have tried in the past have been hit or miss. One of the most vile being a Kool-aid type powder (who's name escapes me at the moment) that tasted like a combination of ground anise seed, pixie stix and shredded bicycle tire.

With that previous experience, I was a bit nervous about trying the can of "Zevia - Sweetened with Stevia" I saw on my last trip to Vitamin Cottage. However, I did promise my son a soda if he would quietly stay in the car dismantling my dashboard instead of coming in to the store with me and dismantling all of the store displays. Plus a single can was only 85¢. Well worth the 2 minutes of peace and quite it would buy me as a rummaged for Greek yogurt in the dairy section.

They had the orange and twist flavor cold and I picked the orange. Once I got back to the car and redid the headlight wiring, I popped open the can and cautiously took a sip. It reminded me a bit of a flavored seltzer more than, say, a diet Orange Crush, but it was good.

My son Max, who is a bit picky when it comes to soda, also didn't seem to mind it. He didn't inhale it like he would a can of Diet Pepsi, but he did finish the can and didn't tell me it was yucky, so I guess we can count him as approving too.

I want to give the other flavors a try, and based on the orange, I can say they are definitely worth a shot. The flavor was crisp and clean with a nice amount of sweetness and no bicycle tire after taste. The Orange was closer to a tangerine flavor than what you would expect from an orange flavored drink, but that isn't a bad thing. It was rather nice actually.

I give Zevia a thumbs up. I think it is a good alternative for those who want to avoid chemical sweeteners, but are bored to tears by just plain water. Stop by their website to see if they carry it near you, or check out their online order option.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Gettin' Squirrely

I noticed today I was getting really squirrely lately. No, I'm not losing mental stability (you have to have some in order to lose it), but I am beginning to hide stores of supplies in odd little places like a squirrel stashing acorns.

In my purse, I have several packets of splenda and some sugar free gum. In my desk drawer at work I have more splenda, a dropper of liquid stevia, a packet of almonds, some unsweetened cocoa and a small jar of coconut butter. In the mini-fridge, I have a batch of almond bark, some leftover grilled chicken, a container of greek yogurt, a small assortment of condiment packets and a container of cream. I also have in the cabinet by the coffee maker, a jar of coconut milk, a large container of Da VInci Sugar-Free carmel syrup, an assortment of artificial sweetener packets and a can of tuna.

In my black catch-all bag, I also keep a small zip-lock full of splenda packets, a pack of Walnuts, and some pumpkin seeds. Like a squirrel, I like to be prepared for an eventual shortage. Instead of preparing for winter, I am just preparing for those occasions when low carb eats are not readily available. The world remains, for the most part, low carb hostile, and not being ready can lead to serious temptation.

The other day, I was supposed to be in the office for an hour while my husband went on a sales call. His meeting ended up running long, and other clients called and he had to go visit them at their offices. As can happen, my 1 hour turned in to more like 6, and rather than starve or sneak accross the street to 7/11 and fall face first in to a bag of Doritos, I was able to ride out the day enjoying some fabulous low carb treats.

First, I mixed the unsweetened cocoa in to the Greek Yogurt, added a few Splenda packets and had some rich, creamy chocolatety goodness. A few almonds on top were just an added bonus. A hour or so later, I made myself some coffee and added the heavy cream and the sugar-free carmel syrup. How can you not love low carb when the coffee with cream is so filling it can almost count as a meal? Seriously! As it came time to lock up, I had a few more things to finish before I could head out the door, and I also knew that waiting till I got home to eat would be a mistake. If I got too hungry when I got to the kitchen, it would be way too easy to go over board and stuff my face. So I heated up a bit of the chicken I had in the fridge and munched on that while wrapping up my projects.

I didn't cheat, I didn't binge, and I didn't feel deprived for a single second-all because I was following the example of some rather fuzzy and clever little rodents. Sure, I still hate squirrels. After all, these are the creatures that cause hundreds of dollars worth of damage to my garden each year by destroying bedding plants, eating my veggies and tearing up my lawn furniture cusions. Despite their destructive nature, they did teach me to be prepared...which is why I now keep a loaded pellet gun near the patio door. I'm just paying back the squirrels by teaching THEM something this time.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Supermarket Cart Snooping

I admit it. I am a cart snooper. I take sneaky glances at other people's shopping selections as I pass them in the isles. Sometimes it is to remind myself of the stuff I used to buy and how unhealthy it made me (cereals, whole grain bread, low fat products...eww!). Sometimes I look for clues as to why someone's kids are bouncing off the walls and acting like little jerks (Oh goody! Mountain Dew, Little Debbie's Snack Cake and Macaroni and Cheese! I hope they put money aside for Ritalin and fat camp!). Other times I look to see what a thin person is eating and how can they possibly look that good trudging through a Walmart at 11pm (Maybe there are secret clues to thinness, longevity, and full pouty lips? Fat-free yogurt, tofu burgers and Zima? Never mind...I'll stay chubby and poutless.)

I also get a good laugh playing "Spot the Bachelor". A married man shopping alone will buy milk, bread, cheese, vegetables, and even, if he thinks nobody is looking, feminine hygiene products for his wife and/or daughter. A bachelor heads right for the frozen food section, grabs anything with the name "Hungry Man" on it, adds a 12 pack of soda and bolts out the door as fast as he can. Maybe I need a new hobby, but for me, this qualifies as entertainment.

As much as I snoop at other people's carts, I am actually shocked if I notice someone else giving my cart the eye. Sometimes "the eye" comes with "the smirk", as in "No wonder you are fat lady! You have MEAT, CREAM and CHEESE in your cart!" Yeah, whatever bitch. I used to weight 280lbs. Now I weight 210. Bite my shrinking ass. I have also noticed a few looks of longing lately, usually from some poor man who, I assume, has been placed on a low-fat diet by his vegenazi wife. The accompanying whimpering and drooling are heartbreaking to say the least. One thing I never noticed before was a look of admiration...until the other day.

I went to my local Safeway to take advantage of a weekly sale on London Broil. At $1.98/lb, it was a great deal. I often braise this cut in a small amount of white wine or beer, add California blend vegetables, and then mix sour cream right before serving. ...delicious! So when it goes on sale, I stock up. I also had a rain check for cheap chicken since they ran out the last time I was there plus I always troll for other discounted items and manager's specials. What I ended up with is over 15 pounds of London Broil, 4 family packages of chicken thighs, 2 big bags of chicken wings, 2 1lb packages of beef liver, 5 Cervelat Summer sausages ($2.98 each manager's special....usually $5.98) and 3 huge packs of 99 cents/lb beef ribs that looked like the brontosaurus ribs right out of the Flinststones cartoon. Then I headed to the dairy section and added 2 quarts of heavy whipping cream, a large brick of pepperjack cheese, and a large tub of sour cream.

As I walked out of the dairy section, I passed a young man who, not so inconspicuously, glanced in my cart, then looked at me, smiled, then gave me the ultimate sign of male approval...the upward chin snap. You know... that slight upward tilt of the chin one guy gives to another guy. It is usually reserved for acknowledgment of important things like cool motorcycles, impressive tool collections, or riding lawn mowers with flame graphics on the side. Yet here I was, a girl, getting this high mark of honor and recognition. All I could do was grin as I walked toward the check out. I honestly think that if I asked him to marry me at the moment, he would have cheerfully followed me home.

This got me thinking. I have a friend who is smart, cute, has a good job, her own home and a fun personality, yet she can't seem to find a descent boyfriend. Maybe it is because she is a vegetarian. If a handsome single man saw her walking through the store with a cart full of Boca Burgers and Tofu, he would run in the other direction lest he end up like some of his starving, whimpering brethren. I tried to tell her about my experience the other night and suggested she try slipping a few packages of chicken or steak in her cart for show if she sees a cute guy at the Safeway, but she just gave me a nasty look. I guess telling someone they should do the dating equivalent of tying a pork chop around their neck to get someone to pay attention to them wasn't a good idea. If I keep this up, I might not have any girlfriends left. At least I know I can load up a cart full of meat and make new guy friends. Good thing I don't mind talking about lawn mowers.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Weight of the Evidence: Battling Dogma

One of my favorite health and low carb blogs is "Weight of the Evidence" by Regina Wilshire. Her recent blog post about a study on the Masai people of Africa points out how entrenched dietary dogma prevents officials from seeing the incredibly obvious.

The Masai have very little heart disease or diabetes despite a diet high in animal fat. Researchers concluded that is because they get a lot of exercise. Of course, once you understand that the energy TO exercise comes from a good, nutritious diet with high fatty acid content and plenty of protein, it is easy to understand that a low carbohydrate diet is what is helping the Masai have all that energy in the first place. So, it isn't the exercise that makes them healthy and energetic , but their natural high fat diet. Of course, the mainstream will never report it this it is a good thing we have Regina around!

"I would contend that while it's ideal to be active, that is not the driving force in 'health' or lack thereof - it's dietary habits that dominate our health outcomes, our level of activity may be important too, but activity in and of itself is no solution to a piss-poor diet.

We need, before activity, a proper diet to enable us to perform phyisical activity, not the other way around! So while the researchers here could not bring themselves to even consider that the habitual diet of the Masai - high-fat and low-carbohydrate - was the driving force in their good health and enabled high levels of activity, I'll say it!"
Weight of the Evidence

The original study (and stupid conclusion) here

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Nutrisystem Revisited

Back in April, I blogged about Nutrisystem and their latest spokesmodel, Jillian Barberie. She was touting a 41 lb weight loss in a series of TV ads and I made the observation that her clothing in the before photo appeared to be maternity wear. From the information I could gather at the time, Jillian had lost weight after giving birth even though she was crediting the Nutrisystem program. (See initial post here)

Thanks to an anonymous commenter, we now have a photo of the before and after featured in the Nutrisystem ads. It clearly shows a maternity dress and it even appears to show her baby bump. Thanks to me having a short attention span, we also now have a post about the same commercial on a consumer affairs website confirming that she is wearing maternity clothing.

"Debbie of Perris CA (05/05/08)
I think the public needs to know that the Nutrisystem commercials are very deceptive. Their latest ad with Jillian Barbari is a great example. I watch her on a local morning TV show a few days a week. The before picture they show of her in the commercial was taken when she was pregnant! I even saw her in the same dress on the morning show -- and she was pregnant at the time! Of course, she lost a lot of weight after her baby was born! This is very deceptive and misleading."

Along with this comment are several posts about the bad taste and smell of the Nutrisystem meals, the gas caused by the "food", the expense of the program as well as how much of your own fresh produce and dairy you have to buy along WITH the program food, and a litany of people having a hard time getting a refund despite Nutrisystem's advertised 30 day refund policy. Check it out yourself.

I was already pretty outraged by lying celebrity tools like Jillian Barberie as well as, apparently, Marie Osmond, who once credited her weight loss to training for Dancing With The Stars, but now says it was Nutrisystem (no doubt after being presented with a large check with her name on it). Now I am even more outraged after reading so many examples of refund, billing and shipping shenanigans. I can say with total conviction that Nutrisystem is a complete rip off. It looks like it is time to take some action. Reporting them to the FTC? Calling networks to complain?? Getting consumer advocates on board? I will be formulating a plan of action and will let you all know what steps you can take if you are interested.

Butternomics: The Economics of Making Your Own Butter

A while back on one of the heath forums I frequent, someone asked what they could do with excess whipping cream. They had bought too much and did not want it to go to waste. It only took seconds for that poster to flush out all the Midwesterners, who cheerfully posted, MAKE BUTTER!

Apparently, in 1st or 2nd grade, every kid living within smelling distance of a dairy farm does "the butter project". Each kid gets a small baby food jar with a splash of cream in it and the teacher has the kids shake the jars (most likely in a futile attempt to burn off excess 6 year old energy) until each jar is filled with butter and a little bit of buttermilk. Then the butter was spread on crackers, which, of course, are loaded with carbs, and would counteract any tiredness incurred from the butter making activity (stupid teachers). I guess the forum poster was an under-privileged city kid who had to learn important survival skills like how to flag down a taxi in the rain or how to secure a rent-controlled apartment and missed out on the Dairy Studies portion of her education.

Anyway, it got me thinking about how easy it was to make butter, and I wondered if it made sense for me to start making my own. I have done it on occasion when I ran out in the middle of a recipes and really did not feel like trudging to Walmart in my jammie bottoms, tie dyed t-shirt and flip flops (standard chef's uniform at the 'Zilla household). Sure I saved myself the embarrassment of running in to an important client or friendly city official who might not be impressed with my "Family Guy" Brian Print wear, but did it economically make SENSE for me to do it.

I decided to find out.

1 half gallon of regular (not heavy) whipping cream weighs about 2 1/2 lbs. I weighed out 1 lb of the whipping cream and put it in my food processor. After about 3 minutes, I managed to turn that cream in to butter and buttermilk. I took out the butter and then weighed that on the scale. My 1 lb of cream was now 10oz of fluffy butter once the liquid was poured off. So if I were to whip up the entire half gallon, I would have 25oz of butter from my $5.86 container of cream. Since most butter is sold by the pound, doing a little math, my butter weighed 1.5625 lbs. making it $3.75/lb. Not exactly a bargain with retail butter prices being somewhere around $3.25/lb (even cheaper on sale, or at Costco). Making my own butter actually cost me more than getting it at the store.

At first glance that might make you decide not to try and make your own, but if you consider time and gas going to the store JUST for butter, I call it a wash. If you actually use the buttermilk it can even become good bargain, plus you should definitely make your own butter rather than let cream go to waste. The final decision on weather or not to make your own butter on a regular basis is going to be an individual thing. If you live far away from a store, no access to a Sam's Club or Costco, or have access to cheap fresh cream, making it yourself is a great idea. It can also be a good idea if you want more control over what goes in your butter and want it to be as fresh as possible. After all, who knows HOW long that stuff at the Super Center sat on the shelf? Just carefully weigh all the factors (including weather or not you have access to a hyperactive grade schooler and some baby food jars, which takes access to electricity out of the equation) and go from there.