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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My informal guide to protein bars

Last night I went out with a friend from yoga to catch up, and she had asked for my opinion on a few things. Our discussion led to protein bars - which ones are worth buying, when to eat them, and so on. She said she felt completely overwhelmed walking into a store and seeing the selection of various bars and had no idea which ones to buy. After we talked, she joked that I should write a blog post on protein bars for her reference. Well, here you go.

First of all, I just cannot imagine replacing an entire meal with a protein shake or a protein bar. I always have to supplement it with something else, whether it's a side of veggies, some whole grain cereal or chip, or fruit, depending on the size and macros of the bar.

My general rules for protein bars are this:

1. High fat and/or quick release carbs pre-workout

2. Low to moderate fat and high protein post-workout


Mmmm, pie
Larabars are some of the simplest, most natural nutrition bars that are widely available. I love that the ingredient lists are typically short, including fruit, nuts, and spices. Every flavor I've tried does a pretty good job of mimicking the taste of what the label says, especially apple pie and peanut butter & jelly.

I really enjoy Larabars, though I rarely eat them, especially during warmer months. They get sticky and melty in the heat...not my thing.
Kind bars

Kind bars have a huge variety of bars to suit individual needs and taste buds. My favorite line of Kind bars are the Nuts & Spices lower sugar bars. The sea salt dark chocolate is SO DELICIOUS. Any of their bars are perfect for pre-workout because of the natural sugars (especially in the fruit & nut line), higher fat content for satiety, and moderate protein. Again, simple, whole food ingredients.

I am intrigued by their new line of savory, higher-protein bars, Strong & Kind. I just don't know how I feel about a nut bar flavored like thai sweet chili. I'm also about savory/spicy, but it's just so odd to me.

I feel like I should also mention that Kind granola is bomb.

ThinkThin crunch
ThinkThin Crunch Mixed nut bars fall under the same guidelines as Kind bars for me. The coconut chocolate is definitely my #1 choice in this line.


Photo borrowed from here
ThinkThin bars aren't the most "natural" bars, but I like them a lot. Great flavors that taste like candy bars, and are especially yummy frozen in the summer or after hot yoga. With 20g of protein and no sugar in their high-protein line of bars (with chocolate covered strawberry as the exception with 15g protein), these bars are great for a quick protein boost and muscle repair.

ThinkThin has changed some of the flavors and added a couple of new lines, including a candy bar line and a protein & fiber bar. I won't lie, I'm dying to try some of the flavors in the protein & fiber line, like the chocolate peanut butter toffee and chocolate almond coconut. I've yet to find these in stores though :(

Of their original line, creamy peanut butter will forever have my heart. And I'm missing the lemon cream pie bars. Why, ThinkThin, did you discontinue this flavor?!

Quest bars are hands-down my absolute favorite protein bars. Ever. Yeah, yeah, yeah, another blog post raving about how delicious Quest bars are. Do you think Quest is getting tired of it? Doubt it. Therefore, I feel no guilt. The nutrition stats are fantastic: 19-21g of protein per bar, 5-10g of fat, high fiber, and 1-4g of sugar in any given bar. I love that the fat and calorie content varies in each bar based on nutrition needs. Some days I have trouble meeting my fat intake goals, so a peanut butter & jelly Quest bar gives me that little extra edge with 200 calories and 10g of fat as opposed to 160 calories and 5g of fat in the chocolate peanut butter. I also like that some flavors are sweetened with stevia.

I could eat these things every day. There is such a wide variety of flavors and I love them all. My absolute favorite so far are the coconut cashew, cookie dough, and white chocolate raspberry (my enjoyment of which was a true underdog story, I really had low expectations for this flavor).

Most bars need to be heated up a bit in the microwave to bring out the true dessert-like quality of these bars...sitting out by my mat during hot yoga also does the trick.

I have yet to try the cookies & cream bar, vanilla almond bar, and the Quest cravings cups. They need to get in my belly ASAP. A quest for Quest may be in order soon.

My friend mentioned that she started eating Clif bars, which, in my personal opinion, are sugar bombs. Yes, they are made with some decent ingredients, but the sugar content is out of control for what I would consider a snack. The only time I could see myself eating a Clif bar is during a lengthy hike or bike ride that requires quick-releasing carbs and protein for energy and muscle repair. Since I neither hike nor bike, Clif bars have no place in my snack box.

Thanks for the visual, Sugar Stacks.

Disclaimer: I am not a nutrition expert by any means. These are my personal opinions based on my taste preference and what makes me feel satiated and energized. If you enjoy Clif bars as meal replacements, more power to you. It's just not my thing. If you think protein bars and powders are a waste of money and an unnatural source of protein, I'm not saying you're wrong. I just happen to enjoy protein bars and powders for convenience and as a way to have a sweet treat without all the sugar and to get a protein boost.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sriracha for days & faux-asian recipes

There are a lot of things I wish I were better at in terms of blogging. Like actually updating my blog, for one. Another vital skill that I lack: photography. Not only am I a less-than-stellar picture-taker, I rarely remember to even attempt to snap a photo, especially when I'm preparing food. There are two reasons for this: my knowledge of my photography handicap and my tendency to leave my phone and ipad out of the kitchen for fear of splattering food particles all over them. I definitely need to work on being neater and steadying my hand.

Onto the point of that spiel. I've actually been in the kitchen a bit more frequently testing out new simple recipes that I've thrown together, largely based on my craving for Srirarcha.
This is me
I made up a large batch of red quinoa this week to experiment with, and ended up making quinoa "fried rice" with all of it because it was so craveable. I even got my mom and sister's boyfriend to try it and enjoy it. Win. Especially since it's the easiest, quickest recipe ever and amounts can easily be adjusted to serve one or several people, as a side or main course for a meal.

Quinoa "Fried Rice"

  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 diced celery
  • large handful of sugar snap peas
  • 1 - 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 diced red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup - 1 cup cooked red quinoa
  • low-sodium soy sauce, to taste
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • black pepper
  • Sriracha, to taste (I recommend liberal application)
  • 1 - 3 eggs 
Saute garlic, celery, and sugar snap peas in a large non-stick frying pan on high until soft. Reduce to medium heat and add red pepper, quinoa, and seasonings. Reduce heat to medium-low and add eggs one at a time, stirring constantly to incorporate into the quinoa mixture. Top with more sriracha and enjoy!

I actually served this with some baked marinated chicken and a side of balsamic asparagus. Such a good meal.

Another super simple non-recipe that I toyed around with this week was egg drop soup. Guess I'm craving eggs, too, huh? After being sick last weekend, I was really craving soup, but didn't want to make a big batch...voila! Egg drop soup!

Definitely Non-Traditional Egg Drop Soup

  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 - 3 tsp low-sodium soy sauce (I used Bragg's Liquid Aminos)
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • cayenne pepper, to taste
  • salt & black pepper, to taste
  • Sriracha, to taste
  • 1/2 diced celery
  • 3 medium radishes, sliced thin
  • diced scallions
  • 3/4 cup sliced white mushrooms
  • 2 large handfuls fresh spinach
  • 1 egg and 1/4 cup egg whites
Add all ingredients except spinach and eggs to a saucepan and bring to a boil, cooking until celery is soft. Reduce heat to a simmer and add spinach to cook through. Remove the pot from heat. Crack in one egg, stirring the entire time to get those stringy tasty egg bits (yum!). Do the same with the egg whites, or another egg, pour it all into a bowl, and dig in.
Like I said, my photography skills are nil. That lighting is repugnant. The soup, however, was awesome. 
I've also been utilizing my air popper on the reg and toying with some new popcorn toppings. My favorite so far? Sriracha, cayenne & black pepper, and sea salt. 

Have I mentioned that I LOVE Sriracha?

Speaking of sriracha, I stopped by AS220 last night, a non-profit organization in Providence that services troubled youth, hosts small concerts, and has an amazing FOO(d) menu and bar. They regularly infuse their own vodkas with some unique ingredients (cinnamon sweet potato clove, anyone?). To my surprise and delight, they happened to have a pineapple sriracha ginger infused vodka, which I had to sample. The flavor was spot-on sriracha. Kudos to AS220 for the successful infusion!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"The scales always find a way to level out..."

As always, my theory of balance is on point. Discord is an essential part of life. As some things have fallen into place for me, other things have changed in a way that keep everything from being perfect. But that's what life is all about - learning to adapt and accepting the good and the bad for what it's worth. Given the highs and the lows, I can honestly say I feel very content.

The Good:

As I mentioned in my last post, which feels like forever ago, I started a new job and I am really liking it. The cherry on top is for the first time in almost three years, I am not on-call for crisis response 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The feeling is liberating. I no longer panic when my phone rings! My commute is also next-to-nothing now. It's a little odd to work in your hometown and run into people that know me or my family at every school I Rhode Island.

Tuesday night I went for 1/2 price dinner at India. If you've been there, no explanation is needed for why this is ultra good. I can't help ordering the mixed grill vegetable platter with seasoned sweet potatoes and kale cucumber papaya salad. I also can't help inhaling my meal before snapping a picture to share it in all its wonder. Sorry, not sorry.

The Bad:

My debit card info was stolen, along with over $4000. I am still without a new card, cash, or reimbursement until the charges clear from my account. Karma will do its thing, though. 

I strained a muscle and have been out of yoga for a few weeks. It totally threw me out of my element. I also missed partner yoga and will have to wait until June for fun group poses. 

I caught some terrible cold or something within the past 24 hours. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like I had been hit by a bus. Despite being awake since 7am, I was completely unable to get out of my bed until 11:15am. So unlike me. Luckily, I'm feeling a little better after several Motrins, lots of water, and choking down a protein shake and some mild-flavored carby foods to settle my stomach. A little dose of Ron Swanson later should further ease my suffering.
Why is he so hilarious?

The Weird:

This picture succeeds in both making me giggle and instilling a feeling of discomfort that I can't shake every time I look at it.
Is it weird that I actually really want this sweatshirt? Perhaps.
A pile of snakes that I nearly stepped on whilst walking down Hope Street on Tuesday. There were actually three more snakes that slithered away from the pile before I could snap a picture. Maddddd creepy. April Fools?

Monday, March 24, 2014

MIMM: First day jitters

Life has been full of ups lately, so it's only appropriate to link up with Katie for Marvelous in my Monday!

Today is the first official day at my new job, making this Monday especially marvelous, but also a little nerve-wracking. While I can't update on that just yet, I figured I'd look back on all the wonderful little things that have made me smile lately.

About two weeks ago I had won a giveaway from Roots hummus through Alexis' blog. This stuff is INCREDIBLE. My favorite so far has been the lima bean shock since I never eat lima beans.
Still mourning the end of this tub...
Other flavors in the package included original, black bean, chipotle, red pepper, and thai coconut curry. I've only cracked into the first two so far. It's fantastic to have all of this hummus on hand, but of course it presents this typical first world / white girl problem:

One of the parents of the individuals on my caseload at my old job gave me this bracelet from India as a thank you/goodbye gift. It was such a sweet gesture, it really meant a lot!

A new job of course means new clothes. And what better than outlet shopping and sales? Nothing.

Hot pot lunch! No explanation needed.

Spending Saint Patrick's Day with a good friend, and snapping a super flattering selfie of the two of us. Love it, and her!

I hope everyone's Monday is just as marvelous as mine!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

New beginnings

Happy Spring, everyone! Today it actually looks and feels like the season has changed, but the weather forecast for RI indicates otherwise. Snow on Tuesday/Wednesday? I'll keep my fingers crossed that the storm changes paths.

I realize I've been very elusive about things lately and haven't been blogging as often as I'd like to, but this is all due to some major changes in my life. This past Wednesday was actually my last day as a service coordinator for the agency I've worked for since August 2012. It was a bittersweet departure. The job was just not the right fit for me; however, I absolutely adore the people on my caseload and my coworkers. Everyone was so sweet and supportive of me. I definitely intend to maintain those relationships.
The goodbye flowers, cake, and fruit was a nice touch. 

How symbolic is it that I had the first day of Spring to start fresh? Let me tell you, it feels amazing to finally not be on-call for crisis response in almost three years.

I took Thursday to do a little life Spring cleaning: I got a haircut, got a full-service car wash, reorganized my closet, and changed purses. The little things like that make me feel ready for a new adventure. Along with my recent shopping trips, of course.
70% off at Banana Republic...yeah. this shirt cost me $15. WIN.

Yesterday, March 21st, was my dad's birthday. He would have been 58 years old. It's still unreal to me that he's gone...54 is just way too young.

I took a trip to the cemetery to visit him and wish him a happy birthday. All I could think as I drove up was how much he would hate my lime green car. He'd think I was even more ridiculous for naming it and speaking to it in Spanish haha.

Happy birthday, Dad! Words can neither describe how grateful I am to have had you in my life for twenty years, nor how much I wish you could be here for twenty, thirty, or forty more. I think about you everyday, cherishing the relationship we had, the lessons you taught me, and how you've helped to mold me and my sisters into the women we've become. I love you so much, Dad. R.I.P. 8/9/10

I often find myself wondering what he would think of me today. Would he be proud of who I've become and what I've accomplished? I really hope so. Luckily I still have an amazing and strong mother to support me and my sisters. She really does work twice as hard to be there for us and she deserves the world.

So now that I'm ready for a new adventure, what do I plan to take on?

This coming Monday, I will be starting my new job as a project coordinator for the Carol White Physical Education Program, impacting several elementary and middle schools in my area! I couldn't be more excited about this job. I'm so passionate about the objectives of the grant - increasing children and family awareness of physical activity, nutrition, and overall well-being. I'll admit I have first-day jitters, but I'm ready for Monday to arrive and to take this on full force.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sometimes I intend to blog, but then I get on Buzzfeed...

Typical. Damn you, Buzzfeed, for your vortex of useless and amusing picture-heavy articles. You make it so easy to continue clicking down the rabbit hole. This would be a problem if I haven't been so real-life productive. No shame.

My personal favorite read from my Buzzfeed binge has to be "15 Underused Words To Add To Your Vocabulary." I blame the nerdy English-major side of me. Am I setting a goal to use these words in actual conversation? You know it.
I always struggled to describe that smell. Nevermore. Thanks, Buzzfeed!
With any luck, I'll return tomorrow for some Marvelous in my Monday action. I can't make any promises, though, since my day is poised to be jam-packed.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Nutrition changes

America has an undeniable problem with weight and body image. And it all seems to stem from a lack of education, a lack of concrete facts, and misleading information. Studies have shown that nutrition labels aren't helpful to most people when they reach for packaged food. Serving sizes, unhealthy/heavily processed ingredients, and other vital facts are disregarded by most. To quote this article on such studies: "People were most likely to read the nutrition label when it took front-and-center stage, and tended to read facts closer to the top of the label." Therefore, people are seeing calories and nothing else. Not how many of X food equals that number of calories, if it contains added sugars or trans fat, if the ingredients are natural or chock full of chemicals...just calories. And that isn't helpful when so many people don't even know their body's caloric needs.

The FDA is planning to update the nutrition label to make it easier to understand and highlight the nutritional data that is actually important.
See details of the FDA's proposed nutrition label changes here

There is a short, informative article on Greatist that identifies the four areas that are being emphasized through these changes and why: added sugars, fats, calorie counts, and portion sizes. I think the best part of these revisions is that added sugars are being added to nutrition labels, because that really is our major dietary downfall. Even reading an ingredient list, it's pretty much impossible to know just how much of the sugar listed on the nutrition label is added and how much is naturally occurring. 

I read another article this week that talked about the success of using traffic light colors to highlight a food's nutritional value to assist people with making smarter choices. This obviously can't be done in a grocery store, but in think it would be so beneficial for people grabbing food to go or dining at a restaurant. 

In other positive nutrition news, the recommended daily sugar allotment is now at 5% of total daily intake, slashing the previous recommendation of 10% in half. Obviously this is merely a recommendation, and these guidelines still need some clarification. Does this 5% include natural sugars like fruits and vegetables? If so, I'm screwed when pineapple season arrives...I'm not about to deny myself the pleasure of enjoying half of a freshly cut pineapple.

Again, the problem is that Americans just aren't properly educated on these things. Nutrition needs to be straightforward and accessible. The fundamentals need to be taught in schools and clearer guidelines on healthy foods need to be set in place for adults to learn. Browsing the internet, with its tangents and opinions on various diets and "lifestyles" (read: paleo, keto, low-fat, etc.), just overloads us with information and makes things even harder to understand. Nutrition can't be self-taught on such a large scale.

And to go off on a tangent of my own: Once Upon a Time returned this week! My Sunday nights just got a whole lot better to look at. 
Hook, how I've missed you.
Linking up with the marvelous Katie for a Marvelous in my Monday post!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on all of this!
Do you think the changes to our nutrition labels will do any good?

Do you follow serving sizes as listed on packaged foods? I personally don't, for the most part. Just because some of the portions dictated are either too obscure or just not enough for me. I don't even understand how to interpret what a serving of popcorn is from looking at the label.