Archives for September 2008

Is it Okay to Break Open a Fish Oil Capsule?

Somebody searched this phrase to get to our site, so I thought I would answer the question.

From my personal experience, yes, it is okay to break open a fish oil softgel and consume the contents inside. However, remember, we are not talking about tasty olive oil here, but fish oil, so don’t be surprised if, when you break it open, it smells and tastes like FISH.

I know what fish oil tastes like from experience. I bring some vitamins to work to take with lunch. One day, when I brought my lunch to work, I kept it in the refrigerator until lunch. Brilliant me decided to keep the fish oil softgel in the bag with the almonds, which was in my lunch bag, because I refrigerate my open fish oil softgels (so they won’t go rancid quickly). By lunch, I had forgotten there was a fish oil softgel in the bag with my almonds, and when I bit down into a handful of almonds, I felt a squirt of fish oil burst in my mouth. It was not a pleasant experience. Needless to say I don’t mix softgels with almonds anymore.

Farmer’s Almanac: Cold Winter on the Way

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, a cold winter is coming for most of the U.S. With many families struggling with energy costs this could be problematic. Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing some of the ways we reduce energy consumption in the home (yes, our families are used to hearing “put on a sweater” in the winter!). I also have to admit that I dislike winter more and more each year, especially after Christmas is over. The colder the winter, the worse it is, it seems. We’ll try to address ways to survive the winter blahs as well. Keep posted.

How to Lose Weight: #20 Weigh and Measure

Weight loss experts are always telling us that we Americans eat portion sizes that are way too big, and consistently underestimate just how much we actually eat. Sometimes people underestimate by over 500 calories a meal! The solution I have found to this problem is to simply measure most everything I eat. Sometimes I do estimate, especially with lower calorie foods, but since I measure the majority of the time, it makes my estimates more accurate. People around me know that I tend to measure portions a lot, although I don’t (yet) carry measuring tools with me when I eat out!

To do this on a regular basis, you will need measuring spoons, liquid and solid cup measures, and a food scale of some kind. Mine are pretty cheap, including the food scale, which isn’t digital and is kind of shaky, but it does the job. Of course, with some foods, like snack foods and crackers, it is easier just to count the items you eat, and then figure out the calories, rather than weighing them.

Let me give you an example of a typical meal I eat, and how I measure the contents. A typical dinner for me is a turkey burger (no  bun), sauteed onions, spicy mustard, baked french fries, and no sugar added ice cream with lite syrup topping for dessert. The turkey burgers are pre-made, so there is no need to measure those. I give myself 6 ounces of fries, and I do this by placing them in a plastic bowl I know weighs 1 ounce, setting that on the scale, and then I add fries until I get 7 ounces.  For the spicy mustard, I give about 4 squirts, estimating each to be about a teaspoon. The onions are so low in calories I just estimate those. The ice cream I measure out, by using a spoon to scoop the ice cream into 1/2 cup measure, and then scooping that out into a bowl. If I want a cup of ice cream I just double it. Usually I then just squeeze the syrup into the spoon I used to scoop the ice cream, because it is a tablespoon size. That may seem like a lot of effort, but it really isn’t, especially once it has become habit. Plus, at the end of the day, I know what I am eating, and I end up consume fewer mindless calories.

Image of yours truly counting out tortilla chips for a snack (notice the el-cheapo food scale by the bag). This is last winter, before I lost an additional 6 or so pounds

Random Stuff: Autumn and Stress

Today is the first day of autumn. Here the weather is already pretty chilly at night, although the days are still pretty hot. We haven’t had to use our air conditioner for a few weeks, which is pretty nice, saving us some nice money. I love the fall. There is football season, mild but chilly weather, colorful leaves, Halloween & Halloween parties, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Advent, Thanksgiving, pumpkin flavored everything (especially pie), and a certain smell of dried leaves and foliage that mixes well with the cool fall air to create something you have to experience. There are probably many more things I am forgetting. I also kind of like being able to wear sweaters, and usually by October this is possible. However, I will miss a lot of what I liked about the summer. I won’t be able to run outside as much as the weather gets colder, and things like golf become less feasible, but there is always next summer.

A study done by the supplier of the supplement maker Relora shows that Americans are more stressed out today than they were a year ago. According to the study, the major stressors (in order of effect on Americans) are financial issues, work-related stress, lack of time, health concerns, family problems, and relationship issues. And our ways of coping aren’t exactly healthy: eating comfort foods and watching TV were the top methods of relieving this stress! This study was mentioned in the print version of the recent Natural Products Insider.

Image taken by me last fall

Inspiring Losers

Last Tuesday one of my favorite television shows, the Biggest Loser, started a new season. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the show chronicles morbidly obese individuals who compete on a ranch, with trainers, doctors, etc., for a monetary prize to see who can lose the most weight. As someone who has struggled with weight in the past, it is inspirational to watch, especially since following along as these individuals lose weight keeps me excited about maintaining my present healthy lifestyle.

This year’s show features family members as two person teams. Some are husband and wife while others are parents and children. The familial link to weight gain is huge and it’s great to see this reality TV show tackle the problem. In short, I’m really excited and no one better bother me at 8:00pm on Tuesdays because I’m going to busy watching some big losers on TV!

How to Lose Weight: #19 Think Young

When I was growing up I tended to think that when people got past a certain age (around 28ish), they had kids, gained weight, and started looking and thinking old. I suppose if you get older and think that this is the way it happens, then, it will happen that way, i.e. you will start being old. However, I don’t think that age dooms us to weight gain, or looking and feeling old. As I get older, I notice that a lot of people my age (30) look old, and some look young. Some are healthy, some are not.

Reputable scientists tell us that a person’s chronological age and “real” age are two different things. There are plenty of 30-year olds who are “younger” than many 21 year olds, based on overall health and lifestyle choices. This means that with a few lifestyle changes, you can grow younger in a matter of months. This is  a strong motivation for me to lose weight, and keep it off, because I want to be active and healthy for a long time (I find it extremely sad when somebody is unable to live a full life because of lifestyle choices…and I have had relatives who lost quality of life, and eventually passed away young, because of obesity).

Surveys of really old people (in the 90s and 100s) show that they really do think young. They try to keep up with the latest technology and ideas. In other words, they don’t resign themselves to being old and “out-of-it.” I think this is the key to thinking young. Staying involved with life, and being active in it, is going to help us feel young, and, if we are active, keep fit. I can think of two great examples. The first is my grandma, who has walked 2 miles a day for as long as I have been alive. She is in her mid-80s and takes 1 prescription drug she has taken since she was in her 20s. Another example is a professor I had during my undergraduate days. He was in his 80s when I had him. He was teaching a full schedule, and was still running marathons, which means he was probably more active than 50% of the 19 year olds on campus! He said his secret was drinking Retsina!

The best (and original) website dedicated to this principle of a true age is RealAge.Com. Visit the site and take the real age test, and see what your “real age” is. If it is not as young as you like, then make a few lifestyle changes, and check back later. I have signed up for their emails, and they are contain valuable information, so it is worth it. Focusing on your “real age” really is a strong motivator to get healthy. My “real age” is 20, and that is something I am proud of, and work to maintain. So long as my mind is what it is now (not like when I was 20), I should be just fine!

How to Lose Weight: #18 Go With Feeling Good

As we lose weight, we start to look and feel better. This is noticeable almost immediately. However, food and inactivity are strong addictions, and sometimes it is easy to let ourselves forget how well we look and feel, and start to depend on things like sugar and fat for our feelings of worth. Personally, I will take self-respect derived from discipline that results in feeling good, than a pseudo-respect that results in initial feelings of satisfaction, but fades into feeling (and looking) bad. Basically, I am suggesting that we need to tap into the good things that are happening in our lives because of being healthy, and emphasize these any time we start to fall off the wagon. Weight loss is a struggle, but there are very tangible rewards that result from even slight weight loss.

I think we need to go with feeling good, that is, remind ourselves how good we feel and look from our weight loss. I can think of two examples just recently of how I tried to put this into action.

A few days ago, I was the chaperon for our homecoming dance. It was catered by a local restaurant, and I ate a good bit, mainly because I had run 5 miles and lifted for 40 minutes a few hours earlier, and I needed the calories (especially the protein). However, as I was tempted to eat a lot of potato chips later in the night, I remembered how good I have been feeling lately. I looked around at dancing students, and I thought about much it means to me, and them, that at 30 I am in good enough shape to keep up with them on the basketball court. I was grateful for where I am, and that alone was enough for me to forgo a bunch of chips (I did eat a few).

Another example happened yesterday morning. Jennifer and I were walking after church, and I remarked how nice a day it was, and how great it is that we are able to walk, and how I enjoyed being in shape. What does it hurt to focus on what we have accomplished? It doesn’t hurt, and in fact, it should help keep you on the path of health.

One way to think about weight loss is focus on the long haul. We can’t recapture our youth, nor should we obsess about something impossible like that, but we can improve the way we feel now and in the future. If we are healthy, and stay healthy, we know we are doing our part to look and feel better in the future.

Image of Jennifer walking (I am behind her taking the photo)

Diet Wisdom for Today

Chad offers some good weight loss advice at his blog; my favorite line:

Deny yourself. Say no to yourself more than yes. If your tempted to say yes, distract yourself with something healthy like pounding a liter of water or going for a brisk walk to the nice bathrooms on the other side of your employer’s campus.

Also, a recent survey of over 7000 people who have kept the weight off for a year or more found that successful people did the following four things: Participate in aerobic activity at least 1 hour or more a day, focus on watching calories, keep food logs, and choose healthier and lower fat foods.

I like reading about studies, but also people’s advice, like Chad’s. The way I figure it, as difficult as weight loss is, collecting wisdom from every source possible is helpful, even if ultimately you don’t take the complete advice of any one person.


I haven’t been much of a basketball player over the years. Even though I played football and some baseball in high school, I stopped playing basketball formally in 6th grade. However, I am currently good friends with our basketball coach, and I do athletic administrative work for the school, so I was asked to play basketball with the kids during the off-season. Reluctantly, I agreed. I say “reluctantly” because I really hadn’t played in years, except perhaps playing with friends in high school, and I tend to avoid situations in which I know I’ll make a fool of myself!

I have really enjoyed it though. It is very good exercise, and I have been getting in really good shape as I lose the last few pounds I started to lose a year ago. I have taken off about 10 pounds in the last 2 months, and that has really helped me get down the court faster than I did in the spring (when I started playing again), even though I wasn’t obese then by any means. I love keeping up with the kids. My skills aren’t the greatest (although they are really improving), but the kids know that this 30-year old will be keeping up with them the whole time. I am not the tallest guy, but I love defense, especially getting rebounds. The competition keeps me going a lot longer than if I were just running by myself. I have come to really appreciate the value of sports. I have never had a low opinion of them, but seeing improvements in myself and our basketball players makes me appreciate the hard work that goes into making it work.

How to Lose Weight: #17 Substitute

There are a variety of lower calorie foods available these days, like light cream cheese and light bread. Most are specifically marketed toward those looking to lose weight. Personally, if there is a lighter option, I tend to eat it, unless the light option is not really worth the price (since light options sometimes are more expensive). As those who struggle with their weight know, calories add up very quickly, and saving a few here and there really helps in the long run. Let me compare a few calorie values below, and you can see that in the course of a day, choosing the lighter option over the full-calorie version really makes a difference. If you are not looking into lighter versions of your favorite high-calorie foods, you are really doing yourself a disservice. I list the light version, and the calorie

Light Spread: 50 (tbsp)  -50
Regular Butter: 100 (tbsp)

Light Bread: 35 (slice) -45
Regular Wheat Bread: 90 (slice)

Mozzarella 80 (1/4 c) -20
Regular – 100 (1/4 c)

Skim Milk 80 (c) -40
2% Milk 120 (c)

Light Yogurt 80 (6 oz) -40
Regular Non-Fat Yogurt 120 (6 oz)

Ground Turkey 170 (4 oz) -143
Ground Beef 313 (4 oz)

Whole Wheat Pasta 180 (2 oz) -30
Regular Pasta 210 (2 oz)

Diet Soft Drink 0 (12 oz) -150
Regular Cola 150 (12 oz)

If you substitute all of these in a day, you save 518 calories (which amounts to 3626 calories in a week). At this rate, you would lose a little over a pound of fat a week, all things equal, just by making a few substitutions. In addition to lowering your calories, by making these choices, you would increase your fiber, lower your levels of saturated fat, and consume less sugar and trans-fats! I have generally found that eating lighter versions of foods takes a little getting used to, but only a little. Finding lighter options is usually pretty easy, since they are often with the regular options at the supermarket.

One example of how we substitute is the way that we make pumpkin muffins. By using applesauce instead of the 3/4 cup of oil, we save over 1200 calories! By using Splenda instead of sugar we save even more, and I still love them so much I eat them all day (I will post the recipe soon).