This New Update to Nutrition Labels May Forever Change How You Eat

This New Update to Nutrition Labels May Forever Change How You Eat

In January of 2018, the FDA finally ceded to public demands for more transparency on nutrition labels, and the changes are beginning to roll out on packaged foods on store shelves nationwide. For those of you who actually read them, it may significantly change what and how much you eat.

The standard nutrition label has long contained the basic facts about the contents of a packaged food product, including the serving size, number of servings, vitamins, minerals and percent of daily macros based on the average 2,000 calorie diet. In addition to what was included on the label, perhaps what was more important was the information that was assumed or omitted. We’ll get to that in a moment.

First, a word on our relationship to calories. Many of us have adopted a very basic and incomplete philosophy about how to manage our health and regulate our weight. It can generally be summed up as “calories in, calories out”. We estimate the number of calories we should reasonably consume in a day minus the difference of calories burned through exercise to justify our rate of consumption, striving for a zero-sum game. “Well, I definitely deserve these powdered donuts for breakfast today because I totally crushed my workout yesterday.” Or, “Yeah, I just finished a 32oz Mountain Dew and can of Pringles during the game, but I’ll just do an extra 40 crunches or 20 minutes on the treadmill tomorrow. Problem solved!” The real problem is that not all calories are created equal, and do not provide the same nutritional value or energetic output. An 8-year old can tell you that 100 calories of broccoli is better for you than 100 calories of Diet Coke. What we’re not focused on is the real qualitative value of the calories we consume, including where they come from. Thankfully as the public begins to better educate itself about the imperatives of eating real food (and get more present to the damaging effects of eating garbage all these years), we’re also paying closer attention to what’s really inside what we eat.

 

Let’s have a look at what’s changed.

1) The number of total calories per serving is big and bold.

This is not a really big deal, but at least makes it easier to see at a glance instead of couching it in with all the other fine print.

 

2) The average serving size has changed to reflect real eating habits.

We Americans like to eat. A lot. So while a food label may indicate that a serving of ice cream only contains 250 calories, we conveniently overlook the fact that a serving size is only one 1/2 cup. Really, when’s the last time you sat down to watch a movie with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked in your hand, ate about 5 spoonfuls, and returned it to the freezer? 750 calories and 69 grams of sugar later, we may as well have skipped paying attention to the label all together. The fact is that the recommended serving size listed on most labels is totally unrelated to the actual serving size that the average snacker will consume. Thus, these have now been adjusted upward to more accurately reflect how much someone will actually eat in a single sitting.

3) The most important update – added sugars

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been deluded into thinking that as long as we monitor our overall daily intake/output of calories, we’ll come out on top. Some have even gotten slightly savvier and begun paying attention to macros, like the amount of protein, fat and carbs that they consume throughout the day, though there is also a lot of misleading information here too, as marketers love to brand their products as “low fat/no fat!” to appeal to the body image-conscious consumer. What has been conspicuously, but not accidentally absent from the public view for many decades is the amount of sugar added to a product, as well as the % of recommended daily intake.
I cannot stress enough how important this is.

If you look at most nutrition labels that have not yet adopted the new changes, you will see that the % of daily value information on the right side lists the quantities for fat, cholesterol, sodium and carbohydrates, but conveniently omits any reference to the % of daily recommended sugar intake. This is no mistake. In fact, lobbyists in the sugar industry successfully influenced legislators and the FDA to not require this information on food labels, likely with the awareness of how damning it could be when consumers started paying attention. Consider that a 20 ounce bottle of Mountain Dew contains a whopping 77 grams of sugar (a little over 20 teaspoons)! This is about 200% of the recommended daily sugar intake for an adult male. With people consuming multiple high-fructose corn syrup drinks per day, super sweetened coffee drinks and a host of other decadent snacks, it’s no wonder that sugar is doing serious damage to our health.

The truth is, you cannot avoid all sugars, nor should you. It comes in many forms, from fruit, dairy, grains and beyond, and some sugar can be good for you, as its converted into glucose and quick energy. What there is to look out for, however, is the added sugars. These are put into our foods by design in order to make them more tasty and appealing, (and often to compensate for the lack of flavor when fat is removed) and also to keep us coming back for more. It’s no secret that many of us have now become addicted to sugar, and its effects on public health are now painfully clear. Type 2 diabetes, obesity, liver damage, coronary heart disease, and more. We have long taught our kids to say no to drugs. Now it’s time to for us all to start saying no to excess sugar, as we’re too informed to continue on this gastronomic path of self-destruction.

Thankfully, we’re beginning to shed light on vital information that has long remained in the shadows. Food manufacturers are finally being held more accountable to disclose what they are putting into the foods and beverages we consume, and how much of it we should actually have if we’re invested in our health and longevity.

 

Now it’s up to us to pay closer attention, and to consume consciously.

How I Finally Stopped Smoking

How I Finally Stopped Smoking

I have an addictive personality. When I discover something that brings me pleasure, I tend to go all in. Sports, studies, hobbies.

 

I also know that there are some things that bring me pleasure that aren’t good for me, or risk serious harm. Junk food, alcohol, drugs, BASE jumping.

Thus the constant dance of life is between following the reptilian brain impulses to pursue things that bring me immediate gratification and the awareness that I’m indulging in self-destructive behavior that is not conducive to my longterm wellbeing or survival. I wrestle with what feels good and what I know is good for me.

I smoked my first cigarette at about 12 years old, a Virginia Slim. We had stolen one from my grandma, who had packs and lighters laying on every table of her house, ready to light up wherever she sat. Her ranch house had thick blue shag carpet that absorbed the cloud hanging forever in her house and preserved the smell of ashtray for years. She wouldn’t notice one missing from her multiple cartons on hand. We snuck out into the bush, puffed and coughed clumsily, thinking ourselves quite cool and mature. We doused ourselves in too much cologne to cover up the evidence.

The rebellious habit continued and worsened over the years, and I became a pretty regular smoker by the age of 15. I ran with a crew of misfits and troublemakers, and smoking cigarettes and being too cool for school was one of our calling cards.

The problem was that I was also a very physically active teen, playing soccer and snowboarding, and smoking was obviously not conducive to excelling at either of these pursuits. I also smelled like shit, and others (especially my mother) would call me out on the filthy habit, adding to my sense of guilt around it. What had started as a seemingly cool way for a young kid to stand out from the crowd had in fact become an addiction that no one envied. I was increasingly less proud of the habit, didn’t enjoy repelling girls by stinking like an ashtray, and could feel the physical impact on the other cardio-demanding hobbies I enjoyed. More than anything, I didn’t like the feeling of being a fiend about it, always craving the next hit. I didn’t like bumming smokes off other kids, and was even more ashamed of finding half-smoked “refried” cigarettes in public ashtrays or sidewalk cracks to light up like a junkie with no other options.

Around my senior year of high school I began a long string of attempts to kick the habit.

It was comprehensive. I tried nicotine patches, Nicorette gum, chewing sunflower seeds, breathing essential oils, taking herbal supplements, chanting daily mantras, snapping my wrist with a rubber band every time I craved a smoke. Each attempt would last no more than a couple weeks, days, or sometimes hours before caving to buy another pack.

I felt really defeated, and more than anything, I was pissed that a substance had taken control of me, hijacked my thinking and diminished my sense of willpower. I was determined not to remain a slave forever.

Interestingly, it was during my freshman year of college that I found the solution. I had moved to Durango, Colorado, a scenic mountain town where the college campus rested on a mesa that overlooked hundreds of rugged peaks in the distance. I moved to not only get out of suburbia, but also to pursue the fruits of mountain living. I continued playing soccer on an intermural team, and began mountain biking, hiking, backcountry snowboarding and rock climbing. I was loving the outdoor pursuits, but hated feeling my lungs burn every time I’d try to climb a hill on my bike or hike for a backcountry snowboard jump. My dirty habit was now really interfering with the things that brought me the most joy.

 So, I began using reverse psychology.

Having exhausted all other options in my toolbox (most of which were just replacing one habit with a less harmful one), I decided that what I needed to do was get under the hood and go to work on my brain. By 19 years old, I had begun to learn a little bit about neuroplasticity and the ability to begin rewiring our brains through new intentional habits, triggers and anchors.

Thus, instead of trying to make short-lived pacts with myself, set a goal or find a replacement, I simply created a very strong negative association with the filthy habit of smoking, and reinforced it with demanding cardiovascular exercise. Staying very present to the damaging health impact of smoking, I would consciously force myself to think about lighting up during the times when it was least opportune or enticing. In the middle of a full field sprint playing soccer, I’d imagine stopping dead in my tracks to spark up a Marlboro Red 100, and be repulsed at the thought as my heart pounded and lungs burned. Climbing up an endless 3,000 vertical foot single track on my mountain bike while coughing and hacking phlegm every 200 feet, I’d visualize pulling over to chain smoke 3 filterless Camel Wides back to back to back. The thought made me want to puke. Plodding for hours up a 14,000 foot peak, I had plenty of time to ruminate on the insane prospect of pausing to burn through half a pouch of hand-rolled tobacco, sure to exacerbate the effects of gasping for already thin mountain air. When returning from a long ride or full day in the high country, I’d have no desire to take a puff. I continued this psychological torture experiment for weeks until I had so deeply anchored the experience of smoking with physical pain that I no longer felt the urge, even after a meal or when driving or at parties or all the other places and activities that I’d previously associated with smoking as a joyful habit.

 

Sometimes, the aversion to pain can be a much more powerful force for change than the pursuit of pleasure.

If you have a habit or addiction that has gripped you for a long time that you know isn’t serving who you really are, perhaps its time to reframe your perspective about it. Instead of just looking for healthier alternatives for a replacement fix, get really clear on the negative impact it is having on your life (health, relationships, money, energy, self-esteem, mood, quality of life, etc.), and stay present to it whenever you notice the damaging physical, social and financial effects. Instead of worrying about what it is going to cost you to change, ask yourself, “What is it costing me already by not making a change?” If you get honest with yourself, you may discover that there’s too much at stake to justify continuing something that simply does you no good. Its easier said than done, but I promise you, a more fulfilling life awaits you on the other side of that choice.

Best of luck.

 

Five Ways to Sleep Better

Five Ways to Sleep Better

Why We Don’t Sleep Like We Used To

As we age, many of us do not sleep as well as we did when younger. In college years, we may have been able to pass out cold on a couch or dorm room floor, but now, absent the assistance of alcohol, we may not sleep as soundly through the night. Years of physical toll on the body plus accumulated injuries can begin to ache, and the stress of our modern environment often leaves our minds racing beneath closed eyes.

 

 

The Sleep Remedies to Avoid

Many adults have unfortunately turned to over the counter or prescribed sleep aids to get through the night, some of which can have harmful and downright bizarre side effects (see: my mother sleep-talking on Ambien). These are somewhat akin to putting a bandaid on the wound, and about as unhealthy as drinking NyQuil on the regular. They may help to knock you out, but don’t necessarily provide a deep and restorative sleep necessary to heal the body. (Disclaimer: whenever possible, I will recommend homeopathic remedies in favor of prescription drugs or any blend of synthetic chemicals – I recommend using them as little as possible. Also, I am not a doctor and don’t play one on the internet.)

 

How to Sleep Better, Naturally

Fortunately, there are a couple natural and free ways to sleep better at night, and without the use of any drugs to leave you feeling groggy the next morning. They may seem slightly unorthodox, but through empirical research have proven to assist me in getting the quality Zzzs I’d been missing. They are simple, but not all are necessarily easy, and some are only recommended using the right equipment and fitness level. I’ll list them in order of ease:

 

1) Leave your phone outside the bedroom

There are a couple reasons why this is beneficial. First, instead of scrolling aimlessly (or worse, checking emails or other to-dos) and staring into blue light, you can begin to quiet your brain with some natural light and perhaps a few minutes of reading, journaling or meditating. Studies show that the blue light emanating from most devices actually disrupts the serotonin-melatonin production cycle in the body, making it harder to fall asleep naturally once night has settled. Additionally, giving yourself permission to practice a little self-care, reflection and restoration before you nod off will calm both your mind and nerves. I’ve found it infinitely more grounding than checking the 24-hour news cycle just before closing my eyes and lying awake fretting about the state of the world.

2) Drink some protein before bed

This surprising sleep elixir can actually help you drop in deeper. If possible, have your last meal or snack at least 2-3 hours before bed, and then have a basic protein shake before nodding off. Protein, for one, helps muscle repair during those critical hours of sleep restoration. Studies have also shown that participants who consume more protein before bed report better quality sleep than those who did not.

3) Breathe some fresh air

This has to do with two things: sound and temperature. For one, many people sleep better with a little white noise, whether it be a fan, wind rustling the trees or distant city sounds. Thus, cracking a window or keeping a fan on can actually quiet the mind more than total silence. Second, keeping air flowing or letting a cool breeze in through a cracked window can keep the room temperature slightly cooler. Around 65-68 degrees is an ideal temp for sleeping, as being too hot often wakes us up and being too cold requires more energy to regulate core temperature.

4) Stretch your spine.

You need not be a yogi to get benefit from this, and just a few minutes of stretching can help settle the body. Try a basic seated twist, forward fold, glute stretch and side body stretch to soften some of the muscular tension on your skeleton. Alternately, if you have an inversion table or inversion boots to hang from a pull-up bar, getting upside down for a few minutes is a great way to decompress the spine and also invite some restorative blood flow from the legs back toward the heart. Don’t have an inversion table? Just lay on your back with legs up the wall for 3-5 minutes.

5) Take a cold shower

As I previously mentioned, this is not for the faint of heart, although the benefits are great. While taking a hot shower is therapeutic and calming, it has the adverse effect of warming the body before bedtime, making it harder to fall asleep. Taking a cold shower, on the other hand, helps to lower the body’s core temperature, allowing you to fall asleep faster and get a better quality sleep. A couple pointers on this:
First, try to shower about an hour before bedtime – allowing the body to cool but also settle from the alertness-inducing effects of the cold.
Second, don’t make it too long. About two minutes is sufficient, so set a timer or play a song.
Lastly, breathe. If you’re new to the practice of cold showers, it can come as a bit of a shock to the nervous system, and you’ll find yourself gasping for survival. Practice deep breathing and being with the stimulating effects. Once you towel off and settle the heart rate back down, you’ll find yourself dropping into a peaceful, restorative slumber rivaling that of a hibernating bear.

It may take some experimentation between a combination of these strategies, but they can individually or collectively make a big difference for your circadian rhythms without any need for booze or meds. Happy exploring, and sweet dreams.