New Food Trends, New Food Labels

The food labels you’ve come to know and recognize are getting a facelift. On May 20, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced changes and updates to the food labels required on all manufactured food and beverage products. This is the first significant change to the label since the early 1990’s, and all companies must incorporate the changes by July 2018. According to the FDA, the new label design more accurately reflects the way Americans eat today as opposed to how they did in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

A key change to the label, and probably the most noticeable change, is that the calories are written in a large, bold font. This is meant so that a person can quickly see how many calories are in a serving. Additionally, standard serving sizes have also been updated to better reflect the increasing serving sizes in America. For instance, a standard ½ cup serving of ice cream on food labels now has been increased to 2/3 cup (have you ever tried to eat only a ½ cup of ice cream? It’s impossible!). And, a standard 8oz serving of soda is now 12oz. Calories are listed per serving, and sometimes per package, depending on if a person is likely to consume an entire package of a food item at once (i.e., a large bottle of soda containing two servings instead of one, or a bigger bag of chips).

Another change is the addition of a line under “carbohydrates” that discloses the amount of added sugars. Personally, I think this is a great idea, as it can bring awareness to how much added sugars someone can actually be consuming throughout the day. Increased calorie intake from added sugars can contribute to the development of obesity, heart disease, and certain cancers, so this is a very positive change. I think it may also encourage food companies to reconfigure their manufacturing processes to decrease the amount of added sugars in their products, now that the amount of added sugar will be fully on display.

The last of the major changes to the new food label are the vitamins and minerals that are required to be listed. Currently, the amounts of vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron are standard. The new label will now require Vitamin D and potassium content, and does not require Vitamins A and C. The FDA reports that the reasoning behind this change is because in the early 1990’s, more people were lacking vitamins A and C in their diets, however deficiencies are not that common today. Research has shown that more people are not consuming enough Vitamin D and potassium, which can lead to the development of certain chronic diseases such as osteoporosis or cardiovascular disease, respectively.

Take a look at the comparison between the old label and the new label below. What do you think of the changes? Do you think it will improve the health of the American people?

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 5.47.48 PM

You can find a more detailed look and explanation of the new labels by the FDA here..

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The Pulse on Pulses

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about pulses – that they’re the new “it” food of 2016. I’ve heard that they provide ample health benefits and are replacing things like quinoa, kale, and other exotic-sounding foods (that are bound to be hard to find and expensive) as the new life-changing power food. The word itself is ugly, and reminds me of a beating heart, and something that I definitely do not want to eat. I will be the first to admit that I actually had no idea what a pulse is. Have you heard of them? I was additionally reluctant to research them to find another nutrition fad that seems utterly ridiculous to me (sorry, Bulletproof coffee fans). But, I must say, I was pleasantly surprised to learn what pulses actually are, and to find that I’ve actually been eating them fairly regularly throughout my entire adult life.

What is a pulse?

A pulse is the dried seed portion of a legume. A legume is a plant whose fruit is enclosed inside a pod. Common legumes include soy, peanuts, and peas. Therefore, examples of a pulses are basically dried legumes. The most common types of pulses include dry lentils, chickpeas, dried peas, and dried beans.

What are the nutritional benefits?

Pulses are a filling part of any meal due to their high fiber and protein content. They are also very low in fat, so they’re a good choice to incorporate into your daily life if you’re looking to lose weight. The high fiber content helps protect against cardiovascular disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels. High fiber also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels by preventing spikes in blood sugar (which will later cause you to crash). Pulses contain a lot of protein for a plant source. For instance ½ cup of lentils contains approximately 9 grams of protein – more than an egg, which contains only 6 grams. Pulses are also nutritionally dense; they pack in a lot of different vitamins and minerals that are essential for energy production and metabolism in a very small package and for not a lot of calories. Pulses deliver a high amount of B-vitamins, folate, thiamin, and niacin, which are all important for neurological function and for energy fuel. The one downside to pulses? They may cause some gastrointestinal discomfort when eaten in large amounts, or if you’re not used to eating them all of the time. If you want to increase your pulse intake, add them into your diet slowly, and make sure to drink plenty of water to help things move through your digestive system smoothly.

How can I eat more pulses?

If you don’t feel like eating straight up beans, you can incorporate more pulses into your diet by eating foods that already contain them! Good sources include hummus, bean spreads, chili with beans, lentil soups, and dips. If you don’t care to be adventurous, you can add lentils, peas, and beans straight into your salad in place of higher-fat meat toppings. I personally love making a baked sweet potato and topping it with black beans, plain Greek yogurt, shredded cheddar cheese, and salsa for a cheap and SUPER filling dinner.

So, there you have the new, fabulous, exotic, and trendy food of 2016. As you can see, they’re really not so scary! Do you normally eat pulses? What’s your favorite way to get in these nutrition superstars?

source.

What a Clinical RD Does

Well, it’s been a quick minute, and in honor of National Nutrition Month, I thought there was no better time to resurrect the blog. I additionally thought it would be a good idea to talk about what exactly a clinical dietitian does. I wanted to write this post for students who are thinking about applying to a dietetic internship and/or a career in nutrition after they graduate. Or I thought this would be helpful for anyone looking to make the switch into dietetics. I know when I was in school I would have found a blog like this helpful in letting me know what to expect.

So, a lot of people ask me what I actually do, and a few have asked me to walk them through a typical work day for me. Here’s how it goes….

what-dietitians-do

I come into work around 8:00 AM and log onto a program called CBORD, where I print out the floors that I’m assigned to. This is basically a roster of patients who are admitted, their diet orders, and when they’re due to be seen for a nutrition assessment or a follow up. I make up my list of patients that are due for that day and then log into the electronic medical record. Then, I look up my patients’ past medical histories, their labs, their weight histories, and their medications, and basically try to get a big picture about what’s going on with each individual patient. I take note of anything pertinent to their nutritional status and what may be interfering with their food intake. Then, once I have all of my patients’ information, I go up to the units and attend interdisciplinary rounds with the doctors, case managers, physical therapists, and social workers. There, I can figure out which patients have pressing nutrition issues, who should be seen by a dietitian, and can give recommendations to the doctors about my patients. Then, I’ll go around to each patients’ room and interview them. I find out how their appetite is, how they’ve been eating, if they’re having any nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation, any chewing/swallowing issues, any weight changes, etc. etc. etc. There’s surprisingly a lot of talk about bowel movements with strangers, so you really cannot be shy if you want this job.

If it’s necessary, I will give diet education to the patient and family members. I cover a cardiac unit and give a lot of heart healthy and diabetic diet education. I also cover a surgery unit so I talk a lot about appropriate diets for gastrointestinal surgeries. If a patient is having issues with eating or are likely not meeting their estimated calorie and protein needs (which can lead to weight loss, trigger pressure ulcer development, and impair the ability to fight off infections, among many other medical complications), we help the patient figure out how to increase their intake. If necessary, we may have to calculate tube feeds, which is a specialized formula consisting of calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals and is delivered to the patient via a tube through the nose or directly into the stomach. If the GI tract isn’t functioning, then we will write something called total parenteral nutrition, or TPN, which is basically a solution of dextrose, amino acids, lipids, and electrolytes that is infused via an IV.

There’s a lot more to being a clinical dietitian than it may initially seem. There’s a lot of math involved if calculating a TPN, tube feed rate, or even a calorie count (where the nurse writes down everything the patient eats to determine if a patient requires alternate means of nutrition). There’s also a lot of patient advocacy and explaining to doctors why we are recommending what we’re recommending, and getting them to implement your recommendations. Also, at least where I work, there’s a lot of camaraderie amongst my fellow RDs, and we work together as a team on interesting patient cases to determine the best solutions to nutritional problems.It’s a challenging and rewarding job, and you get to see and learn about a lot of very interesting medical conditions and procedures.

So that is what I do on a day-to-day basis. In the meanwhile, if you are a student currently applying to dietetic internships, good luck! If you’re thinking about becoming a dietitian, feel free to reach out with any questions, I would be happy to answer them!

CSA All the Way

Hi there! It’s been a very busy summer, I feel like I blinked and it was over. For this summer, I decided to do something a little different from my typical weekly food shops and signed up for a CSA.

CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, you pay a lump sum at the beginning of the growing season to a farm, and in return, you get a “share” of their produce every week. After researching the different CSAs available in my area, I decided to go with a partial share from the Turtle Bay CSA. The vegetables are grown by Free Bird Farm in upstate New York (which also services other CSA’s throughout New York City). Every week from around mid-June to mid-November, the CSA has a vegetable pickup where they hand out the week’s vegetables. In return, you must volunteer at least once at a vegetable pickup to help things run smoothly. Additionally, if you want to pay a little extra, you can purchase an egg share, a butter share, a maple syrup/honey share, a poultry share, ground beef share, and/or a fruit share. Click here to learn more about what a CSA is, how it works, and where to find one near you in NYC.

You don’t have a say in what vegetables are given out each week, and a lot of what the farm produces depends on the weather and the rain conditions of the season. For instance, this summer has been dryer than previous summers, and therefore the vegetables we received this year were a lot different than last year’s produce. Additionally, the farmers of Free Bird Farm send out a weekly newsletter that share a little bit about life on the farm, the work that goes into growing a successful crop, a detailed list of what vegetables are being offered that week, and different recipes incorporating those vegetables.

The vegetables I’ve received so far have been varied and interesting, but we still have received a lot of the familiar vegetables that I’m used to eating. So far we’ve gotten a lot of garden tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, red potatoes, cabbages, and beets. Some of the weirder vegetables of this season include kohlrabi, fennel, japanese radishes, and tongue of fire shell beans. There has also been a lot of salad greens, red lettuces, and kale. I have been loving it so far, because the CSA has been getting me out of my comfort zone of buying the same vegetables over and over, and has been pushing me to discover new recipes that I typically wouldn’t try. Of course, when I have no idea what to do with a vegetable, which will occasionally happen, I can rely on cubing it and roasting it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and eat it as a side dish throughout the week, and that works just fine (usually my standard temperature and time for vegetable roasting is 350 degrees for 30 minutes – stirring the vegetables at the 15-minutes mark).

I also find that the fresh herbs and vegetables that I’m used to eating, like the tomatoes, carrots, and lettuce, taste so good and stay fresh for way longer. This may be likely due to the reduced transit time from the farm to my kitchen. Also, the vegetables you get are actually in season, and are therefore at the peak of freshness and their highest nutritional quality.

Some tips if you’re thinking about joining a CSA next season:

  • Start a Pinterest page that’s dedicated to the vegetables you get from the CSA to keep everything in one place. My CSA Pinterest board has been a lifesaver.
  • Save the greens of everything. Radish greens, turnip greens, and especially beet greens are delicious when sauteed with oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and onions, and although it may seem like too many greens when you pick up your vegetables, they usually cook way down. This is an easy way to reduce waste and to give your meals a big nutritional boost.
  • If you really don’t like something, you can swap it for something else at your pickup location. I try not to do this because I want to try everything, but if we get something that I know I just won’t eat and would prefer to have more of another vegetable, then I will swap it.
  • Kind of along the lines of the above point, if you don’t think you will like something, be open to trying it. I honestly did not think I liked kale or beets before this summer. Now, after researching different ways to cook them, I love them. I’ve made countless kale-based smoothies, beet chips, and beet hummus. I don’t even dream of swapping these super-foods out.
  • WASH EVERYTHING. INVEST IN A GOOD SALAD SPINNER. The farm does a pretty good job with hosing everything down before handing out the vegetables, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find the occasional critter or dirt in your pickup. Gross, yes, but remember these vegetables are fresh from the farm and it’s as natural as you can get.
  • Talk to other people when you’re at the pickup to get ideas for how they cook and eat their veggies.
  • Enjoy it! This CSA season has about a month left and I honestly am so sad. But I’m going to keep looking for the more out-of-the-box veggies at the supermarket over the winter.

If you want more of an idea for what type of vegetables, fruit and other food items that can come in a CSA, check out the Turtle Bay CSA website (link above in text). Also, check out my friend and fellow dietitian Rachel Greenspan’s amazing instagram. She belongs to a CSA that uses Free Bird Farm as well, and makes amazing and beautiful dishes. The link can be found here: wholegreens.

Caprese salad with lettuce greens, fresh basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella.
Easter Egg Radishes!
Easter egg radish, sweet potato, and kohlrabi, pre-veggie roast
Fresh corn veloute soup
Another crazy roast of kohlrabi, fennel, and golden beets.
Hi! Me volunteering at the veggie pickup – weighing out red potatoes and studying a kohlrabi – which honestly looks like an alien.
My first attempt at making spaghetti squash! Only got one of these things so far, wish we had more.
An example of the beet hummus I made for the Pretty Little Liars finale – felt the rich red color and “A” was appropriate. Recipe can be found on my Pinterest CSA board and it is AmAzing (see what I did there?).
An example of just taking all the greens and throwing it in a pan with some chicken, this dinner is basically a hodge-podge of all the different greens, purple cabbage, and easy.
Bacon and escarole soup. First time I ever had escarole, now a big fan (bacon does that with a lot of foods, doesn’t it?). 

Sugar Substitutes, what’s the deal?

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions from my patients, family, and friends about artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes. Many wonder if they’re good for you, if they’re bad for you, and what the risks and benefits are of consuming sweeteners other than sugar. To be perfectly honest with you, when a patient asks if artificial sweeteners are safe to consume, I really DON’T know the answer. I myself am a regular consumer of artificial sweeteners; I always end my coffee order with “Skim and two Splendas,” and this makes me feel as though I don’t really have a right to tell my patients to avoid them if I eat them every day, right? There is an assumption that artificial sweeteners like aspartame are carcinogenic, but then how are could they be so prevalent in the food supply? My intention with this blog post is not to sway your opinion on artificial sweeteners in any direction, only to present the information I found and what I would recommend if someone were to ask me my opinion in the future. I found this thorough overview article from The Mayo Clinic that breaks down the different types of sweeteners  out there, along with their risks and benefits. Here’s what they had to say.

Sugar substitute is a term that can cover any sweetener that can be used in place of sugar, such as:

  • Artificial sweeteners like Sweet n’ Low, Splenda, or Equal
  • Sugar alcohols like xylitol, mannitol, and xorbitol
  • Novel sweeteners like stevia extracts (Truvia)
  • Natural sweeteners like maple syrup, agave nectar, honey, and molasses.

Artificial sweeteners may be completely synthetic or can be derived from natural substances, however most of them have a much higher degree of sweetness than actual sugar. They are zero calories, because technically they’re not actually carbohydrates, and are widely used throughout the food supply, more specifically in diet products, like diet sodas and desserts.

  • The Good: Artificial sweeteners do not cause tooth decay and leave a sweet taste without the calories. Artificial sweeteners are also beneficial for people with diabetes, because they do not elevate blood sugar.
  • The Bad: Even though they’re zero calories, they may increase your cravings for more sweet things (the mechanism behind this is still unknown). Additionally, some artificial sweeteners leave a horrible aftertaste.
  • The Controversial: Some believe that artificial sweeteners, like saccharin and aspartame, are linked to cancer. But based on large amounts of both human and animal studies, artificial sweeteners are deemed Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS, by the FDA. In a study conducted by the National Cancer Institute, those who drank artificially sweetened beverages were not at an increased risk to develop blood cancers such as lymphomas, leukemia, or brain tumors when compared to those who abstained from artificially sweetened beverages. The FDA recommends that artificial sweeteners are safe when consumed in moderation, and have acceptable daily intakes for each type of sweetener:

Acceptable Daily Intake (ADIs) for Popular Artificial Sweeteners: are determined based on body weight. The following amount of tabletop sweetener packets that you would find in a coffee house is based on a 60kg, or 132 pound, person:

Aspartame (Equal or Nutrasweet): 75 packets/day

Saccharin (Sweet N’ Low): 45 packets/day

Steviol glycosides from Stevia plants (Truvia, Enliten): Conditionally safe (see the “Novel Sweeteners” section below), but generally 9 packets/day

Sucralose (Splenda): 23 packets/day

Sugar Alcohols are just as sweet, if not less so, than natural sugar, and are found in nature or can be manufactured in a lab. They are often utilized not only in processed foods, but in general household items like gum, toothpaste, and mouthwash.

  • The Good: Sugar alcohols are less processed by the body when compared to regular sugar, which can keep blood sugar levels low for diabetics.
  • The Bad: Sugar alcohols are real carbohydrates, so they contain calories and therefore may not be as effective for weight loss. However, they only contain only 2 calories/gram as opposed to the 4 calories/gram found in sugar. Also, when consumed in high amounts (anywhere between 10g and 50g), sugar alcohols can have an osmotic effect and pull water into the gut, causing diarrhea, bloating, and gas.

Novel Sweeteners: The FDA has approved the use of highly refined stevia (found in products like Coke Zero and in Truvia), however not whole leaf or crude stevia extracts, as the consumption of these forms of stevia plant may lead to kidney problems, and have yet to be deemed GRAS by the FDA.

Natural Sweeteners are often found in the home and are added to all different types of foods to enhance the sweetness.

  • The Good: natural sweeteners are chemically very similar to regular sugar, and they are both broken down to fructose and glucose in the body. If you’re not into chemicals and man-made foods products, then natural sweeteners are obviously a good choice for you.
  • The Bad: There’s really no health advantage to consuming a natural sweetener over regular sugar. People generally pick natural sweeteners because of taste. Since they’re nutritionally similar to real sugar, they contribute to tooth decay, elevated blood sugar, weight gain, and high blood cholesterol. It should also be noted that even some “natural” sweeteners aren’t completely natural, and may go through some sort of processing before hitting the shelves.

The bottom line: as dietitians say with most other foods, everything is good in moderation. Having a packet or two of an artificial sweetener in your coffee every morning will likely not increase your risk of developing cancer, diabetes, or hyperlipidemia. However, relying too heavily on “diet foods,” that contain other highly processed and unnatural ingredients may not be so good either. Additionally, you could be toeing the line between “enough” and “too much” without even realizing it, as artificial sweeteners can be found in a plethora of unexpected places like protein powders, yogurts, frozen yogurts, chewing gum, snack foods, salad dressings, etc. Focus on eating a generally balanced, healthy diet that consists of natural, whole foods, and you should be fine using a little bit of whatever type of sweetener you so desire. After all, what is life without a little sweetness?

Source: The Mayo Clinic

Source: FDA: Food Additives & Ingredient

Running Your First Half Marathon

It’s been almost two months since my last post, and I’ve been super busy with a few things: one of them has been finishing up my second to last class of my Masters degree (I passed! One more class to go!), and the other is that I’ve been training for The Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon!! The former is not so exciting, so this post will be solely dedicated to the latter. This is going to be a long post, so I apologize in advance. But it’s also been a while since I’ve written anything so I’m actually not that sorry.

When I initially started Couch to 5K a little over a year ago, I never would have dreamed that I would be able to accomplish something so huge as running a half marathon. When I ran my first 5K without stopping (The Color Run, almost a year ago today), I was so proud of myself. It took me so long to build up to 3.1 miles and I felt so good running it, that I eventually knew I needed a bigger challenge. Then came my first and second 10Ks, and while the first one did not go so well, the second one went smoothly and made me a more confident racer and runner. I remember expressing my feelings about possibly running a half marathon in the future, but swept my dreams under the rug and let them hibernate for the winter.

Training:

Then, sometime in December or January, my friend and I started talking about actually signing up for a spring half marathon. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time because the spring seemed so far away, but looking at target races and different training schedules made me realize that I would have to start training almost right away. We settled on the Brooklyn Half. I shopped around for some training plans that I could find off the internet that started super slow and seemed attainable. I picked one that focused mainly on mileage, and that didn’t include technical terms like “tempo runs,” “hill repeats,” and “fartleks,” because let’s face it, I’m still a beginner. I just wanted to focus on gradually building mileage so that I could cover the distance. I found a 12-week training plan that ticked all my boxes: a build up to 12 miles, a taper week, two cross-training days per week, and weekday runs that did not exceed 5 miles (anything more on a workday is too much if you ask me). I made a word document with the dates and rearranged the schedule to conform to my personal work, school, and vacation schedule. Everyday, I highlighted each box in yellow when I completed whatever was scheduled. I highlighted the box in blue if I wasn’t able to complete the activity, and included the reason why. This is what it looked like …

CP = ClassPass, or Cross Training; I wrote whatever cross training or class I did in the box.

As you can see, I was doing REALLY well in the first half of the training program. Then as the weeks went on, I started to develop a pretty bad shin splint (still bothering me today) and I think I pulled either a hip or groin muscle (relieved by yoga). I also had a lot of studying to do, so I took a lot of days off towards the end. This honestly gave me anxiety. I truly thought that if I missed even ONE DAY, my race would go horribly wrong and I’d be a failure. Just so you know, THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN. One of the biggest things I learned throughout this whole journey was that you NEED to listen to your body and REST. The whole last week before the race I barely ran at all and alternated between yoga and spinning just to give my shin a break, and I think it worked.

Other good tips about training: do your long runs with a friend who runs about the same pace as you, and bonus if they’re running the race with you, too. It will make the miles go faster and more enjoyable. Also, take time to research different fueling plans for long runs, and experiment to figure out which foods work best for you before, during, and after a run. For instance, what works best for me is a bagel with butter, a banana, and peanut butter about 90 minutes before a run. During the run, I liked to have 1 Gu Energy Gel every 4 miles or so with water to keep me going.

One of my first long runs, can’t believe this whole thing started when there was still snow on the ground.

Old on the left, new on the right. Ran my first pair of running shoes basically into the ground. RIP blue Asics, I will always love you.

Ran into this casual boat in the middle of our 9 miler.

Middle of a 12 mile run – awkward running selfie. There’s nothing better than running in NYC. Except if you’re going to pull this off don’t do it past 10AM on a weekend. #crowds.

Stretch. Ice. Run. Repeat.

The Race:

Then, before I knew it, race day was upon us. The entire week leading up to it I went back and forth between being super excited and super nervous. I knew that I was physically capable of running 13 miles going into this race; that wasn’t the issue. I knew my biggest obstacle would be my mind. I was terrified that I was going to hit a proverbial wall and cry. I didn’t want to run 10 miles and then think that I still had another 30 minutes to go and break down. It wasn’t a question of “Can I do this?” It was a question of “I can do this, but what state will I be in at the end?” So my mindset the night before and the morning of was to just go into this race without a time goal and without too much pressure on myself. My two goals were to just cover the distance and to enjoy every minute of it while it was happening, because who knows if this will be my only half.

So, my three friends and I took an Uber to Brooklyn and got there around 7AM, approximately 45 minutes before the start for our wave. I took two Advils for my shin and 2 Pepto Bismol pills for my nervous stomach, both of which helped tremendously. After going through a long security line, we went into our corrals where there were port-a-potties, and my friend and I realized that we should probably take advantage of them before the race started. The lines turned out to take forever, so as the gun went off and our wave started moving, we were still stuck in line!! We were debating if we should forego the bathroom and just start the race but we knew we would regret it. WORST. FOMO. EVER (FOMO = Fear of Missing Out). When it was our turn to go we quickly did our thing and ran to the start line, which we crossed around 8AM. And you know what, I wasn’t even nervous before. I was excited! This positive mindset trick was working.

The first 3.5 miles or so are outside and around Prospect Park, and it was really beautiful. The sky was threatening to pour but it was holding off for the time being, and my friend and I were going super slow. We were able to have full conversations and I wasn’t even out of breath for the first 5K. I remember even cheering “QUARTER OF THE WAY DONE!!!” when we passed the 5K mark and people around me were side-eyeing, but I didn’t care. I was conserving energy and going slow and felt great a quarter of the way in. Before I knew it, we were in Prospect Park and the sky opened up. There was a huge downpour through miles 4-5, which also included “the big hill,” which honestly didn’t seem so big. I did a lot of training runs in Central Park and this Prospect Park hill paled in comparison to Cat Hill or Harlem Hill to me, and while the people around us slowed to a walk, we just kept on trucking through. We were even dancing in the rain at some points. The 10K sign came way too fast, I couldn’t believe we had already run 10K. I remember a NYRR coach high-fiving people on the way out of the park and he told me I looked great, and I felt great! That gave me such a boost of confidence. On Mile 7 we were dumped out onto Ocean Parkway, the long straightaway all the way to Coney Island.

The miles were ticking by; 8 miles down, 9 miles down, 10 miles down, and we were picking up the pace a little. I was distracting myself with all the funny signs and cute kids on the sidewalk and all the cheering spectators. We even yelled out a “WE ARE” to a guy in a Penn State hat and he gave us a big cheer. At around mile 10 I knew my friend was itching to run faster, and I was too, but I wanted to speed up on my own terms and knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her. We gave each other a quick hug and I sent her on her way for the last 5K (which she crushed, by the way). At this point, I was having chills, and in the best way possible. I was running a half marathon and I felt amazing at mile 10. I was going to finish with a smile on my face no matter what. I started picking up the pace and was passing people left and right. I did have to walk through the entire water station at mile 11 to catch my breath, but this was the only time in the entire race that I walked. I rounded the bend onto Surf Avenue and saw my amazing grandparents, who used to live right by Coney Island, at the 800 meter mark. I gave them a big hug and if felt SO GOOD to see them, but again, they were at the 800 meter mark, which I knew is a half mile. A HALF MILE LEFT!!! I told them I needed to go and finish this thing. I saw the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel off in the distance and before I knew it, I was passing those too. I was getting shoved into the awkward narrow scuffle of race course that turns onto the boardwalk, and when I rounded the bend, I saw the finish line in the distance. I yanked out my headphones and listened to the cheering crowds as I ran down the boardwalk, feeling so happy. I crossed the finish line and was honestly really sad that it was over. I thoroughly enjoyed running this race and it was a blast. I got my medal, an apple, and cup of water (cough, cough, New York Road Runners, could have really used a water bottle) and got a space blanket draped over my shoulders like a superhero cape. I eventually found my friends, stretched a little, ate some hot dogs, and then headed back to Manhattan in a complete adrenaline-filled daze.

Photo courtesy of New York Road Runners, http://www.nyrr.org The course! It all looks so nice and easy until that long, straight, line that goes on foreeevvverrrrrrrr.

I look really happy on the outside but I’m trying not to have a panic attack on the inside!!

Jackie and I at the start, pre-bathroom line – The best pacer and running partner a girl could ask for. Definitely could not have done this without you!!

If I could walk around all day in this thing I would.

Brittany and our traditional post-race jumping picture. Without you I never would have even signed up for this, so thank you!

So, I know this post was long, but I wanted to cram everything in there from beginning to end. I hope this helps if you’re reading this and considering undertaking your first half marathon. Seriously, if I can do this, then so can you. Yes, I stuck to a training plan as best as I could and built up my mileage, but I think the real trick was to stay positive and think positive thoughts before and during the race. This was an incredible experience and I’m already thinking about when the next one will be. But for now, I’m foam rolling, doing yoga, stretching, most likely getting my shin checked out by a doctor, and smiling back on this past weekend with gratitude and pride in myself.

!!!!! That is all.

Which Oil Loves Your Heart More?

In the hospital where I work, I cover two floors that treat patients specifically for heart disease and its related comorbidities. Therefore, a fair percentage of my patients ask questions pertaining to diet and what they “should” and “should not” be eating. A big question that’s been asked many times lately is what the best type of oil is to use while cooking. More specifically, is coconut oil better than olive oil? It’s a valid question, considering coconut oil has been recently touted in the media as a superfood with many multi-faceted health benefits.

I personally use both coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil, but for different purposes. For instance, I like to use a teaspoon of coconut oil when sauteing vegetables, because I feel as though it can take to higher heat a little better. Meanwhile, I like to drizzle olive oil over proteins and vegetables when roasting them in the oven, and to dress up my salads and pastas.

The truth is, you can Google “coconut oil benefits and uses,” and a million pages from unreliable blogs and websites will pop up. But, when doing a brief search through scientific publications, I found that straightforward human studies comparing the health benefits of coconut oil consumption to olive oil consumption is limited. One review article I found reported that virgin coconut oil (less processed than refined coconut oil), does have some heart healthy benefits secondary to its medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) content. A little background: MCFAs are absorbed in the intestine faster than long or short-chain fatty acids, and are used up for energy more quickly in the liver, reducing fatty acid levels circulating in the blood. Virgin coconut oil also has antioxidant properties, which can lead to improved cardiovascular health and reduced inflammation. Studies examined in this article found that MCFA supplementation helped promote weight loss and healthy cholesterol levels. This all sounds great, but the authors were unable to make a conclusive statement that coconut oil was actually better than olive oil, because coconut oil is also rich in saturated fatty acids (which cause it to be solid at room temperature, like butter). Saturated fatty acids are more greatly associated with inflammation and high cholesterol, which can worsen your overall risk for cardiovascular disease. So clearly, there’s no conclusive evidence here that coconut oil consumption may actually be amazing for your heart health or if it deserves to be lauded as a superfood.

If you want a simple, straightforward, side-by-side comparison between coconut oil and olive oil, I found this infographic from the Cleveland Clinic that breaks down the main differences between olive oil and coconut oil. The conclusions are to stick with olive oil, because it is higher in monounsaturated fats (or MUFAs, which allow it to be liquid at room temperature as opposed to solid. I know, there are SO MANY KINDS of fats). MUFAs have been extensively studied and are known to decrease overall inflammation and cardiovascular disease (even more so than medium chain fatty acids). Other good sources of MUFAs include salmon, almonds, and avocados. You can check it out below, and find the full article here.

The Cleveland Clnic. http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/10/olive-oil-vs-coconut-oil-which-is-heart-healthier/

Bottom line: If a patient with heart disease were to ask me which oil they should use, I would recommend olive oil, and to use coconut oil sparingly due to the saturated fatty acid content. What else have you heard about coconut oil? Sound off in the comments!

Source: Babu AS, Veluswamy SK, Arena R, Guazzi M, Lavie CJ. Virgin Coconut Oil and Its Potential Cardiac Effects. Postgrad Med. 2014 Nov;126(7):76-83. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2014.11.2835.