Archive | Healthy Eating

23 February 2012 ~ Comments Off on How Supermarkets Conspire To Make You Fat

How Supermarkets Conspire To Make You Fat

Supermarket

And if it looks like you're going to make it to Produce, the staff starts a "crapslide." (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

(This is a guest post by Kim Lebb of TorontoFit.com. If you’d like to be a guest author on Pump Up Your Fitness, drop me a line.)

Running a supermarket isn’t easy. Customers are picky, competition is fierce, and margins are extremely tight. Because of this, supermarkets spend a fortune on sophisticated analytics and tracking in order to optimize the layout of their stores for maximum profitability.

One of the ways they do this is by using low-margin items as a means of attracting you to more profitable merchandise.
For a supermarket, the most profitable products are processed foods. These items have a long shelf life, relatively high margins, and manufacturers actually pay the supermarket to rent shelf space for their brands.

On the other hand, fresh produce, meat, and other perishables are very problematic for supermarkets:

  • Because there is no difference between a Michigan apple and a Massachusetts apple, produce items are said to be “commodities.” In other words, there are no brand names or other differentiators which add special value to these items. Because of their commodity status, produce items tend to have lower margins than branded items which are backed by marketing and promotions.
  • Perishable items like produce and meat must be sold quickly, otherwise they’ll expire or become damaged. As a result, there is a lot of waste and the profitability of perishable foods can vary widely depending on customer traffic or buying trends.

The ideal scenario for a supermarket, from a profitability perspective, would be to exclusively stock branded, differentiated, non-perishable food items. However, this would cause customer traffic to drop off because shoppers are primarily attracted to stores with high-quality meat, produce and other fresh goods.

Sneaky Marketing

So supermarkets have a dilemma: how to maximize the sale of processed, non-perishable foods without turning away the customers who are attracted to fresh commodity foods?

The solution to this problem is actually quite sneaky and very effective.

Nearly every supermarket you visit will be laid out in the same manner:

  • In the center, you’ll see shelves full of pop, cookies, snacks, canned foods, cereals, and all sorts of other processed junk. These are the most profitable goods for the supermarket to sell.
  • These shelves will be surrounded by a ring of healthy, fresh foods. Dairy, fruits, vegetables, bulk dry goods, meats, etc.

What you end up with is a large body of unhealthy food you must navigate around to get to the healthy food. Since the shortest route from one point to another is a straight line, this layout ensures that you’ll need to criss-cross through the processed food aisles many times during your trip.

This is no accident. Supermarket chains have spent millions in research to ensure that this layout is the most effective way to get unhealthy high-profit foods into the kitchens of consumers. In fact, many supermarkets also track their shopping carts using RFID tags to further improve this layout by gaining better insight into traffic patterns.

Healthy Shopping

If you want to eat healthy, the route you take through the supermarket will have a major impact on your nutritional buying decisions.

The best and simplest healthy-eating shopping advice you can follow is to walk around the exterior walls of the supermarket, and avoid the shelves in the center. This will maximize your chances of avoiding unhealthy processed foods.

For even better results, you should carefully plan your shopping list in advance and have a large meal before shopping. This will help keep you focused, and prevent you from being tempted by impulse purchases.

Remember, you can’t eat unhealthy foods at home if you don’t buy them in the first place. The decisions you make on your weekend supermarket visit will have a major impact on your eating habits for the rest of the week.

Kim Lebb is a fitness writer for TorontoFit.com, Toronto’s leading at-home fitness training and nutritional consulting company.

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01 March 2011 ~ Comments Off on 4-Hour Body Review

4-Hour Body Review

If you haven’t heard of The 4-Hour Body, you must have been living in a cave (I don’t believe Tim Ferriss’ promotional tour of caves starts for another week or so). The book’s “Slow-Carb Diet” is possibly the hottest diet trend since South Beach.

But is it right for you? I went on the Slow-Carb plan for a month, and the results are a part of this 4-Hour Body review on my men’s lifestyle site, Tao of Bachelorhood.

If you’re a man and haven’t been to Tao of Bachelorhood, it’s a treasure trove of lifestyle advice, from clothes to fitness to tips for meeting women. If you’re a woman, I also offer tips for navigating this crazy world, interacting with others and figuring out what it’s all about.

Anyway, back to the 4-Hour Body review. To offer a summary, I was impressed with the little things I didn’t know, as well as the surface simplicity of its solutions. However, it is a 550-page book, and Mr. Ferriss is an absolute geek about hacking, well, everything about his life, so it’s possible to get lost in the details.

But the point is that you should be experimenting too—rare is the one diet or the one workout that works for everyone. (“Nonexistent” might even be a better word.) And with a cover price much less than most Internet plans, it won’t hurt to give these tips a whirl.

How did I do in my month of Slow-Carb? read it and see.

The 4-Hour Body Review [Tao of Bachelorhood]

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23 February 2011 ~ Comments Off on Oatmeal: McDonald’s vs. Starbucks vs. You

Oatmeal: McDonald’s vs. Starbucks vs. You

Even the cartons are over-the-top.

Call them the “oatmeal wars.” Two major corporate titans, spending vast amounts of money to convince you the healthy, convenient answer to your breakfast problems is to stop in and buy a cup of oatmeal.

I’m currently sitting on a stack of free coupons McDonald’s and Starbucks have sent me in order to have me sample their new oatmeal offerings. Are they really healthy? Do they make it convenient to have a good breakfast?

Scratch “Healthy”

The first problem is that the oatmeal you’re getting from these food giants isn’t necessarily healthy. In fact, according to this NY Times piece, if you use the “healthy” fruit and “cream,” the McDonald’s oatmeal contains more calories than their regular hamburger! The article also points out that the “cream” has seven ingredients.

As for that fruit, it should be pointed out that dried fruit is essentially a fruit-flavored sugar lump, almost free of the fiber and nutrients that exist in non-dried fruit. All in all, this is “oatmeal” created in a lab.

The Starbucks oatmeal, on the other hand, can be had completely plain (although the “oatmeal” itself contains 13 ingredients), but who does that? To top it with the included accoutrements makes it even more carb-laden than the Mickey D’s version, despite a smaller size.

Scratch “Convenient”

Since we know these “healthy options” aren’t so healthy when fully dressed, surely the make-or-break selling point must be the incredible convenience. I mean, who has time to make a healthy breakfast at home?

Not so fast. (Pun intended.)

The time it takes to wait in line, order, pay and have it made probably total, what, 5 minutes when it’s not busy, more like 10 when it is. And if you have to drive to the joint, add a few more.

Just like the illusion of a healthy food product, these multinational corporations are selling the illusion of convenience. Here, let me show you how to get truly healthy oatmeal in a much shorter time.

Make Your Own Damn Oatmeal

Did you know that old-fashioned oatmeal cooks up in just 2 minutes in a microvave? “Quick” oats take even less time. Two minutes or less. Ronald and his peeps can’t beat that. Neither can Dr. Evil’s cash cow.

Instructions, should you need them:

  • Pour about a half-cup of oatmeal into a large microwave-safe bowl.
  • Cover the oatmeal completely with water. (You can adjust the ratio after the first time or two.)
  • Microwave it on high for 2 minutes or less. During this time you can continue getting ready for work, or just relax for a moment.
  • Remove (bowl will be hot!) and add anything you like. I recommend plain greek-style yogurt (protein!) and some water-packed fruit cocktail.

No time to actually consume it? Put it in a container to take with you, or just bring the ingredients to work and make it there. (If I really have to help you figure this out, McDonald’s might be for you after all.)

Using common sense, you can avoid unhealthy “healthy” foods and actually free up some time instead of waiting on line for “convenience.”

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09 February 2011 ~ Comments Off on Screw Calories

Screw Calories

No, they're not chocolate donuts.

Apologies for the long pause. Down to work:

Stop counting calories.

That’s right. Ignore the calories you’re eating. Screw ’em. Have they ever done anything for you? If you’re still looking for answers, probably not.

What is a calorie?

Let’s start by defining the calorie: a “food calorie” is the amount of energy it takes to heat one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.

If you’re wondering what that has to do with the price of tea in China, know that people don’t even agree on how much energy that is. But let’s go with the rough equivalent of 1.84 joules. What’s a joule? You sure you wanna know?

So even after we get a rough consensus on what a calorie represents, how do we know how many calories are in that cupcake? Well, in an exact world, scientists would burn that cupcake in a special device and measure the results. But you can’t burn every food item in the world, that would be silly. What they do instead is chemically test (or just add the ingredients) to determine the fat/carb/protein makeup of the cupcake, then use a simple table of values: fats are 9.4 calories per gram, proteins and carbs 4.1.

But wait: there are a lot of kinds of fats and proteins. Do lard, margarine and flaxseed oil all really have the same calories per gram? Beef and fish proteins are identical? Cane sugar and molasses?

Hell if I know.

Exercise Does What?

But let’s back up again and assume fats are fats and everything averages out in the end. After all, if it didn’t someone would have stood up and corrected it, right? (Riiiiight.)

So now you know that cupcake is 350 calories, what does that mean to you?

Will you need to burn it off? Well, first you need to know how many calories you should be eating in the first place. They say 2000 calories are required by the average person, but like most things “they” say, that number is so general it’s practically useless. Are you short? Tall? Sedentary? Active? If your exercise consists of switching the remote, you may gain weight from 2000 calories. If you’re an athlete, 2000 calories would be a starvation diet.

Let’s assume those 350 calories are “extra.” So you go hop on the treadmill for a nice run. Now you’re burning about 10 calories per minute. One episode of How I Met Your Mother and the cupcake is gone, right?

Wrong. Your body burns two calories a minute just watching TV. So if you want to burn off “extra” calories, subtract those from the total. Now you’ll need to run for 20% longer. That’s about a five-mile run you’ll need, to burn off those two minutes of enjoyment. Maybe more.

But wait, what if that cupcake is just part of those 2000 calories? No problem, right?

That too depends on a lot of other factors. If your daily diet is otherwise veggies, lean, clean meats and good vitamin and mineral supplements, it’s not such a problem. But if your breakfast was a big bowl of breakfast cereal, lunch was Chinese takeout and dinner was courtesy of the guy with an antenna ball for a head…you should watch Super Size Me for a visual.

Counting calories is a lot harder than you thought, huh?

Diet Without Calories

Listen, if you’re trying to lose weight, calories aren’t what you should be paying attention to. The mere fact that you feel you have to add together the raw calorie value in the foods you’re eating tells me you need to make a change in your diet.

People count calories because they don’t want to pay attention to exactly what they eat. If you pay attention, you’ll never have to add another calorie again.

You know what you should be eating. (If you really don’t, I can help you.) What you have to do is eat it. Fresh (or frozen or canned or even home-juiced!) vegetables. Lean meats, fish and pasture-raised (grass-fed) beef. Good oils and nuts. And for dessert, a serving of whole fruit.

Keep it simple. Throw away the cookies and chips. Have no temptation in your house. Stop buying bread (veggies, fruit and legumes are plenty of fiber) and milk products besides plain yogurt (broccoli does a body much, much better). Get a good multivitamin.

Learning to prepare fresh foods is a skill you need. Buy spices, salsa and marinara to liven up eggs or a chicken breast. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef, just find a few simple meals you like.

Once you’re doing that, you’ll have half the equation to a leaner, happier lifestyle. If you’re eating crap and you switch to good food, you’ll lose weight. If you’re eating too many carbs and you switch to protein, you’ll find it easier to gain lean muscle.

It’s so simple a caveman could do it…and he did!

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09 December 2010 ~ Comments Off on Fitness Gifts: Protein Shaker

Fitness Gifts: Protein Shaker

Stuck on a simple but useful holiday gift? Want to give something that says, “I support your fitness goals” but doesn’t say, “you really need to work out more”? I’ve got just the thing: a deluxe protein shaker.

If you’ve had much experience with protein powder (and if you’re doing any kind of muscle-building exercise, you should), you’ve probably found that it’s difficult to quickly mix it into milk or water without blobs of unblended powder floating on the top. With some powders, you can shake until you’re blue in the face (an exercise of its own) and it still clumps.

No longer, thanks to something called the Blender Bottle. This is a protein shaker cup with a difference: a wire ball that acts like a whisk, breaking up those blobs and leaving you with a smoothly blended protein drink.

In addition, this protein shaker has a tight-fitting screw-on lid and a “pop-top” drinking/pouring spout so you don’t have to remove the wire ball to enjoy your protein. All parts are easy to wash and dishwasher-safe.

I discovered the Blender Bottle when I got one as a gift—believe it or not, I had taken to using my electric blender to make batches of protein drink, but once I tried this shaker I never went back. It only takes about 15 seconds of moderate shaking to fully mix even the clump-prone powders I’ve had lying around. To sum up, awesome.

Anyone who uses protein powder will thank you for giving them a Blender Bottle. In fact, this gift reduces the “what if they’ve already got one?” factor: even if they DO own a protein shaker, most people will be happy to have a second one to take to work or school. And if their old protein shaker isn’t a Blender Bottle, they’ll probably throw the old one away.

Get the Blender Bottle protein shaker at Amazon.com.

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