Sunday, 29 April 2012

Almond Butter: A Review

We grew up with peanut butter. My kids are growing up with peanut butter. Some of my best food memories as a child is melted peanut butter dripping hot off a toasted english muffin onto my fingers or a plate below.

On the scale of healthy food, peanut butter has its good qualities and its bad. High in protein, spreading some PB on a slice of whole wheat bread offers a great protein to carb ratio. Also, it is high in monounsaturated fat - one of the better fats. However, it's the added sugar, salt and vegetable oil that's making me think there must be a healthier alternative.

In my effort to go more natural, I'm going to give almond butter a test run.

The First Impression
Seeing the container in the store is a little off-putting. The packaging (no offense, Barbour's) looks like it hasn't been updated since the seventies. And since there is no added vegetable oil to keep it from separating, the oil sitting on top as at least half an inch deep.

Stirring was a little ardous as well. The oil has not only migrated to the top, but the thicker parts of what was supposed to be smooth butter has dropped to the bottom. So the stirring process has to mix the oil back in, but also scoop up what can only be described as "almond sediment".

Once this goopy task is over (and the rationalizing that went with it) the result is... different... and pretty darn tasty.

Its nuttier tasting than peanut butter, not as thick (as evidenced by my drippy looking container - sorry for the grease stain), and the texture is...more real. Like they had actually crushed nuts and made it into a paste.

Skippy Peanut Butter.

Barbour's Almond Butter. 

We have to double the numbers in the Skippy chart so we are measuring the same quantity. 

The regular peanut butter has double the saturated fats, and a whopping 130mg of sodium compared to the 2mg in the almond butter. There is slightly more protein in the almond butter, and 60% of the daily recommended value of Vitamin E, a nice little antioxidant. Skippy doesn't even list Vitamin E.

In Conclusion
I like the almond butter. It has a more sophisticated taste, it was processed locally, and the sheer volume of sodium we would be cutting from our diets is staggering.

Which brings up my next challenge: switching the kids over.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Skinny Calves Suck.

One of the (many) reasons I started lifting weights was to reshape my legs. My calves are on my hitlist these days, and working out from home, getting a good calf workout is hard. I've found that calves is the only muscle group where a machine workout gets a better result. The standing calf raise was my favorite. Unfortunately, at home, I'd never get that amount of weight over my head if I were to replicate with a barbell.

If anyone has a great at-home calf exercise that really puts a burn on, please let me know in the comments! I welcome the feedback.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Why I Love Leg Day

When I first signed up for a gym membership, they threw in a couple of free personal training sessions, which was perfect, because I like a kid on the first day of kindergarten, walking in to a room of third-graders: uncool and unsure. He put me on what he called a Two Day Split: upper body one day, lower body the next, and showed me the ropes.

So over the course of the next couple months, I followed his routine, expanded the routine to include other exercises, started to love the treadmill, and got so comfortable at the gym I thought I owned the place. Fast forward two years, I'm working out in my basement, and even though I know fun new workouts are out there, I still find myself doing leg day, arm day, run. Leg day, arm day, run.

I put up with this (somewhat) monotony because I love leg day so much (conversely, I despise upper body day).

Look at that form. Source: No idea, but seriously, props.
I've heard a couple people say they hate leg day, and I can understand why, its tough. I once had to run out of the gym mid-conversation because I thought I was going to puke on the poor guy's shoes. But then you just learn not to do legs on an empty stomach.

Anyway, without further ado and preamble, my top five reasons why I love leg day:

  1. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts are my absolute favorite move. I love the way they feel. I love the stretch they give. The weights are really big too, which is also very satisfying. I'm getting to the point now my grip isn't strong enough to hold all the weight. 

  2. Shorter workout time. Upper body days take a much longer time since there are much more muscle groups on upper body day (a lot divide upper body into chest/back/arms days for this reason). Lower body day is more short, more simple. Don't let short and simple fool you though. Those are big muscles you are working on, it takes a lot of energy and can drain you pretty fast.

  3. I appreciate the transformation. Lifting weights, as opposed to running or pilates, more drastically changed the shape of my legs. Running and other cardio will shrink you, but you'll still be the same shape - just a smaller version. Pilates or yoga will give you long lean muscles, but won't result in anything drastic. Weights are what you need to reshape.

  4. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts.

  5. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts. 

And there's the list! For those interested in trying it out, here's a link to a good Stiff-Legged Deadlift tutorial

happy deadlifting.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Month Three and Shampoo Free

(t minus two and a half years)
This whole thing is because I'm over thirty. It takes a lot for me to freely admit that I'm thirty, I had a hard time with that milestone. I was on the countdown since I was 22. Eight years away from thirty, I would say.

Turning thirty brought some unexpected changes. For one, I suddenly and inexplicably developed allergies. It was like someone had flicked a switch. One spring, everything was fine; the next spring, itchy throat, watery eyes, runny nose. Awesome. I love thirty.

Allergies suck.

The second change I noticed was my hair.

I should begin first by explaining that I have never (up until turning thirty) paid any attention to my hair. I got it cut about twice a year. Didn't bother with hairstyles or products. Wash. Brush. Sometimes blowdry. It was shiny, it was thick and straight with a slight wave to infuse some body. Pretty much maintenance-free.

Then thirty hits.

I started waking up in the morning with this crazy, wild, curly, unmanageable hair. Washing and brushing was no longer an option. Blowdrying made it sit a little straighter, but all that heat was drying my hair out.

So I started buying products. I first started with products to make it straight again. I found one product that actually seemed to work pretty well, but it was discontinued shortly after. After my third straightening product, my hairdresser introduced me to a flat iron.

Between the blowdrying and the straightening, my hair was getting seriously dried out. The front and top strands looked like straw and the back was a mess of curls and kinky ringlets. Enter even more products. I started using a conditioner after shampooing, a heat protectant before blowdrying and some other flat iron spray while I straightened. Then, serum to finish it all off. Oh, in addition to the dried out crazy hair, I developed a rash on my neck from the conditioner. I was loving thirty.

Oodles of product.

After cutting conditioner out of my routine, I bought a better blowdryer and ceramic roundbrush, and was careful to blowdry so that I didn't need the flat iron. I'm now down two products and one device.

(t minus four months)
After a while, I started using half the shampoo I normally would. Just a small little bit, and only on key areas of my head: the crown, temples, behind my ears and at the top of my neck. Very little shampoo, and almost no suds.

I also started reading that shampoo is really damaging to your hair. We use it to remove the grease from our hair, but it does the job a little too well. It removes too much of the natural oils, which leaves the hair dry and brittle. But those smart shampoo companies have a solution...another product for us to buy to combat the negative effects of shampoo: Conditioner. Perfect! A product to put the oils back in our hair that the first product stripped out.

Our body's natural reaction to being stripped of its natural oil is to produce more oil to compensate. And what do we do with oily hair? Use more shampoo. So as a result, we have dried out ends, oily scalp, and oodles and oodles of product.

(t minus three months)
So I stopped using shampoo. And after almost three years of unmanageable hair, it's finally coming back around.

I'll explain what I do to wash it, but I have to clarify that it's not a graceful switch. Your hair will go through an adjustment period, probably about two weeks. Mine was three. Get used to ponytails or hats. Your scalp will continue to produce oil at a rapid pace, expecting to be stripped of its natural goodness by your shampoo. It will eventually level out, and depending on your hair type and natural oiliness, you can get away with washing it every couple days.

I say washing because I am washing my hair, just not with shampoo. I use a combination of baking soda and water to clean my hair, and another combination of apple cider vinegar and water to condition and soften.

We all know baking soda is a great cleaner, it can scrub up a kitchen sink real good. And my parents always got me to brush my teeth with baking soda before a trip to the dentist. (And survived my childhood with no cavities! I got my first cavity later in life...when? You guessed it. Thirty.) Because the baking soda is very slightly alkaline, the apple cider vinegar restores the pH, detangles, and leaves it soft.

(the recipe)
One good thing that came from my product experimentation is the abundance of bottles to choose from to house my new concoctions. I put the baking soda in a squeeze bottle with a small opening, and the ACV in one with an opening I can pour.

Beginners, start with this recipe:
Start with 1 teaspoon baking soda and mix with one cup of water. Use about half of this mix per wash. I put it on my scalp, and rub my fingertips around to scrub away any excess oil and dirt, and leave it on my hair for a bit before rinsing it out.

Use 1 teaspoon ACV and 1 cup water and mix. Again, use about half of this mixture per wash. Pour it over your head, concentrating on the ends. Let it sit for a bit before rinsing out.

And that's it! Easy peasy. Everyone is different, so you might have to tweak the concentrations a bit.

Personally, I use 2 teaspoons of baking soda in the cup of water. I found my transition period was taking longer than two weeks, it was still too greasy for me to be comfortable, but as soon as I doubled the baking soda, I could start wearing my hair down again. I had to adjust the AVC mix too: I use half cup AVC to a half a cup of water. The kinky, frizzy, curliness has calmed down exponentially since increasing the concentration of apple cider vinegar.

If you give it a try, just wait for a couple weeks for your hair to adjust to the new routine, and then, make sure you are using the mixture that's right for your hair. Start with the recipe above, but if you find your hair is dry and crunchy, decrease your baking soda, or increase your AVC. If you find your hair is oily, increase the baking soda, or decrease the AVC.

I had also made the mistake early on of forgetting the chemical properties of what I was using...I was using the baking soda on my scalp, and the AVC only on my ends (like I would normally use regular conditioner). But I noticed my hair was getting lighter at my roots and looking kinda frizzy. I needed the acid in the AVC to neutralize the baking soda. After I figured that out, my roots calmed down.

(t minus zero)
It is so nice not to have to desperately turn to products to fix my hair. I can't claim my hair is perfect - it isn't. Some days, yes, I wake up with random ringlets. But not as often as I used to. And I rarely have to use the straightener anymore. I think that is almost as good a payoff as being shampoo free. I'm not continually damaging my hair with the heat and products. And its straight! And manageable!

Low maintenance hair again at last.

This picture was taken halfway through writing this post, with absolutely no planning or prep (just a quick brush), and washed the day before. I was housecleaning most of the weekend, with it up in a ponytail most of the time. I think I even had a toque on yesterday doing yardwork. No straightener. I don't even think I blowdried.

I know it sounds very hippy to say you don't use shampoo, but I like it. I like not being a slave to these multinationals that could have come up with a better cleaning solution for our hair, but didn't. And I like that its cheap. And that its made my hair easier to manage.

Now, to find a natural alternative to these darn allergies...