Pruning My Energy Bar Habit

#prune #chia #hemp #pumpkin #almond #coconut #chia #hemp #pumpkin #almond #coconut  #prune #chia #hemp #pumpkin #almond #coconut

Protein bars may already be on your radar, but you may have also noticed an explosion in the past year+ of “natural” energy bars that boast fewer ingredients and higher nutrient-density. Think LäraBar (started in 2000, focused on unsweetened fruits, nuts and spices with no more than nine ingredients per bar) and Kind Bars (started in 2004, sold in but not owned by Starbucks, focused on all-natural whole nuts, fruits and whole grains–although they do add natural sweeteners and still use soy). As I began devoting a significant portion of my daily snack income to these types of bars, diving into a world of chia and hemp seeds, dates and any type of nut I desired, I realized that I was paying more for some of these bars than the ingredients it would take to make 10.

That’s when I went online, got a bazillion hits for “homemade energy bar”, and began tinkering with my own. Many (most) call for dates, which I love, but frankly, all you really need are semi-dried fruits (moist, sticky) of some sort, to act as a binder, and your favorite seeds and nuts. If you’re looking for specific health benefits, do your research to understand which fruits, nuts and seeds should help you the most for your personal goals. Or, try your own n-of-1 trials and see what works best for your body.

Below is a version I came up with last week as I had extra prunes in my pantry. They’ve been lovely as my “sweet” to accompany my mid-morning coffee.


  • 1 cup (dried) prunes
  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup hemp seeds
  • 1 cup almonds (or walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1-2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom


Place the dried fruit into the food processor and pulse in 10-second intervals until it resembles a paste. You may need to scrape the sides during this process, as dried fruit can be a sticky mess. Then, add in the remaining seeds and nuts and continue pulsing until fully incorporated.

If you don’t have a food processor, first coarsely chop the prunes, then mash with a fork until as smooth as possible. In a separate bowl, add all the seeds and nuts, mixing well. Add in the seed mixture, a bit at a time, to the mashed prunes. Then, mix in the seeds/nuts by hand until evenly distributed.

To form these snacks, you can either roll into small balls with your hands or cut them into bars. To do the latter, place the mixture on parchment paper in a pan, mold into the desired depth, and slice off individual bars. Store in an airtight container.


Wrangling My Communication Vortex with Mini-Sabbaths

#nighttimesurfing #communicationvortex #minisabbath #technologyoverloadNote: A version of this post originally appeared on, a blog on behavior and technology.


It’s 2 AM and you’re exhausted, but unable to sleep. You’ve been cycling through Facebook, email, and other online media for hours. You want to stop, but you can’t. This technology-induced insomnia will likely ruin your next day (or two) of productivity — and you’ve really achieved nothing according to your list of to-dos. Late-night surfing has become a bad habit you’d like to break, but just can’t figure out how.

Sound familiar? Let’s take a look at some data, narrated by my inner monologue.

Inner Monologue: “Wow, 12AM, I should get into bed.”

Lights turned off, head on pillow. Check.

Inner Monologue: “Hmm, I’m a little bored. I had those articles I was going to read…and I’m not that sleepy yet.” I reach for my phone. “I love you, smart phone.”

One article later.

Inner Monologue: “What a great article! I should share it.” Switch to Facebook news feed. “Oh, look at Amanda’s adorable baby!” Like. Scrolling down. “Ha! Teslas ARE awesome.” Continue scrolling. “Puppies and kittens AND a baby hedgehog all in one photo!?” Like. “Oh, I should send that Tesla pic to Aleks … and email her to catch-up.” Switch to Gmail. “Hmm, inbox full. I’ll just respond to two.” Mid-response, a new post from TechCrunch pops up. ” Oh, what’s this? Smartwatch?” Click.

And, like that, I’m sucked into my seemingly inescapable cycle of social media-email-news…welcome to my communication vortex.


Habits are a complicated beast. Though modern technology has the power to form good habits, it can also reinforce bad ones. Technology enables a faster cycling through what Nir Eyal calls, the Hook Model, a four-phase process, which creates and strengthens our compulsions.

I realized I had a real problem when I mentioned to a trainer that I was running on a treadmill because it was easier to read and write emails on my phone than if I ran outside. It was a wake-up call that made me realize my technology habits might be affecting other areas of my life.

I decided to take a closer look at how technology affects the three habits I try the hardest to keep in good standing: eating, sleeping, and exercising.


Imagine you’re at work. It’s 11:30 AM and you are feeling peckish. You are swamped answering emails and your mind is deep in your work. Not to worry, you brought an apple as a healthy snack. You look up twenty minutes later to notice you are no longer hungry. But you realize the apple remains while a chocolate-chip cookie you tucked in your desk “in case of emergency” is gone!

How did this mindless eating happen? For many, the trigger for making poor eating decisions is not only hunger, but stress.

An interesting study related to making healthy food choices helps us answer why we often pick the cookie, not the apple. First, students were given a string of numbers to remember and recall, taxing their mental faculties. Afterwards, they were asked to walk down a long hallway where they were presented with two snack options: a fruit salad or a slice of chocolate cake. The fruit salad was clearly the healthier choice, while the chocolate cake was the more indulgent option. The researchers found that the test subjects who had memorized more numbers were also more likely to choose the chocolate cake.

The study’s authors theorized that people make decisions using either their rational or emotional brain. When we have to mentally juggle too much information, such as a long string of numbers, our ability to access the rational side of our brain can be impaired, leaving room for the emotional brain to take over.

Excessive technology use may have the same effect on our internal struggle between good and bad habits. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Email, and other technologies make us perform mental juggling acts, perhaps increasing the difficulty of holding ourselves accountable for rational decisions.


I’ve heard I should always schedule important meetings in the morning because my levels of serotonin are highest then – meaning I’d be able to make better decisions. But as you read above, I’ve developed some bad habits around my slumber. Turns out, it might not only be what I’m looking at on my phone that is keeping me up, but the phone itself. Light interferes with the production of melatonin, a chemical trigger which tells the brain to go to sleep. In fact, recent studies found that the blue light emitted from computers and other devices may even be linked to depression.

Even small devices, such as our cell phone, produce enough light to disrupt our sleep cycles and of course any sound from those late-night videos or games you (or your partner) are playing don’t help either. The more you surf, the less likely you are to sleep.


The research on physical exercise overwhelmingly points to a number of positive health benefits. But email, TV, and the multitude of apps on our devices are just a few of the distraction, which can hold us back from hitting the gym to break a sweat. As children, we would go out and play if we had nothing to do. But as adults, we have trained ourselves to think exercise is a chore and turn to our gadgets when feeling bored.


It was clear I had some bad habits around eating, sleeping and exercising, but how was I going to get myself cleaned up?

I took a second look at the Hook Model and realized that when it comes to breaking habits, triggers are often too ingrained to be erased; the habit loop can only be identified and re-trained. Identifying triggers requires some self-discipline and experimentation.

Re-wiring habits is even trickier. The key in changing habits is to associate existing triggers with new, more powerful rewards. There are a few more things involved in cultivating this change, but generally, if you can train yourself to believe a reward for a “good” habit is more pleasurable than a reward for a “bad” habit, you’re on an upward path. Similarly, when the pleasure associated with the reward of an existing habit is diminished, there is a greater chance another stronger reward will take its place.

But technology can lead to a vicious cycle of diminishing satisfaction. The more technology we use, the more we attempt to cram into our days. This is often referred to as “time deepening,” but this phrase is a  misleading because filling life with more and more activities and distractions makes time (and our various rewards) feel shallower, not deeper. Restated another way, the more we try and get done, the less satisfaction we get from each individual reward, making us more likely to seek new rewards at an even higher frequency.

So, are we doomed to be cranky, flabby, lazy insomniacs? Thankfully, no.


Take a common trigger, like boredom. When it hits, we generally check email, eat, watch TV, or procrastinate, all of which make the problem worse by fueling guilt-induced stress. To break it, we need to train ourselves to acknowledge, anticipate, and here’s the kicker … embrace feeling bad.

The key tool I use to achieve this state of bliss are “mini-sabbaths,” small breaks from the constant connectivity of our everyday lives. Linking back to the Hook Model, here are four tips for taking mini-sabbaths at each point in the habit cycle that I’ve found to be effective methods for wrangling-in my own technology vortex.


  • Try a quick 3-minute meditation in preparation for sleep to allow your mind to embrace boredom.
  • Disable all push notifications on your devices.
  • Leave your phone at home from time-to-time, particularly when going to the gym. Get a workout buddy to keep you honest.


  • Buy an alarm clock and keep your phone in another room, not by your bed.
  • Only keep healthy food at home so you have to go through the hassle of going to the store to get junk food.
  • If you like to exercise to music but find yourself tempted to check email, splurge for an iPod instead of taking your phone.


  • At bed time try listening to soothing music to help you relax instead of surfing the web when insomnia strikes.
  • Challenge yourself to drink a large glass of water and wait 10 minutes before snacking. Often times, you may think you feel hungry when you’re actually just dehydrated.
  • Pick a mantra. Select one positive word you want to embody and repeat it to yourself over and over again while you exercise. Envision yourself becoming more and more like that word with each additional step you take.


  • Learn more about your own hooks and commit to understanding your weaknesses.
  • Track how you spend your time by using software or recording with pen and paper. Regardless of how, take the time to learn as much about yourself so you can be more effective in making lasting changes.
  • Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge that you will fall into old habits from time-to-time and let yourself get back to your new healthier routines without the self-inflicted guilt, which can often trigger stress and cause bad habits to return.

#pauseandshine #minisabbath #lummiisland

Spiced Stuffed Dates

#medjool #dates stuffed with fresh #mint, #feta, #walnuts and #clove #agave syrupAs the weather turns, it’s important to eat things that help both your mind and body feel nourished. In my childhood, on test days, my father used to make me eat “brain-foods.” These often included fish, dates, and nuts.

Specifically, dates provide glucose, the type of energy “preferred” by the brain. Walnuts contain protein, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E which was suggested in a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology to prevent cognitive decline, particularly in the elderly.

Combined, a few dates and walnuts make a light snack that provides sustained energy. Dates provide a spike from sugar while the protein from the nuts kick in slightly later to help to sustain your blood sugar for longer.

In the recipe below, the sweet and nutty flavors of the classic brain-foods, dates and walnuts, are complemented by the creamy profile of feta and the fresh, palate-cleansing properties of mint and cloves.

Serves 12.

12 dates (Medjool work well)
12 large washed fresh mint leaves
12 walnuts, lightly toasted
6 oz feta (prefer creamier Bulgarian-style feta)
6 cloves
3 tbsp amber agave syrup

First, make the clove syrup by grinding the cloves, then adding in the agave syrup and mashing the cloves and syrup together with a pestle or other mashing tool.

Next, to prepare the dates, slice them lengthwise, cutting only 3/4 of the way through and remove the pit.

To assemble, place the fresh mint leaf into the crease and press against the insides of the date. Then, add the feta and press it in using half the walnut. Finally, top with a few drops of the clove agave syrup.

Can Delivery Make You Healthier?


For many of us, when it comes to making good decisions about what to eat – not a lot of emphasis (or desire) seems to be placed on planning.

You could cook healthy, or you could eat out. But what if you hate the grocery store and restaurants? What if you are tired of eating out and want to cook from the comfort of your own home, but don’t want to have to make “too many” decisions?

Health, wellness and food are huge industries. Within these, delivery is not a new concept, nor is online shopping. Delivery of restaurant food is available via a number of providers, including Seamless, GrubHub, and some smaller startups such as Eat Club. Healthy meal delivery (e.g., Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, Munchery) is also available, and at the price points we’re seeing with boxed delivery.  But straight delivery won’t provide with the connection to food that you get from cooking a meal in your own home.

Need to save the time it takes to do your own grocery shopping? Most local grocery stores will deliver or there are grocery delivery companies such as Fresh Direct in NYC , Peapod in Chicago, and Amazon Fresh, which has just expanded from Seattle to LA. Fresh produce boxes, such as Full Circle, and CSAs are generally local and good quality, yet limited in selection and access. Fresh produce delivery is also increasing, with startups such as Good Eggs. But what happens if this is still too much work for you? There are a number of companies that are betting on the ability to bridge the gap between your grocery store and your kitchen.

Specifically, over the past few years, there has been a boom in subscription boxes for all types of product, including food, are bringing fresh, ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat foods direct to your doorstep. Hate to research new products? There are boxes that will deliver new healthy snacks. Don’t want to have to measure out the ingredients or buy more than you need? There are boxed kits that include exactly what you need to make a dinner for 2 or 4, and no more.

But will these products truly compel you to cook, to connect with your food, to eat better?

#peppers #eggs #readytocook


With the two frontrunners having already received funding (Blue Apron recently with $5M in series B and Plated with $1.4M in seed), there are a number of “ready-to-cook” subscription boxes springing up on a seemingly almost daily basis. These boxes will provide you with exactly what you need to make a meal, but you have to plan ahead.

Current companies betting on ready-to-cook subscription boxes are Blue Apron (~$10/person), Plated (~$12/person), Hello Fresh (~$XX/person) and Chef Day (~$12/person), Munchberry, and Caviar. They all claim to cost less than purchasing at a grocery store, although I’m skeptical that they’re much less, they’re not too far off.


Similar to the Birchbox model of discovering new products (mostly cosmetics), there have been a number of food discovery kits related to snacks. Naturebox (~$20/mo) has led the way, securing $8.5M in series A funding last month. However, in the almost two years since they’ve launched, a number of similar companies have sprung up including Snack Box (~$24/mo), Graze (~$5/mo), Healthy Surprise (~$33/mo) and Vegan Cuts (~$20/mo).

#candied #spiced #walnuts


Although these products help reduce waste, confusion, subtitutions and a lot of need for intuition, what will be the key distinguishing factors?

To investigate these questions, I sat down with some foodie friends to try and draw some user insights. There weren’t too many complaints with the snack boxes. Most of the concerns developed around the ready-to-eat delivery boxes and questions of quality and timing.


There is a behavioral disconnect. For many friends, the main painpoint solved by these ready-to-eat boxes was the time saved and reduced planning. They didn’t have to think too hard about what to cook, how to make it, or taking the time to buy and measure out the ingredients.

But they had to plan to order these boxes and figure out how the meals would fit into their schedule. Most felt that if the boxes were available the day of or a day in advance, they’d be more powerful. As it stands now, you have to order several days to a week in advance.

Because of the shelf-life, the ready-to-eat boxes were received better. Most felt that they would likely develop a habit of subcribing to the ready-to-eat boxes because they knew it wouldn’t go bad after too many days of neglect. The fresh boxes sounded great, but most of my friends travel enough to make it hard to commit to a full subscription.


Quality was another major concern, stemming from a desire to control selection and general concerns about packaging.

My foodie friends love connecting with their food, knowing where their food has been sourced, and the joy of selecting the specific ingredients themselves. Virtual shopping, at least in the short term, won’t be able to replace the experience, but it can provide more insight into the sources and the stories behind the producers.

This aside, the other concern was how these ingredients, such as meat, fresh veggies, etc., can be shipped at the same temperature and without any risk of cross-contamination. Currently, all the ingredients come in the same box, although they’re usually sealed in separate pouches. Regardless, it seems odd to receive chicken at the same temperature as scallions.


Which features of these subscription boxes work for you and which don’t in the quest to be healthier?

Ultimately, as these companies grow, I’m interested to see how giants like Amazon and other delivery grocery companies will react and try to enter/dominate the space. Does this mean that these companies will succeed on brand?

How do you see these subscription box startups succeeding?

Edible Flowers

#edibleflowers #freshgreens #salad #pacificnorthwest#edibleflowers #rose #candiedbeets#edibleflowers #nasturtium

#edibleflowers #violets #pansy #baconeggsgrits#edibleflowers #giantchives#edibleflowers #violet #pansy #eggsbenedict#clover

#edibleflowers #beachflowers #

This summer, I’ve been inspired by the flowers in my garden and of the San Juan Islands. Gorgeous bursts of unexpected vibrance have been popping up on my plate all season–and the idea of even the clumsiest of floral additions isn’t growing old.

Edible flowers come in a variety of shapes, size and flavors. The most important thing to remember is that not all flowers in your garden are edible (e.g., foxglove and sweet pea flowers.) Like you’d suspect, the flowers of your favorite herbs, fruits and vegetables are generally edible.

What’s more, there are some flowers that we traditionally think of as only decorative that can be a delightful addition to both the taste and final plating of your dish. These include roses, marigolds, lavender, pansies (a.k.a. violets), nasturtium and many more.

Here’s a nice list of edible flowers from my local nursery that includes some warnings about what to avoid.

Quantifying Food Habits with Quantified Self

#missionfigs #farmersmarket #wholefood


Escapism and boredom: These are just two of the many reasons I might find myself mindlessly eating. And I’m not alone.

Throwing in my constant daily distractions (including work, life, constant connectivity to media) I easily fall into patterns of mindlessly eating.  I may be stressed and eating to escape, or maybe I’m bored because I don’t have those five seconds of my day filled with something. Perhaps I’m simply so busy that I’ve postponed my decision making around what to eat until I’m starving and will consume whatever is in front of me. Regardless, without intentional thought, these patterns become bad habits that are increasingly harder for me to break or even identify.

How can we get hooked on more meaningful relationships with food?


There is a lot of literature out there on habit cycles, habit formation, and hooking customers, but one of my favorites has been developed by Nir Eyal of The framework includes a trigger (internal/external), an action, a reward, and a commitment.

Tying these concepts to food, we can find insights into how habits play into the food consumption cycle. How do we create and break habits?

Let’s start with an example:
I’ve been working all day, trying to reach a deadline and I’m stressed (trigger). I want a piece of dark chocolate-covered salted caramel (a reward that has satisfied my stress in the past), but I can’t find any. I could go to the store to buy some, but it’s several blocks away – and I just don’t have the time (action) to spare to go there, eat my chocolate in the shadows like Gollum, and head back. I do recall seeing donuts in the kitchen this morning. Too far, but the apple on my desk just isn’t going to do it for me. I walk to the kitchen (action) and find only half of a cinnamon doughnut left.  I consume (action) the doughnut (reward). I promise myself (commitment) that I will buy an emergency sleeve of salted caramels tomorrow to keep in my desk so the next time I am stressed, I won’t end up less than fully satisfied.

Triggers can be internal (such as hunger, emotions, memories) or external influences (emails, images, smells) that can slowly become internal with enough cycling through habit formation process.

Action is based on two factors: Motivation and ability.

How much do you want to eat? How much skill or time do you have to achieve this? (Will you have to make a cake or is it being handed to you on a plate?)

Less friction is better: when an action is easier complete or the more you want to do it, the more likely you will. When it comes to eating, this can be the shopping, cooking, plating – anything that stands between your trigger and you actually consuming the desired reward: food.

A reward is the experience or physical object you receive that responds to/satisfies the trigger. For example, the actual piece of cake you eat may satisfy your emotional trigger of stress.

This is some combination of time, data, effort, social capital or money you complete after you’ve received your reward. A commitment means you complete an action now that reduces the “friction to achieve reward” the next time around.

Interestingly, this makes you more likely to choose this reward the next time your trigger occurs – and may even increase frequency of the trigger occurring (playing with that internal/external trigger balancing act.)

An example could be grocery shopping now for the next time you think you’ll be hungry – or taking a cooking lesson so you can make something faster or closer to what you desired the last time you wanted to eat.

 #cherrytomatoes #fresh #wholefood


Breaking down potential bad habits around food is hard, especially when we may not even realize what’s happening. How might we even know where to start, what’s working and what’s not working?

The most effective way to do this is through self-tracking. Self-tracking allows you to identify your triggers, actions, rewards, and commitments tied up in your seemingly bad behavior so you can better predict, manage and even break bad habits. This can be done through journals, scales, photos, or any other type of media recording. The point is to capture the data, then reflect.

But food tracking isn’t such a new idea. We’ve all been taught to monitor what we eat, track our weight, keep food diaries, even obsessively count calories. In college, I drastically improved my health by tracking using excel and pulling data of everything I ate from USDA National Nutritient Database. (An exhaustive database of nutrition of various types of foods.) But it was hard–the ironic thing about self-tracking is that you have to create habits around self-tracking to effectively learn about the habits you wanted to know more about in the first place.  Several of my friends thought I had lost my mind.

Sounds fun, no?

Fortunately, there are two things making self-tracking easier to achieve: Quantified Self and technology. Quantified Self (“QS”) is a community-driven movement around the concept of self-tracking. You can track your emotions, physical activity, eating patterns and any other variable you choose over a number of different dimensions. The popularity of QS has helped create demand for a variety of tools, including self-reporting software and wearable hardware (on-the-body, e.g., pedometers) that are making self-tracking increasingly easy.


There are a number of products on the market, some that track using GPS, some that make you enter, some that prompt you at specific times of day.

Moreover, many of these allow you to easily share your results with friend, providing additional reinforcement within your social network or with complete strangers. Duty to the tribe!

While there are many software that track your activity, sleep and other lifestyle components, many include or are dedicated to food and nutrition. Below is just a sample of some of these applications and why you might use them.

Why Use it? Name About
I want to set food and wellness goals for myself!

Fig A personal wellness guide for body and soul, Fig’s app lets you set goals and mark how many times you’ve achieved that goal in a given day, week, or other time period. This may include drinking eight glasses of water a day, exercising, connecting with family or even taking a deep breath. There is also a social element, letting you share and compare with friends.
My company wants me to track my health. Sprout Sprout is a corporate wellness solution, so you’ll have to get this through your company. Users can track their activity and find events based on shared interests. There is also a competitive element with features such as a leader board, to help you compete against fellow employees.
How “well” and why am I eating? The Eatery This app is less focused on calorie counting, but on overall how “well” you’re eating. Snap a photo of your food, rate it, then upload. People then vote on how healthy they think it is. You’ll get reports on the time of day you ate and how healthy it was rated.
I love food and I want to track what I eat. Evernote Food While Evernote Food doesn’t help you track your calories, per se, it can help you track everything about what you’re eating, where you’re eating it, and how to make it so you can look back at your eating in a more holistic manner.
I need a better way to compare nutrition when grocery shopping. Fooducate Fooducate takes the USDA database to the next level, offering exact breakdown of the nutrition and provides a “grade” of how healthy that item is. It also has a nice discovery section based on food type, to help you find new alternatives to your favorite, potentially less healthy snacks.ShopWell is another of many similar apps.
I want to know what chemicals are in my food. Chemical Cuisine or This app was created by Center for Science and Public Interest (CSPI) and helps you understand exactly what those ingredients are in your food.
I want to lose weight or just get in better shape. My Fitness Pal One of the superstars in the app arena, My Fitness Pal is a site (and has a suite of aps, such as Digifit) that combines tracking of what you eat, how you exercise and a social element that seems to be a recipe for weight loss success for many. They’ve expanded and have several pure aps and some tied to hardware devices.

HARDWARE  (On-the-Body)

For some of us, even having to take a photo of what we eat or turning on an application is too much hassle. That’s when hardware (i.e., wearable devices) might be a great option. Have you seen a friend wearing a bracelet that looks like a watch without a face, or a strange black box strapped to their shoe or clipped to their waistband?

There are a number of wearable products on the market, some that track using GPS, some that make you enter, some that prompt you at specific times of day. Even professional sports teams are harnessing the power of self-tracking and wearable devices to optimize their practice and performance. But to this point, not as many of them are able to track what you’re actually consuming and how your unique digestive system is processing the calories.

Below is a list of some of the current wearables (on-the-body hardware) that automatically track varying levels of physical activity and sleep and include corresponding apps for your smart phone that allow you to manually track food and other measures of wellness—even allowing you to compete with friends via social media. (Although, I’m not sure how much I want my friends to know about my bad habits.)

Co. Name Beyond Automatic Tracking of Activity & Sleep
Fitbit Manually track food via app. Waterproof (to track swimming)
Misfit Waterproof (to track swimming)
Jawbone Manually track food via app.  Water-resistant (Shower, not pool.)
WiThings Manually track food via partner apps.
Body Media Manually track food via app.  Water-resistant (Shower, not pool.)
Basis No food tracking via app.  Water-resistant (Shower, not pool.)


Be it with software or hardware, because I have monitored my exact nutritional intake, exercise, and feelings for periods of time in the past, I am now better able to identify triggers, ballpark nutritional value, and make better lifestyle choices, without being a slave to numbers.

When it comes to QS and practical uses of data, I see one ultimate goal in obsessively tracking data, at least for a short period of time. It’s not to be compulsive in relying on numbers to make better decisions or change our habits, but to help us better understand the patterns of choices we make, the habits we have, to help us develop the intuition to make better choices in the future.

#missionfigs #farmersmarket #wholefood

When a Calorie Isn’t a Calorie

#strawberry #forest #wholefood**Note: I am not a nutrition expert, just an enthusiast. For application of the ideas discussed in this post, please consult your nutritionist or doctor.


A calorie is not a calorie, as least, not the way we’ve come to know it. When I think back to health class in high school, I learned that a gram of protein, carbohydrate and fat have 4, 4, and 9 ‘calories’, respectively.  These numbers represent the average energy absorbed by my body when I digest one gram of each type of food.

From my many physics classes, I learned that one calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of on gram of water by one degree Celsius (and what we commonly refer to as a ‘calorie’ is actually a kilocalorie, or a thousand calories.)

So when it comes to taking care of myself, all I have to do to lose (or maintain) weight is to workout and diligently count calories and then I’ll be great, right?

Well, sort of. It’s true that what you put into your body plus what you burn is the ultimate equation for you to balance. In college, I lost a decent amount of weight by using my love of Excel and diving into the USDA nutrition database to record everything I ate, weighed or portioned out to measure exact calories when possible. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t eating too much—or too little. (Fortunately, now there are plenty of fitness tracking apps, such as MyFitnessPal.)

But what happens when what you think you’re putting in your body turns out to not be totally accurate?

#agaragar #whatsacalorie


New studies, and some not-so-new studies, have shed a bit more light onto what we think we’re consuming. The short of it is that the average calorie counts of 4 and 9 were developed by chemist Wilbur Olin Atwater in the 19th century. There is one key factor to notice here: average.

Any two foods may be digested in various ways, even if they look the same. In fact, just because a food has the same grams of fat, protein and carbohydrates, it may actually be harder to digest resulting in a lower net calorie count than a seemingly comparable food. (E.g., in a study by the USDA, they found that almonds actually result in 129 net calories as opposed to the 170 reported on the label.) Aside from natural composition, how the food is treated and processed will affect the net calorie count.

Here are just a few factors that affect the net calorie count of food:

  • Digestion efficiency (evolved by food or your genetic ancestors)
  • Traditional cooking method (boiling, baking)
  • Modern cooking method (microwave)
  • Preservatives or other food treatments
  • Level of digestion-assisting bacteria in your stomach


No. My take** on this is that I will do three things to better understand how to optimize my calories eaten + calories burned equation:

Although the traditional calorie counts aren’t necessarily accurate, I can still use them to roughly estimate what you’re eating – and helps me have a better way to compare the potential “goodness” of various types of foods.

Clearly, cooking breaks food down to make it more easily digestible. Similarly, the more processed a food, the less energy that needs to be expended by my body in digestion, potentially resulting in higher actual net calorie count than expected.

Because each person may digest food differently, it’s important to be constantly learning and improving my relationship with food. What works best for my body? How do certain foods make me feel? What kind of energy do they give me?

Ultimately, it’s about feeling as healthy and happy as possible—and that means being true to my “eating self.”

#rainbow #carrots #wholefood


If you’d like to read more, below are some studies and articles I suggest you explore.

Postprandial Energy Expenditure in Whole-Food and Processed-Food Meals: Implications for Daily Energy Expenditure. Sadie B. Barr and Jonathan C. Wright in Food & Nutrition Research, Vol. 54; 2010.

Discrepancy between the Atwater Factor Predicted and Empirically Measured Energy Values of Almonds in Human Diets. Janet A. Novotny, Sarah K. Gebauer and David J. Baer in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 96, No. 2, pages 296-301; August 1, 2012.

The Hidden Truth About Calories, Scientific American, August 2012.

Zucchini ‘Pasta’ with a Romesco-esque Sauce

Zucchini "Angel Hair Pasta" with Roasted Red Pepper & Cashew Sauce (Romesco Inspired)
It’s important to me that anyone who comes to my house feels comfortable and well-fed. I’ve several friends with serious dietary issues related to wheat and dairy, and many who are vegan. I’m a fan of making my own pasta, but often, these friends can feel left out. This dish, a zucchini ‘pasta’ with ‘creamy’ roasted red pepper sauce, provides an easy substitute that keeps every type of eater included, even those that dislike the “slimy texture” of or have other complaints about zucchini (a.k.a. courgettes.)

Note: I have ordered the ‘pasta’ recipe first for purposes of the image flow on the blog, but when executing this dish, it’s better to make the sauce ahead of the zucchini ‘pasta’.

Using a mandoline to make zucchini "pasta" significantly reduces time. However, these noodles can be hand cut in a variety of shapes and sizes by hand.

Serves 6. Prep time: 5-10 min Cook Time: 5-10 min
Zucchini’s mild flavor and texture make it a fantastic substitute for pasta. I recommend using a mandoline if you like finer cuts of pasta such as angel hair or fettuccine–or just want to save time. Note: the thicker the cut, the less your mind will be “tricked” into thinking it’s pasta. (It will never be fooled fully, FYI.) Regardless, if you have serious food restrictions or are just trying to reduce your carb intake, these noodles make a great dish that can be paired with any of your favorite sauces, including the one below.

6 large zucchini
3 tbsp olive oil
dash of salt
pinch of pepper

Fry pan

DIRECTIONS: Peel the zucchini and, using a cross-slicing mandoline, cut into angel hair sized pasta (or size of your choice.) Heat a pan to medium heat and add olive oil. Add pasta, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss until zucchini frequently for 3-5 minutes. (Tongs are useful for this step.) Once the zucchini is slightly limp, like a regular wheat-based noodle, remove from the heat. (Then, toss with warm sauce of choice.)

Zucchini pasta with romesco-eque sauce. Sometimes, the sauce is the star of my meal. For those occasions, I like to serve this dish in a bowl--almost like a curry.
Sometimes, the sauce is the star of my meal. For those occasions, I like to serve this dish in a bowl–almost like a curry.

Serves 6. Prep time: 30 min Cook Time: 30 min
A take on a classic Romesco sauce, I replaced the almonds and hazelnuts with cashews for a softer taste that places more emphasis on the roasted red peppers. I also add thyme blossoms for a subtle note.

6 vine ripe tomatoes (medium in size)
3 red bell peppers
1 bulb roasted garlic
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 bay leaves (fresh or dry)
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp chili powder (paprika or cayenne, depending on your spice tolerance)
4 tbsp fresh thyme blossoms (or fresh thyme leaves)
sea salt
ground black pepper

Large pot for boiling water
Sauce pot
Oven with broiler setting (or grill)

DIRECTIONS: The steps you will take are to (1) roast the garlic (2) roast the peppers (3) peel the tomatoes (4) simmer the sauce (5) puree the sauce and (6) toss with prepared zucchini pasta and garnish. Some steps overlap others, so read ahead to save time.

(1) Put the small saucepan over a low heat with 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and the entire bulb of garlic, peeled. Stir occasionally until a light golden color and soft in texture. (Quick way to do this, cut off the bottom of the bulb, place in a large container and shake vigorously for 30-40 seconds.) You can keep the garlic cooking while you prepare the peppers and tomatoes.

(2) Turn on your broiler to medium-high heat. Place the red bell peppers on the highest rack, closest to your broiler. Turn every 2-3 minutes, until you can see that the skin has bubbled up and darkened. Place immediately into a sealed container (the steam helps the skin separate from the flesh of the peppers) and let cool. While the peppers are cooling, complete step 3: peeling the tomatoes. Once you’re done with the tomatoes, the peppers should be cool. You can then, remove the top, seeds, and skin of the pepper with your hands (easiest). Dice and set aside.

(3) To skin the tomatoes, lightly cut (score) an “x” at the bottom of each tomato. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have a large bowl of ice water ready. Drop each tomato into the boiling water for about 30-45 seconds, then remove and quickly plunge into the ice water. You should see the skin of the tomato curling back from the place where you made the “x”. Peel off the skin and remove the base of the stem. Dice and set aside.

(4) In the same pot as the garlic, remove all but 4 cloves of garlic and set aside for later use. Add the diced tomatoes, diced roasted red peppers, 3 bay leaves, 1 sprig of rosemary, a dash of salt, and a pinch of pepper. Simmer for approximately 15 minutes.

(5) Remove rosemary & bay leaves from the simmering mixture, adding the remaining mix to your blender, along with the cashews and chili powder. Puree on high until it becomes silky in texture. Add additional salt, pepper, and olive oil to taste.

(5) Toss with the prepared zucchini ‘pasta’ and garnish with thyme blossoms and roasted garlic. Alternatively, you can store the sauce in a sealed container in your fridge for up to a week, or freeze if you’re truly planning ahead.
In springtime, and sometimes through the summer, my thyme plant often blooms. The flowers have a subtle taste.

In springtime, and sometimes through the summer, my thyme plant blooms.
The flowers have a subtle taste.