Thursday, October 18, 2012

Do You Know Your Numbers?

The first step in being in control of your health is understanding some basic numbers that indicate how well your body functions. One way to get this reading is participating in a biometric screening and it's something my company has been offering employees the opportunity to do for free.

What exactly is biometric screening? By my company's standards, it's a blood test combined with a blood pressure reading and waist circumference measurement. The results of these tests are combined to measure important medical factors that contribute to our overall health. Cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels are all important indicators of your risk for serious health issues like hypertension, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and others. Since every one of these diseases is represented in my family history, biometric testing is a great way to learn more about my risk at this point in my life.
The chart below lists the targets my company has set to be at a sufficient level of health to qualify for a discount.

If I meet at least three of these measures, I can receive a health insurance discount for each pay period. My company has pretty good benefits but I still contribute a portion of the cost every paycheck, so I'll take a discount anywhere I can get it.

I went for my test yesterday, which required 12 hours of fasting and LOTS of water. I learned the hard way with a prior test attempt that if I don't really load up on water it's really hard to get blood out of me. There was a screening set up at my office earlier this year that I attempted but scrapped when they couldn't get a blood draw. What a nightmare.

Anyway, the vendor that does the testing for my company has an office 5 minutes from my work so I went there. I had to pee like a racehorse most of the morning, but they were finally able to get a blood draw. I'll get those results in a couple of weeks. Two of the measures I got to see right away -- my blood pressure and waist circumference. Let's just politely say I knew I wasn't going to hit one of those two, but the other one surprised me.

It's never any fun when you have to sign a blood pressure warning before you leave the screening office....

The testing process is to take your blood pressure three times and use the lowest number. Two of my readings were in the Stage 1 Hypertension range. The final one was still Pre-hypertension. Definitely NOT good.

I'd like to tell myself the readings are all because I was nervous about the blood draw and my anxiety raised my blood pressure during the testing. But I also know I'm carrying too much weight, I have more stress in my life than I should and my diet could use improvement. If I'm honest, I'm not surprised -- now I need to do something about it.

Once I have my full test results, I'm scheduling an appointment with a doctor to figure out how to regain control of my health because it's not too late to do that. I have a whole lot of life in front of me and I intend to live it as well as possible.

If YOU don't know what your numbers are, find out. It's the first step in being healthier in a way that really matters.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Kitchen Adventures: Is There Such A Thing As A Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookie?

In my ongoing quest to be eat better, I'm always looking for a great new recipe for something sweet that won't destroy my good snacking habits (that's what the occasional restaurant dessert is for...). So when I saw a post about healthy chocolate chip cookies in People magazine online authored by Harley Pasternak, I took notice.

Just who is Harley Pasternak and why should you care about his cookie recipe? Harley is a personal trainer who made Halle Berry into Catwoman. Not that I aspire to be Catwoman OR look like Halle Berry, but clearly the guy knows something about health and fitness. What did I have to lose but some extra pounds?

Harley Pasternak believes you can make a chocolate chip cookie using these ingredients -- and ONLY these ingredients.

Oh wait, I missed one. You need a little of THIS too....

I was skeptical. I get the concept. Oats are a healthier substitute for flour.  Egg whites take the place of whole eggs. The maple syrup, banana and  minimal amount of chips add sweetness. The peanut butter helps glue it all together. It all makes sense. But does it work?

Yes -- and no.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will mention I didn't follow the recipe to the letter. It called for steel cut oats, but the steel cut oats in my grocery store didn't look all that different than the tried and true Quaker Oats (which were cheaper). Is that little substitution the reason my batter seemed a little runny?

I personally don't think so, but feel free to tell me otherwise. Anyway, I thought maybe I just hadn't mixed it thoroughly enough, or allowed the oats to absorb enough of the liquid. So I let it rest for a bit, stirred again and then put in the chocolate chips. Still runny, although it did taste OK. But NO WAY was this going to form cookies that would keep from running amok on my cookie sheet.

Then I remembered a quote from the article that mentioned this basic batter could be used for muffins, breads, etc. So I pulled out my muffin tin and sprayed it with a little cooking oil before I loaded up the cups with my "cookie" mixture.

They actually turned out quite nicely this way and they honestly tasted good!  Do be sure you like peanut butter and banana a lot before you make these, because those flavors are pronounced in the final product.

I would definitely not make these often, but I'm going to whip up a batch before my next work trip because they would make an awesome and filling snack on the go while I'm running through airports with no time to eat. They will also keep for a few days in a plastic container, but don't wait too long to eat them. The banana starts to get a little funky if you wait too long.

My advice? If you really want a CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE, make it the old fashioned way and eat a smaller portion. Moderation is always a winning health strategy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In Case Of Emergency

To comply with the laws of the great City of Los Angeles, my building holds emergency preparedness training once a year, along with a mandatory fire drill. I missed the training last year because of work travel but made a point to attend this year.

I'm sure glad I did because I learned A LOT.

Here are some cool things you should know about surviving a fire or earthquake if you're in a tall building.

  • My place is built with a firewall structure. It means fire could burn against the walls of my apartment for 30 minutes without penetrating through to the other side. That gives me at least 30 minutes to get the heck out of dodge in case of a fire -- good news! Especially since the closest fire station is a couple of blocks away and they can be here in 5 minutes.
  • When you evacuate your unit, close the door. It helps keep the fire from spreading.
  • Smoke is the enemy. I knew it could cause you breathing problems, but didn't think about the fact that it can blind you and disorient you as you're trying to get out. That's also why it's important to stay low to the ground where there is fresh air.
  • AVOID THE ELEVATOR AT ALL COSTS. When the building fire alarm goes off, the elevators are programmed to automatically descend to the ground floor. Don't die waiting for the elevator to arrive -- it isn't coming!
  • If you're in an elevator when the emergency happens, it won't suddenly fall down like it does in the movies. Elevators are counterbalanced with a weight to keep them from dropping. If they do anything, they're likely to rise to the roof. 
  • If your emergency is an earthquake, find a table or desk and get under it. Then hold on to the legs. If the furniture starts "traveling" around the room, you'll go with it and remain protected from falling debris.
  • Even though your first reaction might be to evacuate your building after an earthquake, you might be safer inside. Falling debris can injure or kill you, so if you do head outside get well clear of the building and any trees, utility poles, signs or other objects that could fall.
  • Having an earthquake kit is important in case you can't evacuate and it should last you at least 3 days. But what happens if you're stuck longer and start running out of water? Check out these creative sources for additional water!
    • Check your freezer for thawed ice, etc.
    • Fruits have lots of water. A banana has as much water as a full glass!
    • Canned foods are usually packed in water.
    • If all else fails, the TOILET TANK contains drinkable water -- as long as you don't use any kind of drop in cleaning tables.

In addition to all the great safety info, I also found out my building was built the same year I was born! That means it has lasted a long time already, so with a little additional preparation I'm feeling pretty good about avoiding disaster.

Now to stock up on water so I don't end up drinking from the toilet....

Monday, October 8, 2012

Kitchen Adventures: Interpreting Pinterest Recipes

One of the reasons I joined Pinterest was to expand my recipe box. There are lots of other places to find recipes online, but I've found Pinterest is better for a few reasons.

First, I'm a visual person. I want to see what my food is going to look like and everything on Pinterest starts with a photo. Second, most of the recipes are posted by home cooks like me so they typically have few ingredients and minimal prep time. Nothing against Martha Stewart, but not all my food needs to look like it could be served in a restaurant, especially when I'm trying to manage it after a long work day. Third, Pinterest lets you see what your friends are trying and they will give you an honest review of a recipe.

As great as Pinterest is in many ways, it has some pitfalls. It's very easy for the average person to post a recipe from their blog. Unfortunately, not every blogger knows how to write a usable recipe. And in some cases, you need to read between the lines a bit to know what you're getting.

One of my first Pinterest "fails" was the 3 Meat Pizza Casserole recipe. The link makes it look pretty tasty and unassuming.

But if you follow the recipe to the letter, it looks more like this:

While it tasted great, It's seriously an ENORMOUS amount of food. It was a full inch taller than the casserole dish. It took over a week of eating it twice a day to get rid of the leftovers. What did I learn from my experience with this recipe? When the author says things like "this would make a great dish for a graduation party" and "My oldest boy took one look at it-it did not make the 5 minutes" you should ONLY be using the recipe if you are preparing to feed an entire hockey team. Last time I checked, there are two people in my house and while we both love our hockey, this was too much for us. Cut the ingredients in half and you'd have something workable for a normal family meal.

This evening's Pinterest adventure was Sweet And Spicy Bacon Chicken. The list of ingredients was pretty simple.

4 chicken breasts cut in thirds (12 pieces)
Bacon slices
salt and pepper to taste
garlic powder
chili powder
brown sugar
Unfortunately that's about ALL the recipe told you. No amounts on the garlic powder, chili powder or brown sugar. Not such a big deal in the case of the brown sugar since you're just using it to coat the chicken like a breading. BIG ISSUE with the garlic and chili powder since the taste of the dish is impacted by how much you use. 
Now some of you reading may be the kind of experienced cooks that intuitively can figure out how much of each you should use. I AM NOT. I'm all for tweaking a recipe to perfect it once you've tried it, but it's a little hard when you don't even know where to start, right?

I was using half the amount of chicken (lesson on portion control learned from the pizza casserole applied here!) so I used a tablespoon of garlic powder and a teaspoon of chili powder and hoped for the best. My two cut chicken breasts fit nicely in a 9x13 pan, but the the author of this recipe seems to think 4 breasts would fit and I couldn't see it happening. Is there some secret "Pack The Casserole Dish" contest out there I don't know about?

Anyway, the dish turned out just fine. It was much more sweet than spicy, so I may have needed more chili powder. Luckily everything tastes better with bacon. The funniest part of the evening was my boyfriend looking at his plate and saying "What is it?" In the romantic dining room lighting, he thought I was serving bacon wrapped hot dogs!

As you venture forth to search new recipes on Pinterest, be prepared for just about anything. Whatever you do, have fun in the kitchen -- and take lots of pictures!