Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Carrageenan: Danger in your Almond Milk?

I’ve been wary of the ingredient Carrageenan for a while. It is used as a thickener and stabilizer in a lot of foods especially in the health food industry in milk and non-dairy milks like almond milk, coconut milk, hemp milk and non-dairy and dairy ice creams. Something about it has always given me a bad vibe though it has been used in all these supposedly healthy health foods.
I started reading research studies about the negative impact on carrageenan on gut health. Alarming results showed that carrageenan has:

-carcinogenic properties
- causes intestinal damage
- is pro-inflammatory
- can cause damage to gut health and associated with digestion and gut issues

There is a lot of controversy on the studies. For one, it is hard to transfer the results from rats and mice to humans. The results on the rodents varied from study to study. And some studies used varying forms of carrageenan. Some used undegraded carrageenan (allowed to be used in food) and some with degraded (not allowed in food).
A couple of months ago, I predicted that we would start seeing “carrageenan free” labels on foods in a couple of years. Pretty soon the health concerns would be exposed and we would start to be more cognizant of putting this stuff in our body.
And as I was walking the aisles of Whole Foods the other day, I saw it. I saw it way way sooner than I had predicted. But there it was staring at me in the face “No Carrageenan” right above the “No High Fructose Corn Syrup”.

I hesitated to even blog about this, in fear of instilling frustration. “What? I thought I have been doing the healthy thing by switching to almond milk, by eating coconut ice cream. How do I know what to eat?” …and as a result throw up your hands and giving up efforts to healthy eating.
That is certainly not my intention. My intention is to encourage you to read ingredient labels. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, decide if you want to put a foreign substance in your body.
The food companies will always come out with new ingredients to stick in our food to make it last longer on the shelves, be more palatable, more addictive, and more attractive etc. It is impossible to keep up and research all of these ingredients. Stick to foods that are whole and unprocessed then you don’t need to worry about it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

When did food become the enemy?

"What if you never had to worry about food again? For many people, on many occasions, food is a hassle, especially when trying to eat well....There are problems with the current state of food." 
This is the hook for the new product Soylent that is trying to raise capital to come to market. I saw my friend Mindy  post  an appropriate "Oh helll NO." on her Facebook page with the link to the site. I honestly thought it was a joke or something from The Onion when I first saw the headline "Tens of Thousands of People Want to Stop Eating Real Food."
When did we get to the point where food is the enemy? Have we gone so far off the deep end that we want to just drink our calories from a powder made in a factory to enable us to "function" everyday?
As I was writing this, I found myself criticizing the ingredients vs. the claims (Sucralose aka Splenda aka Poison, which alters gut microflora therefore not going to help you with weight loss/digestion etc... Really? That is in it and they are claiming WHAT?), criticizing the founders (no nutrition credentials among any of them... again Really?) , but then I realized that isn't the point. Many products hit the shelves everyday with junk ingredients that provide false health claims.
The point is that food is so much more than carbohydrates, protein and fat. It is even way beyond micronutrients of vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, organic acids and phytonutrients. 
 Food is nourishment to the mind, body and soul. Food is cultural. Food is something to be savored and celebrated. Food brings people together. It is the experience. It is the people with whom you are eating, with whom you are laughing. 
Savor the taste. Savor the moment. Savor the beauty. Savor the experience. And let us not forget that if we celebrate eating for all that it is, it will bring us more health, vitality and strength than any product trying to displace such a sacred thing. 
A memorable meal savored with my dearest friend, Lindsey after Ironman World Championships in Kona.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Kale. Is there really a dark side?

It is no secret I am a kale lover.

So when I saw the New York Times article ( and everyone posting about it on Facebook about the dark side of kale, was I surprised? No. Cruciferous vegetables (collards, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, etc.) provide HUGE health benefits, but also can take a toll on our thyroid if not consumed properly due to goitergenic properties.
Should you stop eating kale? Absolutely not. These articles are good to educate on the possible detrimental consequences of too much kale, but the last thing we want is to send people into a frenzy over eating a good thing. We have much bigger fish to fry on the nutrition scene than eating too much kale.
However, I love when articles start nutrition conversations. In a time of nutrition information overload especially focused on cleanses, detoxing, juicing, weight loss and diets as we enter into 2014 and set New Year's resolutions, it can be confusing as to what do listen to and what to do. The last article most of us expected to read was that Kale the "Breakout vegetable of 2013" was dangerous. 

Here are my 3 tips when consuming cruciferous vegetables:

1. Be curious when you food shop. Variety is the Key.
 Go to the grocery store or farmers' market and take a minute to look at vegetables that you have never tried before rather than going straight to your staple vegetable. Look at what is in season, look at what has the most vibrant energy. Instead of always reaching for the kale, put dandelion greens (they are bitter, so maybe mix with a more mild green like romaine) red lettuce or swiss chard in your cart. But keep rotating these foods. Because the next article you read will be about the dangers of oxalates in your beloved swiss chard. The key here is variety. Mix it up. Don't be a creature of habit.
Eating with the seasons is a great way to mix up what you eat. You get the most bang for your nutrition buck when you eat the foods that are in season. You will live more in sync with nature's and your body's natural cycles. Your body will thank you.

2. Cook your Cruciferous Vegetables
The raw food movement instilled the thought that raw is better. To keep all of the vitamins and minerals in tact, yes raw is better. However, f you are eating a lot of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, mustard greens, bok choy, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, arugula), don't eat them all raw. Sure, you can still eat some raw, but mix it up and steam, roast, and sauté some of your servings. This will decrease the goitergenic properties that lead to thyroid issues.

3. Sprinkle with Sea Vegetables
 Iodine deficiency can be problematic for the thyroid. Solution: eat more sea vegetables. Like seaweed? Yeah, like seaweed. The next question: how the heck am I going to eat seaweed with my meals without eating sushi everyday? My favorite way is sprinkling a dash of kelp or sea vegetables on my salads or steamed vegetables. My favorite brand is Maine Coast Sea Vegetables. My clients are all familiar with sprinkling sea vegetables on food, not just to help with the thyroid, but as a good source of iron, and trace minerals. It is good to incorporate a natural source of iodine if you make a shift away from processed food and if you switch to a non-iodized salt like pink himalayan sea salt or celtic sea salt. 
So keep eating your kale.  Don't get overwhelmed with all the different nutrition information out there. Eat a varied diet and stick to unprocessed food. Over doing kale is a whole heck of a lot better than eating that twinkie. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Pecan Maca Nut Butter

There are many different nut butters on the shelves of the grocery stores, but I love making my own because you can nutritionally supercharge your nut butter.

Here is a quick and easy recipe for Pecan Maca Nut Butter:

4 cups raw pecans
2 cups cashews
1 tbsp maca powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
sea salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a Vitamix or food processor and blend until smooth and creamy.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Homemade Coconut Yogurt

On my way back from Kona, I stopped in Los Angeles to spend some more time with Lindsey and see her mom.  I could never live in LA, but I absolutely love visiting and love the food. We went on a bit of a post Ironman food tour and hit up some of my favorite spots. I can't go to LA without going to Erewhon. I might be one of the only people who equates a grocery store to my mecca, but it is absolutely amazing. I got some really good stuff there, but one thing in particular I had never seen at a health store...Real Coconut Yogurt. Not the ultra processed coconut yogurt that is filled with junk that sits on the shelves around here, but real coconut yogurt. 3 ingredients. Coconut meat, coconut kefir, coconut water. I was determined to recreate this. Yogurt is great for digestive health, but dairy is very inflammatory and hard to digest. Most yogurt on the shelves aren't from grass fed cows. And most yogurts are filled with preservatives, sugars, artificial sugars and just general junk.. even the dairy-free kinds.
After googling some recipes, I realized there were several different ways to make it. Kefir grains, kefir powder, probiotic capsules. By chance, I follow someone on Instagram who posted her homemade coconut yogurt that very day. I asked her what she used and she sent me this link:
So I set off to Whole Foods and bought my coconuts. My plan was to just buy some probiotic capsules as mentioned in this recipe, but while in the supplement refrigerated section, I found coconut kefir in coconut water. PERFECT!

Once I got home, getting the coconuts open was a bit of a challenge. 

Hatcheting away with a cleaver finally broke the top off coconut. And yes, I still have all my fingers.

I drank the coconut water inside the coconut. And took a spoon and scraped out all the coconut meat. 

Homemade Nourishing Coconut Yogurt:
16 oz of young thai coconut meat (or 2 coconuts worth)
1 cup of Inner-Eco Fresh Harvested Coconut Water Dairy-Free Probiotic Kefir

(If you can't find the Inner Eco, then use 1 cup coconut water and dump the contents of 2 capsules of probiotics. You can use the coconut water from inside the coconut or a raw coconut water like Harmless Harvest). 

Blend together until smooth. 

Let it sit for 10-12 hours in a glass jar or bowl on a counter covered with a cheese cloth.

Makes about 2 cups. 
Refrigerate and Enjoy!

I topped mine with raw cacao beans and banana. But you could top with any fruit, chia seeds, hemp seeds, cacao nibs, dried fruit, granola, nuts, etc. 

I am on a mission to find frozen young thai coconut meat. I love the idea of opening and scraping a coconut for fresh meat, but the process is a bit time consuming. Having coconut yogurt on hand while training will be great, but I won't have as much time to hatchet away at coconuts once everything starts up again. I heard Exotic Superfoods has a good one, but they aren't in the Boston area. So if anyone knows where to buy Frozen Raw Young Thai Coconut meat in the Boston area, please let me know!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ironman World Championships- Kona Race Report

Around this time last year, a co-worker at the time and friend Ryan hung up a piece of paper that said “Cool $hit I want to do.” He looked at me and said “Kate, I feel like you have a lot of cool things you want to do.” Most people were writing things like Sky Diving, traveling to cool places, etc. I took the pen and wrote down “Run down Ali’i Drive.” “That’s it?” “Yeah, for right now... that’s it.”
Fast forward to Mont Tremblant in August, I was given that opportunity when I qualified and got my Kona spot. A dream that even a year ago seemed so distant. I don't have a background in any of the 3 disciplines and it has taken a lot of heart, passion and hard work to punch my ticket to the big island.  The road from Ironman Mont Tremblant to Kona was definitely not all rainbows and butterflies. It was probably one of the most mentally challenging training blocks I have experienced. My body was tired, mentally I was tired and most of my training peeps were in their off-season and had dialed back the training big time. I had a lot of solo training, though I was extremely fortunate to have several people step up to the plate and train with me. As much as I hate to admit it, I hit some bad mental lows. There was a 5 hour solo ride where I pulled over to pee and just sat leaning up against a tree and cried. I had moments of crying in the pool, crying on the trainer. As much as I absolutely love the training and the journey, I was bound to hit some bumps in the road after a long season. Though these rough times made me mentally stronger.
As I was finishing off my final training sessions before getting on that plane, I just felt like my legs didn’t have the snap. It was the first time I felt like I was going into doing an Ironman not fully feeling my best. But it was Kona and I was beyond thrilled that I was going to be toeing the line with the best in the world.
I arrived to Kona on the Tuesday before the race. I spent the next couple of days picking up my bike from Tribike Transport, registering, and doing some last final training sessions with Brigitte, Tara, Steve, Joe and Molly. I was so happy to have some QT2 people to train and hang out with. The first practice swim was unforgettable. The whole environment was incredible. Getting in that water and just realizing I was in Kona was so surreal. Everything I had watched on TV for years was right in front of me. The water was clear and gorgeous. My body was happy to be in the warm weather and warm water. I was starting to feel like I could do this thing.

At the QT2 Breakfast, Cait Snow had warned all of us newbies that bike check-in was quite the experience. I didn’t appreciate quite what she meant until I got down to the pier. There were regular people just spectating the whole event. Bike vendors had set up camp and were giving out t-shirts to athletes who were riding their brand of bike. I walked through the crowd and arrived at check-in and it was like walking the red carpet. Journalists and vendors were camped out with clip boards taking counts of the brand of  bike, helmet, saddle, bike components, and wheels that the athletes were riding.  People were taking pictures, and then there were just regular people not in the industry there just to watch the whole brigade. 

I got to the pier and had my own volunteer to walk me through the whole bike check-in and bike/run bag drop off. It was sinking in that I was going to be doing an Ironman the next day.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing with my feet up.

 We had an early dinner and was in bed early. Like at Mont Tremblant, I was very grateful that I was able to sleep the whole week leading up to the race and the night before the race. Hopefully this will be the new trend for future races.

As we were driving to drop me off, I realized I forgot my Special Needs bags. These are the bags that are at the half way point on the course and are filled with spare tubes, CO2, extra fuel and electrolytes. How could I forget them?!  Debating whether or not I really needed them, I decided I was setting myself up for disaster if I didn’t have them. We turned around and my amazing little sherpa Lindsey ran back in to get them for me. Luckily, we had left plenty of time to get to the start and I was doing okay with time. 
I went to get body marked. They had the tattoo numbers, which I liked, but thought it was more efficient having the numbers in our race packet like at Tremblant, rather than having volunteers mark us in the morning. I weighed in and then went to my bike to do some finishing touches. I made small talk with other athletes as helicopters were hovering overhead. The chef Gordon Ramsay walked by, but I was more star struck by Andy Potts walking by, who had pulled out of the race that morning due to injury.
As I got in to the water, NBC cameras and crew men surrounded us. I looked around at all of the people lined up on the pier and on the shoreline. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was real, I was beginning to live my dream.
The countdown started and I was surprisingly pretty relaxed. I had a small pit in my stomach, but I truly was going into the day with very little expectations other than to race smart and leave everything out on the course and to soak up the experience. The cannon blasted and we were off. I started to swim and felt really good in the water. I had coach Jen’s voice in my head reminding me on good form and technique. I was able to draft and had moments of clear water. I was knocked around very little and was very happy to actually swim rather than battle other athletes unlike a lot of mass starts. I got excited as the big blow up power bar perform got closer. I started to hear Mike Reilly’s voice commenting on the race. I ran out of the water and saw a 1:07:xx. I was thrilled. I was expecting around 5-6 minutes slower than Tremblant because it was a non-wetsuit swim, but it was only 2.5 minutes slower. With the wave group start at Tremblant, I really didn’t have any drafting, but here I was able to use the mass start to my advantage. By the time I ran over the mat, the official swim time was 1:08:00.  
I grabbed my bag and was off to the changing tent. I grabbed my stuff and was off. I looked and realized I was missing my second container of salt stick electrolytes. Shoot. I turned around and tried to find the volunteer with my T1 bag. I couldn’t find her. I couldn’t find my bag. Maybe I had thrown it out with the Ziploc bag that was holding my bars and electrolytes together. I use the Ziploc to prevent exactly this from happening, but clearly it didn't work. I'm usually in the women's tent by with very few other women, but this was the World Championships, so not the case. I quickly went through the trash. I couldn’t find it. Well, I am going to need to race with out them. I had some in special needs, so I could get some more then. I started to do the math and realized that I had enough in my one container to get me through the bike. As I started to ride, my heart rate was high. I tried to get it down and not get caught up in everyone flying by me and focused on my hydration. I needed to make sure I didn’t get distracted by all of the surrounding excitement and get 4 bottles down that hour. It was pretty easy as I had decided to make the switch and race with Skratch Labs. (For more on this see this post.)  As I climbed up Palani,  I saw my mom, dad and Lindsey cheering for me. It was such a great energy boost as I was about to head out of town. I settled into riding and my heart rate finally settled in where I wanted it. I was feeling good and riding well. All of a sudden two guys crashed right in front of me. They both went down and were sprawled across the road. I luckily was able to swerve around the crash. About 10 miles later, I was riding and I had been good about avoiding all of the dropped bottles, but missed seeing one and ran right over it. Luckily I was able to stay upright and continued on. I swear Pele was looking over me, because I had escaped two incidents that could have been disaster. A couple miles down the road, my wheel started making noises and rubbing. Uh oh,  I always get nervous when things with my bike go awry. I decided to pull over, get off my bike and try to fix it. Luckily it was just my brake that must have been jolted from running over the water bottle. I fixed it and was on my way. I continued to ride and was just in awe and full of gratitude that I was actually there, riding through the lava fields. The ride out to Hawi was pretty uneventful. I took in the gorgeous views of the ocean. Seeing the leaders of the race go by and the tv cameras and motorcycles that followed them was a bit surreal.  The return trip is where I started to experience the heat and winds. The winds were picking up by the minute. There were crosswinds and head winds. I was pushed across the road a couple of times, but nothing too bad. Later after I finished, I heard the winds were pretty mild compared to years past. I tried not to think of the wind and just continued to pedal. My focus was getting my nutrition in, keeping my cadence, power and heart rate where I wanted them. I was trying not to focus on pace as it was depressing to see the average pace decrease the more the winds picked up. At mile 94, my cadence and power went out, but by that point, I knew I just had to keep it steady for the next 18 miles. I was so happy to start to recognize the roads again and get back into town. I handed off my bike and was into the changing tent for a quick transition and then was off. My legs felt ok. My pace was slower than normal, but I expected that. I just tried to keep my heart rate where I wanted it. I usually can push a bit higher, but was trying to be somewhat conservative knowing that the lava fields had  a tendency to cause people to blow up especially around the energy lab. Running down Ali’i past Lava Java, I saw my parents and Lindsey and other QT2 supporters. As I went through the aid stations, my main objective was to get perform and water in me, take sponges and ice to do my best to keep cool. I continued to run and was feeling the effects of Tremblant lingering in my legs. I tried not to get caught up in my pace that was slowing and just try to keep my heart rate steady and where I wanted it to be. My walks through the aid station grew a bit slower and longer, but I refused to walk other than that. I was going to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I started on the coke around mile 12. Nothing had tasted so good. I was anticipating the turn to the energy lab… where was it? It felt like it took forever to get there. I was happy to finally make the turn and even happier to make the turn around. I was heading home. Finally. The sun sets at 6 pm in Kona and it gets dark really quickly. They were handing out the glow sticks and I was depressed to see them, so I refused the first time. The second hand out was mandatory. I put it around my neck and continued on. At this point, my body was really ready to stop. My chafing was so bad that when I peed it was burning. My feet were hurting. But the thought of getting to Ali’i kept me going. As I counted down the miles, I just kept telling myself I had run those amount of miles hundreds of times before and if I could do it then, I sure as hell could do it now. I was running near a guy who lived on the island. The locals were going crazy cheering for him. I pretended like they were cheering for me. I took that energy boost and soared on. As I took the right on Ali’i Drive, I started to tear up. This was it. This is what I had dreamed of. The spectators were cheering, I heard Mike Reilly’s voice grow louder. I saw Lindsey and my parents. I was determined to finally hear Mike Reilly say “Kathryn Weiler You are an Ironman.” As I crossed the line, a guy was wobbling and fell over into the arms of two volunteers. I was nervous he was going to fall into me. I swung around him and saw myself cross on the big screen overhead. I saw the clock 11:45:15. Though not even close to a PR, I was so so happy to see an 11 in that time. It was better than I had expected going into that day.  There I was, living my dream. I was officially a qualified finisher of the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.  And of course, as I later told Mike Reilly when I happened to be sitting next to him at the bar a couple days later, I have yet to hear him say my name as I cross the line. It is a delusional blackout that happens every time.
The rest of the night was spent eating a great meal at Lava Java, then hanging out watching the finishers to midnight. For years, I have watched the Kona finish line party in the wee hours of the morning. Each year saying that I will be there someday. It was surreal.  I was actually there this time. 

And let me tell you, the fire in my belly has been ignited, I am going to do everything in my power to get back to Kona. And where I gave everything I had on that day, I know I can do a heck of a lot better on that course. And I have a burning desire to go back and do just that.

A huge thank you to Tim Snow and QT2Systems. They have helped me accomplish a dream that only several years ago seemed ridiculously unrealistic for me.  Thank you to my QT2 Teammates who continually inspire me. I am so honored to be on a team of such supportive and talented athletes. Seeing you guys absolutely crush it at Kona inspires and motivates me even more. Thank you to everyone back home for all the love, texts, tweets, Facebook messages and calls. The outpouring support meant the world to me. And knowing you all were tracking me back home, helped me battle through the lava fields.  To Jen for continually help me grow as a swimmer, to Pam for the friendship and on going hospitality at the lake especially this time around when I would show up at her house at off hours because I had a lot of solo swims to do. To Susan at Concord Sports Massage for always believing in me and keeping my body in top condition.
 To my siblings, Michael and Meghan who were sending me lots of love and positive energy from back home. And finally thank you to my Mom, Dad and Lindsey. Having you on the Big Island supporting me and helping me conquer my dream meant the world to me.  I can’t thank you enough. I love you. 

My love for Skratch- Racing an Ironman with Skratch Labs Hydration

I usually always race with Powerbar Perform. It is what is on the course and for the sake of ease, I use it. I don't love it, but I do better with it than I did with Gatorade, so I can't complain too much.
I do love Skratch Labs though. I fell in love with it several years ago when it came to the market originally as "Secret Drink Mix." The history of the drink is interesting. The cyclists in the Tour de France were all getting"gut rot" from their sport drink sponsors. Sports Physiologist, Allen Lim, created an all natural, high electrolyte sports drink with lower carbohydrate percentage for optimal absorption. End result, Gut Rot problem solved.

After Ironman Mont Tremblant, I had a call with Jon from Skratch who had raced with it during an Ironman to discuss the feasibility of doing it. When I calculated my adjusted fluid intake for Kona and realized I would need to be taking in 4 bottles an hour, I decided my gut was going to be much happier with Skratch than with Perform.

Jon sent me the new Skratch Hyper that hasn't hit the market to try out as well. I tried it out while training and loved it.

Race Morning I sipped on a bottle of the Hyper. It is a lot of electrolytes and it was absolutely perfect for a hot weather race like Kona. I have a high sweat rate, so I always have to be cognizant of taking in enough fluid and electrolytes.
 I had a bottle of concentrated Skratch on my bike and in my aero bottle and on the hydration tail, I had regular bottles of Skratch to get me through to the first aid station.
For the concentrated bottle, I had a 24 oz bottle and filled it with enough scoops for 12 bottles. And filled the rest with water. I then took a sharpie and made 2 oz marks up the bottle. At each aid station I would take a bottle of water, fill my aero bottle and squeeze 2 oz of the concentrated Skratch.
As I was riding through the lava fields, I was so happy I had decided to hydrate with Skratch. It went down much easier and I was able to hit my hydration target, which I don't think I would have been able to accomplish without some sort of gut rot.