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Cool Ways to Keep Frozen Food Fresh

urlI call my freezer “food purgatory.” During my periodic endeavors to both save money and eat a little healthier, I buy food in bulk, repackage it into cute little containers, and then tuck it away in my freezer to use … sometime.

It rarely works. By the time I remember to actually eat all of this stuff, it either has freezer burn or doesn’t defrost properly. At this point, I’ve pretty much given up on using my freezer to store anything but frozen yogurt, so I wonder—what am I doing wrong?

What You Freeze …
Freezing works by stopping the bacterial action in food and preventing spoilage. But it can also alter the texture and physical structure of some foods. In general, anything with high water content does not freeze well, because water freezes at a different temperature from the other molecules, and expands when it freezes. Dairy and eggs don’t do very well either.

Here’s a full list of foods you want to think twice about freezing. You might think you’re being economical by saving them for later, but you’ll actually be better off just buying them in smaller amounts.

  • Milk, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, and gravy will separate. You can try to save them by stirring them while defrosting, but they won’t return to their pre-frozen consistency.
  • Cheese will get crumbly.
  • Egg yolks don’t freeze well, and cooked eggs will become rubbery. But you can freeze egg whites by placing them in ice cube trays and defrosting them as needed. They’ll be good enough to use for baking, but probably not very good to eat, as freezing will take away the flavor.
  • Raw vegetables will become pithy, mealy, and limp upon defrosting.

There are, however, plenty of foods that do work in the freezer, and some even benefit from a little chill.

  • I love freezing fruit for a healthy snack. Bananas, grapes, peaches, and berries all freeze extremely well. You can defrost them, or suck on them while frozen for a treat that’s better than candy.
  • Though other dairy products don’t seem to like the cold so much, yogurt is a happy exception. I pop flavored yogurt containers (opt for blended varieties rather than fruit-on-the-bottom) into the freezer for some homemade frozen yogurt. It satisfies my sweet tooth and helps me meet my calcium needs.
  • Chocolate. If you’ve ever put a Milky Way or Snickers bar into the freezer, you know just what I’m talking about. These days, I go for dark chocolate and let a block or two melt in my mouth when I need my fix.
  • Leftovers are meant to be frozen. Anything that has been cooked usually freezes pretty well because the molecules are more stable. My mom’s spaghetti sauce, a tuna casserole, and homemade chicken stock are all staples in my freezer.

There are many more items that freeze well, of course, provided you package and store them properly. 

And How You Freeze It
Freezer burn is your enemy. It results when air reaches food and causes it to oxidize and dehydrate. Therefore, to prevent freezer burn, you need to make sure your food packaging is airtight.

Many people swear by vacuum packing to store food items, but I’m not a fan. My brother got me the equipment for Christmas one year, and none of the food I used it on was ever really the same; the meat and fish got slimy, the bread never re-inflated. These techniques have worked far better for me:

  • For bread and pastries, take them out of their original, porous packaging, and double-wrap them in Saran Wrap before placing them in a freezer bag. Storing loaves of bread vertically rather than horizontally keeps the temperature even within the loaf to prevent hard or damp areas, especially if you’re planning to freeze the bread for a long time. Surround baked goods with other foods as much as possible and place them in the middle of the freezer, rather than the bottom or top, to avoid uneven temperatures, which will keep your bread products fresher longer.
  • Meat, especially raw meat, needs to be packaged well because of the moisture it contains. In general, meats with higher fat content (like ground chuck) freeze better. Use the smallest container that will fit so that you leave as little room for air as possible. If you’re using a freezer bag, push all the air out before sealing. Freezing cooked meat with its own sauce or gravy is always best, since it coats the meat and prevents oxidation and dehydration. And, yes, you can refreeze meat if you’ve defrosted it in the refrigerator, without having to cook it first. Meat that’s been defrosted by other methods should be cooked before refreezing.
  • If you need to freeze vegetables, blanch or parboil them first. If you can, cook them completely first and store in some kind of sauce or casserole. And, as with all other food items, place them in an airtight container.

The Chef’s Secret
I’m not quite ready to give up on freezing; I just need to learn what works and what doesn’t. Sure, not everything freezes well, but a pre-cooked frozen meal is still a lifesaver when you’re just too busy to make a run to the grocery store. Also, having perfectly portioned meals ready-to-go in the freezer is healthy alternative to ordering pizza whenever you come home from work. Just choose the right foods and store them properly, and you’ll be surprised at just how useful that thing above your fridge is.

Originally published in 2010

Why We Kiss: The Science Of Smooching

url-1Pecking, smooching, Frenching, and playing tonsil-hockey—there are as many names for kissing as there are ways to do it. Whether we use it as an informal greeting or an intensely romantic gesture, kissing is one of those ingrained human behaviors that seems to defy explanation. Its many purposes—a blow and peck for good luck on dice, lips to ground after a rocky boat ride, kisses in the air to an acquaintance, and the long slow smooches of Hollywood—have different meanings yet are similar in nature. So why is it that we love to pucker up?

A Kiss Isn’t Just a Kiss

Philematologists, the scientists who study kissing, aren’t exactly sure why humans started locking lips in the first place. The most likely theory is that it stems from primate mothers passing along chewed food to their toothless babies. The lip-to-lip contact may have been passed on through evolution, not only as a necessary means of survival, but also as a general way to promote social bonding and as an expression of love.

But something’s obviously happened to kissing since the time of the chewed-food pass. Now, it’s believed that kissing helps transfer critical information, rather than just meat bits. The kissing we associate with romantic courtship may help us to choose a good mate, send chemical signals, and foster long-term relationships. All of this is important in evolution’s ultimate goal—successful procreation.

Kissing allows us to get close enough to a mate to assess essential characteristics about them, none of which we’re consciously processing. Part of this information exchange is most likely facilitated bypheromones, chemical signals that are passed between animals to help send messages. We know that animals use pheromones to alert their peers of things like mating, food sources, and danger, and researchers hypothesize that pheromones can play a role in human behavior as well. Although the vomeronasal organs, which are responsible for pheromone detection and brain function in animals, are thought to be vestigial and inactive in humans, research indicates we do communicate with chemicals.

The first study to indicate that chemical signals play a role in attraction was conducted by Claud Wedekind over a decade ago. Women sniffed the worn t-shirts of men and indicated which shirts smelled best to them. By comparing the DNA of the women and the men, researchers found that women didn’t just chose their favorite scent randomly. They preferred the scent of man whose major histocompatibility complex (MHC)—a series of genes involved in our immune system—was different from their own. Having a different MHC means less immune overlap and a better chance of healthy, robust offspring. Kissing may be a subtle way for women to assess the immune compatibility of a mate, before she invests too much time and energy in him. Perhaps a bad first kiss means more than first date jitters—it could also mean a real lack of chemistry.

Men Sloppy, Women Choosy

Behavioral research supports this biological reasoning. In 2007, researchers at University of Albany studied 1,041 college student and found significant differences in how males and females perceived kissing. Although common in courtship, females put more importance on kissing, and most would never have sex without kissing first. Men, on the other hand, would have sex without kissing beforehand; they would also have sex with someone who wasn’t a good kisser. Since females across species are often the choosier ones when it comes to mate selection, these differences in kissing behavior make sense.

Men are also more likely to initiate French kissing and researchers hypothesize that this is because saliva contains testosterone, which can increase libido. Researchers also think that men might be able to pick up on a woman’s level of estrogen, which is a predictor of fertility.

Crazy for Canoodling

But kissing isn’t all mating practicality; it also feels good. That’s because kissing unleashes a host of feel-good chemicals, helping to reduce stress and increase social bonding. Researcher Wendy Hill and colleagues at Lafayette College looked at how oxytocin, which is involved in pair bonding and attachment, and cortisol, a stress hormone, changed after people kissed. Using a small sample of college couples that were in long-term relationships, they found cortisol levels decreased after kissing. The longer the couples had been in a relationship, the farther their levels dropped. Cortisol levels also decreased for the control group—couples that just held hands—indicating that social attachment in general can decrease stress levels, not just kissing.

Looking at oxytocin levels, the researchers found that they increased only in the males, whereas the researchers thought it would increase in both sexes. They hypothesized that it could be that women need more than a kiss to stimulate attachment and bonding, or that the sterile environment of the research lab wasn’t conducive to creating a feeling of attachment.

Kissing, therefore, plays a role not only in mate selection, but also in bonding. At an Association for the Advancement of Science meeting on the science of kissing, Helen Fischer, an evolutionary biologist, posits multiple reasons for lip locking. She believes that kissing is involved in the three main types of attraction humans have: sex drive, which is ruled by testosterone; romantic love, which is ruled by dopamine and other feel-good hormones; and attachment, which involves bonding chemicals like oxytocin. Kissing, she postulates, evolved to help on all three fronts. Saliva, swapped during romantic kisses, has testosterone in it; feel-good chemicals are distributed when we kiss that help fuel romance; and kissing also helps unleash chemicals that promote bonding, which provides for long term attachment, necessary for raising offspring.

Sniff, Snuggle, and Turn Right

Yet, not all cultures or mammals kiss. Some mammals have close contact with each others’ faces via licking, grooming, and sniffing, which may transmit the necessary information. And although chimps may pass food from mother to child, the notoriously promiscuous bonobos are apparently the only primates that truly kiss. And while it’s thought that 90 percent of the human population kisses, there’s still the 10 percent that doesn’t. So it seems that as much as we use kissing to gather genetic and compatibility information, our penchant for kissing also has to do with our cultural beliefs surrounding it.

Whether we live in a place where kissing is reserved for close acquaintances, or somewhere where a casual greeting means a one, two, or three cheeker, one thing does remain highly consistent: the side to which people turn while kissing. It’s almost always to the right. A 2003 study published in Nature found that twice as many adults turn their heads to the right rather than the left when kissing. This behavioral asymmetry is thought to stem from the same preference for head turning during the final weeks of gestation and during infancy.

One of the best things about kissing, however, is that we don’t have to think about any of this. Just close eyes, pucker up, and let nature takes its course.

Originally published in 2010 

Males with Eating Disorders? It’s Worse Than You Think

url-1 You’ve seen the telltale signs of anorexia: the emaciated frame, the hollow eyes, the social withdrawal. You’ve seen more pictures of skeletal celebrities and supermodels than you can count. You may even have friends or relatives whom you’ve watched spiral into self-starvation or bingeing and purging as you looked on helplessly. In fact, considering that some eight million Americans suffer from eating disorders, it’s hard to find anyone in this country who hasn’t witnessed or been a victim of one of these devastating illnesses.

Too often, however, we assume that eating disorders are a female problem, largely the domain of insecure adolescent girls and aspiring starlets. Our society has become so focused on protecting this vulnerable demographic from anorexia, bulimia, and other unhealthy relationships with food that we often fail to notice a phenomenon that’s happening right before our eyes: boys across the United States—as many as 25 percent of all people with eating disorders, according to some estimates—are falling prey to these very same diseases. If you or someone you love is part of this group, learn how to begin the healing process.

Recognizing a Silent Killer
Until the turn of the millennium, the general consensus within the medical community was that only 10 percent of disordered eaters were male, although researchers did concede that males were more reluctant than females were to report their abnormal behavior to a mental-health professional. However, a 2007 Harvard study found that this statistic might be misrepresenting the extent of the problem: of three thousand adults surveyed, a full 25 percent of the respondents with eating disorders and 40 percent of binge eaters were male.

Within the male population, specific groups are at greater risk of developing eating disorders than others—namely, athletes (especially those expected to display their bodies prominently as part of their sport, such as bodybuilders, wrestlers, swimmers, and skaters); men who make regular public appearances (models, actors, musicians, and so on); homosexuals; men who were teased as children for being overweight; men who endure extreme parental pressure; and men attempting to avoid weight- and nutrition-related medical conditions to which they are genetically predisposed.

The roots of boys’ eating disorders are wide-ranging; some are similar to the possible reasons girls become anorexic or bulimic (such as depression, control issues, and emerging sexuality), but the primary cause is male-specific: while girls are inundated with media images of the waiflike bodies of female “role models,” archetypes of which include Kate Moss and Nicole Richie, and put undue pressure on themselves to look like those women, boys are receiving their own set of societal signals about what constitutes an “ideal” male body—and those criteria are becoming harder and harder for the average guy to meet.

To prove this point, a Good Housekeeping article about boys and eating disorders describes a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor named Harrison Pope lining up three G.I. Joe action figures side by side—one from the mid-1960s, one from the mid-1970s, and one from 1992. With each successive iteration of the figure, G.I. Joe’s muscles have become more defined, to the point that the most recent version has six-pack abs and no visible body fat. Dr. Pope, who coauthored a book entitled The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession, believes that these updates to the figure’s physique reflect a marked shift in the dominant public perception of masculine physical attractiveness. As these largely unattainable standards become more and more mainstream, is it any wonder that an increasing number of males, particularly teenage boys, are limiting themselves to five-hundred-calorie-per-day diets or losing themselves in vicious bingeing-and-purging cycles?

Reading the Warning Signs
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, a whole host of telltale signals—physical, emotional, and behavioral—can help people identify disordered eaters. These include:

Behavioral Characteristics

  • Restricted diet; excessive dieting; fasting
  • Food-related rituals; preoccupation with food
  • Compulsive exercising
  • Body dysmorphia; disgust with body size or shape
  • Difficulty eating with others; lying about consumption
  • Insomnia

Physical Characteristics

  • Low body weight (at least 15 percent below average for age, height, and activity level)
  • Lack of energy; fatigue
  • Muscular weakness
  • Thinning hair or hair loss; lanugo (downy growth of body hair)
  • Decreased balance; unsteady gait
  • Lowered body temperature, pulse, and/or blood pressure
  • Lowered testosterone levels
  • Heart arrhythmia

Emotional Characteristics

  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Depression; social isolation
  • Perfectionistic; strong need to be in control
  • Decreased sexual interest or increased sexual fear
  • Possible conflict over gender identity or sexual orientation
  • Difficulty expressing feelings or concentrating
  • Irritability; denial (belief that others are overreacting to low weight or restrictive eating habits)

Eating disorders are serious physical and mental afflictions that won’t simply go away on their own. The longer they’re left unchecked, the more detrimental they’ll become—and in the most extreme cases, they can even be fatal. So if you’re a male who displays some of the symptoms listed above, or if you’re a family member or friend who’s observed these red flags in someone you know, don’t delay in seeking treatment—both medical and psychological.

Getting Help
Fortunately, as societal awareness of male eating disorders grows, support groups with the express purpose of preventing these devastating illnesses are cropping up nationwide. The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders (N.A.M.E.D.) is one such organization; it offers the following preventive tips for parents striving to promote healthy eating habits and positive self-image in their sons:

  • Understand that males are as susceptible to eating disorders as females are.
  • Learn to recognize the physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms of an eating disorder.
  • Realize that if you approach a male about his eating disorder, he’s likely to deny that he has a problem, attempt to dismiss his dietary regimen as an attempt to be “healthy” or “fit,” and have difficulty expressing his emotions.
  • Protect your child from coaches who endorse extreme athletic regimens, such as excessive weight-control tactics or bodybuilding routines, and promote the idea of healthy eating and moderate exercise as a means of achieving optimal physical performance.
  • Be aware that traumatic events or transitions can trigger an eating disorder—for instance, sexual, emotional, or physical abuse; a sexual-identity crisis; or the death of a loved one.
  • Help males recognize that they are just as vulnerable to the same physical objectification and media manipulation that females are subjected to, and that those influences have a pronounced, and often deleterious, impact on their body image.
  • Encourage boys to be themselves; affirm their special qualities, even if those characteristics fall outside the traditional realm of “masculinity”; seek to develop open avenues of communication with boys that will make them feel emotionally supported and at liberty to express their feelings.
  • Urge males of any age to view therapy as a positive addition to their lives, not as a shameful secret.

You Aren’t What You Eat
As mounting evidence underscores that eating disorders are far from being an exclusively female issue, a growing number of adolescent boys and men have begun to openly discuss their firsthand struggles with anorexia and bulimia. Even some male celebrities have come forward: Billy Bob Thornton has confessed to being anorexic, as has Dennis Quaid (who coined the term “manorexia” to describe his condition), and Sir Elton John has admitted to bouts of bulimia. As helpful as it is for male disordered eaters to know that they’re not alone in their illness, equal weight should be given to preventing eating disorders before they arise. And by doing our part to achieve this goal through public-awareness campaigns, vigilant parenting, supportive friendship, and nonjudgmental attitudes, we just might succeed.

Originally published in 2010

Coconut Water: Myth or Miracle Sports Drink?

popular-hangover-remedies-worldIf you’re like me, coconut conjures the taste of tropical drinks, Thai food, and, of course, the almighty Mounds bar. Health-food drink? Not so much. Until recently, that is.

Lately, it seems that Hollywood has swapped its Smartwaters for the newest beverage du jour: it’s low-calorie, fat-free, cholesterol-free, über-hydrating, and rife with electrolytes, and it’s called coconut water. Producers are marketing the drink as both a “life-enhancer” and “nature’s sports drink.” Health foodies tout it for helping them with everything from weight loss to athletic performance and heart and kidney function.

After I heard all these lofty claims, my hype detector started buzzing a bit. “It’s definitely a growing trend,” says Marcia Cross, a Los Angeles–based nutritionist, “but many marketers’ claims lack scientific evidence.” So let’s take a closer look at this so-called “miracle liquid” to see what’s behind all its purported benefits. Could the drink truly be all it’s cracked up to be?

Sudden Popularity
We can thank a potent combination of celebrity endorsements and big bucks for the drink’s recent surge in popularity. Celebs like Anna Paquin and Kara DioGuardi have been photographed with the drink. On top of that, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola both decided that the drink was worth their dollars in 2009, forecasting it as wholesome-food trends’ antidote to processed, sugary sports and vitamin drinks. Coca-Cola invested in a coconut water company, Zico, just weeks after PepsiCo acquired Amacoco, a Brazilian maker of coconut beverages. Ever since, the brands have been building up demand for the liquid, pushing it in natural-foods markets, yoga studios, and gyms.

Raw coconut juice contains the liquid from an unripe coconut. And the stuff is natural—most brands are not processed (but check the label for added preservatives and sweeteners, to be sure). The water is simply the fluid that sits in the cavity of an unripe coconut (as it ripens, the fruit absorbs this juice).

Proven Benefits
To start, I browsed some of the newly popular beverages’ websites while drinking some of the stuff, of course (gotta say, not quite as scrumptious as the fruit itself). Marketers list bevies of incredible benefits, including improved muscle performance, heightened energy, weight loss, increased heart health, stress reduction, kidney cleansing, and less vicious hangovers; some even claim coconut water helps fight diabetes and cancer. However, of these proud claims, only a handful have actual scientific backing. Here’s a breakdown of the facts versus the fiction.

Improved Athletic Performance
Companies are quick to tag coconut water as an all-natural sports drink, since it contains carbohydrates for energy and electrolytes. (One cup of the drink boasts around 200 mg of potassium, 25 mg of sodium, 5 mg of natural sugar, and 118 mg of chloride, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.) Great, but could we also get these minerals from water and another energy source, like whole-wheat pretzels or a banana? “Absolutely,” says Cross. “It just comes down to personal preference.” And for people looking to replace their conventional sports drinks with coconut water, she points out a discrepancy in the electrolyte content: sports drinks contain more sodium, while coconut water contains more potassium. “Sodium is more important than potassium for athletes who are really losing a lot of sweat,” she says. However, if you’re looking for some simple, nonwater hydration without the added sugar, coconut water’s short list of ingredients makes it a more wholesome choice. (Just coconuts—love that.)

Weight Loss
Adding a bottle of coconut water to my daily diet is all I have to do to slim down? Wouldn’t that be nice. True, the drink is far lower in added sugar and contains slightly fewer calories than, say, Gatorade (with around forty calories per eight-ounce serving), but the drink itself isn’t likely to cause a noticeable reduction in weight—unless you happen to have a five-soda-per-day habit and decide to swap them all for lower-calorie and less sugary coconut water. That said, as a flavored-drink alternative, it’s most definitely a low-cal, natural choice.

Heart Health
Coconut water contains an ample, naturally occurring dose of potassium (equivalent to about two bananas’ worth), easily comparable to, say, that of a vitamin-infused drink, says Cross. People who get enough potassium in their diets have a lower stroke risk, according to the University of Maryland’s medical center.

Less Painful Hangovers
What on earth makes us wake up feeling so far from human after a night out? Extreme dehydration. Since alcohol is a diuretic, it flushes our body of its fluids, leaving our brains aching for liquid. This is just the ailment that electrolyte-infused coconut water combats. By rehydrating and furnishing our systems with minerals, our parched bodies will stop screaming at us (or at least quiet down a bit).

The Best Times to Imbibe
Some times more than others, coconut water is just the thing you need for a pick-me-up—whether you decide to guzzle a bottle of it after a long run or drink it to perk up after a night filled with a few too many margaritas.

After a Workout
For athletic purposes, coconut water is most effective directly after an intense sweating session. However, if your workout is longer than an hour or happens in extreme heat, chugging some while you exercise will help you replenish the fluids and minerals you’ve lost, therefore helping you fight fatigue.

When Feeling Hungover
Drinking coconut water before falling asleep after a night of drinking will help counteract the onset of a hangover in the first place, says Cross. And if the thought doesn’t cross your mind, having some right after waking up will still help as well.

When Looking for a Little Flavor
At those times when you’re craving a little liquid flavor, reaching for a wholesome, low-calorie drink is always a sound nutritional investment.

Okay, okay, so there really is some legitimacy to back all those claims about coconut water’s greatness. Still, call me old-fashioned, but I’ll probably save the $2 I’d spend per bottle and continue getting my vitamins from local, seasonal fruit and hydrating with water postworkout. How about you?

Originally published in 2010

About Face: Why Some Women Can’t Go Without Makeup

Most women can probably attest to knowing at least one friend or family member who absolutely refuses to leave the house until she’s “put her face on.” Many women will not consider going anywhere, whether to the grocery store, the gym, or even the beach, without first putting on a little bit of mascara or lipstick. More often than not, we probably just consider this person to be high-maintenance and laugh it off; but what we may not realize is that this may not be a random compulsive habit or even a question of vanity, but instead a real question of self-confidence.

The 2004 Real Truth About Beauty study, conducted by Dr. Nancy Etcoff, Dr. Susie Orbach, Dr. Jennifer Scott, and Heidi D’Agostino, looked at 3,200 women, aged eighteen to sixty-four, across ten countries, and found that 68 percent of women used makeup products to feel more physically attractive. A 2008 study commissioned by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund studied girls aged eight to seventeen and discovered that 62 percent feel insecure or not sure of themselves. Seventy-one percent of girls with low self-esteem felt their appearance did not measure up and felt they were pretty enough.

Insecurity knows no boundaries; it affects not just the average woman but also famous celebrities, many of whom would be considered beautiful by any standards. Most recently, pop artist Katy Perry told Seventeen magazine, “I don’t really feel pretty ever. Without makeup, I feel ugly.”

Buying What the Media Sells Us
Let’s face it: the cosmetic companies are profiting from our insecurities. In August 2010, MarketWatch reported that L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetic company, saw a 21 percent increase in their net profits for the first half of the year. Part of that profitability comes from their successful marketing toward women. A woman’s world is saturated with television and magazine advertisements selling youth in a jar, line-smoothing foundations, lip-plumping lipsticks, and lash-thickening mascaras, as well as myriad beauty guides and makeup “must-haves.” When it comes to cosmetics advertising, companies leave no stone unturned. We’re told that makeup can transform our faces—even when it seems only natural not to be wearing any makeup, like when we’re at the beach. On Allure magazine’s Web site, they offer a story entitled, “Insiders’ Guide: How to Wear Beach Makeup,” which includes information on waterproof products and general tips on how to get your beach look to last. I suppose this means a day at the beach means not getting in the water.

Cultural Influences
While we can certainly trace our decision to wear makeup in part to our willingness to buy what the cosmetic companies are selling, the use of makeup and more generally the need to alter our physical appearance can also be examined from a cultural perspective. San Francisco psychiatrist and psychotherapist Janice E. Cohen, MD, is quick to point out that the use of makeup is actually part of a very universal cultural behavior. Cohen explains, “Every culture has standards and particular ways in which people change or enhance their appearance to feel and appear more attractive or maintain their status within their society or culture.”

History tells us that Cohen is right. Inpiduals who alter their physical appearance are nothing new. Archaeological evidence from ancient Egypt around 3500 BC proves that Egyptian Queen Nefertiti may have used makeup. Women in the South African Ndebele tribeswear metal rings around their necks to elongate them. Indians practice a pre-wedding Mehndi (henna) ritual in which the bride and groom are painted, signifying the strength of love in the marriage. And the Arioi, a class of professional entertainers in Tahiti, use tattoos to signify the various ranks and status within their troupes. These practices are completely normal and, in many instances, are used to carry on decades-old cultural traditions.

However, when a person feels downright uncomfortable or insecure about leaving the house without having makeup on, there may be a larger underlying problem. If the makeup usage turns into more compulsive behavior, it could be an early sign of body dysmorphic disorder. The Mayo Clinic defines this disease as “a type of chronic mental illness in which you can’t stop thinking about a flaw with your appearance, a flaw that is either minor or that you imagine.” Some of the symptoms include a general preoccupation with appearance and excessive makeup application to camouflage the perceived flaw.

The Fear Beneath the Foundation
The extent to which a person feels the need to alter her face can be as simple as wearing lipstick or as complex as undergoing plastic surgery. A recent example of an extreme case of this can be found in television star Heidi Montag, who underwent ten different procedures and confessed that she planned to have more. The twenty-three-year-old starlet admitted to People magazine in November 2009 that she had plastic surgery to “feel more confident,” and said she “was an ugly duckling” before.

This behavior is also not gender specific. Cohen explains, “Distorted body image and obsessions with various aspects of one’s appearance (e.g., hair thickness and texture, body color, weight) are not exclusive to women. A smaller, but significant, number of men have similar issues with negative self-body image. Regardless of sex, whenever an attractive person feels ugly and disgusting, there is something besides his or her appearance that’s causing the distorted negative body image.”

Looking Good = Feeling Good
But wearing cosmetics can also have a positive effect. A 1982 study published in the International Journal of Dermatologylooked at women aged eighteen to sixty. Researchers asked the women to discuss any changes they experienced with wearing makeup, in terms of its effect on how they felt; this included their self-image, their attitudes toward others, and the impression they ultimately hoped to make upon others. Their findings indicated that “normal daily use of cosmetics can fulfill important psychological functions in that it promotes social and psychological well-being.” The researchers found that women do experience certain self-perceived psychological benefits from using cosmetics; the benefits are pervasive across all age groups. The more attractive you feel you are, the more highly you think of yourself. And many women would agree that wearing makeup does affect how they feel. Denise Bomba, a Los Angeles resident who works as a wardrobe supervisor for films and designs her own denim line, worked as a makeup artist for seven years and admits she still enjoys wearing makeup. “It took me a while to get comfortable to leave the house without any on. I believe this is because I know what I can look like with it on, and it does give me the certain confidence to feel good about myself.”

While wearing makeup can significantly affect the way we view ourselves and in some instances the way others view us, it’s critical to understand that no amount of powder or blush or eyeliner is going to fill the void left from a lack of self-confidence. If a person truly feels uncomfortable leaving the house without a certain amount of makeup on, there’s most likely a bigger problem that should not be ignored. Cohen points out, “When there are underlying core negative beliefs about oneself, cosmetics and surgical alterations cannot typically provide any permanent or meaningful relief.”

Originally published in 2010

photo by: re_

Quinoa: The Healthiest Food You Aren’t Eating

High in the Andes mountains, the ancient Incas learned to cultivate a crop that would thrive in the region’s barren, rocky soil and thin air. The small, unassuming seed that became a mainstay of their diet was considered the “gold of the Incas” because of the energy and stamina it provided. Today, thousands of years later, it’s one of the most popular and revered foods on the tables of in-the-know foodies and health enthusiasts.

Completely Healthful

You may have seen quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) on the menus of health-food restaurants or in the natural-foods aisle of your supermarket. It is often referred to incorrectly as a grain, although it’s actually the edible seeds of a plant that’s related more closely to beets, kale, and chard.

Quinoa’s increasing popularity is due mainly to one remarkable fact: it’s one of the few plant sources of complete protein.

Quinoa contains all nine of the essential amino acids that make up a complete protein, a feature usually found only in animal products, such as meat, fish, and dairy. That makes it a godsend for vegetarians, who can consume it instead of beans or soy to meet their daily protein requirements. Simple, inexpensive, and versatile, it can be substituted easily into many recipes that call for pasta, couscous, or rice. It has a mild, slightly nutty flavor that melds with many different types of foods, and it’s easy to find in the bulk bins at health-food stores.

Quinoa is also a gluten-free whole grain, low in calories, low on the glycemic index, and extremely high in soluble and insoluble fiber. It contains large amounts of magnesium, which some believe can help alleviate migraines, and studies have shown that the high concentrations of iron, copper, lignans, and other important nutrients it provides help maintain cardiovascular health and may aid in preventing colon and breast cancers, childhood asthma, gallstones, and type 2 diabetes.

Since quinoa behaves so much like a grain, it’s incredibly easy for home cooks to prepare. Try it in casseroles, soups, pasta, salads, and baked goods for a wholesome, tasty twist on classic dishes.

  • Pair steamed quinoa with tomato, black beans, lime, and fresh cilantro for a healthy take on a burrito bowl.
  • Mix it with fresh vegetables for an easy and tasty quinoa primavera stir-fry.
  • quinoa casserole is easy comfort food when prepared with Gruyère cheese and spinach.
  • Try Martha Stewart’s quinoa muffins for a tasty protein boost.
  • Add chicken breast, squash, and apricot to a healthy, low-fat quinoa soup.
  • For a sweet, nutritious breakfast that won’t cause blood sugar to spike, try adding nuts and spices to make a nutty quinoa cereal.

Before cooking, always rinse quinoa in running water until the water runs clear. Quinoa seeds contain a bitter-tasting coating, and although most commercial quinoa is pre-rinsed, some of the coating can linger.

There are plenty of reasons why this ancient and once-ignored staple is suddenly getting so much more attention: it has fewer calories than traditional grains, plus more nutrients and protein. It’s a great choice for people on a low-fat diet, a gluten-free diet, or a vegetarian diet, as well as for those who just want to eat a little more healthfully. Quinoa may have been considered the “gold of the Incas,” but it’s just as at home on our twenty-first-century plates.

 

photo by: FranUlloa

7 Ways to Enjoy Overripe Fruit

When it comes to fruit, I’m a texture girl—it has to be a certain level of ripeness or I want no part of it. Even slightly mushy fruit makes me gag, to the point where I’d eat a green banana over a dark brown one. Unfortunately, in my excitement over delicious and plentiful fruit at the farmers’ market, I often buy more than I can finish before it rots and becomes inedible. But thanks to having a variety of techniques for dealing with overripe fruit at my disposal, I no longer have to toss it out and feel the subsequent wave of wasteful guilt.

How Long Does It Last?
Fruits have varying lengths of shelf life, depending on the season and storage environment. If it’s warmer outside, fruit tends to ripen faster; cold temperatures stretch out the process. For example, if apples are put in the fridge or in a similarly cool place, they can last for over a month. If bananas have a greenish tint when purchased (which means they’re under ripe), they can last about a week before turning black.
Berries don’t last as long as their fruit friends. Even when refrigerated, strawberries last a week at the most; three days is usually more common. Refrigerated blueberries stay fresh for about one to two weeks.Stone fruit like peaches, nectarines, and plums lasts a few days at room temperature. They soften as they ripen, so one that gives a little under slight pressure from the thumb is at the perfect stage.
Tasty Ideas for Overripe Fruit

Overripe fruit isn’t for everybody, but according to a 2007 study conducted at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, the amount of antioxidants in fruits grows as they get closer to spoiling. So while mushy fruits might not be palatable eaten straight, we’re doing ourselves a disservice by throwing out these nutrient powerhouses. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to use up the fruit without having to gag it down.
1. Freeze it for later.
Freezing fruit stops it from ripening any more and provides a great base for making smoothies or popsicles later. All you need is a bunch of fruit, liquid (juice, water, milk, or non-dairy beverages work), and a blender. If you don’t have a blender, don’t worry—some fruit, like blueberries and grapes, makes a delicious treat when eaten frozen. Stick a popsicle stick into a banana, cover it with chocolate, pop it in the freezer, and in a few hours, a refreshing, simple dessert will be waiting for you. Since the fruit can always be thawed for non-icy purposes later, the possibilities are endless.
2. Make delectable jams and chutneys.
Spreading jam on a piece of toast or topping naan bread with chutney is even more satisfying knowing you made it yourself. There are lots of recipes online for preserving fruits, but basically, you boil the mashed-up fruit of your choice, add pectin (the amount depends on the recipe), ladle the mixture into clean mason jars, and put a lid on them.
3. Up the tastiness quotient of baked goods.
Fruit’s sweetness increases as it ripens, making overripe fruits a terrific addition to baked goods. Bananas with black peels are essential for truly great banana bread; mashed-up bananas also make a good one-to-one substitution for oil in recipes if you’d like a lower-fat product. Really, you can add pretty much any fruit into a quick bread, muffin, or pancake recipe, but bananas and blueberries are probably the most versatile. A blend of overripe fruits also makes for a great pie filling.
4. Create your own fruit roll ups.
I like to think of it as “fruit jerky,” but whatever you call it, dried fruit is yummy and fun to eat. A food dehydrator makes quick work of drying out fruit mixtures, but using an oven is a viable option, too. Puree the fruit, add whatever liquids or spices you prefer, roll it onto a baking sheet, and bake until it’s to the desired texture. Do a search online for more specific recipes.
5. Make a sweet topping for savory main dishes.
Simply combine the fruit of your choice with various herbs, seasonings, oils, and vinegars and you’ve got a perfect topping for meats, tofu, seitan, and so forth. This also makes a fine salad dressing.
You Don’t Always Have to Eat It
If the thought of eating overripe fruit is too distasteful, there are non-edible methods of using it up, too.
6. Put it on your face.
Mixing fruits with ingredients like oatmeal, honey, egg yolks, avocado, and milk creates facial masks that work wonders for your skin. (Just try not to eat the batter!)
7. Add it to plants for fertilizing purposes.

Rotting fruit provides lots of important nutrients for plants, so mix it with the soil for a less stinkyfertilizer.
Regardless of which method you utilize, it’s clear that there’s no reason to throw fruit away just because it’s too soft for eating. On the contrary, it only enhances your taste buds’ experience in certain cases, such as when making smoothies or baked goodies. So the next time you’re left with a bowl of rotten strawberries or spotted bananas, remember that fruit is an all-around winner—even when it’s gone bad, it’s still good!
 
For the month of July, Intent Blog is launching its annual 30 Days of Recipes. Everyday for the next 30 days, we’ll feature recipes contributed by bloggers in the health and wellness sphere. Our intent is to encourage you to get back into the kitchen and re-connect with your food in a way that promotes greater health, happiness and well-being! This week, we’re focusing on the connection between eating and the earth. If you have a recipe to contribute, please send it to us (along with a brief story about why you love it)  at editor [at] intent.com.
photo by: Linda Cronin

Fresh and Fit: Five New Exercise Trends Worth Trying

Let’s face it: the Elliptical is just a glorified hamster wheel. Anyone who works out regularly will tell you the importance of keeping things loose, trying new exercises, and generally making your physical-fitness undertakings as varied and interesting as possible. After all, the last thing you want is to get so bored with your routine that you give up working out altogether, hit the Häagen-Dazs with a vengeance, and grow out of your skinny jeans. (Perhaps that’s a bit of a worst-case scenario.) But variety is the spice of life, and that’s true for more than just ice-cream flavors. If you’re looking to mix up your workout a little, try one of these interesting new ways to both keep your butt in shape and keep yourself out of a workout rut.

Piloxing
Pilates is a great way to get a long, lean look, and the merits of your average boxing workout are undeniable (plus, punching things is fun). Enter Piloxing, “the latest Hollywood celebrity fitness craze sweeping the nation” (according to the website). Piloxing was developed by Viveca Jensen—dancer, Swede, and fitness trainer to the stars—and it “blends the power, speed, and agility of boxing with the beautiful sculpting and flexibility of Pilates.”

Piloxing classes aren’t yet widely available, but you can visit the website at Piloxing.com to find out where classes are offered. Despite this new get-fit fad’s fledgling status, there’s an impressive array of merch to be found on the website, including weighted Piloxing gloves, which keep the upper body engaged throughout the workout. The Piloxing Instructor Association offers an eight-hour workshop that will verse you in its methodology and principles so that you may go forth and help others look great naked. The benefit promise? “Sleek. Sexy. Powerful.”—the cornerstone of all workout fads. Besides, if Hilary Duff does it, what’s stopping you?

TRX Suspension Training
Making your body weight work for you is the best kind of exercise there is. TRX Suspension Training is based on that very simple principle and is refreshingly free of gimmicks, which might be the second reason it is increasingly popular. The first reason is its proven effectiveness, as evidenced by its fan base of pro athletes, professional trainers, and the U.S. Military.

Developed by a former Navy SEAL, the TRX system is sleek and simple, consisting of a Y-shape device that includes straps with handles and loops for your feet. You suspend it from any elevated point and use your body weight as leverage while you perform any number of toning, strengthening, and sculpting exercises. Its other big draw is its portability. Said straps ball up into a little bundle and weigh about two pounds, so you can bring this simple piece of equipment with you wherever you happen to go. The catch? This little package of beautiful simplicity retails for around $190. Sure, it’s less expensive than an Elliptical machine, but it still seems a lot for something made of stuff you could get for $20 at your local hardware store. But no investment is too great when it comes to health, fitness, and rock-hard glutes, right?

The Insanity Workout
The makers of P90X, which combines plyometrics, interval, and cross-training to its own insane levels for the purpose of über-fitness, have kicked it up a notch with the Insanity Workout. While the intensive P90X promises a beach-ready bod in ninety days, the Insanity Workout promises the same in sixty days, and without all of that cumbersome equipment like dumbbells, yoga mats, and chin-up bars. All you need is a TV, a DVD player, and from the looks of it, an intravenous line to the espresso machine. The energetic, punishing workout comes in the form of ten discs that take you through a series of activities that vary in length from thirty minutes to eighty-six minutes and seem to include a lot of those slightly sadistic cardio exercises your drill sergeant of a gym teacher made you do in high school. If the “before” and “after” photos and testimonials on the Insanity website are to be believed, this is one fad that is not full of false promises. For $120, it had better deliver; the set includes ten discs, a nutritional program, a fitness guide, and a sixty-day calendar.

Spinlates
Pilates has proven to be an incredibly flexible undertaking in this age of hybrid fitness franchises. Spinlates is one of Pilates’ latest and greatest spin-offs; it’s a circuit-training program that combines the cardio workout of spinning with the toning and strengthening exercises of Pilates. It’s pretty self-explanatory: the workout consists of a twenty-five-minute spin class to burn calories, followed by thirty minutes on a Pilates Reformer to stretch and strengthen. It’s a simple idea, but helpful in keeping the rote boredom of doing the same thing for too long at bay and keeping your body moving in a variety of energetic ways.

Yogalosophy
If it’s any inspiration, Jennifer Aniston is embracing this “new” version of yoga. Using classic Vinyasa-style poses combined with repetitions for tone and espousing yoga’s meditative affirmations, Yogalosophy seems little more than a vigorously branded version of the many styles of yoga that have been proliferating in America for the past fifteen years. While it’s not unusual to find a yoga teacher who hits that sweet spot between a true physical workout and a calming, meditative practice, Mandy Ingber, creator of Yogalosophy, seems to have had the presence of mind to brand it and capitalize on it with more rigor than others. But since it’s only $20 for a DVD set of practices, why not get friendly with your Shiva and Shakti?

The Secrets Behind The Ten Happiest Jobs

Now that I’ve graduated from college, non-specific degree in hand (what does one do with a BA in English?), the job hunt has begun. Looking around me, I see so many people who are unhappy with their jobs. Their days resemble a real-life version of Office Space, sans Jennifer Aniston; they sit in traffic, then they sit in a cubicle, then they sit in traffic again. If this is work, I want no part of it. 

 

But there have to be some who really love their jobs, right? There must be those who don’t cringe when they hear the alarm go off on a Monday morning because they know they’re about to spend a week doing what fulfills them. I’ve heard of these people. I’ve never met any of them but, as with Santa Claus, I’m willing to believe they exist in order to preserve my optimism. 

What Creates Job Happiness?
Everyone has a slightly different idea of what “success” is. Some won’t rest until they have several million in the bank, others prioritize family time, and still others crave public recognition for the jobs they do. Though we may think these things—money, fame, working from home, the office next to the coffee machine—will bring us happiness, they very often don’t. Actually, the ten happiest jobs in the United States, according to a 2008 study from the University of Chicago, “Job Satisfaction in the United States,” are all relatively low paying, with long hours and plenty of stress. And yet more than half of the people in these careers reported that they were “very happy” with their work. 

Whistle While You Work
So what are the ten happiest jobs? The results of the study, according to payscale.com, are listed in order below, along with the median salary for each. 

  1. Clergy, median salary of $44,102
  2. Firefighters, median salary of $45,553
  3. Travel agents, median hourly wage of $14.23
  4. Mechanics and repairmen, median hourly wage of $15.26
  5. Architects, median salary of $54,079
  6. Special Education teachers, median salaries of $41,344 for preschool through elementary teachers; $43,060 for high school teachers
  7. Actors and directors, salary varies greatly
  8. Scientific researchers, median salary of $72,435
  9. Industrial engineers, median salary of $61,729
  10. Airline ilots and navigators, median hourly wage of $63 

For the most part, these are service jobs rather than professional jobs. Though some of them pay well, the jobs with the highest salaries are at the low end of the list. So what’s making these people so happy? 

It could be the opportunity to interact with others on a daily basis. (IMing coworkers from across the sea of cubicles doesn’t count.) Most of today’s jobs have come to rely so heavily on computers and the Internet for communication, leaving workers feeling isolated, lonely, and stressed. People like the clergy, firefighters, and teachers, however, get to interact regularly with the public they serve and see the direct results of their efforts, adding to their job satisfaction. 

The Secret to Job Happiness: Learn a Skill?
The message I got growing up was that the more education you have, the better chance you’ll have of being successful and happy with your job. But the rankings on this list belie that notion. Most of these jobs require specialized skill training rather than a generalized education. 

Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft, has studied the loss of this kind of skill training in favor of liberal arts programs. Based on his experience as a motorcycle mechanic with a PhD in philosophy from the University of Chicago, Crawford reminds readers that so-called “trades” are invaluable both to society, for the goods and services they provide, and to the individual, for the sense of satisfaction one gets from working with one’s hands. 

Deconstructing society’s prevailing bias against manual labor, Crawford questions the educational myth of separating thinking from doing, arguing that to do so degrades workers on both sides of the divide. The person who sits in a cubicle feeling impotent and isolated suffers just as much as the mechanic who is told that his is a lower kind of work. 

Crawford’s argument makes sense, especially when you consider the types of jobs that are on the happiest list. They all allow for interpersonal relationships, require specialized skills that prohibit outsourcing and obsolescence, and create a sense of pride in the worker for a job well done. Without these key elements, American jobs are becoming both more tedious and more expendable, since workers with generalized education are easier to replace.

So What Did I Go to College For?
At this point, I’d really just like any job at all. And I know I’m not alone. Maybe it’s the unemployment talking, but I think that whatever job I do get will make me happy in some way, even if it’s just by allowing me to pay my bills. Every job has its pros and cons; that’s why we call it “work.” You just have to find what makes you happy about the work you do. 

It’s important to remember that this survey is a broad one, based on gross numbers. There are plenty of people, I’m sure, who have jobs not on this list that they wouldn’t trade for anything. But it’s refreshing to remember that money and fame don’t equal happiness, nor does a degree from a prestigious university. 

Rather, the recipe for happiness is to find something that gives you pride and connects you to others. If your job does this, no matter how much it pays or whether it makes the list, look up from your desk and smile.

Fight The Fat! 8 Ways To Conquer Cravings

It’s like a silent clock ticking away in your ear, or a magnetlike grip that draws you closer. It’s unavoidable and inescapable, and you’re powerless against its demands.

It’s a craving for Mexican food. Or chocolate. Or a Coke, or salt-and-vinegar chips, or macaroni and cheese, or a candy bar, or any number of salty, sweet, savory, and delicious foods. This time of year, with everyone determined to get back on track with good eating habits, beating cravings is even harder, since mindless snacking can derail any diet.

It’s normal to have a hard time letting go once you’ve gotten a hankering for a particular food item. For some people, it’s for salty snacks; for others, it’s for sugary treats. But all of us can beat our cravings with a few simple tricks.

  • Set a clock. We tend to think of a craving as a building tsunami that will eventually become uncontrollable if we don’t give in to its demands. But actually, cravings are more like regular waves; they reach their crest, and then they ebb quietly. According to nutritionists, most food cravings last only between eight and fourteen minutes, so if you feel yourself yearning for an impulse snack, resolve to wait fifteen minutes before indulging. Chances are good that by then, the craving will have passed and you won’t want that food anymore.
  • Drink a glass of water. Nutritionists say that many people confuse the body’s hunger signal with the thirst signal. Since most people don’t drink enough water anyway, wash down a tall glass before snacking. It fills up your stomach and can satiate the craving.
  • Distract yourself. Many food cravings are actually the result of boredom. When you feel the urge to snack, try to busy yourself by making a phone call, undertaking a project, sending an email, or even watching a video online. Once your attention is fully occupied, the craving can go away.
  • Pretend to eat it. A study at Carnegie Mellon University revealed that when test subjects thought intensely about their favorite foods, imagining themselves biting, chewing, swallowing, and tasting the food, their cravings decreased. The researchers theorized that by imagining themselves indulging, they had satisfied their psychological desire for the food itself.
  • Simulate happiness. It’s also common to use food to alleviate stress, loneliness, or depression. If you’re prone to eating to make yourself feel good, try to do something else to make yourself feel good whenever you’re feeling snacky. Call a friend who makes you laugh, exercise a bit, or do anything else that boosts your mood—the goal being to break the mental association between food and happiness.
  • Take a walk. In a 2008 study at the University of Exeter, chocolate eaters who took a brisk walk before being allowed to eat a piece of chocolate reported that their cravings were reduced significantly. Walking stimulates blood flow and releases endorphins, which can lower appetite, and it’s another great distraction.
  • Keep snack foods inconvenient. If your favorite potato chips are in the cupboard, they’re harder to resist than if they were at the grocery store. Stop buying items that you know are diet weak spots. If you have to work to get it, you might find that you don’t want that snack as much as you thought you did.
  • Eat right at meal times. Real biological food cravings are caused by dips in blood sugar. If you eat balanced, healthy meals full of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates, your blood sugar will stay stable, you’ll stay fuller longer, and you’ll have less desire to nibble between meals.

Ultimately, the best way to fight back against food cravings is to keep a journal and find out what your particular triggers are. If you find that you regularly develop midmorning cravings, a higher-protein breakfast may be in order. If you’re susceptible to midafternoon boredom snacking, try to take that walk around the block or take a quick break to rejuvenate your mind. If you know you fantasize about ice cream right before bed, don’t even bring it into the house, or replace it with some other prebedtime ritual. Once you learn which emotions or circumstances prompt you to seek solace in sweets or salts, you’ll be armed with a safe solution.

 

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