Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Supplements: Magnesium

Magnesium supplements improved my life

With all the schvitzing I do every day, which I described in excrutiating detail yesterday, plus the enormous amount of water I drink every day, I found that I was washing away important minerals.  That was causing problems.  I started to have very intense cramping.  I'd be in a meeting and the hamstrings in both legs would seize up into a very painful cramp.  The next thing you knew I'd jump up, try to suppress a scream and break into a sweat.  I had such a bad cramp in Pilates one morning that the muscle ached for several days afterwards.

I went took a look on line and found that magnesium deficiency not only exists but it is common and often goes undetected.  Symptoms can include low energy, fatigue, weakness, sleeplessness, anxiety, nervousness, irritability, headaches and, you guessed it: cramps.  I went to my vitamin guru at The Vitamin Peddler (I know - kooky name) on Amsterdam Avenue @ 77th Street (conveniently located in my apartment building).  He said I should try a magnesium supplement.

I started off taking a liquid mix of Magnesium, Calcium and Vitamin D.  The brand is Blue Bonnet. The results were immediate and miraculous.  The cramps went away virtually overnight.  I also noticed that I had a sense of calm and slept better.  Not to go into TMI but I was also much more regular.  On my next visit to my sports medicine doctor, I mentioned the cramps and he prescribed quinine.  He's a great doctor but blew it on this diagnosis.  I read on line that the FDA does not advise taking quinine for cramps stating that in worst-case scenarios it can actually cause death.  I took it for about two months and lived to tell the tale, but stopped and went back to magnesium.  This time around I took the pill form.  It works just fine again but I plan to go back to the liquid when I finish this bottle.  I read that you absorb magnesium better if you take it with calcium.  Vitamin D is also a "happy vitamin."  It boosts production of serotonin, the "feel good" brain chemical.

A few notes:

Take magnesium at bedtime.  I started taking the liquid form, having a tablespoon in the morning and a tablespoon when I went to bed.  I was nodding off before noon - it really  makes you sleepy!  Now I take it at night.

Going back to yesterday's post - be sure to check with your doctor to see if you are well enough to tolerate sauna and steam if you aren't in the habit of using them.  Pregnant women should be especially careful and children should not use them.

I'll be posting more about supplements.  But I consider magnesium to be the most important supplement I take.  Be sure to check with you doctor on proper dosing. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Detox: The Benefits of Sauna and Steam

I believe using the sauna and steam room helps
you rid your body of toxins

The cornerstone of my healthy living routine is to take a sauna and steam everyday.  I get to the gym as early as possible so I can get at least 15 - 20 minutes in the sauna and 5 or 10 minutes in the steam room before I work out.  I believe this helps you rid of toxins.  I looked on line to see if the medical community agrees, but all I found were contradicting stories.  Some sites said it really just increases your sense of well being.  Not a bad thing, but not backing up my theory at all. 

I do a light stretch in the sauna before working out

But, think about it.  The skin is our largest organ.  It is meant to be a pathway for the elimination of toxins and waste material from our bodies.  Some sites I went to said creams, deodorants, oils, dead skin cells and the yucky like can block your pores and lock in toxins.  I have not had a problem with acne at all since I've been a daily user of the steam.  I remember when I was a teenager and had a real problem with acne, my mother bought me this steam device - you would place your face into it and steam.  It worked!  Heat from a sauna opens the pores and the sweat flushes out the bad material and toxins.

After work out Schvitz!

All the sites I went to agreed that the sauna causes your blood bessels to dialate and increase the flow of oxygen and fluids to skin cells.  Before my workout I stretch my muscles while I sauna.  I notice that during my workout I start to sweat a lot quicker when I sauna first.  I sauna after working out, too, and take a steam.  I drink tons of water before, during and after.  And I take a freezing cold shower between sauna and steam and when I'm done.  I don't shower before heading to the sauna.  It cools your body so it will take all that much longer for you to start to sweat.  I learned this tip from a Russian lady that I worked with when I first moved to NYC.  She was in her 70's and looked 50 years old.  I'm so accustomed to my daily schvitz that I get out-of-sorts when I don't get to sauna and steam.  It's part of the reason I don't miss a day at the gym - it's my pre- and post- workout treat.

I also read that in a typical sauna session one can burn 300 calories.  I've never worn my heart rate monitor in the sauna so I can't attest to this.  I don't svitz to lose weight - I do it to feel great.  When I have taken that last freezing cold shower after my schvitz, I feel like a million bucks.

It's important to moisturize after you sauna and steam.  Plus you can lose important minerals when you sweat profusely.  Stay tuned later this week - I'm going to post about supplements.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Craving Something Sweet?

Dark Chocolate

I really have a sweet tooth.  It usually strikes in the late afternoon.  I put off having lunch as late in the day as possible to give less time for snacking.  As I've posted before, I have soup and a gigantic salad for lunch, and try to graze on the salad for a good long time.  But when I do indulge in something sweet, I have a two-pronged approach.

Actually good for you!

First, I have a tiny bit of dark chocolate.  The intense flavor really satifies my urge for something sweet.  And the good news is that dark chocolate is actually good for you.  Studies show that eating dark chocolate may contribute to improved cardiovascular health.  Packed with natural antioxidants, dark chocolate and cocoa sit in the same good-for-you category as green tea and blueberries.  That's because chocolate comes from cocoa beans which grow on the cacao tree which are full of natural plant nutrients.  Most of the studies to date highlight dark chocolate's health values because it has the highest percentage of cocoa solids - i.e. more antioxidants. Other studies have shown that epicatechin, a compound in dark chocolate, may protect your brain after a stroke by increasing cellular signals that shield nerve cells from damage.  But before you start to rejoice, a study I found on line indicates that the ideal amount to have is 6.7 grams of dark chocolate per day - a bit less than half a bar a week.  So, don't get carried away!

Two-tiered approach

Here's my one-two punch: I have a square or two of dark chocolate (along with a cup of decaf) and a half bag of one of Keebler's 100 Calorie Right Bites.  You get a bag of cookies weighing 20 grams.   I know there are purists out there who don't like these fake cookies (and low fat mayonnaise and fat free half and half).  I'm one of those people who doesn't care.  I looked on line and didn't see any horrible things written about them. And, the Keebler's low cal cookies are infinitely better tasting than the 100 calorie Oreo cookie imitations. 

Late afternoon snack

If you enjoy a sweet burst in the late afternoon - and who doesn't? Give my plan a try.  Milk chocoate doesn't have the same good health benefits as the dark so try to avoid that - you may have to develop a taste for the dark.  And, I like that the cookies come in portions so you don't eat a huge box of them.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Weight gain crisis averted - Carbs the Culprit!

I was mildly annoyed when I put on a few pounds

Some of my friends teased me about my "Life Isn't Fair" posting of last week, where I lamented the fact that I had put on 4 or 5 pounds despite my, shall we say, rigorous work out schedule.  "Have a cookie," one sarcastic "friend" said.  I had splurged on turkey chili with melted cheddar cheese for lunch over the weekend and had some bread.  But when I really took a look back I remembered that I had pasta for dinner for several nights in a row. 

How do I love thee?

Clearly, I could have pasta for dinner every night.  I thought it was ok to have a pasta binge because of my workout schedule and because I have plain marinara or even grilled tomatoes, garlic and onions as a sauce.  I wasn't eating meat, which is a lynchpin of my skinny gourmet plan for dropping lbs or staying thin.  I forgot that carbs can sneak up on you and cause you to put on weight.

Despite the big workout schedule, carbs took their toll

 Now, I'm not advocating the Atkins diet.  When I was struggling with my weight I went on the Atkins diet and, sure enough, I lost weight - and quickly.  But you can't be on the Atkins diet forever, and when I started eating carbs again I gained all the weight back - and then some - quickly.  So, it's about finding the right balance.  Plus you have to enjoy life, and if pasta is part of what makes you happy, I say go for it.  But, maybe just once a week.  I actually allowed myself some rigatoni over this past weekend.  But I skipped the garlic bread.  Otherwise, I've tried to limit carbs as much as possible over the past week.  As of this morning I am back to 145 lbs.  And, like everyone, my weight fluctuates.  Who knows?  Maybe tomorrow I'll be up to 147 lbs.  BTW - I'm 5'1O".

Opt for soup and salad over a sandwich

See where you can limit carbs in your diet and watch for the results.  Have soup and salad for lunch instead of that foot long Subway sandwich for lunch.  That's what I do, but I reward myself by having sandwiches for lunch on the weekends.  And I'll try to limit pasta to once a week - and I'll have garlic bread with it.  Just not 4 or 5 times a week!

From now on I'm going to take my own advice and have fish for the majority of my dinners.  This experience underscores the importance of weighing yourself frequently - at least once a week.  It may not be pleasant, but if you want to lose weight you can't be in denial.  Frequent weighing will help you nip any weight gain episodes in the bud.

I kept track of the calories I burned over the week.  Except for taking spin on Friday morning instead of Pilates, this is my usual routine.


Spin with Linda (1 hour) 608 calories burned


Abs with Jonathan (I didn't wear my heart rate moniter)
2 spin class with Jonathan (1.5 hours) - 1074 calories burned


Spin with Court
Boot Camp with Jonathan (1 hour)  - 994 calories burned


Spin with Alex (45 minutes) 504 calories burned


Boot camp with Jonathan (1 hour) - didn't wear heart rate monitor)

Wednesday (this morning)

Yoga with Jason (45 minutes) - didn't wear monitor
Spin with Linda (45 minutes) - 472 calories burned.

Note: I only wear the heart rate monitor for acardio classes like spin. thonitor for cardio classes like spin. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spinach Wraps Versus Brioche Rolls

Tuna in a Spinach Wrap

While I'm huffing and puffing away in spin class on Saturday  mornings, I think about what I'm going to have for lunch.  This past weekend, I thought I'd try having a spinach wrap.  I thought they would be much healthier than having my usual brioche roll.  I buy the rolls individually from Westside Market.  They don't list the nutritional facts but I found the information on the brioche rolls sold at Trader Joe's.

Tuna on brioche roll

The results were surprising.  They both have 160 calories - the wraps have 30 calories from fat and the brioche rolls have 60 calories from fat.  The wraps have more carbs - 28 grams versus 22 grams with the brioche rolls.  Here's the info on the spinach wraps:

Toufayan Bakeries Spinach Wraps
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 wrap (57g)
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 30
Calories 160
% Daily Values*
Total Fat 3g 5%
Saturated Fat 0.5g 2%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 315mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 27g 9%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Sugars 1g
Protein 6g
Vitamin A 0%Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 10%Iron 6%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Thought I'd try crabmeat instead of tuna

I happened upon a can of crabmeat at Fairway.  I thought it would be a nice change from my usual tuna.  It was $3.89 for the can.

Crabmeat from a can: mushy

I don't know what I was expecting for $3.89 a can - and I've already experienced the mushiness of  Bumble Bee tuna.  You guessed it.  The crabmeat was even mushier.  But I added enough interesting elements to make it taste OK. 

Red cabbage and raddishes

Tomato, banana peppers, kalamata olives and cherry tomatoes

Not bad

Here's the info on the brioche rolls:

Trader Joe's Brioche Rolls
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 roll (51g)
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 60
Calories 160
% Daily Values*
Total Fat 6g 9%
Saturated Fat 4g 20%
Cholesterol 40mg 13%
Sodium 220mg 9%
Total Carbohydrate 22g 7%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Sugars 3g
Protein 5g
Vitamin A -Vitamin C -
Calcium -Iron -
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

On Sunday, I made the spinach wrap with Cento tuna - a big improvement

I buy Cento tuna packed in olive oil

Again, with kalamata olives, peppers and tomatoes

The verdict:

I don't see any big difference between having your sandwich on a wrap or on a roll as far as calories, fat and carbs are concerned.  It was a nice change having the wrap, however.  And the wraps are much less expensive.  The package I bought cost $2.99.  The individual rolls I bought from Westside Market are 99 cents each.

The choice is yours - just don't be fooled by a name - spinach wraps are about the same as bread when it comes to nutrition - thought they are higher in fiber, which is a good thing.  I plan to switch back and forth between the two - variety is the spice of life, afterall!

Monday, January 23, 2012

$85 for Hubbell's Grooming - Of Course it Snows the Next Day!

Perfectly coiffed

My dog Hubbell's groomer, Rebekah, is very good and very in demand.  I have to make appointments literally months in advance.  I made his appointment for this past Friday in August.  So, of course it would snow the next day!

Ready for his close-up

We met Rebekah at an upscale doggie spa when Hubbell was a puppy.  The owners criticized Rebekah for spending too much time grooming each dog.  She got fed up and quit.  I happened to run into her on the street and she told me she was starting her own dog grooming business.  We were among her first customers.  Not only does Rebekah do an amazing job - she comes to my apartment to do the grooming  Hubbell never got over being in the shelter and it would break my heart to drop him at the groomers - he'd get very upset.  Now he is coiffed in the privacy of his own home.  You also hear horror stories about professional dog grooming salons.  How they'll leash the dog on the table and step away.  A dog can try to jump off the table and be strangled.  So Hubbell and I would both be wrecks.  I'm so lucky to have Rebekah as Hubbell's groomer and he loves her. 

Snowstorm starting on Friday night 

If you have a white dog, you know that snow can wreak havoc on a dog's hairdo.  To make matters worse, while Hubbell hates rain, he loves snow and wants to play "king of the hill" and climb to the top of the nearest snowbank.  But he managed to stay clean thanks to his boots and sweater. 

Following are random shots of the storm and the aftermath:

Directly out my window

Out my window to the west

Out my window to the east

Farmer's market at Lincoln Square
on the way to the Y on Saturday morning

Frozen cabbage anyone?

Central Park on the way to work this morning

The first snowfall of 2012 is but a memory.  I took the picture above while cutting through the park to get to work this morning.  It's rained on and off all day washing away the remaining snow.  Thank goodness Hubbell's hairdo is safe for a few more days at least!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tuna Steak!

My new favorite dinner

My track record with cooking tuna isn't the best.  I always overcook it and it comes out kind of gray and dry.  But I was watching Ann Burrell on The Cooking Network and saw how she cooked tuna steaks.  I didn't write any of it down, but I got the main idea.   I marinated the tuna in soy sauce, sesame seeds, lemon and Sriracha sauce and then grilled it in a very hot pan so it had a nice char on the outside and was delicious and rare on the inside.  It worked like a charm!

Yellowfin tuna aka sushi quality tuna

I bought yellowfin tuna which you could eat raw so I didn't have to worry about serving it rare.  When you are buying tuna you also have to consider mercury levels.  You will find high mercury levels in canned tuna, and in species that have high muscle mass.  Mercury accumulates differently in different tissue types: mercury has an affinity for muscle and not fatty tissue, so the leanest fish tend to have the highest concentration.

But there also seem to be other factors in play. Although yellowfin tuna is very lean, this species tends to have lower accumulation of mercury, likely because yellowfin are typically smaller than other tuna and are harvested at a younger age. Because bigeye and bluefin species eat three times more than yellowfin to maintain their energy level, they might slowly increase the level of toxins (i.e. mercury) over time.

Hello Gorgeous!

I found a shallow ramekin that accommodated the tuna perfectly.  I wanted to be able to practically submerge the tuna without going through an entire bottle of soy sauce.  This piece was about $10 - the pricing was $17 per pound. 

Marinate for about an hour

I got home from work and immediately got everything together so the tuna could marinate during the civilized cocktail hour.  I was careful to add only a small squeeze of fresh lemon juice because it would "cook" the tuna.  As you probably know, that's what cerviche is - fish marinated in fresh lemon juice and sea salt.  See my previous post about cerviche: http://www.skinnygourmetguy.com/2011/07/cerviche.html

Marinade: Sriracha sauce, Teriyaki with sesame, lemon, salt & pepper

When you go to the fish monger, find a really thick steak.  The one I bought was about an inch and a half thick.  This recipe won't work with a thin slice of tuna - it will overcook if you leave it on the stove long enough to get those grill marks we want.

It cooks fast!

The next important thing to keep in mind is to be sure your skillet is really, really hot.  Mine is so well seasoned I don't have to add olive oil.  I put the pan over a medium to high heat and leave it for 5 - 10 minutes.  I cooked the first side for two minutes.  The second side took one minute.  I cooked the sides briefly - about 30 seconds or so.

Cook on all four sides

This dish tastes like no other in my repertoire.  I think it's because I seldom marinate.  Usually Mediterranean cooking emphasizes the main event - in this case the tuna.  But I found the marinade gave the tuna a subtle flavor and helped with the charring on the outside of the tuna.

Top with scallions and served with roasted broccoli, garlic and tomato

The roasted broccoli I served on the side was cooked to crispy perfection (recipe to follow).  Give these tuna steaks a try and you'll never miss the steaks of the sirloin variety!

Sirloin or tuna?


Approximately 1/2 lb yellowfin tuna steak per person
3/4 cups Teriyaki Sauce with sesame seeds
1/4 cup Sriracha sauce
1 tspn fresh lemon juice
1/8 cup scallions for garnish
Salt & pepper to taste


Salt & pepper tuna steak on both sides to taste (less is more!)
Pour Teriyaki sauce in a ramekin deep enough to accommodate tuna steak
Add fresh lemon juice
Spread Sriracha sauce on all four sides of steak
Let marinate for 45 minutes - 1 hour
Pre-heat cast iron skillet for 5 - 10 minutes over medium heat
(Spray pan with cooking spray if it's not seasoned)
Cook first side for two minutes
Cook second side for one minute
Cook sides for 15 - 30 seconds each
Garnish with scallions and squeeze fresh lemon juice over steak
Serve immediately and enjoy!