What’s refreshing, comes in a wide assortment of fruit flavors, and is the hottest beverage to hit grocery store shelves in recent years?
If you visit any grocery store canned beverage section, you will see numerous brands and varieties of sparkling water. The new drink trend reveals the changing American palate, with a step away from corn-syrup laden sugary sodas and artificially sweetened diet sodas to calorie-free, sodium free effervescent water with a splash of essential fruit oils. This trend has exploded into a 1.2 billion dollar industry.
Two of the biggest soft drink companies, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, have jumped into the ring, vying for the title of best selling sparkling water brand with AHA and bubly, respectively. However, the clear category leader is National Beverage, with its LaCroix line, which commands about 80% of the sparkling water market.
Admittedly, I have become a huge fan of AHA and bubly, and have determined the best flavors after trying the majority of the ones which appealed to me. Apparently, the flavors which captured me the most (AHA Orange-Grapefruit, AHA Blueberry-Pomegranate, bubly Mango and bubly Pineapple) have also appealed to others, because I keep having a devil of a time finding those particular flavors. I’m definitely tempted to check out LaCroix varieties since I have also sampled Spindrift, Waterloo, Perrier, and S. Pellegrino, but have yet to do so. According to some sparkling water aficionados, LaCroix reigns supreme in the flavor department.
Now that summer has hit in all its blazing glory, this is a perfect time to try some of the sparkling water brands if you haven’t yet done so.
The biggest bucket list destination on my list has always been Japan, so when I finally went there in March of this year, I set out to absorb as much of the country as I possibly could, traveling through Northern, Central, and Southern Japan over the course of 14 days. I had a bit of a concern about encountering odd food items, but since I grew up eating Japanese food, I felt pretty confident that I would fare well through most of the trip.
There are many Japanese food items which I love to eat, and some of them are comfort foods for me. Things like manju, chawanmushi, umeboshi onigiri, tsukemono, and just plain old gohan (rice) give me a sense of great joy whenever I eat them, because they take me back to my childhood. I knew that I could always order my favorite food items without any issues.
One thing I noticed immediately was that the sashimi I ordered in Japan was not only far superior to most of the sashimi I have had in the states, it was also much cheaper. What would cost me about $25 in the U.S. ran only $11 to $13, and the fish was incredibly fresh and flavorful. The food items which were outrageously overpriced were imported fruits like baby watermelon ($15), strawberries ($30 for 6 jumbo fruits), tomatoes (also $30 for 6 large fruits), and I wasn’t interested in those items anyway.
I wasn’t about to limit myself to safe food items like sashimi and ramen, but I also had some trepidation about encountering bizarre, Fear Factor type foods. What also added to the challenge was the fact that some restaurants which didn’t give a hoot about gaijin (foreign) customers refused to put out menus in any language other than Japanese. So I struggled to decipher a few menus while I was in Japan, searching for the kanji and kana I knew, like 肉 (niku, or meat), 魚 (sakana, or fish), ご飯 (gohan, or rice), and 野菜 (yasai, or vegetables).
The first evening I was in Japan, I walked to a quaint little restaurant near the hotel I was staying at in in Ota-ku. The proprietors were lovely, gracious, spoke a bit of English, and also served a tasty chirashi bowl which I happily devoured. I was tempted to return to the same restaurant the following night, but I wanted to explore, and ended up in a very bizarre restaurant which featured the first nihongo-only menu. The instant I walked in, the proprietors and guests all stared at me, making me very uneasy. At that point though, it was late, I was hungry, and I needed to eat, so I put up with the icy reception. One table in particular was quite loud, and one middle-aged man clad in manga covered pajama pants was making the most noise at that table. He kept talking and cackling while taking long drags off his cigarette, creating clouds of off-putting fumes which wafted over to where I was sitting. There was no way I would have a relaxing evening at this place!
The proprietress handed me a menu and mumbled something very rapidly in Japanese, then shuffled off hurriedly. I took one look at the menu, took a deep breath, then scanned the menu for kanji I could recognize. I ended up ordering a bowl of rice, tsukemono, edamame, gyoza, and a whole fish which was so tiny that I had to order 3 more to fill up on the meal. The food was ordinary, unimpressive, and it was incredibly expensive. Thank goodness I was leaving for Sendai the following morning!
On March 9th, I took the shinkansen from Haneda Tokyo to Sendai, and once there, I was determined to have a bowl of ramen. I had fantasized about eating ramen while in Japan, and I wasn’t about to wait any longer. Luckily, I was able to find a tiny yet popular ramen house in Sendai, and I was rewarded with a spectacular bowl of ramen.
Later that evening, I became hungry again and began to scan the area for a place to have dinner. My travel companion noticed a restaurant which was perched on the second floor of a building and suggested we try it, so we trekked upstairs for what would become the most bizarre and costly meal of the entire trip. The menus were only in Japanese, and the waitstaff spoke absolutely no English. We ended up ordering sake, rice, gyoza, sashimi, chicken skewers, and tsukemono.
The tsukemono, sashimi, and chicken skewers were not what we were expecting, and our taste buds were definitely offended by the experience. The tsukemono featured vegetables like eggplant which, in our estimation, does not produce an ideal pickle, due to its mushy texture and bland flavor. Next was the sashimi, which included some very strange seafood selections which were a very different texture and flavor from what we have enjoyed, even in other restaurants throughout Japan. Let’s just say there were some neglected morsels of seafood after we relinquished the plate.
Lastly, there were the chicken skewers, which were also quite surprising. There were eight skewers, but only two had chicken muscle meat, and those two consisted of chicken thigh and not chicken breast. Two skewers were chicken skin, two were chicken kidney, and two were chicken gizzards. I was a sport and ate one kidney skewer, but I could not tolerate the gizzards or chicken skin, and my buddy wouldn’t touch any of them. We learned our lesson from that restaurant and avoided ordering any chicken skewers for the remainder of our trip, because we noticed that all chicken skewer dishes in Japan seemed to include the undesirable organs which we were served while in Sendai.
The next day, I had another bizarre food experience which almost completely turned me off from ikura, or salmon roe. I visited the Mitsukoshi in Sapporo, and saw numerous vendors selling the bright orange, salty roe which was my grandmother’s favorite. I alighted upon one vendor whose ikura looked especially fresh, and was offered a sample, which was absolutely divine. I promptly selected a tray and paid for it, not noticing the mentaiko which was also on the tray. For those of you who don’t know what mentaiko is, just click here for a description. Despite the fact that I had only heard about mentaiko, and didn’t know that it was sold with the roe sac. I quickly found out that it was tough, rubbery, very strong in flavor, and so disgusting that I spat out the first bite, drank a bunch of green tea, then brushed my teeth to get rid of the taste. They say that people either love or hate mentaiko, and I found out I am definitely a hater!
Have you tried Built Bars yet?
All Built Bars are covered in pure, high quality dark chocolate, and feature a chewy, soft center. You’ll think you’re eating something decadent, because Built Bars are so delicious!
What’s all this talk about how consuming certain fats can make your body shed fat? Well, it turns out that it’s all true. So for those of you who shun all types of fat in an effort to lose weight, you may be doing yourself a disservice. That doesn’t mean you should go hog-wild and gobble fat bombs, but if you keep a moderate amount of healthy fats in your meal plan, you’ll have a greater chance of reaching your weight loss goals.
Keep in mind that dietary fat supplies fatty acids which transport certain vitamins across cell membranes, regulate body functions, and are integral components of growth and overall health. Fat can also be stored as energy in fat cells, cushioning internal organs and providing an energy bank which can be utilized in times of starvation.
When you consume dietary fat, you are increasing the palatability and what’s called the “mouth feel” of foods, which makes the whole process of eating more enjoyable. In addition, fat creates a feeling of satiety which lasts longer than if you were to scarf down a carbohydrate-rich meal which is digested much more rapidly. That’s why rifling through a bag of potato chips can often trigger more munching, until you find that you’ve polished off the whole bag, hence the phrase “empty calories”.
Just make sure to stick to healthy fat sources like avocado and nut butters, and skip the trans fats, which are partially hydrogenated, and found in processed and prepared food items like cakes, cookies, margarine, donuts, fried foods, and frozen pizza. Saturated fat intake should also be kept to a minimum (found in meats such as beef, pork, poultry skin, butter, cream, and cheese).
Though I am not desperately reliant on a daily cup of joe to get me through each morning, I thoroughly enjoy a delicious, aromatic cup of high quality coffee. When it comes to undoubtedly the most well-known coffee store chain (you know, the ones with the telltale green logo on the storefront?), I honestly can’t drink their blends, because they are harsh, bitter, and lack the flavor nuances I want from a truly top-notch coffee.
Enter the coffees which are offered by Trade. Established in 2018, Trade offers a unique, customized experience which I totally dig. Trade unites the nation’s top roasters directly with coffee lovers, and includes over 400 roasted-to-order coffees in their selections. It’s like a dating site, but with coffee! You get matched by answering questions about your level of coffee knowledge, roasting method (coffee maker, French press, pour over, cold brew, Chemex), flavor preferences, and they will make a suggestion for you. If you don’t like your very first match, they will find you one you love. You get to rate coffees as you go along, you’ll get 15% off bags as long as you have a subscription, and you will always get free shipping.
The other thing I love about Trade is that they only offer specialty coffee, a term which refers to any coffee that receives a quality grading score of 80 percent or higher. I guess I might have to consider myself a coffee snob, since I prefer to drink higher quality, tasty coffees over bitter, low grade coffees.
When I ordered my first bag of coffee from Trade, I sort of went by feel for the flavor notes I would like in a coffee selection, and because Trade has taken the guesswork out of shopping by grouping coffees based on “popular taste types”, the process was pretty easy. If you don’t want to browse the selections like I did, you can let Trade match you with a coffee which they think you’ll love.
As I scrolled down the screen, “Comforting and Rich” and “Chocolaty and Sweet” both caught my eye, since I like a rich, flavorful, inviting coffee over something fruity or bright. My eyes alighted on “Eclipse” by Onyx Coffee Lab, which is described as:
“Dark and sultry, subtly smoky, this coffee absolutely smolders with rich, chocolaty depth and vanilla sweetness. Perfect sipped solo, but works beautifully with your milk of choice.”
After reading that description, my immediate thought was, oh yes, I’m in! So I ordered it without hesitation.
When the coffee arrived, the aromas which emanated from the box were so deep, rich, chocolaty and smoky that I had to restrain myself from making a cup right then and there, since it was about 11 pm and I needed to get some sleep! So I tucked that bag of coffee in a safe spot (I live with coffee lovers and didn’t want my new gem to be attacked by them) and went off to sleep. A couple of days later, I opened the bag, and was rewarded with the most delectable wave of chocolaty goodness, and it just smelled so FRESH! I looked at the bag and saw the roasting date and roaster’s initials on one panel, which proved right there how fresh it truly was.
I brewed a large cup, refrained from adding any creamer so I could get the true taste of the coffee, and took a sip. Oh. My. Goodness. The tasting notes for me were mostly deep, smoky, and chocolaty, which I loved. There was no bitterness to this coffee, which is a big plus for me because I can’t stand bitterness in my brews. The sweetness level in this selection is very subtle, which is fine for me. So now my biggest concern is where I can hide these awesome grinds so no one ever finds them before I finish the bag!
What is even more exciting than experiencing my first coffee selection from Trade is knowing that I can look forward to other delicious and aromatic coffees in the ensuing months which will be delivered to my home. I highly recommend Trade for anyone who loves coffee and wants to try different superior quality coffees from top roasters across the United States.
To subscribe to Trade, go to this link:
Guy Gone Keto by Thom King is an excellent book and a must read for anyone who is seriously considering adopting the keto lifestyle. Whether you are interested in losing weight or just want to optimize your daily food intake, the keto lifestyle is a viable option, and Thom definitely breaks down the science behind keto into easily understood terms. Thom is the founder and CEO of Steviva Brands, and is well-versed in natural foods and has an extensive background in food science and “bio-hacking”, so he knows what he’s talking about.
I was able to read this book in one sitting on a weekend afternoon and found it amusing and well-written. I love how Thom adds his personal experiences to really underscore the fact that a keto lifestyle can transform your body and your life if you commit to it. He also includes a whole collection of keto recipes so that you can infuse variety into your new keto regimen. He includes recommendations on what supplements to purchase so you aren’t in the dark about what to get.
Thom King also has an expansive line of Guy Gone Keto products, including MCT Oil, Steak Sauce, BBQ Sauce, Ketchup, Teriyaki Sauce, Thai Chili Sauce, and KetoseSweet+. You can check out the line here:
What is food intolerance?
Have you ever noticed that when you eat a certain food, such as tuna, blueberries, avocado, asparagus or broccoli, that you get extremely bloated to the point that you are extremely uncomfortable? Since the foods I mentioned are celebrated for their many nutritional benefits, it might not occur to you that you most likely have an intolerance to that food. Up to 80% of the U.S. population has some form of food intolerance.
Most people are aware of food allergies, but food intolerance is a different phenomenon which can have a tremendous effect on a person’s quality of life. Food allergies appear quite suddenly, from seconds to minutes after ingestion of the offending food, and can be life-threatening, whereas food intolerance is a more gradual process (taking hours to a couple of days for symptoms to emerge), not life-threatening, and may only occur after a large amount of the food is eaten. Food allergies and food intolerance can both cause similar symptoms, such as abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea, but food intolerance is notorious for causing bloating, heartburn, irritability, headaches and general malaise. The most common food allergy triggers are peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, soy, wheat, milk and eggs, while the foods most commonly associated with food intolerance are dairy products, gluten-containing grains, eggs, citrus, beans, cabbage, and broccoli.
People who are allergic to certain foods know that even a small amount of the food can trigger an allergic response, and the response occurs every single time the person is exposed. The immune system reacts to the food by causing a release of IgE antibodies, which then cause a release of histamines and cytokines designed to attack the offending agent. Sometimes the entire body is affected by this response, and symptoms such as shortness of breath, hives, rash, or a sudden drop in blood pressure can occur. Food intolerance, in contrast, is more insidious, and may only occur if a large amount of the triggering food is eaten or if it is consumed frequently. Trigger foods will cause a rise in IgA, IgG, and IgM antibodies, causing the body to mount a delayed reaction which is characterized by mostly gastrointestinal symptoms, but which can cause other symptoms as well. Regardless of how the body reacts, the discomfort caused by poor digestion of the food can be enough to make the sufferer miserable.
Why does food intolerance occur? There are several explanations. One cause is enzyme deficiency. All enzymes are specific to one type of molecule, such as lipases which break down fats. Sometimes an individual can be deficient or completely lacking in a very specific enzyme which is required for digestion of a particular food. A common example is found in lactose intolerant individuals who do not have enough lactase to break down the milk sugars into their constituent parts for absorption in the intestine. The lactose cannot be broken down so it sits in the intestine, causing bloating, spasm and diarrhea when it sits in the digestive tract. Approximately 25% of the U.S. population suffers from lactose intolerance, which amounts to a lot of bloated bellies from the consumption of dairy products.
Another common type of food intolerance is to gluten. Gluten is highly resistant to digestion as it is, and in some individuals, the gluten cannot be broken down at all. The problem with gluten is that it is found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and kamut, so avoiding gluten can be challenging to say the least. Approximately 1% of the U.S. population has celiac disease, while about 15% have gluten intolerance. Regardless of whether someone has celiac disease or gluten intolerance, ALL gluten must be avoided. However, if there are occasions in which completely avoiding gluten is impossible, digestive enzymes, specifically DPP-IV, can help individuals to digest meals containing gluten.
The list of substances which people may have an intolerance to doesn’t stop there. Some individuals cannot break down phenols, including salicylates, due to insufficient amounts of xylanase, and suffer from behavioral and learning disorders, including ADHD and autism. Some individuals are unable to break down disaccharides, an intolerance which is closely linked to irritable bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, Candida overgrowth and autism. As if all that wasn’t enough to worry about, there are chemical substances in foods which can spark intolerance, such as caffeine, aflatoxins in undercooked beans, amines in cheeses, artificial colorings and flavorings, preservatives, sweeteners, emulsifiers, nitrates, MSG, sulfites and salicylates. Salicylate intolerance can cause a susceptible individual to react to large amounts of salicylate-containing foods, particularly citrus fruits, teas, mint flavoring, berries and processed foods with flavor additives.
The digestive tract regularly takes the brunt of foods, medications, hormones, and chemical additives which can interfere with repair of the gut lining, causing increased intestinal permeability which is more commonly known as leaky gut. Leaky gut is characterized by the loosening of tight junctions between the cells which line the gut, thus allowing food molecules to pass through. These free floating food molecules are viewed by the immune system as a threat and will mount an immune response which manifests as the signs and symptoms of food intolerance. Think of all that food sitting in the gut, undigested. Pretty unnerving, huh?
How to diagnose food intolerance
Diagnosing food intolerance can be extremely difficult since the signs and symptoms often mimic those of food allergy. One method of ferreting out which foods are involved in a food intolerance is keeping a food diary in which all foods eaten are recorded, along with symptoms and their time of onset. After suspected trigger foods have been determined, an exclusion diet can be implemented, in which those foods are removed from the diet for weeks to months. If the symptoms disappear during the exclusion phase, potential trigger foods can be re-introduced after this phase is completed in order to determine which substances are problematic. If the food intolerance is mild, a small amount of the food will not trigger symptoms, and in many cases may still be consumed, especially if enzymes are taken to aid in digestion. Essentially, many people can return to foods which they were mildly or even moderately intolerant of after avoiding it for a period of time.
Blood testing is considered the most reliable and comprehensive form of testing for food intolerance, but there are only a few laboratories which specialize in this type of test. ALCAT, Pinnertest.com and HEMOCODE Food Intolerance System are laboratories which offer food intolerance testing via serum analysis, with ALCAT considered the largest food intolerance testing group in the U.S. Some insurance plans will cover part or all of the expense of the testing, so it is always worth inquiring about insurance coverage. Some testing panels also provide a detailed rotation diet which patients can follow when they are ready to reintroduce the foods of which they are intolerant.