Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollan–a Book Review

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Roasted coffee beans and coffee cherries
Roasted coffee beans and coffee cherries

Coffee, java, a cup o’ joe, or sniff, sniff, the afternoon tea and scones. The world runs on the caffeine molecule in coffee and to a lesser extent, tea. Tea is the more ceremonial elixir and coffee the more blue collar but underlying of both is… caffeine. And this is the focus of Michael Pollan’s book. As a self-confessed coffee-fiend I found the historical and social angles of his story fascinating. And this is my book review of Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World.

Whether you make a daily pilgrimage to Starbucks, have a drip coffeepot, or indulge in the slow-motion popular cold-brewing coffee process, you are mainstream if you indulge in coffee or tea. You are an addict but socially and legally benign.

A Brief History of Coffee

Pollan traces the history of coffee and tea consumption from their roots to how they transformed economies, cultures, and the workplace. Coffee as we know it today can trace its heritage back centuries to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau.

Coffee was a social beverage. It was not only enjoyed in homes, but also in the many public coffee houses, called qahveh khaneh, which began to appear in cities across the Near East. The popularity of the coffee houses was unequaled and people frequented them for all kinds of social activity. European travelers to the Near East brought back stories of an unusual dark black beverage. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent.

In the year 1714, the Mayor of Amsterdam presented a gift of a young coffee plant to King Louis XIV of France. The King mandated that it be planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris. Then in 1723, a young navy officer, Gabriel de Clieu, secretly obtained a seedling from the King’s cherished plant. In spite of a difficult voyage, complete with horrendous weather, a saboteur who tried to destroy the seedling, and a pirate attack, he was able to transport it safely to Martinique.

From there, it couldn’t be stopped. Once planted, the seedling did not only thrive, but it’s credited with the spread of over 18 million coffee trees on the island of Martinique in the next 50 years. Even more incredible is that this seedling was the parent of all coffee trees throughout the Caribbean, South, and Central America. You’re welcome Juan Valdez, you imaginary Madison Avenue caricature.

Michael Pollan, an Experiment of One

To research and write this book, Pollan shunned coffee so he could write and document caffeine as, yes, a drug, albeit less harmful than say, meth. He also relates his experience of re-acquainting himself with it at the end of the experiment.

If you are like most of us, you take coffee, tea, soda, and the essential ingredient, caffeine, for granted. But a close reading (or in my case, listening to) of this book will educate and surprise you. From a war-time tie manufacturer who increased production via “coffee-breaks” to how London-coffee houses became the places to be for stock tips, you will be amazed how this caffeine molecule transformed the world. Without you noticing.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


8 Immune-System Strategies for Cold and Flu Season

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Cold vs flu symptoms
Cold vs flu symptoms

It just doesn’t seem fair; just when we are feeling upbeat and optimistic as we look forward to spring, songbirds, and short britches, the cold and flu season arrives. Just like clockwork many of us are coughing, enduring stuffy noses, sneezing, and worse. And to add insult to injury, this year we have to deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19). For any of these afflictions, these 8 immune-system strategies will help to avoid sickness and make life a wee bit more manageable while on the mend if you succumb.

  • Get a Flu Shot. OK, you should have gotten it some time ago but there is still time if what you’ve got is the common cold. When your immune system is already compromised the flu might see you as an easy target.
  • Cut Back on the Alcohol. Too much can leave you susceptible to dehydration and poor sleep which are the two immunity-boosters you need the most. Being a bit tipsy can also lead to unhealthy food choices, sleeping less than you need to, and a higher chance of skipping workouts, all of which will have a negative effect on your immune system.
  • Get Enough Sleep. This can’t be stressed enough. Not getting enough sleep can lower the immune response. Your body has to have the correct amount of restorative time that it needs to fight off germs of all types. Quality deep sleep is the key factor but it all counts. See the image below. This was my sleep history last night as recorded by my Garmin 235 watch. First, I didn’t get enough rack-time and my deep sleep wasn’t optimized. I still have work to do. Hey, I’m dealing with it.
Sleep pattern screenshot recorded with a Garmin 235 watch
Sleep pattern screenshot recorded with a Garmin 235 watch
  • Heft that Water Bottle. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate. Copious hydration keeps energy levels up and also allows your body to scoot toxins and other waste materials out of your system at a faster rate. This fine-tunes your immune system’s ability to fight infection. Remember that many fruits and vegetables contain both water and electrolytes.
  • Include Probiotics in Your Diet. A surprising proportion of your immune system is actually in your gastrointestinal tract. The cells lining your gut have a responsibility for producing antibodies which fight off bacteria and viruses. Foods such as yogurt with live cultures, kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut are your friends. Supplements are also effective for this and overall health to keep everything in balance.
  • Keep Your Hands Away from Your Mouth, Nose, and Eyes. You probably touch your face more than you think you do. Even though you might wash your hands often, germs can still build up on your hands shortly after. The CDC tells us that germs can easily enter the body via the eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Get Enough Exercise. Stick to your workout schedule. It improves the way your immune system combats germs and disease, making it more efficient at fighting subsequent infection, the National Institutes of Health points out.
  • Finally, Wash Your Hands Frequently. This one should be common sense but many people neglect it to their detriment. When it is not convenient, use a hand sanitizer. Keep a squirt pump bottle in one of your car cup-holders. Ladies, put one in your purse. Studies have shown that some of the most germ-laden surfaces are grocery store carts and restaurant salt shakers and menus. How often have you seen these items wiped down with sanitizer? That’s right. Never.

Adhering to these 8 immune-System strategies for cold and flu season may not guarantee that you won’t get sick but it will certainly shift the odds in your favor. And remember, you are not only protecting yourself, you aren’t spreading anything to others.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

A Fundamental Guide to Long Runs

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Long run on an asphalt highway
Long run on an asphalt highway

Many runners, especially newbies, are of the mindset that running long is a workout done solely for preparing for a half marathon, full marathon, or an ultramarathon. In actuality, there’s quite a bit more to the story. They are an important part of a properly balanced training program for runners of all stripes. It is just one aspect of the 10 habits of highly-successful runners. By the way, the same logic applies to walkers as well.

Weekly long distance runs also supply key benefits for athletes that are preparing for a 5K, 10K, or any distance. It also keeps the body from plateauing for individuals intent on burning calories for a weight loss program.

In short, longer distance, slower workouts are just one more factor in a comprehensive workout program. Your easy and recovery runs should make up the bulk of your program in order to avoid injury.

Round out your weekly routine by adding in some interval workouts, fartlek, tempo runs, and sporadic pick-ups to activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers for developing speed. Adding in some hill training will boost leg strength and teaches your legs to handle lactic acid build-up.

Whatever type of workout you have planned for the day it’s important to stick to your workout warm-up routine. It might not seem necessary for a slow long run but in fact it is. And after all, there is something to be said for conforming to habit to keep you honest. The importance of rituals in our everyday lives keeps us balanced.

Long Distance Running Stimulates Physiological Adaptations

Running Times (sadly, a now-defunct magazine) coach and columnist Greg McMillan rightly pointed out that there are 3 distinct physiological adaptations that distance training provides us with.

  • New capillary growth. What are capillaries? These are the smallest of blood vessels; the more you have, the more oxygen-delivery your body is efficiently capable of. The end result is that they enhance your ability to do work. Capillaries are also key during the process of dissipating heat as they direct more blood close to your skin.
  • Musculoskeletal strengthening. As Arnold the Terminator would say, “I’ll pump you up!” Similar to the way lifting weights strengthens particular target muscles, when you add stress to your legs it promotes ligament, tendon, and muscle strengthening. To maintain and build bone density be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. As far as supplements go, CoQ10 is highly encouraged for the many benefits for runners, especially us, ahem, older ones. See the graphic below.
  • Enzyme changes. Running long distance encourages an increase in the amount of enzymes in the legs.
The many benefits of CoQ10
The many benefits of CoQ10

Increase Your Running Distance Slowly but Surely

The majority of wise runners do their weekly long runs when they can allocate the time for both the run and the requisite recovery; usually this means the weekend. I’m comfortable with my long run on Saturday and my recovery run on Sunday. Just look at a marathon training schedule and you will see that two things stick out. First, run distance increases adhering to the traditional 10 percent rule.

Secondly, the 10 percent build-up happens every other week in most plans; a good distance on the alternate week is generally about 10 miles for a good maintenance-distance run if you are training for a marathon. It goes without saying is that this rule becomes even more important as one gravitates to longer and more intense endurance events. The second caveat of the 10 percent rule is to limit your total weekly mileage increase to 10 percent.

Make the Long Run a Social Event

There are good reasons for making your long run a social event. And, not because “misery loves company.” Rather because accomplishment loves company. This is one of the best benefits of running clubs. It is certainly much easier to roll out of bed in the sleepy pre-dawn hours when you know your comrades are waiting for you to start laying down the miles. In fact, distance training and comradeship is the foundation of many long-lasting friendships.

As an example, organizations like USA Fit have made a cottage industry of it, and some would say, have taken the concept too far (strongly encouraged to buy merch, etc.) They’re everywhere; in Texas alone there are at least 20 clubs.

These kinds of organizations seem to be largely responsible for the growing phenomenon of marathon walkers (sometimes called turtles). Not that there is anything wrong with that as long as the race organizers let walkers start at least a couple of hours before the gun for the runners goes off.

Hopefully, this guide to long runs has encouraged you to to insert them into your training regimen. Your heart will thank you, your bathroom scale will thank you, and of course it goes a long way towards managing insomnia.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

No-Fry Eggplant Parmesan Recipe

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Breading Eggplant Parmesan
Breading Eggplant Parmesan

Although eggplant is often considered to be a vegetable, it is actually a berry by botanical definition. I know, I know; I don’t get it either. Health-wise, it’s got a lot going for it. According to naturalremediescenter.com, ” It is said that eggplant may have effects in preventing and treating high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol. Eggplant is rich in phenols which may inhibit an enzyme tied to high blood pressure. Thus eggplant may do your body some favors in lower high blood pressure.” And it tastes great. So what’s to lose?

This recipe is a meatless dish so if you are the kind of person who opts for a soybean-based burger rather than traditional beef, you can’t go wrong here.

Ingredient List

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch rounds
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 oz. Marinara or tomato sauce of your choice
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil (add other herbs as desired)
  • 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs, regular or your choice of flavor
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (more is fine)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (more is fine)
  • Optional: hot sauce to taste, added to the tomato sauce

Eggplant Parmesan Preparation

  • The first step is to “sweat” the eggplant rounds. Since eggplant absorbs so much water by itself, it is important to remove as much moisture from the rounds as possible. Do this by salting both sides and then placing them in a colander in the sink. Two colanders should work for one eggplant. Let them sweat for at least 2 hours. More is better.
  • Rinse the salt off and press dry with paper towels.
  • Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  • Apply olive oil to a large baking sheet pan.
  • Whisk the eggs in a small bowl.
  • Spread some panko on a dish.
  • One at a time, dredge the rounds in the egg, coat both sides liberally with panko, and arrange on the baking sheet.
  • Bake 9 minutes, flip the rounds, bake another 9 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and allow them to cool.
  • Lower oven temperature to 350°F.
Layering Eggplant Parmesan
Layering Eggplant Parmesan
  • Stir the basil into the sauce.
  • Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of an 8″ X 8″ Pyrex baking dish.
  • Lay out a layer of rounds in the dish. Since they are round you can cut one up to fill the “gaps.”
  • Sprinkle with both kinds of cheese; the amount is up to you.
  • Top with another layer of rounds.
  • Spread sauce and sprinkle with cheese.
  • Keep layering in this fashion until you run out of rounds. The top layer should have sauce and cheese.
  • Bake for 35 minutes.
  • Enjoy!

That’s all there is to it! Of course, you can try different kinds of cheese. This really is a bonus if you are feeding picky kids. This no-fry eggplant Parmesan is very versatile for the adventurous cook. You might pair it with a Tuscan kale salad or homemade low-carb egg noodles.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Body Weight, Fat Percentage, and BMI

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Weight loss before and after
Weight loss before and after

Here we are in February. Was weight loss one of your New Year’s resolutions? How’s that working out? Weight loss is kind of a nebulous term. What most people really want is fat loss, not to be confused with lean muscle mass loss.

When a person goes on a diet and introduces weight training, the number on the scale starts to lose its meaning and those pounds reflected are not a good way to judge progress. Your “body weight” may not change much but your percentage of body fat does. Why? Because muscle weighs about 15-20% more than fat so the same “weight” of muscle occupies less real estate than fat. The way your clothes fit give a better indication of your progress than the scale does. Of course, if you do not introduce weight training the scale becomes more of a better indicator. This is also true if you take up running.

BMI is the Best Body Fat Guideline

To maintain optimal health it is important to reach and maintain a certain percentage of body fat. There are many components to your weight such as bone density, level of hydration (water), and organs. BMI or Body Mass Index is a method of estimating a person’s body fat percentage based on their weight and height measurement which it assigns a reference number to. It is easy to calculate. Try it below.

It is helpful to continue to weigh yourself on the scale but to get a real grasp on your “weight”, keep referring to the BMI calculator for an assessment of what you really want to know. The longer you are overweight the more chance you have of high blood pressure, stroke, heart problems, and type 2 diabetes. Don’t relapse into your old fat-inducing bad habits.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Top New Year’s Resolution Ideas and the Path to Success

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As the old year fades into the sunset and the new one is ushered in, people all over the world will be indulging, not only in partying but in vowing to self-help. Here is a list of the top New Year’s resolutions for 2020.

Running for fitness and health
Running for fitness and health
  • Getting in better physical shape. This is one we should all be doing and there is always room for improvement. Choose something you enjoy — running, walking, cycling, swimming, yoga; the list is endless. Physical fitness can be as frugal or expensive as you want. My favorites are running and walking (with the dog). I only shell out about $200/year in running shoes.
  • Stop procrastinating. The largest obstacle keeping most people from closing in on their goals is the natural desire to relax and indulge in some frivolity rather than working hard. As soon as you get used to procrastinating it’s hard to avoid, so be prepared to put in a lot of work to change this normal tendency.
Low-carb spaghetti carbonera
Low-carb spaghetti carbonera
  • Eat healthier. We could all do a bit of cleaning up our eating habits. The good news is that access to better food choices is better than ever. Try making something new like my low-carb carbonara pictured above. Eating out is fun but spending time in the kitchen will save you money (so you can pay for that workout gear) and allow you to control the ingredients. Go with whole wheat bread rather than fluffy white. James Hamblin of The Atlantic says, “As many eaters of bread came to understand that white bread is a nutritional equivalent of Pixy Stix—the nutritious, fibrous shell of the wheat having been removed, leaving us with only the inner starch, which our bodies almost instantly turn into sugar—it needed some rebranding.” Eat more fruit. Incorporate nuts into your daily eating regimen. Try a new diet.
  • Expand your confidence and take some chances. Most people don’t exercise their confidence enough and this limits their potential. This is true in the workplace and out of it. In fact, in most cases workers that display confidence are the ones that get ahead. This is true of taking chances as well. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. The best time to start the new you is the beginning of next year when New Year’s Eve is in the rear view mirror.
  • Bring in more money. It’s never enough, is it? While it is important to strike a work/play balance in life, there’s a lot to be said for having a cash cushion. It is never too soon to plan (and save) for retirement. And while we are on the topic of bringing home more bacon, consider improving your credit score.
  • Stop smoking. This one is a classic. Unfortunately, it is one of the hardest to achieve. I should know; I quit about 35 years ago. While we are on the topic, the jury is still out on vaping. Whichever habit is in question, it’s too much money for too little return.
  • Indulge in more quality sleep. Most people don’t get enough. The recommended amount is 7-8 hours. Do you get that much? According to livescience.com, “About 65 percent of Americans get a “healthy” amount of sleep, or at least 7 hours a night, while 35 percent get less than 7 hours of sleep per night.” My Garmin 235 watch syncs with the computer and one of the things it does is generate a graph of my sleeping time and pattern. It’s very eye-opening.
A money house
A money house
  • Read more books. Everything competes for our attention today — the internet, TV, radio, the cell phone. Books may seem old school but they educate, entertain, and improve the function of our brains more than anything electronic. And if you use your local library, it’s a (gasp!) free activity! One of my best reads this past year was Dennis Prager’s Rational Bible: Exodus. Here’s a list of my book reviews.
  • Get out of debt. We’ve already touched on the topic of making more money. If you are in debt (and who isn’t) it is just as important to change that. Look into consolidating your loans. Move credit card balances to a lower interest card. Ditch your bank and join a credit union; you will get favorable interest rates on savings and loans. All these small changes add up.
  • Learn a new language. This is good for your brain health and communication skills. For example, I am fluent in Spanish. Living in Texas, that’s a good thing. Learn a language that you can use locally. Use it or lose it, as they say.
Maggie the Border Collie
Maggie the Border Collie
  • Adopt a pet. We’ve got 4 adopted dogs. Science tells us that pets are good for us so we must really be doing great! Of course having a pet involves responsibility so be ready for that.
  • Take up a new hobby. As an example, my favorite is woodworking. Some people even parlay this into a side gig.

Hopefully this list of top New Year’s resolutions will get you off to a great start. Share it with your friends and social media! Enjoy a bit of frivolity as the old year drifts away.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Habits that Sabotage Your New Year’s Weight Loss Resolution

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Metabolism and weight loss
Metabolism and weight loss

It is no secret that your metabolism and the state of your weight are closely connected. Your metabolism naturally slows as you age; the Public Health Nutrition journal confirms this. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is weight loss, be aware that some bad habits may be preventing you from reaching your goal. Consider the following.

Avoid these Habits to Boost Metabolism and Energy

  • Skipping the Breakfast Meal. Your metabolism slows as you sleep but eating will fire it back up and allow you to burn more calories throughout the day. If you miss breakfast your body gets the message that it should conserve rather than burn any incoming calories.
  • Consuming the Wrong Breakfast Food. A sugary doughnut or muffin will set you up for that dreaded sugar crash later. A better strategy is to choose food with filling protein and fiber. Try eggs, yogurt, and berries, or whole-wheat toast topped with peanut butter.
  • Too Much Sitting. Butt-time is not your weight loss friend. If you go from your office chair straight to your car and then to your couch you are developing a very comfortable albeit very sedentary routine. Why? Sitting for long time periods locks your body into the energy-conservation mode, resulting in your metabolism slowing down. The UK’s National Health Service says, “Sitting for long periods is thought to slow metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, and break down body fat.”
  • Avoiding Strength Training. Cardio such as running is great, and it can quickly burn many calories, but once you’re done running or cycling, your calorie burn begins to decelerate. When you do HIIT and resistance-based workouts, however, your calorie burn stays elevated for longer as your muscles repair themselves. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) says, “Strength training is a key component of metabolism because it is directly linked to muscle mass. The more active muscle tissue you have, the higher your metabolic rate.” As a bonus, a pound of muscle burns an additional 4–6 calories each day compared to a pound of fat. Keep in mind that this is where your bathroom scale can mislead you. Putting on muscle mass can make it look like your weight isn’t changing much but you are in fact losing fat. Trust how your clothes fit more than the numbers. If you really want to know what is going on, invest in a digital scale that measures your body fat percentage.
  • Shorting Yourself on Protein. Protein literally is food for your muscles. It also promotes the feeling of being full and it is an important component of attaining and maintaining a healthy weight. If you consume too little of it you may have trouble building or maintaining muscle mass. In addition, protein needs more energy to break down than carbs or fat, so you’ll actually burn more calories during digestion. Win-win.
  • Shorting Yourself on Sleep. Just one single bad night’s sleep is enough to leave you feeling lethargic (almost as much as some high blood pressure medication) and impair your thinking process. Compounding several nights in a row or a lifetime of chronic insomnia can be a disaster; the International Journal of Endocrinology tells us that decreased metabolism and hormonal imbalances can result.
  • Being Dehydrated. In yet another study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers determined that consuming 500 milliliters of water (about 2 cups) boosts your metabolic rate by an impressive 30%, and that boost lasts for more than an hour. The takeaway is to drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated, and you’ll get the added benefit of a boosted metabolism.
  • Being Stressed Out. When your stress levels rise, your body produces a hormone called cortisol which triggers increased appetite, leaves you craving comfort foods, reduces your desire to work out, and lowers sleep quality. All four of these things negatively impact your metabolic rate. Since it is unrealistic to think that you can always control your stress levels, using methods to manage stress can go a long way toward regulating your body’s internal fire.

Hopefully this information has helped you to address the habits that can sabotage your weight-loss resolution. If so, share the knowledge and pass the link on to your friends. Getting back in shape is always easier with your support group.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


Creamy Potato Gratin Recipe

Creamy Potato Gratin
Creamy Potato Gratin

This very-familiar comfort food is just as well known as Pizza Margherita but the following recipe for Potato Gratin is my take on it and I find it superior to the mainstream version. The name sounds fancy but in reality, gratin just means ” a dish with a light browned crust of breadcrumbs or melted cheese.”

Potato Gratin Ingredient List (use organic when possible)

  • Cooking spray such as Pam
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup mayo (I use the kind made with olive oil because it is more heart-healthy)
  • 1 tsp Himalayan or pink salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (I leave the skins on for the nutrition)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 3/4 cup chopped basil

Preparation Steps

Creamy Potato Gratin Preparation
Creamy Potato Gratin Preparation
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Spray the bottom of a 9″ X 9″ glass baking dish with the cooking spray.
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk the mayo, pepper, salt, cream, and cheddar cheese.
  • Wash and slice potatoes 1/8″ thick.
  • Arrange potato slices in the baking dish, spread on a layer of the cream sauce, and sprinkle on some parsley and basil.
  • Repeat layers as needed (you might have some potato left over).
  • Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour.
  • Remove foil, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top, and broil until the top is lightly browned, about 2-5 minutes.

That’s all there is to it. Creamy potato gratin is suitable for a side or a main dish by itself. Give it a try; if you have any interesting ingredients to add, let our readers know in the comment section. Feel free to pass this recipe along to your friends and social media.


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


Is the Impossible Burger Better than a Beef Burger?

The plant-based impossible Burger
Meat… I mean meet the impossible Burger

The “impossible burger” has been getting a lot of press lately. Burger King was quick to jump on it by crafting a Whopper version to capture that part of the market stricken with carnophobia (fear of meat). Undoubtedly they have met with some degree of success. After all, if a group of carnivore co-workers drag along their vegan comrade, he or she doesn’t have to settle for salad. Go for that guilt-free burger!

Before we delve into nitty-gritty of composition and nutrition, let’s try to answer the burning question: does it taste right or does it taste like a salad patty? For the purposes of answering, I made a visit to Burger King. Result? It tasted like its beef counterpart to me. As a bonus, for 10 minutes there, I was saving the planet. Karma.

The company that developed the Impossible Burger is, not surprisingly, Impossible Foods. Their mission statement reads as follows, “Animal agriculture occupies almost half the land on earth, consumes a quarter of our freshwater, and destroys our ecosystems. So we’re doing something about it: We’re making meat using plants, so that we never have to use animals again.” In all fairness I have to ask, don’t plants occupy real estate? Don’t they consume water? And how do cows destroy the ecosystem? I live in Texas where cattle is abundant and I have yet to see one of those lumbering brutes ravaging the countryside.

What Ingredients are in an Impossible Burger?

In 2016 the original Impossible Burger used texturized wheat protein. Then, this past January the company swapped it out with soy protein concentrate which has been served exclusively as of April. The soy was intended to deliver a higher-quality protein. But it also meant that the new patty was gluten-free, something the company said customers wanted.

Next, the research chefs added fats, notably coconut and sunflower oil. This was to give the burger a juicy sizzle on the grill in an attempt to more closely mimic “meat”. Additionally, they threw in fillers and binders like methylcellulose and modified food starch to hold it all together. Next they focused on additives to make the burger look, feel, and taste just right.

If that Impossible Whopper had an ingredient label on it you would see:

Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2 percent or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12. Well, at least there’s some vitamins in there!

The Impossible Burger also contains heme, unlike other veggie patties. Heme is an iron-containing molecule commonly found in myoglobin in muscle tissue and hemoglobin in blood. This is what what makes meat taste like meat. Plants contain it as well.

Is It Healthier than Real Beef?

In the words of Elisabetta Politi, M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N., Nutrition Director of the Duke Diet & Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina, “No. I don’t think it’s any healthier. As a nutritionist, I tell people that if we want to find a way to address obesity and diabetes, it’s to go back to the way our grandparents ate. I’m not saying that genetic modification is wrong, but I think it’s disconcerting to make up food. I would not consider this wholesome food because it’s something that has gone through a lot of changes and was created in a lab by the food industry.”

As far as saturated fat (the bad stuff) goes, she says, “An 85 percent lean beef burger, which is what you see in restaurants, has about 6 percent saturated fat. An Impossible Burger has 8 grams of saturated fat in a four ounce patty, because it contains all that coconut oil.”

The Impossible Burger falls short on protein. A beef burger offers 29 grams while the Impossible weighs in at 19 grams. If you live with high blood pressure like I do, you should also know that the Impossible contains 370 milligrams of sodium, or about 16 percent of the recommended daily amount whereas there are only 82 milligrams in a beef burger. That’s a huge difference.

The Impossible Burger has the edge when it comes to fiber, as you might imagine. Beef has zero but the Impossible delivers 3 grams, or about 11 percent of the daily-recommended amount. Regularity is a good thing.

The Bottom Line

Both Impossible Burgers and Beef burgers have their pros and cons. As I’ve said before, the “fake meat” tastes the same as the “real meat” to me so it’s really just a matter of choice. If you’re a vegan, environmentalist, or just making a political statement you can now enjoy a burger without guilt.


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About the author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


Classic Beef Stroganoff Recipe

Classic Beef Stroganoff
Classic Beef Stroganoff
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What’s not to like about Beef Stroganoff ? It’s a timeless dish that won’t break the budget and is easy to prepare. When I got a hankerin’ for it yesterday I did an internet search and was surprised by all the variations.

If you are on a low-carb diet but are hankerin’ for something pasta-y and this dish sounds a bit too much, I suggest trying my low-carb spaghetti carbonara recipe.

In case you are curious — the Stroganoff (or Stroganov) family in 18th century Russia is mainly associated with the popular beef dish which bears its name. The dish likely goes back to a much earlier peasant favorite, but is now usually attributed to the household of Count Pavel Stroganoff (1774-1817).

Beef Stoganoff Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds of beef sirloin steak, 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced (2 1/2 cups)
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups Progresso™ beef flavored broth (from 32-ounce carton)
  • 1/4 cup butter (I prefer Kerrygold unsalted Irish butter but suit yourself)
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups hot cooked egg noodles

Preparation Steps

  1. Cut the beef across the grain into roughly 1 1/2×1/2-inch strips.
  2. Cook the mushrooms, onions, and garlic in butter using a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the onions are tender. Then, remove from skillet.
  3. Cook the beef strips in the same skillet until they’re brown. Next, stir in 1 cup of the broth, the salt, and the Worcestershire sauce. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover the skillet and simmer 15 minutes.
  4. Stir the remaining 1/2 cup of broth into the flour and stir into the beef mixture. Stir in the onion mixture and heat to just boiling, stirring constantly to maintain consistency. Boil and stir for 1 1/2 minutes and reduce heat. Finally, now stir in the sour cream. Heat until hot but do not boil it. Serve over noodles and enjoy.

So that’s all there is to making classic beef Stroganoff. Like most of the recipes that I enjoy, it is very adaptable; throw in any extra ingredients or condiments that you like (I’m fond of homemade habanero hot sauce). If you like this recipe, please share the link with your friends. Enjoy!

Nutritional Information

Calories: 435Calories from fat: 295
Total Fat 23 g
Saturated Fat10 g
Cholesterol 115 mg
Sodium 620 mg
Potassium 560 mg
Total Carbohydrate 31 g
Dietary Fiber2 g
Protein 28 g
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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.