Sunday, January 19, 2014

Why It's a Good Idea to Read Food Labels

Remember that old definition of insanity--doing the same thing but expecting different results? I might have come up with a new one--driving three hours to take a one hour barre class, then getting back in the car and driving home.

Yup, I trucked back down to Physique 57 Scarsdale yesterday, and came straight back. Look for it in the next edition of the DSM. My only defense is that I had a free class to redeem, and I simply can't let a free class sit on the table. The drive was actually fairly pleasant--I got to listen to whatever I wanted on the radio! No Thomas the Tank Engine Songs for me! Yay!

Of course, I'll tell you it was worth it--a burn worthy hour with Brady that culminated in an assisted stretch! That's when the instructor gently pushes you deeper into the final stretches. I love it when I'm the assisted stretch recipient. Lalalala....

Following class I was my usual disoriented self. In fact, I nearly forgot my purse, so I decided to float over to the grocery store before attempting to operate a motor vehicle. I was in the mood for some kind of drink... not the sangria kind, which naturally would not have assisted the motor vehicle operation, but something... I don't know... juice-y? Protein-y?

I settled on this fascinating concoction:

A quinoa smoothie! With blueberries! Goodness, doesn't that sound like dietary virtue in a bottle? There were all kinds of healthy buzz-phrases on the label... things like 'ancient grains' and 'vegan superfood.' What's not to love about that? It conjures up images powerful Incan warriors... a smoothie, of all things, that has withstood the test of the ages. Clearly, I'm a sucker for marketing. Post-barre lalalas don't assist in deductive reasoning.

I was excited to slurp down my 'super punch of nutrition' that included 'all nine essential amino acids' and was 'rich in fiber.' The only problem was the mild chocolate craving I was having. I didn't really want to get chocolate because I knew I was spending a total of six hours sitting in the car. Not exactly a calorie torching day, even factoring in what Brady had done to me.

Then I remembered something my friend and reader Deb told me--apparently chocolate milk has been determined to be a pretty decent recovery drink. It contains (according to Deb) 'the perfect balance of protein and carbohydrates for replenishing and restoring muscles after exercise and minimizing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness.)' Before you spit out whatever you're drinking and decide I have taken complete leave of my senses, I should tell you that Deb is actually a registered dietitian. She admitted she hadn't thoroughly read the studies because she really likes chocolate milk and didn't want to jinx it, but Deb is a very sensible person, so I picked up a little chocolate milk, too.

Now for the moment of truth: the quinoa smoothie? YUCKY. Not yummy AT ALL. The chocolate milk? VERY YUMMY.

Then I read the labels.
Turns out the quinoa smoothie had more calories than the chocolate milk, about the same sugar content, and less protein, calcium and vitamin D. And by 'less' I mean WAY less. The smoothie had slightly more iron and fiber, but not much. It was also twice the price. Gah. I feel like an idiot.

When I got home, I did a little research into chocolate milk. One study tested chocolate milk as a workout recovery drink on nine cyclists. Each cyclist biked to exhaustion, then rested for four hours... and by 'rested' I mean they drank low-fat chocolate milk, Gatorate or another high-carbohydrate sports drink called Endurox R4. Then they they hopped back on the bikes and cycled to exhaustion again.

The chocolate milk drinkers performed just as well or better as those who drank the other stuff, and milk has the added benefits of calcium and vitamin D. Of course, there were only nine of them, so take that for what it's worth. I think the word has gotten out on it, though. I saw several chocolate milk trucks on the way home. It's a sign.

However, here's the sticky wicket--not every activity needs to be followed by a carb-rich recovery drink like chocolate milk. Or any recovery drink, other than water. These beverages are best suited to endurance-type activities, not so much a walk with a neighbor around the block, or even a nice thigh-toasty barre class. For many exercisers, recovery drinks are just unnecessary calories. My milk box was only 150 calories, not bad for a treat. So enjoy a little chocolate milk, but don't go crazy with it.

The moral of the story is that some things seem really healthy, but aren't necessarily better for you than foods you think of as... well, not-so-healthy. Though I would like to point out that my chocolate milk was 'produced without antibiotics, synthetic hormones and toxic pesticides.' It's also from farmer-owned Organic Valley, which means the cows all sit criss-cross-applesauce in a grassy field and sing kumbaya.

Marketing is powerful.

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