January 16, 2007

Moral Fiber: Gnu Foods' Flavor and Fiber Gnu Bar

GroupShotAD.jpgLooking for a way to break out of your afternoon snacking rut? A tasty, all natural alternative to your Balance Bar? Or maybe you're searching for something to spice up your morning when the bowl of Kashi with blueberries just isn't cutting it. Something healthy, low calorie, high fiber, and quick -- that you can grab and go, eat on the run, and feel good about. Well, we've recently come across something that moves us - in all senses of the word - the Chocolate Brownie Flavor and Fiber Gnu Bar from Gnu Foods.

Gnu Bars
are billed as "functional foods" - designed with health and dietary benefits in mind. Each bar contains 12 grams of dietary fiber (about half the recommended daily value). Plus, they're low fat, contain no high fructose corn syrup, and have only 140 calories per bar. (Compare that to a Balance Bar, which has 200 calories, high fructose corn syrup and other sugars, and contains only 1 gram of fiber per bar.) For those counting Weight Watchers points, Gnu Bars weigh in at 2 points per bar, compared to 4 points for my beloved Luna Bar Lemon Zest, and 5 or more points for the Balance Bar - yikes!

medium-orngcranpack.jpgGnu Bars come in four flavors: Chocolate Brownie, Cinnamon Raisin, Orange Cranberry and Banana Walnut. We did a taste test here at the office, and consensus was -- well, they're actually all surprisingly good. Chocolate Brownie was the hands down favorite (except for the non-chocolate lover), followed by Cinnamon Raisin, Orange Cranberry and Banana Walnut. The taste was characterized as "somewhere between Power Bar and Lara Bar, but really good," "flavorful and chewy," and "definitely more filling than a Luna Bar." Plus, we all agreed that with 50% of the recommended DV of fiber, and no added sugar (except in the Chocolate Brownie Bar, which has real chocolate chips), this bar actually qualifies as a healthy snack.

Gnu Bars are recommended (and, in fact, designed for) people who are trying to get more fiber into their diets. (And honestly, whether we're willing to admit it or not, all of us should be.) If you're not quite ready to come to terms with your fiber needs - I, for one, am NOT ready to start drinking Metamucil (though I do check the daily fiber in my breakfast cereals) - they're a great way to make sure you're getting the fiber you need without mixing up a glass of that telltale orange powder. They're a great snack to keep in your desk -- way better than cookies or other so-called "nutrition bars" -- and at least according to two of the parents in the office, they'd be great to pack in lunchboxes.

Available at GnuFoods.

Jess Brooks at Permalink social bookmarking

January 15, 2007

Penguin Humidifier: Breathe Easier

B000GWJD0A.01._AA280_SCLZZZZZZZ_V60821586_.jpgYes, I know there are probably better humidifiers on the market. But tell me, are they this cute?

Found this little fellow at Target this weekend and couldn't be happier with him. He silently pumps mist into the air (through the his beak, of course), and the one gallon tank seems to last forever (18 hours, according to the box). You'll breathe easier, and you'll smile every time you look at him.

Crane's Penguin Humidifier available at Target.

Jess Brooks at Permalink social bookmarking

January 10, 2007

Warm it Up: Maine Warmers Polar Bear Heating Pad

bears3.jpgTime to share with you my favorite gift of the holiday season - a present from my friend Jane. (Okay, full disclosure: we were strolling along Huron Avenue in Cambridge and found a basket full of these critters in Gray Mist, fell in love with them, and each bought one for the other. A perfect holiday gift-giving strategy.)

It looks like a wooly little polar bear -- snuggly, cute, filled with something that feels like an oversized Beany Baby. It's actually a microwaveable (and chillable) heating and cooling pad. You pop it in the microwave for two minutes, and out it comes, all toasty and warm, ready to soothe your achy muscles, relieve cramps, warm the bottom of the bed, or just snuggle up to you and make you feel warm and cozy.

Made in Maine by a company called Maine Warmers, the bear is actually filled with whole corn kernels, so when you heat it, it smells faintly of popcorn. The soft Berber covering is removable and machine-washable. When heated (or chilled), the bear stays warm (or cool) for about an hour -- perfect for warming you up, and releasing the stress of the day.

If the Cozy Bear isn't your cup of tea, it also comes in Wooly Lamb, Fuzzy Bunny and extra long Daschund for wrapping around your neck or waist.

Available at Maine Warmers.

Jess Brooks at Permalink social bookmarking

January 2, 2007

EO Organic Hand Sanitizer and Sanitizing Hand Wipes

EO Organic Hand Sanitzier.jpgLooking for an organic alternative to those anti-bacterial hand sanitizers? I was pleasantly surprised to discover that EO Organic, makers of some of our favorite hand soaps and moisturizers has come out with two organic hand sanitizing products, both scented with organic lavender essential oil. Both products are made from organic ingredients and are not tested on animals.

EO Organic Hand Sanitizer

EO Organic Hand Sanitizer uses organic (non-GMO) alcohol to kill germs on contact; lavender essential oil to make your hands smell nice, and aloe vera to nourish, moisturize and protect them.

Available at The Vitamin Shoppe.

EO Organic Sanitizing Hand Wipes
EO Santizing Hand Wipes.jpg

EO's handwipes use the same ingredients in a more portable form - handwipes - so you can take them wherever you go. Put some in your pocketbook, your gym bag, your car, your stroller. Regular handwipes are filled with chemicals; the EO version is totally organic. For an added bonus, the towelette is made of wood pulp, so it's totallly biodegradable.

Available at The Vitamin Shoppe.

Jess Brooks at Permalink social bookmarking

January 1, 2007

Breath a Little Easier: RabbitAir BioGP Air Purifier

RabbitAirBioGP.jpgWe may be in the market for a new HEPA air purifier. I've got my eye on the RabbitAir BioGP Air Purifier.

It operates in three stages: Stage 1 pre-filters large size particles, dust, pet hair, germs, fungus and mold. Stage 2 is the BioGP® HEPA filter which uses "bio fibers" to destroy bacteria and allergens including pollen, dust mites, bacteria, cigarette odor, fungus, greenhouse gasses, and household odors. Stage 3 is the Honeycomb Charcoal deodorization filter which removes exhaust gas, pet odor, trash odor, chemical substances, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's), household odor, and cigarette odor. Parts are sink-washable and dishwasher safe; and according the the company, the HEPA filter last 3 years (compared to 3-6 months for a typical HEPA filter.)

The Rabbit Air filter is evidently the quietest air purifier on the market, and gets great reviews on Amazon. Plus, Rabbit Air is selling it for 37% off the retail price of $600. (So you get it for $380 vs. $600.)

Available at Amazon.

Jess Brooks at Permalink social bookmarking

November 17, 2006

Wekend Reading: What to Eat by Marion Nestle

whatframe.jpgWhat to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices by Marion Nestle is this week's weekend reading. Nestle is a professor of nutrition at the NYU School of Public Health. I guess you could say she wrote the book on food politics. (In fact, she is the author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, a 2003 book that started much of the conversation around food and health that's taking place today. )

Explaining the inspiration for the new book, published this spring, she writes

What to Eat is is a book about how to make sensible food choices. Consider that today’s supermarket is ground zero for the food industry, a place where the giants of agribusiness compete for your purchases with profits—not health or nutrition—in mind. This book takes you on a guided tour of the supermarket, beginning in the produce section and continuing around the perimeter of the store to the dairy, meat, and fish counters, and then to the center aisles where you find the packaged foods, soft drinks, bottled waters, baby foods, and more. Along the way, it tells you just what you need to know about such matters as fresh and frozen, wild and farm-raised, organic and “natural,” and omega-3 and trans fats. It decodes food labels, nutrition and health claims, and portion sizes, and shows you how to balance decisions about food on the basis of freshness, taste, nutrition, and health, but also social and environmental issues and, of course, price.

I cannot begin to tell you how much fun this book has been to research and write. It turned out to be as challenging a project as any I have ever undertaken, but also a lot more entertaining. Every time I walked into a supermarket, I discovered something new and often unsuspected. The most seemingly mundane products (eggs! bottled water!) led me to discoveries I had not even imagined possible. I found something astonishing—and often quite amusing—in every section of the store. I hope that you are just as amazed and amused reading this book as I was while writing it. I also hope that you put it to immediate use. Enjoy, eat well, and change the world (for the better, of course).

Available at What to Eat.

Jess Brooks at Permalink social bookmarking

November 16, 2006

Natural Salt Lamps Cure Allergies?

2005smalllamp.jpgMy husband and I traveled to Chile a few years ago and brought back a natural salt lamp because we thought it looked really cool. (Confession: He's a total Star Trek fan, and I think he thought it looked like something out of Quark's bar.) We spent a couple of Saturday's retrofitting it so it would work with U.S. electrical outlets. And voila: a lighting unit you won't find in the Pottery Barn catalog. Want one? Sorry, you'll have to travel to Patagonia, my friend. And just try explaining it to the folks at Homeland Security.

But wait! Isabella Samovsky from Natural Salt Lamps just wrote to introduce herself. Turns out, she sells a whole range of salt lamps just like the one we carted back from Chile, and she'll save you the trip. Samovsky travels the world to find her Solay Salt Crystal Lamps - bringing back lamps from the Himalayas, Persia and Poland.

In addition to looking cool - and adding some definite zen to your living room, the lamps act as natural ionizers, great news for folks with allergies. Isabella explains:


Remember the feeling of breathing clean, fresh crisp air in nature? environments like mountains, springs, water falls and forests. Those natural places have an abundance of electrically charged negative (healthy happy ions). Salt crystal lamps by attracting moisture from the air, release those negative healthy ions. Those healthy ions gently purify the air by neutralizing bacteria, allergens, dust, so you experience healthier , cleaner air. No ozone, no noise and no filters to replace. They last indefinitely for your well-being.

Not sure I completely understand the science of it. All I know is we love 'em.

Available at Natural Salt Lamps.

Jess Brooks at Permalink social bookmarking

October 26, 2006

Recipe: Bee Pollen Popcorn

We recently went out for dinner at Gargoyles on the Square in Somerville, and were titillated by a menu that include a Petit Veal Cutlet with cream cheese noodles, bee pollen popcorn, cocoa nibs, and onion powder. (Yes, we do, on occasion, eat veal.) The bee pollen popcorn got more rave reviews than the rest of the meal combined - and it was a very good meal - so we vowed to recreate it at home. After submitting our results to a dinner party of nine on Sunday night and receiving ovations, we feel ready to share.

Note: DO NOT serve this dish to anyone allergic to bees. Also, don't be tempted to up the quotient of bee pollen unless you're accustomed to eating it. Bee pollen can cause an allergic reaction in anyone allergic to bees, and too much of it can cause gastrointestinal distress to anyone who isn't used to it. That said, it's chock full of B-vitamins and anti-oxidants and is said to boost immunity. Also, on popcorn, it tastes really good. (See the Herbal Information Center for more nutritional info on bee pollen.)

Here's the recipe:

Bee Pollen Popcorn a la Jess Brooks*
1/2 cup popcorn (unpopped)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon bee pollen**
Approximately 2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
Approximately 2 teaspoons sugar (to taste)

Heat oil over medium high heat in a large, heavy duty saucepan. Place 3 kernels of popcorn in saucepan and cover. When they pop, you'll know the oil is hot enough. Pour remaining popcorn kernels into saucepan and shake continuously until popping bascally stops, leaving lid open enough to release steam. (You'll want to wear oven mitts, because the pan will get quite hot.) Remove from heat.

Grind bee pollen to a fine powder in a coffee grinder or flax seed mill. Sprinkle over popcorn and stir. Add salt and sugar to taste and stir to ensure that bee pollen, salt and sugar are distributed evenly. Enjoy.

Makes a great accompaniment to soup or salad.

* Again, credit for originating this dish goes to the chef at Gargoyles on the Square. Thank you, Gargoyles, for broadening our palates and exciting our tastebuds once again.

Jess Brooks at Permalink social bookmarking

October 24, 2006

Bump and Grind: Grinding Flax Seeds

In our review of Uncle Sam's Cereal, we mentioned that you get more nutrional value out of ground flax seeds than whole ones. So, asks the astute reader, how do I get my flax seeds ground? Well, there are a couple of options.

First, you can buy your flax seeds pre-ground. Products like Barlean's Forti-Flax contain flax seed meal which are convenient and can be used straight from the jar. The challenge here is that flax seeds lose their nutritional value when exposed to air and light, so you'll need to keep them refrigerated.

You can also grind them yourself with a flax seed mill - whole flax seeds are far less expensive than ground seeds, and that way, you're only grinding the seeds you're planning to use right there and then.

A number of health food stores sell flax seed mills. We like the look of the William Bound Electric Flax Seed Mill, pictured at right, which has three speed settings for coarse, medium and fine grind, and comes with a cleaning brush.

We grind our flax seeds in a regular coffee grinder. Not as fancy as a flax seed mill, but it definitely does the trick.

Seem like too much work to buy a grinder and flax seeds? Wheatgrass Kits sells a Flax Seed Grinding Kit that includes everything you need to get more flax in your diet - the grinder, 5 pounds of flax seeds, and Johanna Budwig's book Flax Seeds as a True Aid Against Arthritis, Heart Infarction, Cancer and Other Diseases.

Buy flax seed-related products

Jess Brooks at Permalink social bookmarking

October 19, 2006

Which Fish is Safe to Eat?

The Harvard School of Public Health and the Institute of Medicine released conflicting studies yesterday detailing the health benefits and the risks of eating fish. The Harvard study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, says the cardiovascular health benefits from eating fish high in omega-3's outweighs the risk of contaminants such as PCBs. The Institute of Medicine is less optimistic, saying eating a diet rich in fish "may" reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.

As reported in The New York Times, both studies have come under fire from environmental groups and the Consumers Union for neglecting to address the risk of mercury in tuna. Nutrition experts like Marion Nestle argue that consumers are already confused about which seafood is safe to eat; these studies won't make it any clearer.

So, what's a concerned consumer to do? Check out Ocean's Alive or the Monterey Bay Aquarium website for downloadable guides to which fish are safe to eat.

Jess Brooks at Permalink social bookmarking

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