Sunday, February 27, 2011

Our Love/Hate Relationship with Dairy

If you are alive, you have probably seen the ads for the ‘Got Milk’ campaign somewhere. This campaign promotes frequent dairy consumption by placing the milk moustache on stars like Chris Brown, Serena Williams, Hugh Jackman, and Danica Patrick. The slogan for the campaign is… wait for it… “Got Milk?” If having a milk moustache would make me as badass as Danica Patrick, I would wear one everywhere. What’s hotter than a smoking woman driving smoking cars? In other news, ‘The Fast and the Furious 4’ is coming out this year. Yes, yes, I know, I’m digressing. Okay, back to dairy products.

To further confuse you, a couple of weeks ago, we held a vegan challenge eliminating all forms of dairy products from our diets for a whole week. This propagates the notion that dairy is bad for you, right? Don’t these two ideas negate each other? So what should we really believe? Here are a few facts about dairy products.

Dairy is rich in protein: If you are working out and trying to lose weight or gain muscle, your body needs tons of protein. Good protein. And dairy is a good protein source. Some other good forms of dairy products like nuts are high in fat, but with dairy, there are tons of low-fat options you can turn to. Dairy contains complete proteins, so the body can process all of the amino acid in items like milk and yogurt.

Dairy is rich in calcium: When we were children, we needed calcium to build strong bones. As we grow older, we need calcium to keep our bones strong and prevent diseases like osteoporosis and colon cancer. Yes, dairy is not the only source of calcium. You can get calcium from food like soy milk and baked beans, but dairy is also a good source.

Sleep like a baby: Research shows that for people that suffer from insomnia, dairy products improve sleep quality and even improves alertness when you wake up. So if you have trouble sleeping, a glass before bed might help ease you into dreamland and keep you asleep.

Nutrition content of milk: Milk is the most popular form of dairy products. And since it is a liquid, we sometimes feel like we can drink as much as we want and not be concerned about it. However, we still need to be careful while we drink milk because just like most other foods, it does contain calories as well. Below is the number of calories in the various types of milk (one glass of each):

Whole milk: 150 calories, 8 grams of protein
2% reduced fat milk: 122 calories, 8.1 grams of protein
1% reduced fat milk: 102 calories, 8.2 grams of protein
Skimmed milk: 86 calories, 9 grams of protein

Obviously from the numbers above, you know that my next statement would be “stick to low fat dairy”. I know, I know. Whole milk tastes better, yogurt that is not fat-free tastes better, and cheese (oh such milky cheese) always tastes better. But with dairy that is high in calories, it is very easy to go over the number of calories you should be eating in any given day. Low fat milk still gives you the perfect amount of protein, but just keeps the number of calories down.

Now, if you are lactose intolerant, you could try other non-dairy options for milk, like almond milk, soy milk, and even lactose-free milk to get your protein and calcium in.

Going vegan: So why would we cut dairy out of our diets if it is so great? Because the truth is that although a lot of dairy products are one nutritious package, most of the nutrients can also be gotten from other foods with lower fat content. We talked about non-dairy options for milk, which contain all of the same nutrients, and in some cases, much less calories.

Another reason we could cut out dairy from our diets is that there is so much food that contains dairy that you could cut out by simply cutting out dairy. For one, those chocolates that we simply pick up as we go about our days, the salad dressings that we use, the pizza, the cookies, and so on. There is so much popular food that adds a significant number of calories to our daily diet that we could cut out by simply cutting out dairy.

So should you add more dairy or cut out some dairy from your diet? It depends on what your goals are. But as you make a decision, please remember that dairy does contain a lot of important nutrients, but it does also contain calories. So eat dairy products in moderation, and try to stick to the low-fat, low-calorie kind where you can.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Three Amazing Cable Machine Exercises for the Arms

With the invention of multiple-function machines, we have cable machines at home and cable machines at the gym. The relationship a lot of us have with the cable machine goes something like this: We have no idea what to do with it. Or maybe we see some bulky dude doing some stuff and so we just copy him. Or we copy whatever we see on the pictures on the machine, and it feels uncomfortable like we’re straining our muscles rather than working them. And then we don’t ask for help because, well, it is exercise and no one wants to draw attention to themselves. So I figured I’d help out and let you know some of the cable machine exercises I think are great for toning/building muscle, and how you can do them effectively.

Bicep curl 
If you’re not good at maintaining your posture when doing bicep curls with individual dumbbells, this is a good tool to help you get those curls in. Because it is one bar rather than two separate dumbbells, it helps to maintain that fixed path of motion. On the negative, because it is one bar, the stronger arm helps the weaker one when lifting, whereas with dumbbells, you can easily tell which arm needs more work. See the video below for a proper bicep curl on the cable machine.

Note: It is easy to move our whole arms and even our whole bodies back and forth when we use the cable machine to do bicep curls. The key is to keep the body as straight as possible, keep the pulley as close to the floor as possible, and do the full range of motion with the lift using your elbows only. This may mean that you don’t get your arms completely straight, but our bodies are all different and so that’s okay.

Overhead triceps extension 
I must admit, the body position for this particular exercise is a little awkward. So if you feel more discomfort than muscle tension, you can revert back to the dumbbell version. The dumbbell version starts in a standing position, lifting the arms straight above the head while holding dumbbells, and then releasing just the elbows down behind the back to a 90 degree position. The cable machine version involves gripping the bar behind your head with your elbows bent 90 degrees right by your ears, standing and leaning forward, placing one foot in front of the other slightly bent, and then pulling the bar forward and over head till your arms are straight. It’s a little difficult to picture so watch the video below for a clearer image. The video shows the exercise with a rope rather than a bar, but you could do it with either one.

Note: For the bicep curl, the pulley should be all the way to the bottom, but for the triceps extension, the pulley should be all the way at the top. Again, make sure you are not moving your whole body with this exercise. You only want to move your elbows. Always keep your elbows close to your ears to feel this in your triceps.

Lateral raise 
Imagine lifting your arm up parallel to the floor on your side. That’s what this exercise is about. So bring the pulley all the way down again, and let your side (right or left depending on which arm you start with) face the weights on the machine. Keep your body straight, and with the arm further away from the machine, pull the cable passing the front of your body all the way to the opposite side. With this particular exercise, we don’t bend and straighten the arms so keep the arms relatively straight (not 90 degrees, but not fully straight to lock in your elbow joints). Do this on both sides. Watch the video below for a detailed description.

Note: Machine sure you stand in the middle of the weights so not leaning forward and not leaning back. But don’t stand too close where your body is almost leaning on the machine.

We’ll talk about more cable exercises you can try soon. But till then, try these and let me know how it works out for you. Did you feel more muscle tension? Make sure you adjust the weights to get the desired effect. I mean, if you’re doing this on five-pound weights you’re probably not feeling anything. And if you’re using weights that are too heavy for you, you probably won’t be able to keep your posture right. So find your balance. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out here or via email at

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why Should I Care What Color My Rice Is?

Last week at lunch, my friends asked the question “Why is brown rice better than white anyway?” That got me thinking. Most people may just eat the brown or whole grain version of foods because it sounds healthier, but do we actually know why?

So how is white rice different from brown?
I always thought the process to create white rice did not really make sense. To turn brown rice to white rice, manufacturers remove the bran and most of the germ layer. However, in removing those layers, they also remove some of the essential nutrients. But then they try to synthetically re-introduce these nutrients after the rice has been whitened, and then call it ‘fortified white rice’. Why take out nutrients if you’re just going to attempt to put some of them back, mostly unsuccessfully? But then again, the shell of brown rice does not stay fresh for so long, so white rice tends to have a longer shelf life than brown. This may be why brown rice is usually packaged in much smaller quantities than white rice.

Why should you care?
There are so many reasons you should opt for brown rice over white. First of all, it is in its most natural state. Eating unprocessed food usually means that the body will spend more energy digesting, keeping you fuller for longer. Over processed food goes through the system really quickly, leaving you hungry faster and burns less calories in the digestive process.

Second, brown rice contains so many nutrients that get removed during the whitening process. It contains tons of vitamins, tons of minerals, iron (women take note), and fiber. Some of these minerals have been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers, like colon and breast cancers, and even diabetes.

Lastly, studies have shown that people that eat whole grain foods weigh less than people that don’t. Whether this means these folks are just generally more health-conscious or that unprocessed foods actually do help you stay fuller, I can’t prove. But it is an encouraging statistic.

What are other brown vs. white food you should pay attention to?
Well, the part Africans don’t like to hear is that we need to reduce our intake of white bread. There are really great whole grain options for bread, especially the ones with the chunks in. Delicious.
Other foods we should be paying attention to are: Cereals, pastas, and even flour. Yes, you can ‘whole grain’ your baked goodies too.

On the plus side, if you’re reading this from Nigeria, you know you readily have local rice (wild rice) options. Local rice is unprocessed rice, so you’re good to go!

Will it be easy to make the switch?
Heck no! If you have been going the white route and want to switch to the brown route (no pun intended), it will be difficult mostly because, frankly, white tastes better than brown. I mean, no one would go through the process of getting the brown out if it didn’t actually taste better. But we’ve laid out the benefits above, and if you’re health conscious, which hopefully you are since you’re reading this article, you would slowly make a shift back to the original. And you know what they say: Once you go brown, you’ll stick around. No? Yeah, I agree, that doesn’t work.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

PS. If you took part in the vegan week challenge, and would love to be part of future Eights & Weights challenges, let us know. We want suggestions for health and fitness ideas you'd love to try.

Photo credit:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It’s Vegan Week! Ready to Give it All Up?

Photo credit:
Okay, so that’s not really a thing, but we at Eights & Weights are making it a thing. Yesterday, a few Eights & Weights readers started on the challenge to go vegan for a week. Basically, we are trying to promote the awareness that we may need to eat a little less meat and animal products to live a healthier lifestyle, not that you must treat animals right or must be vegan to be healthy. We can get some of our protein from other healthy sources, like plants (obviously). What do you think? Would you like to join us? Yes, we started on Saturday, but it’s never too late to start your own vegan week challenge!

The difference between being vegan and being vegetarian is that vegetarians don’t eat meat, but vegans don’t eat any products from animals, including but not limited to eggs, cheese, butter, ice-cream, and milk. I know it sounds like a daunting task to give up the basic things you eat every day, but there are so many substitutes now that you may not feel it as much as you think.

In our effort to go vegan this week, I thought it would be great to share a few meal options you could try. 

Eating Out
If you find that you have no time to cook, or you have to eat out every day, there are still vegan options you could incorporate into your diet for the next week.
  • Salads: Most places give a bean option for your salad instead of meat. I wouldn’t suggest just sticking to garden salad because you still need your protein, so get some beans in there. However, if you go to a restaurant that has no vegan options on the menu, ask for substitutes! Ask if you can substitute the meat in one of the salads for beans, corn, tofu, or any other meat substitute.
  • Sandwiches: Luckily, most fast food restaurants now have vegetarian sandwich options. But make sure you ask if it is considered vegan as well because some vegetarian sandwiches may contain eggs or other animal products. If you don’t see any options on the menu, ask if they can make a substitution for you. Be careful with the bread you choose as well because some bakers do put eggs in their bread. When in doubt, stick to a wrap instead of a bun or a slice. 
  • Rice and noodles: When you eat at a lot of Chinese, Thai, Mexican, or any other rice-based food, it’s easy to mix it up by simply adding a lot of vegetables and asking to take out the meat or eggs. Chinese restaurants are usually very good with providing a ‘healthy’ portion of their menu where they can make most substitutions you want. And if Chipotle has taught me anything about Mexican food (yes, shoot me now), it is that if you have enough beans, salsa, green peppers, and onions, you can freely skip the meat altogether. 
  • Soy and wheat: Now, if you must have something that tastes like meat (somewhat), let me introduce you to the world of tofu, tofurky, and mock duck. You can find these in a lot of restaurants nowadays. Aren’t we luckier than our parents?
  • Desserts: A lot of health stores sell great vegan cakes. I tasted this chocolate vegan cake from Whole Foods a few weeks ago, and I had my mouth open wide (after I chewed) because it was so good. But the key is to always ask. I know a lot of bakeries that don’t necessarily advertise that their cupcakes are vegan, but if you ask, they’d tell you which ones are the vegan ones.

Eating at Home
If you like to cook, or just like to save money, and cannot fathom how you would do it without your beloved chicken, here are some options that could help you out.
  • Spice it up: Well, the truth is that a lot of Africans and Indians like spice. And we can take some lessons from the Indians because they have the ability to create a very tasty meal without the word ‘meat’ coming close to it. Africans (Nigerians especially) have a lot of meat-based foods, but we can simply cut out the meat and add some more spices to give it a great tasting flavor. A good example of a spicy vegan option is a potato curry.
  • Traditional and Vegan: Sometimes, we think we have no vegan meals at all, but that is not necessarily true. There are a few meals that can be made without any meat: Vegetable soup (efo), bean cake (moin-moin or akara), jollof rice, yam pottage, and many more!
  • Pasta: I know the Italian restaurants sometimes make it seem like you can’t make pasta without cheese, but you definitely can. You can actually make your marinara sauce from scratch too if you are worried about store-bought ones containing meat products. In fact, this link here from contains a variety of vegan marinara recipes that I think are awesome: Vegweb. But marinara is not the only think you can eat with pasta. You can create garlic-based pasta stir-fries, or even make lasagna with spinach and tofu rather than cheese and meat. 
  • Alternatives: There are so many vegan alternatives you could use to cook meals at home. For example, if you needed to use eggs, you could replace that with cornstarch or mashed tofu. If you needed to use cheese, you could replace it with soy cheese alternatives. For curries, you could use coconut milk instead of meat stock. Oprah gives some vegan alternative options on her website: Oprah's site
  • Breakfast: For breakfast, soy milk is the one item that holds all vegan meals together. Once you have your soy milk and wheat cereal or oats, you’re good to go. Don’t like milk? Well, there are other options like whole grain bread (make sure it’s vegan) and peanut butter.

Have any questions about going vegan? Please leave a comment or contact us at, and we’d be happy to help. Send us your email to be included in the daily tip email group for vegan tips this week, or for general fitness tips all other days.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

NOTE: We are not organizing this challenge because we at Eights & Weights are incredibly sympathetic to animals. On the contrary, we believe in the right to kill and eat.
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