Tuesday, August 26, 2014

More than a Calorie Counter: A Review of MyFitnessPal Products

A fork holds a pea, a salad, and a cookie.  Do you need help keeping track of the food you eat?
Do you need help counting calories or compiling
additional nutritional information?

MyFitnessPal's free calorie-counting products are user-friendly, educational and effective.

I have been ten to twenty-five pounds over my ideal weight, up and down, for about five years. Just exercising has not helped me lose those extra pounds I've been carrying, and I have known all along that the way I was eating was contributing to the problem. Two weeks ago, I decided to make a change. For my first step, I sat down with my phone to search for "an app for that." I found MyFitnessPal, a free mobile app with very high user ratings. I decided to give it a try. Two weeks later, I've lost four pounds, and I'm more knowledgeable than ever about how my lunchtime choices affect my health.

MyFitnessPal's Free Mobile App and Web Site are Quick and Easy to Use

MyFitnessPal can be used quickly and easily on either a user's iPhone mobile device, Android mobile device, Blackberry device, or on the Web site. In large green numbers, the homepages display the number of calories a user, based on his or her start-up goals and settings, has left to consume in a day. As the day progresses and entries are added, food calories are deducted from the total, and exercise calories are added to the total. Summary information is available as a graph, or as a "Fitness," "Nutrition," or "Progress" Report. It's very easy to check-in and keep track.

Although it may seem like an overwhelming task to keep track of calories, this product makes it quite simple. Every user has access to an extensive database of both calorie-per-food and calorie-per-exercise information. It's very easy to search for a food by brand, choose a serving size, and add the food to the diary for the day. Exercises can be searched by type, time spent, and level of activity. Foods and exercises that are used often, like a daily coffee, for example, can be clicked and reused in seconds without searching. Calories can also be quickly added or deducted without being linked to a food or exercise, and foods or exercises a user wants to add to the database can be added at any time.

The Site Provides Educational Nutrition and Calorie Information

As mentioned previously, each MyFitnessPal user has access to an extensive database of calorie and nutritional information. This type of information, at a person's fingertips, can be used to make decisions on a daily basis about what to eat - before it's purchased and eaten. Not only do the databases contain Calorie information, but fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, protein, and vitamins A, C, calcium, and iron. This makes it possible for nutritional information to be used by people who may have additional health concerns in any way they may need to use it. For instance, a person with high blood pressure may be more interested in sodium or potassium than in calories.

In addition to the databases, this product offers access to recipes, personal recipe calorie calculations, weight-loss tickers, a Basal Metabolic Rate calculator, a Body Mass Index calculator, and a heart calculator. All of these are useful on their own, but when used together to promote an all-around healthy lifestyle, they are invaluable. The more educated a person is about his or her own health, the healthier he or she is likely to be.

A Free Online Product to Help You Eat Healthier 

According to the 2011 Food and Health Survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation, when asked "Over the past six months, have you made any changes in an effort to improve the healthfulness of your diet?" 59% of American responders answered, "Yes." To me, this does not seem like enough. So perhaps with its extensive tools and databases, ease of use, and its social networking functions, MyFitnessPal will help more people meet this main objective, the objective of those Americans who responded "Yes," is to lose weight and lead healthier lives. One has only to look at the outpouring of support, positive messages, and success stories on the Message Boards to see that this product works. One only has to try it to feel that it works.


International Food Information Council Foundation (2011). 2011 Food and Health Survey. Retrieved from http://www.foodinsight.org/

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication. Originally published on Aug 11, 2011.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bell Pepper Soup: An Adaptable Veggie Classic

Images of home made bell pepper soup with ground turkey.
An easy, inexpensive, gluten-free recipe!

This adaptable soup, made with three types of bell peppers, is flavorful, colorful, healthy, and fairly inexpensive.

This bell pepper soup is exceptionally adaptable. It's a great recipe to use whether I'm feeding a large group of big eaters or just cooking for myself. I freeze any leftovers in glass storage containers and pull them out of the freezer for single meals, making it easy to pack lunches or plan for a busy week. After it's reheated, there is no lost flavor.

I can also make this soup a few different ways depending on my budget—either my money budget or my calorie budget. Depending on my guest list, it can be gluten-free, sugar-free, low-sodium or high-fiber. My favorite way is to make this soup by choosing low-fat and low-calorie ingredients because the low-calorie and low-fat ingredients make up for eating it with homemade bread and butter and a big glass of milk!

I've marked here what I've found to be either required or optional ingredients.

Required Ingredients for Bell Pepper Soup

From the fresh produce department

3 fresh bell peppers (I like to use one green, one red or orange and one yellow.)
1 small bag of baby carrots
1 sweet onion

From the canned goods aisle

2 -3 cans/jars stewed or diced tomatoes
1 large can/box chicken broth

From the meat department

1 pound of ground turkey

"Soup it Up" with Optional Ingredients

Yellow bell peppers behind small piles of diced red and green bell peppers.
Make this soup using three kinds of bell peppers.

From the spice rack 

(I add all my spices to the turkey while it's browning.)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon fresh garlic
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon mixed, ground peppercorns
1 tablespoon chili powder (Surprisingly, adding this is best in the summer when it's hot.)

From the frozen foods aisle

1 cup frozen spinach
1 cup frozen beans

Homemade or dry ingredients

1-2 handfuls of Polish kluski or Hungarian rivilchas (I add these when it's cold outside, but when I add noodles, I have to use more chicken broth. This option is not the low-calorie option.)

Steps for Making Bell Pepper Soup

Carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, and ground turkey in a chicken broth.
Even after cooking, the soup remains bright and colorful.
1. I use a teeny-tiny bit of olive oil in a 6-quart kettle to prevent my meat from sticking. I brown my turkey, spices and onion in the kettle.

2. As the meat browns, I dice the peppers and add them to the kettle, too. Because I use ground turkey, there is no need to drain the meat when it's cooked all the way through, and I can add the tomatoes, broth, beans, spinach and carrots right into the same kettle. This has to come to a boil, then I lower the heat to simmer for an hour. It takes that long for the baby carrots to get soft—and longer when I use big carrots.

3. During the last 10 minutes, I bring the soup back to a boil to add the kluski or rivilchas. Dry noodles and fresh noodles take the same amount of time to cook, but I've found that fresh noodles actually absorb more broth, so I have a little more broth on hand.

4. When the noodles are soft, I turn off the stove. Before I eat, I let the soup sit on the stove for 20 more minutes to cool—then I eat!

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.  First published Jul 1, 2011 by Amy Lynn Hess.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How to Write Recipes

A cookbook lays open in a lovely kitchen and a lemon meringue pie sits finished.

Written recipes are a type of expository writing.  The goal of a recipe writer is to explain to a reader how to prepare a dish.

Minimally, a recipe includes ingredients and step-by-step  instructions.  Sometimes a recipe includes a list of required equipment or skills. In addition to those basics, however, there are many other ways to liven up a recipe.  Sometimes a recipe writer will add nutritional information, a brief history of the dish or ingredients, or add alternative methods or dietary requirement instructions.  As readers, we may take a recipe writer's writing skills for granted as we drool over beautiful photographs of the finished product.  We shouldn't.

In addition to the recipe's content, a recipe writer must also pay special attention to writing conventions.   The grammar and mechanics of writing a recipe are just as important, if not more so, than in any other piece of expository writing.

Measurements and Abbreviations

First, a recipe writer must adhere to a consistent set of measurements and abbreviations.  Can you imagine a new baker reading a recipe and trying to figure out how to combine 4g of baking powder with 1C of flour and 2 ounces of baking soda?  What about .5L of milk?  How about if it said 4 TBS or 4 TBLS or 4 TSPS?  Is 4 tsp the same as 4 TSPS?  And aren't ounces for liquids?  Some fortunate souls might be able to work it out, but others will not.  Therefore, it is essential that a recipe contain measurements and abbreviations consistent with the conventions accepted by the intended audience and consistent within the recipe - not changing willy nilly in the midst of the recipe.

Verb Tense and Order

Second, a recipe writer must use the proper verb tense and explain the cooking steps in such a way that they are easy to follow.  In other words, it's important to clearly tell the reader when tasks and steps should be completed by using a clearly defined step-by-step order.  A new cook might truly appreciate the instructions to preheat an oven while whisking eggs, or to add chopped nuts only moments before placing a bread into the oven. However, if the instruction to preheat the oven appears after the instruction to add chopped nuts, the instruction to add nuts moments before placing the bread into the preheated oven will be for naught.

A recipe will also read more smoothly if verbs are consistent with previous verbs.  It will read even more smoothly if the structure of each step emphasizes the verbs.  For example, each new step can begin with "chop," "dice," "saute," "steam," or "grate."

Vocabulary and Terminology

Third, when writing a recipe, the vocabulary of cooking must be used correctly.  "Saute" and "fry" may seem like the same thing to some cooks, but they really are not.  Likewise, to use the zest of lemon is not the same as using a lemon.  And can you imagine what might happen if you label a recipe gluten-free when it is not, or vegan when it is really vegetarian or pescatarian?  It is essential that the specific language of cooking, all the jargon and vocabulary associated with cooking, be used appropriately.

The main goal of a recipe writer is to help the reader recreate a favorite dish based on the written recipe.  That requires recipe writers pay very close attention to some very specific writing conventions in order to successfully meet that goal.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How to Paraphrase Source Content

An actor presents Act V Scene 1 from Hamlet, much to the confusion of the man on the left.
Comprehension is key to a successful paraphrase.
There are three ways to incorporate ideas from another writer into your own papers.  First, you might quote the original source.  Alternatively, you could summarize the main idea or ideas from a source.  Third, you could paraphrase the original by putting it into your own words while still expressing the context and tone of the original.

Of the three, I believe paraphrasing is the trickiest to master, as it requires complete comprehension of the original and a strong understanding of how to rephrase the original idea in context and in your own words.

A Paraphrase Requires Complete Comprehension of the Original Source Content 

First things, first:  In order to rephrase someone else's words, you must thoroughly understand the original.  For example, do you thoroughly understand the following sentence from a United States government memo written during World War II?

Such preparations shall be made as will completely obscure all Federal buildings and non-Federal buildings occupied by the Federal government during an air raid for any period of time from visibility by reason of internal or external illumination.

Franklin Roosevelt, the United States President at the time, found it difficult to understand.  However, once he worked out its meaning, he paraphrased it as "Tell them that in buildings where they have to keep the work going to put something across the windows."

A Paraphrase is a Rephrase the Original Source Content

In order to ethically paraphrase an original bit of text, the writer must put the idea into his or her own words, or use quotation marks to set apart any key words or phrases he or she doesn't change, and then attribute the original to the original writer.  Let's look at an example.

James Thurber once said "There is no good writing, only rewriting."  If I wanted to borrow that, I could learn it by heart and let others know I was quoting James Thurber, or I could try to paraphrase the idea - and still let others know the idea came from James Thurber.  I might say, "To paraphrase James Thurber, rewriting makes writing effective, not just writing." 

Always make sure the paraphrase is truly in your own words and not too close to the original.  Otherwise, you might be accused of plagiarism.

A Paraphrase Must Maintain the Original Content in Context

Mike Palmquist, writer of The Bedford Researcher, offers the following advice about paraphrasing in context:

"To provide a clear context for your source information, establish why the quotation, paraphrase, or summary is reliable by identifying the source's credential's.  In addition, indicate how it relates to your main idea and what it contributes to the point you're making." (pg. 252)

To paraphrase, you should always make sure a reader can tell the difference between your own writing and the paraphrased content of others.  Furthermore, you should make sure your readers know why you've included the paraphrased material by making sure you tell them how the content supports your own idea.  

For example, instead of stringing together a list of paraphrased facts . . .

While President Clinton was in office, private sector jobs grew more than at any other time in U.S. history.  While he was President, democrats held the majority in Congress.  President Obama's term in office has not seen such growth.  Republicans control Congress.

Make sure the reader knows where your information originated and what point you are trying to make by including it.  

Private sector job growth can be influenced by a number of factors.  One is the cooperation between the executive and legislative branches of government.  For example, while President Clinton was in office, private sector jobs grew more than at any other time in U.S. history (Jackson, 2006, para. 6).  Contributing to the successful jobs numbers was his ability to work seamlessly with the legislative branch: While he was President, and a democrat himself, democrats held the majority in Congress.  On the other hand, President Obama's term in office has not seen such growth (Smith, 2014, pg. 578).  As the republicans control Congress, they are seemingly unwilling to cooperate with President Obama, a democrat.

If you continue to practice diligently using and citing paraphrased source content, you will get more and more comfortable and adept at taking a bit of information, unraveling it, and rephrasing it in context.

Try my complete online essay writing course on Udemy Writing for English Composition: College Essays.