Three Reasons Why Kettlebell Swings are The Perfect Exercise

Kettlebells come in all sizes. For the Kettlebell swing, it's best to start with a lower weight and move up.Kettlebells were developed in Russia in the 1700s. They were used by the Soviet Army as party of physical training and conditioning in the 20th century. They have been in the United States since the 1960′s, but only recently have become popular.

I bought a Kettlebell a few years ago after reading about it in The Four Hour Body. I was using it pretty often, mostly for bicep curls. Then I started doing The Kettlebell Swing, which is a full-body exercise, great for both cardio and muscle building. It was great until I injured myself by doing it incorrectly. Since then, I stopped using my Kettlebell.

This weekend, I was reminded of how awesome an exercise it is. Youtube to the rescue, I watched some Kettlebell swing tutorials, making sure to use the correct form this time.

Why Kettlebell Swings are claimed to be the perfect exercise

  1. They are highly efficient. You get aerobic and weight taining in one workout
  2. Full body training. Swings develop the posterior muscles (hamstrings, glutes, core, back) as well as abs and the core muscles
  3. They are a great body fat burner when done at high intensity intervals

 

Image Credit: GiryaGirl

Is Your Password “123456″ too?

Combination padlockThe most common password of 2013 was “123456″. Easy to remember, but not complex. Like most people, I’m bad about remembering passwords. Especially complex ones. I use multi-factor authentication on my Google and Facebook accounts, but most other sites don’t have this capability. What’s a user to do?

LastPass Password Manager to the Rescue

I use a service called LastPass, which remembers all your site passwords. You can also store other documents (such as Passport, Social Security Card, etc) in a digital vault. Most LastPass functionality is free, but for $12 per year, you can upgrade to a Premium account (I did this).

Things I like about LastPass:

  1. The biggest security risk of using a service like this: if someone finds out your master password, you’re screwed. LastPass mitigates this risk with multi-factor authentication capability built-in. This makes it much more secure (you can use Google Authenticator with it).
  2. It remembers your username / password for each site, and has a browser plugin which optionally auto-populates these for you.
  3. It can create highly complex random passwords for each of the sites you login to. After you’ve created highly complex random password, it remembers it so you don’t have to.
  4. It alerts you of common security no-no’s. For example, if you are using the same password for more than one site.

Things I don’t like about LastPass:

  1. The mobile app. I’ve created some highly-complex passwords for apps (ex. Bank Account) that I don’t remember. I have to open the LastPass mobile app, then copy and paste the password into the app I want to use. This becomes tedious, but I prefer it over less security.

Disclosure

The links above use the LastPass “refer a friend” program. This gives both myself and you a free month of LastPass Premium.

Six of my favorite Truffle Oil Recipes

Black truffles at the market. Due to their cost, most people opt for Truffle Oil recipes instead of real trufflesTruffles are one of the most expensive cooking ingredients. They grow under ground near the roots of trees and are notoriously hard to find. Truffle oil is a more affordable option if you want to get the truffle experience.

The first time I tasted truffle oil was on a a wild mushroom pizza. The flavor is hard to describe. It’s kind of like a mushroom but much stronger in aroma. It was love at first taste for me. Soon, I purchased a bottle of my own truffle oil. Most truffle oil (including what I use) is actually made with a chemical or natural truffle oil flavor, and has not been in direct contact with truffle oil.

Six of my favorite truffle oil recipes

  1. Steak: Truffle Ribeye Steak with Garlic Mashed Potato. I use red lentils instead of mashed potatoes.
  2. Eggs: Scrambled Eggs with Black Truffle Oil & Avocado
  3. Pizza: Wild Mushroom Pizza with Truffle Oil
  4. Pasta: Parmesan Mushroom Pasta with Truffle Oil
  5. Vegetables: Add white truffle oil as a final topping for asparagus or any kind of squash. So good!
  6. Popcorn: Just add some white truffle oil as a final topping to your popcorn.

Truffle hunting

In Europe, truffle hunters use trained pigs to find truffles. Italian white truffles emit a gas which is similar to the pheromone found in the mouth of a bore. Female pigs (sows) are used to hunt truffles because they are sensitive to that odor. Dogs are also used to hunt truffles in Europe, but they must be trained to detect the truffle scent. In Italy, the use of pigs to hunt truffles has been outlawed sine 1985. This was due to damage caused to the ground which lowered production of truffles in the region.

How do truffles spread?

A gross but interesting fact: Truffles attract small animals by their strong aromas. The small animals have the truffle spores in their intestinal tract, and spread the spores when they defecate.

Where to buy truffle oil, white versus black truffle oil

If you’re like me, these truffle oil recipes have your mouth watering. You can find truffle oil on Amazon.Com. I usually buy the white truffle oil brand La Tourangelle. White truffle oil is used in cooking as a topping (after a dish has been cooked). Black truffle oil can be used to flavor sauces and meats during cooking.

What’s your favorite truffle oil recipe?

I’m obsessed with truffle oil and would love to hear about your pairings / recipes. Please comment below.

The Smartest Way to Spend your Tax Refund: Roth IRA

Where to spend your tax refundTax season is coming to an end. What are you going to do with that refund? If you’re smart, and don’t have significant debt to pay off, you’ll invest it in a Roth IRA.

How most Americans are spending their tax refund

According to a TD Ameritrade survey this year, 61% of Americans plan to save or invest their refunds, 21% plan to pay off debt, and 18% plan to spend the money on necessities. Only 19% of survey respondents expected to make non-essential purchases with their refunds.

How I spent my tax refund this year

After completing my taxes in Turbotax, I had the option to spend a portion of the refund on an Amazon.Com gift card with a 10% bonus. I spent $200 on the Amazon gift card (getting a $20 bonus). The rest of my refund went toward opening a Roth IRA with Vanguard.

What’s a Roth IRA

A Roth IRA is a retirement plan which allows you to invest your money and take it out during retirement tax-free. Direct contributions to a Roth IRA can be taken out tax free and penalty free at any time. Tax free withdrawals on the growth portion (above the direct contribution) are tax free after age 59 1/2. In 2013-2014, a single person age 49 and below can invest up to $5,500 per year. Age 50 and above can invest $6,500 per year. You can invest the max contribution for the previous tax year (2013) until April 15th of 2014.

If you want more in-depth info on Roth IRA, I recommend Go Roth! by Kaye Thomas.

Opening a Roth IRA with Vanguard

The process takes about 10 minutes to setup a Roth IRA on the Vanguard website. You’ll need to choose your investments and transfer money to your account to get started. Vanguard lets you allocate the funds to either the 2013 or 2014 tax year. So if you have more than the $5,500 max sitting around, you can invest up to $11,000 between 2013 and 2014 (until April 15th).

If you have an trouble setting up the Vanguard Roth IRA, Matt at Saverocity Blog has a post with step-by-step instructions and common questions answered.

Why I chose Vanguard

Vanguard is very transparent about their fund fees, which are some of the lowest in the finance industry. I already had a Rollover IRA with them, so it was easy enough to setup an additional account. If I didn’t go with Vanguard, I would’ve gone with Schwab (which also has low fees).

How are you going to spend your tax refund?

I’m interested in hearing from you, please post a comment below.

How I Lost Weight by Eating like a Caveman on Paleo Diet

Typical paleo diet food: Summer lunch with spring vegetables, cherry tomato & steakI’ve tried all sorts of diets, including going vegetarian for six months. I don’t think you can read a book or blog post to find a perfect diet. It’s all about experimenting to find out what makes you feel good and gives you energy. This blog post is about my experiments with the so-called Caveman / Paleo Diet.

A few years ago, I started eating like a caveman. I removed grains, sugars, dairy, and processed foods from my diet. This was initially a five week experiment, but eventually became a change in my eating habits. Three books were my guides: The Four Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss, The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson, and The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf.

The Four Hour Body’s Slow Carb Diet

Slow Carb Diet explained in two sentences (from The Four Hour Body):

AVOID “WHITE” CARBOHYDRATES. Avoid any carbohydrate that is, or can be, white. The following foods are prohibited: all bread, rice (including brown), cereal, potatoes, pasta, tortillas, and fried food with breading. If you avoid eating the aforementioned foods and anything else white, you’ll be safe.

I heard about Tim’s book after reading his previous bestseller The Four Hour Workweek. The Four Hour Body recommended a slow carb diet to lose weight and get fit. Read Tim’s overview of the diet here. I tried it, and after 5 weeks, lost 6 pounds of fat (and unfortunately 2 pounds of muscle). The diet worked primarily because it was extremely simple and easy for me to follow (I felt full).

On Slow Carb, I typically ate:

Breakfast

  • 1 Cup Spinach (frozen)
  • ½ Cup Lentils (canned)
  • ½ Avocado (fresh)
  • 2 Fried Eggs (brown)
  • 2 slices of Turkey Bacon
  • 1 Tablespoon Kimchee

Lunch

  • 8 oz Chicken Breast
  • ½ Cup Black beans (canned)
  • 2/3 Cup Broccoli (frozen)

Dinner

  • Seafood mix: Tilapia, scallops, shrimp (frozen)
  • ½ Avocado (fresh)
  • ½ Cup Lentils (canned)
  • 6 spears of Asparagus (Frozen)

Snacks

  • 4 Brazilian Nuts
  • 1-2 Glasses of Red Wine (Cabernet Sauvignon)

Slow carb was simple to follow, but eventually I needed to expand my understanding of the science behind it. This led me to Primal and Paleo diets.

Primal and Paleo Diets

Primal and Paleo diets are less simplistic than Slow Carb. They are in fact more of a lifestyle and less of a diet. They explain the science behind their diets, and offer advice on foods, exercise and daily activities (ex. getting more sun). For an overview of Primal, a great place to start is Mark’s Daily Apple.

Primal and Paleo diets are similar to Slow Carb with a few exceptions:

  1. Slow Carb allows for one “cheat day” per week, where you can eat as much of any food you want. Primal allows for more of an 80 / 20 rule, allowing you to cheat 20 percent of the time.
  2. Slow Carb doesn’t allow any fruits. Primal and Paleo allow berries (which are low on glycemic index).
  3. Slow Carb allows legumes (beans and lentils). Primal and Paleo do not allow any legumes.
  4. Primal allows full-fat dairy. Slow Carb and Paleo do not allow any dairy.

My diet has become a mix-and-match of all three:

  • I eat mostly meat and vegetables in my diet.
  • I still eat legumes. Mostly lentils. I don’t seem to have a problem with digesting them, and they make me feel more satiated after a meal.
  • I eat berries of all kinds.
  • I don’t do cheat day any more but do cheat meals.
  • I occasionally have a cappuccino with whole fat milk.
  • I drink red wine almost daily.
  • I eat dark chocolate.
  • I drink coconut water.

Favorite Paleo / Primal quotes

The Paleo Solution on why processed foods suck:

It’s the damndest thing—the United States is in a health care crisis, the economy is shaky, and the government subsidizes the production of corn, making high-fructose corn syrup cheaper than dirt. Processed food manufacturers make crap foods that are making us sick, diabetic, and dead too early. The government subsidizes the development of statins and a host of drugs to manage the diseases that are a direct outgrowth of the processed foods they are subsidizing! A hell of a racket, am I right?

The Paleo Solution on agriculture versus hunter-gatherer diet:

Our human and prehuman ancestors had lived for 3 million years with a remarkably high level of health, eating only lean meats, seafood, nuts, seeds, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. The agricultural “revolution” saw our ancestors become small, weak, and sick. Infant mortality exploded.

The agriculture-based Hardin Villagers subsisted mainly on corn, beans, and squash, as is typical of many groups of Native Americans, including the Pima of Mexico and Arizona. The HGs of Indian Knolls subsisted on a mixed foraging diet of meat, wild fruits, fish, and shellfish. The differences in the health of the two people is remarkable:   The HGs show almost no cavities, whereas the farmers showed almost 7 cavities on average per person. The HGs show significantly less bone malformations consistent with malnutrition. That is—the HG’s were much better fed. The HGs showed a remarkably lower rate of infant mortality relative to the farmers. The most significant difference was between the ages of two and four when malnutrition is particularly damaging to children. The HGs were, on average, healthier, as evidenced by decreased rates of bone malformations typical of infectious disease. The HGs on average lived longer than the farmers. The HGs showed little to no sign of iron, calcium, and protein deficiencies, whereas this was common in the farmers.

The Primal Blueprint on healthy types of exercise:

What our genes truly crave is frequent movement at a slow, comfortable pace: walking, hiking, easy cycling, or other light aerobic activities with a heart rate range of 55 percent to no more than 75 percent of maximum. These efforts are far less taxing than the typical huffing and puffing, struggling and suffering exertion level that we’ve been conditioned to think leads to fitness.

Today, occasional maximum effort sprints help increase energy levels, improve athletic performance, and minimize the effects of aging by promoting the release of testosterone and human growth hormone (these are beneficial for women as well as men). Once every 7-10 days, when energy and motivation levels are high, choose a simple, brief sprint workout and go all out! Novices can choose low-impact options (stationary bike), and work up to actual running sprints.

Do your own experiment, Paleo diet may not be the right thing for you

As mentioned, I don’t think there’s a single diet that’s a perfect fit for an individual. But when you experiment, you can learn what diet makes you feel better and more energetic. To learn more about Slow Carb / Paleo / Primal, check out The Four Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss, The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson, and The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf.

How to Get the Best Self-Help Books for Free

James Allen was a pioneer for the self-help books movementBritish philosophical writer James Allen, a pioneer for the self-help movement, died over 100 years ago. His self-help books were some of the best ever written. They stood the test of time, and are available for free  / public domain. I’ve done my fair share of self-help reading, and much of the newer writing is filled with “magical thinking” and fluff (see my blog post at Life Evolver: How does the Law of Attraction Explain The Holocaust?). Reading Allen’s work was a breath of fresh air for me.

Self-Help Book: As a Man Thinketh

The Kindle version of James Allen’s most popular work is available free on Amazon. This is a great place to start if you haven’t read anything by him before. You can also get a collection of his works for 99 cents. If you rather read them for free online,  his works are available at The James Allen Free Library.

Here are some favorite quotes from As a Man Thinketh:

Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.

Only by much searching and mining, are gold and diamonds obtained, and man can find every truth connected with his being, if he will dig deep into the mine of his soul; and that he is the maker of his character, the moulder of his life, and the builder of his destiny, he may unerringly prove, if he will watch, control, and alter his thoughts, tracing their effects upon himself, upon others, and upon his life and circumstances, linking cause and effect by patient practice and investigation, and utilizing his every experience, even to the most trivial, everyday occurrence, as a means of obtaining that knowledge of himself which is Understanding, Wisdom, Power.

Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds, and growing the flowers and fruits which he requires, so may a man tend the garden of his mind, weeding out all the wrong, useless, and impure thoughts, and cultivating toward perfection the flowers and fruits of right, useful, and pure thoughts. By pursuing this process, a man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life. He also reveals, within himself, the laws of thought, and understands, with ever-increasing accuracy, how the thought-forces and mind elements operate in the shaping of his character, circumstances, and destiny.

If you would protect your body, guard your mind. If you would renew your body, beautify your mind. Thoughts of malice, envy, disappointment, despondency, rob the body of its health and grace. A sour face does not come by chance; it is made by sour thoughts. Wrinkles that mar are drawn by folly, passion, and pride. I know a woman of ninety-six who has the bright, innocent face of a girl. I know a man well under middle age whose face is drawn into inharmonious contours. The one is the result of a sweet and sunny disposition; the other is the outcome of passion and discontent.

He who cherishes a beautiful vision, a lofty ideal in his heart, will one day realize it. Columbus cherished a vision of another world, and he discovered it; Copernicus fostered the vision of a multiplicity of worlds and a wider universe, and he revealed it; Buddha beheld the vision of a spiritual world of stainless beauty and perfect peace, and he entered into it. Cherish your visions; cherish your ideals; cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all, heavenly environment; of these, if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built.

The thoughtless, the ignorant, and the indolent, seeing only the apparent effects of things and not the things themselves, talk of luck, of fortune, and chance. Seeing a man grow rich, they say, “How lucky he is!” Observing another become intellectual, they exclaim, “How highly favoured he is!” And noting the saintly character and wide influence of another, they remark, “How chance aids him at every turn!” They do not see the trials and failures and struggles which these men have voluntarily encountered in order to gain their experience; have no knowledge of the sacrifices they have made, of the undaunted efforts they have put forth, of the faith they have exercised, that they might overcome the apparently insurmountable, and realize the Vision of their heart. They do not know the darkness and the heartaches; they only see the light and joy, and call it “luck”. They do not see the long and arduous journey, but only behold the pleasant goal, and call it “good fortune,” do not understand the process, but only perceive the result, and call it chance. In all human affairs there are efforts, and there are results, and the strength of the effort is the measure of the result. Chance is not. Gifts, powers, material, intellectual, and spiritual possessions are the fruits of effort; they are thoughts completed, objects accomplished, visions realized.

Other self-help books which have stood the test of time

Another old self-help book that has stood the test of time is Poor Richard’s Almanack by Benjamin Franklin.

Matcha Tea Has 70 x the antioxidants of Orange Juice, 10 x Green Tea

A bowl of high-quality matcha teaMatcha tea is basically ground up green tea leaves. It has 10 times the antioxidants of green tea, because you’re consuming the whole leaves versus soaking them in water.

Besides being packed with antioxidants, matcha also:

  • Boosts metabolism
  • Calms and relaxes
  • Enhances mood and aids in concentration
  • Lowers cholesterol and blood sugar
  • Does not raise insulin

Why I tried matcha tea

I had a habit of drinking 4-5 cups of coffee per day. Then I got sick with a bad cold and decided the dehydrating effects of the caffeine wouldn’t help me recover. I switched to herbal and green tea. Eventually I got hooked on Green Tea (Hojicha being my favorite). Researching tea more, I learned of matcha. After reading about its health benefits, I gave it a try.

Making matcha

Making matcha is a much different process from steeping tea. First, you add a small amount (1/2 – 1 teaspoon) of powder to your bowl. Next, you pour in a small amount of hot water  (158-185 degrees F). Do not add boiling water (let it sit for 3-5 minutes).  Finally, you whisk for 30 seconds – 1 minute (ideally with a Japanese bamboo whisk).

Getting Started with Matcha tea

I get my matcha from Amazon. The problem? There are too many choices. What’s a matcha drinker to do? I purchased the top 5 matchas from Amazon search results and tasted each one. See the results on my Matcha Reviews site.

 

The Easiest Roast Eggplant Recipe

Bunch of eggplants at market ready for this roast eggplant recipeI stumbled upon this video at Fine Cooking while searching for recipes to roast eggplant. Since then, I’ve made it a few times now and love it because it’s a set-it-and-forget-it eggplant recipe with minimal cutting. No need to peel the eggplant. Your best bet is to watch the video, but here is the low-down of the recipe:

Step 1: Cut, Salt the eggplant

Cut the eggplant in half. On cut side, cut cross-hatches into the eggplant (without cutting through to the skin). Press on the sides to open the eggplant, sprinkle salt over the surface and into the cuts. Pre-heat oven to 400 and wait 30 minutes.

Step 2:Prepare for the oven

Squeeze the eggplant over your sink to remove water from it. Pat it dry with paper towels. Brush the cut sides generously with olive oil. Put on parchment lined baking sheet (cut side down) with two sprigs of thyme (or other spices you have lying around). Wait an hour.

Step 3: Enjoy

The eggplant should collapse and the flesh will turn a dark brown color. After roasting, let it cool for 20 minutes.

Do you have a better roast eggplant recipe?

I’d love to hear from you, please leave a comment with your favorite roast eggplant recipe.