Tofu: Friend or Foe? …It Depends.

Like many foods out there, tofu (and soy-based products, generally) are debated. Tofu is a product made from soybeans, water and a coagulant (which helps give it the spongy form we all know and…love?). It’s been touted as a “health food” because it is a source of plant-based protein that is both low in calories and fat. However, it’s important to know what types of tofu and soy-based products are the most health promoting because there are definitely products out there that have raised some questions. (Surprise, surprise!)

Perhaps the most concerning issue is that soybeans and corn are the most common genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the market. This is bad because we don’t really know the long-term effects of GMOs and at least a few studies have already linked GMOs to liver and kidney problems in mammals. While GMOs weren’t introduced to the market until 1994, they took off quickly. Some estimates calculate that almost 90 percent of soy products available today contain GMOs. And, currently in the US, GMOs don’t require labeling so we don’t really know when we are eating them.  That said, if a product is labeled “organic”, it should not fall into this camp — I buy organic whenever possible.

So, fine. Just buy organic tofu and soy products and it’s all good, right? Well, not so fast. Even organic unfermented soy products such as tofu, edamame and soy milk still may not be so great. Some studies have linked various quantities of them to breast cancer, thyroid disruption, dementia, vitamin deficiencies (B12 and D, in particular), and other health problems. While I personally have been known to eat tofu and edamame from time to time, I keep these to less than 1 serving a week.

Alternatively, fermented soy products don’t seem to have the negative side effects of their unfermented peers. Miso, natto, tempeh and tamari fall into this category. While all soybeans naturally contain toxins and plant hormones, studies show that fermentation actually seems to make soy products health-promoting. For instance, natto has been shown to lower blood pressure and tempeh reduces cholesterol. Both have beneficial bacteria that promote gut health.

While I don’t believe enough studies have been done to be completely conclusive about the health impacts of soy, I personally choose to buy soy products sparingly. When I do I major on organic, non-GMO, fermented varieties as my top picks. Better to be safe than sorry in this case.

Travel Hacks: Eat Well on the Road

Many of my health coaching clients (and most of my social circle) are business professionals who travel to some extent for their jobs. This can be great for closing important client deals and building elite airline god-like status (upgrades, y’all!), but super tough if you aspire to be healthy. Traveling tends to disrupt your normal routine and makes it difficult to maintain ideal eating and fitness habits. I get it. As a business consultant for more than a decade, I’ve been there. You end up working crazy hours, sleeping on planes (not ergonomic, by the way) and eating food that you would never consider otherwise (airport cinnamon buns, anyone?). It’s a recipe for complete physical melt-down – at least it was for me.

In my case, the abundance of airport food, lack of consistent sleep and extreme job-related stress resulted in chronic weekly migraines and strange flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, aches) that I was unable to cure for years. I knew I hit rock bottom in 2008 when the hotel concierge where I frequently stayed in Singapore called a local doctor to my hotel room because I was unable to get out of bed. Yes, doctors make “house calls” in Singapore, thank goodness.

It was at that point that I knew I needed to make some changes – either stop traveling for work (which I eventually did) or stop treating my body like garbage while I traveled. It’s with the latter thought in mind that I created the following tips. These are the most impactful routines and “hacks” that I developed over years of travel and that I now implement for each trip to ensure I am prioritizing my health in addition to the corporate agenda. Oh yeah, I also follow my own guidance during vacations – that’s how much I want to avoid getting a migraine again. Ever.

Tip 1: Up Your Pre-Flight (or Pre-Drive) Game
Ensure you have the items you need for an ideal travel experience – maybe it’s a pillow, blanket or noise-cancelling headphones to allow for a better sleep. Maybe it’s applying for “TSA-Pre” so you don’t feel the stress of waiting in long lines. Either way, find out what works for you and make it a habit before each trip.

Tip 2: Home Sweet Hotel
For me this means finding a hotel with a gym that is relatively close to a grocery store or restaurants that will give me healthy food options. If I am going to be at my destination for more than two days (especially when on vacation) I try to get a hotel room with a small kitchen. It’s amazing how much better you eat if you can prep food and cook yourself.

Tip 3: Pack Snacks to Ward Off Bad Decisions
This one is a must. I pack a slew of my favorite healthy treats, both in my carry-on and my checked bags, if I have any (for after I arrive). Having snacks will help you avoid making bad decisions at the airport or on the plane. Airport food is getting a bit better, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still hit or miss. I usually pack nuts (raw, unsalted), fresh and dried fruit (organic apples, bananas travel well), raw veggies (carrots, broccoli) and even home-made sandwiches. Rarely is there an occasion that I would eat plane food as it is loaded with salt, preservatives and reheated in plastic containers (not nice). The food may look tempting in business or first class but I still even avoid that unless I have a 7+ hour flight.

Tip 4: Hack the Menu
This tip is my favorite because I feel such a sense of satisfaction when I make it work. In most restaurants, if you are friendly with the wait staff they can help you order off menu if you need to. For instance, if I see that a restaurant serves omelets with spinach, I know they HAVE spinach. Then I ask for a side of sautéed spinach along with whatever else I order even if it isn’t explicitly listed on the menu. With some finesse, ordering off menu helps me to ensure I am getting enough veggies for the day, which can be hard when traveling.

Tip 5: Hydrate, Repeat
I cannot overstate the value of drinking water. I try to bring my own refillable bottle through security as many airports now have refilling fountains that supply high-quality purified water. I recommend at least 16 oz for each hour of travel time.

What’s In A Name? Turns Out, A Lot.

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In case you hadn’t noticed, my last name is “Hale.” I’ve always liked it. Simple, solid, short, easy to spell and pronounce (at least in the US) — it’s a name that never really called attention to itself, much to my adolescent relief. Well, there was my high school art teacher who insisted on proclaiming “Hail, Bethany!” when I entered the classroom each afternoon (simultaneously causing feelings of embarrassment and elation around being the center of attention for a brief moment).

Beyond that, I never thought much of my name until my early 30’s when my (now) husband John and I began to discuss marriage. As I considered whether or not I would take his last name, I realized I attached a strong sense of identity to mine. It was my professional brand. It linked me to my family. It was a darn good fit with my first name (what’s peanut butter without the jelly?). I loved it, I decided, and I wanted to keep it. Not to mention the fact that taking someone else’s name felt dated and anti-feminist. I told John my thoughts, sheepishly. And, his oh-so-nonchalant response? “I never expected that you would change your name…that paperwork sounds like a nightmare.” He’s so practical. And, supportive. Swoon.

Now, as I start this website focused on health and nutrition, my name has again been top of mind. Hale literally means “healthy.” Seriously. I looked it up. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of hale is: “free from defect, disease or infirmity;” also: “retaining exceptional health and vigor.” Clear sign from universe? Check.

By no means have I been healthy my whole life. I’ve endured severe migraines, chronic intestinal inflammation and even cancer. (More on that later.) But, I am now on a very different path. One that prioritizes optimal nutrition and self-care. It is this journey that I want to share in the hopes that I can affect change and help others who are also looking for a life of “exceptional health and vigor”.

As cliche as it seems, my goal is — simply — to live up to my name. And, to bring you with me. Thus, The Hale Effect was born.