Monday, February 28, 2011


“You’re so fat, you must eat a lot.” Are you cringing? You might be because nobody with a speck of sensitivity would every utter those words. On Friday I read a post on Erica Sara’s blog that got me thinking. Erica wrote about a recent experience that was rather hurtful. Someone said something to her about her eating and her size. This person didn’t know Erica personally. They didn’t know about Erica’s marathon running or her cooking. They didn’t know that she practices yoga. They probably didn’t know how much their words would sting. They might have thought the rules were different because Erica is a thin person.  Somehow, “you’re so thin, you must not eat” is acceptable. Why is this?

I see nutrition clients all week long at my NYC office. Oftentimes, in initial sessions with new clients I’ll hear “you don’t have to think about this because you’re thin.” Or “it must be nice you don’t have to workout.” Or my favorite, similar to Erica’s experience “do you eat?” I know full well these clients wouldn’t probe similarly with a doctor or therapist or other professional who was heavy. Over the years, I have grown thick-skinned to these types of questions. I used to feel embarrassed and utter some incoherent, self-deprecating reply. Now, I generally say something like “I practice what I preach” or “I work hard to stay in shape” which generally reassures them.  I am less offended by comments about my size than the insinuation that there’s no work involved. I think there’s a way to be curious about someone’s size without being critical. “What do you do for exercise?” Or, “do you watch what you eat?” are better ways of saying the same thing.

It’s unfortunate but we all size people up. We look. We look when someone’s very heavy and we look when they’re too bony and we look at people somewhere in the middle. I know full well from what I do that you can’t judge someone’s success or peace of mind by their weight and that feeling good in your skin doesn’t have a size. I also feel it’s probably harder to walk in an obese person’s shoes than in my shoes. Overweight people are the subject of more ridicule than thinner people.  I just don’t think it’s ok to be mean.
Why do you think sizist comments are more acceptable when the recipient is thin? Why do you think people make comments like the one that hurt Erica? Has anyone said anything inappropriate to you about your size? Is it ever appropriate to say anything?

P.S. Not only was Erica the author of our Pot of the Week post, she makes amazing jewelry including my “race bling” marathon necklace.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Foodtrainers' Favorite Ingredient for Quick Weeknight Dinners

I was Indian in a past life. I must’ve been.  That’s the only explanation I can think of for my love (bordering on obsession) of Indian food.  I love Vindaloo and Saag and Tandoori anything. I love the okra and eggplant at Indian restaurants. I went on Semester at Sea in college and ate my way through Southern India. I remember one of the most delicious meals of my life in a town called Mahabalipuram. We ate on the shores of the Indian Ocean as the owners brought out dish after dish for us to try. Years later, I still adore Indian food but now have slight reservations. For one thing, recipes usually call for a million ingredients (that’s what makes them so good) and the second, while I adore Indian food it can be a little rich.

I am thrilled to tell you about something I found that renders me issue-less. Maya Kaimal’s Indian Simmer Sauces. The sauces come in varieties such as Tikka Masala and Kashmiri Curry. Everything on the short ingredient list is something you can pronounce: onions, tomatoes, coconut milk, ginger etc. You simply sauté your protein of choice in a tablespoon of oil, add your sauce and as the name suggests allow it to “simmer” for 15 minutes. You can have this on the table sooner than you’d have Indian delivered.

The sauces are all vegetarian and gluten free. They can be used with chicken, salmon or shrimp but also with vegetables. One of the recipes, below, that Maya Kaimal sent us also uses the sauce as a soup base. Most recipes (there are more on their website) call for using a jar of sauce (360 calories) for 4 total servings. I use ¾ of the jar and reserve the rest for adding a little zip to veggies another day.  We have the Tikka Masala over brown rice and had the Eggplant Curry over quinoa. Thanks to Maya Kaimal, my obsession lives now with a healthy twist.
If you had to pick your favorite cuisine, what would it be? What are your favorite weeknight dinner “tricks” or shortcuts? Do you ever stray from recipes based on the number of ingredients? Does that make us lazy?

Maya Kaimal’s Kashmiri Eggplant Curry
Serves 4

Vegetable oil in spritzer, as needed
1 lb. slender eggplant (Japanese or Graffiti work well), cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 container Maya Kaimal Kashmiri Curry
¼ cup chopped cilantro

1.  Spray a light coating of vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet and heat over medium-high heat.  Add half the eggplant slices in a single layer and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes on each side. Transfer to a dish and hold aside.  Cook the second batch in the same manner but leave in the pan when browned.
2.  Return the first batch of eggplant to the pan.  Add the Kashmiri Curry sauce and stir gently to coat the slices.  Simmer over low-heat until eggplant is tender, about 5 minutes. 
3.  When ready to serve, garnish the eggplant and sauce with cilantro.

 Maya Kaimal’s Kashmiri Vegetable Soup
Serves 4

Our sauces make excellent soup bases.  This is a nice tomato and vegetable soup, but feel free to replace or add to the sweet potato and kale with whatever vegetables you have on hand. Leftover chicken or sausage makes a hearty addition as well. 

1 container Maya Kaimal Kashmiri Curry
1 1/2 cups water
1 small sweet potato (about 1/2 lb.), peeled and diced
1 cup lightly packed, stemmed, and roughly chopped kale*
1 15.5 oz. can butter beans, drained  (or other white bean)
1/2 cup lite coconut milk

1.  Combine the Kashmiri Curry, water, sweet potato, kale, and beans in a soup pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
2.  Stir in the coconut milk and heat a few minutes longer.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Since When is Dessert Everyday?

Not to sound creepy but I’ve been watching you. It’s late at night; you’re cleaning the kitchen or just arrived home from a dinner out. Perhaps the kids are asleep. It’s quiet. You feel a little tired but there’s something that needs to happen before you go to sleep.  Maybe it’s a piece of dark chocolate or a Skinny Cow. It isn’t much you say, maybe 100 calories. After all, what’s wrong with a little dessert?  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions shortly.

Last summer, back when it was warm, I caught a segment my close friend (and fellow nutritionist) Keri Glassman did on frozen desserts. She presented her top treats and the reasoning behind her selections.  At one point the anchor, Storm Field, looked at her and said “but we shouldn’t have these daily, right? Why all of a sudden are people having dessert everyday?” Not bad for a weatherman, Storm had a good point. Keri concurred during the segment and I nodded as I watched.

 A day doesn’t go by without a client asking me something to the effect of  “I need new ideas for after dinner snacks.”  And I come through full of ideas for healthy baked apples and microwavable chocolate “soufflés”.  Some clients chomp on frozen wild blueberries and others (like myself) love medjool dates. The unbelievably sad truth is that we don’t need any of these things daily, especially if weight loss is a goal.

I wouldn’t be a dietitian if I didn’t do a little calorie counting here and there (though I far prefer talking about juicer issues). Let’s take that 100 calorie after dinner snack (aka dessert). That seemingly tiny treat, nightly, adds up to 36,500 calories in a year. And we all know that the treat isn’t always tiny. Well that 36,500 divided by 3,500 calories in a pound is 10.43. Simply put that Skinny Cow may be keeping you from getting skinny. I learned today that skinny is a bad word (diet Pepsi is catching plenty of slack for their new skinny can versus what’s in the can); many people don’t want to be skinny. If you don’t have 10 pounds you want to lose, I’m not talking to you but for the other 99% of you reading this, at least you know what needs to go.

If you’re suddenly feeling panic stricken, don’t. I’m not making house calls (yet) and swooping in to confiscate the candy. I’m not saying you have to do away with the dark chocolate. I have a couple of options. The first, we’ll call Show Yourself a Skip. If you’re someone who has something every night of the week, commit to a skip night or 2.  For starters I would pre-plan the skip nights, for example you can start the week with skips every Monday and Tuesday.  This will remove the automatic nature of dessert eating and you’ll hopefully be able to ask yourself “do I need something or can I skip it” down the road.  For those of you who need more of an intervention, I suggest Dessert Detox. Try a week where you end your eating day with dinner. Check back with me and let me know how it goes.  And for the record, I’m not actually watching you.
Are you someone who has dessert daily? Do you think dessert has shifted from a sometimes event to an all-the-time thing? Can you see Showing Yourself a Skip or Dessert Detox in your future? I’ve ditched the dates, detox for me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Moms Work More, Kids Weigh More?

I love a good lead.  I was sitting at my desk early one morning, preparing for clients, when I received an email with the following in the subject line “I look forward to you debunking this (because I think it’s crap).” Now if I love a good lead, I love a good debate even more. I clicked through and found a story that has caused quite a commotion in the blogosphere. A study published in the Journal of Child Development found that there’s a correlation between mothers working and higher BMI for their children. Translation working mothers have heavier kids.

Patience isn’t a virtue I naturally possess and when irritated I have difficulty disguising it but my first reaction to this wasn’t anger or even surprise. I have an unusual schedule in that some days I work early and I’m home to make dinner and do homework. Other nights, I am in the office until 7:30pm. There is a distinct difference in the 2 scenarios when it comes to my children (similar ages to the children studied by the Cornell team).  On the nights I’m home, I am there to make dinner. I have time to make sure the kids start homework early enough and get to bed on time. On my late nights, it’s all a rush. Dinner (though we’re talking Applegate or Amy’s) may include a convenience item and bedtime can easily be delayed.  My children are far from obese and I’m a nutritionist but I get it.

Much of the outrage stemming from this story had to do with finger pointing. After all, children’s weight is affected by many factors: activity level, food choices, sleep, and genetics to name a few. So why “blame” mothers when this is likely a more complicated issue? This reminded me of a conversation I had when my 8 year old was a baby. I called my mother for advice, I was upset and complained, “why is everything on my shoulders? I work but still have to grocery shop and organize Louise [babysitter] and put Myles to sleep, Marc just has to go to work.” I happen to have a very helpful husband but when it came down to childcare, things weren’t even-Stephen. My mother said “you’re lucky, Marc is hands-on but there is only one Mother.” As Oprah would say, it was a “light bulb moment”.   The reason a father’s working status isn’t mentioned is because feeding children and all that goes along with it continues to be more the mother’s “job”.

With slightly over 70 percent of mothers working, the question is what to do with this statistically significant link.  Mothers need tools for timesaving meals they can perhaps make on the weekend. Additionally, perhaps kids can sign some sort of pledge limiting TV or video games when their parents are at work. And parents, mothers and fathers, need to get home whenever possible so as not to disrupt bedtime.  In my eyes it comes down to time and not neglect or guilt or blame. Anything you’d like to “debunk” in this study?What emotions does it evoke in you? Did the bulk of “feeding” responsibility fall on your mother growing up? Is that different from your current situation? Does the 70% statistic surprise you? Let the debate begin.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Why Men Want Women to Eat Mac and Cheese

                                   photo by Simon Mark Smith

Recently I applauded Kim Cattrall’s admission that she watches what she eats as a refreshing departure from teeny celebrities professing their love for burgers and big portions. And then yesterday I got a kick out of an article in the New York Times “ For Actresses, Is Big Appetite Part of the Show?“ on this exact subject.” In this article experts debate the reasons why actresses profess their love of fattening food and why we all want to read about it. It was noted that these declarations appear most often in men’s magazines. Padma Lakshmi, the host of Top Chef, went on to describe women eating a lot as a male fantasy after which the author wrote “two things we need to survive in life are food and sex or love. Food for our bodies, and love for our hearts. So what is better than the archetypical image of a woman eating succulent, dripping, greasy, comforting food?”

OK so let’s forget the words succulent, dripping and greasy (ew). The question I have is: do men find women eating a lot sexy or appealing? My first thought is that men, and by that I mean the stereotypical man who reads these male magazines, wouldn’t find it as sexy if the woman doing the eating was larger or older (see photo for confirmation). This is so hard to say in any remotely politically correct manner but the burger or rib eater’s perceived sexiness most likely determines that degree to which her hefty eating is sexy.

But aside from the idea of women’s eating as sexy or a fantasy, do men like their women to eat a lot? I wonder if you polled 100 men if they would prefer their partners to eat
a) a burger and fries
 b) a burger
c) a salad
d) nothing-
what the majority would say.  As a serious salad eater, it elicits surprise from my husband when I veer from my normal course. And yet I don’t sense any outpouring of desire when my food choices are “greasy.” I can, however, appreciate a good scotch (just one) and love to watch sports and I have a sense that my husband likes these less prissy qualities.  So maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe my salad eating is the equivalent of his toothpaste residue in the sink- something that’s not ideal but not worth making a fuss over. 

And what about the converse, what do women like their men to eat (which just came out so wrong)?  It would make some sense that females who eat healthy fare would like their men to also but I think there’s a fine line here. We want our men, at least I do, to be able to eat healthy food but we don’t want them ordering “dressing on the side.” Amenable but not high maintenance, that sounds about right.

Slender women chowing down (as if they do it daily) is no different from the super skinny woman with giant boobs or the actress shown waking up in the morning perfectly made up and coiffed. There’s something a little hard to believe about each of these examples. The irony is that hot-to-trot Kim Cattrall, was the most honest about all of this and who’s sexier that she is?
Does your partners food choices turn you on or off? Do you think a woman eating unhealthy food is sexy to men? What would you do (ladies) if your husband ordered “dressing on the side?”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

12 Things You Must Know About Cocoa-Plus a Sweet Bonus!

When I started blogging, I knew nothing. I’m not sure that much has changed but I can assure you I was clueless then. I poked around and found some blogs that spoke to me. I read Fooducate and Svelte Gourmand, Herbal Water and ILI and I really enjoyed a blog called Small Bites.  Every time I sent my browser to these URL’s I was giddy when a new post was up. And then something happened. A couple of months ago I noticed that there wasn’t anything new on Small Bites. I continued to check and finally there was a message up. The author, Andy Bellatti, explained he would be posting less in the coming months. He’d still be tweeting and posting here and there but not as much. I was sad. A few days later Andy tweeted some interesting facts about cocoa. I had an idea. I contacted Andy and asked if he’d do a guest post for Foodtrainers. He agreed and I’m excited to share Andy's cocoa post with you today (and the good news is Andy is now posting regularly again):

Whether your Valentine's Day celebrations included gifting your other half a lovely box of chocolates or protesting the infamous massacre by watching "War of the Roses" while savoring some chocolate ice cream, here are twelve facts everyone -- singled or coupled, starry-eyed or jaded -- should know about this world-famous delicacy:

1) Cocoa (also known as cacao) contains a variety of healthful compounds known as flavonoids that have been found to have a protective effect on blood pressure and cardiovascular health.

2) There are three ways to get the most health benefits from cocoa: eating raw cacao nibs (i.e.: adding them to trail mix or oatmeal), adding unsweetened non-Dutch-treated cocoa powder to a recipe (such as a smoothie) or consuming chocolate bars that contain at least 85% cocoa.

3) "Dutch-treated" or "alkali-treated" chocolate produces a more mild-tasting chocolate, but also decreases flavonoid content by approximately 75 percent.  What a shame!

4) Certain components in dairy limit the absorption of antioxidants from cocoa.  This is why bars with higher cocoa contents (and, thereby, lower milk percentages) yield more health benefits.  Alternatively, you can also try vegan chocolate bars, like Endangered Species.

5) Two tablespoons of cocoa powder provide 4 grams of fiber.  A perfect way to add extra nutrition and flavor to a banana and almond butter smoothie!

6) Stearic acid -- the saturated fat predominant in chocolate -- is unique in that a good chunk of it is converted by the body into a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat known as oleic acid… the same one found in large quantities in olive oil!

7) The lower the cocoa content of a chocolate bar, the higher its sugar content.

8) Cocoa releases many neurotransmitters, including phenylethylamine, which has been shown to improve mood and alertness.  Best part?  No subsequent crash.

9) Cocoa is an excellent source of catechins -- compounds also found in green tea and red wine that help reduce atherosclerosis risk.


10) Conventional cocoa crops are often sprayed with methyl bromide, a class 1 ozone-depleting substance.

11) As with coffee, shade-grown cocoa beans are healthier for the planet.  Since they grow under existing trees, they do not disturb floral and faunal biodiversity.


12) The majority of chocolate bars are made from cocoa beans grown in West Africa.  Due to the paltry amount of money they receive from many large-scale chocolate companies, these farms often turn to slavery-like forced and/or child labor to ensure profits.  This is why it's crucial to look for "fair-trade certified" chocolate bars.  This certification ensures that cocoa farmers are receiving their fair monetary share, and that farm employees work in humane conditions.

BONUS: Mexican-Inspired Super-Easy Chocolate Truffles

Now that you know all about cocoa's wonderful health benefits, why not spend just ten minutes in the kitchen making a delectable dessert chock-full of flavonoids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals?  These raw vegan truffles with a kick will leave you saying "Crunch bar WHO?"
YIELDS: 12 truffles

1/2 cup raw walnuts OR raw almonds OR raw hazelnuts
1/8 teaspoon salt
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract or powder (the powder yields drier truffles)
1/2 cup chopped pitted dates or raisins (I highly recommend dates; if your food processor is powerful, you don’t need to chop them)
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder or raw cacao powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
A pinch of red pepper flakes


1) Grind nuts, salt, and vanilla in food processor.
2) Add dates/raisins and process again, until mixture resembles raw dough.
3) Add cocoa powder and cinnamon; process again.
4) Scoop out mixture into large bowl.  Add red pepper flakes and mix into "dough" by hand.
5) Form dough into bite-size round "truffles".
6) Refrigerate or freeze for at least 2 hours.
7) Enjoy!


205 calories

5 grams fiber

5 grams protein

Andy Bellatti is a Seattle-based whole-foods-focused nutritionist. He also provides customized nutrition-based services and regularly writes and lectures on various aspects of wellness, health, and nutrition. His work has been featured in Oxygen, Today’s Dietitian, AOL Health, and Andy has an MS in clinical nutrition from New York University. Follow Andy on Twitter: @AndyBellatti.

So, which of these cocoa facts were a surprise to you? Do you know what plant is in the picture above?Do you think about the environmental impact of the foods you eat? What were the first blogs you started reading?

Monday, February 14, 2011

It Isn't Easy Being My Valentine

Whenever a crime is committed focus quickly shifts to the perpetrator’s family members. Did they see signs? Notice something off?  Oftentimes it seems the spouses or parents were blind to criminals’ traits or perhaps used to them.  I really think that for my husband, Marc, life with me is the nutritional equivalent of being married to a murderer.  Most normal people do not bring snacks wherever they go and cook compulsively. After all these years, Marc is probably used to this.
I’m not sappy person but  thought, in honor of Valentine's Day, I’d share my definitions of love:

Love is “you cooked, I’ll clean up.” I always feel the cleaner gets the short end of the stick in this scenario.

Love is understanding that organic-ness is next to godliness.

Love is running through a bunch of rough Chicago neighborhoods in order to support your wife during the marathon. Love is jumping in to run when I didn’t think I could continue.

Love being a guinea pig for far too many healthy recipes and snacks (but drawing the line at green drinks and "too healthy" items.) 

Love is taking your boys to hockey at 5am.

Love is charging the iPod after you use it.

Love is giving up soda and sweeteners.

Love is letting your wife blog about you and tweet about you even though you think its silly (or worse than silly). 

Love it shopping for presents at Lululemon and Sur La Table; nothing’s more romantic than running clothes or ramekins.

Love is watching me freak out on our first vacation together (in 1994!) because the hotel didn't have a gym and marrying me a few years later despite my nuttiness (if that’s what this is called).

We all have our quirks. I have many. It really seems that what’s most romantic is being able to embrace or at least laugh at your partners habits…as long as they don’t involve breaking the law.
What are your examples you’d add to the list? What is love to you? And would you rather cook or clean up?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Oh-no-no Granola

I recently posted 10 Allegedly Healthy Foods. The day after posting,  I was in a session with a new-ish client. On her food journal I saw she was eating granola. When I inquired about her granola usage she asked “isn’t granola healthy” and I realized I had left a good one off my list. Instead of going into Blogger and editing the post I decided to ask Market Melissa, our grocery store obsessed Foodtrainer, to dish about granola.

When I hear granola, I think Birkenstocks and patchouli. Why the hippie reputation? What's the history here?
The genesis of granola dates back to the late nineteenth century. A posh health spa in New York served what was called “granula,” which was really just graham flour. A fellow by the name of John Harvey Kellogg (ahem, Mr. Fruit Loop) came along, and to avoid legal action, renamed his own version “granola.” In 60s, hippies revived granola and (after a “plant-based” first course) added in dried fruit and nuts. In the 70s Quaker and General Mills hopped on the granola bandwagon, creating their own varieties. The popularity of granola increased becoming all the rage with hikers and backpackers due to its light weight, caloric density and lack of perishability.

“Calorically dense” those are terrifying words to any dieter, what ingredients make it so caloric?
It is the double whammy of sugar and fat that bump up the calorie count in granola. When reading ingredient lists you may find sugar listed in various forms 4 or 5 times (honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, molasses are all code for sugar) Additionally, there’s dried fruit, also loaded with sugar, and you see how granola can have 24 grams of sugar in 1 cup. In terms of fat, most of the fat in granola comes from healthy, unsaturated sources such as nuts, seeds, and canola oil. “Good” fat is still fat and adds up. Certain varieties of granola contain up to 28 grams of fat per cup. This is a food for which portion control is key. Granola should be a condiment and not a main course.

Other than sugar and fat what else is in granola? Any exciting flavors out there?
Most granola brands contain whole grain oats, oat bran and brown rice. Others, such as Kashi and Feed, contain more of a whole grain blend containing oats, barley, rye, triticale and brown rice. For you gluten free readers, Trader Joe’s offers a gluten free fruit and nut option.
You will also find more processed varieties (containing ingredients such as soy lecithin, glycerin and natural flavor) as well as more natural ones. Feed granola wins my least processed award, containing all “real food” ingredients. As for the flavors, the possibilities are indeed endless. Some that peeked my interest were Bear Naked Heavenly Chocolate and Feed Sweet Mango.

So if someone can’t live without granola, which one do you recommend?
Comparing brands can become tricky since they all have different portion sizes listed on their nutrition label (1/4cup, 1/2cup, 2/3cup, 3/4cup).
  • Lowest sugar: Nature’s Path Hemp Plus and Flax Plus wins for the lowest sugar content with 3g per ¼ cup. Bear Naked Fit granola comes in second with 4g.
  • Lowest Calorie: Trader Joe’s Low Fat Mixed Berry Granola and Cascadian Farms Cinnamon Raisin granola snag lowest calorie (70 and 80 calories for ¼ cup portion, respectively).
  • Highest Fiber Kashi and Feed get highest fiber honors each has 4.5g per ¼ cup (you can thank their whole grain blend for that). 
*Whichever you choose remember granola is higher in calories, sugar and fat than most cereals, so keep portion to ¼ cup max.
In case you wish to bypass the mathematical challenge of granola labels, try making your own. This allows you to control ingredients and quantities. Here is recipe from Ellie Krieger that is easy to make and low in sugar. We doctored this a little adding cardamom and unsweetened coconut but it’s a good starting point.

Or try this cool site where you can make your own granola. Pick your base (a gluten free option is available), add in your favorite ingredients and they will even calculate the nutrient content of your creation. 
Are you a granola gal/guy? Do you have a favorite brand or recipe you love? And name that tune “It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world…”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Artificial Sweeteners:Better Safe Than Sweet

                                                     Photo Amyvdh 

I received the following question regarding a Blisstree post I wrote:
I read your article about several foods that we commonly mistake for being healthy. I saw the image of the fat-free, sugar-free pudding and read the description. I understand that the food probably has little to no nutritional value but I was curious why you thought sugar substitutes are unhealthy? 

This is a very good question. When I was studying for my R.D. exam many moons ago I memorized a lot of information and random facts much of which I have since forgotten. One of the things I retained was the knowledge of eating disorder known as pica. Those with pica eat non-food substances such as dirt or soap; it’s quite serious. I’ve always likened eating fake foods such as sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame and sucralose), with “no nutritional value” to this disorder. If we don’t suffer from pica, what’s the appeal of food impersonators?

What was that? Oh you said the appeal is weight loss? Sorry to say that the increased use of sweeteners hasn’t made us thinner. Many sugar free foods are equal to or only slightly lower in calories than their regular counterparts. Furthermore, a study from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that artificial sweeteners do not “turn on” satiety signals the way sugar (protein or fat) does which can encourage those eating them to eat more. And a Purdue University study showed that artificial sweeteners might actually disrupt the body’s natural ability to gauge calories. In short, sweeteners do not satisfy us and may affect our ability to achieve satiety from other foods.

Artificial sweeteners have been linked with headaches (aspartame most often connected), GI distress, insomnia and heightened PMS (no thank you).  Plus, as Planet Green pointed out, as I stare at my recycling bin, there has to be a better use of the paper that goes into millions of these packets of this stuff.
The FDA says these sweeteners are safe but also finds genetically modified foods and artificial colorings safe.  I have read a bunch of studies, connecting sweeteners to leukemia and brain malignancies,  that don’t make them sound so safe. The truth is these sweeteners are questionable at best and only time will tell exactly.  No study has tested very long term effects or synergistic potential of multiple sweeteners over a lifetime. I, for one, would rather be skeptical than sick any time.  I wouldn’t give these substances to my children and therefore don’t eat them myself. I save my “chemical” ration for my hair color.
What is your sweetener, artificial or otherwise, of choice? Do you think something is safe if the FDA approves it? Have you ever had an adverse reaction to a sweetener you'd like to share?
Another post I wrote on sweeteners, the real ones.

Monday, February 7, 2011

No Such Thing as a Free Food Sample

                                           Photo by Colin Rose 

On Wednesday mornings I go to yoga. The way my schedule works, I have 45 minutes between dropping my kids at school and the class I take. My little ritual involves stopping at Cosi for a mint tea and then curling up with my kindle in the “cozy” pillow/couch area at yoga. Last week, as I took my place on line at Cosi I heard something that made me shudder. “Would you like a free bagel with that?” the counter person queried. “Um, sure” businessman replied. It was the next customer’s turn “would you like a free bagel?” Latte woman, with a fruit cup, said, “no, I shouldn’t…but ok, yes.” I felt bitterness building inside me where mint tea was meant to be.  When I was up to the “perilous plate” I was asked the question of the day. “No! I don’t want a bagel, that’s mean of you to ask,” I said seemingly lighthearted. “Actually, can I have a free apple instead?” “Nope, just bagels today we’re promoting our new squagel.”  I headed to yoga, indignation ignited, thinking about those innocent people manipulated into consuming over 300 calories and 61 grams of carbohydrate.

On one hand, you can’t fault stores and restaurants for offering samples. It’s actually smart marketing. I showed up to ski recently and found out it was “demo day”.  After testing out a few pair, I ended up with spanking new Dynastars that I love but hadn’t even contemplated earlier. At food clubs there are the “demo dollies” offering samples. Research has shown that 7 out of 10 shoppers say they occasionally or usually buy a product they sample. After years of watching sample whores (term not mine, there are Facebook groups devoted to them though), I think the estimate above is a little high but sampling, for owners, does have its payoff. Looking at the photo above, is there not something amiss about enticing people with free, often unhealthy, food? It may not be a business’ responsibility to look out for the health of their patrons but they also don’t need to pour salt in our wounds (literally).

I know many people have a hard time turning their back on perceived “savings.” Yet processed food isn’t really saving you anything. It stimulates your appetite, entices you spend more and at some point you will probably have to “pay” for poor eating. I can hear you now, how is a couple of bites doing any harm? Nonsense, one can easily down over 900 calories while shopping. I credit another dietitian for doing the math. Another thing to think about and hopefully deter you is the chance of food borne illness in those innocent-seeming bites. Many foods are left out for long periods of time. Not too long ago, there was an E coli outbreak traced to cheese samples at a major food retailer.

My advice is don’t sample anything you wouldn’t buy if you had to pay. Also, predetermine what you will order at a restaurant or what you will buy at a store (using a list) to avoid impulse decisions free and otherwise.  Cosi, which does have fantastic salads (and great tea), says in its squagel promotional materials “in case you need another reason to try a squagel now try one free.” In that example, “free” is the reason or “tipping point”. Let’s erase free as the sway vote. After all “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” or free squagel.
Are you enticed by food when it’s free? Would you describe yourself as a sample whore…or reformed whore?  Isn’t the concept of a squagel (square bagel) a little silly?

**Congratulations to Carrie the winner of our Food Should Taste Good giveaway.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Kim Cattrall and the Super Bowl

Today’s post was intended to be Super Bowl-centric. After all, the big game is Sunday and I want you all nutritionally armed. The truth though, for me, is without the Giants or the Saints the game isn’t a major event and there’s something I’d rather talk about. If you’re disappointed please check out two Super Bowl articles I wrote that will provide you with potential food fumbles and also MVP choices. This post appeared on the Daily Green  and this one on Blisstree.

 So do you want to know what trumped the Super Bowl? Kim Cattrall did. Yesterday I was reading Land Animal. She alluded to an interview Kim had done with the Daily Mail in which she says she has been on a diet most of her life. Land Animal asked if this made us sad and said “society’s refusal to let women age is tragic. We are supposed to diet and work out until we cry.”

I read the article in the Daily Mail and had a different reaction. Kim talked about having to watch what she eats because she has a large appetite. She talked about growing up with a healthy relationship with food and mentioned that it’s harder to maintain her weight as she ages.  I applaud Kim for her honesty. This is a nice break from “I eat a ton” and all the nice-try-we-know-you’re-full-of-it comments we get from celebrities when it comes to weight. Is it so bad to admit that you work at it?

Maybe it was the word diet that put Land Animal and others off. If Kim had said, “I watch what I eat” would it have been the same? And would the reaction have been the same if Kim (hard to imagine) were somehow male? I read, in the seriously scholarly OK magazine (I was getting a manicure), the beefy Bachelor Brad say, "I eat very clean and watch everything including sodium." This, along with his 2-hour workouts, sounds far more obsessive than Kim’s comments.

I thought about myself and my eating. I watch what I eat and make an effort to eat lots of produce, work out most days of the week and from time to time keep a food journal, is this a “diet”? If it is I’m ok with it. Maybe my children who I encourage to try new foods and eat 2 fruits and vegetables are on their own form of a diet too. Ultimately, I think there’s a big difference between having a system that works for you and being overly restrictive, fasting or testing out the Twinkie Diet.  Now that would be sad.
What do you think of Kim Cattrall’s comments? Sad or honest or both? And what will you be eating on Sunday? I hope it’s not a food fumble.

** congratulations to Aidan  who won our Energy Kitchen giveaway. For today Food Should Taste Good, our #1 Superbowl snack, is giving away a goody bag with different flavors chips, chip clips, coupons and a fun FSTG tote bag. Comment for a chance to win.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Does Fast Food Have to be Fat Food?

I love to cook and get a true thrill out of menu planning but there are times when I'm delayed or simply lazy. On our weekly treks to Vermont, I pack snacks and sometimes choose to starve my family versus stopping at the gross and "golden arches" but there are times when we get stuck. Last ski season, it was a hailstorm that forced us to make a pit stip. I wrote about this "adventure" in Fast Food Slaytons but would prefer not to recap this experience. As we cruise through states, past the many exits I scan the signs looking for an appealing fast food option. How I wish there was an Energy Kitchen somewhere along I-91.

Energy Kitchen makes healthy fast food. They recently opened an UWS location a few blocks from the Foodtrainers’ offices. In my not so well cropped photo above, you’ll find a sign from Energy Kitchen that reads, “fast food doesn’t have to be fat food.” Energy Kitchen offers a healthy menu with salads, entrees and burgers (bison, veggie, ostrich and more).  Nothing on the menu is over 500 calories.  We received a bunch of tweets and email about EK recently, mostly asking if these calorie counts were “legit” or “too good to be true.” Kelly, from Energy Kitchen reassured us that their prep team pre measures all ingredients each morning. EK also sends all items to a lab for nutrition analysis before adding a count to the menu. So yes, the calories are legit and they take portions and health seriously.

I realized when preparing for this post that I had a problem. I get the same items, with little variation, every time I go to Energy Kitchen. I love the Grilled Salmon, which comes with 2 sides. My 2 favorite sides are the asparagus and the black bean and mango salad (you’re not going to find that at Mcwhatever).  I also love the sweet potatoes. Today at our lunch meeting others had the chopped salad (sans blue cheese) and the salad with seared tuna which both got rave reviews. I had the lentil soup with mixed veggies on the side, also really good. We were pleased to hear the veggie burger used at EK is organic and that the sirloin is grass-fed. If the salmon were wild and the vegetables all organic, I would contemplate hanging up my apron.

There are a few other chains in NYC serving healthier fast food, these are:

For those of you that aren’t in NYC and can’t wait for an Energy Kitchen to open near you, here are some other Foodtrainers favorite “fast food” restaurants nation-wide:

Right now Energy Kitchen has 10 locations, mostly in Manhattan. They do have 55 East Coast franchise agreements from Miami to CT. Kelly tells us they have “agreements in place for Long Island, Connecticut, Westchester, Queens, Brooklyn, Florida, Boston and Washington D. C.” I don’t see Vermont on that list but maybe one day (or maybe I’ll open it).
Have you been to Energy Kitchen, what did you think? Are there any similar concepts in your area? Do you think healthy fast food is an oxymoron?
Leave your comments; one of you will receive a $20 gift card to Energy Kitchen (thanks EK).