Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Are meat substitutes worse than meat?

For today's post I asked Melissa (@MarketMelissa) to talk meat substitutes. Melissa conducts our Market Foodtraining tours on various topics including "Vegetarian Foodtraining."

While I am not a vegetarian, I do believe there are major issues with the meat supply in this country. In my perfect world we would all be eating only organic chicken, wild fish and an occasional serving of grass-fed beef. I also think we could benefit from including more vegetarian meals in our diets. Research has shown vegetarians tend to have lower risks of heart disease, obesity, cancer and Type 2 Diabetes than meat eaters. What has me stumped is the rampant use of meat substitutes by many non-meat eaters.  It strikes me as strange that those not eating meat seek out things that are meat-like, but that isn’t the focus of this post.

In case you’re unfamiliar with them (lucky you), meat substitutes AKA “faux meats” are foods that aren’t meat, but aim to aesthetically resemble meat in texture, flavor and appearance. They provide vegetarians with something meat like and a good dose of protein. For years, many cultures have used seitan (wheat gluten), tofu, legumes and tempeh in place of meat in vegetarian diets. These foods are fine. What I am not ok with are the recent wannabe meats that are inexpensive products made from processed soy, cottonseeds, wheat and oats, better known as textured vegetable protein (TVP). Other processed forms of soy are also being used. You will see them on food labels as soy protein isolate, and soy protein concentrate. You can find these ingredients in Boca’s Original Meatless Chik’n nuggets, Morningstar Farms Meal Starters, Boca’s Italian Meatless Sausage, Amy’s Quarter Pound Veggie Burger and many more. Make sure to read your ingredient lists.

My issues with too much of this processed soy are: 91% of soy grown in this country is genetically modified – meaning it is chemically manipulated and loaded with pesticides. Most processed soy is industrially produced using hexane, which may lead to damage of the nervous system if consumed in very large quantities (organic brands, such as Amy’s uses hexane free TVP). Soy contains estrogen-like compounds called phytoestrogens. Doesn’t it seem logical that mangling hormones may pose a problem? And it does, there is evidence that processed soy forms can interfere with thyroid function, cause infertility, disrupt menstrual function and increase risk of breast cancer. While these risks are potentially from consumption of large quantities of these items, it still makes me nervous.

I cringed a bit when I saw the segment on Oprah with Kathy Freston filling her shopping cart with faux meats. Aside from the issues I mentioned these products contain a sizable amount of sodium. Four Morning Star Farms Chik’n nuggets serves up 600mg of sodium and four ounces of Boca’s crumbles contains 540mg of sodium. What concerns me the most, however, are the ingredient lists. I spend my day encouraging clients to eat whole foods and scrutinizing food labels before putting them in their carts. I therefore cannot in good conscience recommend something that looks like this:
Ingredients: (Morning Star Farms Chik’n Nuggets)

How is this extensive list of unpronounceable ingredients healthier than eating meat? Or, how is it even remotely healthy?

So what would I recommend? The food industry has made quite a market out of these faux meats and sausage, ground meat, chicken, burgers and meatballs are available in meatless versions. There are certainly better companies than others out there. Field Roast Grain Meat Co. doesn’t use any processed soy and their ingredient list is far superior to the others. 
If you want to enjoy some meatless meals, I say go back to the basics. Try tofu, seitan, and tempeh. These natural sources of soy can be great options and take on the flavor of your sauce, which can keep things interesting. Just make sure you look for non-GMO varieties (for soybeans too). Organic brands won’t use GM soy. Utilize beans, legumes, and grains naturally high in protein such as quinoa - all natural sources of protein and fiber. The bottom line is you don’t need to incorporate processed meat substitutes into your diet if you choose to go vegetarian. Fill your plate with “real food” veggie options, something that can benefit all of us.
Do a pantry check; did you find anything you wouldn’t expect with TVP, soy isolates or soy protein concentrate? Do you eat soy? What types? Do you think it’s strange that people who have meat-less diets want things meat-like? Is this like non-alcoholic beer?

Monday, March 28, 2011


Last year I took a break from nutrition and wrote a post for by younger son Weston. Both of my boys were born in March and for your children birthdays are literally the day of their birth. Nine years ago Saturday, I gave birth for the first time. I woke up early thinking I had wet the bed, Marc assured me this was probably not the case as I had never in the years I’d known him been a bed wetter. I wasn’t entirely sure my water had broken. Marc suggested I go to work and see how I feel (men!), if I was in labor he’d come pick me up. My OB felt differently and told us to head to the hospital. We weren’t expecting the baby for 3 weeks so we gathered our things and drove cross-town.

My mother joined us and we watched the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor. My sister, in the hospital for a doctor’s appointment, stopped by to eat her lunch as I sucked on ice chips. Soon enough it was time to start pushing, a few pushes and the baby was here. I know, for some of you, that’s incredibly annoying to read but it’s true. Myles was alert with bright blue eyes and a dimple and I was in love.

To say Myles was an easy baby is an understatement. I would put him in his crib, leave the room and do phone sessions with clients. Not a peep. There was an exception, one day Myles decided to remove his diaper. I came in to find him and the Italian white bumpers were covered in poo. It looked like a mass murder with doody. It was as though he was saying, “I may not yell and scream but I'm no pushover." He's since learned to yell and scream, still no pushover.

Before Myles could talk he clapped. He would clap and smile to get your attention. He doesn’t clap as much but he has a smile that can melt your heart. He likes to have a good time. In third grade his teachers are trying to teach him that there’s a time for silly. I support them but feel if silly is your worst quality you’re doing pretty well. Not only do you seek out fun but you're up for anything at any time.

Myles was allergic to eggs and corn when he was younger but has since outgrown his allergies. Like his mother, Myles likes to rank his meals. If he eats a scone he will compare it to his favorite scone in the Wolesley in London. He’ll taste something and either it’s pretty good, great or occasionally “the best.” I put berries out this morning and he told me they didn’t taste that good. I should know but “it’s not their time yet.” Myles current favorite foods are dosas, Fage peach Greek yogurt, salad with ginger dressing and Insomnia cookies. He gets his sweet tooth from Marc.

I'm having a hard time this year because nine seems different to me than eight. Nine seems big. I love the fact that we can ski together and read together but I’m aware that there will be birthdays in the future I will not spend with Myles. It’s no longer just putting you in the crib but sharing and debating and at times disagreeing. And for an easy child, boy can you debate playstation privileges or a later bedtime. Right now Myles,  you see yourself as “either a hockey player or a piano player” when you get older. I can’t wait to see what the next 9 years bring. I wish you many more smiles, good times and of course “the best” meals along the way.
Where were you 9 years ago in 2002? Does it seem like a long time since then? Do you think your personality is set from an early age? And do you, like us, rate your food?
P.S. I read this to Myles and he wanted me to delete the "volcano of poop" part and "dimple."

Friday, March 25, 2011

No Issues Naked or Exposure-phobe?

You know those naked people in the locker room at the gym? I am not one of those. Nor am I the girl running down the beach totally at ease in her bikini. I may have the bikini on but I’ll have my cover-up du jour on for more of the time. When we were in France last summer I was amazed at the women young and my mother’s age, thin and no so thin totally at ease with their physiques and teeny swim suits. I tried to act like I was like that, while we were there, but who am I kidding?

I notice this modesty at yoga. I’ve now been doing yoga for a year and declared 2011 the year of the inversion. This year my body will do upside down. Truth be told, I can do a headstand and even a handstand (at home). What’s holding me back from unveiling my poses in class? It’s the fear of my shirt going upside down with me. I am a thin person, this I know. I wear a small size and work out a bunch. I also know that I don’t love the idea of my “I’ve had 2 kids” abs being on display for all of Pure Yoga to see, upside-down no less.

I tweeted about this to my favorite workout-clothing maker Lululemon. I asked, “is there a way of inverting without exposing?” Lululemon, always responsive, suggested their Power Y, Get Focused or Pure Focus tops. While I’m liking the band at the bottom of the Pure Focus, it’s a little too loose looking, even for an exposure-phobe like me. The owner of Nuttzo (amazingly addictive nut butters) suggested I try Yummie Tummie. Yummie Tummie chimed in and thought I’d like their Skinny Tank. Although the photo looks a little sexy for yoga, they promise it’ll do the drink.  I am not usually a fan of “shape wear”. I feel it sucks you in and I end up with a tummy ache from the sucking (not so yummy). We’ll see, I’m willing to test drive these and most likely will.

In yoga this week something happened that may do more for me than any new shirt. We were in class and the teacher led us though a sequence of poses where some people go into headstand and others hang out with their hands and feet on the ground. In this pose I don’t know the name of you are peering through your legs behind you. As the show-offs  people worked their way into headstand, something happened. I looked those in headstand. One of these head standers was a girl I’ve been in class with many times. She’s fit and friendly and can pretty much twist her body into any shape imaginable (hate her, sorry that’s not yogi).  Anyway, I looked over and her top (neither “yummie” nor “focused”) went over along with her. And you know what? Hanging over her yoga pants was a little extra. Love handles or “hatha” handles call them what you will. It somehow made me feel better like cellulite on supermodels. My reaction wasn’t critical but more of a feeling that we all have something.  You’ll never find me at a nudist colony or applying make-up sans clothes but before the end of the year I’ll be going upside down in yoga.
Are you the naked girl in the locker room or an exposure-phobe? Any inversion tips or clothing suggestions? Is there hope I can be a 65-year-old woman prancing down the beach? Do I have to wait that long?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Eat Less with Activity Foods

About a month ago I was encouraging a client to add more fruit to her diet. Pushing fruit in February is like selling pork in an Orthodox neighborhood. It isn’t easy.  At the time I was loving Cara Cara oranges and suggested them to my client. “Oranges are too much work,” she said.  “What do you mean an orange is work?” I asked. “The peel, the juice, the mess, I don’t have the time.” I let it go and I think we settled on apples (less work).  It got me thinking though, this “work” my client referred to is a good thing when it comes to food. “Activity Foods” as I call them are foods that take time to eat. This slows us down and may just lead to eating less. Convenience isn't always a good thing when it comes to food. Here are my favorite activity foods:

My first memory of eating nuts was in my Grandparents den. There was always a bowl of nuts on the table. The nuts were whole and a silver nutcracker rested next to them. As a child I remember many failed attempts at nut cracking. I probably consumed 1 nut per day back then. I don’t even know that my kids would know nutcrackers are used for eating nuts.  I vote for a nutcracker revival.

Edamame are a great source of protein and the ultimate activity food. Buy edamame in the shell, non-GMO. Enjoy them as a snack with some sea salt and a little cayenne.

Attending college in New Orleans, some of my favorite memories are chowing down on crawfish or peel and eat shrimp. You really work for your food when eating these. Other shellfish options are mussels and lobster.

One of my favorite spring vegetables is artichokes. Artichokes take a little work to prepare and time to eat. Watch what you “dip” into. Artichokes are low calorie and high fiber, creamy sauces aren’t.

As much as I love a dirty martini, I love olives on their own too. Olives are high in fat (good fat) but fairly low in calories. Make sure to buy olives with their pits. Again, the pitting (and spitting) takes time.

Whole Fish
People are scared of whole fish (or grossed out) and I think that’s a mistake. Cooking fish whole renders a delicious end product and is a very healthy method of preparation. Furthermore, find me someone who can race through eating whole fish, you can’t.

If you’re not up for nutcracking, try pistachios. Pistachios are great as they lower LDL cholesterol and also because you can eat more (for same calories) than other nuts. Removing the shells is sort of fun…unless you had a manicure recently.

If you’re a speedy eater, activity foods will slow you down leaving time to savor the food that you’re eating and realize when you’re full (or tired of “working”).
Do you like activity foods? Any good ones I left off this list? Do you think oranges are a lot of work?

Monday, March 21, 2011

If there's no wagon, you can't fall off

My friend Rebecca (of Beccarama) wrote on her blog about eating a steak. What made this event post-worthy and interesting was that Rebecca is a vegetarian and the post was entitled "falling off the vegetarian wagon”.  Rebecca tells the story of how she initially decided to became vegetarian.  She refers to an article she read about the environmental cost of eating meat. She mentions that meat eating didn’t seem to align itself with other behaviors she engaged in such as sipping from a Sigg bottle and recycling. “This coupled with the disgusting stories coming out about factory farming, hormones, antibiotics and all the rest made it not too difficult to cut down on meat.” While Rebecca says, “cut down” she didn’t eat less meat she ate no beef, poultry or pork for years. Fish remained and therefore she went by the term pescetarian.

I agree with many of Rebecca’s reasons for eating less meat. I don’t eat meat frequently nor do I eat a large portion when I do. I wonder whether eating some grass-fed steak every so often should lead to feelings of guilt or imply you’re less concerned about the environment.  I worry about the various eating camps people place themselves in. I have a friend who is a self-described “fish eating vegan” and another who’s “mostly raw.”  I have a wheat allergy but I never describe myself as “wheat free” or “gluten free” unless asked. I guess I could describe my eating as “Wheat free, pescetarian with occasional grass-fed meat” but that’s just ridiculous.

There are some exceptions that require an absolute and also a label. For those with food allergies it needs to be clear that no wiggle room is tolerated. Although with more people self-diagnosing their allergies even  “allergic” is taken less seriously. Religion also dictates many food rules. However, there are those who “keep a kosher house” but are less strict outside the house. Some Christians don’t observe the food guidelines over Lent. Unless medically dictated there seems to be some leniency.

Aside from the lack of flexibility, I feel there’s something competitive in these food labels. It’s as though vegetarian gets the bronze medal, vegan the silver and raw vegan ooh the gold for sure. Isn’t this odd? Does removing foods from your diet make you a better or  “cleaner” eater or maybe a better person? In my office I see clients who are vegan, others gluten-free or dairy-free. I rarely try to convert someone but rather try to achieve the healthiest food plan regardless of the constraints. Yet others are more exclusive. I’ve had bloggers tell me “I only read vegan blogs.” That’s fine but I feel they’re missing out on some great vegan or vegetable recipes found on other sites.

Excluding something from your diet doesn’t make your remaining food healthy. French fries are vegan and many gluten-free products are nutritionally void. A healthy diet, if that’s what we’re after, can take many forms. If we see eating as a Venn diagram there are many areas in which Rebecca and I or vegans and carnivores overlap. Most of us believe a healthy diet should be vegetable-heavy, that we should cook more or at least know where our food comes from, we should eat less packaged food and sugar and drink alcohol (oh wait, ok I’ll revoke that last one, wishful thinking). As for the wagon, it saddens me to think that someone like Rebecca who enjoys food and makes conscious choices for herself and her family is walking around feeling as though she is “off” or “fell”, wagon or otherwise. Speaking of that wagon, how do you picture it? When choosing a photo I realized I conjure up an image ala Little House in the Prairie or the horse-drawn carriage we once took a ride on in Colorado. I guess it doesn’t matter since I’m advocating going wagon-less.
Do you label your eating? Why do you think these labels are used? Are they necessary?

Friday, March 18, 2011

10 Steps to Better Sleep

I don’t want to beat around the bush, there’s no use trying to be eloquent. This week kicked my ass. The measly 1-hour spring ahead paired with single parenting while my husband was carousing  traveling on business in Vegas left me with a perpetual liquor-less hangover.  Yesterday, as I sat with my head on my desk attempting to nap, my computer signaled I had an email. It was Blisstree asking for my top ten sleep tips.  I rattled them off and should really follow my own advice. Here are my sleep suggestions:

1. Caffeine is for a.m. only — that pick-me-up at 4 p.m. will keep you up at night.
2. Don’t work out too close to bedtime.
3. I love a powdered lemon, magnesium supplement called Natural Calm.
4. Eat a carb at dinner. It’s the best time of day to eat carbs, because they help relax you. (Black rice, sweet potatoes, and soba noodles are some favorites of mine.) Everyone loves a pro-carb tip.
5. I also like a supplement that contains chamomile/valerian and turmeric called Zyflamend PM by New Chapter; it’s much better than Tylenol PM.
6. Be careful of dark chocolate as a dessert; the caffeine content can keep some people up during the night.
7. Tart cherries are a good pre-bedtime snack  — the natural melatonin in them will help relax you. Try sour cherry juice and seltzer or thawed frozen cherries.
8. Use lavender in a bath or on pulse points. I use lavender oil by Origins.
9. Screens are not soporific, books are. Screens mean anything with a backlight: TV/laptops/iPad/iPhone.
10. Instead of counting sheep, make a mental food list/diary of what you ate that day. That puts me to sleep immediately.

Have a great weekend everyone, sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.
What do you do to assure yourself a good night’s sleep? Did the time change affect you? What time do you go to bed?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lose Weight With The Blue Plate

When we think about factors that affect our appetite, stress, sleep and exercise may come to mind.  Each of these can influence hunger but so can something else you may not think as much about. Our eating is impacted by our eating environment and particularly sensitive to color. The color of your dinner plates, dining room or kitchen influences eating behavior. There’s one color that really shows promise as an appetite suppressant. That blue plate in the photo above? It just may help the scale budge.

There’s research behind color and appetite. In one study participants were placed in different colored rooms to eat. In the blue-colored room they ate over 30 percent fewer calories. In another study blue food coloring was added to food and resulted in fewer calories consumed (though food coloring isn’t suggested).One theory explains this based on the dearth of blue foods in nature. Other than blueberries, blue foods are scarce and as we evolved we used visual cues to determine if a food was edible. Blue was viewed as a non-food color possibly even poisonous. Blue is also a calming color and helps us feel more relaxed.

If you want to know what colors rev up your appetite, look no further than the golden arches. It is no accident that red and yellow are appetite stimulants. Steer clear of those colors if you’re trying to lose weight. On the other hand, blue plates, blue placemats, or even a blue light in your refrigerator may be useful weight loss tools.  I have to admit that when I first heard about blue plates, I asked myself  “who uses blue plates anyway?” Then I remembered my mother in law does. She’s Swedish and her house is filled with blue. And you know what? She’s pretty darn skinny.
Have you ever noticed color affecting your eating? Do you buy into the psychology of color? Anyone contemplating a renovation or a new blue kitchen? What’s your favorite color?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Color Me Carcinogenic

On Thursday I am giving a nutrition talk at a preschool in Manhattan. I plan to cover a few topics: organics, healthy snacking and vitamins. When talking about snacks for kids and vitamins I find it impossible to ignore the topic of food dyes.  Certain artificial food dyes have been shown to be carcinogenic to animals, others affect mood and intensify ADHD and a few are associated with fertility even sterility. This is not a laughing matter. I bet you’re wondering how these dyes are approved for use; I don’t blame you if you do. The British government has urged companies to stop using most dyes, and the European Union requires a warning notice on most dyed foods. In European countries these colorings are considered hazardous until they can be proven safe. Sadly, in the US we have the opposite approach. These colorings are safe until proven otherwise.  As a consequence, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald’s, and other American companies that do business in Europe use safe, natural colorings over there — but harmful, synthetic chemicals here. As far as I’m concerned, this is a case where the proof may indeed be in the pudding and I’ve already reached my verdict, read on and see what you think.

I asked Lisa, Foodtrainers’ favorite nutrition nerd to provide answers to some questions I’m “dye-ing” to know:

I always tell parents the food dyes are more likely to blame for hyperactivity than the sugar, what does the research show?
A British study reported in "Archives of Disease in Children" in 2004 found that hyperactive behavior increased in children given food coloring plus sodium benzoate, a preservative. Hyperactive behavior decreased when the additives were withdrawn. A 2007 study published in The Lancet showed that children have increased levels of hyperactivity after consuming drinks laced with food coloring. According to the Mayo Clinic, yellow food dye no. 5, no. 6 and no. 10, and red no. 40 all cause an increase in hyperactivity. Food additives that may increase hyperactive behavior include: Sodium benzoate, Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow), Yellow No. 10 (quinoline yellow), Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine) and Red No.40 (allura red) Yellow No. 5, used in beverages, candy, ice cream, custards and other foods, may be more likely to cause reactions than other additives. The Food and Drug Administration requires that Yellow No. 5 be clearly labeled on food packaging along with other ingredients.  This label is just indicating Yellow 5 is in the food. This is not a warning label.

People may think food dyes aren’t an issue if you don’t eat candy or neon-colored food but food dyes are found in some sneaky places, aren’t they? 
Food dyes can be found in pickles, some farmed salmon, certain mustards, granola bars and Life Cereal. As you see from this list, food coloring is lurking in foods that seem pretty much colorless. And another place dyes are used is in medicine. Specific colors are not always listed but look for “color added”, “artificial color” or “artificial coloring added.”

Aside from mood, what more serious things are dyes connected with?
 According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, food coloring such as blue no. 1, red no. 40, yellow no. 5 and yellow no. 6 cause allergic reactions. Yellow food dye no. 5 has triggered asthma episodes in children and other dyes, such as red no. 40, cause skin conditions such as eczema. Yellow #2 has been connected with male sterility and ADHD. Blue 1 and Blue 2 used in beverages and often in pet food has been associated with brain tumors in animal studies and Red 3 is linked with thyroid tumors.

What are examples of healthy ways to color food?
Better choices include annatto extract (yellow), dehydrated beets (bluish-red to brown), beta-carotene (yellow to orange) and grape skin extract (red, green).  These colorings are not required to be named and you may simply see colorings or color added. For home use matcha green tea powder, beet juice (makes icing pink), cocoa and avocado can be used. Here is a recipe you'll love for frosting for St Patrick’s Day
Thanks Lisa, this is great information. My advice is that everyone needs to check their food labels particularly for foods they consume regularly. If these foods contain dyes consider switching to a product that doesn’t.  And parents, know that when children leave a birthday party their behavior is not due to a “sugar high.”
Do you look for food dyes on food labels? Have you ever had a reaction to a food dye? Are you at all shocked that these are approved for use?

*Congratulations to Gayle, she's the winner of the Hardwick giveaway.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Go Forth and Eat Burgers

When it comes to healthy eating I feel beef is a bad word. Wild salmon, kale and berries go along gathering dietary accolades while beef sits in the corner. While I’m not here pushing a beef-based diet I would caution you not to lump all beef in one category. Grass-fed beef is better to eat and possibly the only beef we should eat. According to a great website Eat Wild  “compared with feedlot meat, meat from grass-fed beef, bison, lamb and goats has less total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. It also has more vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and a number of health-promoting fats, including omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid.”

About a month ago I was placing a food order on a NYC service known as Fresh Direct. My boys had requested burgers for dinner over the weekend. I searched on “grass fed beef” and meat from a company called Hardwick popped up. I was weary at first as the meat was sold frozen. I deliberated and decided frozen grass fed was preferred to non-frozen hormone burgers. I ordered the meat and placed it and other items in our cooler to take to Vermont for the weekend. Saturday night, after skiing, I made dinner. I always use grass fed beef but hadn’t tried Hardwick before. My family didn’t know anything was different but raved about their burgers. “Best burger ever” said my then 6 year old (who is now 7) and they were.

When we got back to New York, I placed another grocery order this time purchasing 2 packages of Hardwick for the freezer. The next week my mother was over making dinner for the boys while I was still at work. Now my mother, though a fantastic cook, rolls her eyes at the mention of organic or overtly healthy. Nonetheless, when I walked in the door she said, “that’s the best meat I’ve ever cooked.” My mother has since contacted Hardwick on her own to find out about having their steaks shipped to her.

Healthy and tasty do not always go hand in hand. I get a thrill when farms or companies producing food in the right manner make a product that is so superior to conventional offerings. When it comes to meat, grass fed cows do not require the antibiotics feedlot cows do because they are eating what they were meant to eat in appropriate conditions. I know beef is not for everyone but alongside fruit and vegetables and nuts we all should be able to have a burger every so often if we want it.
Do you or your family eat read meat? How often? Do you purchase grass fed beef? What’s your favorite recent healthy food find?

**Hardwick is offering a  “Special Bundle” of various cuts of steaks to a lucky reader in the Northeast. Please let us know, in the comments section, if you qualify and would like to be included in the giveaway.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Non-Religious Lent for All

I love Lent. This sounds odd with good reason. First, as I’ve mentioned before, with the exception of culinary traditions, I am areligious. Second, my birth religion was not Catholicism but even I know that Lent is a time of sacrifice. So why the love? I love Lent because I am a nutritionist and for a chunk of time each year my clients do not waiver in their commitments. They choose something to give up for some it’s sugar, for others alcohol or even taxis.  Clients forego their area of sacrifice without need for a pep talk or modification or anything. Religion aside, I love this idea of giving up one thing. It’s not giving up all your favorite things, living on juices or canceling social plans. Its just one thing but one thing can make a difference.

Today is Ash Wednesday and I propose Lent For All. Your  “church” is this blog (or your church if you’d prefer), the comment section is your written commitment and the criteria from my friend C (16 years of Catholic school backing her up) is that what you give up should be a challenge. For example, if you don’t eat cookies giving up cookies isn’t meaningful. Whatever you give up, you will skip for the duration of lent or 40 days until Easter, which is April 24th.

If you’re unsure what to give up, here are a few ideas:

Booze –if your alcohol intake is in double digits per week a vino vacation may be in order.  Some clients go cold turkey (or sans wild turkey) and others skip alcohol during the week.

Eating After Dinner-we suggested a Dessert Detox in a recent post and have received terrific feedback.

 Restaurant and Take Out Meals- no matter how you slice it restaurant meals are higher in salt and fat and cost more than home cooked meals. If you use your oven for storing clothes or have fewer than 5 ingredients in your refrigerator this would be a good one for you.

Meat- during lent Catholics skip meat of Fridays. I’ve received a few explanations for this tradition none of which made that much sense (as I said I’m not one for religion). While I’m so not a vegan, I do love cheese and eggs and fish, a month without beef and poultry would be doable.

Packaged food- even healthy eaters can consume their fair share of packaged food. From cold cereal to salad dressing there are many foods that aren’t horrible for you but aren’t healthy either. Skip all foods with more than a few ingredients. For example eggs in a package (or carton) are ok but pretzels are not.

          Wheat- while may of us don’t suffer from celiac disease or even gluten intolerance, I hear from clients all the time that they feel better: fewer GI issues, improved skin and mood when wheat-less. In forty days you’ll have a sense whether wheat is an issue for you or not.  Wheat includes bread, pasta, crackers, dumplings, breaded items, waffles, pancakes and flour tortillas.
      Days off from Exercise-if your indulgence is the snooze button use the next 50 days as an excuse-free zone. Exercise daily for the duration of Lent. It doesn’t have to be an hour a day or super-intense but do something each day for 15 minutes or more.

Second Helpings- giving up sweets or bread is not for everyone. If you can’t bear the thought of parting with something for 40 days try changing how you eat. Whether it’s cookies or your dinner meal adopt the 1 plate rule. Denying yourself the second helping allows you to appreciate the first one.

Elevators- even if you workout regularly, there are many hours in the day most of us spend sedentary, tush to chair. Trade out elevators or escalators for stairs and you have the opportunity to seriously jack up your activity level. Automation isn’t an asset to the overweight.

Nuts or Cheese – these are two healthy foods that many people overeat. Whether you’re a nutaholic or a cheese lover call yourself on your habit, after all admitting you have a problem is the first step.

      So, what's it going to be? Pick your challenge of choice and we'll do this together. One more thing C suggested during my Lent lesion. She said, “during Lent, I make more of an effort (this is where I sound like a born-again) to act more "Christian", kinder, tolerant, giving, more forgiving.” Regardless of religion, that’s not a bad idea either.
What do you think of Lent for all? Catholic or not, do you see yourself giving anything up? Is it guilt, why do you think some people can do things in the name of religion we wouldn’t otherwise?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cooking Fish Sans Smell

Ichthyophobia is the fear of fish. This applies to eating fish or seeing dead fish. Galeophobia is the fear of sharks. I propose urban pescephobia the extreme fear of cooking fish in small apartments due to the potentially intense, traumatizing and lingering odor. Eating fish provides omega 3’s, an excellent source of lean protein and, in my opinion, assistance with the weight loss process.  However, it’s hard to convince a cooking pescephobe to “get back in the water” after they’ve experienced days of eau du fish. There’s no coincidence that fishy has 2 meanings. One meaning is “suggestive of fish” and the other “suspicious”.  In addition to cracking a kitchen window or using the exhaust on your stove here are some ideas to help conquer your fish cooking fears.

My two preferred ways to minimize odors when cooking fish are to steam fish or cook en papilliote (hows that for a fancy term). I have a calphalon steamer that sits fits into a pot and gets covered. For "en papilliote" I like to make parcels of fish and vegetables with a drizzle of white wine and cook in parchment paper.  I asked a few cooking friends for their suggestions:

Jenna Helwig from Rosaberry and our recent Cooking Company post offered this advice:
“I love roasting fish in the oven instead of cooking it on the stovetop. That really cuts down on the fishy smell, and it's so simple. Line a pan with parchment paper, drizzle the fish with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake at 400 until just cooked through. Spritz with lemon after it comes out of the oven.”

Julie Negrin, author of Easy Meals to Cook With Kids suggests “two cooking techniques that usually don't cause as much of a "fishy" smell are steaming in bamboo steamers - Asian style and poaching.” Jennifer Clair  of homecookingny points out that the type of fish can make a difference.  “Lean fish cuts down the amount of fish oils in the air which make odors stick around longer. Salmon trout swordfish out, tilapia tuna and cod in.”

Some other ideas:
  • Place a dish of white vinegar next to the stove. The vinegar will evaporate taking odor with it.
  • In the “if you can’t beat it mask it” category, a few cinnamon sticks in water boiled in the stove seems to be a popular remedy.
  • Salt crusting is a method of cooking fish (the salt is not consumed in case you’re a sodium-phobe too) that is rather odorless.

 On one of the boards, a commenter enthusiastically wrote, “I learned from Alton Brown that frying fish in Crisco produces no odors.” This to me is replacing one problem with another and not Foodtrainers-approved but pretty funny. 
Do you suffer from urban pescephobia? Does this exist in the suburbs too? Any tips or techniques you use to mitigate fishiness?  Are you going to try to conquer your fear?

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Secret Ingredient for Weight Loss

You have a big presentation to give for work. You have prepared well but are a little anxious about how it will go. You picked out an outfit to wear and feel pretty good after all you’ve been working out and eating well, you’re trying. The morning of your presentation you get to the conference room early. There’s the usual unhealthy work meeting fare: the bagel platter, the Danishes and of course the plate of cookies (your favorite).  You remind yourself you’re “being good” and take a cup of already burnt tasting coffee and review your notes. The presentation is well received and you’re relieved. As you leave the room you grab 2 chocolate chip cookies, you deserve a treat, right? You eat the cookies on your way back to the office. Once in your office mental scolding begins “how could I have just had those? I really blew it.  Why can’t I avoid the sweets?” Pretty soon someone sticks their head in and tells you there’s pizza that was ordered. You’re in a bad mood; the day is ruined and you polish off 3 pieces of pizza.

The above scenario isn’t about anyone in particular but I hear a version of this from clients almost daily.  What went on here? The person just described associated getting through something difficult with a reward. In itself that isn't the problem. However, she wasn’t able to eat the cookies guilt free. She berated herself which didn’t make her snap out of it; instead it perpetuated the poor eating.

The New York Times Well Blog recently ran a piece describing a burgeoning area of research called self-compassion. The woman above would probably have a poor self-compassion score, as many of us do.  Yet there is reason to improve self-compassion as “preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.” I know exactly how the nutrition session would go following my imaginary client’s cookie, pizza and god-knows-what-else eating.  She would come into the office and the first thing out of her mouth would be something to the effect of “I really screwed up, I’m so annoyed because I was doing so well and then I just lost it. I just can’t manage to put a week together without something coming up.”  I would then say “OK, now tell me what you would say if a friend was complaining to you about their eating.” Most of us know how to comfort another person, we have compassion just not for ourselves.

One of the tools I use with Foodtrainers clients is Treat Training. Clients practice treating themselves using four criteria 1) treats should be planed 2) treats should be portioned (two cookies not 10). 3) Treats should consumed guilt free and 4) next meal or snack on track. These steps help turn something guilt-ridden into something enjoyable. The Times article described a study conducted on female college students. Students thought they were doing taste tests. Two groups were given doughnuts. One group was told not to be hard on themselves that everyone in the study eats this stuff. Later women were asked to taste candies. The women not given the self-compassion message ate more.

So when you hear yourself using your critical voice try to frame things more positively. I have clients list their victories or behaviors they feel good about each day. Perhaps you ate a good breakfast or made it to the gym or avoided the cookies but dwell on these things versus the others…and if you don’t I’ll kill you!
Do you have self-compassion? What strategies to you use to be more kind to yourself? What are your victories today?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

10 Ingredients That Make Healthy Food Exciting

One of my nutrition pet peeves is when people assume health eating is boring and bland. In order to lose weight there is no mandatory sentence to steamed vegetables, dry salads and cottage cheese. If that were the case I’d be searching for another profession. Yet we can all get into a food rut. Below you’ll find ten of my trusted jazzer-uppers that I use time and time again.

Capers- I spent my childhood flicking capers off smoked salmon on Sunday mornings. I couldn’t fathom what there was to like about them.  The skinny bottle of capers and the tube of anchovy paste confirmed at an early age that my parents were nuts. Then, during my first pregnancy, I did a culinary about-face. I became a caper convert.  My favorite capers are Le Pain Quotidien’s wild mountain capers.  Capers are great in tomato sauces and of course with fish (including smoked salmon)

Caramelized Onions are so delicious it’s hard to believe they’re just onions. I love caramelized onions mixed into other vegetables such as mushrooms or as a filling in potatoes. This genius idea of cooking them in a slow cooker is from Justine at Full Belly Sisters

 Pickled Jalapenos- I’ve never met a pepper I didn’t like but pickled peppers are special. They’re great with black beans and also hard-boiled eggs. They’re not crazy spicy but add that perfect little kick to foods. I’ll admit, I don’t make them but here is a recipe if you’d like to try. 

Zest-I have only been zesting for a couple of years, I first started after watching Giada’s show. Giada may zest lemons (limes and oranges) in more recipes than any other human. If you are going to zest you will need a microplane (which you can use for fresh ginger too) and prepare to have your life changed. Smoothies, chicken and salad dressing will never be the same.

Maya Kaimal’s Spicy Ketchup-last week I told you about MK’s simmer sauces. Well, there’s another ingredient you need to own and it’s her spicy ketchup. I am not a ketchup fan but this is not typical ketchup at all. You can use it in place of ketchup but I prefer it as a cocktail sauce stand in with shrimp.

     Truffle Salt- I am generally not one for fancy salt. I have a brick-sized box of kosher salt that I use to refill a saltcellar on my counter. Truffle salt is fantastic though; the flavor is sensational.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit one of my favorite uses for it is on popcorn. It’s also great on omelets and scrambled eggs. It isn’t cheap but I’ve had the same Dean and Deluca jar for almost a year.

Hampton Chutney Cilantro Chutney-Years ago, I was over at my friend Meg’s apartment for dinner. I cannot tell you what we discussed that night. All I know is that I planted myself next to this green dip and must’ve polished it all off. I know cilantro is a divisive herb but if you are pro-cilantro you need to try this. It’s great as a dip but also fantastic rolled with turkey, drizzled on an avocado or mixed into tuna. The ingredients are rather interesting: cilantro, coconut, dates, chilies, ginger, lemon juice, a handful of spices and a touch of salt.

Tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds, deserves a life beyond hummus. Tahini has a rich, creamy taste and works well as a salad dressing base. I also thin tahini and use it over greens, sort of like a creamless 
creamed spinach. Here are some other tahini recipe ideas from the New York Times.

Fig and Passion Fruit Vinegar-years ago I took a Balsamic Vinegar cooking class with my mother. Prior to that vinegar was reserved for salads exclusively. In class, we learned to pair various vinegars with cheese and even fruit.  Recently, one of my clients brought me a fig vinegar I love with fresh strawberries. I also have a passion fruit vinegar that works nicely with fish.

Pesto –in the summer I love making pesto.  I have a recipe I loved that incorporates arugula. In the winter, I cheat.  I buy pesto from Sauces n Love or Le Grand Pesto. I haven’t found anything that doesn’t go well with pesto.

What are your favorite jazzer-uppers?  Any uses for the ingredients above you want to share?  And are you pro-cilantro or anti?