Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Breakfast: Don't Make it More Complicated Than it Needs to Be

How about a delicious, healthy and satisfying breakfast that doesn't require a lot of time? Forget over-processed "healthy" products like Cheerios, low-fat muffins, and protein shakes. It's easier to eat real food than you think: use the leftovers. Leftover vegetables from dinner? Toss them in a pan with a couple of eggs and you've got a gourmet omelette in minutes! Leftover grains? Throw them in a pan with a little water, some fruit, cinnamon, chopped nuts and you have a delicious breakfast porridge that will keep you full all morning. Plus it's real, actual food!

So try this: Throw together leftover veggies or grains from the night before and make a delicious real breakfast. Check out two simple recipes below.

Instead of: Throwing yourself off by eating processed, fake, chemicalized, or isolated "healthy" foods that have all kinds of hidden sugar like cold breakfast cereals, low-fat baked goods, shakes, and bars.

For the recipes and to learn more about why you might not want to pat yourself on the back for eating Cheerios in the morning, read on...

Boxed Cereal
It's easier to eat real food than you think. Modern foods are all about convenience, not your health. Even breakfast cereals that carry lists of health benefits are not what they're cracked up to be. First of all almost all of them are laden with hidden sugar. If you don't believe me check the label and see how many sneaky terms for sugar you can find (evaporated cane juice, cane sugar, corn syrup, etc.). But who cares right, they have (insert trendy nutrient of the moment)! Secondly, they are highly processed. Even the whole grain ones with fiber, even the ones sold in health food stores. The machine used to make them cereals, an extruder, really screws with the grains used to make your trusty cereal. It subjects the grains to such high heat and pressure that the nutritional value of the grain once it's been processed is questionable, and dangerously toxic if you ask Sally Fallon of the Weston A Price Foundation. They fed Corn Flakes to rats and they died faster than rats that ate the box that the Corn Flakes came in! To read more about extrusion click here.

Low-fat Baked Goods
Those low fat muffins at the coffee shop are no gem either. Go ahead, check out the Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts or other bakery's website for the nutrition info. They might not be super high in calories (I can't believe I just said "calories"), but the main ingredient is almost always white flour. White flour is processed, devoid of the fiber, b-vitamins, and antioxidants that come in the original form: whole wheat. Without the fiber, white flour is not much better than plain old sugar, spiking your blood sugar and leading to a crash and cravings for more sugar shortly after. Have any white flour product for breakfast and you're in danger of eating a lot more between now and lunch time.

Protein Shakes
Protein shakes and bars? Also questionable. Popular ingredients in shakes and powders are isolated proteins from soy, whey, casein, and egg whites. They are protein isolates, meaning they have been isolated, taken out of the context of the whole food it came from. The isolates are usually obtained by a high-temperature process that changes the protein to an extent that they are pretty much useless. Not to mention increasing nitrates and other carcinogens in the food. Yum! Our genes have evolved for generations and generations to know exactly what to do with food. The whole food and how to break up it's particles. Whey protein, soy protein, etc. is not a whole food. As for protein bars, just read the ingredients. Most are not much more than a glorified candy bar.

Of course there's a very small amount of quality cereals that don't use extrusion, meal powders that don't use isolated proteins, and muffins that use real ingredients. But why bother when you can make your own real food, quickly!


Veggie Frittata
Olive oil
6 eggs
Fresh-ground black pepper
Chopped leftover cooked vegetables (i.e. greens, zucchini, tomato, onions, peppers, herbs, etc.)

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a 10-inch heavy pan over medium heat. Crack eggs into a large bowl. Add salt, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, fresh-ground black pepper and beat lightly. Stir the cooked leftover vegetables into the beaten eggs.

Pour egg mixture into preheated pan. As the eggs set on the bottom, lift the edges with a spatula to allow the uncooked eggs to flow underneath. Continue to cook until mostly set. Invert a large plate (or another pan) on top of the pan, turn the plate and pan upside down to turn out the frittata onto the plate.

Pour in 1 tsp of olive oil and slide the frittata back into the pan. Cook for 2 or 3 more minutes. Slide onto a plate and serve or wrap for the next day. Serves four.

Whole Grain Hot Breakfast
1 cup of leftover whole grains (i.e. brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, etc.)
2 tbsp rolled oats
1 cup water
2 tbsp dried fruit or fresh fruit (i.e. raisins or chopped apples)
2 tbsp chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans, etc.)
1 shake of cinnamon
Raw honey or pure maple syrup

Bring grains, oats, water, fruit, nuts, and cinnamon to a boil. Lower the flame to simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Add raw honey or maple syrup to sweeten. Maybe a wee pat of butter too. Serves two.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Invite the Italians over for Dinner

Nervous about how upcoming family gatherings, cookouts and parties are going to affect your body this summer?

You’re right smack in the middle of party season. With countless summer barbeques, graduation parties, weddings, etc. your waistline is going to be in constant jeopardy. Your digestive system may not be too happy either - say hello to the holy trinity of gas, constipation, and diarrhea! How can we curb the potential damage these nonstop eating festivals will do to your body this summer? It’s definitely not avoiding the food, that wouldn't be fun. How about an approach that emphasizes enjoyment and pleasure?

Peter and I both have Italian relatives. I’ve noticed that when they visit and attend a family get together, they approach the buffet line much differently than the rest of us. While the American family members zip through the buffet filling each corner of their plate with each food, the Italians take it in courses. First a plate for pasta or vegetables. Then a new plate for the meat dish. Then a new plate for a salad. You know what else? They are never first in line. They take their time, sit, chat with family, enjoy themselves. It’s almost as if they aren’t afraid the food will disappear forever!

Perhaps we can learn from our relatives by taking the time to appreciate and savor everything we deem worth to put on our plate. By eating one food at a time, we give our undivided attention to that dish, to it’s flavors, it’s texture, it’s appearance. When you eat all of the senses are involved. When we take the time to savor our food, we may be able to achieve two things:

More Energy.
When we eat all of the senses are involved. Digestion begins even before we take the first bite - once we smell our food our mouth releases saliva that contains enzymes to break it down. Chewing thoroughly breaks it down even more. This doesn’t happen if we inhale our food. Why do we care about breaking down our food more efficiently? The more we break down our food, the more nutrition we get out of it and the less energy our bodies will expend digesting everything. That means more energy available for shaking it on the dance floor, having a laugh with family and friends, etc.

Less Overeating.
Think of a plate with these 4 things: macaroni salad, sausage and peppers, grilled chicken, and a roll. Imagine eating a bite of each, one after the other, circling your plate getting a medley of flavors until your plate is cleared. Now imagine you are going to not move on until one dish is completely finished. You start with the macaroni salad. You notice the colors and ingredients, appreciate it’s texture, and with each bite you recognize another ingredient. Then you move on to the sausage and peppers until you are done, and move on. This way, you are more likely to realize, you know what, Aunt Sally’s macaroni salad really tastes like crap today, and this roll is stale and flavorless. I’m not going to waste my time on these when I can be enjoying these delicious sausage and peppers! You eat what matters, get more pleasure out of your food without feeling heavy and overstuffed!

Try this: Focus on one dish at a time, appreciating the color, smell, texture, flavors with each bite until you feel satisfied. Then move on to the next dish. Even better, put only one thing on your plate at a time.

Instead of: Inhaling everything on your plate altogether.

Why? Get more energy, feel lighter, and have a more pleasurable eating experience!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Upcoming Event!

Hi everyone!

What are you up to next Tuesday? I just wanted to let you know that I'll be hosting a seminar (click here for details) where I'll be sharing my top solutions for problems that keep us in a rut and prevent us from adding healthier habits to our busy lifestyles! In fact, for a sneak peak I'll share one of those solutions with you right now...

"I Need My Sweets!"

We all know that decreasing sweets and sugary treats would probably benefit our health, not to mention our waistlines, right? But does this ever happen to you: you have the intention to eat perfectly well, have a lovely balanced meal, then the moment dinner is over you say , "where in the heck is my [insert sugary treat - chocolate, bon bons, cookie, etc.]?" This was me after every lunch and dinner for basically the first 26 years of my life. It's also certainly something that every single one of my clients have struggled with at one point or another.

Our bodies crave that sweet taste because we need it - sweet tasting foods help build tissues, calm nerves, and provide us with energy. In traditional Asian nutrition theories, the sweet flavor strengthens the spleen-pancreas and can soothe the liver. However, too much sweet, especially in the form of refined sugar can wreak havoc on the immune system, liver and kidneys and create deficiencies.

The solution to your sweet cravings? More natural foods with a sweet taste - especially fruits and sweet-tasting vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and cooked onions. Try adding in one or more of these items and see what happens to your cravings. On the days I have sweet potatoes, I don't even think about chocolate. No joke.

Recipe: Baked Sweet Potato Fries

2 sweet potatoes or yams
Olive oil
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Slice sweet potatoes about 1/4-inch thick. I like to cut mine into little disks or coins instead of lengthwise - they get crispier.

Toss sweet potato slices in large bowl with just enough olive oil to lightly coat them. Layer on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake for about 20 minutes, turning once. Enjoy!

Event Next Week!

Want to hear more tips? If you're in the area, stop by my event next week and sample homemade healthy desserts!

When: Tuesday April 27th 7:00PM - 8:30PM or Wednesday April 28th 10:00AM - 11:30AM
Where: The Life Solution Center of Darien, 36 Old Kings Highway South click here for map



Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Favorite Grain: Amaranth!

I’d like you meet one of my new favorite whole grains: amaranth. Although I had been hearing about it for a while, I tried it for the first time only a couple of months ago. Now I'm hooked! For those of you who, like many people I have shared my affinity for this ancient grain with, have not heard of amaranth before, here's a little background:

Amaranth is not a grain in the strictest sense, but a seed of an herb indigenous to the Americas. For more information on whole grains, click here. It was considered a staple in the Aztec’s diets and even used in their religious ceremonies. According to Healing with Whole Foods, by Paul Pitchford, amaranth's increasing popularity in the health world may be due to the discovery that in areas in Africa and Latin America where amaranth is consumed, there exists no malnutrition. It is surprisingly able to thrive in very poor soil and during drought. This may be why, similar to quinoa, these tiny, adorable little seeds pack quite an impressive punch when it comes to nutrient levels and benefits:

  • Super high in protein - similar to quinoa, amaranth has a very high protein content for a grain - about 15-18% compared to about 8% in rice. They are both considered complete proteins which make them a great option for vegetarians concerned with getting enough protein.
  • Great source of fiber
  • High in vitamin C
  • Contains more calcium, magnesium, and silicon than cow's milk!
  • Gluten-free and easy to digest

Amaranth is relatively quick to cook (only about 25-30 minutes) and has a light, nutty flavor and a texture that pops in your mouth when you chew it. You can even make “amaranth popcorn”! I don't even have to show you how to do it because this nice lady already did it for me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up4bX3XyAi0 Aren’t they adorable? Just add a little olive oil and sea salt and you have yourself a scrumptious snack.

For more of a meal, cook simple amaranth below as a side dish or even turn it into breakfast by adding a little more water at the end of cooking, along with raisins, walnuts and a little bit of butter.

Simple Amaranth

1 cup amaranth

1 teaspoon butter or extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups water

Place amaranth, butter, garlic and salt in a small pot, add water to just barely cover the amaranth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook for until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to steam, covered, for about 5 minutes.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Warming & Satisfying Soup

What’s better in the heart of winter than a nice hearty bowl of soup? It’s warming, calming, relatively inexpensive, and contributes to our daily intake of water! Even better, soups tend to help satisfy hunger and make you feel full more quickly. Trying to lose weight? Try starting with a bowl of soup and see how much less food you need to eat to feel physically satisfied.

As mentioned in the previous article, eating heavy meals at night can disrupt a good night’s sleep. Soup, is generally easy to digest and is full of essential nutrients, which makes it a great choice for dinner or when recuperating from being sick. We have all heard about the healing powers of chicken soup; mineral-rich bone broths have played an integral role in the cuisines of all traditional cultures for centuries. Studies have shown that consumption of miso soup can help cut the risk of certain cancers. Any soup you choose, unless it’s cheddar bacon twinkie soup, will no doubt be nice to your body.

Making homemade soup can take a lot less time than you would think and it’s one of the most simple and flexible things you can cook. Try one of my favorite recipes below or improvise your own soup with help from these simple steps from my trusty Mark Bittman cookbook:

  1. Start with a little fat and a lot of flavor. Sauté one or two aromatic vegetables, like garlic, ginger, onions, or shallots, in a little olive oil or butter.
  2. Add seasonings. This can be as basic as salt in pepper or as complex as dried herbs and spices or as simple as a dried bay leaf. Lightly heat until you can smell their fragrance. Note: add fresh herbs at the end of cooking for most impact.
  3. Stir in the liquid. Add stock, water, wine, a combination of these or anything that best compliments the other ingredients.
  4. Add main ingredients in order of longest cooking time to shortest cooking time. Example: dried beans or uncooked grains, then tomatoes, then spinach; or first mushrooms, then carrots, then kale, then cooked noodles. Add cooked leftovers at the very end.
  5. Continue to taste as you go along and adjust the seasonings as you go. Relax. As Bittman says “It’s only soup.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Get Some Sleep!

Ahhh sleep. Just the word “sleep” makes you feel all cozy, doesn’t it? A good night’s sleep is something we all need but for many of us it feels like more of a privilege than a right. Not sure if you’re getting enough? Here are some signs that you are sleep deprived:

  • Absolutely need an alarm to get up
  • Difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Clumsiness
  • Difficult decision making
  • Moody or irritable

Just because you go to bed every night does it mean you’re really getting the kind of sleep that your body depends on? What many of us don’t realize is that it’s the quality and the timing of our sleep that really make a difference.

What is a good night’s sleep? You many know that your sleep cycles are made up of stages. In the first two stages you become drowsy and your body prepares itself for deep sleep – your body temperature goes down and heart rate slows. The next two stages are considered deep sleep. At these stages, the blood flow to the brain decreases as it redirects to the muscles to restore physical energy and immune functions. About 70-90 minutes after falling asleep we go into rapid eye movement (“REM”) or dream sleep and then hit this phase three to five times during the night. This stage is responsible for processing emotions, retaining memories, and relieving stress. If you are constantly being woken up by a snoring bed partner, the TV, or nature calling, you will have trouble getting to this stage – where the real restoration happens.

What time is bedtime? Every creature within nature, including human beings, operates according to what are known as circadian rhythms – patterns of physiological functioning that repeat every 24 hours. Think about it: animals wake up with the sun and sleep when it sets. Some flowers open their petals in daylight and close them at dusk. It is no different for us, though the changes in our bodies are harder for us to notice. For example, the production of the stress-fighting hormone cortisol increases early in the morning to help us fight through the stress of our day and the decreases at night. As mentioned earlier, when we sleep our blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature decrease and then rise again in the morning. Unfortunately things like electric light and the graveyard shift have created a disconnection between us and these natural cycles.

After the sun sets, digestion and cortisol levels go down, making us feel lethargic. This is our natural time to go to bed. Sounds ridiculously early, right? Think of all the other creatures that go to sleep at this time. Feel like you could stay up all night? Take a look at what you had for dinner. If you have a huge meal at this time, you may end up staying up late because your body will struggle to digest your dinner. Or you may feel too bloated and full to go to sleep.

Just as cortisol production increases when we get up, certain things happen when we go to bed at night. Between the hours of 10PM – 2AM, our bodies do amazing things. Our gallbladder, our liver and our blood begin go into detoxification mode and the adrenals do the majority of their recharging and recovering. Also at this time our blood flow redirects to the muscles to repair damaged tissue and restore physical energy and immune functions.

So if you’re constantly staying up at this time or eating huge or late dinners and snacks, your energy is being used up to catch up on emails or digest a meal rather than detoxify you. Doing this on a consistent basis can cause your body begin to break down.

Give it a shot: be lame and go to bed a few hours after the sun sets and get up when it rises. Try it for a week and see how you feel.

Here are some great ways to improve sleep:

  • Listen to relaxation cd’s or white noise
  • Avoid eating a big dinner or right before bed, especially sugars and grains
  • Sleep in complete darkness
  • Don’t drink too many fluids a few hours before bed
  • Don’t watch TV before bed or while in bed – it disrupts sleep
  • Don’t read something too stimulating before bed, like my newsletters
  • Write in a journal to get all your crazy thoughts out
  • Avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoon
  • Take a hot bath or shower before bed, try adding lavender
  • Drink chamomile or lavender tea

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Food Rules

My hero, Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food", has just come out with a new book "Food Rules - An Eater's Manual". It's a mini-manual of 64 eating rules that he gathered from not only doctors and scientists but also chefs and his own readers. I know you might be thinking, "please no more rules!", but from what I have already heard about it, these are straightforward, intuitive, and rather amusing rules that will certainly stick in your memory, such as "Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of your milk". My absolute favorite so far is "The whiter the bread, the sooner you will be dead."

I haven't gotten my own copy yet, but I'm sure when I do I will certainly have more favorites to share with you. Until then, I'll leave you with Michael Pollan's definition of the recurring message of his fabulous book, "In Defense of Food" which is simply this: "eat food." Sounds obvious right? What he means is eat real food rather than edible food-like substances; what the majority of the Standard American Diet (SAD) is made up of. At the end of the book he gives some additional clues on how he further defines "eat food."

Take a look at them below. I'd love your comments on what makes sense to you and if you have your own "eating rules":

  • Don't Eat Anything Your Great Grandmother Wouldn't Recognize as Food. Think yogurt versus "Go-Gurt" (which still makes me cringe by the way).
  • Avoid Food Products Containing Ingredients that are a) Unfamiliar, b) Unpronounceable, c) More than five in number or that include d) High fructose corn syrup. Take a look at what's in your refrigerator. What passes the test?
  • Avoid Food Products that Make Health Claims. Sounds counter intuitive, but does a carrot really need to convince you that its good for you? Of course not! According to Pollan, margarine was one of the first industrial foods to claim it was healthier than the traditional food it replaced and what did it turn out to do? Give people heart attacks!
  • Shop the Peripheries of the Supermarket and Stay Out of the Middle. You are much more likely to get real food by shopping this way as the peripheries tend to contain the fruits, vegetables, meats, and some quality dairy and the middle aisles contain overly processed food-like substances. However, this is not entirely fool-proof.
  • Get out of the Supermarket Whenever Possible. This means get as much as possible from the Farmer's Market or join a CSA. By doing this you are guaranteed to eat in season and will be supporting your local community. I know, I know, for those of you who live in the Northeast there isn't much available but there are certainly some winter farmer's markets and just get yourself pumped for the abundance of them once Spring and Summer hits!