Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Suddenly Sugar

Lately there has been a lot of “sweet” or maybe not so sweet news. There was a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association linking added sugar to heart disease, this week a correlation between chocolate and depression (which I found completely depressing) made headlines and now some interesting findings that agave is perhaps not the sweet savior many thought it to be.

While I read every study that comes my way, what I’m wondering is don't we know this? Since when was sugar ever healthy? I recall growing up (pre MS or RD) knowing that sugar causes cavities and that too much sugar makes you gain weight. Later, working in a hospital setting, we always discussed sugar with patients when we saw their triglycerides were elevated (one of the findings of the recent study). Despite, years of knowing sugar isn’t a health food people are consuming more and more sugar. And what’s worse is that sugar is not really on our radar. Perhaps it's a vestige of the 90s but many people monitor fat intake. Salt has received more attention lately but even before Bloomberg clients coming to my office had a sense that salt increases blood pressure and certainly females know salt increases bloat. Maybe fat and salt are easier to grasp.

We may be less sugar conscious because we associate sugar with diabetes or cavities and sadly these issues may be less scary or real. Yet sugar plays a role in arthritis and asthma, may intensify mood swings, PMS and depression and via insulin and inflammation can set the stage for cancer growth. This isn’t meant to alarm you (well maybe a little) but rather to shed light on sugar. American consume, on average, over 60 pounds of sugar annually. The JAMA study on heart disease and sugar gauged daily sugar intake at over 20 teaspoons of added sugars a day. I hope this sounds as appalling to you as it does to me.

So what are we to do? For starters, look at food labels and ingredient panels. On food labels you’ll see sugars listed in grams, there are about 4 grams to every teaspoon (12 grams of sugar would be 3 tsp). If you want a daily budget I would suggest 25 grams for women and 50 grams for men however I’m not a big fan of counting what we eat. On your ingredient lists, sugar can be sly. Some sugars end in “ose” such as dextrose, fructose and glucose. Others include the word syrup (corn, HFCS maple and rice) and then there is cane, honey and molasses. When you see any of these and sometimes you’ll see multiple sugar sources, that food has added sugar. Today, take inventory of your sweet foods. Coffee with sugar…check, yogurt with honey…check, sweet salad dressing- they add up quickly. See where you can cut down or cut out sweetness. If you can get down to 1 or 2 sweet items daily you’re doing pretty well.

With my clients, I have an exercise called a Savory Day where clients forego anything sweet 1 day a week. Try this and let me know how it goes, you may feel, as I do, that sweet begets sweet and the less you have the less you crave. I use dried fruit and minimal honey and maple syrup and have acclimated to unsweetened coffee though it took some time. Actually less sweetness led to less coffee too.
So how “sweet” are you? How many sweet items to do you consume? What sweeteners to you use?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Cardamom Cure

There are times when Friday comes and goes and I pay little attention. Other times I want to shout TGIF from the rooftops, exhausted and irritable after a jam-packed week. This week is a TGIF!!! week. So this morning, not one to wallow (recently anyway), I headed off to a 90 minute yoga class. Yoga and I are not in love yet but yoga demands my attention which was then diverted from my crabbiness. I left yoga and headed to one of my new favorite, local vegan restaurants Peacefood CafĂ©  for a smoothie. I swayed from my reliable standby the Chocolate Mint and ordered the Bombay Delight: coconut, banana, date, cardamom and nut-milk. It was refreshing and unusual. Many of ingredients were familiar, what I enjoyed so much was the cardamom. I was a little sad with the smoothie was finished.

Surely I have heard about cardamom and maybe even cooked with it. However, I cannot recall having it with sweeter ingredients and definitely hadn’t had it in a smoothie. I poked around a little and found some other ways to cook with cardamom:
 Clearly I am not alone in going cuckoo for cardamom. As you can gather, while the yoga class may have initially distracted me, the Bombay Delight completely changed the tone of the day. It went from TGIF to TGTC or thank god there’s cardamom!
Do you cook with cardamom? Any spices you are wild for? Or what do you do when you’re feeling listless and exhausted?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pillow Talk

When it comes to the health of my family, I’ll admit I’m a little smug. My family gets a good percentage of home cooked meals, we have an excellent water filters on our faucets, we eat berries and broccoli and we’re all pretty active. Sounds good to me, what do you think? Well you may have to think again because I found out yesterday I may be poisoning my family. Happy Earth Day!

Yesterday I attended the Museum of Natural History’s annual Spring Environmental Lecture and Luncheon. I love any excuse to go to the AMNH and lunch under the whale is something I could never pass up. The downside to this event is that I inevitably leave feeling as though something very important has gone under my radar and this year was no different.

The theme for this year’s panel discussion was “Green Design for the Urban Home.” I wasn’t sure what this title meant and had anticipated hearing about green construction and eco-friendly furniture. Sure enough, we learned of wood cabinets made from sustainable forests, innovations in lighting and even recycling blue jeans for use in wall insulation, who knew? We completed a major (non-green) renovation a couple of years ago and so sadly much of this information was quickly filed under interesting but does not apply to me.  Not to worry, things started to hit home rather quickly.

When you think of the word environment you may picture a globe or the North Pole or maybe an ocean or a forest. However, for urban dwellers, our environment is really our apartments and offices. I learned yesterday, we spend 90% of our time indoors (depressing). Once inside we are inhaling dry cleaning chemicals and glue from cheap furniture (high school students need not “experiment” they can just sit in the living room) and maybe even cleaning chemicals. I heard a term called “off gassing” which, in this context, doesn’t refer to a bodily function. Off gassing is the slow release of a gas that was trapped or absorbed in a material. Vinyl shower curtains off gas (replace with nylon ASAP) and chances are so do many other items in your urban home.

As if off gassing wasn’t enough, the conversation shifted to the bedroom. The audience was asked “do any of you have pillows that are more than 2 years old?” Almost everyone nodded. We were told this was the bedding equivalent of wearing the same pajamas for two years. Our, older than toddler pillows, were likely to be 30% dust mites! Everyone gasped and worried and planned their personal pillow purge. It was explained that we should purchase new pillows and also hypoallergenic covers (which go under the cases) that can be removed and washed. If you are still reading, the other revolting take home message was to close the toilet seat. The spray from a flush as a 2 to 4 foot range. So those toothbrushes or hairbrushes on the sink... recycle those along with your pillows and from now on make sure all lids are closed. Feel free to vomit anytime.

As the panelists spoke they referenced many of their clients who had or had children stricken with asthma or allergies or autism. The panel’s interior designer told a story about a client, after cancer surgery, who wanted no stone left unturned in creating a safe, non-toxic, greener home. What about the rest of us? Should we wait for breathing difficulties or instead take proper steps toward preventing them now?
Did you know all of this or are you as shocked as I was? Any tips or tricks for greening your home? Are you going to get new pillows?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bread Brouhaha

Earlier this year, I was quoted in a story for Allure magazine about giving up one thing from your diet. I received a lot of good feedback on this article and was asked to do a TV segment on the topic. People liked the idea of focusing on one thing whether it was sugar or alcohol or salt to cut from their diet. I have found that it’s sometimes easier to cut something out of our diets than to cut down. There’s no room for negotiating or justifying, no means no. Recently I sat down with a friend who has her first novel coming out next month (go Aidan!). She mentioned that this is a milestone in her life; she even referred to it as a “second wedding” though I wonder how that description will sit with her husband. We had previously discussed food and health; this discussion was about what to do with food in the short term. I have no issue providing different, more aggressive nutritional advice the week before a beach vacation or before a client’s wedding or “second wedding.” And I still like the idea of giving up one thing.

I suggested that Aidan go “breadless” for the month. Oats, brown rice and sweet potatoes were invited but bread was out. This seemed reasonable enough. Yesterday, Aidan blogged about being breadless and she had asked me for permission beforehand. I was all for it and went to  her site to check out the post. I loved hearing Aidan’s story of her “bread boycott.” I loved that she acknowledged wanting to look her best. I especially loved Aidan inviting her (numerous) readers to join her on the “no bread brigade” for the month. I scrolled to the comments section eager to see who was game and did not love what I read! One person scoffed at the idea citing “I need fiber.” Another woman did not believe in cutting carbs. And the straw that broke the nutritionists back said “I find it fascinating that in response to the launch of something that is the exclusive product of your mind you are focusing so much on preparing your body.”

I had to chime in. I defended the bread boycott explaining that much of the bread (pizza crust, bagels, wraps) we all eat isn’t fibrous. Further, I explained that an all or nothing rule works well in the short term. I hadn’t, at that point, read the “preparing your body” comment but the last I checked there was something called the mind/body connection…do we have to choose one or the other? What’s funny is that most of the time you know when something you suggest is controversial. Giving up bread seems fairly benign to me. I wonder what would Aidan’s readers think of my cleanse I did last week ? As the day continued there were some ready to bring on their own boycott. A few people liked the no bread idea and funny enough others identified their own boycotts based on their habits or vices which made me feel a little better. Aidan had mentioned this was a silly topic and it may be. Yet, at last count, 45 people whether pro or anti breadlessness felt compelled to voice their opinion.
Do you think a bread boycott is bold? Have you even tried to cut one thing out of your diet? Do you think it’s easier to cut back on certain things or cut them totally out?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Foodtrainers' Find: Oots

If you’ve ever made lunch for a child or had lunch packed for you when you were a  child chances are a lunch box or lunch bag was involved. My boys had Scooby Do and Spiderman and I recall a Hulk lunchbox too. Lunchboxes keep food cold (or hot), prevent spillage and look pretty cool. Fast forward to adulthood and we forget the utility of the lunch box. I for one have been known to put Tupperware and water bottles right next to my laptop and kindle. Yet containers can (and do) open and can release odors and I don’t know about you but I don’t really enjoy soggy electronics or walking around smelling like pesto.

Enter Oots lunchboxes …I sort of lied in the title. It’s not really a Foodtrainers’ Find. I read about these in another magazine (I think Cooking Light?) but call all product ideas Foodtrainers’ Finds and hey- I found them in the magazine. I purchased the orange lunchbox deluxe. The deluxe comes stocked with adorable containers for lunch and snacks that stack like a puzzle inside.

The top of the box is made to fit a water bottle. I chuckled when I read a note on the oots site indicating these lunchboxes were suited for adults too. To me they are adult lunchboxes maybe suitable for kids too. If you don’t BYOL, you may have to start.

So what’s the worst thing that’s ever spilled in your purse? Do you BYOL? What was your favorite lunchbox as a child?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Organic Apology

Perhaps in reading this post you’re seeking a credible nutrition professional to dispense dietetic advice. After all, I have a couple of nutrition degrees, maintain my continuing education and have a reputable practice now into its ninth year. While that’s all very nice, I’ll tell you who I really am. I’m a guinea pig here to test-drive any new food trend, wacky workout or interesting idea if it pertains to nutrition. After all, how can I encourage or discourage clients from doing something if I haven’t read about or tried it? This week was no different. There are a number of cleanses that have gained popularity here in NYC. Having tried a few I learned quickly, that while I love experimenting (some things never change), I hate starving. All liquid regimens don’t work that well for me or my exercise routine.

I have heard great things about Organic Avenue; I have been to their Stanton Street store and sampled some of their soups and smoothies. They offer an array of cleanses. What stimulated my interest was that, although raw and vegan, on some of their regimes you can eat. I like to eat and called and spoke to Peter at Organic Avenue and signed up for the L.O.V.E. (stands for live organic vegan experience) Easy cleanse for 4 days. I was excited and a little nervous. Sunday night I received an email confirming not the LOVE easy but the LOVE fast cleanse, a mostly liquid “experience.” I emailed back alerting them of their error but was delivered the wrong package the next morning.

I decided to give it a try. On Monday, I worked my way through a nasty chlorophyll shot, sour grapefruit juice and an average greens juice. In the afternoon I popped open a Goji Berry smoothie and loved it. It had fruit and Gojis and coconut (an ingredient which figures prominently on this cleanse). This beverage was my favorite of the day and lifted my spirits a smidge. I arrived home from work famished and a little foggy. Dinner was a dandelion salad the size of a supermarket container of hummus or a cream cheese tub (not large). My husband asked for a bite and I almost killed him. Did I mention I was also PMSing? I cannot imagine how unpleasant I was but I’m sure you can. I went to bed hungry and exhausted at 8:45pm.

The next morning my delivery was corrected and my “easy” cleanse arrived. There was falafel for lunch (3 the size of cherry tomatoes that I ended up having at 1045am) and another salad for dinner and dessert. After the previous day I was encouraged by the quantity but a little disappointed. One of the reasons for trying the daily deliveries was to sample new things. Many of the items repeated from the previous day and as someone who juices I wasn’t bowled over by the taste of the drinks. I emailed Organic Avenue to tell them I wanted to cancel the cleanse. They emailed back their cancellation policy which basically stated you cannot cancel. They did throw me a bone (a raw vegan bone) and said they would credit me for their mistake Monday and I could use the credit to try some other items on Friday. I wasn’t overjoyed, I was hungry and missing caffeine and did I mention my PMS? I tweeted about my frustration with it all.

On Wednesday morning things changed, I woke up feeling AMAZING. I am not an exaggerator by nature and trust me; I had decided I was done with this experiment. I slept more soundly than ever, my normally dryish skin wasn’t dry and I popped out of bed. I was a little nervous as I had an 8-mile run on my training schedule. I actually thought when I started the run how pathetic it would be “nutritionist passes out in park running 8 miles during a cleanse.” My run was great, I felt strong and energized even as I finished. I worked until 730 that night without tea or coffee or anything. I came home and had my dinner and actually forgot I still had one of the pretty glass bottles of coconut milk waiting for me to drink. I wasn’t as hungry.

Thursday was a breeze. I was enjoying having everything planned out for me. I wasn’t craving anything. I still ate my raw burrito lunch on the early side but I was sated and I felt guilty. I felt badly for criticizing Organic Avenue, I felt guilty that I was tempted to stop early on and I felt guilty for my frustration tweets. For someone who “tries it all” it’s hard to surprise me with a food experience. I swear it’s not some cleanse-induced euphoria talking but I feel different. I lost 4 pounds (I know not the point but I’m psyched); I am accustom to smaller portions and really have never felt better. If you are a guinea pig like me, I would highly recommend Organic Avenue and hope they accept my apology.

Have you done any cleanses? Have they been difficult? Have you had any food-related epiphanies?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Potty Talk

For most people who blog, potential topics swirl around in your brain. There are topics others ask you to write about, newsworthy subjects you feel you “should” comment on and for me there other topics I cannot resist, these somehow jump to the top of the list. Today’s subject is one I can’t help writing about and also one I’m sure some of you will choose not to read. Consider yourself warned, today I am writing about bowel movements, stool, poop, doody (or is it doodie?), #2 or whatever you call it in your house.

I credit Dr Oz with breaking the bathroom-related silence. I recall watching a show, on Oprah, before he had his show and Dr Oz mentioned our stool should resemble as “S”. I suddenly found myself feeling insecure and obsessing over the fact that I am a lowercase “l” girl (on a good day). And then, as only Oprah can do, she mentioned that everyone looks at their poop after we make it- we may not talk about it but we look! I truly think a person’s day can be affected by those 5(?) minutes in the bathroom between the scale, a look in the mirror and well…their bowel movements!

There are many factors that can affect our bowels: age, pregnancy, exercise, menstruation, travel, stress to name a few. And there is a wide range of what’s considered “normal” in terms of bowel frequency. Three or fewer movements a week constitutes constipation and one a day or more is maybe something to aspire to. Most of us fall somewhere in between. While I was reassured to be normal, I was still thinking about that “s” shape and decided to research it. One source said: “An ideal bowel movement is medium brown, the color of plain cardboard. It leaves the body easily with no straining or discomfort. It should have the consistency of toothpaste, and be approximately 4 to 8 inches long. Stool should enter the water smoothly and slowly fall once it reaches the water.”

I am not going to even comment on the “toothpaste” comparison as handling my feces is where I draw the line. There are other confusing characteristics here. Anyone who has had a baby knows that you can tell when they are “going.” They may get red or clench their hands….is this “straining or discomfort?” Don’t we all strain a little? And 8 inches long…that frightens me but I am a short person, maybe short people poop shorter. Any tall people out there who want to comment?

Another site said “in general it should be brown to light brown; formed but not hard; cylindrical, not flattened; fairly bulky and full-bodied, not compacted; somewhat textured but not too messy; and very easy to pass.” So there seems to be agreement on color with some medium brown shade. I can grasp cylindrical. In my informal research cylinders are superior to spheres. OK but “full-bodied” is a term I used to associate with wine tasting I have no idea what it means with respect to my bowels (or yours)!

There is less agreement on the buoyant bowel movements versus sinking ships and a lot of debate on that one. If stool is especially stinky it may be an indication you have too much animal protein on your diet. Very dark brown stool may mean there’s too much salt in your diet though it can also be from medication. And unless you’ve had beets recently red or bloody stools is cause for concern and you should take this seriously and contact your doctor. Conditions that can cause blood in the stool include hemorrhoids, anal fissures, diverticulitis, colon cancer, and ulcerative colitis, among others.

The PDR mentions that constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint in the U.S.  I discuss constipation with clients and understand the discomfort involved. I didn’t, however, realize the implications of chronic constipation which can contribute to autoimmune diseases and colon or breast cancer. "The longer stool stays in the colon, the more one reabsorbs some of the metabolic products [such as estrogen] that have been excreted in the bile.” If you tend toward constipation know lack exercise, iron supplements, calcium supplements, antacids, rushing in the morning or ignoring the need to go may be responsible. Be sure to stay well hydrated and consume up to 96 ounces of fluid a day, eat at least 2 high fiber fruits and vegetables daily and limit caffeine to 1 beverage a day as caffeine takes away ones natural urges. I also believe fermented foods such as miso, yogurt and sauerkraut can assist with gut health. At Foodtrainers, we have high fiber crackers, flax packets and what clients call “doody jelly” to help get clients “moving”. There are also a couple secret weapons such as Natural Calm a powdered magnesium supplement and triphala that are safe, non-laxative helpers.

You may wonder what the inspiration was for this post came from or maybe you didn't. I am on raw vegan regime this week (more on that tomorrow) and was a little concerned over my bright green poop. The first explanation I found was that green stool often indicates that food has passed through the intestines faster than normal before it could be changed from green to brown. I then realize that chlorophyll (a shot of which I have been taking daily while holding my nose) also causes green poop. One of my family members snapped a photo of this freakish feces but I think I’ve shared enough for one day.
Now it’s your turn for potty talk: Do you look at your poop? Any pooping problems you’d like to share? Any foods that you feel help your poop? Do you have an “S” shape?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sweet Little Lies

Have you seen the commercials for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) on TV lately? In case you haven't, I’ve provided the link. In the commercial, one mom questions another about a beverage with HFCS. The mother pouring the bright magenta beverage replies adamantly with a case for HFCS stating, among other things, that it’s “made from corn” and “fine in moderation.” Viewers are then encouraged to “get the facts.” There is debate over whether HFCS is the sole culprit in the obesity epidemic or whether it’s just one of many guilty parties. To me this is like debating murder versus manslaughter or brain cancer versus lung cancer, none of which are good. What’s next…commercials making a case for vodka, lard or perhaps infidelity (another hot topic)?

In the HFCS commercial you see one mom state that having HFCS was a sign of not caring what your kids eat (I concur though would never say that bluntly). This same mother doesn’t really know why HFCS is bad. I think we all suffer from the “I heard it is bad so it must be bad” syndrome at times. It is important to dig a little and research or ask an expert if you are questioning a certain food.
For HFCS I will tell you why it’s bad:

1. HFCS and I are roughly the same age. I say this to point out that HFCS hasn’t been around that long (it’s young!). In my lifetime, and as HFCS has made its way into more food products obesity rates have skyrocketed. HFCS is cheap and has a long shelf life. In that respect it is not that different from trans fats (also cheap and extend shelf life). I would argue that the cheaper the ingredients and longer their shelf life the more they will shorten your life.

2. HFCS may also affect your metabolism. This past Tuesday, Jane Brody wrote “high fructose intake over a period of months resulted in resistance to the leptin signal.” Leptin tells you’re satiated and can stop eating.

3. HFCS often contains mercury. In various studies as many as half the samples of HFCS were shown to contain mercury. Mercury can make its way in during processing. So much for HFCS being natural because it starts out as corn. Vodka can start out as potatoes. While many of us shun seafood, a stronger case can be made for shunning soda and certain snack foods and breads and cereals and all the other foods you may be eating with HFCS.

4. Michael Pollan has also pointed out that HFCS can be an environmental threat. The increase of corn for HFCS has drastically increased fertilizer use. The run-off from these crops is a serious threat to our rivers and oceans.

In all fairness, this isn’t just about HFCS. Increased rates of obesity are affected by the increase in screen time/decrease in activity, the increase in portion size and the increase of all “sweet” in our diets. There is just a logic breakdown if we say that because other factors may be culpable, HFCS is innocent. When it comes to HFCS, as Stevie Nicks says in little lies, “we’re probably better off apart.”

What do you make of the HFCS debate? Do you look for it on labels? Avoid it? Do you like Fleetwood Mac I would love to know.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Happy Meals

One of my multiple New Years’ Resolutions was to read more for pleasure. Around the time I made this resolution a friend invited me to join a book club; I enthusiastically accepted. Our first month’s selection, The Help, was a great starting point. I found myself sneaking in reading time, unable to let the characters or the book out of my reach. It reminded me how much I love to read. Then came the second month, I will not bash the book but will tell you it didn’t grab me. I was trying to like it as you would try to like a friend of a friend, you want to be polite but you would never have picked it or them. To make matters worse, I had been hearing a lot about another book, The Happiness Project, and really wanted to read it. I had gone from not reading, or only reading about food and nutrition, to a literary love triangle of sorts.

I went away for the weekend with my book club book and The Happiness Project, unsure what I would read. On my way to Vermont I received an email inviting me to an event called “Happier Hour” with a special guest speaker named Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project. I sent an RSVP accepting the invitation and started the book that night. In this book Ms. Rubin embarks on a self-imposed year of happiness training tackling a different subject each month. There was so much in this that appealed to me. As a planner and organizer, I loved the systematic approach. While I had thought others may find this forced or unappealing the standing room only crowd at Happier Hour and the books’ major success tells me I was wrong. I was also intrigued by a statement in the very beginning of the book where Ms. Rubin wonders “how could I set a higher standard for myself as a wife, mother, a writer, a friend.” Self improvement or doing a better “job” is something I find myself thinking about constantly. I also think it’s what’s lurking behind many of my sessions with clients. After all, when it comes to feeding our families and ourselves, don’t we all want to set a higher standard?

As soon as I started reading I wanted to know if Ms. Rubin was going to tackle food or nutrition as part of her project. I scanned the chapter headings but didn’t really see anything. As I read on, I realized that although food isn’t immediately addressed, many of the points raised could very well apply to eating.

1. Time: when she contemplated her happiness project Ms Rubin realized “if I wanted a happiness project, I’d have to make the time.” This, to me, is relevant to any important aspect of our lives we may have marginalized or just not prioritized. It isn’t really about having time to food shop or exercise or cook it’s about deciding the pursuit is worthy of your time.
2. Clutter: I was also intrigued that one of the first subjects tackled by Ms. Rubin is clutter. I don’t know if that is the first thing that comes to mind if I were, prior to reading this book, asked to list the keys to happiness. I do, however, think that clutter can get in the way of happiness and clutter can have insidious effects on other parts of our lives. Clutter and overeating are amazingly similar and the subject of a book I am currently reading called Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? By Peter Walsh.

3. Accountability is discussed in terms of a group Ms Rubin formed with other writers. Accountability to a meeting or to other people gives us the impetus to do things we may not do for ourselves. As much as I think I’m good at what I do, I know the accountability of an appointment does wonders for my nutrition clients. Clients who come more progress more.

4. The Arrival Fallacy factor. Ms Rubin quotes another author and says “arrival fallacy is the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination you’ll be happy.” This was one of the most memorable passages in the book for me on so many levels and I think a way we all postpone our happiness. In my daily work, I could call this the weight-loss or diet fallacy and may well be why people regain weight they have lost.

Finally, on page 252 Ms Rubin discusses food in a chapter on mindfulness. I braced myself for some compelling wisdom on food and happiness. Ms Rubin then writes “I also wanted to apply the principles of mindfulness in a much less elevated context: my eating habits.” Ouch! Did she say “less elevated”? I reread it a few times and in fact she does. I shoved my sensitivity aside and read about Ms Rubin’s experience with a food journal (helped though she didn’t necessarily comply) and her efforts to work on a “fake food” habit (bravo! now I would love to show her how much more happy she’d be without Diet Coke). I still found myself with questions about food and happiness: What about happiness derived from shared meals and time cooking with others? Or what about happiness obtained via increased confidence from weight loss or feeling better via better digestion or increased energy? I realize these questions weren’t part of Ms Rubin’s happiness journey but they’re definitely areas I’d like to explore.

This is a book I have endlessly earmarked and can see myself going back to and rereading certain parts. As I read I found myself nodding and applying certain realizations Ms Rubin had to my own life. Most importantly, I received a life-changing tidbit of advice that I have already implemented. Rubin writes “I did, however, vow to stop reading books that I didn’t enjoy” and I will too.

Do you like the idea of a happiness project? Would food or exercise play a part in your “project”? Do you have thoughts on the “arrival fallacy” or even on reading books you don’t enjoy?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Worlds Greatest Salad

My mother is a fantastic cook. Everything she makes is delicious and if something isn’t going well she knows just what to do to correct it. It is hard to find a measuring cup or spoon in her kitchen; she has a sort of cooking sixth sense and she rarely uses recipes. I am the exact opposite and I’m sure that means I’m not a natural cook. I love a recipe, love measuring and rarely veer off course the first couple of times I’m making something. We were at my moms house this past weekend. As usual, before we arrived my mom called to go over the menu for Saturday night. Saturday wasn’t a holiday and we weren’t having additional people over. No, it was just a regular Saturday…doesn’t everyone decide what they will cook 2 days ahead of time? I’m pretty sure they don’t. I had just seen Giada prepare what looked like a great salad on T.V. and suggested it, as part of the meal, to my mom. Shockingly she too agreed it sounded interesting. It was a Caramelized Onion and Grapefruit Salad and was featured on an episode of Giada at Home called Light and Delicious.

My mother purchased the grapefruits and the onions (we used Vidalias). I picked up the remaining ingredients. Right before we were starting to cook we realized the dishwasher was malfunctioning. We were tempted to scrap plans to cook a big meal without it but we went ahead, having all ingredients on hand, and the dishwasher ended up working. I will point out that this is not an afterthought, 5 minute salad. This salad takes a good 30 minutes, there’s chopping and cooking involved, but I think you’ll agree it’s worth it. I started off with the onions (and did find a set of measuring spoons). I wouldn’t have thought to caramelize them with balsamic vinegar but it made them sweet. I would use these onions as a side dish on their own even if I wasn’t making the whole salad.

As for the salad, you will need to section your grapefruits. I was apprehensive about this but a sharp knife really makes it easy. The hardest part was keeping my 6 year old away from the slaved-over pink grapefruit (buy an extra when you do this salad). I set aside the grapefruit and chopped the scallions, fennel and fresh thyme. Be sure not to skip any of these as they each contribute to the overall flavor. My six year old tore the romaine and whisked the dressing. I add that only because if he can do this, it’s not that difficult. We served the salad with roasted fingerling potatoes, grilled baby lamb chops (yes! red meat) and cooked carrots as the boys love Granny’s carrots. Everyone, including the kids, loved it. And guess what? My mother asked me for the recipe!

Are you a recipe follower? Do you measure every ingredient or wing it? What are your fave new recipes for Spring or ones you are planning to try?

Caramelized Onion and Grapefruit Salad
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis

• Caramelized onions:


3 tablespoons olive oil

• 2 onions, very thinly sliced

• 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

• 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

• 1 teaspoon honey

• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


• 2 pink grapefruits

• 1 head romaine lettuce, thinly sliced or torn into 1-inch pieces

• 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced

• 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced

• 3 scallions, finely sliced

• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

For the caramelized onions: In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.

For the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar, lemon juice and honey. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until blended. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

For the salad: Peel and trim the ends from each grapefruit. Using a paring knife, cut along the membrane on both sides of each segment. Free the segments and add them to a large salad bowl. Add the lettuce, fennel, cucumber, scallions, and thyme.

Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until all the ingredients are coated. Arrange the caramelized onions on top and serve.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Food Inspiration

When I was in graduate school most nutrition conversations centered on one of two things either vanity or hospitals. Things started to change a few years ago thanks in part to important voices such as Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan. Nurtition started to be less about diet books and more about dire changes. Today, there’s no way to extricate nutrition and health. We see nutritional issues in the health care bill, our first lady taking on nutrition as her primary cause and just today two of the pieces in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times were about nutrition (one about school lunches and one about food producers). It’s no surprise then that a new T.V. show about a chef attempting to change the foodscape in a school system, in what was could be called the obesity capital of the United States, is creating more than a little buzz.

The title of the show is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and it airs Friday nights on ABC. Due to travel, I missed the first two episodes but heard about them. Clients and friends were asking for my opinion, twitter was full of praise for the show, people were paying attention. I DVRed Friday’s episode and watched it last night. I think people’s eyes can glaze over when they hear about school lunches. There’s no turning away when you see it in action. In my day-to-day work I am surrounded my people who want to know more about nutrition, who want to be proactive and want to improve their heath. This is certainly not the case in Huntington, W.V. At one point in the show Jamie Oliver cooked a meal for the high school students’ lunch line. He made an Asiany noodle dish with 10 different fresh vegetables. He also made chicken teriyaki to go with it. It was the best looking school lunch I’ve ever seen. It looked kid-friendly and colorful. Mr. Oliver was pulled aside by the director of food service. “There’s not enough vegetable’s in that meal to make it reimbursable.” Mr. Oliver mentioned that boatload of veggies or as he said “veg” that went into the meal. She said it didn’t meet the quota and had to change it. Her solution, adding French fries to the meal. It was absurd and so sad, I wanted to shake her through my television set.

The second part of the show focused on a group of teens who had volunteered to work with Mr. Oliver. One of these teenagers had lost her father and uncle to complications of obesity. Another boy saw learning to cook as an escape from an unfocused childhood replete with behavior issues. Mr. Oliver leads these novice cooks as they prepare a meal for the movers and shakers of Huntington. While we’re all aware of how good food and nutrition can improve our health, suddenly the people attending this dinner and viewers watching on T.V. saw how improved food choices and cooking can change lives. I was sobbing!

I am not sure what Mr. Oliver is doing is completely new or revolutionary. I think it’s important, it’s receiving a lot of attention and brings to life  a lot of what we have been hearing about. I would urge you to sign the petition if you are in support of these changes. Over 173,000 people have already done so and numbers like that are hard to ignore.

Have you seen Food Revolution? What were the most shocking or eye-opening things you noticed?

Friday, April 2, 2010

April Fun

It’s April 2nd, I know I am a day late with my monthly resolution review. There seemed to be something wrong about an April Fools’ post and my day was a little busy for reflection. I am reading a great book called The Happiness Project and loved learning that the author, Gretchen Rubin, also suggests a monthly personal progress report. I am really enjoying these monthly check-ups, even last month when I had to fess up to a lackluster February . As I had hoped, March was a motivated month.

I don’t know if it was the end of a long ski season or the change in weather or the fact that I had a bunch of fun events on the calendar but I felt a noticeable change in myself. The funny thing is that I hadn't realized how much I was going through the eating and exercise motions until I switched gears. In terms of my resolutions there was progress. In addition to the Chicago marathon in October, I have a May half marathon scheduled. I've started to run every other day and made the leap from my 30 minute “better than nothing” treadmill runs to 1 hour runs in Central or Riverside Park. Yesterday I purchased a Garmin running watch with GPS built in and new sneakers further cementing my running commitment. What’s really nice is that I am enjoying the challenge rather than feeling burdened.

I actually had another fitness breakthrough of sorts. Last month I told you that I was trapped in my yoga membership and was attending a class but not fully convinced I had yogi potential. Shortly after, I was put on the spot by the yoga teacher in class. He asked “how often do you practice?” I answered truthfully and asked “how often should I practice?” He said it depends, “3 times a week is a good start or you can be like Tatiana and attend 13 classes a week.” Let’s be clear, I will never be like Tatiana (human pretzel in front row of class) but 3 times sounded like a possibility. I got over thinking “what am I doing here, this is soooo not for me” and started trying a little harder. I am a little less worried about being inept. I am looking forward to class; I even did my first bind.

There’s something about my reading resolution I’d also like to share. I had included “read more for pleasure” on my January list. I have joined a book club and loved our first book. The second book wasn’t really up my alley. We have a meeting in 2 weeks to discuss this book. I was dreading finishing the book and decided to read The Happiness Project instead. Funny enough, in the Happiness Project Gretchen Robin discusses reading. She suggested not forcing yourself to finish a book you aren’t enjoying. I am tempted to take this advice but still feel like a bit of a quitter. I like the concept of conscious quitting though. After all, it takes a lot to decide something is not for you….but if I had done this with yoga I would never have started to enjoy it. This will provide food for thought in April for sure.
Was March a motivated month for you? Do you remember and review your resolution(s)? Do you finish books you don’t love? Do you condone conscious quitting?