Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cookware Considerations

I was turning 21 for the first birthday I spent with my husband (then boyfriend).  Twenty-one wasn’t a big deal.  After all, in NYC and New Orleans “legal” didn’t mean much. I was more excited to be with someone I loved and to go hear some music (The Eagles, Giants Stadium- yes we’ve been together a long time) with my sister and her husband (now ex). I’m not a total present person but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t crossed my mind what my bday present from Marc would be. On the morning of my birthday Marc handed me a large present. I unwrapped it eagerly and saw a box with the name of one of my favorite stores.  I opened the lid, three shirts. Aside from shirts not being the most romantic of gifts, there was something worse. The shirts were a medium. There is nothing wrong with medium but I ‘m short and small and happen to wear an XS from this store. Knowing something was wrong Marc said “you can return them if you don’t like them.” “I like them but they’re a medium” I said. “ I described you to the salesperson and this is what she suggested.” Harsh. 
As bad as that present was it was the first of many gift missteps for Marc. A few years later he discovered the gift certificate and after many years of marriage I removed the element of surprise and would just say flat out “I’d love a ________  for my birthday” versus the annual birthday bitterness.  This year, we were in San Francisco for my birthday. I was so focused on the trip it honestly didn’t occur to me that my birthday was coming until I made a dinner reservation the week before and said the date aloud. Prior to the trip Marc asked what I wanted for a present. I said, “nothing, a card is fine.” He pressed a little and said the kids would want me to get something.  Tuesday morning, the boys came into the hotel room with grins clutching paper in their hands. I opened two beautiful cards with a lanyard each inside. Marc (incredibly more romantic years later) handed me a manila envelope, the large size with the clasp. With zero expectations I opened it. I saw William Sonoma and my pulse rate increased; I pulled it out and read All Clad Stainless Steel.  Perfect present.

You buy yourself new shoes or a new bag; you don’t always buy new pots and pans. First, they’re expensive and second they last or appear to last a long time. The truth is I have very few pots and pans because I was once the owner of nonstick pots and pans. I tossed those when I read about the bird deaths. Do you know about the birds? EWG reported years ago about pet birds dying due to a chemical in Teflon pans. The chemical they pinpointed is perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA. The makers of these pots and pans defended their products as safe unless heated to high temperatures. Both EWG and Good Housekeeping performed tests and in minutes pans were hot enough to emit toxic chemicals. I’m so tired of manufacturers saying products or additives are “safe at certain levels” or “safe unless…” Saying a pan is safe unless overheated is like saying you don’t need your seatbelt unless the car is moving. Cars move and pans heat. Nonstick pans are even more likely to emit chemicals when chipped or scratched. In 2006, DuPont was pressured by the EPA to phase out PFOA in their pan coatings by 2015. However, there’s some speculation that the replacement chemical is no better.

I recently asked Alexandra Zissu, author of “Conscious Kitchen” for her cookware choices. She said “Le Creuset is fantastic (cast iron covered in a layer of glass basically) but $$$. Cast iron is cheaper and equally safe. Stainless steel, the real deal, is also great. I would avoid the things with aluminum cores. I use all three; I have a big stainless frying pan for sautéing all veggies, I use cast iron frying pans for searing meat and transferring it to the oven and a big Le Creuset for everything else.

Those are all good options. I’m not sure if Marc knew the Stainless Steel pots were “safe” or if he just looked at a couple of the All Clad I already had and went with the same thing. Either way, pots and pans, dinner at Nopa in San Francisco and salted caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery (many people were deeply concerned I wouldn’t have a birthday treat) made for a terrific birthday. I know I’m screwed next year.
What type of pots and pans do you use? Have you switched recently? What’s the worst present you’ve ever received?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ditch the (Bottled) Salad Dressing

Lovely photo, thank you Lisa
I have a longtime client who has maintained a 20-pound weight loss for almost ten years. She’s savvy when it comes to food ingredients,  she orders wild salmon from Vital Choice and knows to BYOC (bring your own chicken) so she doesn’t have to eat the antibioticy option at the salad bar at work. She was in my office for a check-in recently and we reviewed her daily routine. “Speaking of that salad, how are you dressing it?” I asked.  “I use Newman’s,” she answered. I raised my eyebrows and told her “you can do better than that.” “I know most dressing is bad but even Paul Newman’s”?
I mean no disrespect to the deceased and truly admire the charitable work Newman’s Own has done. Yet their dressings have up to two teaspoons of sugar (1 teaspoon= 4 grams) per two tablespoon serving. This isn't meant to single out any one brand, this holds for all salad dressings. I’m sure some of you will say that one to two teaspoons of sugar isn’t that big of a deal. The issue is that sugar doesn’t have to be there. Furthermore, this is really an example of a food that could be two to three real ingredients and instead has 20 scary ones (to be clear, Newman's steers clear of the scary ingredients). Sugar, HFCS or artificial sweeteners aren’t the only issues; salad dressings are preservative playgrounds.  
Here are some of the ingredients you'll find in salad dressing. I can always tell a troublesome ingredient because spell check doesn't recognize it.
  • Natamycin: acts as a preservative or antifungal
  • Calcium Disodium EDTA: preservative; prevents air from spoiling food products, known to cause skin reactions and GI upset. It us currently under investigation by the FDA for mutagenic or reproductive effects.
  • Carmel color: food coloring known to be a carcinogen and immunosuppressive
  • Autolyzed yeast extract: texture, taste
  • Sulfur dioxide: preservative
  • Sodium Benzoate: preservative, one of the ones research links to hyperactivity and behavior problems in children
  • Soybean Oil- much of the soybean oil used in dressings is genetically modified
  • MSG
  • Xantham gum: used to add volume and viscosity; it’s not necessarily harmful carbohydrate used in a lot of gluten-free products, but do we need to be adding carbohydrate to our salad dressings?
I’m just not sure why anyone would want to ruin a perfectly healthy meal pouring junk on top.

How much dressing do people typically use? 
The serving size listed on bottles is two tablespoons. Most people report using one to two tablespoons but are these people really measuring? A pour could end up being double that amount especially with the gargantuan salads many places serve. Also, some people think they are doing themselves a favor by ordering the dressing on the side then using the “dipping” technique. While this does allow you to control how much dressing you use on your salad, be careful not to dip the entire amount they give you on the side as it often exceeds what they would have otherwise put on the salad to begin with!

Tasty Alternative
When I embark on a mission to get clients to DIY with food, I know I’m going to have to engage in the time debate. When it comes to dressing, I’m going to win with debate. Go into your kitchen or work cafeteria, pour some olive oil and squeeze a lemon wedge or two. If you say that took more than a minute you’re lying or live in a much larger house than I do.

Easy Lemon Vinaigrette
1 small jar (I use leftover Zoe tuna jars)
1 lemon (lemons produce three to four Tbs. juice)
Olive Oil (double the amount of lemon juice)
Salt (optional) and Pepper 
Squeeze lemon juice in jar, add oil and shake. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. That’s it.
You can add lemon zest, Dijon mustard, parsley or basil or a minced clove of garlic. I also love experimenting with vinegars (fig, apple cider, balsamic). The point is that’s it’s easy, tastes better and saves you from ingesting sugar and preservatives.
At restaurants you can ask for olive oil and lemon on the side or olive oil and vinegar. To quote Kelly Clarkson, whose salad dressing habits I know nothing about, “oh sweetheart put the bottle down.”
Do you own bottled salad dressing? Would you consider ditching it? How is your salad dressed?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wine, Weight and Healthy Cocktails-Cheers!

Cool Hand Cuke from Colonie Restaurant

Our August newsletter focused on healthy summer cocktails. You see, for the most part, our clients like to drink. Our view is that if you’re going to indulge in sweets or cocktails or anything else we'll help you  find the healthiest manner to do so. I’ll also remind you that three of the four Foodtrainers graduated from Tulane University, let’s just say you can trust us on this topic. And if you're housebound because of Irene, these tips may come in handy (fingers crossed, we're flying East today). 

While drinks are often referred to as “empty calories” many studies conclude that moderate drinking may not be as bad for your weight as you’d expect. While we don’t suggest non-drinkers start imbibing, moderate drinkers actually have lower weight, blood pressure and triglycerides than low or non-drinkers. We give clients a weekly budget and generally suggest four or fewer drinks for female clients and seven or fewer for male clients trying to lose weight.

While alcohol itself may not be that terrible for your weight it can affect your appetite.  The more you drink, the more your appetite will increase which is a reason to balance drinking over multiple days. One drink max on any given day is ideal. Interestingly. white wine seems to have less of an effect on appetite than other alcohol.

For your one drink, the following are great picks:
Crop Organic Vodka- in flavors such as cucumber and tomato.
Tanteo Jalapeno Tequila- see below for my new favorite cocktail.
VnC Cocktail- another ready to pour margarita like what’s her names.
Redbridge Beer- a great gluten free option.

Although “on the rocks” is a great choice (and slows down the drinking), there are some fantastic mixer options:
ModMix Organic Mixers- USDA certified organic ingredients in flavors such as lavender lemon drop and French martini.
McClure’s Bloody Mary Mix- you may recall how I feel about McClure’s pickles, well my feelings are just as strong for this bloody mary mix. Please do not relegate bloody’s to brunch only.
SlimRitas and SlimRimmers-I love these chile verde, rosemary sea salt and pink himalayan mineral salt rimmers.

End of Summer Jalapeno Margarita
I ‘ve seen cucumber in a lot of cocktails this summer. I had this margarita at our friends Tracey and Andy’s house and was hooked. They suggest making a batch of cucumber puree as well as lime juice ready to go.
2oz Tanteo Jalapeno Tequila
1 oz. English Cucumber Puree  (slice into spears and toss in the food processor, worth the effort)
1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
½ oz. Agave/water – (use warm water and agave and stir)
Cucumber Wheel for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, pour over ice and garnish with cucumber wheel. Ole

If you're going to drink, you may need a bar snack. Try ChickPz I heard about these from EA, The Spicy RD. I love the sesame flavor and kids think they taste like Cracker Jacks. The prize? High fiber, high protein and you can eat the whole bag. 
So don’t overdo it but eat, drink (a little) and be merry .
What has been your drink of choice this summer? Any cocktail trends you’ve noticed? What do you think of veggies in your drinks?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Controversial Diet Book for Young Girls

We do not see children under 12 at Foodtrainers. My feeling has always been that parents versus children make most food decisions, prior to that age. If necessary, I will consult with parents of young children or refer them out to a therapist if I feel a serious issue exists.  My reaction to an upcoming book entitled “Maggie Goes on a Diet” about a 14-year-old losing weight may surprise you.

We’re away in San Francisco and I was just getting up after a long day (actually two days) of travel yesterday. My husband called me over to the TV saying, “you’ve got to see this.” George Stephanopoulos was interviewing the author (plus, plus-sized himself) about his controversial new book. I don’t recall but the subtitle was something like “diet book for young girls.” I watched the segment, did some research googling and came to the conclusion this isn’t a terrible idea, it’s just an unfortunate title.

For starters, this is not really a diet book at all. In the story, with cartoon-like illustrations, Maggie is overweight 14 year old is subject to teasing from her friends at school. Maggie joins the soccer team and starts to make healthier food choices. She ends up the star of the soccer team, loses some weight and feels better about herself. I think the word diet sends the wrong message because it insinuates something severe. On one of the message boards a comment read “what’s next lingerie for 12 year olds?” This implies that something inappropriate is written about. What’s described isn’t severe and isn’t unlike what I would do if a 14 year old came to my offices.

Those buying the book are primarily parents, if I had overweight child and wanted to broach the topic of weight loss this may not be a bad conversation starter. I have a tween son and there’s a book my friends suggested when having “the talk”.  There’s something nice about reading “a story” or looking at pictures to open a dialog up with children. I’m a proponent of telling my kids about things my way before their peers give them the wrong information or they have fear about something they don’t know about.

Why not explain to kids what a diet is, why we may gain and lose weight, why people are different sizes and how to be sensitive about this? The notion that this will create eating disorders is ludicrous to me. Children are more likely to pick up on disordered eating my watching a parent “diet” than my being informed about weight and food and exercise in an age-appropriate manner.  I talk to preschoolers about nutrition. Granted, I don’t talk to them about calories but I tell them how various foods function in their bodies, how activity helps their bones etc.

The author of “Maggie Goes on a Diet” previously wrote a book about bed wetting,
It seems his goal is to cover topics that affect a lot of children but may be touchy to discuss. Some have mentioned that Paul Kramer has no degree in nutrition but this isn’t a nutrition book. And from his size, perhaps (and I don’t know this for a fact) he has some experience growing up overweight. I will buy “Maggie Goes on a Diet” when it comes out in October even with the silly title.
Have you heard about this book? What are your thoughts about it? Do you think it’s OK for a teenager to lose weight in a controlled manner?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Beating PMS Eating (Sorry Guys)

New female clients often ask “how much weight should I expect to lose?” My conservative estimate is one to two pounds a week or three to six pounds a month. Huh (I can see them thinking), "shouldn’t that be four to eight pounds if you’re losing one to two a week"? Yes, but one week is PMS so we can’t count on that one. If you’re female, chances are to some degree you’re familiar with at least a few of the 150 (yes that’s right) possible PMS symptoms. And if you’re male, though not from first hand experience, you’re probably familiar with some of those symptoms as well.  I’ve talked bloating before but today I’m more interested in the effect PMS can have on appetite and eating and what can be done about this.

First, a biology lesson. The last part of the menstrual cycle is called the luteal phase. It is in this phase that the ovaries decrease estrogen production  and start pumping up progesterone production. These two hormones affect various brain chemicals called neurotransmitters and this is what likely leads to mood alternation and PMS symptoms.  Appetite is lowest before ovulation (mid cycle) and highest in this luteal phase. Oftentimes, women reporting appetite changes also experience mood effects. Both symptoms seem tied to serotonin. We don’t all necessarily increase consumption of the same types of foods but low serotonin activity increases vulnerability to overconsumption as serotonin curbs appetite. One study found that caloric intake increased 20% and another showed a 1000-calorie increase in the four days leading up to menstruation. To add insult to overeating, the muscles in the bowels can relax and be less effective moving food through which explains why many women are constipated before menstruation. Lovely.

This can start to seem like a losing hormonal battle but I don’t think that’s the case.  First, just knowing that the menstrual munchies aren’t all in your head should be somewhat comforting. Second, if you know hurricane PMS is headed your way you can start to take precautions such as having the right foods in the house and perhaps taking certain supplements.

A lot of the dietary advice for PMS has to do with fluid retention. While dandelion greens, asparagus, apple cider vinegar are all “delicious debloaters” they don’t address PMS cravings and appetite surges. A few foods that show promise are pineapple, full fat dairy products and sweet potatoes. My PMS eating tips are as follows:

  • Consider Carbs (right ones at right time)- in one study a carbohydrate-based supplement worked as well as medication in reducing PMS symptoms.  Protein actually hampers serotonin production. Meals should be veggie heavy and snacks mainly carbohydrates. Eat two small carbohydrate-based snacks per day such as popcorn, a small sweet potato, a cup of bean soup,  oatmeal, Glow cookies or Purely Elizabeth granola or Food Should Taste Good Chips. For chocolate cravings try The Real Bar.
  • Exercise, no excuses- I have clients who say “I was feeling so poorly I skipped my workout”. Bad idea. Exercise five out of seven days the week leading up to your period preferably outside. Exposure to sunlight increases serotonin production.
  • Friendly Fats- chia seed, walnuts, hemp and small servings of fish have positive mood effects for PMS. They are also natural anti-inflammatories and important for good bowel function.
  • Do Dairy- Siggis yogurt and cheddar cheese (naturally lactose free). Calcium and vitamin-D rich foods decrease PMS symptoms.
  • Don't Keep it Simple- simple carbohydrates in sugary snacks and white flour can actually increase water retention, irritability, appetite and other PMS symptoms.
  • Ditch the Drinks- if there’s one time a month to skip the drinks it’s 3-4 days pre period.

When it comes to supplements there are many suggested but only a few that are well researched. If you experiment I would give supplements two full cycles to see a difference:
Vitex- also known as Chastetree Berry has some research behind it. It is known to balance hormone levels and improve menstrual irregularities.
Evening Primrose Oil- a source of GLA, an anti inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid. In several studies it was found to be helpful.
Rhodiola- helpful for mood, research behind it extremely safe.
B6 or B-complex with 50mg of B6.
Magnesium- a recent study showed those who took magnesium supplements had improvement in their PMS symptoms.
Probiotics- more for PMS-related bloat than appetite or weight gain.

PMS doesn’t have to weight you down. The next time hurricane PMS hits hopefully it will be downgraded and leave minimal damage.
Do you feel like a different person when you have PMS? What do you generally do to ameliorate symptoms? Are any males reading this post? So curious.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Top 10 Healthy Food Trucks

We sent Lisa to scout out the top 10 healthy food trucks in NYC and figure out what the truck fuss was all about.

Many of us grew up with ice cream trucks, hot dog stands, and the occasional bake sale wagon. Aside from that “mobile food” didn’t have much meaning, or glamour for that matter. Today, you can’t walk three blocks without noticing that gourmet food service on wheels, in the form of “food trucks,” has taken over. New Yorkers now have pedestrian curbside access to healthy meals, fresh squeezed juices, gourmet salads, and grilled falafel. NYC tour companies are even offering food truck tours of Manhattan highlighting lunch spots in midtown and the financial district.

So what makes standing on the sidewalk on our tippy toes to order from a truck so appealing? Are we nostalgic about the excitement that came with lining up for the ice cream truck? Do we like the idea of convenience and perhaps “fast food?” Is it because we want to be part of the foodie scene buzz? Or is there something cool about the idea of getting a meal outside your office door that you would other have to travel deep into Brooklyn for? Although the answer may be a combination or all of the above, the bottom line is that much of the food offered is good – healthy and delicious – and oftentimes better than the brick and mortar deli chain competition.

I think the main reason why the quality of the food is better is because the food truck menu options are limited. These food trucks are niche, and when you walk up you pretty much know what you’ll be ordering based on the name of the truck. Whereas other establishments may spread themselves (and the quality of their ingredients) thin with trying to make everyone happy, food trucks aim to please the fans of their “one hit wonders.”

We scouted the best (and healthiest) food trucks in the greater NYC. Here are our favorites:

NY Dosas: With a line wrapping the corner of Washington Square Park, this truck is impossible to miss. You may have to elbow some NYU students to get to your Roti Curry, but it’s worth the wait. (Please, please steer clear of the Vegan Drumsticks) @nydosas

Green Pirate: This sustainable food truck runs on bio-diesel fuel and composts all production waste. They even trade fresh squeezed juices for whatever services you may be able to offer to their business… This truck bounces between Brooklyn and Soho. @juicepirate

Food Trucks parked at Tavern on the Green: Rickshaw Dumplings, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream and Pera Turkish Tacos are conveniently parked in Central Park, right across from the Foodtrainers office. We’re sad to see Ladle of Love have to go, but still love Rickshaw’s organic edamame dumplings.

Rouge Tomate: We are so excited that one of Foodtrainers’ favorite restaurants has gone mobile by entrance to the Central Park Zoo. Not only is the food cart environmentally friendly, powered by solar energy, they serve items like farmhouse yogurt with local honey and delicious chilled white gazpacho. @rougetomatecart
Luke’s Lobster & Red Hook Lobster: The Luke’s Lobster Nauti Mobile offers the option for a half lobster, crab, or shrimp roll. We’ve tried most seafood rolls this city has to offer, and Luke’s is by far the cleanest with mayo optional. Red Hook Lobster also brings their Brooklyn based seafood joint to the streets of Manhattan. @LukesLobsterNY and @lobstertruckny
Crisp on Wheels: This mobile midtown lunch spot offers a variety of falafel sandwiches and salad bowls. Our favorite is the mama mia salad with sundried tomato spread. You’ll never know this falafel isn’t fried. @CrispOnWheels
Organic Carts NYC: Another favorite restaurant, GustOrganics launched the first certified organic street cart in NYC, located in front of MoMa. They have a great breakfast menu with a juicer on the cart. At lunch they serve salads, hummus, and homemade soups and stews.

Cinnamon Snail: This vegan truck caters mostly to Hoboken and Red Bank. Their breakfast menu features dishes from the likes of fresh fig pancakes with pine nut butter and chamomile blood orange syrup, while their lunch menu offers a wide variety from raw pizza, to red curry, and maple mustard tempeh. @VeganLunchTruck

Calexico: This Brooklyn restaurants can now be found parked as a food truck in Soho and Flatiron. They serve clean Mexican food, and we love the naked frijoles negros “burrito.”  

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck: Okay, so we don’t recommend you put this one on the regular lunch rotation, but with toppings like Wasabi Pea Dust, Ginger and Elderflower Syrups, Cardamom, and Pumpkin Butter, we couldn’t leave it off the list. @biggayicecream

Since these trucks don’t have permanent locations, the best way to figure out where they’ll be on a given day is to check their Facebook and twitter pages. Even more novelty in scouting out your lunch – it’s a social media scavenger hunt to get it! Although food trucks have become a popular lunchtime market for professionals, it doesn’t end there. Food trucks are swarming to parks, beaches, and college campuses in order to make themselves available in areas with less (than healthy) options. 

While a lot of fun is associated with finding and patronizing food trucks, we also want to mention that food trucks are serving an important purpose in terms of community nutrition – they aid in solving the problem of “food deserts,” or areas without access to healthy food. NYC’s Green Carts was instituted to serve this purpose andother initiatives have used food trucks as a means to deliver healthy (and free!) food to people in areas where it wouldn’t otherwise be available. Check out Dole Fruit Bowls on Tuesdays  and Go Healthy New York’s Free Fruit Fridays.  @GoHealthyNY

Have you tried any of the trucks we highlighted? Any personal favorite NYC food trucks? Do you have food trucks where you live? If so, what are they? And if you had a food truck what would it serve?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Unsolicited Nutrition Advice, Is It Ever OK? Who asked you?

I have an acquaintance who, in the past couple of years, has completely revamped her eating and exercise routine and become very interested in nutrition. She sent me the query below in an email.

I am very aware of what people eat around me, especially my family members. I find myself critiquing their poor habits. This is obviously out of love because I want them to live the healthiest lives they can so when my dad reached for the fifth biscotti on the dinner table I moved the plate away. You can only live your own life but is there ever a time where you feel it is important to step in to help? Some may argue it is none of your business but I see it as an obligation at times. I would be interested to know your opinion.

I’ll call this person B.R. (for biscotti remover). I can’t imagine why but she asked to remain anonymous.

BR, as strange as this is going to sound I am not that aware of what people eat around me. With my line of work, I’m aware people expect me to be aware of their eating and in response to that I almost tune out. I don’t want my friends to feel as though they are getting graded based on their menu selections or portion sizes. The truth is, I don’t need to have to say too much because inevitably someone will say something to the effect of “how bad is this?” usually while pointing to something on their plate that they have every intention of eating. Or, they’ll ask about a supplement they are taking or their current workouts. I do not offer advice unless asked and even then I know people still don't necessarily want the bitter truth.

My feeling is that if someone is in my office, on some level they want my honest two cents about what they’re eating and how they can vary or improve it. I have a friend who’s a facialist and another a dermatologist. I wouldn’t respond well if they lectured me about sunblock outside their offices unless, of course, I inquired. One post I read contained a list of reasons not to offer unsolicited advice of any type. I was drawn to this item "people don't value advice unless they seek it out. And even then, they don't really value advice all that much unless they PAY for it." 

 Having said all this, if I were to put an asterisk after “do not provide nutrition advice unless asked”. Next to the asterisk it would say *except when it comes to family members. There’s a comfort level with family members and with that comes an ability to say things you might not ever utter to friends or coworkers. I have found “shoulds” are better received than “shouldn’ts” and when you can praise instead of pontificate. It’s better to suggest to my mother she should consider organic produce versus saying is shouldn’t pour an inch of olive oil in the sauté’ pan. And just because it’s easier to advise family members, I don’t know if it’s all that effective. My family doesn’t necessarily heed my advice. I have never heard “that’s a good point.” Or, “you’re right maybe I’ve had enough.”

B. R.  I have to say some of what you describe reminds me of me when I first started studying nutrition. I was busting at the seams with my new knowledge. I wanted to cook healthy food, eat as well as I possibly could, take vitamins and hydrate. It was unfathomable that others didn’t share my enthusiasm or foodcentric viewpoint. My healthy bubble burst rather quickly and I learned to share less and less. It’s not the information people need by also the intention to change. I knew my stuff and didn’t need to force it down anyone’s throat, there’s not always room with 5 biscotti in there.
Is it ever appropriate to give unsolicited nutrition advice? Is it acceptable when it comes to family? What’s the worst unsolicited advice you’ve ever received? Do you think a blog is sort of unsolicited advice? Hmn.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rethinking Skim Milk

I went to college when “fat free” was all the rage.  Snackwells, skim milk and fro-yo were in. Avocado was out. As absurd as it sounds to recount this now, it’s even funnier to think that I was in New Orleans, land of beignets and muffaletas. Little did I know that my eating regime was as off-kilter as the city’s cuisine.  Aside from improved nutrition knowledge and time to “mature” what strikes me about this type of eating is how poorly it must’ve tasted. How many cups of greyish coffee did it take to prove this point?  A few too many.  I write this to show you how easy it is to get swept up in an eating trend or prevailing nutrition advice.

You will not find skim milk in my refrigerator today and I’m proud to say my day starts with coffee and a splash (or 2 splashes) of  delicious half and half. (currently Sky Top farms grass-fed, non-homogenized, adore it). I also didn’t switch my kids to  1%  at 2 years old as the current advice from the AAP suggests. After my brief “blue period” I went back to how I was raised. A little bit of the real thing is best.

I’ve posted before about organic milk and ultra pasteurization but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago  that I realized the potential problems with skim milk. My interest was first piqued reading Walter Willet’s Fertility Foods. We have many clients trying to conceive and the research about skim dairy and infertility floored me. Low-fat dairy contributed to infertility (when issues are based on anovulatory failure) and full-fat dairy increased fertility.  What really turned me off was the proposed reasoning. When the fat is removed from milk, the portion that’s not fat contains more androgens and other hormones that may not be conducive to fertility.  The androgen argument may explain why another Harvard study found that teenage boys drinking skim milk had a higher incidence of acne.  Again, what’s in the fat or skimmed out seemed to help.

Last week, I read an article posted by my colleague Julie Negrin entitled “Is Skim Milk Making You Fat”. The article challenges the traditional “low fat dairy for health and wellness” dogma.   They write:
It’s becoming widely accepted that fats actually curb your appetite, by triggering the release of the hormone cholecystokinin, which causes fullness. Fats also slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, reducing the amount that can be stored as fat.
I find this so interesting as we have a country that's watching dietary fat and getting fatter.  It always seems to me that children have the best innate sense of calorie regulation. An Australian study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that children’s calorie intake did not change when they were switched to low-fat milk. Children replaced the calories with other energy sources and did not lose weight.  Another large study tracked the habits of 19,252 Swedish women for 9 years. Women increasing their whole milk consumption the most lost 9% of their body weight, on average. Women who increased their low-fat dairy the most gained 10%.

Anecdotally, I am also concerned about skim milk and bone health. Fat in milk can help us assimilate vitamin D. I have not found a tremendous about of research on this but have seen many 30-something clients who grew up on low-fat milk now with osteopenia and fractures. I’d be curious to see if the very thing we think is helping us may not be.  This whole debate reminds me of the whole butter versus margarine debate. On that subject, the great Joan Gussow said “I trust cows more than chemists.” The more I read about the processing involved in making skim milk palatable, I think this applies here too.  If you eat dairy, I would suggest a little bit of the real thing.
Do you purchase milk? What type do you buy? Are you skeptical of skim milk?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Market Melissa Visits East Side Fairway and Dreams up Her Ideal Food Store

Market Melissa reviews the new Fairway Market and dreams up her what her ideal market would look like, take it away Melissa.

You won’t be hard-pressed to find a food market in NYC but what’s tricky is finding one that has everything on your weekly shopping list. I often go to 3 different stores in order to get the best produce, seafood and organic food. Fairway Market is a true one-stop shop. While Westsiders have been enjoying this store for over 50 years, the East side was just recently blessed with one this summer.

Brittany (our summer nutrition nerd) and I checked out the new store on a recent Friday afternoon. We were there around 11am and had quite an enjoyable shopping experience. This was a sharp contract to my experience at the West side store, which I like to compare to the game show Supermarket Sweep.

What I love about the new East side store are the wide aisles (for NYC) and how well everything is laid out and organized. The organic produce is clearly labeled in its own section of the store. In addition to the organic choices, you will also find all of your mainstream brands you find at other supermarket chains.
Here are some of the highlights that wowed us Supermarket nerds:

  • A wheat free, gluten free, dairy free section – You won’t need to scour the aisles to find products that meet these allergy needs. All of the products that meet these criteria are neatly labeled and packed into a nook downstairs. 
  • Ground peanut butter and almond butter station – Whole Foods has this as well. This is perfect for those who can’t be trusted with a full jar of peanut butter at home. You choose how much you want to purchase with a no nasty ingredients added. 
  • Probiotic section – Next time you experience digestive woes or your immune system needs a kick in the butt, head to this section of the store. You will find everything from Kombucha, yogurt shots such as Siggi’s yogurt here. and supplements including Culturelle

  • Oil tasting section – No more just picking up a plain extra virgin olive oil. Fairway has a whole section dedicated to different flavored oils, which you can taste with a small piece of bread that is offered. We opted out but there were numerous shoppers dipping in (perhaps double dipping).

  • Made to order sushi – For all of you sushi lovers out there, Fairway offers grab and go, as well as made to order sushi. The best part is you can also request brown rice.

Despite the "specialty" nature of the store, Fairway is known for great value. I have yet to find a store in the city that can beat Fairway’s prices. Shoppers beware though – not everything is healthy. As always, read your labels and steer clear of the hot food self-serve bar upstairs.  They were serving fried chicken and mac n’ cheese during our visit.

Lauren asked me what my ideal supermarket would look like. After spending a good part of the past year at various markets I said:
It would be a place where everything you could possibly want would be available to avoid running to 10 different stores.  I would have a seasonal/local section and plenty of organic options. I'd love a cafe like Whole Foods so customers could buy food and sit down and eat and really spend time there. A juice bar would be nice. My store wouldn’t sell items with HFCS, hormones, food dyes or artificial sweeteners (so it may be a smaller store). And of course there would be someone like myself who could offer shopping advice and recipes to correlate with what the store was currently selling.
Where is your favorite place to shop? Do you find you need to visit numerous stores to find everything you need? Tell us about your dream market.

Overwhelmed with food shopping? Join us on a Market Foodtraining tour at the new Fairway or your store of choice. Contact Melissa to hop on the next tour. Not in NY? Follow Melissa on twitter (@MarketMelissa) for the latest market finds. Melissa is also giving away a NYC Market Foodtraining tour for four. To be eligible leave a comment below telling us you’re in the NY area.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Take it With a Grain of Salt

I love blog requests, this came from a client last week:
  I'd like to know what you think about salt.  My husband says I shouldn't put it in anything, even when the recipe calls for it.  I know that my body reacts negatively to it and that it is better to avoid it (and given the paucity of salt we eat, things, especially fast food, tend to taste overly salty).  But soy sauce on sushi, salt on edamame, and even on some scrambled eggs, tastes good.  What do you think?  Is a sprinkle a good thing or a bad thing?

First, I think whomever is making the recipe gets the final say on what goes in it. Just so you don’t think your husband is the only one with questionable salt habits, my husband salts everything before tasting it. So we don’t all “shake” the same but I’m getting off topic.

We do need some salt. It's  particularly important for people, like yourself,  who bike and run outside in the heat. Salt or sodium is lost in sweat. The higher the temperature and humidity, the more sweat and the more sodium you lose. While I don’t think salt replacement during exercise is warranted for workouts or races under 90 minutes. I do think some salt does an athlete good.

While dangerous hyponatremia or low sodium is rare. Too little salt is as dangerous as too much. Salt is needed for muscle contractions (our heart is a muscle), salt moves nutrients and water into our cells and interestingly salt may be a mood food or mood mineral. Research from the University of Iowa showed rates deficient in sodium chloride (table salt) shy away from activities they normally enjoy.  I provided the link if you’d like to learn more about rat fun but let’s suffice it to say we’re very similar to rats.

The amount of salt we need isn’t all that much. The AI or “adequate intake” which differs slightly based on age is 1500 mg or about ¾ of a teaspoon of salt. The UL or “upper limit” is 2300mg and 2000mg is 1 teaspoon so this is a little over that. To put this into food context show how easy the AI is to hit:
  • 1 medium pickle has about 800 mg of sodum
  • 4 slices of smoked salmon have 500mg
  • canned beans have 500mg in ½ cup (rinsing reduces this number almost in half).
  • Sushi Roll (naked, sans soy) 500-1000mg per 6-piece roll.
As to what type of salt to use, there are a few I love. Himalayan Sea Salt is unrefined so it’s a more natural product in a more raw state and contains more minerals (84 different minerals) than processed table salt. I like the Himalania brand. I also used Kosher salt and received a gift of Sicilian Lemon Salt recently. Table salt contains iodine (can throw off taste) and can contain additives so look at your labels. The only ingredients should be salt.

So salt via soy sauce (unless you're gluten free) or with edamame or eggs is absolutely fine.  You mentioned “reacting negatively” and I assume you were referring to bloat. Bloat may be telling you you over salted. Salt can be sneaky, here’s a list of some surprising salt sources. So don’t close the salt cellar just hide it from your husband.
Are you pro or anti salt? What type do you use? What are your favorite salty foods?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Celebrity Spokesperson: Weighty Considerations

We’re all familiar with celebrities endorsing diets. Some seem more genuine that others. Certain actors use their role as spokesperson to increase their exposure or energize a lagging career. Others, Jennifer Hudson comes to mind in this group, appear genuinely committed to making changes and invested in the process. As a nutritionist I’d like to think I can sniff out sincere dedication but the more I think about it, I'm not sure the public responds to motivated spokespeople as much as they do to results and physiques they find aspirational. No matter how fantastic a celebrity transformation-buyer beware. You must closely scrutinize the means to the (smaller) end. Look closely at the plan and not just the "packaging".  Last week, The New York Times examined celebrity spokespeople for various diets in “When Dieting Becomes a Role to Play.”

Until reading this piece, I hadn’t thought of the tricky nature of celebrity endorsements for weight loss companies. While most companies want to link up with a celebrity for the potential revenue and image boost what happens when things backfire? Suddenly, things don’t look so good when, ala Carnie or Kirstie, the weight comes back as quickly as it was lost. Celebrity weight gain has the potential to discourage legions of dieters. Countless clients have watched Oprah over the years and her struggle worries them. They will come to me and say “if Oprah can’t do it, how can I?” While disheartening, I’m not sure people cancel their Weight Watcher’s memberships when the Duchess expands. After all, before you know it there’s a new smiling celebrity and the rounder representative is rapidly removed from all promotional materials as quickly as you can say (or eat) cheese.

As for the celebrity, the financial incentive exists for them too. They are paid nicely for their work. As the spokesperson, the celebrity undoubtedly will receive supplementary support and what better accountability could you have than a whole country watching? While I would have zero interest airing my dirty laundry (or larger laundry) in this manner, these are celebrities and accustom to being in the public eye. I can understand the reasoning, people are already noticing and commenting on your weight why not show them you’re doing something about it? This point of view makes sense until things start to unravel. With some of these plans, especially those based on meal delivery, they seem undeniably temporary. After all, at a certain point you would think people need to make choices and figure the food thing out which includes food shopping and preparation.

I would love to see one of these companies run a campaign in support of the “off the wagon” celebrity. I think it would be refreshing (and financially beneficial) to hear “this person has been struggling and this is what we do when this happens.” Instead of hearing that companies dumped the celebrities or failed to renew their contracts. That would be enlightening and real but then again that’s not what the weight loss industry is about. Silly them.
Have you ever been tempted by a plan based on the spokesperson? Or discouraged when a celebrity gains weight? Any celebrity transformation you've been impressed by? My vote goes to Valerie Bertinelli, did you know she also ran the Boston Marathon last year? Do you think this spokesperson business is more risky for the company or the celebrity?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Unrealistic Serving Sizes or Unrealistic Consumers?

On Tuesday I was contacted by Good Morning American to tape a segment on serving sizes. I shuffled my afternoon calendar and made my way over to Fairway Market to meet their crew. The news of the day involved a request by CSPI (often referred to as the food police) asking the FDA to revise serving sizes on certain food labels. I was interviewed in various aisles and went back to my office.  I watched the show the next morning and later contacted the producer; I thought I had missed the nutrition segment. She apologized to me and explained the story “had been bumped for the peacock.” The peacock being the one who had escaped from the Central Park Zoo. Serving sizes would wait another day.

The segment did air yesterday but my gripping comments about soup and cooking spray were cut to about the length of time the label suggest you spray (or a ¼ second) so I’ll fill you in. CSPI feels that the labels for certain foods such as the aforementioned canned soup, cooking spray as well as ice cream and coffee creamer (not a particularly healthful foursome) underestimate the actual amount of these foods consumers use. It’s hard to argue that one-cup of soup, an actual cup not a restaurant mug is pretty teensy and measuring ¼ second as aerosol oil sprays  suggest on the label is silly. I mean, “one-Mi” if we’re using the exact science of Mississippi counting.  So yes, the labels have their faults but perhaps consumers of canned soup, ice cream, spray oil and coffee creamer have bigger fish to fry.

While the serving size may be a little off, all labels list “servings per container.” So to determine just how much of a sodium bomb your Chicken Noodle soup is you need to multiply the serving by a factor of 2 or 2.5. Are we unsure consumers can do this?  CSPI is worried about people with hypertension, I am too. Should people who care about their blood pressure be eating canned soup? Or, are they reassured by the 790 milligrams if they eat the suggested 1-cup serving? I am all for pointing out confusing and misleading food packages but don’t see this as all that misleading.

CSPI suggests “the FDA should define serving sizes to reflect what consumers actually eat.” To me that’s opening up an extra large can of worms. With that reasoning is a serving size of frozen pizza one pie? A pint of ice cream? A liter of soda? CSPI found on a phone survey that most Americans do not consume 1 cup of soup, can we use what people actually eat to formulate guidelines? I don’t think so.  

Food companies know what’s going on. Chips would be less attractive if calories per bag were listed. “One hundred calories per serving” sounds much better, too bad if there are 25 servings in the bag. So there’s a little fudging in on the part of the companies but who are we kidding when we down the bag of chips? So while I know most people don’t have a “teacup” of cold cereal, if you eat fewer packaged foods you’re in a better place for a host of reasons.  And in case you are more interested in the peacock story, here it is.
Do you think serving sizes are “misleading”? Do you think they should, as CSPI requested, reflect what consumers actually eat? Do you eat any of the four foods mentioned?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What's More Important Cardio or Weights and Should You Do it Twice a Day?

I had lunch with an old friend yesterday. By old I mean a friend I’ve know since grade school, god knows we’re so far from old. We talked about work. He teaches film at Columbia and is in the process of making his first feature film. We moved onto friends, some soon to be married, some soon to be divorced and one in the middle of a very public scandal (more on that later). Toward the end of our meal, my friend said he had a nutrition question for me. I had to laugh because this was the last person I ever thought I'd be talking shop with. This was a friend for whom “green” in high school didn’t refer to kale, a friend who spent more time in the pubs one summer at Oxford than in class, you know the type.

My friend mentioned he had put on a few pounds and he and his brother have been debating something lately. He had started to run but his brother suggested he lift weights instead. He said:
You have to settle this, what’s better for weight loss cardio or weights?*

The cop out answer is they are both important and to a certain extent that’s true. However, if I have a client who wants to lost weight and start an exercise routine initially I would encourage a cardio-heavy regime. Cardio will give a faster initial result. After some weight loss and the cardio routine is established weights can be integrated. Once at a comfortable weight I would put more exercise “eggs” in the strength-training basket. If weight isn’t as much a concern I think a cardio/yoga or a cardio/barre class (the latter more so for women) compliment each other nicely. I told my friend to keep running but not too increase mileage too quickly or his appetite would go through the roof.  There’s such a thing as marathon munchies too. And as long as I mentioned food, let's be clear that exercise alone does not produce results. 

I then asked my friend how his girlfriend was doing. He said she was doing well and, as a teacher, enjoying her summer off. “She would’ve come to lunch but she’s on this twice a day yoga kick, isn’t that a little much?” I told him I didn’t think so. Many of my triathlete clients do an AM and a PM workout. I don’t think everyone needs two hours a day of exercise but a “doubleheader” once a week is a good way to ratchet up results. This double header can be two yoga classes, one hour of cardio and one hour of strength or simply a longer cardio (such as a run or a bike ride).

Lunch ended and I walked back to my office. I thought about how times had changed. Instead of concerts, we were now talking cardio. I also though about my friend’s comment about our classmate involved in the scandal (that may have something to do with phone tapping). “How funny is it that this is the same person who always wanted to be an archaeologist?” Maybe it’s not that surprising, he’s just doing a different type of digging now.
Are you more of a cardio person or do you prefer strength training? Ever do a double header? Is it funny how people can suddenly have an interest in exercise or nutrition? Does that mean that person is old?
*I hold no degree in exercise physiology so this post is the equivalent of a trainer or physical therapist giving nutrition advice which I loathe. Know that I am aware my opinion means absolutely nothing.