Friday, September 30, 2011

Your Food is Organic but Moisturizer Carcinogenic

If you were to ask me about a foreign-sounding food ingredient there’s a good shot I would be able to tell you what it is. I can also explain which produce is more pesticide-laden and why you shouldn’t be drinking from a plastic water bottle (if you’re using one right now, you’re busted). Until a couple of years ago there was a large discrepancy between my knowledge of what goes in our bodies and that which goes on our bodies. In many ways “green” changes when it comes to food are easier ones. An organic apple simply tastes better. When it comes to body products, some of the more natural choices do not work as well. I test-drove many lotions and potions and thought I’d share my favorite finds. And because I do not consider myself an authority on these products I interviewed two women who are.

I read about Odacite' in a magazine and was taken my Valerie’s story.  Valerie was diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently made many sweeping life changes. She learned that some of the greatest exposure to toxins occurs with our personal care products. Even her expensive French moisturizer was chock full of chemicals. Odacite’s products use only the best, organic ingredients and they are made fresh for each customer. This lotion kept my skin hydrated for the entire ski season last year. 

I first tried these products in Sag Harbor at one of my favorite stores Wellnest. This spray is fantastic after you wash your face in the morning and I also use it after hot yoga. Tata Harper’s skincare was founded on the idea “that women no longer need to sacrifice their health to look and feel beautiful.” All of her products are produced on her farm in Vermont.

I’ll admit I feel like a bit of a hypocrite talking about natural hair care. I’m pretty sure what’s making this head blonde is far from organic. I’m not proud of that. Despite the highlights, I was on a mission to ameliorate my chemical exposure.  My friend and fellow dietitian Ashley Koff tweeted about Rahua and it caught my attention. I’ll tell you that Rahua isn’t just my favorite organic hair care; it’s the best hair care line I’ve ever used. If only Rahua could make me blonde without bleach, I’d be thrilled.

I don’t wear polish on my nails anymore because it grossed me out when I was cooking. I didn’t want “ballet slippers” in my smoothies or families’ meals. Because my runner’s feet need all the help they can get, I was excited to experiment with Spa Ritual. Spa Ritual’s polishes are free of toluene, formaldehyde and DBP.

Valerie and Tata were kind enough to answer some of my questions. Their answers may help you choose better products.

What are your top 3 evil ingredients when it comes to topical products?
  1. Parabens- are the most widely used preservatives in personal care products. These synthetic chemicals are hormone disruptors. Medical concern is raised as many studies show that parabens are linked to breast cancer. Studies also show parabens react with the sun and accelerate aging. So if you don’t do it for your health, toss them to avoid wrinkles.
  2. Fragrance- considered a trade secret manufacturers are not required to list ingredients in formulating their fragrance. Most are synthetic chemicals that can trigger allergies and disrupt hormone levels.
  3. SLS and SLES (Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulphate)- are cheap detergents in many “foaming” cosmetics. They can cause damage to the heart, liver and lungs.
Tata’s top 3: Hydroquinone, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Parabens.

Note: hydroquinone is a skin-bleaching chemical that has caused tumor development in animal studies. The National Toxicology program is conducting reproductive toxicity studies of this chemical.
Parabens, according to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer products, may cause reproductive and developmental disorders. The following ingredients indicate paraben presence:
methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, parahydroxybenzoic acid, parahydroxybenzoate. You cannot assume that a product labeled organic or natural is free of parabens some seemingly wholesome brands like Kiehls are paraben parties, sad.

If someone is just starting to consider what goes “on their body” is there one place or product you would suggest they start?
Valerie: Great question, 60% of what you apply on your skin enters your bloodstream. The EWG showed that women are exposed to 200 chemicals every day from personal care products. I would say whatever you use the most of. Body lotion covers most of your skin. Lipstick would be second as women ingest 32 lbs. of lipstick in a lifetime and most are contaminated with lead. Shampoo and toothpaste are important too.
Tata: I would definitely start with body lotion because as women we generally apply it 2x a day and sometimes more frequently.

And finally, what do you say to people who say organic, chemical free products are too expensive?
Valerie: I say choosing organic is the best long-term investment you can make for yourself, your family and the planet. You can choose to support your local farmer who grows his product with care and integrity, you can choose to purchase from companies that make organic products and say no to chemical business or you can chose to support your MD. In the long term it is a lot less expensive to buy organic because your health is priceless.
Tata: High quality natural and organic ingredients are going to cost more than their synthetic alternatives; but when you think about this carefully natural ingredients are more compatible with our systems and don’t pose the potential health risk of the chemical ingredients so there’s really no comparison.

If you’re new to organic personal care products, start to read ingredients and avoid Valerie and Tata’s “evil 3’s”. And maybe start with one product, as they suggested, the one you use most.  We also like Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database, The Detox Market and Spirit Beauty Lounge.

Where do you stand with personal care products? Any natural companies you’d suggest? Are you willing to read product labels or make one organic/natural switch?
*Valerie from Odacite graciously offered to give away 3 of their discovery kits (includes 7 Odacite' products) to our readers. Be sure to leave a comment below in order to be eligible.
And Tata Harper is giving one reader her floral essence (too bad I am ineligible).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Holiday Eating: Food Pushers, Gymlessness and the urge to ProcratinEat

At sundown today, Rosh Hashanah begins; Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year (do not click away if you aren’t Jewish, if you celebrate any holidays or attend any group food events, read on).  Many Rosh Hashanah foods are sweet as they signify the hope for a sweet New Year. This is a lovely tradition but a challenge from a food perspective. There have been countless articles written about holiday eating and the calories in holiday foods. To me, the often overlooked aspects of holiday eating are the extra time spent with family (glass of wine for me please), the travel involved in getting to wherever you are going and associations with traditional, special and often home-cooked food.

It’s more about the dynamics at work than the food itself.  Here are some of the potential pitfalls, see if they strike a chord.

Problem: The Food Pusher, I tend to think every family has one. Food pushers have been known to ask, “is that all you’re eating?” or “how come you didn’t try the potatoes?” or worst of all food pushers plate the food for you.

Solution: There are several strategies to handle a food pusher. My first thought is that the food pusher often wants you to try things but doesn’t necessarily mind if you don’t finish them. So put the kugel or cake on your plate and only eat what you wish to.
The second, more aggressive route is to be honest and polite but push back “it’s so delicious but I think I’ve had enough.” It’s always good to throw in a compliment while refusing food.

Problem: Slim (healthy) Pickins - It’s hard to believe in 2011 someone can compose a menu with zero regard for health but it happens and happens a lot for holiday meals. Even my mother uses by grandmothers stick-of-butter recipes and justifies it as “traditional.”

Solution: Help green the menu. By this, I don’t mean green as in better for the environment,  I mean literally green. Many holiday menus lack clean vegetable options so offer to bring something. Yes, there may be an ounce of selfishness here but say “can I bring a beautiful crudité and dip?” Or, “I saw a great Brussels sprouts recipe.” Even if the host declines your offer it may send a message that potatoes shouldn’t be the only vegetable on the table.

Problem: Gymlessness-you’re away from home, at your parents or in-laws far away from your usual gym or spin class.

Solution: Don’t be an exercise snob. Bring your sneakers and even if it’s cold or not as good a workout, commit to walking the day of the holiday AND the day after. Throw in some crunches and push-ups and you may have burned off those potatoes.

Problem: ProcrastinEATING. ProcrastinEATING happens when you feel as if you had a large, holiday meal and that you’ve blown it as far as your food plan goes. The procrastineater says “on Monday I will be good.” Or, “when I get home I will get back on track.”

Solution: nip it in the bud. It’s often not the holiday meals that do people in. It’s the leftovers and couple of days following the meal and the towel getting thrown in. If you are off track regroup at the next meal and plan your food for the day following Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving or Christmas etc. It’s not just about the holiday meal.

Aside from potential pitfalls, there are so many interesting food traditions tied to holidays.  For Rosh Hashanah there is the notion of “new fruit”. This is a fruit that is recently in season; pomegranate is commonly used. There is a blessing that’s said. The implication is to be grateful for the fruits of the earth and the opportunity to enjoy them. Religion aside, this is something we can all do.
What do you find to be the biggest challenges with holiday eating? Have you ever been a procrastineater? What “new fruits” have you been enjoying?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hamptons Marathon: The Best Laid Plans

So, I ran a marathon on Saturday. Compared to Chicago last year, there’s been very little mentioned here about this race and that was a conscious decision. I figured I would check in after the race, tell you all about my fun day and move on to other topics. We chose the Hamptons Marathon. It’s a small, local race that Runners World gave good reviews. I don’t like marathon training hanging over my head too far into the fall, so late September seemed perfect. Let’s just say my plan didn’t work that well and Saturday- well it was rough.

My training leading up to the race was pretty strong. I was running faster than I had in recent years and diligently tracking all my runs from my Garmin GPS watch in Training Peaks.  I ran a couple of half marathons this summer; one was strong, one more conservative (it was a very hot day). And though I was sidelined with bronchitis a couple weeks ago still felt ready to go. I started eyeing the forecast about a week ago and felt relieved that there didn’t seem to be a heat wave coming. Of course as we got closer rain seemed a good possibility but I was ok with that. What had started out as five people we knew running the race had dwindled to three. Friday, late in the day, my friend emailed she was out, a hurt knee and the weather didn’t help.

So it was just Marc and me. The boys would be staying with friends (very, very nice friends) and we drove out East Friday night. We had our usual pre-race sushi dinner and prepared for the next day. We pinned our numbers to our shirts, packed our shorts with Clif Shots and printed our pacing wristbands. I set the coffee maker for the next morning and of course brought our Le Pain Quotidian coffee from home. I am a big believer in race rituals and am a planner by nature; this too would work against me.
We woke up at 5AM Saturday, my father in law said “I think you got lucky, it’s not raining.” I had my E3 Live, followed by coffee and Purely Elizabeth Granola with fruit. I put some Vega Performance optimizer in a bottle to have in the hour before the race. We drove to the start, found parking close by and felt that nice race day buzz. 

We had plenty of time and a full row of empty and clean Porto potties. I decided to take advantage of this and laughed when a Lululemon bag with the words “Breathe Deeply” had been discarded on the floor of the Porto potty, I decided not to comply.
We lined up at the starting area. Instead of a motivating welcome speech the man counting down said these ominous words “this is not a flat course, it’s very hilly out there” and then we were off. We were running alongside half marathoners and some doing a 5K so it was important not to get caught up and go out too fast. After a bunch of marathons, I knew slow was better than fast and continued to consult my watch and pace accordingly. I distracted myself looking at the runners around me. There was the woman in teal who moved her arms as though she were swimming freestyle. There was also the shirtless man with a hairy back and Vibrams. I briefly wondered where he placed his running number without a shirt.  I also noticed it was very, very humid. It felt like you were running through glue and I just didn’t feel energetic. 

We were on pace through 5 miles and at about mile 6 my hypersensitive Garmin watch, probably malfunctioning from the humidity/mist, stopped. Part of me freaked while the trying-to -be-sane part of me realized I’d have the race clocks and with my pacing band could gauge my speed. The only thing was at 6 miles the full marathon split from the half marathon course and so it seemed did all of the race’s efforts. The next clock would be mile 13 (it said 2:70, 2 hours 70 minutes? It was broken).

Trying to regroup, I tried to use the fluid stations as markers but there were times when these were 2 miles or more apart. Some had Gatorade, some didn’t, and some didn’t even have people manning them. Marathons are very mental and looking back for someone so routinized (ok anal) all of the changes didn’t go over well. By mile 15, I was wiped out. I felt how I did last year in the final miles of Chicago. I had never experienced this so early in the race. There were really no spectators and with the hills I was warned about looming for as far as I could see, I made the decision to drop out. I reasoned that it wasn’t my day and that was fine. I planned to find a police car at the next water station and pack it in. Even my dropout plan backfired when at the next water stop there were no police cars or anyone to drop out with. I had one Clif shot left in my pocket and figured I may as well see if some “triple espresso” would do the trick. I looked ahead of me and it didn’t help that everyone was walking. I elected to continue and figured worst case I’d have a 10-mile walk. Instead, I used my music and told myself I couldn’t stop until a song was over. As I ran for the duration of my son’s favorite song (Paycheck), I passed hairy back. As miserable as I was, I laughed a little

Soon I was at mile 20, I was scared to look at the clock. With my walking breaks and fatigue, I thought for sure it would be beyond horrible. It said 3:18, I was flummoxed.  I was only a few minutes slow. In a typical race, I’d dig down deep and finish strong only I was so exhausted that wasn’t going to happen. There was no euphoria, there was no strategy remaining except to finish. At the 26-mile mark I summoned the last remaining energy and ran it in. Marc was there. Though it was humid and he didn’t feel he could push it like he wanted to, the lack of clocks or water didn’t affect him. He didn’t really have a race plan and it worked out well. As for me, while disappointing this crappy race was also informative and will in no way diminish my planning tendencies. In fact, one day later I realize how lucky I was to have participated and will use what I learned in planning future races.
Are you someone who plans or wings it?  What’s your next fitness goal or challenge?
Do you think being goal-oriented can have its disadvantages? 

Friday, September 23, 2011

No Time to "Cook" Breakfast

I’ll admit, muesli and I don’t know each other. I am a huge fan of overnight oats where you combine rolled oats, milk (I use almond milk) and plain yogurt overnight and simply heat in the morning. Abbie, our newest nutrition nerd, suggested muesli and I pretended I knew what muesli was. I thought muesli was a cold cereal that came in a box but clearly didn’t know. In case you’re unacquainted with this concoction, I’ll let Abbie tell you about it. 

How many times have you grabbed something for breakfast, yogurt’s a popular choice, simply because it’s the easiest thing? This week we set out to debunk the myth that delicious means time consuming. You can put together a hearty, nutritious, flavorful breakfast in minutes the night before you plan on eating it. The key is to have the main ingredients prepped and ready so that all you have to do is mix.
So, on to this magical concoction called muesli. Basically, it's granola, without the toasting and baking. You take a bunch of uncooked rolled oats and other things you like, such as chopped nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and coconut, mix it all together, put it in a sealed container, and walk away. Some of my favorite ingredients to use for muesli are Bob's Red Mill Old Fashioned Rolled Oats and Unsweetened Shredded Coconut. Various nuts, seeds, and dried fruit should be available at most grocery stores. Look for raw, unsalted varieties. Also look for dried fruit that is fruit only, made without sulfites or sugar.

The night before you want to use the muesli, simply mix a scoop of it with some yogurt and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. You can thin out the yogurt with water or substitute the water with or nut milk, if you prefer. You can use all milk and skip the yogurt but this results in thinner muesli. You can also add a touch of sweetness to the yogurt with maple syrup, honey, or agave.

The next morning, as you wonder how you could possibly find something for breakfast since you have to be out the door five minutes ago, you open the fridge and voila! Breakfast is served.

The following is a combination of several muesli recipes I've gathered in my head over the years, with a special nod to Mark Bittman and Heidi Swanson.

Basic Muesli Recipe
4-6 Servings
2 cups rolled oats
2/3  cup nuts (chopped) and seeds (I used walnuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds)
1/3 cup dried fruit, chopped (I used dried cranberries and apricots)
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
1/4 teaspoon salt
Plain yogurt
Maple syrup, agave, or honey to sweeten (optional)

*Remember to use whatever nuts, seeds, fruit, etc. that you like.
Combine the oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, coconut and salt in a large bowl. Transfer to a container until you are planning to use it.
When ready to use, for each serving spoon 1/2 cup of yogurt into a bowl. Thin with 1/4 cup nut milk and sweeten with a teaspoon of maple syrup, agave, or honey if desired. Stir in 1/2 cup of the Muesli and place in the refrigerator overnight. Serve garnished with a few chopped nuts or dried fruit.
Do you muesli? What are your favorite fall breakfasts? Any time-saving tricks?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Doable Detox

Over the summer, Carolyn and I were comparing notes on cleanses and detox programs.  As long as it’s safe, I’m someone who loves to test out a food, regime or workout. Carolyn, and I can see why, felt there was something gimmicky about cleanses and wasn’t sold. Shortly after our initial discussion Carolyn was on a yoga retreat in Colorado that happened to have a juicing component. Let’s just say it had an impact on her. I’ll let her tell you more.  Here’s cleansed Carolyn (kidding):

So yes, detoxes and cleanses have long been on my list of nutrition pet peeves. “Detox” is thrown around without much if any evidence. Does a spinal twist in yoga “detox” you? It feels damn good but despite many a PubMed search I just don’t know if my toxins evaporate like every teacher I’ve had says. Then there are cleanses. Some have been around forever and are still unhealthy (Master Cleanse I’m looking at you) and others are recently popular. Of course barely consuming anything for days will cause immediate water weight loss and lightheadedness. Is this enlightenment? At the end of the road more often than not is binge eating and unchanged habits.

That being said, I totally understand the need to cut out the crap as a personal challenge, prior to a big event or after a little too much fun AKA summer. Lauren asked me what my vision of a Foodtrainers’ detox would be? I answered it would have to be restaurant and fork friendly (liquids have their limits). It would be strict but manageable without a personal chef or daily deliveries. And it would result in weight loss beyond water and a true “cleansing” of less than healthy habits. We had a powwow and came up with a 4-week Dine and Detox program that we just launched on Monday. Without giving it all away, here are three of our holy rules of detox:
  1. Tea is the new coffee.
  2. Say bye bye to sugar and fake sugar too.
  3. Whenever possible (and anything is possible): organic, local, wild colorful.
Rules are great but we would never have clients do anything we wouldn’t do so yours truly gave it a try. I would love to say “it was so easy” but that would be a lie. However, the issues were different than I expected and I’ll admit it was freaking hard to turn down a glass of wine. The best parts? Sugar cravings were short lived and I have several new food obsessions.

Mung Beans- sprouted mung beans are an Ayurvedic detox food and you know our love for all things sprouted. They are high in fiber, B vitamins and very versatile. Try them in soups or stir fries. The don’t require soaking and are easier to digest (ahem) than other beans.

Fennel: never been a fan of the licorice-flavor but maybe my taste buds have grown up because I'm digging fennel, especially with salmon, thinly sliced in a salad or in my juices.

SoCal Organic Detox Protein- I was skeptical about this one but hemp protein, dandelion greens, it’s our dream detox powder. 

Artisana Raw Walnut Butter- Artisana makes the best products; their tahini is heaven. These single packs in interesting flavors such as walnut, macadamia and pecan were worth cleansing for.

We put together a few of our detox discoveries in our Fall Detox Bundle in the Foodtrainers online store (we’re very excited to have a store, sorry for the plug)

Drinks: Kombucha and Coconut water are nothing new but have you explored outside of the big name brands? There are some delicious and detox-friendly drinks. I'm into: raw coconut water by Harmless Harvest and  -- Lauren adores Turmeric Elixir of Life
So not only did I survive, I have continued most of my habits post detox. I haven’t checked on the numbers but I know my jeans are happy with me. So here’s my challenge to you. Pick a start date and try a one-week mini-detox free from wheat, meat or sweets. See how you feel. If you’re ready for our 4 weeks let us know.
 Are you pro or anti cleanse? Have you ever done a cleanse or detox program? Any lasting benefit? What would be more difficult for you giving up meat, wheat or sweets?
*One lucky commenter will receive the Artisana nut butter packs

Monday, September 19, 2011

Is Weight Gain Inevitable With Age?

Clients often as me, and I guess they’re entitled, if I’ve ever been heavy. This question makes me uncomfortable and I’ll often mention the fact that I’m a runner or that like many women I had to loose weight after my pregnancies. The truth is that, as an adult, my weight has been fairly stable. While many sane habits contribute to this, there’s also an element of fear. You see, for almost 15 years I’ve been counseling perimenopausal and menopausal women. I’ve witnessed their frustration when it comes to weight loss and so in anticipation of what may be many years away for me, I’m doing what I can now.

I was reminded of this when I had lunch on Friday with my beautiful literary agent (the book concept is strong but the feedback is I need to be funnier and include more anecdotes, ok ok). Over our avocado salads, she joked about “the forty thing” being true. I noted I haven’t hit “the forty thing” but that even your 30’s are different than your 20’s in terms of metabolism. As we commiserated, we both acknowledged that our “good” mode now needed more stringency. I said “it used to be I could just remove the extras and my weight would drop those couple of pounds before a vacation or event.” To which she added, “now it has to be a total cleanse.”

Most people operate with a weight range. The have their ideal weight, then a range above this where they are “fine” and an upper limit. As years go by, the “upper limit” number can become the good number. This is the weight creep that’s insidious but real.  Our muscle cells drive our metabolism. Age and a decrease in estrogen, testosterone and other hormones contribute to the loss of muscle cells. Muscle cells are where calories are burned. So if you eat the same amount over the years and less is burned or it’s burned less efficiently…you see where this is headed. Another proposed mechanism is that our bodies are more likely to be in an inflammatory state as we age even in the absence of a threat (virus, bacteria). This inflammation can damage cells in joints and muscles or wherever the inflammation occurred. And sorry guys, this applies to you as well.

Before you throw your hands in the air and prepare for the inevitable pudge, know that you are not powerless. One tool is exercise as a way to preserve and deposit muscle.  The good news is that exercise can help prevent age-related weight gain. The bad news? You have to do more with each decade. A study of male runners gave the suggestion that “runners who average 10 miles per week at age 30 should increase their weekly running distance to 24 miles by age 40 if they plan to still fit into the tuxedo they bought a decade earlier." Yes, I realize that 24 is more than double 10, it’s a good thing I’m marathon training.  I also advise my younger clients that they don’t want to exercise excessively in their 20’s as they will need to increase it as they age.

Another tool is anti-inflammatory foods. Chia seed, wild fish, hemp protein, ginger and turmeric are some of my favorites. Incorporate these in your daily diet. As for that diet, if you feel as though you’re doing what you used to do and not getting results, there’s a reason. You need to “do” things differently. The weight loss plan that worked in college will not work at 35. If this concept is a little scary, welcome to my world.
Have you noticed it's harder to lose or maintain your weight with age? Do you do things differently? 
Do you find this depressing?

Friday, September 16, 2011

So you think you can hard-boil eggs?

When I first started practicing nutrition, I would eagerly meet with my new clients. We would talk about their week and I would write out a food plan. For example, I might suggest “2 hardboiled eggs with blueberries” for a breakfast choice or  “salmon with roasted Brussels sprouts” for dinner.  When clients would come back and I’d ask them about the boiled eggs or roasted vegetables their answers were a little evasive. It took a while but I eventually realized something important. You cannot assume cooking skills, no matter how basic.  I now assume the opposite. Today, I was on the phone session with a client in Chicago and I asked her if she made the eggs I saw on her food journal. She said “no, I take them out from Whole Foods, they make them better than I do, mine turn greyish.” Here was someone who had boiled eggs but didn’t get great results. Hard-boiled eggs, and eggs in general, are one of my all time favorite foods. Though you’d think, as I used to think, boiling eggs was fairly straightforward, it is botch-able.

The Pot
The pot you use should be large enough to hold the eggs in a single layer. No egg stacking.

The Eggs
Eggs should be neither too young nor too old and organic. Farm-fresh eggs will be difficult to peel. Instead, wait 3-5 days to cook new eggs. Place your eggs gently! in the pot and if you like boiled eggs as much as my younger son and I do, make half a dozen at a time.

The Water
Add enough cold water to just cover the eggs. I use filtered water. Some may say that’s unnecessary. Some may say filtering water is unnecessary. They haven’t seen the inside of a pre-war apartment’s pipes. We renovated, I saw, I filter our water. Do not add salt to the water as this makes your eggs tough. And if your eggs float to the top when you add water, they’re too old or rotten.

The KEY to Better Boiled Eggs
The truth is that hard-boiled eggs is really not a truthful name, I’ll explain. You put a med-high flame under your pot of eggs and THE SECOND it starts to boil; you cover the pot, remove eggs from heat and turn off the heat. The eggs should not ever spend time in boiling water.  I guess one could say that if it’s at 212 degrees it is boiling even if not bubbling but let’s move on. You cover the pot and let the eggs sit. The three-minute concept is another myth unless you like soft-boiled eggs or Salmonella. The eggs sit in the water for a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 15 minutes. If you take a shower and dry your hair and come back to your eggs, they will be grey. My vote is for 12 minutes for medium eggs. Add 2 minutes for large or extra large.

Cold Shower and Shake
When you’re eggs are done cooking, drain the hot water but keep eggs in the pot.  Run them under cold water for 2 minutes to cool them down and then drain the cold water.  Put the lid back on the pot and shake back and forth for 30 seconds. The eggs will start to peel themselves. Finish peeling under cold running water.

You can store boiled eggs in a container for up to a week.
That explanation exhausted me so I’ll cover roasting vegetables another time.

When it comes to hard cooking eggs are you a) phobic, b) prone to making greyish eggs or c) a pro? Do you have any additions or corrections of my method? I’d love to hear.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Is All Fish Healthy?

Do these look like happy fish?
It bothers me that people are confused about what to eat. I take pride in distilling intricate nutrition information into something straight forward and easy to follow. For today's blog, my plan was to explain the differences between wild and farmed fish but something new happened. The more I researched, the more questions I had. While wild fish has its clear virtues, some farms are better than others. I don't consider myself an aquaculture expert and as I delved deeper into this topic I really felt- well much like a fish out of water (or in this case a fish out of the wild). I thought to scrap this post but realized something, if the ins and outs of fish farming are confusing to me, chances are I'm not alone. So here we go.
For starters, why is wild better than farmed fish?
  • Wild fish, as the name implies, have room to swim. Farmed fish, on the other hand, are often confined to crowded spaces. One consequence of this is that farmed fish is fattier. Unfortunately this increase in fat isn’t the “good" fat. Wild salmon is 20% higher in protein and 20% lower in far than farm raised.
  • Farmed fish is lower in omega 3’s than wild fish
  • Fish farming is similar in many ways to factory farms for animals. Crowded conditions lead to contamination and the need for antibiotic use. Sulfa drugs with your salmon anyone?
  • Farmed fish aren't searching for their next meal, they are “fed”. Their diet is very different from their wild counterparts. I had no idea farmed fish weren’t fed fish or other marine “stuff” until I read an article in the NYT last spring about tilapia farms. Corn, soy, wheat and even chicken (yes chicken) are used at fish farms.
  • Due to the change from natural feed, farmed fish looks different than wild. Two red food dyes are used to color the flesh of farmed salmon. Otherwise it would appear greyish. This dying is known as “color finishing”. One of these colors is made from a strain of red yeast.
  • Furthermore the proximity of many fish farms to wild fish adversely affects wild fish. A parasite known as sea lice has been on the rise due to this.
Antibiotics, corn and chicken in my fish? No thank you, I choose wild whenever possible but have certain lingering questions:

How do you know if fish is farmed or wild?
My general rule is that stores and companies using or selling wild fish want you to know and this fish is generally labeled. If it doesn’t say wild, it is almost always farmed. “Bred”, “raised” and “cultivated” are euphemisms for farmed. Atlantic salmon is farmed.

Are all farms flawed?
As I scoured Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch site, I learned that fish farming or aquaculture is part of our future. “The ecological impact of fish farming depends on the species chosen, where the farm is located, and how they are raised.” Not all fish farms are polluting the oceans and not all farms use chicken feathers as feed. The problem is that you can’t very well ask the waiter at the restaurant if your fish came from a good farm or a nasty one.  I would hope at some point there will be language much like “grass fed beef” to inform consumers.

Until the time when we can distinguish better farms from foul (or fowl) ones. Wild is the better bet. Canned wild salmon and wild sardines are more affordable options. And though farmed fish has its drawbacks and is inferior to wild nutritionally, I wouldn’t go ordering the steak.
Do you find fish facts confusing? Do you pay attention to where your fish comes from? Does coloring, antibiotics, soy or wheat used with farmed fish worry you?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Skinnygirl or Suspicious Girl?

In case you haven’t heard (or do not really care and I get that) Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl Margarita was yanked from the shelves of Whole Foods because it contains sodium benzoate. And in case you don’t know who Bethenny Frankel is she was on Bravo’s Real Housewives of NYC (though then not a housewife or wife) and the author of “Naturally Thin” though you can decide if natural is the first word that comes to mind with Bethenny. Skinny and natural don't always go hand and hand.
 I’ll try and stick to the food/drink part, sorry.
What is sodium benzoate and is it bad?
Sodium benzoate is a preservative, the salt of benzoic acid. CSPI, The Center for Science in the Public Interest, ranks additives and puts it in the “caution” category. The real danger occurs when sodium benzoate is combined with ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C). The two combine to form benzene which is linked to leukemia and other cancers. Many fruits, including the limes in Skinnygirl margaritas, contain ascorbic acid. But Skinnygirl says they use a “miniscule amount” of sodium benzoate. As CSPI points out,  not specifically on the subject of Skinny girl “though the amounts of benzene that form are small, leading to only a very small risk of cancer, there is no need for consumers to experience any risk.” You’ve heard me point out that companies justify sub par chemicals saying they are safe at a certain dose, safe is safe and unsafe is unsafe. Plus, neither Skinnygirl nor the FDA knows how many margaritas me or anyone else plans to drink. 
“It’s a very common preservative.”
Beam, the company who supplies the margarita noted that sodium benzoate was “a very common preservative.” Is “common’ supposed to reassure us?  This ingredient is commonly used in sodas. It was more common before the FDA encouraged companies not to use benzoate in products that contain ascorbic acid. The companies continued with the carcinogen. Then, a lawsuit filed forced Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and other soft-drink makers to make necessary changes.  Other commonly used and crappy  things such as food dyes, high fructose corn syrup and textured vegetable protein aren’t healthy or “high quality” as these margaritas claim to be.
Where are the ingredients?
Skinnygirl’s website states “Bethenny’s Skinnygirl Margarita combines clear tequila, the juice from three lime wedges and a tiny splash of triple sec.” I guess listing sodium benzoate wouldn't exactly increase the appeal. I checked the bottle for the full ingredient list, which I assumed would contain sodium benzoate, but there isn’t one. If Skinnygirl, as the first paragraph on the site states, “is the margarita you can trust” why not list the ingredients? Hmn, I smell something fishy. 
The reaction
 Bethenny’s reaction also left a little to be desired: “we were bound to piss someone off and everyone loves to try to tear down a success. This is a non-event. I haven’t lost even a wink of sleep.” Whole Foods wasn't, in my opinion,  trying to tear her down, they just didn’t approve of the sodium benzoate. While, I'm sure it would involve a huge expense "we're looking into this matter and hope to find a substitute" would've been well received. VnCCocktails, mentioned in our latest newsletter, doesn't use sodium benzoate.
The bottom line
The truth is this is a margarita mix and not a children’s snack or a bunch of kale. We can improve cocktails but no matter how much we love them we shouldn’t drink too many if we want to be healthy. The concept of an improved margarita or a lower sugar, lower calorie cocktail is a great one. Bethenny deserves full credit for refining the recipe. In fact, as The Stir points out the original skinnygirl recipe “tequila, fresh lime juice, and a splash of Triple Sec over ice” is a real improvement over the mixes and sweet drinks used by most establishments. Bethenny’s fans describe her as “brutally honest” and not holding anything back. In the case of the Skinnygirl margaritas, full disclosure would’ve been refreshing.
Have you ever tried or purchased the Skinnygirl margaritas? Would knowing it has sodium benzoate affect your decision to buy a product? Are you a Bethenny fan?

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Popcorn Secrets

I’ve been the bearer of bad news lately. First it was skim milk, then salad dressing and last week I was urging you to “just say no” to nonstick cookware. It’s generally more fun to add than subtract and I’m happy to be here today to tell you to eat more of something. That “something” is popcorn and it happens to be a family favorite of ours.

A couple of weeks ago I experienced a popcorn convergence of sorts. We were in San Francisco at the divine Ferry Building/Market. My boys and I made our way through the various vendors. We hit Happy Girl Kitchen Co. where my son selected cinnamon, plum jam and I snagged a small jar of Meyer lemon and ginger marmalade. My salty son settled on porcini salt and we purchased gifts for both Granny and nanny.  As I was picking up some fruit and nuts for the plane ride home,  I came across a bag with what looked like red rice in it. It wasn’t red rice though, it was Rancho Gordo’s “Premium Crimson Popping Corn” and I couldn’t wait to try it.  The only problem was that I was heading back to a hotel so the Rancho Gordo I purchased would have to wait.

The next day we headed home. I sat down at the American Airlines terminal with a green juice (gotta love the SF airport) and a stack of magazines. As I leafed through the September issue of O, I saw an article featuring Cat Cora of Iron Chef fame and creator of the best lamb chop recipe ever. Cat talked about her boys getting home from school famished and her love for popcorn. I ripped out her recipe for “Pizza Popcorn” and felt between the crimson corn and this article; the universe was trying to tell me something. The universe was saying, “eat more popcorn” and you have to listen when the universe talks.

Why eat popcorn?
Popcorn is a gluten free, whole grain. As much as I love quinoa (technically a seed) and brown rice if I can choose those grains or popcorn there’s really no contest. Popcorn is a fantastic fiber source.  Surprisingly, popcorn is also a good source of antioxidants particularly polyphenols. Polyphenols may sound familiar as they’re found in high levels in green tea and red wine.  And popcorn is a high volume food; you get to have a nice serving. Three cups of plain, air-popped popcorn have under 100 calories leaving a little room for toppings.

When you’re buying popcorn, and I’m not naming names, you don’t want to go for the boxes with bags of microwave popcorn inside,. There are many problems with these products. First, some contain bad fats, second one of the chemicals used for buttery flavor has been linked to lung disease in popcorn factory workers (Google “popcorn lung” and then purge any boxes you own) and finally the same chemical in nonstick cookware or PFOA is also in the lining of the microwave bags. The bottom line? PYOP or pop your own popcorn.

How do you PYOP?
We use this handy glass popper we got as a gift from the NY Rangers. I find it infinitely more useful than a Stanley Cup though my offspring may disagree. It’s very similar to this from Crate and Barrel. The O article also mentioned placing ¼ cup popcorn and ½ tsp. oil in a brown lunch bag. Fold over the top and microwave for 2 minutes or until popping stops. My friend Julie Negrin changed my life when she posted about popping in a pot on the stovetop (same proportions as above) cover for 3-4 over med-high heat. And finally there’s the whirly pop that my friend D. swears by.

Popcorn toppings are endless. Nutritional yeast, truffle salt, fresh herbs such as rosemary and cayenne pepper are some of my favorite or try the Pizza Popcorn. It turns out there was a popcorn secret I didn’t know. That crimson corn? When you pop it, it turns white. It’s really the best popcorn I’ve ever had.
What are your popcorn secrets/how do you pop it? What are your favorite after school or after work snacks?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Does Taste Matter?

When a client comes in reporting that they veered from their nutrition plan, my first question is generally “was it worth it?” You see, to me there’s a difference between a treat and a cheat. Treats are worth it. The best pizza Chicago has to offer, your grandmother’s famous holiday dessert, the Bi-rite ice cream I had on my birthday are all treats. Treats are savored and special. I wish I could take credit for this concept but it’s not mine. While I have no recollection of my mother dieting when I was growing up (ironic maybe when you think of my profession) she certainly had a rule system. When she tasted something ordinary she would often remark “that’s not worth it” and she’d immediately put her fork down. This was a woman who loved wine and cheese and bread so none of this was restrictive.  I’ve always liked this mentality as it shifts the focus of food from calories and food groups back to taste.

Sadly, much of our eating is governed by factors other than taste and sometimes taste doesn’t even come into play. The LA Times reported on a recent study conducted on moviegoers. Participants were given either fresh or week-old stale popcorn. Results showed people consumed the same amount of popcorn they usually do at movies regardless of freshness (or taste). Those who weren’t regular popcorn eaters were somewhat less likely to consume the stale stuff.  In a meeting room, people did eat less of the stale popcorn than they did in the dark theatre.

While I’d like to think most of us don’t regularly eat stale food, habits can be very powerful. How many times have you gone to lunch at 12:30 simply because you always do? I’ve talked about dessert and it’s very common to have a sweet after dinner purely out of habit. Habits also come into play with portions. Oftentimes we finish what’s on our plate or what we cook without regard for when we’re sated or if it really tastes good.

I’m asking you to jettison those old tendencies and take a page out of Elli’s playbook (funny I feel no need to respect my mother’s privacy). Embrace your inner food snob and to pay attention to how your food tastes. Ask yourself if its worth it and if not stop. You can use #TIDEI (tweet it don’t eat it) @Foodtrainers and we’ll give you a virtual gold star. Another thing we should glean from the study is that only things that are “worth it” should be done in the dark. When it comes to eating, the brighter the lights the better.
When do you find yourself eating sub par food? When you commit a cooking flop do you eat it anyway? Any treats you want to report?

*If you’re now craving freshly popped popcorn, tune in Friday for some Pop Secrets.

Friday, September 2, 2011

App-etite: Top 5 Healthy Apps

I’m still a Blackberry girl which means my app-titude (I can’t help myself) is minimal. So I asked Carolyn to come up with her picks for the best healthy apps of the bunch.
We know, we know, as if you need another app. But there are so many foodie or health-centric apps out there we decided to put ‘em to the test. Our clients regularly mention the apps that they have tried for weight loss and counting calories. While this might seem like a dream come true for nutritionists, we’re not fans of these apps and often encourage clients to press the delete button.
What’s wrong with calorie counting apps?
It’s not a way to live your life. One of the (many) things I love about Foodtrainers is that we rarely talk numbers. Who wants to figure out how many calories were in that splash of half and half while trying to enjoy a cup of coffee? We’re all about being organized when it comes to your food but it’s no fun being (or being around) calorie obsessed people.

So now that we have what we don’t like out of the way, there’s plenty left that we do.

Fooducate: (Free)
Tired of standing in the grocery aisles, comparing labels to figure out which product is healthier? Let this app do it for you. Scan the barcode of Dannon’s Activia Light yogurt, and you get a Fooducate “Grade”  (B) with a list of pros and cons, and a list of “healthier alternatives”. While there is some work to be done (GG Brancrisps got a B+ while Wheat Thins have a B, and the several duplicates of food items), once it works out the kinks this app will be a grocery go-to (just like Market Melissa).

Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch (Free)
Fish farming, mercury content, endangered… Can you eat any fish without it weighing on your conscience? With this app, finally yes. Enter the name of the fish you’re about to order and find out the facts. Is it labeled green (go for it) yellow (okay alternative) or red (avoid)? It doesn’t get simpler than that. And there’s a new “Project Fish Map” where you can find and add on to the list of restaurants that use sustainable fishies in your area.

Harvest ($1.99)
This app is a savior for produce shopping. Did you know skin color of grapefruit doesn’t mean a damn thing when it comes to ripeness? Or that a watermelon should make a hollow sound when you knock on it?  Yeah, you’ll be the weirdo knocking on melons but your taste buds will thank you. Harvest gives info on when those kumquats are in season, tips for selecting the cream of the crop, and a scale of pesticide residue.

With a price (and a name) like that, Mark Bittman’s app has a lot to live up to. It includes 2,000 recipes plus tons of variations, a grocery list, built in timer, and 400 how-to illustrations. If you’re anything like me and get totally overwhelmed by Facebook and twitterverse, exploring thousands of recipes plus their variations when you just want dinner sounds like hell. But this is surprisingly basic and user-friendly – it’s full of great lists like “11 ways to Jazz up Simply Cooked Vegetables” to get your stomach growling.  Bottom line: it’s the only recipe app you will ever need. Consider it an investment.

Now couch potatoes really have no excuses. I’ve had numerous friends and clients tell me about this cool app/program. “C25K” gets users off the couch to running a 5k over the course of two months. It has a really high success rate and great reviews because of its slow but structured style. Now just have to figure out how to casually and inoffensively recommend it to your loved ones...

For the kids:
Ok this isn’t only for kids… Who knew destroying fruit could be so much fun? 
What are your favorite healthy apps? What are your favorite apps in general? What do you think a Foodtrainers' app should/would include?