Friday, June 29, 2012

Gettin' Herby With It: Top 10 Herbal Benefits

I have my vitamix, it’s near and dear to my heart. Carolyn's appliance equivalent is her aerogarden. Here’s an herby post from her.
A few weeks ago I went to a health conference to nutrition-nerd it up. There was even a guided stretch and movement break. After “flowing through water” together (oy), a speaker/nutritionist was talking the Mediterranean diet. It was the same old research until she mentioned the health benefits of herbs: “half a teaspoon of dried oregano has same antioxidant content as three cups spinach” Obviously herbs make things pretty and flavor - guac without cilantro or tomatoes without basil would be sad. But I had never thought of herbs as a super nutrient dense food. Spices get all the antioxidant love, this was new news to me. A little research when I got home revealed that the“antioxidant comparison” came via the McCormick institute, king of dried herbs, and the speaker has ties to this “royalty”

Since you can’t believe everything you hear when it comes to nutrition, even at nutrition conferences, I thought I’d share my favorite herby facts:
  • Parsley is both a “delicious debloater” and if you chew on it a natural breath mint. 
  • Parsley is also an emmenagogue which means it can bring on your period and should be avoided during pregnancy.
  • Basil contains a compounded called eugenol which is a natural anti inflammatory
  • Cilantro can kill salmonella, it has antibiotic properties so if you have to eat shady food, you may want to grab some cilantro. Lemongrass also has antibacterial properties, good when feeling sick.
  • Carminatives are herbs good for ahen gassiness, fennel is Foodtrainers’ #1 carminative but dill (delicious in salads) is great too. No need to just  “dill” with it.
  • Herbs are great in juices. We adore One Lucky Duck’s swan juice that uses tarragon and spearmint in addition to dandelion, cucumber, yuzu, pear and spinach.
  • You may want to include rosemary in your marinades when grilling this summer. It helps block HCAs (carcinogenic compounds formed when grilling).

I no longer have suburban garden envy I am currently growing basil, parsley and mint (cilantro and stevia were a fail this batch). 
Does nutrition misinformation bother you? Do you have a garden? What are your favorite uses for herbs?
*The winners of the Booty Giveaway are Andrea, Delana E and Michele K. Congratulations, snack well and we'll be contacting you for delivery information.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Donna Karan Never Feels Good Enough

Have you seen the newish show on Lifetime called The Conversation?  Amanda de Cadenet hosts and each week has excerpts of  interviews with women from a variety of professions: designers, musicians, politicians and writers. It’s not your usual scripted stuff plugging projects but conversations about work and weight, men and marriage, juicy, real stuff. This past week Donna Karan was one of the guests. After talking openly about losing her mentor (Anne Klein) and her husband, Ms. Karan was asked “how do you feel about your body?” Her answer was “never good enough”. I don’t know if many women would be this honest but I have a hunch many feel this way.

It doesn’t have to do with not knowing what’s “really” important. I’ve seen a determination to lose weight or reshape in clients going through divorces and illness. I remember Jen spoke about the importance of caring about your appearance when sick as it was a sign to her and her doctor that she was invested in the present and the future. She told her doctors "I will be fat or bald but not both." In some ways vanity is part of living, maybe part of being female (if you're female).

 “Not good enough” often exists among type A personalities. It’s part of a type A-er’s inner dialogue to be better and constantly improve. My friend Aidan’s Rowley recently posted  “Do you love your body?” She wrote:
I would love to be one of those loud and proud creatures who exudes confidence about her shape. One of those souls who is all about self/strength above society/size. One of those mothers who proclaims: I love every inch of this body and what it has done!
But let’s be real for a minute. I am not one of these people.
I couldn’t believe the replies. Comment after comment detailed  body dissatisfaction. It made me wonder, with so much made of beauty at any size and loving the skin you’re in, does anybody? Scratch that, I know people do, my mother does (a whole other story).
I love Donna Karan’s work and I’m a huge fan of the Urban Zen Centers she created. She seems to “get it”. So to hear her, still fighting the body stuff upset or surprised me. I feel more at ease with my body than I did in my teens or 20s though I’ve always been a similar size and weight. I am grateful for a healthy body that’s able to run and bend but that’s different. I would describe my relationship with my body as improving but I get that “never good enough” thing. Do you?
Can you relate to what Donna Karan said? How do you feel about your body? Has this feeling changed or evolved over time? Do you expect to be thinking about your body in your 60s? Where do you think the body stuff comes from?

Monday, June 25, 2012

All snacks are not created equal, Pirates Booty giveaway

“Can’t you just let it go?” My husband and probably legions of husbands have foolishly asked this of their wives. If your husband hasn’t ever said this to you it’s probably because you let things go or go with the flow, perhaps you’re easy going. Those of us who are asked to “let it go” aren’t any of the above. We can’t let “it” go ever. Asking someone incapable of letting anything go to do so is almost as futile as asking someone to calm down. Once I think I did say “sure” but only because I was too tired to keep going. Relentless rehashing isn’t isolated to my personal life, I can get fired up when it comes to nutrition too. In fact,  let’s go back to the Cheetos conversation.

In case you missed that post, I reacted to a nutritionist’s story about buying her kids Cheetos for road trips. I explained that my kids have snacks but, knowing what I do about ingredients, I feel there are plenty of preferable substitutes at least when I’m the one buying. The nutritionist politely commented that she buys her kids Cheetos “so they know what they like” and added
I have a hard time seeing how the organic or natural version of chips or fruit roll-ups is a much better alternative, since I view them as classes of foods that I treat similarly--we treat fruit snacks as a candy-type treat, whether they're made with artificial or natural dyes. Ditto for potato chips.
While I don’t encourage my kids to mainline organic snacks,  I find it unfathomable that someone in my profession doesn’t see certain ingredients as worrisome and others as safe. Drugs are not something I encourage in my children but if I find out, in 20 years, that my kids had a beer at a keg party I’m going to be a lot less concerned as if they were shooting up…but they’re both drugs. Maybe you see snacks as snacks, so let’s take a look
First at the heroin (sorry, couldn’t let it go)

Ingredients: Enriched Corn Meal (Corn Meal, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, and Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil (Corn, Canola, Soybean, and/or Sunflower Oil), Cheese Seasoning (Whey, and less than 2% of the Following: Cheddar Cheese [Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzyme], Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Canola Oil, Maltodextrin [Made from Corn], Sour Cream [Cultured Cream, Skim Milk], Salt, Whey Protein Concentrate, Monosodium Glutamate, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Artificial Color [Including Yellow 6]), and Salt. 

Let’s start with “enriched”, it makes me chuckle that a company that’s giving you trans fats, MSG and food dyes serves you up a multivitamin with it. This feels like food adultery. If someone cheats on you but then tells you they love you, they are still a creep. Let’s not distract with “enriching”. Next on the list I’m intrigued by “cheese seasoning”. I looked in my spice cabinet and didn’t see anything by that name. Oh but there’s cheese in there- phew just less than 2%, I’m sure the other 98% is perfectly healthy. Why assume an adulterer will cheat again, so cynical. Then we move on to trans fats, one of the few ingredients the government has actually admitted is harmful. So we may die but rest assured your Cheetos will last forever. Maltodextrin is a cheap, processed filler but a saint compared to its company here. And for the finale Yellow 6, one of the food dyes CSPI wants to see banned. As a parent, aside from my long-term concerns about food dyes and health, I don’t need to feed them something that can adversely affect their behavior.

Now, one of the brands I suggested Pirate Booty
Pirate’s Booty Aged White Cheddar
Ingredients: Corn meal, rice, contains one or more of the following: sunflower, expeller pressed canola or corn oil, aged cheddar cheese (cultured milk, salt, enzymes), whey and buttermilk. 
Corn, rice, oil, cheese and buttermilk.
I realize this is a snack and not a vegetable but this is very different from the list above. Pirates Booty is gluten free, trans fat free, baked and as a parent a great option (for the kids and adults alike). Snacks, drugs and men are not created equal. There’s a funny thing about not letting something go, after my song and dance and pose on the soapbox I feel so calm.

Pirates Booty is giving a case (24 little bags) of their Aged White Cheddar Booty to 3 of our readers. To be eligible:
Leave a comment explaining how you pick a snack food and what’s important to you, mention the giveaway if you’d like to be eligible.
Tweet “All snacks are not created equal, Foodtrainers' giveaway”
Winners announced Friday.
Do you see all snacks in the same “class”? Or if not how do you make a selection? Are you able to let things go?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Top 5 DIY Healthy Frozen Desserts

Can't take credit, photo via Averie cooks, pretty.
Normally when we plan a soup post, it ends up being unseasonably warm and it gets chilly as soon as we talk ice cream. This week, for “ice cream week” it couldn’t have been better timing as it’s sticky and 90-something in NYC. Thanks for the great response to our favorite frozen treats and ice cream hall of shame. There’s one thing left to cover in the ice cream domain and that’s DIY recipes. If you don’t think you’re a do-it –yourselfer you may surprise yourself, they are easy ideas.

Banana Soft Serve
Banana soft serve and a 4-oz ramekin, 2 hot weather essentials
I can’t believe everyone hasn’t tried this but it’s simple and healthy at its best. Here is the Choosing Raw post where I first read about it. You can jazz it up with different flavor extracts and toppings but the original is pretty hard to beat.

Frozen Grapes

These havebeen around in Weight Watchers circles for years. It never sounded excited to me, I don’t even love unfrozen grapes. Then, a couple of summers ago I was in Nantucket with my sister and brother in law and they plopped a bowl of these on the table.  They’re satisfying and fun to eat. In case you’re wondering if I was vacation-washed, I tried these at home and liked them just as much.  They also make fun ice cubes. If you need more convincing there’s a Facebook page devoted to frozen grapes. Oh “recipe”, wash organic frozen red grapes and allow to dry, freeze in a single layer. Enjoy in 1-cup portions.

Frozen Hot Chocolate aka Fro-Co
via Chocolate Covered Katie and yes, good for you
The name frozen hot chocolate always bothered me, why not cold chocolate or frozen chocolate? And if your mind is drifting to Serendipity, let’s just say their legendary Frozen Hot Chocolate is no healthier than their foot long hot dog. I love this healthy, vegan spin on it from Chocolate Covered Katie, 80 calories a serving and delicious. I’d suggest some drizzled Newtree spread.

Avocado Ice Cream
A post would not be complete without sneaking an avocado in. Carolyn perfected her avocado brownies, I travel with avocados, what I say we’re obsessed. Maybe there’s an avocados anonymous Facebook page coming, not sure. This dairy free Avocado Ice Cream from Averie cooks is fantastic. Avocado, nut milk, nustevia and your Vitamix, what could be bad?

Frozen Coconut Greek Yogurt
Our nutrition nerd Joanna whipped this up. We promise we didn’t pick her as our intern entirely based on the fact that she has an ice cream maker. You can also make this without an ice cream maker, we think.
3 cups plain, vanilla 2% Greek Yogurt (or Siggis coconut skyr)
¼ cup organic maple syrup
20 drops stevia
2 T. full-fat coconut milk
½ tsp. cardamom (optional)
1 whole vanilla bean, scraped of seeds
1 t. coconut extract
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
Freeze the bowl for ice cream maker overnight. In a large bowl combine yogurt, syrup, milk, cardamom, vanilla and coconut extract, mix until smooth. Chill in fridge at least an hour. Pour mixture into the ice cream maker and let churn for 20 minutes until it starts to look cream. During the last 5 minutes of the cycle add the shredded coconut. Pour into an ice cream container and freeze. When ready to eat, leave out for 5-10 minutes to slightly thaw.
What's your favorite DIY homemade dessert? Have you tried any of these? Do you own an ice cream maker? What is the weather like where you live?
Congratulations, the  lucky winners of the ice cream giveaways are:
Luna and Larry's

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ice cream alert: ingredients, toppings and giveaway

On Monday we brought you our frozen favorites. We included brands we stand behind who utilize good ingredients and produce honest products, no evil ingredients or delayed digestive distress. Well that was then and this is now. Your favorite ice cream may have a dark side and it’s important that you know about it. I don’t love being the bubble burster so we put our summer nutrition nerd Joanna on ice cream investigation.
Here’s a taste of what she found…
Trans fats
Even though trans fats have been banned, many ice cream companies have found ways to sneak trans fats into their products.  If a food has less than 0.5g of trans fat per serving, the food label can read 0 grams trans fat. Look for “partially hydrogenated vegetable/soybean oil” in the ingredient list.  This screams trans fat. And why are trans fats so bad? They increase bad cholesterol, inflammation and cancer risk.

Milk, Skim Milk, Cookies {Bleached Wheat Flour, Sugar, Vegetable Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Cocoa Processed With Alkali, Corn Syrup, Caramel Color, Artificial Flavor, Soy Lecithin, Salt, Baking Soda}, Suagr, Polydextrose, Pre-Dip (Soybean Oil, Cellulose Gel, Mono And Diglycerides, Cellulose Gum, Vanilla Extract And Artificial Vanilla Flavor, Carrageenan, Maltodextrin, Polysorbate 80, Annatto For Color, Vitamin A Palmitate.
The list above are from a popular ice cream bar, let’s just say wish they were called “Ingredient Watchers”

Caramel Coloring
This ingredient has nothing to do with caramel. It is an artificial coloring commonly added to colas to give it their nice brown color.  Caramel coloring is contaminated with two chemicals, 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole, that the International Agency for Research on Cancer concludes are possibly carcinogenic to humans.  Cancer with your cone?  That doesn’t sound too sweet. 
Skim Milk, Wafer, (Bleached Wheat Flour, Sugar, Caramel Color, Dextrose, Palm Oil, Corn Flour, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Baking Soda, Modified Corn Starch, Salt, Mono And Diglycerides, Soy Lecithin, Cocoa), Sugar, Corn Syrup, Polydextrose, Cream, Whey Protein, Calcium Carbonate, Inulin (Dietary Fiber), Propylene Glycol Monostearate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Sodium Carboxymethylcellulose, Guar Gum, Natural Flavor, Monoglycerides, Sorbitol, Carob Bean Gum, Yellow 5, Blue 1, Citric Acid, Vitamin A Palmitate Carrageenan, Salt.
Why can’t we have healthy cow versus Skinny Cow? Ingredients for mint sandwich pictured above.

Artificial Colorings Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6
We’ve written about food dyes before, The three most widely used artificial colorings  Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 can cause allergy-like reactions.  Yellow 5 can also trigger hyperactivity and other behavioral effects in some children. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is pushing to ban these food dyes, which are unsafe and serve no nutritional purpose.  This You Tube video featuring blue Gatorade (Blue 1) is pretty compelling. Look for products that use natural foods such as beet juice for color.
To-poopy (couldn't resist)
Sorbitol, Aspartame and other sneaky sweeteners
A nutritionist who will remain nameless, recently tweeted about the calorie savings from a certain coffee flavored tofu-based pop. Aside from the processed soy you’ll see sorbitol, the granddaddy of digestive distress and also aspartame. This sounds more like a price to pay than “savings”.

And before we wrap things up, a little bit about toppings.
Sprinkles: As pretty as sprinkles are, many companies use food dyes and partially hydrogenated oils to make their sprinkles.  Look for a company called India Tree, their Nature’s Colors use annatto and other natural colorings.
Maraschino Cherries: Red 40 is commonly used to give these cherries their bright color. Tillen Farms makes “Merry Marachino Cherries” free of preservatives or dyes and sweetened with cane sugar.

Fudge Topping: often  contains high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils.   We love Newtree’s Dark Chocolate Noir over ice cream.  At less than 40 calories a tablespoon, with good incredients, this is a “dark side” we’re ok with.

Newtree is offering 1 free Dark Chocolate Noir (good on fruit, ice cream on a spoon) to one of our readers. To be eligible: comment and tell us your favorite ice cream topping and if you have any cows, watchers or topoopy lurking in your freezer. Winner announced Friday, please check back.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Foodtrainers Favorite Healthy Frozen Desserts and Giveaways

Ice creams are a lot like classified ads where “low calorie” or “vegan” can be the equivalent to “water view” and “charming”. In both cases you have to taste or see for yourself. We sent out our Monthly Morsels Newsletter “All Things Ice Cream” today.  In the interest of “seeing for ourselves” we’ve taste tested big, small and local brands. I can assure you our selections are healthy and delicious.

Favorite Pops

Luna and Larry’s Naked Coconut Bliss Bars: there’s a simple ingredient list coconut milk, agave, dried coconut and vanilla extract. And if that’s not enough, Luna and Larry’s are giving coupons for free treats to 3 of our readers (see below for details).

We also love Yasso, tasty Greek yogurt pops with six grams of protein and only 70 calories.

Favorite Sorbet

Steve’s is one of our favorite local brands,  leave it to them to come up with a kombucha-flavored sorbet. Steve’s Red Ginger Kombucha was a huge during our taste tests. Even if you dislike kombucha, you’ll love this. Plus, if you’re in the NYC area Steve’s is giving away 5 flavors to a hungry reader.

Our runner up was Sambazon who makes an antioxidant rich acai sorbet.

Favorite Frozen Bites

Remember Dibs? Well how about dairy and gluten free dips. These little Almond Dream bites have 60 calories for four pieces and come in chocolate and vanilla flavors. Perfect for a “little” something sweet.

Favorite Ice Cream Sandwich
If you’ve given up gluten, that doesn’t mean you’ve given up ice cream sandwiches. Julie’s is here for you with a g free, organic ice cream sandwich that will please gluten eaters too. The true test, my children devoured the leftovers I brought home.

Favorite Real Deal

We’d vote a little of the real thing over gallons of faux froyo. For our number 1 we’re returning to Steve’s their cookie dough ice cream somehow left the office before I could take it home to the kids (another good sign). And, it happens to be from Steve’s dairy free/coconut based selections.

If you can’t find Steve’s we loved Trader Joe’s coconut based Strawberry Ice Cream and Ronnybrook Farm’s Ginger flavor.

Favorite New York City Treats

There are so many contestants vying for  #1 in the NYC froyo battle. For the most part, one taste and we’re back to the apartment where you have to stand on a chair and lean at a 45-degree angle to see the water view. Not good. However, despite our froyo issues in the past we’ve found two winners.
Victory Garden- talk about interesting flavors, we fell in love with Herbal. It’s made with flowers and herbs but tastes almost minty. And better yet? No junk allowed in these swirls.

Treat Petite makes frozen kefir. The pomegranate flavor was our office favorite. They're at 61 Grove Street at 7th Ave S in NYC.

Check back on Wednesday for our Healthy Ice Cream Hall of shame, ingredient red flags and another giveaway. Plus, we’re announcing our Luna and Larry’s and Steve’s winner. Speaking of which to be eligible:

  • Leave us a comment and tell is which giveaway you’d like to be considered for.
  • Or tweet “@Foodtrainers is having a sweet giveaway, free healthy ice cream” about this giveaway
  • Or  tag us on Facebook.
Winners will be announced Friday.
What is your favorite healthy ice cream? Have you tried any of our picks above? Which one has you the most curious?
Taste testing, what we go through for "research"

Friday, June 15, 2012

What Jean-Georges says to do with leftover herbs

Whenever a new calendar comes in the mail for cooking classes or lectures, I scan the roster and purchase tickets for the events that stand out. A few months ago, I noticed that Jean-Georges (Vongerichten), master chef and owner of some of my favorite restaurants, was to teach a class with his son Cedric (of Perry Street), his wife and cooking show host Marja and Cedric’s wife Ochi.  Upon closer inspection I saw the class was being held on June 13, my wedding anniversary. Marc loves Asian cuisine; Vong, Jean-Georges’ Thai restaurant, was one of his favorites before it closed. So even though a cooking class wouldn’t be part of Marc’s dream evening, he was game. He was game until we realized our boys had their “playoff” hockey game the same time as the class. Marc looked at me somewhat concerned and said “I can’t miss the game.” “Of course you can’t miss the game,” I said knowing Marc would choose sports and the boys over any meal, no matter how delicious. And so I spent my fourteenth wedding anniversary with my mother and Jean-Georges.

We arrived almost an hour early for the class to sign in. You’re called in the order you sign in and we didn’t want to be stuck in the back. I guess I forgot I live in a city where people camp out for Shakespeare in the Park tickets and risk losing their jobs to sign up for Soul Cycle. We were 47th on the list and were told people came to sign up at 10am (the list was put out at noon). So you’ll understand the heads in many of my photos.
Marja Vongerichten (in black), Jean-Georges, Ochi, Cedric and rows of people in front of me, sigh.
Aside from one of the best meals of my life, it was a pleasure to see this family in the kitchen together. At the end of the day, fame aside, cooking with your family members and sharing food is fun.

Amuse Bouche of Asparagus with Sesame Seeds and Scotch Bonnet Sauce, sadly I couldn't lick my plate
Hamachi Sashimi with Avocado, Yuzu and Radish, will I ever be able to cut radishes like that? No.
The ingredient of the evening was chili peppers. Here is Jean-George modeling finger chilies. His beautiful and feisty wife Marja arrived for the evening in flats but changed into killer heels. She only cooks in heels.  I loved her before even before I tasted her kimchi fried rice.
Crab Dumplings with Sambal Oelek (Indonesian chili condiment), Marc would've loved
Slow cooked halibut or "halle-boat" as JG calls it, with spring peas
As Cedric and Ochi prepared the Peekytoe Crab dumplings, Jean-Georges delivered a life-changing tip. If you’re like me you buy fresh herbs for an individual recipe. I get thyme for lemon chicken and fresh cilantro for salmon burgers. Inevitably, the leftover herbs sit in the fridge which is really an herbal hospice and eventually they are tossed. There’s a solution. Take the herbs and layer them on a paper towel on a plate. Microwave (yes, Jean-Georges microwaves) them for 2 minutes. When you’re done, viola- dried herbs you can save, blend with salt or sugar.  I had some sage that was passed its prime and put the micro-dry system to the test. I may have stunk up the kitchen (and perhaps dispelled bad energy via sage burning) but I how have sage for meatloaf in my cute little Veev jar.

Dessert (pictured above)  was a Strawberry Tiramisu 
made with Chili-Strawberry Sorbet.
It was a fantastic evening and when I checked by Blackberry, I found out that the boys had won their game. Even though I didn’t spend the evening with my husband, he said “your mom probably got more out of it than I would” and he may be right, I spent the night with 2 dynamic couples. In 14 years I’ve come to realize marriage is about sharing and laughing and also maintaining your interests and honoring your partner’s as well.
Have you been to a Jean-Georges restaurant or used his cookbooks? Do you cook with chili peppers? Are you going to micro-dry? 
More photos of the class on their site here 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

When it comes to sugar substitutes, what about stevia?

Blue, pink, yellow? d) None of the above

Yesterday, The New York Times ran a story entitled “Choosing a Sugar Substitute”. I found the article, like most sweeteners, unsatisfying. We’re told “for any of the sweeteners, one can as easily find a study that offers reassuring analysis of safety as one that enumerates potential alarming side effects.” When it comes to food and nutrition this “jury is still out” reasoning doesn’t work. As far as I’m concerned, the risky results have more clout. The article further tries to ameliorate potential risk by quoting a layperson and self-described “yellow girl” (yellow referring to Splenda affection) saying “hundreds of millions of people swallow food and drinks containing artificial sweeteners and so far, no widespread calamities of health have swept over them. “ I would love to know if yellow girl feels migraines, obesity and cancer are "widespread" enough. I don’t know if she equates danger with immediate death but we’re not talking about snake bites. With toxins, things can take time. Walter Willet expressed “if you smoke cigarettes, the lung cancer risk doesn’t go up for 30 years.”  Trans fats weren’t seen as problematic for 90 years. You can read my thoughts on artificial sweeteners here in “Better Safe Than Sweet

The best way to test a sweetener isn’t always research, where funding can introduce its own bias, but time. Sugar has been used long enough that we know the downside and concerns. Stevia has also been used for centuries in many cultures though only marketed (and approved) in the US recently. I was disappointed the Times article snubbed stevia. It is a plant you can grow in your garden. Detractors will say, “Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe” and this is true but I’ll still take the garden over the lab as a starting point.  I love a brand called NuNaturals, which has no stevia-y aftertaste but also have this local honey and maple syrup in my home. Liquid stevia can seems rather pricy but a small bottle can last months, even a year because it’s much sweeter than sugar. Since it’s much sweeter than sugar, you use it sparingly.

Even the title of the Times piece rubbed me the wrong way. Sweeteners aren’t mandatory. Whether it’s honey or maple or stevia, I don’t believe our food should be doused with sweetness. Sweet begets sweet and the more you have the more you crave. The converse is also true and less sweetness leads to fewer cravings. One “sweetened” item a day is a good guideline. For me, that tends to be my smoothie or an afternoon cardamom cappuccino. So I'm not a blue, pink or yellow girl and truthfully I'm not that sweet.
What sweetener(s) do you use? How many sweetened foods would you estimate you have each day? Have you tried stevia? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Motivation: Eat and Run

Last Tuesday, on the eve of National Running Day (I’ll admit this wasn’t marked on my calendar) Marc and I went to an event for the launch of Scott Jurek’s book Eat and Run. There was a five-mile run before the lecture that we opted out of. Many people did not and as we took our seats in the Society for Ethical Culture, I noted both the lack of air conditioning and the smell of runners. Somehow when you run the smell doesn’t bother you as much. I apologize to all the people I’ve shared subway cars with after races; I totally get it.

My main motivation in attending this talk was the “eating” portion of this book. Scott Jurek is an ultrmarathon champion and also vegan. Marc on the other hand loves hearing about any sports-related challenge. He enjoys Real Sports in HBO, watching the Kona Ironman and basically anything ESPN has to offer. The moderator of the talk was Christopher McDougall, the author of Born to Run. It was difficult to hear (or see) much that went on but I took note when Jurek spoke of running “for the love of it without the promise of reward.” For example, we were told a group of those attending ran 32 miles around the perimeter of Manhattan, the morning of the event, for fun.  I left intrigued with a copy of Eat and Run.

What the lecture lacked the book makes up for.  This isn’t just a book about a guy who runs long distances; it’s a great story. Jurek grew up with a mother with MS and a demanding, unsympathetic father. Sports were in many ways an escape and you see the roots of his mental toughness. Jurek describes the key to his success  “I had a talent for gaining speed when others gave ground, I realized that no matter how much something hurt, I could gut it out.” The book is filled with stories, advice and great quotes:

My favorite, which reminds me of fearless Jen,
Always do what you are afraid to do.
Bernard Shaw

The best dietary advice I found was Jurek’s thoughts on adopting a plant-based diet. “To my delight (and, I admit, surprise), subtracting some things from my diet actually allowed me to expand the number of foods I ate and to discover incredible and delicious new foods.”  Whether gluten free, vegan or raw, people fixate on living without certain things when the key is you can make food interesting from whatever your given choices.

Jurek’s most common pre-race food is almond butter on sprouted bread. I’m happy to say many Foodtrainers’ athletes also favor this (some choosing gluten free bread).  Jurek aims for 300 calories an hour during races but not just calories, good calories (I wish Runner’s World would take note). And there’s no mention of pasta parties and bagels. Jurek eats bean burritos, as I mentioned sprouted bread, quinoa and brown rice.

Jurek started out very much a carnivore but notes
The better I ate, the better I felt. Since going vegan, I had lost the layer of fat-the layer that came with eating the cookies and cakes and Twinkies and cheese pizza that so many omnivores and even vegetarians gulp down.
He mentions recovering better from workouts, increased energy and concentration improved. I think this is a testament not only to veganism but the power of nutrition for performance in sports and life.

I love the sound of this smoothie:
Green Power Drink
(2, 20-ounce servings)
2 bananas
1 cup frozen mango or pineapple chunks
4 cups water
2 teaspoons spirulina powder
1 teaspoon miso
Blend and drink 20-30 ounces 15-45 minutes before a run.

* I would suggest can also drink post run perhaps with vegan protein
Spirulina is an algae said to have been carried into battle by Aztec warriors, also a performance enhancer for long-distance runners, weight loss aid and immune booster. I like the pineapple here, contains a pain-relieving enzyme bromelin. The miso is interesting presumably used for its sodium content.

The only soy I recommend is fermented, as it’s generally easier to digest. Jurek points out something I didn’t know, that miso, tempeh and sprouted tofu also have less phytoestrogen content than other soy. These plant estrogens can function like estrogen.  In terms of new ingredients espoused in the book, I’m looking forward to experimenting with adzuki beans and epazote.

I love to run and eat well and Jurek articulates the joy that can come from each of these pursuits.  More than anything though, I was left with realizing that the greatest tool we all possess isn’t physical strength or a Vitamix (and you know I love my Vitamix).  It’s our inner dialogue and knowing that you can get a second, third or fourth “wind” if you’re willing to gut it out.
We focus on something external to motivate us, but we need to remember that it’s the process of reaching for that prize, not the prize itself-that can bring us peace and joy.
Do you run? Have you ever contemplated an ultramarathon? Do you eat soy? What is it that you are afraid to do?

Friday, June 8, 2012

My Nanny State

A little over ten years ago my older son was born. Like most new parents, Marc and I were completely clueless. Since we both work, hiring a nanny seemed logical. After a series of interviews we foolishly decided to go with the smartest and sharpest of the applicant pool. Every morning smarty-pants would come into work; before she would touch or acknowledge the baby she’d make herself tea and oatmeal. I’m not a timid person but this woman was running the show. I’m embarrassed to say I put up with this insanity for six months until I started to get a clue. I sent an email out to everyone I knew looking for a new nanny and somehow hit the babysitter jackpot.

This go around, our son was there to help us. L* came into our apartment for her interview and he crawled over to her and sat in her lap. This stranger instinctively hugged and kissed him as she’s done for the past nine plus years. Friends of ours have switched babysitters as their children got older but L is a part of our family. Aside from being patient and loving, L is a fantastic cook; my boys love plantains, ackee, saltfish and curry thanks to her. And because I’m such a pain in the ass particular L has learned some things from me as well. She knows that the produce for the house has to be organic, beef grass-fed, water filtered and in glass bottles…and the list goes on. Did I mention L was patient?

I’m going somewhere with all of this. Yesterday, I left the office early to pick up the boys on their last day of school. I came into the apartment, to drop my computer ,and was greeted by this
not my definition of "joy"
My heart started to race, I may as well have been staring at an explosive device “L are you eating McDonalds?” “Yes, just once in a while Lauren, that’s all.” I couldn’t believe the enemy was in my house. “L you really shouldn’t eat it, it’s total junk and you’re so careful about what you eat. Plus, we have a whole fridge of good stuff.” I decided to stop there but 10 minutes later couldn’t help myself  and said, “seriously, McDonalds?” In her kind way she said, “Lauren, you’re making me feel guilty.” In my snarky way I replied, “that’s fine, you should.” Then I thought about it some more. My kids are at school, she feeds them really well, aside from concern or repulsion do I have a say in what she chooses to eat? I don’t think I do but she has horrendous reflux. Hypothetically, if she eats foods that aggravate it and has to miss work, is it my business then? It can get a little complicated but if this was the first time in 10 years, I’m hoping my kids will be in college before it happens again.
What is your take on this? Do employers have a say in what employees eat? Or can you say what isn’t allowed in your home or office? Would it be different if she had it in front of the children?

*even though she eats McDonalds I’ll still protect her privacy.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dinner for Breakfast?

A few weeks ago I had leftover kale and cauliflower from dinner. The recipe is a good one; there are olives and capers it’s full of salty goodness. I made a meal from what was left. This in itself wasn’t strange except for the fact that it was 8:30am. I tweeted about my peculiar morning meal and asked “is it normal to have kale and cauliflower for breakfast?” If we can use twitter as a barometer, it turns out people didn’t think my choice was that unusual. The ultrarunner Sarah Stanley informed me that she tries to have 5-10 vegetables for breakfast.

In other countries savory breakfasts are quite common. In Norway and smoked fish plays a prominent role in breakfast. In Costa Rica there’s Gallo Pinto (rice and beans) often served with eggs. In Japan miso soup and pickled plums are commonly served. It’s been documented that higher protein breakfasts result in lower calories consumed later in the day but there is also evidence that a savory breakfast can also help weight-wise. A study in the May issue of The Journal of Nutrition compared savory and sweet “preloads” or tastes.  There was increased food intake after the sweet preload compared to the savory preload.  The researchers concluded that savory taste might help regulate appetite.
I never could quite understand why breakfast is so often super sweet. Of course Americans are not alone in their predilection for sweet breakfasts, we didn’t invent the pain au chocolat. Nope, we invented fruity pebbles (1971) , pop tarts (1977) and muffins (3oz in 1950, more than doubled since) the size of our heads. While you may not be a full-fledged dinner for breakfast person (our lovely intern Joanna found the Japanese breakfast interesting but added “rice and beans in the morning? I don’t thing I could ever do that!”) what we eat early in the day can affect our food choices later. And whether it’s cereal or soda, most of us can benefit from eating a little less sweet. If we can have breakfast for dinner, why not have dinner foods for breakfast?
Are your breakfasts more often savory or sweet? What are your favorite breakfast foods? Do you ever eat dinner for breakfast? What's the strangest thing you've ever had in the morning?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Should you eat cherries and waterrmelon?

Semi typical bbq spread
As summer approaches, one of the food perks is increasingly exciting fruit. Over Memorial Day weekend, I received a couple of emails from clients wondering “can I eat cherries and watermelon?”  The easy answer, if you’re at let’s say a barbeque is if you’re choosing between cherries or watermelon and this
then let’s be sensible, fruit is always the healthier pick. This seems obvious but if cherries and watermelon are mentally categorized as “all sugar” things get confusing.  If we’re comparing “apples to apples” or in this case cherries to apples, how do we judge a fruit and which are best to eat?

When you’re at a market or farm stand, if everything isn’t organic you want to choose wisely.  Many of your berries are on the dirty dozen list. Cherries are higher pesticide and really should be purchased organic. Watermelon on the other hand is a member of the “Clean 15” a low pesticide fruit. If organic isn’t an option, watermelon is one of your best choices. If you're unconvinced about organic, plug a few favorite fruits into this site; they list pesticides and type (carcinogen, endocrine disrupter the appetizing list goes on) it's eye opening to say the least. 
Score 1 for watermelon.

Another gauge for fruits is ORAC a measure of antioxidants. While cherries don’t have an ORAC score as high as blueberries or blackberries, they have a commendable 3747. Watermelon comes in at 140. These scores are per 100 grams of food so the water content of watermelon works against it here.
Cherries a winer here.

Calories, Fiber, Sugar
All fruit is fairly low in calories. Watermelon and strawberries are some of the lowest with cherries and grapes almost double in calories. Fiber all stars include raspberries and blackberries with 8 grams per cup. Cherries have 3 and watermelon only 1 gram. For me, this is a drawback of these fruits. Fiber helps promote satiety and regularity. I advise clients to keep lower fiber fruits for snacks; at breakfast higher fiber choices are preferable to start your day. Another great measure for foods is Glycemic Load (different from glycemic index as it takes into account commonly consumed portions). Most non-dried fruits are low GL (less than 10). Grapes, bananas and cherries are higher and watermelon, apples and strawberries are less than 5 or very low.
Watermelon lower in calories and Glycemic Load.
Cherries have slightly more fiber.

Bragging Rights
With Father’s day approaching, if you’re stumped on what to get for dad (or your husband, father in law, grandfather etc.), you may want to consider watermelon . Watermelon contains more lycopene than tomatoes making it my #1 prostate health food. Cherries have their own reasons to brag. Cherries and more potently cherry juice is on par with aspirin as a pain reliever. It’s useful for pain from both gout and exercise and has been tested in studies with athletes. Cherries also have notable melatonin content.

So, are watermelon and cherries good to eat? They are, they’re both healthy. If you’re actively trying to lose weight I would choose watermelon over cherries. And just for a reminder with all the delicious summer fruit, in the name of knowledge is power it is possible to overfruit.
Are you a cherry and watermelon eater or are you "sugary fruit"phobic? What are your favorite fruits and approximately how much fruit do you have a day?  Any fruits you limit? For extra credit who said “knowledge is power”?
“Googling is cheating”
 Lauren Slayton
 nutritionist, googler and hypocrite
Our contribution to baseball snack this weekend (watermelon). The next day someone brings doughnuts to game with some silly "Bloomberg says these are ok" disclaimer/joke, not funny.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Relax, it's not really even a soda ban.

Source: Grist
In case you haven't heard, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed what some are referring to as a soda ban in NYC.  Bloomberg has suggested that movie theaters, restaurants, stadiums and food carts limit soda size to 16 ounces. Bodegas and markets will continue to sell sodas of all sizes. While it's hard to believe that 16 ounces (over a can’s worth) of soda is limiting even more alarming to me is the degree of pushback this is receiving. Our government has decided BPAs are safe, it permits food dyes banned in other countries and has yet to notify the public when our food is genetically modified. So when someone takes food seriously and tries to enact positive change, I'm going to support it.

A little background, half the US population over two years old consumes sugary drinks daily and these beverages account for approximately 8% of our calorie intake. The average male teen gets close to 20 teaspoons a day from soda. We would find it strange if you ordered wine in a restaurant and the waiter poured the whole bottle into your glass but this

 is totally acceptable. We’ve learned from Brian Wasink’s research that intake is highly dependent on the size of the food presented. Of course the Beverage Association sees no problem with soda and had this to say, “It's time for serious health professionals to move on and seek solutions that are going to actually curb obesity. These zealous proposals just distract from the hard work that needs to be done on this front."

Nice attempt at passing the buck, this sounds like my children arguing,  “I didn’t do it, he did it”.  I’m a serious expert, or at least an expert, who would love to get more involved as would many of my collegagues. I’ve written about soda and sugar extensively. How about they make smallersize their nasty (told you I wasn’t “serious”) sodas and experts can educate and discuss why this and other ways to limit sugar is important. Obesity and simply better health needs everyone’s cooperation. Speaking of which, the first National Soda Summit, organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest is being held in DC next week, if you’re looking to learn more that sounds like a good start.

Aside from the beverage industry, there’s also the nanny state objection-that government shouldn’t tell us what to eat.  I’m sorry to say but they already are (see image above for a little refresher) and that’s why sodas are the size of a bottle of Clorox bleach and for many people fresh vegetables are unaffordable. The Atlantic, in an especially whiny piece, suggested that the focus should be on access to healthy food versus banning. How about both? Measures should be taken to increase access to wholesome food and decrease the size of sodas, nobody is taking soda away. The truth is, the power of the soda people may thwart Bloomberg’s plans to have the Department of Health pass this. Talk about politics, if I’m choosing a “nanny” I would take Bloomberg over the Beverage Association any day. And if you think we, as a country, don't need a nanny- what do you propose?
Are you in favor of or against Bloomberg's proposal? Do you think it will pass? 
love me a good infographic