Thursday, November 26, 2009

How to avoid blowing up (like a balloon) on Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving morning and here I am at the computer (what can I say? I’m thankful for technology). I am due for my Foodtrainers’ 31st Grade Reading Journal entry in which, like my second grader, I write about the book I am currently reading. I could take the easy way out and say “no homework” it’s a holiday but I’m taking the easy way out, in another way. Instead of writing about the book I’m reading “Eating Animals” which is just not appropriate on turkey day, I’m going to tell you about one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time.

In “Food, Kin and Tension at Thanksgiving” (in this Tuesday’s NYT) Tara Parker-Pope perfectly captures how challenged family relationships find their way into our food. Parker-Pope writes “the combination of food and family often brings out longstanding tensions, criticism and battles for control.” I have been discussing these concepts with Foodtraininers’ clients this week and last. Many clients, on a typical day, make good food choices and work to keep themselves healthy but are thrown off today. And it’s not the allure of stuffing or pumpkin pie.

At Thanksgiving, many are confronted with what I refer to as the family food pusher. This person takes great pleasure in seeing other people eat what they cooked, or even dishes they had nothing to do with. The food pusher is the enemy for someone trying to lose weight. Parker-Pope quotes an eating disorders specialist who had a patient “whose mother scolded her for not eating her homemade cookies…as a result, the daughter relented and took a cookie. But when she then reached for a second, her mother scolded her again.” This time, the mother was upset with the daughter needed a second cookie.

Many of these comments, no matter how hurtful, are not surprises. My husband often asks me “if this happens every year, why don’t you change your expectations?” Easier said than done but, as you make your way to the Thanksgiving table today, mentally prepare yourself. Who is it that can make you uncomfortable? In what way to they express themselves? Is there anyone else in the family you can recruit as an ally? And what might you say as if someone comments on your weight or your eating or your children’s eating? Make a game plan for your eating so that your anxiety doesn’t lead you straight into the cheese plate. And try to exercise this morning. Remember, as one of my clients said “my sister may not be my friend but stuffing isn’t either!”

Read the full article at:

Any fun Thanksgiving food stories to share?

Monday, November 23, 2009

In Session: Local Apples

My plan for today was to write a post about eating local. I did a segment on NBC Friday night, with Chuck Scarborough, about going local and locavores for NBC’s Green Week. I was going to tell you about it and post the video clip from the segment. And it’s not that I don’t have convincing reasons why everyone should eat local foods and support local farmers but I’ll save that for another day. Today, I want to write about something even more local, something that happened in my own office.

My husband always jokes “don’t people know what to eat” and my reply is “you tell me, do you know what to eat? And do you always eat it?” The truth is, most of us know what to eat until life gets in the way. I have a longtime client, who of course will remain nameless for this post, we’ll call her C. C first came to me when I had a luxurious (wink wink), subterranean office at a fitness club we’ll call E. My memory tells me it was around 2000, though it could have been 1999. Over the years, C and I have talked a lot about food journals and calories but we’ve also laughed (negotiating the number of margaritas she could have on a New Mexico vacation) and cried a lot too.

C has known me through 2 pregnancies, the opening of Foodtrainers and the loss of my father. In the time I’ve known C she has bravely battled breast cancer, purchased a new home and devoted more and more time to her painting. One thing that’s been steady, over these past 9 or 10 years, has been C’s employment at a large company (that, you guess it, will remain nameless too). That is, it was steady until October of this year when I received an email from C asking for an early appointment, she didn’t need to work late because she was let go.

I can remember where I was (on Columbus Avenue outside the shop Greenstones) when I talked to C about her breast cancer and I remember staring at my computer screen, frozen, when I read the news about C’s work. Even in the midst of all of this C had her humor “the good news” she wrote “is that I’m too nauseous to eat.” It took me a few hours to muster up a, far from eloquent, reply but I know I wrote something about her focusing on her painting and some other comments trying to cushion the blow.

Today C showed up for her 1pm appointment. I rushed to the waiting room to find out about the mammogram she had earlier today (it was clean!!) but she was preoccupied with a package she was holding “I have a present for you, I was cleaning out my office, you can open it but WE’RE NOT CRYING TODAY, OK?” I unwrapped the present and saw the most beautiful painting and my new favorite, local apples. With Thanksgiving a few days away, I want to say that I’m thankful for C. and thankful for all of my clients. Clients often come in to talk about food and nutrition but end up sharing so much more. So thank you C from the bottom of my heart.
And if any of you are still interested in hearing a bit about local foods, here is the video clip.

What are you thankful for?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Veggie Stepchild

As we head into December, something is about to start and it’s pretty exciting. I’m not talking Christmas, Hanukah or even winter….are you stumped? I’ll end the suspense (unless the photo already did). Folks we are embarking on peak cauliflower season which lasts until March. We all have our families and cauliflower belongs to the cruciferous family of vegetables which includes broccoli, cabbage, kale and collards. However, while many of us will be serving our children broccoli today and kale makes us feel virtuous eating it- when was the last time you showed cousin cauliflower any love?

I asked Market Melissa to make a case for cauliflower. She pointed out that cauliflower is a protector. It contains a phytochemical called sulforaphane which takes toxins, that normally turn cancerous, and sweeps them away. And cauliflower isn’t demanding, to reap cauliflower’s benefit you only need 3 (1-cup) servings per week! Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C (think immunity), folate, and dietary fiber and has only 25 calories per cup. I can’t vouch for your family but if in my midst was someone who protects me, doesn’t demand a lot of me and helps me stay thin…..well I think we should all reconsider cauliflower.

Try mashed cauliflower for a healthy comfort food, or roast cauliflower and toss with pine nuts or enjoy in crudité with your favorite hummus or salsa. Here is a link to another great recipe for Roasted Cauliflower, also known as ‘Cauliflower Candy’ Enjoy!

P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say one more thing. I had the great pleasure of chaperoning a kindergarten trip to the Union Square Green market this week. We had a scavenger hunt and one of the children’s questions asked them “how many colors of cauliflower are sold at the market?” My group raced over to the cauliflower stand and correctly answered the question (3 colors) and then politely posed for a photo next to the cauliflower……at which point, almost in unison, they sneered and said “the cauliflower smells.” And so, like all family members with many good qualities, it seems nobody’s perfect.

What other veggie stepchildren are there? Any cauliflower creations you’d like to share?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Foodtrainers 31st grade reading journal: The Jungle Effect

For those of you who missed last week, I am adopting my second grader’s assignment to read for 20 minutes a night. For accountability and because most of my reading is food-related I plan to blog about my reading once a week. I have to admit that I am not blogging about the book I am actually reading this week. I happen to be reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran but just can’t post my thoughts on this book the week before Thanksgiving. For something more appropriate, I  picked a book I read recently called The Jungle Effect by Daphne Miller.

The Jungle Effect presents the value and wisdom of traditional diets around the world. Dr Miller chose certain areas of the world that seem to be “cold spots” for disease and examined their diets. Copper Canyon in Mexico was chosen as a cold spot for diabetes, Crete for extremely low incidence of heart disease, Iceland for low, low levels of depression, Cameroon for scant colon cancer and Okinawa as a cold spot for breast and prostate cancer.

It’s interesting to see the overlap in certain of these diets. Reading the book I also thought about my family’s traditions and the live-habits my children would adopt. Here are some of my “clippings”, as my kindle calls them, from the Jungle Effect:

“Food is a powerful medicine. After all, it is the medicine that most of us take willingly at least three times a day without skipping a dose.”
So many of us are concerned with what we shouldn’t eat. This book highlighted the foods to seek out and the importance of taking time and effort to obtain and prepare these foods.
“When cholesterol-lowering medications were compared head-to-head with a diet like the Mediterranean diet (plus 30 minutes of exercise four to five days a week) they both had similar benefits in terms of preventing heart disease.”
I don’t think many Americans would believe this to be the case. Dr Miller points out diet should at least me the first weapon used (before resorting to medication).

“Virtually every cold spot culture I discuss in this book places a huge emphasis on communal eating.”
This is so often overlooked as we fixate on what we eat, how we eat matters a great deal.

Countries with low fish consumption have highest rates of depression. Aim for 3 servings of low mercury fish per week or a fish oil supplement daily.

• Black and green tea contains numerous health benefits including anti-depressant capability. And with Thanksgiving looming have to point out potatoes are also mood boosters.

Fermented foods (such as miso and sauerkraut play an important role in many cold spot diets. Another group of foods worth considering are prebiotics. Foods containing prebiotics raise the amount of good bacteria in the gut. Jerusalem artichokes, leeks and chicory are all in this category.

The Jungle Effect also contains shopping lists from each country with native ingredients, recipes by region and cooking tips for working with some, perhaps unfamiliar, ingredients.

Learn more about the Jungle Effect at

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thanksgiving Training

This week clients will come in and we’ll most likely discuss their Thanksgiving plans. Will they be hosting? Traveling? Are they in charge of bringing anything? I find a lot of nutrition advice for Thanksgiving focuses on the calories in various components of the meal. While it’s important to know that stuffing and sweet potatoes are caloric, I think most people already know this. In my opinion, it’s not so much the foods we eat for Thanksgiving but the way we eat them (plates piled high) and the number of days we eat them for. And so I offer my 5  Thanksgiving training tips:

1. Take Sides! Volunteer now to bring a veggie side dish. I was meeting with a client last night and asked what she brings to Thanksgiving and she said “I am the cupcake girl.” While I am sure her cupcakes are delicious they don’t help her weight loss goal. I told her she should be the Brussels sprouts or green bean girl instead. Cooking a veggie side dish is a great way to test new recipes and it also, selfishly, ensures a healthy component in the meal.

2. Whatever way you slice it, Thanksgiving is a heavy meal. Plan for this by exercising 30 minutes, minimum, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Most gyms are open Thanksgiving Day and spinning or running a great use of your day off. No gym? No need to worry, your 30 minutes can be walking outside or dancing while you get dressed. Try to recruit other family members and make it a new tradition.

3. I was watching Ina Garten, on the Food Network, fielding Thanksgiving-related questions on her show. One question was what to serve before sitting down to Thanksgiving Dinner. Ina said keep it simple before the meal and advised not serving guests too much. I couldn’t agree more (maybe for different reasons). If you are hosting, shrimp cocktail, crudite and a dip and olives are all nice, lighter choices. If you are a guest, minimize your nibbles, you can easily eat a typical dinner’s worth of calories in hors d’oeuvres.

4. There is a Japanese saying “hara hachi bunme” that translates to eat until you are 80 percent full. One of their traditions is not to be stuffed. In my opinion, Thanksgiving is a time to samplein foods you may not have at other times of the year. Compose your plate with small portions of treat foods but bear in mind a one plate rule. You would never ask for second helpings at a restaurant, practice “hara hachi bunme” and aim to be satisfied but not stuffed.

5. Thanksgiving is one day, Thursday, not Thursday until you go back to work on Monday. If you are a leftover person stick to Turkey, veggies even cranberry sauce. Keep pie and stuffing to holiday itself. I have one client who has pretty containers and makes care packages for guests to bring home.

Any healthy holiday habits you want to share?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Foodtrainers: 31st Grade Reading Journal

At back-to-school night, for my second grader, the teachers explained that each child was to read for 20 minutes nightly and keep a reading log. Rather than fixating on the inevitable nudging I would have to do to ensure compliance with this, I was jealous. I always loved the structure of being a student. I liked the accountability of having to do certain work by a certain time and the feeling of accomplishment that came with completing it. And so to channel my jealousy, I have decided I too will read for (at least) 20 minutes per night. I promise not to bore you with daily entries. Rather, I will summarize some of my highlights in a weekly post. Welcome to the first entry in my 31st grade reading journal.

One of the first books I uploaded to my kindle was a book called Spent. Spent is a book in which tips are offered on everything from posture to pesticides in the hope of feeling better and….less spent.

Spent: Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Feel Great Again by Frank Lipman (like my second grader, I do know book titles should be underlined but cannot accomplish this on Blogger....maybe my next book read should be about blogging).

• One great suggestion in Spent is for those of us who spend much of our day sitting. Dr Lipman advises a break every hour or two. Walk around, go outside, “these little breaks are potent healers. They get us breathing and the blood moving again.”

• Another good reminder was to take your shoes off when entering the house. “Most dirt, pesticides and lead come in on your shoes.” If you are resistant to do this, another option is to place floor mats near the door
• And Dr Lipman advises us to ask dry cleaners to skip the plastic wrap. “Plastic wrap traps the dry-cleaning chemicals on clothes.” And let your dry cleaning air out before storing it
• And finally a great smoothie recipe Greeno Mojito Avocado Smoothie:
¼ avocado, 3-4 tablespoons vanilla or plain whey protein powder, 2 teaspoons greens powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, juice of 1 lime. Blend all ingredients add filtered water to thin or ice cubes to thicken.
I like that the focus of Spent is not on weight loss or getting leaner but on very manageable steps to improve how you feel.

Have you read this book or any other interesting wellness books? Any tidbits you’d like to share?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Market Melissa: Pumpkin Passion

Melissa O'Shea (aka Market Melissa) tackles Pumpkin.

On Market Foodtraining tours, I encourage participants to buy one new fruit or vegetable each time they are at the farmers’ market or supermarket. What inevitably happens is that I then receive questions such as “what does one do with purple kale?” I decided it would be fun to pick a vegetable, pretend I am the client, and see what I could find. Since Halloween was only a few days ago and Thanksgiving is right around the corner, pumpkin was the first veggie to come to mind.

Pumpkins (a winter squash) are loaded with beta-carotene which is a potent antioxidant and a precursor for Vitamin A (needed for healthy vision). One cup of cooked pumpkin has only50 calories, 3 grams of fiber and zero grams of fat. And don’t discard the seeds, they are loaded with protein, healthy fats and zinc, which is good for immunity.

When cooking, pumpkin certainly isn’t just for pumpkin pie! Try adding pumpkin puree to oatmeal or bread mixes, toasting some pumpkin seeds and adding them to salads, or carving into the pumpkin flesh and using it in soups or roasting it in the oven and enjoying it as a side dish.

To broaden my pumpkin horizons, I made two recipes this weekend. First, a Pumpkin & Butternut Squash Soup and then a Turkey Pumpkin Chili. Both were delicious and easy to make. You’ll Find the Chili Recipe below, which I adapted from a few that I found in my search.

Turkey & Pumpkin Chili

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound ground extra lean turkey meat
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their liquid (I like Bionaturae)
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée (not sweetened pumpkin pie mix)
1 cup water
1 Tbsp chili powder
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp cumin
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of salt
Dash of pepper
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can white beans, rinsed and drained

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Place turkey in pot and cook until brown with a little bit of the garlic. Stir in onion and cook until tender.
Pour water in pot. Mix in tomatoes, pumpkin, beans and garlic. Season with rest of ingredients (chili powder, paprika, oregano, cayenne pepper, cumin, cinnamon, salt, pepper). Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Simmer longer for a thicker consistency.

Do you have a favorite pumpkin recipe to share?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Flu-flighting Food

Whether you’re pro flu shot or against, whether you lean toward the swine flu shot or the regular flu shot it’s hard to escape the concern over this season’s bugs. Rather than panicking about the flu, why not take action to keep yourself and your family healthy? After all, the best defense may be to protect yourself from the inside out. We’ve found, on our Market Foodtraining tours, participants are very curious about natural flu-fighters, so we’re sharing our 4 favorites:

1. White Tea
Everyone knows about black tea and more recently green tea but if you’re interested in immunity white tea is your beverage. White tea is much less processed than green tea and this results in a higher antioxidant content; white tea is a better bacteria and virus fighter than other teas. It’s also lower in caffeine and less bitter than green tea. Do not add milk to your tea though, casein a protein in milk binds to some of the phytochemicals and makes the tea less effective. Try for 2-4 cups a day. I love the Republic of Tea  and Harney brands.

2. Red Bell Peppers
Chances are when you think of foods high in Vitamin C you think citrus fruits. Red peppers actually have more than double the Vitamin C of a large orange. Vitamin C is important because it increases levels of interferon. Interferon is an antibody that coats cell surfaces (think of it like cell armor) preventing the entry of viruses. Vitamin C is also found in broccoli, parsley, kiwi and melon. Aim for 2 fruits and 2 vegetables per day as many fruits and vegetables contain Vitamin C.

3. Pumpkin Seeds
If you still have your pumpkins, do not toss the seeds. Pumpkin seeds are loaded with zinc. Zinc is needed to make the immune system’s t cells and zinc increases our number of white blood cells. Zinc is actually not common in many fruits and vegetables so you can eat a healthy diet and not get enough zinc. Zinc is abundant in many animal foods so vegetarians, in particular, need to seek out sources of zinc. Oysters, crab and legumes are other non-meat zinc sources.
If you are pumpkin-less you can purchase pumpkin seeds, I really like a brand called Gerbs.

4. Yogurt and Kefir
Yogurt and Kefir contain probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria that live in our intestines and support our immune systems. Our digestive tract is actually our largest immune organ and what goes on in there is a good indication of what is going on with your immunity in general. Probiotics occur in other naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, natural pickles and miso.Look for yogurts with lactobacillus or bifidobacteria on the ingredient panel, there’s also a great kid’s product called Pro Bugs.

And finally watch alcohol and sugar, each of these makes you more vulnerable to the flu. As little as a couple of tablespoons of sugar can decrease immune function by 40 percent!

What are your favorite immune boosters? Any tricks you’d like to share?