Jan 28, 2010

Breakfast Ideas

You always hear that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day." That may or may not be true, but research does show that people who eat breakfast are less likely to overeat later in the day, and that they tend to eat healthier overall.  So yes, eating breakfast is a good idea.

But don't be intimidated: you don't have to sit down to a large meal, eat breakfast-y food, or give up your quick morning routine to be considered a Breakfast Eater.  Eating breakfast just means getting something into your body within 1-2 hours of waking up.  Here are some examples of healthy breakfasts, all between 200-300 calories (approx) each:

If you like breakfast, but you're in a hurry in the morning, try these on-the-go options:
  • Spread 1 dollop peanut butter on a whole wheat tortilla, layer with sliced apples or bananas, and roll into a burrito
  • 1 Luna bar (Nutz Over Chocolate is my fave) + 1 large orange
  • Small baggie of whole grain cereal (try Kashi Heart-to-Heart or Barbara's Cinnamon Puffins) + 6oz container of yogurt (for good yogurts, see my yogurt post)
  • 5oz container 0% Greek yogurt w/ small handful dried cranberries & chopped walnuts
  • 1 hard boiled egg + 1 piece whole grain toast (try Milton's 100% whole wheat, Milton's Healthy Dark, or When Pigs Fly whole wheat)
  • Good old PB+J on whole wheat (eat half for breakfast, half for mid-morning snack)
  • Glass of low-fat chocolate milk + 15 almonds
  • 2 Kashi GoLean frozen waffles, toasted
  • Breakfast burrito made with 1 steamed egg (scramble an egg in a mug and microwave 45-60 seconds or until fluffy), 1/4 cup reduced-fat cheddar, 2 Tbsp salsa
  • Quesadilla made with 2 corn tortillas and 1/4 cup reduced-fat cheese, toasted in toaster oven then pressed together
  • Kashi TLC Crunchy Granola Bar (Toasted Almond and Pumpkin Spice Flax are both delish) + cup of coffee with milk
If you stop at a coffee shop on your way to work/school: 
  • Starbucks Tall Nonfat Latte (unsweetened, or sweetened w/ 1 pkt sugar or Splenda) + 1/2 an Eight grain roll
  • Starbucks spinach-tomato-egg wrap + Tall coffee with low-fat milk
  • Dunkin Donuts Egg white-veggie flatbread + small coffee w/ low-fat milk
  • Dunkin Donuts glazed donut + small nonfat latte (please note: I do not suggest you eat donuts for breakfast, but if you're already going to eat something at Dunkin' Donuts, it's one of the lower-calorie options, and if it prevents you from binging at lunch then go for it)
  • Coffee Bean Medium Sugar-Free Vanilla or Mocha Ice Blended
  • Coffee Bean Medium Sugar-Free Tea Latte
  • McDonald's Egg McMuffin w/ no butter + small coffee
  • McDonald's Medium Nonfat Latte w/ 2 pkts sugar
  • Jamba Juice 12oz Sunrise Strawberry yogurt blend (ask for 3 scoops ice if you want it thick like a regular Jamba smoothie)
  • Jamba Juice oatmeal with fruit topping
If you "aren't a breakfast person," try bringing one of these to eat when you get to work:
  • 16 Kashi TLC crackers + 2 wedges Laughing Cow Light cheese
  • Large orange + 1 string cheese
  • 2 pieces smoked salmon + 1 Tbsp light cream cheese + 7 Reduced-Fat Triscuits
  • 2 slices deli turkey breast, cut into strips and wrapped around carrot sticks
  • 2 individual containers applesauce + 10 walnut halves
  • Apple slices dipped in 1 individual container Kozy Shack chocolate pudding
  • 1 SoyJoy bar + large apple
  • Small carton of low-fat chocolate milk 
  • 1/2 Avocado with dollop of salsa
If you like to sit down to breakfast in the morning, but need some new ideas:
  • 2 Kashi GoLean waffles spread with 1 tsp peanut butter each, topped w/ sliced bananas
  • 1 whole wheat English Muffin with 1/2 cup cottage cheese and sliced tomatoes
  • 1/2 whole wheat bagel with 1 Tbsp Light cream cheese and 1 tsp fruit preserves
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese layered with 1 cup berries, drizzled with honey & 2 Tbsp chopped nuts
  • Bowl of 1 cup plain nonfat yogurt, 1 cup chopped fruit (try thawed frozen mango in winter) and 1/4 cup granola
  • 2 poached eggs w/ 1 sliced whole wheat toast spread w/ 1 tsp Smart Balance Light
  • Banana Oat Smoothie (click here for recipe)
  • Berry Smoothie, made with 1 1/2 cups frozen berries + 1/2 cup plain yogurt + 1/2 cup soy milk
  • 2 corn tortillas topped with 1/4 cup reduced-fat cheese, melted in microwave or skillet and topped with salsa and chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup (dry) oat bran cereal, microwaved with 1 cup water then topped with sliced banana, drizzle of honey, and 1/2 cup vanilla soymilk
  • Homemade McMuffin - 1 toasted whole wheat English Muffin +1 steamed egg (scramble an egg in a mug and microwave 45-60 seconds or until fluffy) +1 slice 2% American or Cheddar Cheese + 2 tomato slices
  • 1 piece whole wheat sourdough toast with 1 Tbsp light cream cheese, cucumber slices, and few pieces smoked salmon

Jan 27, 2010

Re-thinking Dinner

If you've been trying to eat healthier this 2010 but can't bear the thought of another salad, how about an omelet for dinner?  This traditional brunch item can be just as healthy as a salad, but a nice change of pace when you're craving something warm and hearty in the winter.

Simply heat 1 tsp olive oil in a small skillet.  Cut up whatever veggies you have around and saute with some salt & pepper.  Here I sliced 3 asparagus spears, a few mushrooms, green onions and let those cook a few minutes, then added 2 handfuls of baby spinach.  (Looks like a warm salad, doesn't it?)

While that's sizzling away, scramble one extra large egg (or 1 large egg + 1 egg white) with 2 Tbsp lowfat milk in a bowl.  Remove veggies to a plate, add another 1/2 tsp of olive oil to the skillet, then pour egg mixture in and roll around until the top starts to solidify (heat should be on med-low).  Sprinkle some low-fat cheese on top if you want:

Then just pile the veggies on the egg, and using a spatula (or two if you want to make it pretty), gently fold one half over the other.

Plate up with a piece of whole wheat toast (if you're like me and must have some hearty carbs with every meal) and you've got yourself a balanced meal that feels like a relaxing Sunday brunch!

Jan 26, 2010

Food Rules

I've mentioned Michael Pollan's Food Rules book a few times, but it is so in line with my nutrition & food philosophies that I just have to give it more attention.  So for the next few months, I'll be posting intermittently about some of the rules and how to apply them (realistically) in your life.  

I have lots of favorites when it comes to the "rules," but this is one of them:   
It's not food if it's called the same thing in every language (Think Big Mac, Cheetos, Pringles).

Seriously, this stuff is not food, it's a collection of edible substances created by someone in a lab.  Gross!  (Not to say you should never eat these foods if you love them, but once in a great while should really be the goal).

Jan 22, 2010

Become an Expert Grocery Shopper

Walking into a grocery store can be so overwhelming.  You're hungry, tired, don't know what to make, not sure what you have at home, and there are often 20,000 items to choose from.  It's no wonder you feel like running home and ordering takeout.  Here are a few basics to make shopping easier:
  1. PLAN BEFORE YOU GO - Think about what want to eat (consider meals at home, school/work lunches, and on-the-go snacks).  Then do an inventory of your fridge & pantry, so you don't overbuy or forget something you thought you had.  When you plan meals, try to plan things with overlapping ingredients, so you save money and waste less food.
  2. MAKE A LIST AND STICK TO IT - Your list is your guide through the grocery store; it will help you avoid "impulse buys" (which are never healthy) and also prevent you from blowing your budget.
  3. DON'T SHOP HUNGRY - The reason for this is obvious: you'll end up with a cart full of Cheez-its and M&M's. If you have to shop after work, or when you know you'll be hungry, keep some small snacks in your purse or glove compartment (individually-packed nuts, dried fruit, or granola bars) so you can kill the hunger pangs before walking into the store.
Here are some more great tips for How to Be A Highly Effective Grocery ShopperAnd if you're interested, some grocery store history and trivia.

Jan 21, 2010

Easy Pizza

I got this pizza idea from an unlikely source (sorry Linds!) -- my good friend Lindsay :)  She is in the process of becoming a whiz in the kitchen, and the pizza I had at her house recently was fab:

1 refrigerated pizza dough (try TJ's whole wheat)
3/4 bunch asparagus, trimmed & sliced into smaller pieces
4 thin slices prosciutto, torn or chopped
1-2 cups Italian cheese blend, mozzarella, or Parmesan cheese
Sprinkling of pine nuts
(I also added lots of fresh basil & drizzle of olive oil)

Let the dough sit at room temperature for at least 15 min before you stretch it out onto a baking sheet coated with cooking spray or olive oil.  Then stretch out dough and pile on the toppings.  Bake at 475 for 10-14 min or until cheese is browned and dough is crusty on the edges.  Let sit 5 min before slicing.
To make vegetarian, replace prosciutto with Greek olives or artichoke heart quarters.

Jan 20, 2010

Roasted Veggies

If you don't like a particular vegetable, or are not sure if you like it, try it roasted Roasting makes every vegetable super tasty--even broccoli, spinach, or celery, veggies you wouldn't necessarily think of putting in the oven.
     Not clear on what roasting is?  It's baking at a high temperature -- like 400 or above.  How to roast most veggies: toss with a little olive oil and generous sprinkle of salt & pepper, lay out in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast at 425 or 450 until the edges of the veggies are brown & a little crispy, and the insides are soft.  The timing will depend on what veggie you're roasting.  Some examples:
  • Asparagus: 12-15 min
  • Broccoli florets: 17-20 min
  • Cauliflower florets: 35-40 min
  • Chopped kale or other greens: 3-6 min
  • Zucchini chunks: 30-35 min
  • Butternut Squash chunks: 30-35 min
  • Snap Peas: 10-12 min
  • Fingerling potatoes: 30-35 min
  • Sweet potato chunks: 30-40 min
  • Frozen corn (rinse kernels under hot water to thaw first, drain well): 12-15 min
  • Apple or pear chunks (not a veg, but yes, roast them!): 15-20 min
  • Garbanzo Beans (not a veg, but yes, roast them!): 20 min
  • Tofu cubes (not a veg, but toss with your fave sauce & roast it!): 20-30 min
....and the list of yummy things to roast goes on.  Some other roasting tips:
  • Make sure all your veggie chunks are the same size, so they're done cooking at the same time.
  • Don't overload the baking sheet -- a single layer is key for the veggies to brown.  If you overload, the veggies will steam each other and you'll get a big pile of mush.
  • Amount of olive oil you use is up to you, but to get the vegetables to brown/caramelize, they need to be well-coated.  Not swimming in oil, but coated.  This will also prevent sticking.
  • Lay a piece of foil (shiny side down) on your baking sheet to reduce clean-up time.
  • Sprinkle dried herbs of any kind along with your salt & pepper to boost flavor of the veggies.
  • Experiment with different kinds of salts & peppers -- these can bring out different flavors in the veggies.  And don't skimp on the salt--it makes all the difference in the taste of the veggies.
  • Try adding some minced garlic to the olive oil before you toss the veggies in it--your house will smell divine, and you'll think you've become a gourmet cook!

 Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with dried thyme

My new favorite thing to roast: chopped greens.  Toss with olive oil and minced garlic,
then roast for 6-8 minutes until the edges are crispy.  So good!!

Jan 19, 2010

Herb Bread

Not everyone's up for bread-making, but if you are, here's a delicious loaf:

1 1/2 cups warm water
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp sea or kosher salt (1 tsp if using table salt)
3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 cups wheat bran (or use 1 cup oat bran, whole wheat flour, or rye flour)
1 Tbsp dried Rosemary & Thyme, or other herbs of choice (or 2-3 Tbsp fresh finely chopped herbs)
1 packet active yeast (2 1/4 tsp)

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.  When everything is combined (and your arm is tired!), remove dough to a floured surface and knead for about 5 min.  Return to bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and place in a warm spot for 1-2 hrs or until dough as doubled in size. 
       Punch down (really, sock it to the dough) then reshape into a 9 x 5 loaf pan, sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.  Cover with towel and let rise again for an hour.  Bake at 425 for 10 min, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for additional 30 min, or until loaf sounds hollow when you knock on the top.  Let bread cool directly on cooling rack for an hour before slicing (or at least 20 min if you are dying to sink your teeth into a hot piece with butter).
    Note: you can also do this in a mixer or food processor with the dough hook attachment -- the machine will do the mixing and kneading for you.  Just let it rise right in the bowl and put in loaf pan for 2nd rise.


Jan 17, 2010

Making Dinner with "nothing" in the fridge

Just because you haven't been to the store doesn't mean you can't eat dinner at home.  Having a few frozen veggies, an egg or two, some random things in jars, and a bread item of some sort, means you can throw together a tasty dinner in a flash.  Really.  Here's what we had last night:

Corn tortillas, broiled for 2 min in the toaster oven with a few old clumps of goat & cheddar cheese
Frozen spinach mixed with a handful of fresh chopped kale that was starting to wilt
The rest of some salsa mixed with 1/2 can black beans & 2 pieces leftover chopped grilled zucchini
1/2 pkt leftover pre-cooked rice from a packet
A fried egg, tomato slices, and about 6 leaves of old-but-still-good cilantro (literally) on top

Not fancy, but it was really good.  And free.  And utilized food that would have gone bad.  You can do this too!

Jan 15, 2010

How Can I Tell if a Product is REALLY Whole Grain?

Figuring out whether your bread, pasta, cereal, etc is really whole grain can be tough, because there are so many terms & words used on packaging to make you think a product is healthy, even if it's not.  Here are some of the most common terms defined, to help you make an informed decision about what products to buy:
100% Whole Grain
  • No refined grains or refined flour was used
  • Means product has fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and slows digestion so that you stay full for longer, and end up eating less.
  • If something is 100% whole grain, it should have at least 3 grams of fiber per 100 calories.
  • Note: there may be other grains used in addition to wheat, like oats, oat bran, spelt, flax, rye, or barley flour.  These are all "whole grains." 
  • This is a good sign. Buy products that say this.
100% Whole Wheat
  • Made with only whole wheat flour, no refined flours
  • If you read the ingredients list, you should see that the ONLY flours listed are stone-ground whole wheat, 100% whole wheat, or whole wheat.
  • When buying bread, look for "100% whole wheat" on the label

  • This means nothing, because ALL bread (except gluten-free) is wheat bread.  What you want is whole wheat. 
  • If you read the ingredients list and see "enriched wheat flour," or "unbleached wheat flour," or "fortified wheat flour" -- don't be fooled, these are not whole grains!
High Fiber
  • Has at least 5 grams of fiber and less than 3 grams of fat per serving
  • Good because fiber helps fill you up, and keep you fuller for longer

Good Source of Fiber
  • Has 2.5-4.9 grams of fiber per serving
  • May or may not be 100% whole grain, but if the ingredients are all whole grains, then it is
More Fiber or Added Fiber
  • Has at least 2.5 grams more fiber per serving than the regular version of the food
  • Watch out! -- many products that have tons of fiber (like 10-25 grams/serving) have all sorts of unnatural additives to make them higher in fiber -- and these added fibers do not have the same beneficial effects on health as naturally occurring fiber -- so just be aware of this if you choose to buy these products.
  • Good clues that a product is high in synthetic fiber (not the naturally-occurring kind):
    • If the product is white, like a "country white bread" but has fiber -- clearly the product is not whole grain because it's white & refined, so you know the fiber is from an additive, not from the grain itself
    • If the product is not the type of food that would normally have fiber (a grain, fruit, or vegetable) -- like a Pop Tart, candy, beverage, or yogurt.
Made with Whole Grains
  • There might be whole grains in the product, but the product is not 100% whole grain
  • This is a company's try at getting you to believe their product is completely whole grain, even though it's not
Let me know if you have other specific questions about fiber or whole grains and I'd be happy to answer! 
* picture from www.applepiepatispate.com website

    Jan 14, 2010

    How Much Can I Afford to Give to Haiti?

    Yesterday morning I donated $5 to Wyclef's relief organization in Haiti simply by texting YELE to 501501.  Later in the day, as I watched a CNN report on the current situation in Haiti, it dawned on me that a $5 donation from someone like me is ridiculous.  I spend more than $5 on a magazine that I feel like reading, or on my 3X/weekly frozen yogurt habit.  I am far from rich, but I can definitely afford to put some of my daily luxuries aside for a week or two in order to provide much-needed assistance to a people who have nothing.  So I got online and gave an amount that made me feel just a little uncomfortable, but also like my donation was truly going to help.
      In thinking about what you can afford to give, I encourage you to push the limit a little.  No matter how hard our own recession has hit, Haitians need our money more than we do.

    Jan 13, 2010

    Forming Habits

    At the beginning of the New Year, we all try to ditch bad habits and form good ones.  Here is my own bad habit I'm trying to kick (and by kick I mean reduce the frequency of, NOT eliminate. God no I could never do that):

    Getting out of a habit may seem daunting, but the good news is, by getting out of an old habit, you are already forming a new one.  Just like you can get used to having dessert after dinner every night, you can get used to not having dessert after dinner every night.  It just takes a little time -- usually 2 weeks is enough for food habits -- of not doing what you're used to, and then TADA!, a new (good) habit is formed. 
        To help get you through the sometimes tough period of adjustment (when you are craving frozen yogurt with sprinkles so badly it's taking over your entire being), it's helpful to fill the time you used to spend on the habit with a specific planned activity.  For example:
    • When I get the craving for dessert I'll go through my dresser and find clothes to give to the Goodwill.
    • When I'm at work and I get the craving for salty snacks at 4pm, I'll leave the building and go on a 5 minute walk around the block, breathing deeply and refocusing my attention.
    • To prepare for the craving I know I'll get for my nightly glass of wine, I'll go the grocery store and find 3 new cool herbal teas that I can jump up and make as soon as the craving strikes.
    .....and so on.  Really, it's not as hard as you think.  Our bodies are amazing and can re-learn pretty much anything.  So, I'll let you know how the frozen yogurt battle goes!

    Jan 12, 2010

    Expiration Dates - What Do They Mean??

    If you can reduce your food waste, not only will your food budget go down, but also your carbon footprint.  On average, Americans waste between 12-20% of what they buy, and America as a whole wastes about 40% of its food supply.  Producing this food that never gets used accounts for more than 1/4 of America's consumption of fresh water, and also uses about 300 million barrels of oil per year.  Not to mention all the methane that emerges when this wasted food rots (methane is a potent greenhouse gas)!

    Luckily there are LOTS of ways you can reduce the amount of food you waste at home, from buying less to being more efficient with what you have lying around.  I am going to write about many of the ways you can achieve this over the coming months, but to start, a few words about expiration dates.

    There are different kinds of expiration dates: 
    • "sell-by" = a guide for the store to know how long it can display an item for sale (yogurt, milk, most dairy products are sell-by ....which means if your milk/yogurt/cheese doesn't smell spoiled or look weird, it's probably fine...I don't even look at the date on my dairy products, I just trust my senses, especially with yogurt--which is kind of like spoiled milk anyway--usually tastes good for up to a month after the date on the carton)
    • "best before"or "best by" = refers to the quality or flavor of the food (like jelly/jam, nuts, oils)
    • "use by"= this is a true expiration date, after which it's best not to use a product at all (like mayonnaise, meats, etc)
    • "use or freeze by" = literally, use it or freeze it by this date; once it's in the freezer, the product will last 3-6 months longer than the date, depending on the type of food)
    For a complete guide on how to read expiration dates, check out this easy-to-read article from Business Week.

    Remember, the things that give you food poisoning or make you sick are usually colorless, odorless, and tasteless -- so you're not necessarily avoiding illness by throwing away your 1-lb block of cheese that has a tiny speck of mold on it! 

    Economist Magazine, Nov 26, 2009 (Source for statistics used in this post).

    Jan 11, 2010

    Skillet Gnocchi: A Healthier Way to Eat Pasta

    Try this fast & easy pasta entree -- it has lots of beans and veggies, so even though it's pasta, it's still low-cal!
    (link below is fixed now)

    Jan 8, 2010

    64 Ways to Eat Food

    Michael Pollan is one of my favorite food-related authors.  His new book, FOOD RULES: An Eater's Manual, "is a useful and funny purse-sized manual that could easily replace all the diet books on your bookshelf," says Tara Parker-Pope, a columnist for the NY Times.

    Parker-Pope goes on to say "I love this book not only for its simplicity and practical advice, but because the rules themselves are memorable and will ring in your head long after you read it. Choosing just one rule that is new to you from each of the book’s three sections would certainly lead to meaningful changes in your eating habits."

    Read more of her article here.

    A few of Pollan's food rule highlights:
    If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.
    It’s not food if it’s served through the window of your car.  
    It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language.  (i.e. Big Mac, Cheetos, Coke)
    Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.  (this is not because homemade junk food is healthy, but because it's labor-intensive and cumbersome to make, so you won't make it very often & will eat junk in moderation by default)

    This is a humorous book, with realistic and practical "rules" you can try to integrate into your life.  There are 64 of them not because you have to do all of them, but so you can choose ones most relevant to you.  I highly recommend at least flipping through this!

    Jan 7, 2010

    Chickpea & Sausage Stew with Greens

    Warm up with this hearty, veggie-heavy stew!

    1 large onion, chopped
    2 teaspoons dried thyme
    2 zucchini or yellow squash, grated
    1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
    1 15-oz can diced tomatoes (I like to use the fire-roasted ones, or with green chiles)
    4 pre-cooked chicken sausages, sliced into half-moons
    4 cups rough chop kale/spinach/cooking greens (I use the Southern Greens mixture from Trader Joe's)
    1-2 cups Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup (Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Pacific, or Imagine--in the qt-size box)
    1 cup water or broth

    Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large pot.  Add onion & pinch of salt and saute until softened.  Add dried thyme and grated squash and saute a few more minutes.  Add beans, tomatoes, sausage, boxed soup, and broth/water.  Let simmer for 10 minutes or until near boiling.  Add the greens, a cup or two at a time, and cook until they're wilted and somewhat softened, about 10 minutes for the Southern Greens, but only 2 min for spinach which wilts quickly.  Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

    Variations & Notes: 1) You can skip the boxed soup and use all broth--I just like the creaminess-without-cream that the soup offers.  2) You can make this vegetarian by replacing the sausage with a jar of roasted red peppers, drained & sliced.  3) Use whatever bagged, pre-washed greens you can find at the store to make this soup super easy; baby spinach or arugula might be the easiest to find.  4) If you have some wine open, red or white, add a few splashed to the onions before adding the other ingredients, for extra flavor.

    Jan 6, 2010

    Yogurt: Learn to Love It

    Few foods offer more health benefits than yogurt In addition to being a great source of protein and calcium, it provides live & active cultures, which are beneficial for many reasons, primarily because they promote healthy digestion & can boost immunity (there are lots of wannabe immune-boosting foods out there; yogurt is a real one).  You can even eat yogurt if you're lactose-intolerant; it may actually help you digest!

    Not all yogurts are created equal Some are healthy, but others have so much sugar and so many additives, they should barely be considered yogurt.

    Facts to help you choose a good yogurt:
    • Plain yogurt has about 12g of naturally-occurring sugar per cup -- this is from lactose, a natural component of milk, and is not the same as refined sugar.  Even tart, unsweetened yogurt contains this lactose, so don't let it scare you off.
    • A teaspoon of sugar = 4grams.  So for example, if you buy a cup of yogurt that has 32 grams of sugar (like regular Yoplait or a grocery store-brand), that means it has 8 whole teaspoons of sugar in just one serving-- chances are you would never feel comfortable adding this much sugar into anything, so why would you eat it in yogurt?!  
    • If you're not into the tart taste of yogurt, add your own honey, maple syrup, fruit preserves, berries, or other chopped fruit (this is a much healthier than buying pre-sweetened yogurt, as you'll add less sugar).  Aim for a little (1 tsp) then add more if you need to.  Or, mix a few tablespoons of a flavored yogurt into plain, to get the benefits of both.
    • Frozen yogurt from a yogurt shop, even if it's nonfat and or sugar-free, is not as beneficial as regular yogurt.  It's definitely better than ice cream, and better than many commercial yogurts, but keep in mind it's still a dessert, and it tastes that good for a reason.
    • "Tart" frozen yogurt, from Pinkberry & other yogurt shops, is not unsweetened.  It's actually very high in sugar (32g in a 8oz serving, which is usually the smallest cup-size), they just add citric acid to make it taste tart.
    Here are some of my favorite types -- they are not only tasty, but healthy:

    Siggi's Skyr Icelandic Yogurt
    Siggi's "skyr" is a thick, tart, flavorful yogurt, with a hint of sweetness.  They offer all sorts of unique flavors, like orange-ginger, pomegranate-passionfruit, and grapefruit.  High in protein (16g) and low in sugar (10g) -- very rare in a yogurt.  Only drawback to Siggi's is it's $2.99/6 oz container.  But a great occasional indulgence.

    Fage 0% Greek Yogurt
    Fage is one of the original Greek yogurts in the U.S.  It comes in Total (full fat), 2% (reduced fat), and 0% (fat free).  Go for the fat-free & plain -- it's so thick & creamy you won't feel any sacrifice.  If you want sweetness, add a teaspoon of honey or chopped fruit rather than buying the sweetened type; that way you can control the amount of sugar and calories added.

    Note: Trader Joe's sells a generic 0% Greek yogurt--it's Fage only with a Trader Joe's label--and about half the price.

    Trader Joe's European Style Fat-Free Yogurt
    This yogurt is thinner than Greek, but is equally creamy and delicious.  It's still high in protein (14g) and low in sugar (10g), and tasted very tart.  Add 1-2 teaspoons maple syrup to a cup if you prefer a sweeter yogurt (even adding your own sweetener will keep yogurt much lower in calories and sugar than if you buy sweetened yogurt).

    Stonyfield Organic Yogurt
    I love almost all of Stonyfield's yogurts.  The milk comes from family farms in Vermont and the yogurts are super high quality.  Some of them are pretty sweet, so if you buy a fruit-on-the-bottom one, leave the fruit-at-the-bottom.  Or, mix a little of the fruity yogurt into a larger amount of plain.

    Other brands to check out (Read the Nutrition Label before buying -- look for less than 20g/sugar per 6-oz cup -- and even less is best!)
    • Mountain High -- Plain fat-free, Plain lowfat, Lowfat Vanilla (esp if you mix w/ plain)
    • Cascade Fresh -- Even the flavored ones are lower in sugar than other commercial fruit yogurts
    • Brown Cow -- Plain fat-free, Plain Lowfat, Maple Lowfat
    • 365 (Whole Foods brand) Lowfat and fat-free varieties
    • Wallaby Organic -- some flavors are lower in sugar than others--read the label
    • Oikos (Stoneyfield's Greek Yogurt) -- all flavors are good & pretty low in sugar 
    Yogurts I recommend avoiding:
    • Yoplait Regular
    • Yoplait Custard Style
    • Dannon regular
    • Ralph's, Von's, Safeway, Kirkland Signature, etc. -- these regular fruit-flavored yogurts are super high in sugar and calories
    • "Light" yogurts -- these are reduced calorie, but sweetened with aspartame (Nutra-Sweet) and contain many additives.  If you need sweet, these are a better choice than regular versions calorie-wise, but not necessarily healthy.

    Jan 4, 2010

    Cleanse & Detox Diets: A Big Hoax

    Are you about to drink lemon-water-syrup-cayenne pepper juice for 10 days to "cleanse" your system?  Do you plan to eat nothing but vegetables for two weeks to "rid your body of toxins?"  Or maybe buy an expensive juicer so you can have liquid meals & supplements for the month of January and "shed excess fat?"

    If the answer to these questions is yes, let me save you an enormous amount of hunger, misery, money, and time spent on the toilet:  Cleanses and detox diets are hogwash.  They're basically glorified fasts, and the only thing they guarantee is that the people who invent them are going to make a lot of money.

    "Wait!!" you say, "But I've been so indulgent and mean to my body during the holiday season--and maybe all of 2009--that I need to 'start fresh' and rid my body of the evil things I put in it for so long!!"

    News flash: you, along with every other member of the human race, have a built-in detox system.  It's called a liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin.  These powerful organs work round-the-clock to protect you and make sure that whatever you've ingested that doesn't serve you is excreted.  And I assure you, this is the only detox system you need.

    Not only will a cleanse or detox not do what it promises, but it can also cause harm to your body.  When you flush out "bad stuff" from your body, you're also flushing out good stuff, like vitamin & mineral stores, and the good intestinal bacteria that keep your digestive system healthy.  Not to mention, the "flushing" of your body's insides means you'll likely have frequent gas and diarrhea, which can quickly lead to dehydration, the breakdown of skin on your bottom, and hemorrhoids.  Sound gross?  It will be.

    In addition to unpleasant symptoms, these types of diets severely restrict your calories, to a level that can cause headaches, fatigue, irritability, body aches, inability to think clearly, and overall lethargy.  So forget exercising -- it would leave you lightheaded at best -- and plus, your detox diet is so low in protein that you won't be able to rebuild lost muscle tissue.

    While you will probably lose weight during your diet (because of the severe calorie restriction), studies have shown that you will probably gain the weight back and more, soon after you start eating normally again.

    Now, if you've gained some chub over the holidays, eaten nothing but cookies and prime rib, and partied like prohibition was about to be reinstated, then doing something to jump start your new year is a good idea.  The something (moderation) is not as sexy as a cleanse, but it works, lasts, and won't leave you starting your new year on the pot.  Here's what I'd recommend:

    • Cut back on high-fat foods, meat, and sweets.  You could even give these foods up for two weeks, to allow your body to readjust to a new healthy routine, and to reduce cravings.  Just don't plan to give these up completely for too long--it won't last anyway.
    • Eliminate alcohol, or reduce your consumption to 1-3 drinks per weekend, and no alcohol during the week.
    • Reduce reliance on caffeine.  If you feel you need a little, limit yourself to one cup of coffee or tea in the morning, then stick to caffeine-free beverages for the rest of the day.  You'll adjust after a week or so, and will sleep better and have more natural energy.
    • Eat more fruits and vegetables.  This does not mean add lettuce to your cheeseburger, but rather replace some of what you're eating now with vegetables.  If you normally have meat, mashed potatoes, and a vegetable for dinner, replace the potatoes with another lower calorie vegetable.
    • Don't drink your calories.  Stick to water and other calorie-free beverages like sparkling water, herbal tea, iced tea, and the occasional diet soda. 
    • Don't do anything extreme.  If you give up foods you love completely, you won't stick to your new healthy lifestyle plan.  You'll eventually (probably sooner rather than later) revert to your old habits, and you'll gain weight back, feel fatigued, get lazy, etc.  
    • Take baby steps.  Make mini-goals that are specific, realistic, and don't make you feel overwhelmed.  For example: this week I will eat primarily vegetarian meals.  Or, this week, I won't bring any unhealthy foods into my house, to reduce temptation.

    Eating in moderation is the only way to maintain a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle in the long run.

    Jan 3, 2010

    Challah Bread Pudding

    I made this bread pudding at 11pm on NYE, it was ready by midnight, and it was the best I've ever made.  Not healthy, but reduced calorie, and definitely delicious.

    Challah Bread Pudding
    3/4 lb loaf of Challah, about 12 oz
    2 cups Light Egg Nog (I used Horizon Lowfat)
    1 egg
    1 cup 1% milk
    1/4 cup sugar
    pinch of cinnamon
    1/4 cup chocolate chips

    Preheat oven to 350.  Cut Challah into 1-inch cubes and lay them out on a baking sheet.  Toast the cubes for 10 min.
    Meanwhile, whisk together eggnog, egg, milk, sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl.  When bread cubes are lightly toasted, remove them from the oven and place in a baking dish (whatever dish you have that fits the cubes--a pie plate or casserole dish).  Pour milk mixture over the bread and toss them gently with your fingers, to coat.  Press down on the cubes a bit so they soak up the liquid.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top, cover with foil, and bake for 20 minutes.  At that point, remove foil and bake for another 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed, pudding is golden brown on top, and it feels semi-firm to the touch.  
     Serve warm with a drizzle of caramel or butterscotch sauce (I mixed a little Amaretto into caramel sauce) and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

    Note: the eggnog is a stand in for making a real custard, but it doesn't make the bread pudding taste like eggnog.  So if you're cooking for a picky crowd, not to worry.