Welcome to my Blog about Food and Well-being!

I am often asked to share my knowledge of food and recipes. After changing my diet four years ago from a typical "Western" diet to a mostly whole-foods and plant-based diet, I have seen incredible changes in my health and well-being. I have spent countless hours researching and love helping those who are ready to feel better. The underlying theme? YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. Read on to find out more.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Eating Out - Without the Guilt

If you've been reading my blogs, you should have the foundation of a whole foods diet. In summary, it's about getting back to basics and eating foods in their most original form. It's about eating clean, eating colorful and eating complex (as in complex carbs). You should know where your food comes from and if you eat animal products, ensuring that animal ate what its body was intended to eat (ie. cows should eat grass, not corn).

Going to restaurants is fun, easy and gives you a break from the kitchen. Unfortunately, eating out also has its drawbacks. Besides being substantially more expensive that cooking in, you have little control over the quality of ingredients, the methods used to prepare your meal or the actual ingredients used. Most restaurants use insane amounts of butter, oil and salt in order for it to taste rich and decadent (they want you to think it's a treat, which it is!). Unless specified on the menu, you can bet they aren't using organic products, grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, non-genetically modified corn and soy products, high quality oils or other ingredients. So what do you do?

First, if you don't go out to eat more than a couple of times a week, just enjoy yourself and don't worry about it. However, if you order in or go out to a restaurant more often, you need to be more diligent. Studies show that people who eat at restaurants more than 3 times a week end up consuming up to 60% more calories, fat and sodium than those who stay at home. The seemingly benign grilled salmon on a salad is almost always brushed several times in melted butter while grilling and usually heavily seasoned (salt or worse, MSG). Same goes with grilled chicken. Add in the dressing, cheese, nuts and a glass of wine and you're consuming a day's worth of calories and likely 2 days worth of sodium in one meal.

1) When possible, choose restaurants where you know you can order something somewhat healthy, preferably a restaurant that orders produce from local farms (this is a hot trend now, so it's not hard to find in most cities. Just call ahead and ask if they buy locally.).

2) Ask your waiter how the dish is prepared. Cream? Butter? Grilled? Fried? What kind of oil? Organic? (If the dish has corn, or soy products like tofu or edamame, they are nearly guaranteed to be genetically modified unless it is organic - may be better to avoid these products at restaurants when possible.) The menu doesn't always specify, so ASK. If you are shy about this, you can always pull up the menu online and call ahead anonymously and ask.

3) Request that your dish be cooked without butter or oil, or at least, very minimal amounts and light on the seasoning.

4) Go easy on the drinks. Tea with sugar (or God forbid, fake sweetener), sodas (again, sugar or fake sweetener) wine, juice cocktails and ritas all have tons of sugar and are highly acidic. Water with lemon or lime, or a cocktail like vodka with club soda and lime are better options.

5) Don't worry if the waiter thinks your a pain in the ass. You're paying him/her and the restaurant to give you what you want. Plus, you're the one eating it and you have a right to know what kind of ingredients they use and how they prepare what's going into your body.

6) Once you find a restaurant that offers local, organic ingredients and is gracious enough to give you exactly what you want, SUPPORT THEM as often as possible! 

You should enjoy yourself when you eat out, but it makes cooking healthy at home that much more critical. I don't feel stressed when my kids order chicken tenders and fries one day if I know that for dinner they're eating one of the recipes from my Recipes page. If I go have drinks and dinner with girlfriends one night, I order whatever sounds good and am grateful for it, knowing I'll eat healthy again the next day.

Food is a blessing. It isn't a burden. Do the best you can as often as you can and then let the rest go.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Diet for Longevity

I recently met with a renowned nutritionist, Dr. Glenn Luepnitz, who specializes in cancer and longevity. After a two-hour conversation, I am excited to share some of what I learned.

I was surprised to know that he adamantly opposes The China Study, the book that changed the way I eat. Although he agrees that we should be eating more vegetables and less cow dairy, he believes the tests conducted in the famous study aren't telling the whole story. For instance, in one of the China Study experiments, the scientists fed one group of mice a typical Western diet consisting of a high percentage of animal protein. The other group of mice were given a mostly vegetarian diet. Almost all of the mice given the high protein diet developed cancer and died while none of the vegetarian mice developed diseases. Their conclusion? We should eat mostly vegan diets with little animal protein and no dairy.

What Dr. Luepnitz argues is that mice are primarily vegetarians and any species will suffer disease and death if they are fed a diet their bodies weren't meant to eat. Of course the vegetarian mice lived longer...they were eating exactly what their systems were intended to digest. If we, as humans, consume a diet our bodies weren't intended to consume, we too will develop disease...and we do.

So what are we supposed to eat? According to Luepnitz, we need to focus on three things: eat clean, eat colorful and eat complex. Clean means knowing where you food came from and eating the best you can afford. Organic veggies and fruit (unless they have a thick skin that you peel), organic grass-fed beef, organic free-range chicken (preferably from a local source), and minimal processed foods. Colorful simply means eating veggies and fruits of all kinds and colors. Complex means complex carbohydrates (not white floured products, white rice, white potatoes, high glycemic index foods such as ripe bananas).

He said we should picture our diets as a circle. Half the circle should be vegetables with 1/3 of that half being completely raw vegetables (think raw carrots, radishes, etc.). The remaining 2/3 of the veggie half should be manipulated, as in cooked, smoothied, chopped or otherwise broken up to ease digestion. The other half of the circle should be divided in half with 1/4 being protein (vegetarian or animal) and the other 1/4 complex carbohydrates (whole grains).

More than once, Luepnitz stressed the importance of not being held hostage by our diet. Food is only a small part of our lives and shouldn't dominate our thoughts or cause us to feel guilty if we go out to dinner with friends. Do the best you can-when you can-and allow yourself to veer from that from time to time.

He also disagreed with the macrobiotic idea of soaking rice before you cook it. The phytic acid that macrobiotics believe should be soaked off of the rice is exactly what oncologist WANT their cancer patients eating as it has been found to block cancer cells from returning. Phytic acid prevents blood vessels from attaching themselves to the cancer cells, thereby cutting off their oxygen and food supply. Concentrated forms of phytic acid are currently given to cancer patients.

When I asked him how I was supposed to know what grains to soak or not, he said, "If it comes out of your bottom the way it went into your mouth, it needs to be soaked, roasted or ground to break it down for better digestion." This includes just about all grains EXCEPT for rice. Seeds, such as sesame and flax, need to be ground, beans need to be soaked and corn? Chew well.

I was curious about animal protein, particularly cow dairy. He agreed that you should know where your meat came from and eat animals that were fed what their bodies were intended to eat. Cows weren't meant to eat corn (that's how eColi developed) so eat beef from grass fed cows only. Don't eat chickens that were packed into chicken factories and ate each other's feces. He is not a fan of cow dairy, either. For the same reasons I stated in my previous blog about dairy, he says cow dairy is not ideal for humans and is hard on digestion. Goat dairy, however, is much more compatible with our bodies.and easily digestable, even by people with cow dairy allergies. Goat cheeses, yogurt and milk is a much better option.

There was so much more we discussed, but the above is a good start. Although he disagreed with some of my research, we both stood firm on the importance of eating a whole foods, clean diet made up of primarily vegetables, and animal protein from quality sources. Check out my Recipes page to find some great veggie recipes!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Oils - Which to Use, Which to Toss

How many of you cook with oil? Whether you're sauteing onion, baking muffins or popping popcorn, you likely use oil. Oil should be used sparingly as it is high in fat and calories, as well as thick and heavy for your body to digest. While some oils, in moderation, can be healthful, many oils are simply garbage, literally. 

Many oils you find in the store are the dredge from the processing of vegetables. The oils are chemically expeller pressed, refined and often from genetically modified vegetables. There has been much written lately about canola oil. Although it is cheap (which isn't always good), many believe it is actually toxic for human consumption because of the high erucic acid content. While some disagree, namely the Canadian government who exports the oil in massive quantities ($), I am not willing to risk it. There are too many other oils that aren't clouded in suspicion.

Vegetable oil, however, is not one of them. Vegetable oil is usually corn oil or soybean oil, or a combination of both. Unfortunately, the corn and soybeans used in this highly processed oil are almost always genetically modified and usually extracted using a chemical solvent. Genetically modified plants have been modified in laboratories to enhance desired traits, such as resistance to pests and longer growing seasons.The best known example of this is the use of an isolated gene inserted into the corn and soybean plants that produce crystal proteins that are lethal to insect larvae. This new gene enables the corn and soybean plants to produce their own pesticides against insects. If the plant kills its own insects, what do you think it does in your body?

So what oil should you buy?  Always buy organic, cold pressed and unrefined whenever possible. The darker the bottle, the better as light affects nutrients and taste. Expeller pressed isn't the best option because the process heats the oil to over 120 degrees, destroying most health benefits and flavor. Store oils in the refrigerator for maximum shelf life.

Olive oil is considered a "good fat" because it is heart healthy and lowers cholesterol. It is gentle on the digestive system and full of antioxidants. Choose extra virgin as this type retains the most nutrients and flavor and is less processed than regular olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is best used for marinades, dressings and low-heat sauteing as it smokes (which you don't want) at a lower heat than some other oils. People have used olive oil on their skin and hair for centuries. Used as body oil, shaving oil or in your bath, olive oil has been found to minimize wrinkles and more importantly, lower the risk of skin cancer. 

Grapeseed oil is a good choice for everyday sauteing, frying, baking, marinades and dressings. It has a much lighter taste than olive oil and can withstand higher heat used in frying and sauteing. It lowers the bad cholesterol, is full of antioxidants and is high in several key vitamins. 

Coconut oil is delicious and has been found to have a host of health benefits. It is good for your heart, thyroid, metabolism, and immune system. Although it has saturated fat, it is naturally occurring. As a matter of fact, cultures who use coconut oil and other similar saturated fats have nearly non-existent rates of cardiovascular disease. Coconut oil imparts a coconut flavor, so use sparingly. For example, if a recipe for chocolate chip cookies calls for grapeseed oil, I will use 1/2 grapeseed oil and 1/2 coconut oil. It is not only good for baking (and popping popcorn!), but it is incredible for your skin (and smells great!).

Sesame oil is my go-to for any Asian food recipe and can withstand high heat. Perfect for stir-frying or adding a delicate sesame flavor to a marinade or dressing, this oil should be a staple in your pantry. Toasted sesame oil has a stronger flavor than the lighter version. Sesame oil lowers blood pressure, as well as sodium and sugar levels in the blood. It has also been found to slow the growth of melanoma when used topically.

Check out the Recipes page to find recipes using these healthy oils!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Grains 101

When you think of grains, what comes to mind? Rice? Wheat bread? There are so many wonderful grains that have nothing to do with rice or bread. And when I talk about grains, I am talking about the WHOLE grain, not the pulverized-into-flour or instant rice kind of grain. Once grains are "messed with" and stored on grocery shelves, they lose much of their nutrients and flavor. And don't think whole grains make you fat. White rice and flour may, but whole grains are THE energy your body craves and needs to survive. Grains can be bought in bulk, are cheap and fill you up with protein, fiber and essential complex carbohydrates.

When cooking grains, there are several things you should know:

1) Grains need to be cleaned. Not only are they dirty, but many of them have a protective outer coating that is hard for your body to digest and often makes them taste bitter. Once you measure out your grain, pour them into a sieve and run cool water over them. 

2) Grains should be soaked or dry roasted. Even rice. Soaking further breaks down this outer layer, will enable your body to fully absorb the nutrients and removes any acidity from the grain. Depending on the grain, you can soak anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight. Some grains do even better to be rinsed and then dried in in a dry, hot skillet. This does the same as soaking but adds a nuttier flavor to the grain.

3) Grains should be cooked with the sea vegetable known as kombu (see earlier post about the #1 Thing You Should Add to Your Diet) and a pinch of salt. Kombu mineralizes and alkalizes the cooking water, which is absorbed by the grain, and then you. Magic. You can buy dried kombu in bags at Whole Foods, Central Market or most health food stores. Take out one long strip of kombu and cut a 1 inch piece off of it for every cup of grain. Toss it into your cooking water as you are heating it. You don't need to eat the kombu when your grain is finished cooking. Just like a bay leaf, you will get all of the benefits simply by eating the grain.

4) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, CHEW WELL. Your saliva is there for a reason and it's not just to lubricate your mouth. Saliva is full of enzymes that are intended to break down food before it gets to your digestive tract. The more you chew your food before you swallow, the less work your digestive track has to do. Macrobiotics teaches you should chew each bite at least 50 times before swallowing! I tried this but can't get past around 30 chews before the food has already made its way down. I don't think there is a magic number, just try to chew until there are no solid pieces left in your mouth. This is also a good weight-loss trick!

So, here are some great grains to try and the best ways to prepare them. To start, add them to any meal you would normally use rice. Then, try mixing different grains, adding them as binders in recipes (instead of breadcrumbs), and making sauces to drizzle over them. You should try to get a serving of them with every meal. See my "Recipes" page for great ways to incorporate grains into your diet.

  • Brown Rice - rinse and soak 20 minutes up to overnight in fridge. Use 1 cup of rice to 2 cups of water and boil covered 45 minutes with lid on. Turn off heat and let stand, covered, another 5 minutes before fluffing with fork. 
  • Quinoa - rinse and roast in dry skillet until dried. Stir constantly. Use 1 cup of dry roasted quinoa to 1 1/2 cups of water. Boil with lid on for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand, covered, 10 minutes before fluffing with fork.
  • Amaranth and teff - rinse and cook 1 cup with 3 cups of water, covered, for 30 minutes.
  • Millet - rinse and dry roast in a skillet until dried, stirring constantly. Then cook 1 cup with 3 cups of water, covered, for 30 minutes.
  • Wheat berries and spelt - rinse and soak overnight in fridge. Rinse and cook 1 cup with 2 cups of water, covered, for 50 minutes.
  • Buckwheat - rinse and dry roast in skillet until dried. Then cook 1 cup with 2 cups of water, covered, for 20 minutes
  • Barley - rinse and soak 20 minutes. Rinse and cook 1 cup to 2 cups of water, covered, for 45 minutes.