The Truth About Weight Gain, and The Nutty Salad

9 01 2012

Start with Lettuce

So, here we are in the January shape-up season, the time of year when a few million people resolve to eat better and possibly lose some weight. Should you go high-protein, low carb, whole grain, fat free, vegan, paleo?

Well, a new study published in the Journal of American Medicine says that what really matters is the calories that you consume. The researchers overfed a group of 45 volunteers in a controlled environment, making sure they all got the same excess of calories.  But, to test a theory, Dr Bray and his researchers tried three diets, low, medium and high protein, with the same excess of calories, and the people all gained weight. The unexpected thing was that  low-protein eaters actually gained less. For some reason, people eating only 5% protein gained less weight. The researchers speculated that there was a metabolic difference for the low protein over-eaters.

Go figure. Of course, the high-protein diets will always be popular, and there will always be a new weight loss book coming down the pike. It’s interesting that we just have to keep learning about calories in, calories out, over and over. All that flesh food that people build their meals around is, at least according to this study, turning to fat just as fast as french fries and white bread-possibly faster.

So, if you want to lose weight, cut calories, and don’t go crazy for protein. One great way is to keep loading on those high-volume, low calorie vegetables. Last week I talked vegetable soup, this week, let’s look at salads. Are you bored with yours? I refuse to eat boring salads, just because they are good for me.

In fact, if you make boring salads, you are just making sure that you will not love, crave, or continue eating them, and that runs counter to everything we should be doing in a healthy kitchen. So I have a little trick to share.

Try adding the nutrition of nuts to your dressing, then sprinkling some on your salad. It adds calories, yes, but they are very nutrient-dense calories, and will make you feel satisfied as you eat your piles of low-cal veggies. Since you are a vegetarian, you can handle a little high fat food in the form of nuts, which you need to get healthy EFA’s, the fats that your brain and heart need to function. This dressing is cut with a little veggie stock, and uses less oil than the conventional vinaigrette, but gets body from the nuts.

I know it runs counter to all the anti-fat diets out there, but nuts are actually associated with weight loss, because they are so satisfying. So pile up the plants, and douse them with this tasty, nutritious dressing, and dig in.

You’ll feel full and enjoy it. I promise.

Super Nutty Dressing for Salads

1/2 cup pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts or pistachios, toasted-save half for the salad
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup fresh basil, parsley, cilantro or other mild leafy herb

1/2 cup vinegar, lemon juice or combination of the two

1/4 cup vegetable stock

pinch of sugar or agave
salt and pepper
1/2 cup nut oil, olive oil or a combination with flax oil added

1. In a processor, grind the nuts, saving half for topping. Add the garlic and parsley or herb and grind to a smooth paste. Scrape the sides of the processor bowl and add vinegar or lemon, stock, sweetener and salt and pepper. Process until well mixed, then with the machine running, whip in the oil.

2. Then, build a big, interesting salad with lettuces, shredded kale and cabbage, tomatoes, slivered onions and zucchini, sprouts, and all the raw veggies you enjoy. Add some cooked veggies too, for wintertime, like blanched green beans, halved and steamed brussels sprouts, steamed broccoli, whatever sounds good. Top with nuts, drizzle with your nutty dressing, and enjoy.

Adding salad to all your meals will help you fill up and feel satisfied. Having a meal that is all salad, well, that is just more of a good thing!


A One-Size Fits All Resolution

2 01 2012

Chop 'em and boil 'em!








2012 is just beginning, and the new year is a good time to start a new habit. Call it a New Years resolution if you want, as long as that doesn’t mean you will forget about it by February. I propose that just about everyone out there could live better and feel better if they eat more vegetables. Simple, and genuinely easy, just more veggies, every day.

Of course, eating more veg is going to take a plan. Take a look at your routine, and ask yourself-where can I add veggies? Even the vegetarians and vegans can spend a day eating cereal for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, and if you don’t really pile them up at dinner, your all day total is a few slivers on the sandwich and the cup or so tossed in with the pasta you threw together. I know, I’ve done it myself.

9 servings a day is ideal, which is about 8 ½ cups. You may ask, how will I eat all that? Well, one great benefit of eating more veggies is that you are probably going to lose weight. All that fiber and goodness just fills you up, so you eat so much less of other foods that you can’t help it.

So, here are some ideas for adding significant amounts of veggies to your daily life.

Veggies at breakfast. Instead of the sweet foods we tend to eat, try a savory scramble, loaded up with veggies and tofu. Miso soup is a great Japanese tradition at breakfast-just add more veggies. Or, a smoothie that combines fruit with spinach or other greens will camouflage the veggies in a sweet shake.

Click to go to a Green Smoothie Recipe

Smoothies are Easy

Veggies as snacks. Buy bags of things like baby carrots, or whatever snack veg you like. If you need a little dip or dressing to make them appealing, go ahead. If cooked veggies appeal to you more, blanch a bunch by dropping them in boiling water, then drain and chill to take with all week. I like to eat raw mushrooms, sliced zucchini and other veggies while I cook, with a little salt. Keep some handy. If you are hungry between meals, stay full this way.

Veggies at meals. Plan to have salads and or veggie soups at your meals. Buy the bagged salad, some tomatoes and cukes, or whatever you like on salad, and make a simple dressing for the week. Make the veggie soup recipe below, or your favorite vegetable soup. If you start the meal with salad and soup, you will never make it to dessert.

Juice. If you have a juicer, now is the time to drag it out of wherever you have hidden it, and use that January New Leaf energy to get juicing. I admit, my Champion was in the basement, and I have installed it in the kitchen, cluttered as it feels. I worked up to this by buying wonderful green drinks at my Coop when I shop, and grabbing a fresh juice whenever I could find one. I’m finding that this is also a great way to use up kale stems, celery leaves, and other leafy greens.

Slip Them in. Whenever you are cooking, even putting a sandwich together, always add a vegetable, more than you usually would. Maybe you can keep roasted red peppers in the fridge for sandwiches, or bagged spinach to add to just about anything, from pasta to tofu.

Just do it.

For a super simple veggie soup for the week, bring one of those boxes of veggie stock to a boil in a big pot. Add a couple of chopped carrots, an onion, a couple of ribs of celery. Once the veggies are tender, add a 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes. Bring back to a simmer and add a bunch of chopped kale or other greens, or a couple cups of chopped cabbage. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This soup can be reaheated as is, or you can take some out each day and season it differently. Try it curried, with a can of beans, or try it Italian style with lots of fresh herbs and garlic. Puree it for a sauce, or whisk some miso with water and stir it in.

Eat More Veggies, it’s just that simple.

Happy 2012-it’s already starting off a little greener!

In Defense of the Humble Spud

5 09 2011

Purple, Yellow, Baking and Red Potatoes

Potatoes have been a popular food for centuries, one of those elemental ingredients that can be cheap food for the masses one day, then whipped or turned into an haute gourmet masterpiece the next. These culinary chameleons originally flourished only in Peru, where hundred of varieties are still grown, each enjoying a different climate at a different elevation of the mountainous region.

And like so many good things, Columbus took the potato around the world, and once it made it past suspicions and skepticism, it became ubiquitous. Now the mass produced french fry and potato chip have risen to global dominion.

The potato had a place in every kichen. Then the anti-carb movement came along and insisted that the carbs in the poor tater were fattening us up. Just this year, a widely reported Harvard study found that the one factor that indicated a higher body weight was the number of servings of potatoes that a person ate. Some saw that as a sign that potatoes are driving the obesity crisis- but to my mind, it might well be that eating French fries, potato chips or rich mashed potato dishes is not just a pretty high-calorie, high fat way to eat potatoes, but also usually a sign that you are eating hamburgers, steak, or the other foods that typically go with them. If you actually delved into the info behind that study, though, the weight gain was highest in people eating fries and chips, not boiled potatoes, but the headlines didn’t get that far.

But the tide may be turning- a new study done at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania fed overweight, hypertensive volunteers purple potatoes. These brilliantly colored tubers are rich in colorful polyphenol antioxidants, which protect the body from free radical damage. All the volunteers microwaved the potatoes, and ate about 218 calories worth per day. All had reductions in their blood pressure, and none gained weight.

Peruvian Purple Potatoes

Of course, this was just a small study with 18 subjects, but it does make a point. According to the author of the study, Joe Vinson, the process of deep frying to make fries and chips seems to destroy most of the healthy substances, leaving mainly starch, fat and some minerals. That makes sense, since potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, which is destroyed by high heat. They are also a good source of potassium, needed for heart health, and they have lots of fiber, especially if served skin on.

Simply Roasted Purple Potatoes

To celebrate this new finding, I roasted some beautiful purple potatoes. I just cut them in even inch wide chunks, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled on some coarse salt and cracked pepper, and tossed it all in a deep roasting pan. Into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, then a shake and stir and 20 minutes more. To honor the Peruvian origins of these potatoes, I served mine with a lime-avocado salsa, but you can also adorn yours with fresh herbs and garlic.


Potatoes are back baby, and purple is the way to go!

It’s The Green Genie to the Rescue!

27 03 2011

Lean Mean and Green

It’s tasty and GREEN

Last week I was all excited about baby spinach. This week, I want to share the word about green smoothies. Its Spring, and if you are like most people, you may have been eating some heavy food, or moving around less. I am the poster child for this phenomenon, since I have been working on a dessert book that involves baking about 15 tasty, healthy desserts a week, and trying to keep up with the added calories by missing workouts to travel and teach. I am doing pretty well, but I feel a spring cleaning coming on. Even if you haven not gained an ounce, you still feel a little slow. Now is time for the spring energizer that is the green smoothie.

The green smoothie has many forms. What it is at its most basic is a puree of greens and fruit. The idea is to drink a big glass of raw, concentrated plants at the start of the day. With the help of a good blender, you can make a big pile of veggies and fruits into an easy to digest liquid. Since most of our foods are high in acid and promote acidity in the body, a greens packed smoothie balances us out by being alkaline. You can also get a few servings of veggies in without even chewing.

It’s like juicing, but with all the fiber left in, and it doesn’t require a special juicer.

Most people take their green smoothie a step further, adding some kind of protein. You may want some yogurt, or protein powder, or tofu pureed in there. That is where we diverge, as everyone has strong feelings about which of those is best. It’s up to you.

The great thing about it is that you can improvise. Keep some good fruit and greens around, and you can pretty much puree them together. Bananas are a classic creamy base for the smoothie, and high antioxidant berries are always good. Frozen berries are easy and give the smoothie a slushy texture you might like.  Try not to add a bunch of sweetener, but if you just can’t get into it without a spoonful of maple, agave, or all-fruit jam, go ahead and sweeten a little. You can go savory with tomatoes and greens and cucumber, kind of a gazpacho sort of thing.

Of course, you can make these things into real workout meals, with avocado, coconut milk or oil, nut butters, and grains. Throw in some rolled oats and you have smoothie oatmeal. If you take it a step further, add-ins like spirulina or other greens powders, dulse seaweed, bee pollen, or even espresso or cocoa can amp up your smoothie with extra energizers.

Buy your greens and veggies, pull out that blender, and make a plan to have one of these for breakfast every day this week. See how it makes you feel.

Energize with spring greens, and you will be ready to take on the season of renewal.

Basic Green Smoothie

3 packed cups baby spinach, kale, collards, or a combination with watercress or parsley, sprouts, herbs, you name it

1 banana

1 cup berries, frozen or fresh

a splash of liquid-juice, non-dairy milk, kefir or yogurt

Load it all in the blender and puree. In the VitaMix I used the plunger stick and it was all done in a minute or so. Drink right away.

Breakfast Fruit Smoothie

Hooked On Sweets? I Have the For Sure Cure

20 02 2011

The hypnotic allure of chocolate?

I’m a food writer. I develop recipes for publication, and I test and taste and teach and in every way immerse myself in food all the time. I know for you civilians, it sounds like a trip to heaven. And really, I can’t complain, I am doing what I love and getting paid for it.

You knew there was a but coming, right?

The risk of doing what you love as a job is that you might fall out of love, or at least need a trial separation.

For most of my life, I loved and craved chocolate like everybody else. I loved it so much that I took up truffle making, and did an annual truffle ritual. Starting in Fall, I would test new flavors and work up new recipes. I would have tubs of my luscious new ganaches tucked into my fridge, where they met and exceeded my every chocolate craving. Then I would teach a few truffle classes and make my holiday gifting truffles. After a long day at work, I would come home and take my truffles through their various stages, either making the ganache, scooping, or dipping. I even had my own tempering machine. Sometimes my shoulders ached, but I had to stay on schedule. This would go on for a couple of weeks, then I would package up all the truffles and organize them, packing some to mail to family and friends, keeping some to give to local friends.

As the years went by, I found that I didn’t really want to eat them anymore. In fact, I only tasted little bits of the fillings and then gave every single one away, not eating a truffle for years at a time. If we had an extra box in the fridge, it sat there until it dried up and I threw it away. Eventually, just smelling melting chocolate made me feel tired. The smell of deep dark chocolate smelled bitter to me, and made my tongue ache as if it were scorched.

I stopped making truffles several years ago, and some day I hope to want one again. I enjoy a little chocolate now and then, but even that has ceased to have that siren song. Chocolate cakes, cookies, all those are fine, but no big whoop. Unlike most women I know, I have no chocolate obsession. I have a whole drawerful of premium chocolate bars, chips and nibs, and sometimes they actually go stale. I need them for recipe work, so I keep it stocked.

Now I am working on a dessert book. It’s packed with recipes that appeal to me, with crunchy, oaty streusels, creamy puddings, tender cakes and big fat cookies, all made with healthy, whole ingredients. I promise you will love it, it’s all really tasty.

Why, last Sunday I had Pumpkin Bread Pudding for breakfast, Plum Tart for Lunch, Coconut Shortcakes with Bananas and Coconut Cream for snacks, and Buckwheat Pancakes with Strawberry Sauce for dinner. I added some yogurt to the dinner for some protein, and I took a few supplements, since this is not a balanced diet.

Folks come by and pick up these extra treats, and my husband takes them to work. But I wonder, could we make a sweets aversion program out of recipe testing?

I promise you, sugarplums no longer dance in my head, and strange cravings for things like salad have replaced them.

Maybe it could work.
Ganache Filling

Oprah Goes Vegan-ish, Spurs Debate

6 02 2011

Beans, The Final Frontier

Well, if you follow the vegetarian news, you may already have heard that Oprah and her entire staff went vegan for a week, then did a whole show about the experience. While most workplaces going on a diet is not news, when you are Oprah, it’s not just news, it’s time for the Beef Industry to call their lawyers. Her power and influence is such that millions will go where she goes, and if she is going vegan, it will be mainstreamed in no time.

( a link to watch video of the show:)

To be extra careful that she didn’t get into more trouble with Big Beef, the most powerful lady in television invited a representative of Cargill to give a tour of an exemplary slaughterhouse. She also had Michael Pollan on to give his reasoned but non-vegan perspective. Star of the show was Kathy Freston, who guided the staffers in their vegan shopping and dining.

Freston is a 7 year vegan, author of a new book, the Veganist, and the wife of Oprah’s business partner. She is gorgeous, tall, and exactly the kind of person that motivates others to go vegan, in the hope that they can look just a little bit more like her. Her message is inclusive and enthusiastic, and she probably converted a million people through the power of television.

I had forgotten how meat eaters freak out when they get some fiber in their diets. There was a lot of discussion of bowel habits, and jokes about flatulence. There were also some amazing success stories, people who had weight loss and health improvements in just that week. Freston had a bit of an intervention with a staffer who was “addicted ” to fast food, with great success. Junk food does have addictive qualities, and it was a big deal to actually confront this on international TV. ( For a past post on this:

The internets have been on fire with discussion of the show. Overall, there has been a big debate over the decision to use a lot of convenient meat and cheese substitutes to get people started. As we know, food is nothing if not a subject of debate, and this is a hot issue.

For some, it’s seen as a great step for first timers to get off fast food and industrial meat and switch to tofurkey and faux cheese. For others, it was disappointing that the message was not more about using unprocessed food, and learning to cook with whole foods like beans and grains.

To me, every step made in the direction of eating more mindfully and having a better impact on the body and the planet is good. As long as it leads toward real food in the end. Getting off the Golden Arches and onto some cleaner processed food is certainly a better place to be, as the producer who dropped 11 pounds and stopped having terrible acid reflux discovered.

I don’t think that Freston or anyone on the show intended for people to build a diet on convenience vegan foods for the rest of their lives, it was more of a way to get people through the week. Then, once they survived and felt better, they would have to broaden their horizons. It was just such a radical change for these people that they had to have a stepping stone, in this case, Gardein chicken scallopine and Daiya mozzarella shreds. Some folks like subs like that, others just can’t stop wishing they were real meat and cheese, and will do better to eat other vegan foods. It’s very personal.

In the end, Oprah and many of her peeps felt that it would do them some good to go “vegan-ish,” a term that they used to refer to eating vegan alot but not giving up occasional animal foods. The power of the juggernaut that is Oprah may just have converted more people to healthy eating than I could hope to in my entire career, so more power to her.

How To Cook Dry Beans

Are You a “Resolution-er”?

12 12 2010


After The Champagne, the Resolutions?

I apologize for my poor use of the language. You see, every January at my gym, the parking lot gets crowded, the locker room gets jammed, and suddenly strange people are mobbing the classes that the rest of us attend the rest of the year. The gym staff refer to these new attendees as “resolution-ers”. They are the people who make those New Years resolutions to get in shape.

It’ll be back to normal by the end of February.

I’ve never understood the whole New Year’s resolution thing. I suppose it’s a traditional response to the overindulgence of the holidays, and a psychological new beginning in a new year. It also seems like it doesn’t work. Especially come February, when all those committed people have stopped coming to the gym.

Most of us do want to change something for the better, like eat more vegetables, or eat less desserts. But will we?

For a behavioral change to take, it really takes some thought and planning. Psychologists have defined the stages of change. The first is called “pre-contemplation.” That is the period where you get really, really sick of yourself. You are in denial about the issue, but it’s there. Some people never get to stage 2, as they rationalize the status quo.  It’s part of the process, because this motivates you. Looking in the mirror and saying “I am so sick of  ____” is the unpleasant beginning of many great transformations.

Stage 2, “contemplation,” is when you start consciously thinking that you can do something to turn it around. You see all kinds of reasons not to make change, but you start working it through in your mind.

Stage 3 is “preparation.” It’s essential to start collecting information and trying out some initial steps. This would be when you start forming realistic goals and the ways that you will achieve them.

Stage 4 is “action,” when you full-on commit to the new program. Now that you have laid the groundwork and set yourself up with new habits, you are ready to act.

Stage 5 is “maintenance,” the stage at which all those gym-goers lose their way. It’s one thing to start a diet, and another to finish it, you might say.

So, for the January 1st date to really work as a starting point, you need to have started this thing by now. Let’s say that you want to eat better, and you are good and sick of the results of your current habits. What does that mean in practice?

Are you somebody who needs to get a menu plan and follow a diet, or can you just adopt a few new resolutions, like eating a salad every day and only having treats on the weekend? How can you work your new commitment into your schedule, so that it becomes a habit?

We all work a little differently, but we are all brought down the same way. To see your positive changes through to stage 5, you have to make them easy to do. When it comes to eating better, the absolute most important thing is planning.

You can have all the best intentions, but unless you plan out your shopping, cooking and snacking, you will be swimming against the current. We are surrounded by unhealthy, easy options and advertising that urges us to indulge. If you come home too tired to cook and order pizza alot, find some foods that you can keep on hand for those nights. If you skip breakfast and end up eating donuts mid morning at work, stock up on better breakfasts.

So if you, like millions of other people, want to make some healthy eating resolutions for 2011, let the planning stage begin. When will you do your menu plan, shop, and cook? Be realistic, that always helps. Have some better options in the pantry, in your desk at work, in the glove box of your car, if need be, to keep you from falling into the hunger trap. Make the right choice the default, so that you don’t have an excuse.

Whether you are resolving to eat less, eat better, or just eat more plants, you can do it. You just have to make it as easy as possible for yourself while you are feeling energetic and committed, so that when you aren’t feeling that way, it’s easier to just stick with the plan.

And if you need the month of January to get to stage 4, that is ok, too. It’s far better to make a change that you will be ready to stick to at any time of year than to take another failing stab at it just because everybody else is.


Low Fat Vegetable Soup