Food Is Not Your Enemy

What Self-Respecting New York Woman Cooks?
January 29, 2010, 12:25 pm
Filed under: Beans, Eggs, Fruits, Grains, Meat, Mushrooms, Vegetables | Tags: ,

Ten-hour days. Tiny kitchens. And I didn’t go to college to major in home economics, now did I?

When I was in high school and college, I had zero interest in cooking. I was going to be a career woman, not a housewife. Preparing food was something done by women with no ambition. So forget it.

Luckily for me, I married a man who loves to cook, and is great at it. Trout baked in parchment paper with julienned vegetables, veal osso buco, and authentic Hungarian goulash are regular fare in my home. My contributions in the kitchen were generally limited to post-meal clean-up. Until I decided, after 15 years of working in media, I wanted to become a holistic nutrition counselor.

If part of my new job was going to be teaching other people how to prepare healthy, simple meals at home, then, I reasoned, I better learn how to do it myself, and quick. I do have some fear around preparing meat (How do you really know when the steak is a perfect medium-rare? Or when the fish is cooked but not overdone?), so I decided I would start trying to cook some vegetarian meals, and leave the beef to my man.

I’m really good at following rules and directions. So I soon discovered that cookbooks work for me. Just do what the recipe says, and wow, cooked food! And now, after preparing hundreds of dishes at home, many of them truly great, I must say, I am a New York woman who cooks.

And I’m finding that I actually love it. I find it relaxing and meditative. I enjoy hearing my husband and two daughters say “Mmm!” after trying their first bite. And it feels good to know that I’m helping to nourish myself and my family with real, wholesome foods, not some salty soup dumped out of a can or a frozen dinner loaded with chemicals.

Home-cooked food is the cornerstone of a healthy diet. My early rebellion against the kitchen left me with stomach problems and low-level depression for years–I was relying on pre-prepared foods that were not making me feel good. Oh what a difference some sauteed fresh food makes.

To see some of my favorite recipes, click here.

Click here to find out how to take part in “Prevention not Prescriptions.”

Rice: Safe or Scary?
January 27, 2010, 1:05 pm
Filed under: Food/Health Blogs, Grains | Tags: , ,

Rice is a staple food for many cultures around the world–cultures that don’t have the kind of obesity problem that we do here in the U.S. But many Americans have a bit of a rice fear, thinking that, as a carb, rice will make you fat. So should we be wary of rice? Or is it a perfectly good food to spoon onto your family’s plates come dinnertime? Read my latest column on AOL’s ParentDish to find out.

Are You Ready for Pricier Soda?
January 26, 2010, 10:18 am
Filed under: Chronic Disease, food politics, Sweets, weight loss | Tags: , ,

On Friday, State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines testified before a State Senate hearing that a tax on sugary drinks would cut New Yorkers’ consumption of these beverages by 15 percent.

The tax, with a proposed implementation date of September 1, 2010, would increase the price of non-diet soda, sweetened water, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened bottled tea or coffee, and juice drinks by about 17 percent. The $1 billion raised over one year would go toward funding health programs that would otherwise be slashed given New York’s dire financial situation.

While there are many causes of obesity, the skyrocketing consumption of sweetened beverages is of major concern to scientists and health professionals. Once sold in 6.5-ounce bottles, today many sodas are marketed in 20-ounce and even larger single-serving containers. Soft drinks are now the single biggest source of calories in the average American’s diet.

An estimated $7.6 billion is spent every year in New York treating health problems related to obesity, much of it paid by taxpayers. That cost is expected to quadruple in the next eight years.

“The obesity crisis in New York State is one of our greatest public health challenges, resulting in extensive ill health and high health care costs,” Daines said at the hearing. “Governor Paterson is advancing a strong Obesity Prevention Agenda based on a combination of education, price incentives, and health policy to help stop and reverse the obesity epidemic.”

Bloomberg’s Anti-Salt Crusade Bolstered by New Study
January 22, 2010, 10:01 pm
Filed under: Chronic Disease, food politics | Tags: ,

Considering that he himself is known to have a heavy hand when it comes to the salt shaker, many are skeptical about New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s new initiative to trim New Yorkers’ salt intake by 25 percent. What is he, our mother?

But a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine, as reported in The New York Times, finds that reducing our salt intake, even by a small amount, can reduce cases of heart disease, stroke, and heart attacks as much as reductions in smoking, obesity and cholesterol levels.

Says the Times piece:

“If everyone consumed half a teaspoon less salt per day, there would be between 54,000 and 99,000 fewer heart attacks each year and between 44,000 and 92,000 fewer deaths, according to the study, which was conducted by scientists at University of California San Francisco, Stanford University Medical Center and Columbia University Medical Center.”

Only 10 percent of the salt in the American diet comes from our salt shakers–the other 90 percent is found in processed and restaurant foods. If the Bloomberg administration can mandate lower sodium content in the prepared foods we buy, it will absolutely improve the health of New Yorkers. And if, under any new regulations, you find that your new lower-salt fried chicken isn’t salty enough? Then put on your own salt after you buy it. But you’ll be doing yourself a big favor if you don’t.

Fourth Graders Shocked By Sugar
January 19, 2010, 10:36 am
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Sweets | Tags: , , , , ,

Last week I taught all the fourth grade science classes at P.S. 321 in Brooklyn about sugar. They already knew a lot about why sugar isn’t so good for us–in every class, someone raised their hand to say that their father/uncle/grandmother has diabetes and has to give themselves shots every day. One girl said her dad lost both his legs because of diabetes. The kids also talked about rotting teeth and feeling hyper from too much sugar.

What really shocked them, though, was how much sugar is in so many of the foods they like. I measured out 30 teaspoons of sugar and put it into a cup, showing them that this is the amount of sugar that the average American eats every day. They couldn’t believe it, and shouted out things like, “I don’t eat that much sugar!” But then the science teacher and I had them measure out the amount of sugar in a bottle of Vitamin Water, a bottle of Snapple, and a bottle of Orange Crush soda. The kids’ eyes widened with surprise as they saw the hills of sugar in front of them–eight teaspoons of sugar in the supposedly healthy Vitamin Water, 13 teaspoons in the Snapple, and 21 teaspoons in the Orange Crush. Suddenly they saw just how easy it is to consume even more than 30 teaspoons of sugar a day, just from their drinks.

Many of the kids seemed to be grossed out by what they discovered. Here’s to hoping they remember that feeling next time they’re choosing a drink with their lunch.

Six Easy Ways to Go Veggie
January 12, 2010, 5:11 pm
Filed under: Meat, Recipes, Vegetables, weight loss | Tags: , , ,

I like this post from Dr. Andrew Weil about how to go about eating less meat. Like me, he doesn’t necessarily advocate going fully vegetarian, but eating meat/dairy less often is good for all of us–it helps you lose weight and lower your cholesterol and cancer risk, among other benefits.

I think many of us eat meat every day simply out of habit–we grew up with some kind of meat as the center of our dinner plate, and so we continue eating that way now. Getting out of that habit is simply a matter of trying things a new way. Once you see how satisfying a good vegetarian meal is, it’s easy to cut down on meat. Take it from a serious steak and burger fan like myself.

Click here to see some of my favorite vegetarian recipes.

The New American Diet

There’s a great piece on, called “The New American Diet,” about how all the hormones, additives, and pesticides in our food are actually making us fat. Compelling stuff, and another good reminder of why it’s best to try to buy organic as often as possible. Isn’t the grass-fed beef or organic peaches worth the extra money if you know buying these foods will help you ward off unwanted pounds?

Deli Meats: Safe or Scary?

Deli meats are not only a staple in most kids’ lunchboxes, they’re also now thought of as “diet food” by many, thanks to the Subway ads touting the weight Jared Fogle lost while eating the chain’s sandwiches. Is there something magical about cold cuts that will lead to weight loss?

Absolutely not — Jared simply reduced his caloric intake to drop the weight, and chose to do it by eating no breakfast, and then a sandwich for lunch and dinner. But are deli meats like bologna, salami, roast beef, and turkey good for you and your kids? Read my latest column on AOL’s ParentDish to find out.