Thursday, January 31, 2013

Super Bowl Snacks: Good, Bad & Ugly

Americans don't eat a meal on Super Bowl Sunday; they snack for 4-5 hours straight. If you're one of the millions who'll be watching the game (along with the pre- and post-game hoopla), remember that some snacks are healthier than others. So that you don't lie in bed Sunday night cursing your lack of willpower, try to select from the list of "better for you" (at least in general) snack choices on the left.

Chicken wings...............are better than...............................................................ribs
Tortilla chips (esp. baked).............................beat out.........................potato chips (esp. fried)
Black bean dip.................................has fewer calories than.........................guacamole
Mixed nuts..........................................are healthier than.................................pretzels better for you than..................................sugary soft-drinks
Grapes or oranges.................................trump all other............................sweet desserts

Go easy on the chicken wings, and please don't dip them in blue cheese sauce! Guacamole isn't something to avoid -- avocado is a healthy food -- but it does pack lots of calories. Nuts are high in calories too but they're nutritious, as opposed to pretzels, which are empty calories. Popcorn is another healthy and filling snack food -- just don't load it down with butter or lots of salt.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Loving Our Veggies: Try this one

Celery is the main ingredient
As we know, the more vegetables we can get into our mouths, the better. I'm always looking for new ways to prepare veggies, or even for altogether new (never tried) ones.
Here's an idea that wouldn't be likely to occur to me if I wasn't such an avid reader of Martha Shulman (the NY Times resident healthy foodie): making cooked celery the star of a dish.
This recipe for steamed, then sauteed, celery definitely stretches me. It's low in calories (less than 100 per serving) but high in fiber, vitamins -- and tastiness.

I'm going to try it ASAP!

RECIPE: Braised Celery with Tomatoes and Garlic
Serves 4

1 bunch celery, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 anchovy, rinsed and chopped (optional)
1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes in juice
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Pinch of sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 

1. Place the celery in a steamer above 1 inch of boiling water. Cover and steam 5 minutes, until just tender when pierced with a knife. Remove from the heat and drain.
2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and add the garlic. Stir until it smells fragrant, about 30 seconds, and add the anchovy if using, tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, a pinch of sugar and salt and pepper. Stir together, then stir in the celery. Cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and the mixture is fragrant, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Stir in the remaining parsley just before serving.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Battle of the Bulge.....continued (ad infinitum)

And ad nauseum!
I'm so tired of my everlasting, never-ending obsession with weight, and I know that I'm not alone. If you're female, you probably have the same nagging voice that won't go away, saying that you just don't live up to our cultural norms for slenderness and beauty.
It's insane, but I am a prisoner of the skinny-girl ideal -- at my age! (Suffice to say, I'm way past the age when this really should matter.)
But this rant is probably just a rebellion against my current self-imposed two-week, write-it-down diet. I've made it almost through week #1, and most of the time I've been sick with a virus that's either a bad cold or a mild case of flu. I've been eating about 1500 calories a day, on average, and have lost a pound or two.
Pardon my really don't want to read a page of complaints.

Do I have anything useful to impart today, something that might help a reader who's also stuck in this weight-loss loop and sincerely wants to be healthier and slimmer, while also enjoying life -- and enjoying food?

(After all, the theme of my blog is: we CAN do both -- be fit and healthy while being out-and-out foodies, too.)

1. Eat lots of soup this time of year. It's comforting, warm food, and if you avoid cream-based concoctions, it's healthy.
2. Snack on tropical fruits -- such as papayas (if you can find them), mangoes, pineapple and kiwi, which are in season now. Like all fruits, they're loaded with vitamins and fiber, and they also happen to be delicious.
3. While you're at it, chow down on citrus fruits--also at the peak of their season. Little clementines are super easy to peel and eat, and they have almost zero calories.
4. Get up and move around -- I mean, on top of any actual exercise you do in a day. Walk up and down a flight of stairs, sweep the kitchen floor, empty your trash cans -- anything but sit still, which is about the worst thing for us.
5. Avoid eating anything that looks like this....or you'll look like this GUY!

Friday, January 25, 2013

In Sickness and in Health....

It's definitely a lot easier to focus on fitness, weight control and that food diary when I'm well. Alas, a minor cold from early in the week morphed into a bad illness yesterday. It might even be a touch of the flu, although I did get a flu shot in October.
But these symptoms are not the usual head-cold ones. No appetite, for one thing, which is a very rare occurence (for better or for worse) in my experience. Also I have a headache and other achy body parts.
Point being, I'm going to have to take a break from blogging until things improve.
Of course, no appetite means not many calories being consumed, which is an upside, I guess.
All I want is chicken soup, and even that is just hypothetical. I managed to throw together dinner for my husband last night (pasta with red sauce and turkey meatballs) but could only force down a few bites.

What can I say? Being sick is a drag, to say the least.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Diet Day 3 -- Strategies and Tactics

I'm not sure whether these tips are strategies or tactics, but for dropping a few pounds, I try to adhere to these concepts:
1. Keep a food diary, including a rough estimate of each meal/snack's calorie count. You can find calorie counters online, for instance here at My Fitness Pal. Even if you don't want to bother with figuring out how many calories are in your meals, plenty of evidence supports the idea that writing down what you eat provides an effective tool for keeping us on the straight and narrow.
2. Limit bread to once a day. A couple of days a week, I'll bring a sandwich to work, so that's my bread for the day. Otherwise, I might have toast for breakfast OR a piece of multi-grain French bread with dinner -- but never both.

3. Limit liquid calories. I try to do this anyway, but on a weight-loss regimen I'm especially conscious of how "empty" the drink calories can be. For me, this mostly means cutting way back on alcoholic beverages, but others may have to eliminate fruit juices and sugar-sweetened sodas -- two things that aren't in my diet in any case.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Diet day 2: Need a fast, healthy dinner....

So day 1 was a success -- big deal, I know. But at least it's a start. I was "good girl:" no indulgences, kept the food diary as vowed and ended up with about 1250 calories and the scales showing me a pound lighter this morning.
It's ridiculously cold outside and on top of that, I've developed some kind of illness, a virus I assume. Those factors make it harder not to just keep storing up the fuel. But, I resist!
Meanwhile, this is one of my longer days at work and I don't have the energy or motivation to cook a meal from scratch tonight for my husband and me.

The solution? Frozen food! Here's one of the few such things I can recommend: multi-grain roasted vegetable lasagna from Trader Joe's. I'll steam a vegetable to go with it and give my husband some bread & olive oil (he has a big appetite, never gains weight though). About 1/3 of the lasagna package and the veggies makes about a 400-calorie meal.
But mostly I just want to pack up, walk through the cold to my garage and go home to bed!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Day 1 of "Write it Down" Diet -- With Recipe for Lo-Cal Toast Spread

As vowed, this is the start of my two-week food-diary weight loss effort.
For breakfast I had 1/2 whole wheat English muffin (topped with a few tablespoons of cottage cheese spread -- recipe below), 1/2 grapefruit and two big mugs of black tea -- sweetened with Splenda and lightened with fat-free half & half. (Yes, I know that the H&H is full of chemicals, but I can't seem to wean myself off it....) Calorie wise, it's probably 250 calories to start the day.

This spread is super easy, I love the flavor, and it lasts in the fridge for weeks on end. You only use a few tablespoons on a piece of toast -- giving you some protein and calcium and avoiding the need for butter, margarine or jam. If I'm not counting calories though, I add a layer of low-sugar jam before topping with this spread.

Recipe: Breakfast Spread

In a food processor or blender (food processor works much better), add a 16-ounce container of low-fat cottage cheese, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 6-8 packets of Splenda (or a store brand of same). Process until smooth and creamy. Taste and add more vanilla, cinnamon or Splenda, to taste.
Spoon into a storage container and keep covered in the refrigerator.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Heeding my own advice (and others')

It's most of the way through January and I've not shed any holiday weight.
Write down what you eat!
This is annoying!
So here I write all this good advice about weight control but I'm not really heeding it.
The #1 best thing you (I) can do to lose weight and/or maintain a desired level of poundage is to keep a food diary. Scroll down a few posts and you'll read that sterling piece of advice from yours truly earlier this month.
But I've been lazy and in denial about doing that which I know will make my morning weigh-ins a lot happier.
OK, for real: starting tomorrow, I'm keeping a food diary -- with a goal of consuming about 1500 calories per day -- for the next two weeks. Saturdays off. That by itself should get me back to where I want to be. Not hard!
I have no excuses for going this far into the New Year without heeding my own advice -- not to mention this same advice from many other health experts.
This is it!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

10 Easy Ways to Eat Healthier -- Every Day

You may have heard many of these ideas before -- including from yours truly -- but that's OK because they're all really good and useful suggestions.
Fruits and veggies make great snacks

From a reliable, favorite source of mine (Eating Well Magazine), check out their "10 Tips the Help You Eat Well for Life."
Some of them are:
1. Load up on fruits and vegetables (you know that, right?)
2. Eat meat sparingly, and stick to leaner cuts (if you do eat meat)
3. Stay with "good fats" (such as vegetable oils, especially olive oil)
4. Add more seafood to your diet
5. Be a savvy shopper (you'll have to go to the Eating Well article for this one.

And more!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Keeping it off

The older you get, the harder it is to keep the pounds from creeping on.
You may not ever have had a significant "weight problem," but as the decades go by, that can change--for the worst. Your metabolism slows down, muscle tone deteriorates, and it's much harder than it used to be to recover from a holiday eating/drinking binge (for example).
I've come to accept my size, which is on the high end of "normal" according to most charts -- just a couple of  pounds below "overweight." It's just too much trouble and effort to drop any pounds.
But I remain ever vigilant about pound creep, which could easily put me in an unacceptable size.
So here's a link to some websites (or blogs) that focus on MAINTAINING your weight. Some sites focus on recipes for health, others on fitting exercise into your routine, and others bring the input and output parts together.
I'm sure you'll find some useful tips!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Magic ingredients: fennel and leeks

While this plate may not make the prettiest food photo you ever saw, trust me when I say that the meal was delicious.
It's just store-bought ravioli -- shrimp and crab, in this case -- with a sauce made of sauteed mushrooms and diced fennel, along with a very few other ingredients. For our veggie side, I sauteed diced leeks with sliced Brussels sprouts.
I've found that leeks and fennel (or both in one dish) deepen and complicate the flavors of almost any savory dish.
Give them a try!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Tasty Salad: Marinated Cauliflower with Tuna, Capers and Garlic

Here's another winning dish from one of my favorite healthy foodies: Rose Shulman, who writes the "Recipes for Health" column for the NY Times.


1 large or 2 small or medium cauliflowers, broken into small florets
1 5-ounce can water-packed light (not albacore) tuna, drained
1 plump garlic clove, minced or pure├ęd
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar or champagne vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Place the cauliflower in a steaming basket over 1 inch of boiling water, cover and steam 1 minute. Lift the lid for 15 seconds, then cover again and steam for 5 to 8 minutes, until tender. Refresh with cold water, then drain on paper towels.
2. In a large bowl, break up the tuna fish and add the cauliflower.
3. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the garlic, parsley, capers, lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add the cauliflower and toss together. Marinate, stirring from time to time, for 30 minutes if possible before serving. Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.
Makes 4-6 servings as a side dish, or starter

Monday, January 7, 2013

Seasons 52 Coming Soon

A new option for healthy dining out is coming to Cincinnati. Seasons 52 is a relatively small chain, owned by the company that owns Red Lobster, and they're opening a new location in Cincinnati next month. It's in the new section of Rookwood (Hyde Park).

I've eaten at this chain in both the Atlanta and Chicago areas, and am really very happy that one is coming to my town.
Here's how they bill the chain (from their website):

Seasons 52 is a fresh grill and wine bar that invites guests to discover the sensational flavors of a seasonally-inspired menu and award-winning international wine list in a casually-sophisticated ambiance.
At Seasons 52, we pride ourselves on offering our guests:
  • Seasonally-inspired dining choices expertly designed to excite and surprise the palate
  • An award-winning international wine list featuring diverse wine selections that personalize the dining experience
  • Knowledgeable, approachable service that inspires confidence
  • A casually-sophisticated adult ambiance that feels inviting

What did I like about it so very much? The design of the bar and restaurant is quite appealing, but the best thing about Seasons 52 is that the food is HEALTHY and GOOD.
Here's what they say about their menu:

"The Seasons 52 menu is seasonally inspired with the fresh appeal of the farmer's market. . . .  We feature dining choices that are thoughtfully prepared in appropriate portion sizes. So our guests can feel the freedom to indulge in a complete dining experience, including our custom flatbreads and signature mini-indulgence desserts, while still feeling good about themselves and their dining choices. . . . We make a promise that nothing on our menu is over 475 calories. The result is great-tasting, satisfying food that just happens to be good for you."

The Rookwood location should be up and running by the middle of February. See you there, local folks!


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Write it down!

You've heard plenty of advice about how to make 2013 a healthier year, and perhaps lose a few pounds in the process.
Our local newspaper ran a story that listed 5-6 tips for staying on top of weight management, and most of them are well integrated into my life. (Eat breakfast every day, walk a lot, etc.) The one thing that I couldn't say I do all the time is keep a food log. However, it definitely has become the ONLY way I can lose weight: to write down most everything I eat in a day, with a rough estimate of how many calories I've consumed at each meal or snack.

According to an article on the site Live Strong, keeping a food diary has several benefits, which include keeping you motivated to make healthier food choices, get a handle on emotional eating (if you also record how you're feeling each time you chow down), and lose more weight than those who don't keep a journal. The article in our local paper also cited a study showing that people who do write it down consume 15% fewer calories per day/week than the non-diarists. That may not sound like a lot, but I know that I'd be several pounds thinner in not too many weeks at that reduced calorie intake.

Here are a couple of websites where you can download a food journal template:
Healthy Eating Starts Here
Personal Food Guide
Food diary templates from Microsoft Office

Frankly, I've found most of them to be too complicated so I made up my own more simple grid. Across the top are the days of the week, and below that are grids (labeled along the left side) for Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner and Snack, with a Total Calorie Estimate at the bottom of each day.

Give it a try!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Holiday Indulgence Rx, Part 1

Back to reality, dear readers: it's January and the party's over.
Back to work or school -- or in my case both, since my day job is journalism professor -- and time for a reckoning between our bodies and our bathroom scales. (Or whatever other method you may have for keeping track of your girth, such as how tight the skinny jeans have become.)
It's only a couple of pounds extra that I've managed to acquire, but the older I get, the harder it is to deal with even that amount of new weight.

So now what? Here's my first idea about how to shape up this January: GO VEGAN FOR A DAY EACH WEEK. 
Served with cornbread and white wine, yum!

Yes, you could be satisfied with vegetarian-for-a-day, but many of my readers already are vegetarian or at least "flexitarian." Also vegan cuts out dairy, which means cutting out cheese -- a big calorie booster when we eschew meat.
Even if you're not ready to commit to a vegan diet, try the following recipe. I made it for our New Year's Day dinner, with black-eyed peas (a good-luck food for 1/1 among my kinfolk). You can substitute any other bean. Also feel free to play with the proportions, adding more beans if you like. Throw in additional veggies, and/or nuts other than pine.

Recipe: Quinoa with Spinach, Beans and Avocado
Serves 4

1 cup quinoa (may substitute brown rice, couscous or other grain)
2 c salted water
2 c fresh spinach, rinsed and torn into bite-size pieces
1 c shredded carrot
1 c canned beans, rinsed and drained (such as kidney beans, black beans or black-eyed peas)
Salt, pepper and garlic powder, to taste
3 T olive oil, or more if desired
Juice of one-half lime
3 T pine nuts, toasted
1 or one-half avocado, cut into bite-size chunks
Cook the quinoa in the salted water until all the liquid is absorbed. Meanwhile, place spinach and carrots in a large mixing bowl. When quinoa is done, add to spinach mixture and toss well to wilt the spinach. Mix in beans, seasonings, olive oil and lemon juice. Spoon into a serving bowl and top with pine nuts and avocado.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Resolution Time -- ?

Ready to turn over the proverbial new leaf?
What's on tap for the coming year, in the realm of food and health?

Stay tuned..........