Tuesday, September 13, 2011

French fries ruined my weekend

A friend of mine told me that while on a weekend trip she apparently ate too many French fries and subsequently regained the weight she loss from the previous week.

I thought, you’re kidding me. French fries are that dangerous.  And then the more I thought about it, I figured yes, they are.  It’s a white potato, which has almost no nutritional value, it’s a starch that turns to sugar and it’s deep fried.

That’s a bad combination when you think about it.

I generally steer away from white potatoes because of their lack of nutrition.  And from the sounds of what happened to my friend, my decision is definitely a good one.

For those of you who love potatoes, I would like you to consider a few things. 

Craving foods like starches and soft textured products (French fries, pasta) is sometimes an indicator that you’ve waited too long to eat and therefore you want foods that satisfy immediately without providing nutrition.

Those foods are commonly referred to as simple carbs.  And in the American diet, we live off of them.  Many studies link the over consumption of these foods to obesity.  They include pasta, white potatoes, white rice and potato chips. I know potato chips aren’t soft, but they are crunchy and salty, which appeals to our craving taste buds, and they’re made with white potatoes.

I recommend trading in deep fried French fries for baked fries, which you can prepare easily at home.  Like I said, I rarely eat commercial fries, but I do roast potatoes in my own oven from time-to-time.  Simply cut potatoes (I like golden Yukon) into wedges or cubes, place on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, olive oil and any other herbs or spices that suit your taste buds.  Some of my favorites are rosemary and paprika.

And to kick it up a nutritional notch, forego the white potato for a sweet potato.  Sweet potatoes are high in Vitamins A, E and fiber.  Because of their versatility, they can be prepared savory and sweet. Not to mention, they taste great and children love them.

In this week’s reading resources, I’ve included two sweet potato recipes from my friend Judy McPherson Judy is a fabulous cook and organic farmer.   I’ve eaten a number of her home-baked specialties and she never disappoints.

And for you NC residents, you couldn’t have chosen a better place to reside.  NC produces about 45 percent of the country’s sweet potato supply. That means they are affordable and plentiful during the fall months. The sweet potato can last for months when stored in a cool, dark, dry place (not in the refrigerator).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Not my mama’s biscuits

School is starting,  fall is around the corner, and as we begin to have less daylight, some of us spend less time working out, which can sabotage your fitness plan.  Even worse is the desire to feed on fattening foods during the fall and winter months.

Comfort foods come to mind. Those are the foods that make us feel good when we eat them, usually because the food is attached to a memory or feeling.

My comfort foods are definitely Southern inspired classics like biscuits, baked mac and cheese, fried chicken, cobblers and pies.  Just because they are my favorites doesn’t mean I have them often.

I suggest picking a day of the month (just one day) that you indulge in your favorite food. By choosing a day, you have something to look forward to and you’re not giving up your favorite foods.  You’re just enjoying in moderation.

However, there’s one more thing you should consider.  How about slightly modifying some of your recipes so you can eliminate some calories and fat?  I generally don’t condone altering perfectly good recipes, but I guess there’s an exception to every rule.

I say take baby steps.  Don’t change and possibly ruin your family’s recipes.  For example, I love biscuits.  Ironically, my mother didn’t learn to make them until I was an adult.  But the best part is she makes them without lard or butter.

I know, it sounds impossible and remember I’m a born and bred Southerner so I know a good buttermilk biscuit, but our friend Judy McPherson (an organic farmer and owner of the Uwharrie Farm) developed an unbelievable biscuit recipe using olive oil.

The ingredients are all-purpose flour (Or flour of your choice. My mom uses spelt and I like a mix of white and wheat flours), salt, baking soda, baking powder, buttermilk and olive oil.  If you’d like details regarding exact measurements, you can e-mail me. These biscuits are no-roll. Once you mix, pat them into shape and put them in a pan.  It’s very easy and they taste great. Please email me for exact measurements.

Check out some of Judy’s other seasonal recipes.
Here’s a guide to healthy ingredient substitutes that can aid you when cooking: Ingredient substitutions from the Mayo Clinic.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Agave good for more than tequila

Once a treasure of the Aztecs, agave nectar now is the newest choice of conscious consumers.

A sugar craving can be the hardest to satisfy, especially when you don’t want to settle for a sugar substitute.

There are many options on the market for your stubborn sweet tooth, including small portioned snacks, reduced fat snacks, low fat snacks, low sugar snacks and sugar free snacks. But if you’re like me, you choose your battles wisely and sugar always wins.

I can skimp on a lot of things, but the taste of cane sugar is not one of them.  The trick is eat a little and don’t eat it often.

I’ve always thought there would be no hope for me until a couple weeks ago when I purchased agave nectar.  I was in warehouse store and stumbled across a two-pack of organic blue agave nectar. Agave is a nectar or syrup that is harvested from a succulent plant.  Succulents hold water and other examples include cactus and aloe vera.

Although I had never used agave, it wasn't the first I had heard of it.  I have a coworker who has been singing its praises for about a month, and she heard about it from “The Dr. Oz Show.” And ironically after that, I began hearing about it everywhere, as if it was newly discovered.

Whoopi Goldberg mentioned it one day on “The View” and then Rachael Ray mentioned it on her show.

I’ve yet to get to the bottom of North America’s recent fascination with this ancient nectar.  However, agave dates back thousands of years to the Aztecs.  Aztecs are indigenous people of central Mexico who speak Nahuatl.  During the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, Aztecs also inhabited what is now known as Honduras and Nicaragua. 

Given the history of the people and culture, it’s obvious that agave nectar is not new. It’s just new to some of us.

The plant was exported to Europe and Asia during the 18th century to use as decoration.  Now, it can be found in communities from Arizona to India. The agave is commonly seen in four varieties: Agave americana, Agave angustifolia, Blue agave (also used to make tequila), and Agave attenuata.

It’s light in taste and often compared to honey, but less viscous.  It dissolves easily in beverages and can be used as a substitute for any sweetener, even in baking.

I use it in my tea and I love it.  There’s no after taste and it’s highly concentrated so it doesn't take much to do the trick. The best part about agave nectar and the characteristic that is touted the most is its low glycemic index, which means it's less likely to cause a spike in your blood sugar.  Generally, foods that cause a spike in blood sugar are heavy in carbohydrates and carbohydrates are usually packed with calories.  And you know to lose weight; you have to burn calories, so I doubt you want extra ones hanging around.

For more information about how the nectar is harvested, glycemic index and agave versus other sweeteners, visit the All About AgaveWeb site.

For more general agave information, click here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Check your girth, lose your love handles

Have you ever been mistaken for an expectant mother?

Do you know your girth? It is the circumference of your abdominal area.  That area referred to as your gut or beer belly.

The size of this area has been used for ages to determine health risks, and it is an indicator of how much body fat you have.  However, your girth is not a substitute for finding out how much fat to lean body weight you are carrying.

The reason why I like measuring girth is because you can do it yourself without fancy equipment.  All you need is a tape measure. 

The circumference of your mid-section indicates how much extra, unhealthy weight you are carrying.  Thus, those with larger bellies are at risk for diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The best advice I can give for ditching your beer belly is to change your diet and add more physical activity to your life.

Unfortunately, the older you are, the harder it is to shed extra pounds and the ones in the middle seem to be most stubborn.  That's because your metabolism slows and random dieting doesn't cut it.  Also, because your metabolism slows once you reach age 30, your body stores more calories.  That's why what worked in your 20s, no longer works.

If your belly is out shinning the rest of your body, you need to cut your sugar and fat intake, eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and drink lots of water.

I'm always amazed by the high number of people who aren't getting results, but admit to poor eating habits and no physical activity.  The only way to see results is to eat less junk, eat more whole foods and exercise.  There's no way around it.

And if you're thinking, "Oh, I need to do abs."  Forget about it.  If you don't already have a flat stomach, that's not the answer. Targeting your abdominal muscles by doing traditional abs, sit-ups and crunches will only frustrate you and it's not enough. It takes more than that to get a flat belly.  Focus on your core and you are sure to see results. Not only will you lose fat, but you will gain strength.

Core exercises are by far the best way to burn fat and increase overall body strength because you engage your entire body.

So, if you don't want your bulging mid-section to get more attention than you, you need to commit to change.  And don't expect a six pack or massive results overnight.  You may never have a six pack and it may take months or a year to burn off the residual from years of poor food choices and inactivity.