Thursday, July 31, 2008

Kids and cholesterol drugs -- a bad mix?

After a slight R&R hiatus this past week, I'm back and the latest news in the papers is scary enough that it's prompting me to put pen to rather, fingers to my laptop's keyboard. Anyhow, after reading one too many articles about the American Academy of Pediatrics' recent recommendation to prescribe statin drugs (like lipitor) to help lower the cholesterol of at risk children over the age of 8, I felt the need to quickly comment. "At risk" meaning they're at risk for developing heart disease or diabetes down the road and have high levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol (above 130).
All of this of course, is linked back to the overweight and obesity epidemic that has our country and food companies at their knees. A news article just published yesterday stated that 14 major food companies, Coca-Cola and Kellog's among them, who are members of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative are planning to make a serious effort at marketing "healthier for you" foods to children in an effort too keep weight off. Great to hear, but will it really illicit change? What will really hit home with kids, what role do parents and guardians play? I'm not so sure medicine should be the got-to answer and it appears many others feel similarly because the American Academy of Pediatrics is getting a whole lot of flack right now. How did we get to this state of continuously expanding waistlines in a country that focuses so much attention on losing weight and spends millions each year on "diet" foods? Less time in front of the tube or computer, more time outside or actively playing along with smaller portions and simple changes towards healthier 'kid-friendly' foods might just do the trick--saving medical alternatives for when they're truly necessary. What do you all think?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Latest and greatest diet study???

Ready or not, the latest diet study has hit the fan. Last Thursday the New England Journal of Medicine released results from a study comparing a low-carb (aka Atkins) diet, the Meditteranean diet and a low-fat diet (30% fat). Over 300 dieters were put to the test, assigned to one of the 3 diets. Researchers found that those on the Mediterranean and low-carb diets lost more weight than those on the low-fat diet after the first 5 months (10 pounds and 14 pounds respectively). Of course the dieters regained some of the weight after two years, finishing off with a total loss of 6 and 10 pounds (Med and low-carb).
What's almost more interesting, and more controversial, is that the low-carb diet which was higher in saturated fat and the low-fat diet, both helped lower LDL 'bad' cholesterol. Interesting because the Atkins diet traditionally has been scolded for encouraging unhealthful, cholesterol-raising amounts of saturated fat from rich calorie-laden sources like red meat, bacon and butter.
So behind the scenes, here's what the news stories are forgetting to mention:
1. the study was funded by the Atkins Research Foundation...I don't smell bias do you?
2. dieters put on the low-carb Atkins-like diet were actually encouraged to get their fat from vegetarian sources like nuts, oils etc which are healthy unsaturated fats and may outweigh the health/cholesterol impact of whatever saturated fats were additionally consumed.

Bottom line: It's a single study and there appears to be a number of confounding factors going on here. As Tara Parker Pope put it in her NY Times blog post, it's additional evidence that 'diets' just don't really work. A 10 or 6 pound sustained loss over two years doesn't sound ovewhelming to me. So what should we take away from all this? Stick with the basics people! The Mediterranean diet--or a version similar to it--has proven again and again to positively impact health, disease prevention and keep the scale hovering at a friendly number. A day-to-day diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, complex carbs like whole grains and legumes, healthy sources of fat like olive oil/grapeseed oil, nuts and avocado and a focus on seafood and fish has worked well for thousands of years. Eat fresh, eat whole, eat on smaller plates (ie. smaller portions) and you're good to go.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The scoop on ice cream

I admit my vices when it comes to food (we're all human) and I have a slight love affair with ice cream, always have, and most likely always will. The affair heats up when summer hits, nothing goes better with a hot Sunday evening than a scoop of delectable ice cream. My love affair got even more steamy last weekend when I ventured down to Soho to check out the new butter-yellow truck that dishes out Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream (pictured above). I love that co-owning brothers Pete and Ben's motto is "Fresh. Local. Pure. Simple." And their ice cream really is just that (in addition to utterly amazing). They take pride in working with local dairy farmers, using organic cream and hormone-free milk, and sourcing some of the best ingredients around -- like fair trade Columbian coffee, Sicilian pistachios, organic peppermint and real, fresh strawberries. Not to mention the napkins, cups and spoons are made from environmentally-friendly renewable resources. Pretty nice guys, huh.
I can tell what you're can a nutritionist encourage eating high-calorie, full-fledged ice cream? Isn't that a little contradictory to the idea of 'healthy eating'? Actually, it's not at all. Part of being healthy and eating well is enjoying small indulgences -- when they're REALLY worth it. I was completely satisfied with my small, single-scoop peppermint-chip cone this weekend. When we allow ourselves to eat real food made with fresh ingredients our bodies register the good stuff and we don't end up craving more...and more. We're satisfied and that's that. If fat-free, taste-free frozen yogurt doesn't really do the trick for you and you end up eating a huge portion loaded with too many toppings to count, what's really the point? You've probably wasted more calories than you would have with one small scoop of the real stuff and it wasn't exactly an enjoyable experience. Food should be enjoyable people--when it is, the less we end up eating overall. It's like magic! So here's why, when and how to get your kicks, have a good lick of your fave ice cream AND still strut your stuff at the beach this summer:
1. make it worth it -- don't just eat any old ice cream, only the best of the best will do
2. timing is everything -- if ice cream's your thang, pick just one time a week to have your little treat
3. flava flav -- order a single scoop of whatever you've got a hankering for, save on calories without compromising flavor
4. love every lick and don't dare feel guilty afterwards

My personal favorite ice cream flavor? That's tough one, I'd have to go with Mint Chocolate Chip, Pistachio (I know, random) or an incredibly intense Vanilla. What's your favorite?

(refreshing peppermint-chip...I'm in love)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Gone fishing in NYC

Good seafood can be hard to come by in this city. But sometimes on a warm summer evening, that's all you're looking for--a little beachy nostalgia wrapped up in a nice, simple seafood meal. Though I'd heard rumors of terribly long waits (even for NYC), I decided to brave the crowds and met a friend at Mary's Fish Camp in the West Village for an incredibly quaint, delicious dinner. A small, white-washed corner cafe with a few tables, curved counter with bar-stool seating, and more fresh fish options than you could ever imagine. There's something wonderful (and healthful) about simple, clean food and Mary's gets it right on. My friend and I decided to share a few dishes, starting off with a tomato-feta salad with some of the crunchiest cucumbers I've had all season. Lobster knuckles (at left) were up next--freshly steamed, they were so amazing who really needs butter to clutter the taste? For the entree, we split spot tailed bass accompanied by a tasty summer corn-avocado relish. (A nice little boost of omega-3 healthy fats in there!)
If you're on the healthy-eating straight and narrow, this is certainly one restaurant that provides a ton of tasty, lower-calorie and heart-healthy choices. With a daily listing of whole fresh fish, you're able to take the driver's seat and request your preferred cooking method...grilled is always a great call. Tack on a side of fresh veggies or some corn on the cob and you've got a really well-rounded meal. And if you're in the mood for sharing something a little more spurlge-worthy, don't worry, the fried oysters and lobster roll are staples on the menu.
I'll definitely be headed back in the near future. Happy fishing!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Herb gardens go urban

Sometimes you have to make the best of things living in NYC. Having outdoor space in this city basically requires being blessed by the real estate gods...or being lucky enough to have inherited a spacious, rent-controlled apartment from your grandparents or some long-lost relative you met once when you were 5. Unfortunately, I fall into neither of those categories.
So, I thought I'd share a quick, inside look into my attempt at creating greenery within the confines of my apartment. Sure, I'd love to have a sprawling garden with flowers, herbs and fresh vegetables, but the linoleium flooring in my kitchen doesn't exactly fit the bill. Alright, I'm a compromising person. Call me what you want, a culinary dork, a nerdy nutritionist (which I'm not thank you!), but I really wanted to have access to fresh herbs for when I'm cooking, makes a huge difference in flavor. Say hello to my makeshift herb garden on my kitchen windowsill. It's a bit sparse at the moment, but I've got some incredible basil perfect to pair with summertime tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and sweet-smelling mint, great for tossing into salads, marinades, iced-tea etc. Thankfully my kitchen gets lots of sunlight--the herbs are growing at light-speed. I'm planning to add a few other herbs down the road (I'm thinking rosemary and thyme for the fall).
What's the moral to today's semi-random post? It doesn't take much to boost the flavor and healthfulness of your matter where you live. Fresh herbs and spices are a no-brainer!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What mom can teach you...

Everything I know about food and smart eating habits I learned from my mother. I spent the Fourth of July with my family this past weekend, and every time I head back home, this nutritionist gets a nice, quick refresher course. Nope, my mom isn't a health professional, she's never dieted once in her life, she's not nutty about certain 'good' or 'bad' foods (though she loves her cottage cheese...and her chocolate!). She does however, tap into her hunger cues, stock the fridge with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, eats when she's hungry throughout the day and eats normal, real the right-sized portions for her specific body.
Ok, slight disclosure: she's got a kicking metabolism that could put a high-speed race car to shame, but she's smart about what she eats and she's active. My guess is that from the time of my birth, her habits and the habits she instilled in my family have been a major influence on my own views around eating and food -- whether I realized it or not. And no, we were not a family of super health-food-freaks. There was often a stash of ice cream in the freezer and snacks (healthy and not-so-healthy) in the pantry. The current status of my parents' kitchen leans more on the healthful-side these days, but it's quite likely to find some type of homemade baked goods (this weekend it was my grandmother's recipe for ridiculously good brownies) in the freezer. And the amazing thing is if I go home in 2 or 3 months, a few of those brownies will probably still be there. Blasphemy to think they wouldn't be gobbled up within a week. Many of us can barely bake a batch of cookies without devouring them in a matter of days (thank goodness for coworkers...or the trash can--think back to Sex and the City, Miranda's chocolate cake fiasco).
So maybe it's a generational difference? Maybe our parents and grandparents weren't inundated with shelves of high-calorie snacks, prepared meals, packaged and processed goods and they weren't confused by too many fad diets, supplements and quick-fixes to count? There's something to be said for good, basic food.
So Mom, I've got to give you a small shout out...because when I open up my fridge brimming with colorful fruits and veggies, a hunk of good parmesan cheese, the infamous cottage cheese and yogurt, and other fresh foods, I've got you to thank.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

More from the trans fat BANwagon...

Hi all! I thought the whole trans fat ban was such a timely topic, I asked my stellar summer nutrition intern, Jennifer, to weigh in as well. Here's what she has to say:

D-Day for the Ban Against Trans Fats in NYC The New York City health department demarcated July 1 as the official day to begin banning artificial trans fat in restaurant food. Baked goods and fried foods must be trans fat free, or restaurateurs risk being fined up to $2,000.
Restaurant owners were extremely fearful of the switch from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil to natural ingredients like butter and lard because they were not sure if they could replicate the taste and texture their customers loved. Believe it or not, a Trans Fat Help Center was actually set up to help with the transition. Companies were also hired to ensure that comfort – food recipes, such as chocolate chip cookies and pie crusts, had the same "mouth feel" without trans fats as they did before. Besides worrying about changes in taste, some owners are estimating a 20% increase in cost to bake without trans fats. One item at Panera Bread got so complicated for them to replicate that they just took it off the menu altogether.
Alternatives are being created to help with the texture issue that restaurateurs have been complaining about, but they are extremely high in saturated fat (with 25% being on the low end!). Some doctors worry that New Yorkers will think they can eat more baked and processed goods due to the fact that they are trans fat free and forget that saturated fat should still be limited.
Bottom line: Make whole, unrefined, and unprocessed foods the major contributors to your diet; they're the best fuel for your body. Oh yeah, and you won’t have to worry as much about obesity and heart disease down the road.

Trans fat free...for good!

It's official. The NYC Health Department's ban on the use of trans fats in restaurants takes effect as of today, July 1. Say sayonara to pastries, frozen and fried foods, cookies, chips and more that formerly were made with with artery-clogging trans-fats (aka 'partially hydrogenated vegetable oils'). Trans fats increase the shelf-life and stability of products (think of the life-span of a Twinkie!). Unfortunately, these uber-saturated fats also increase our LDL "bad" cholesterol and have been shown to lower HDL "good" cholesterol, posing a pretty big threat to heart health. Products laden with trans-fats are also often laden with excess calories which doesn't bode well for those sassy new white jeans you just purchased for summer.

Restaurants seem to be taking the big switch in stride, successfully scouting out butter, oils and shortenings that aren't hydrogenated...without impacting the taste and flavor of stand-by recipes. NYC's Health Dept has gone as far as creating a Trans Fat Help Center to aid restaurants in finding healthier cooking substitutes. It seems that other cities are following New York's lead...Boston, Seattle and Philly are also looking to declare bans.

All in all, the change over won't have a great impact on you as far as flavor and your fave foods in restaurants. But at least you can rest assured that your health is in slightly better hands. And like with everything, moderation is the key. A tiny bit of really good, REAL butter goes a long way!

Check out this chart published last week in the NY Times showcasing where Americans are getting their trans-fats from...