Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's the Great Pumpkin!

Staying on track with the Halloween theme this week, I thought I'd give a quick shout out to both Charlie Brown and the nutrient-packed pumpkin. Can't get much better than this bright orange winter squash when it comes to health benefits and taste. Pumpkin blows many other vegetables away with it's beta-carotene/carotenoid content -- carotenoids are a type of antioxidant that helps prevent disease/cancer and gives pumpkin its vibrant color. Pumpkin also contains other types of antioxidants, lutein and ziazanthin which promote eye health and lower the risk of macular degeneration. Pumpkin blows nutritional charts out of the water in vitamin C and potassium and is a good source of dietary fiber. Surprisingly, canned pumpkin is much higher in beta-carotene (vitamin A) -- nearly 10 times greater thanks to its nutrient concentration and low water content. Pumpkin's a healthful addition to muffins, pies, cookies, and breads as well as just on it's own. Cut into chunks and roast it up just like you would squash (drizzle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper) for a nutrient-rich side dish or to toss into a seasonal salad. Make a pureed pumpkin soup spiced with curry and diced apple. And don’t forget about pumpkin seeds which contain heart-healthy omega-3 fats and may help lower cholesterol levels. Love those crunchy little suckers, but think of them like you do nuts...a little goes a long way. They pack in alot of healthy fats and protein, but can also rack up in calories quickly so aim for a small handful per serving. Don't trash the seeds after carving your pumpkin, here's an easy recipe for roasting them.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder or paprika
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds
season with salt to taste
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Combine the butter, spices, Worcestershire sauce and pumpkin seeds. Mix thoroughly and place in shallow baking dish. Bake for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Makes about 10-12 servings
Nutrition facts: 210 calories, 17g fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 1g fiber, 12g protein

Finding the Health in Halloween

Trick-or-treat people! We're about to hit that infamous day of the year when munchkin-sized ghosts and goblins (or Don Drapers and Sarah Palins) and sugary-sweet candy corn and toostie roll pops come out with a vengenance. And I LOVE everything about it.
Yup, this nutritionist adores Halloween, the day of everything-orange-and-black...spooky, scary, fun, and loaded with any dietitian's and dentist's dreaded nightmare...endless heaps of candy.

If you didn't get a chance to read my monthly e-newsletter, here's the piece I wrote in praise of this frightful annual holiday. Have a read and rejoice in finding a little bit of health in this year's Halloween! (and if you're not signed up for my newsletter, click here and scroll to the bottom to get on the list!)

I'll come out and say it, I love Halloween. Odd words coming from a nutritionist, but it's always been one of my favorite holidays (maybe I'm just a sucker for dressing up and carving pumpkins). And I'm not gonna lie, I like a little candy once in a while too. There's a time and a place for a few milk duds, sweet tarts, candy corn or peanut m&ms -- wrapped up in black and orange packaging, they bring back trick-or-treating memories from childhood. Sure, on a daily basis, candy isn't something I encourage or take part in -- most of candy's ingredients are void of any decent nutritional value. But here's the healthy catch with Halloween: a) it's 1 day a year b) Halloween candy usually comes in bite-size, baby portions. Genius! Actually, these mini-sized candy bars or boxes are what actual portions should be. Two or three, and you're golden...you've gotten your sweet tooth fix and haven't gone crazy on the calories. Halloween can absolutely teach us something about healthful indulgence: baby bites = smart portions.

Here's a quick run down of your fave Halloween candies and their calorie counts:

  • candy corn (1 serving, 22 pieces) 140 calories, 0 grams fat

  • fun sized snickers or milkway (1) 75calories, 3.5 grams fat

  • fun sized m&ms (1 pack) 90 calories, 4.5grams fat twizzlers (3 pieces) 130 calories, 5 grams fat

  • peppermint pattie minis (2 pieces) 110 calories, 2 grams fat

  • reese's peanut butter cups (3 minis) 90 calories, 7 grams fat

  • snack sized butterfinger (1) 100 calories, 4 grams fat

  • fun sized raisinets (1 pack) 65 calories, 2.5 grams fat

  • fun sized goobers (1 pack) 85 calories, 5 grams fat

Friday, October 24, 2008

I'm obsessed...

You know when you've found a hidden gem of a restaurant or bar when you get giddy just thinking about it...and can't stop talking about it all week long. Earlier this week I had the good fortune of discovering the wine bar downstairs from Peasant, a rustic Italian restaurant -- with phenomenal food -- in Nolita. The wine bar was just as phenomenal. The perfect setting for my friend's birthday, for a date, or just for grabbing a glass of wine and some antipasti nibbles with friends on a chilly autumn evening. The cavernous, candlelit interior, wooden tables and extensive wine list warmed me up super fast. The vibe is laid-back and friendly and the food is perfectly simple. I hear crowds can get kind of rowdy late night, but this is definitely one place to check out sometime soon.

And on a random side-note, I'm also obsessed with my friend's band's hit song and video "Obsessed with You" . Check out the Orion Experience on itunes, their songs were recently featured on the Hills and they frequently play in NYC and LA. They rock!


There's nothing wrong with upping your game once in a while. By no means do I declare myself a professionally-trained chef...or even a professional cook for that matter. I'm a self-taught (and mother-dearest taught) home cook who loves to play with food, create delicious dishes, serve em up to friends and family, and more often than not, make a decent mess of my tiny New York City kitchen.
A classic over-achiever (call me type-A, I can take the blow), I decided to sign up for some cooking classes to hone my culinary prowess in the kitchen...I rarely tend to use recipes which clearly contradicts the 'precise' over-achiever in me, but I love the thrill of creating something purely from my senses and from scratch. Anyhow, recipes and preciseness aside, I was excited to take a series of classes at ICE (Institute for Culinary Education) in Manhattan. Did I take the "healthy cooking" course? Hells no! I wanted to refine the basic methods of basic cooking - nothing too elaborate, nothing overly gourmet, just good sound skills that I'd be able to apply anywhere, with anything. When you experiment in the kitchen and build up basic cooking skills and knowledge, you can really translate them to making a dish as healthful...or unhealthful as you wish. That's the beauty of getting to really know your food.
I must say, "The Essentials of Fine Cooking I" was an excellent class...and the instructor, Richard Ruben (author of the Farmer's Market Cookbook) will keep you cracking up, amused and thoroughly engaged the entire 4 hour class period. From killer knife skills (not literally) to braised lamb shanks to perfect omelets, the course was a great refresher...or a comfortable introduction for some.
Do you find yourself daunted by your kitchen, by the mere thought of using your stove? Take a gamble, have some fun and experiment with a recipe, a concoction of ingredients or check out a local cooking class near you. Happy honing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


If you haven't seen this article yet, hit print, run to the printer and start reading. You know I'm a big fan of sustainable food and agriculture mastermind, Michael Pollan, (see August's posting). Well, he's back in the media this week with an incredibly interesting, lengthy letter in the NY Times Magazine 's food issue this past weekend--one of the many articles I mentioned in Monday's post. "Farmer in Chief" speaks directly to the next president-elect, urging him to make our food industry and agricultural system an urgent priority. Pollan explains how food policy directly impacts national security, our move towards greener energy sources, the state of the economy and our national health care system. He makes a sensible case for a serious overhaul. Let's just hope the next administration actually listens.
Go and get reading!!!

Monday, October 13, 2008

From scratch...

Last week was packed with item after item to blog about -- so jammed packed I'm not exactly sure where to begin. Let's start with some basics in the world o'nutrition news.
Aside from the economy tanking last week, food news covered the papers. Check out this intriguing article in last week's NY Times titled, "In Bad Economic Times, Are People Healthier?" You probably wouldn't normally link better eating habits to a clamp down on your wallet, but the article cites that this year in particular, tough times and scrimping may actually do a body some good. A market research firm reported last May that 53 percent of consumers were cooking more from scratch at home than they did 6 months beforehand, thanks to rising food costs and cutting back on extraneous expenses like dining out at restaurants. Rising healthcare costs aside, cooking more from scratch has the potential to significantly impact our health and what foods are appearing on our plates. (Hopefully that translates to a better balanced of fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources and whole grains). We know that real food has a much greater "bang for your buck" (both nutritionally and literally) than anything boxed, bagged, processed, or wrapped in plastic -- and usually taste better too. Let's start putting that concept into practice. Good quality, healthy food doesn't have to be exhorbitant. A pound of chicken breasts, 4 potatoes and a head of broccoli will cost you an average of $10-14 and feed 4 people v. your $5 frozen dinner that just feeds one and often leaves you rumaging through your barren refrigerator hungry for more.
Just something to consider. Convenience is obviously another topic to tackle entirely, but I'm sticking to basics for now. How has our current economic state affected you and what you are or are not eating (or spending on food)? What's in your grocery cart these days? Personally, I've been hitting up the farmers market more than ever and am really trying to curb how often I eat out during the week -- a 'quick bite' with a friend or colleague can easily add up to $40-50 in this city...multiple times a week! I'm also making an effort to actually EAT my leftovers -- yes, I'm definitely guilty of making extra and dumping it after a few days of sitting pretty in the fridge. Put it in the freezer if you can't stand looking it for the 3rd or 4th time in a row...magic, you've automatically got healthy convenience food at a much lower cost!
Next up on the blogging radar later in the week: The New York Wine & Food Festival that occurred in NYC this past weekend, welcoming celebrity chefs and culinary speakers from around the world. I was lucky enough to attend two fantastic talks over the weekend. More on my experience hearing the mother of the organic food movement, Alice Waters and Nigella Lawson, in all her Brit gastro-porn greatness, to come. To accompany the festival weekend, the Times dedicated this Sunday's magazine entirely to the topic of food (see pic above)...everything from food policy issues, taking food seriously, locavorism and a soon-to-be-released documentary, Food Inc., that aims to raise social consciousness -- though it might seriously make you sick to your stomach or make you think twice where your poultry and beef is coming from in the process. I'd much rather go with the latter and pray it doesn't leave me with nightmares (I have no love for horror movies).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Carbs and running...what's the deal?

Hello there! I am fresh off my first half-marathon...completed in stride this past Saturday in Central Park. I have to say, for someone who hasn't always been a fan of running, the race was awesome. My legs felt the repercussions for a few hours afterwards, but it was a really fun, energizing way to start my weekend off. Sorry to say, I have no pictures to prove anything, so you'll have to take my word for it.
As the New York Marathon is quickly approaching, I figured this would be a great time to bring up the whole 'carb-running' discussion. Inevitably, every year around this time, someone -- or multiple people -- ask me about race training and carbohydrates...which is an excellent question. When, what type, how much? When to taper? Ever thought, "I'm running a race tomorrow -- this is the perfect excuse for me to have a ginormous pasta dinner!"
Sorry to put a damper on your pasta party, but you'll be much better if you incorporate good quality carbohydrate sources into your diet throughout your training period -- whether you're training for a 5K, 10 miler, half-marathon or the whole 26mile load. Overloading on carbs a few days or the night before the race doesn't give your body enough time to create a storage space for energy reserves (the technical term being glycogen)...which you'll slowly and steadily release during the race. Essentially, you've trained your muscles to hold and use energy reserves effectively and efficiently. This is the idea around 'complex' or wholegrain carbs, they're slowly digested and thus, they slowly release a steady stream of powerhouse energy.
About 2 weeks before the big race, you'll want to start tapering your workouts to allow for your muscles to build up enough energy stores. Since you're not as active, you can bump down the amount of carbs you're eating each day just slightly. Continue to focus on complex carb sources which serve as our body and our brain's optimal fuel source. We're talking brown rice, sweet potatoes, lentils and beans, quinoa, barley, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, wholegrain breads and cereals. Having a huge pasta dinner the night before the race may just make you feel unnecessarily full and may potentially upset your digestive system if it's a bit sensitive...and that's definitely the last thing you want to deal with on the morning of race-day!
The morning of, reach for a light, energy-packed breakfast (under about 300 calories or so) for peak performance. My personal fave: banana with peanut or cashew butter, but a slice of whole wheat toast with PB or a bowl of oatmeal or cereal with fruit with also do the trick. Whatever has been working for you during your training period, stick with it. Trying something 'new and supposedly improved' right before the race could wreck havoc on your stomach if it's sensitive.
Lastly, make sure you hydrate and hydrate some more in preparation for race day. Learn when and how much to drink. Drink 4 to 8 glasses of extra water for a few days prior to the event. For an endurance race like a marathon, drink 2-3 glasses of water up to 2 hours before the guns go off. Then drink 1-2 cups 5-10 minutes before the start of the race and then ¼ to ½ cup of water or Gatorade every 15-20 minutes or so during the race. For endurance workouts, races and exercise greater than 60-90 minutes, you may want to try out sports drinks to replace lost fluids and electrolytes to give you a boost of fuel. You may also want to try carbohydrate gels during a marathon again to replenish muscles and keep energy levels running strong. Again, test-drive gels, ShotBlocks, sports jelly beans, and sports drinks prior to race day to prevent any digestive problems.
Most importantly...have a great run, have fun! When it comes to running and food, slow and steady definitely wins out every time.