Sunday, March 30, 2008

Keys to Healthy Vacation

Remember when beach vacations were for eating too much, drinking too much, partying until dawn and lying in the hot sun doing nothing? Well, it turns out that many people today are using their vacation time to do just the opposite. With precious days away from a hectic work schedule that robs personal time to attend to health goals, the vacation is emerging as an opportune time to focus on fitness.
Registered dietitian, Donna Shields, MS RD has noticed this emerging health trend in her conversations with locals and visitors in Key West, Florida where she is a self professed “southernmost nutritionist” and “diet coach to the beach bums.” Shields, who is a slim and trim fifty-something brunette, was attracted to the casual beach life in the Florida Keys but as a certified personal trainer and former nutrition instructor for the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY she remains serious about promoting diet and fitness. Author of the Caribbean Light cookbook, she’s also well qualified to help clients slim down a pina colada or add a tropical flavor flare to grilled fish. So in today’s column I go to the Keys to learn about the keys to a healthy vacation from fellow dietitian Donna Shields. (
Carolyn: Vacations used to mean going for it and eating everything in sight and dropping out of everything including our fitness goals, but today it seems that busy folks want to use their extra time on vacation to take care of themselves.
Donna: Leave the car keys in the hotel room and start walking everywhere. This is oh-so simple in a small town, like Key West, where it’s flat and accessible, but even if you’re in a more remote resort location and need to cab places, you can still make it work. Have the taxi leave and pick you up at the opposite end of town and walk to your destination, especially if it’s for dinner. If you want to lounge by the pool, promise yourself that the next day you’ll do something more active, like kayak. Even fishing can be strenuous if you’re going after big tarpon or sailfish. On a more realistic note, check out where the locals go for exercise classes. Find out from the concierge where the neighborhood yoga or dance studio is located. It’s a good way to mix n’ mingle with non-tourists and get the skinny on the town. And don’t forget about yoga classes on the beach. Bet you can’t do that at home!
Carolyn: In the Keys it seems everyone rides a bike instead of renting a car. What can bike riding do for you?
Donna: Biking in Key West is what I would call “functional” exercise. We don’t really think of it as exercise but simply a way to get from one place to another. It’s practical, quick, very green and there’s no hassle or cost of parking. It’s great for the quadriceps muscles which don’t get much use if you’re used to sitting at a desk all week. Though we ride conch cruisers (fat tires and one speed) compared to racing bikes, the town is completely flat (highest point is 13 ft above sea level) so it’s easy even if you haven’t been on a two-wheeler for twenty years. It’s the ideal way to check out the little lanes and dead-end streets that no unnoticed when whizzing by in a car, and you can work on your tan with absolutely no effort as you cruise around town.
Carolyn: Tropical vacations seem to bring to mind fresh fish and fresh fruit....but, of course there's plenty of French fries and beer. What kinds of foods do you recommend people focus on during vacation?
Donna: Why go to a tropical island to eat and drink the same stuff you can get in any chain restaurant back home. Order the local seafood. In our case, it’s often Key West Pinks (shrimp), dolphin (often also called mahi-mahi), grouper and our name-sake conch. Order it blackened, grilled, pan sautéed or anything but fried. Conch seviche will have little if any added fat as it’s a very fresh preparation of lime juice, onion, usually some Habanero peppers. The acid of the lime juice actually cooks and helps tenderize the conch muscle. Mango and other tropical fruit salsas can be a healthy accompaniment to an entrée or as a sandwich topping; lots of fresh flavor, few calories and a nutritious choice. And when you do want that over-the-top-dish, share it with your traveling companion, add an appetizer or two and you’re set. Very often fish sandwiches are way too big for one person and also lend themselves to sharing.
Carolyn: OK...I'm at the pool at the historic Casa Marina Resort and the waiter comes by with a tray of cocktails which one should I get? Mimosa, Pina Colada, Mojito, or the strawberry daiquiri?
Donna: The Mimosa is probably the best bet. The orange juice at least provides some vitamin C. And the Mojito would also be a good choice, although it will contain some simple syrup or sugar, most of this rum beverage is club soda which is calorie free. Frozen blended drinks such as Key West’s famous margaritas are usually loaded with sugar, made from presweetened mixes. Pina coladas are a double whammy in that they also can be fairly high in fat due to the cream of coconut.

Carolyn: What are the health benefits of walking on the beach and just relaxing?
Donna: Feeling healthy can take different forms for different people and while having fun on vacation is important, doing something nice for yourself can also make you feel better. If you never, ever get a chance to read a book, then lying in a hammock, swinging under a palm tree, with a good read might just be the thing you need to do. Getting a massage on the beach or sharing a bottle of wine (with plastic cups) to watch the sunset on the pier could be the highlight of your trip. It’s the little, unexpected, unannounced moments that make a vacation healthy for body, mind and spirit.


Lady of the Refrigerator

The Fridge Fairy speaks. One of the most
interesting ways I present information on nutrition is on Alton Brown's Food Network
series, Good Eats. I am cast as "Lady of the Refrigerator" and when Alton opens
his fridge I appear amidst a cloud of frosty mist to impart diet and nutrition wisdoms on the show's topic. I scold him for not knowing the nutrient content of olives or okra. Like Lady of the Lake in King Arthur's time, I waft in and out of scenes disappearing back into the misty realm in the back of the refrigerator. What I hadn't counted on was actually being recognized out in public as Fridge Fairy, as my character is
now nicknamed. Just yesterday at the supermarket a
man stopped me and said "You're Carolyn O'Neil and I saw you last night on the Food Network
in the Good Eats episode "Okra-phobia!" Later in the day I was at the High Museum Wine Auction and while sampling the latest release of Iron Horse brut with winemaker and friend Joy Sterling it happened again. "You're the lady of the refrigerator!" another Good Eats fan announced. I just want to know how they recognize me when I'm not wearing my ice blue prom dress and tiara!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Did you say Dish on Dieting?

"The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!" is the book I've written with co-author Densie Webb, Phd RD.
Densie lives in Austin and I live in Atlanta and we successfully completed writing this diet and nutrition book via emails, faxes and only a few in person meetings. The best meeting of course was when we took our idea to New York City to present our proposal to potential editors with the expert help of our literary agent, Jenny Bent. The publisher who loved us most and we loved them too...was Atria Books, part of Simon & Schuster.
Here's a taste of The Dish.
Welcome to The Dish, where a new diet aptitude meets a stylish lifestyle attitude!
Serving up heaping helpings of nutrition know-how designed to fit your schedule and your sense of taste, THE DISH is here to show women of all ages they can have their chocolate torte and eat it too!

Forget starve-yourself regimens and nutrition gimmicks that just don’t work, and say good bye to those boring food enforcers who don’t understand what you need. Instead join Carolyn O’Neil and Densie Webb as they invite you to wine and dine, entertain and travel, cook delicious meals and enjoy the many ways to move your body and feel fabulous. As registered dietitians, they know their stuff, but they prefer to be called the “Dish Divas” and they’re here to put the fun back into eating right and feeling great.

In these pages they dish out diet advice on how to achieve three principal goals: to fit healthy eating into a hectic life; to make healthy eating stylish and to be healthy by eating more, not less (yes, it can be done!). There are no food police on patrol here, just some heartfelt real-life advice from two nutrition experts, who talk you through food challenges and choices with a style of wit and wisdom that will keep you turning the pages for more.

Want The Dish on how to make the best choices when you eat out? It’s all here, from four star tables to fast food lane. What about a bit of the bubbly? The Dish Divas offer the lowdown on the liquid portion of portion control. Need to get your rear in gear? From walking the pounds off to karate kicks, they’ll help you find the physical activities that appeal to you. They’ve even dished up plenty of fresh advice on beauty and fashion to help you streamline your look and your life.

To show you how to maximize flavor and flare in your food, they dish up easy-to-cook recipes, tips and techniques from top chefs, dubbed Gourmet Gurus. Ever wonder how chic and fit women stay that way and still live the high life? To answer the oft asked “How does she do it?” Carolyn and Densie gather the weight control secrets that work for their Hip & Healthy Heroines. So, learn from the best and see what works for you.

The Dish is a marvelous mix of nutrition advice, culinary wisdom and chic insight, here just in the nick of time to help you feel great, look great and create your own hip and healthy lifestyle.

To order your copy of The Dish On Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!
You're Fabulous!!!

The Boy Who Stole Salad and other Nutrition Lessons en Provence

A day spent meandering up and down the charming little streets of Aix-en-Provence with its tiny shops filled with fragrant strawberries and fresh baguettes and shoe stores with espadrilles in every window was one of my favorite “shore leaves” on a twelve day Crystal Cruise vacation.
Docking in the busy port of Marseilles, I knew I wanted to jump in a taxi and head to Aix as soon as possible with visions of Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” and eight years of schoolroom French buried somewhere in my brain. I shared the day trip with three friends, none of whom spoke any French so I was the master communicator with our friendly non-English speaking driver. Thirty minutes later he deposited us in the center of town in front of the Tourist Office; perfect for picking up a local map and immediately soaking in the charm of the bustling boulevards dotted with fountains and lined with side walk cafés. The driver asked how long we’d like to stay before he came to collect us and my response had him laughing out loud. “Pour deux semaines, s’il vous plaît.”
I told him I wanted to stay for two weeks; so I wasn’t just speaking French I was even making jokes!

Our main mission of the day was to choose a place to have lunch, of course. The setting of a meal is so important for the enjoyment of the experience and if a place looks popular chances are the food’s going to be good. We sized up the crowds dining casually under market umbrellas at several cafes and bistros and using our “restaurant radar” decided to sit down at Le Grillon, which seems especially lively. It turned out to be a great choice because even though my French was rusty, the servers were smiling and patient. I ended up going with a green salad with blanched cauliflower and carrots to start, then a gorgeous grilled sole with a lemon sauce and ratatouille of vegetables on the side. Was I an instant expert at reading the menu en Française? No, I kind of cheated.
I liked the look of the lunch that the fashionable and fit couple sitting next to us was having, so I just pointed to that! We ended up chatting in French and I found out they were from Paris and had a country house in Provence; what a dream. As I looked around the restaurant I noted that there were several families having lunch including a large group that needed to spread out. Two young girls of about 10 or 11 picked up their plates of steak tartare and frites and moved to a table for two. They poured bottled water into their glasses and went back to grab a bowl of green salad from the parents’ table and began to eat. Just then little brother appeared and begged to have the salad back. Expertly using the salad fork and spoon he placed some of the leaves on their plates and then darted away with the bowl. Did I just witness children fighting over a salad when fries were clearly in the picture, too? American parents: there’s hope! Apparently, this enthusiasm for healthy foods can be taught as a way of life.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The blog begins

Here I go. It's time to join the share-it-now world of blogging. I've kept a journal of my thoughts and observations since I was able to write so it's about time that I started my web log journal. To get started I'm going to experiment with the words and pictures that I think best describe my food philosophy and where we can go with The Dish on Dieting blog. It's all about celebrating fabulous foods that just happen to be healthy. Let's start with my lunch one day in Bordeaux.

I thought about the priority of enjoying deliciously healthy cuisine as I lingered over lunch at Les Sources de Caudalie, a spa resort and winery in Bordeaux. Even the ingredients within a dish seemed to be chosen to maximize the pleasure of the others. A delicate crab salad with tangy grapefruit segments was served with the concentrated flavor of tomato confit on top of a crunchy parmesan cracker at the base. This is spa cuisine?! Every bite was exciting and refreshing.

While dining in the city of Bordeaux a few days later at L’Estaquade, a seafood restaurant on the Garonne River, I watched a young couple on a date. Again I noted the relaxed and measured pace of eating in France. The man slowly poured the wine into her glass and then his and then repeated the process with their water glasses. Not until then did they raise a fork. There was an elegant ceremony to dining. Each bite of food was followed with a taste of wine and then conversation. This kind of stop- and-smell-the- bouillabaisse meal time mode is part of the reason the French are famous for not being fat. They savor flavors to enjoy delicious foods in smaller portions. So, the American scenario of gulping down a quick meal to make a movie seems almost barbaric.

Learning about cultures through their cuisines introduces us to new tastes and styles of eating to help us examine and perhaps improve our own. And these are certainly the kind of French lessons anyone would enjoy.