Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Time's Greek to Me

Even if you’re enjoying a “stay-cation” at home, summer’s blue skies, sunny days and star lit nights offer the perfect settings to enjoy a taste trip to Greece. Many of the ingredients in Greek cuisine can literally be described as food of the Gods when you dip into the stories of ancient mythology. Milk from the goat, Amaltheia, was said to have nourished the great god Zeus who was born in a cave on the island of Crete. According to myth, a bee nestled in that same sacred cave was the original source of Crete’s delicious velvety honey. Citrus fruit was created by Gaea, the goddess of the earth, as a wedding gift to Zeus and Hera and then closely guarded in the Garden of Hesperides, far from the inquisitive eyes of Minoan mortals. Sliced oranges topped with a sprinkling of goat cheese and a drizzle of honey sounds heavenly and fits in with down to earth modern medicine’s advice for a healthy diet.
Greek Food and Good Nutrition
Today, nutrition researchers who work to separate food fact from fiction when studying the benefits of dietary habits through time point to the Greek way of eating as one of the best in the world. Healthy highlights include daily consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seafood and olive oil. In the 1960’s and ‘70s, Greece topped the charts with the highest life expectancy and one of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world attributed to the doubly beneficial effect of the Greek diet and the culture’s emphasis on physical activity. Artemis Simopoulos, MD, author of The Omega Diet and one of the world’s leading experts on the traditional Greek diet points to the positive nutrition power and disease fighting properties which come from “bioprotective nutrients” such as vitamins C and E in fruits and vegetables and the fatty acids in fish, nuts, olive oil and greens.
Greek Menus
The menu at Kyma, a Greek restaurant in Atlanta, features dishes that would please both ancient Greeks and modern nutritionists with its emphasis on wood grilled whole fish and a multitude of tasty vegetable side dishes.

Kyma’s executive chef Pano Karatassos, lavishes as much attention on a simple stew of plump giant white kastorian beans with tomatoes, onion and dill as he does on his show-stopping slow braised lamb shank entrĂ©e with Greek couscous. A side of wilted wild greens tossed in extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice is right in line with Dr. Simopoulos’ research suggesting that regular consumption of dark green leafy vegetables is one of the specific reasons the Greek diet is rich in disease fighting phytonutrients. For dessert, a traditional Greek yogurt topped with nuts and honey is food for the gods and guests at Kyma.

But, since humans do have a weakness to drift off course toward temptation (as detailed in just about every story of Greek mythology) Greece has lost some ground in the super-healthy category as modern day Greeks succumb to the gradual addition of more processed foods higher in sugar and saturated fats and have become more sedentary due to a contemporary lifestyle dependent on cars and computers.

So, before you sit down to a huge plate of hearty Moussaka (ground lamb and eggplant casserole) or platter of flaky spanakopita (phyllo pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese) remember that portion sizes still count when enjoying nutritious Greek foods. And note that too much sitting down can be part of the problem too. Healthy Cretans studied in Greece paired their goat cheese consumption with chasing goats up and down rocky hillsides.

Modern Ways to Reap Ancient Dietary Rewards

• Alpha to Omega- Eat foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids such as fish, walnuts, olive oil, canola oil and dark green leafy vegetables

• It’s no myth - Eating seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day is the foundation of a healthy diet.

• Earthly advice - Eat more vegetable protein, including peas, beans and nuts.

• Go for Greek Dairy- Feta cheese has one-third less fat and 30 percent fewer calories than cheddar cheese. Greek yogurts contain nearly twice as much protein as other yogurts.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Finding Fitness in a Fattening World

The best formula for weight loss is and always has been consuming fewer calories and burning more of them through exercise.

But, keeping track of calorie counts has never been easy. There are charts and graphs and lists of the calorie counts of foods to refer to, but it’s time consuming and often confusing. Even dietitians who analyze diet records admit it’s often a frustrating chore, especially when clients overestimate and underestimate some amounts.

Say you had a glass of wine with dinner? Okay. But, was it in a 16-ounce tumbler? You had a salad with lunch? Great, but was it a few lettuce leaves drowned in ranch dressing or a large bowl of mostly vegetables, lightly dressed?

Dietitians are trained to be diet detectives to help ferret out the truth and teach clients how to better communicate exactly what and how much they’re consuming. That way they can figure out why the client isn't losing weight and help design a diet that hits the mark with the right number of calories to consume each day.

Calling for help

Research shows that dieters who keep food journals noting what they eat lose twice as much weight as those who don’t. Adding notes on physical activity is critical, too.

But the pages of a journal don’t tell you how many calories in a croissant.

Enter an age of technology-aided dieting. Weight-loss programs available on smart phones, including the iPhone and BlackBerry, make it easier to tabulate calorie intakes and even help plan diet goals. While there are no long-term research studies yet to show how well these apps help shed pounds, weight-loss experts are enthusiastic about these new tools. Losing weight is hard enough; so if keeping track of calories is easier, more accurate and perhaps even more fun using your iPhone, then chances are you will be more successful.

Popular, free weight-loss apps to try include LoseIt for iPhone and Calorie Counter by Fat Secret, for all smart phones.

Little things are big things

Apply the little proverb to weight control: Little things mean a lot. Little bouts of exercise -- as short as 10 minutes in duration -- can add up to significant gains in fitness. Unfortunately, it’s also the little bites eaten here and there above daily caloric needs that can add up to sizable weight gain over time.

Call it the “creep” -- the cumulative effect of small daily errors in energy balance that slowly but surely feed the growth of body fat.

As obesity expert Dr. Robert Kushner of Northwestern University explains, “By consuming just 12 calories more per day you can gain two pounds a year. By eating 125 calories more per day you can gain more than 12 pounds in a year.” The sage budget advice to "watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves" holds true here, too.

On the exercise front, registered dietitian Ruth Ann Carpenter of the Cooper Institute in Dallas summarizes physical activity guidelines for weight maintenance. “Do 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, such as walking, biking or gardening. Split it up into at least three days a week with no less than 10-minute bouts at a time.” If you want more health benefits, you’ll have to do more exercise.

It’s the calories, folks

Bottom line: to prevent weight gain, each day you should walk 2,000 steps and cut 100 calories. (Skip the cheese on the burger and pass on another pat of butter.) To support weight loss, you should walk at least 10,000 steps and cut 500 to 1,000 calories a day.

Learning how to make these healthy lifestyle choices is not easy in a world that weight control experts call an “obesogenic environment.” But it is a critical survival skill needed to prevent weight gain and related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

I’ve taken Dr. Kushner’s list of forces that contribute to obesity and given them healthy makeovers.

Finding fitness in a fattening world

- Hurried life, always rushing: walk even faster to burn more calories, take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator, park farther away and walk instead of circling to find the closest parking spot. Make moments of calm count. Savor your foods.

- Food available everywhere: this often means more variety, so be more selective about what you choose. Since weight loss apps are mobile, you can keep track of your calorie totals as the day progresses. Think twice before taking a second helping.

- Eating out more: whether it’s a fast-food or fancy place, become familiar with the calorie counts of your favorite foods at restaurants you frequently visit. Weigh-loss apps tap into databases with nutrition information on thousands of foods. Check them.

- Exercise engineered out of our lives: take the stairs, hide the remote, just say "no" to robot vacuum cleaners, open the garage door manually, ditch the drive-thru and walk into the restaurant. Weight-loss apps include extensive lists of the number of calories used during various physical activities. Track your totals so you’ll know how many more stairs to climb before the end of the day.

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolyn

Friday, July 2, 2010

Dive Into the Pool! Solving Summer Diet Slow Downs

Heirloom Tomatoes from JCT Kitchen "Killer Tomato Fest"...proof that summer flavors are hot!
So how are you doing on that summer time slimming regime? If you've lost a little steam and starting steering away from the low calorie side of the menu, you’re not alone. Nutrition researchers have found that our enthusiasm for the “diet” version of foods slows down over time. A study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that after just five days of feeding participants lower calorie versions of recipes such as spaghetti and meat sauce satisfaction ratings fell by 30 percent. This might help explain why so many people are easily side tracked from healthy eating goals in a relatively short period of time. So, what can you do to keep your mind and taste buds motivated to choose the meals more likely to help you meet summer weight control goals? Here are a few strategies and suggestions to help keep boredom at bay.

Know Which Flavors are Free – There are plenty of ways to jazz up steamed vegetables, grilled fish and other menu choices you might otherwise garnish with a high fat sauce. Lemon juice, salsa, steak sauce, barbecue sauce, hot sauce, soy sauce and vinegars are low cal or no cal options for adding flavor without fat. If you’re watching your sodium intake choose lower sodium versions of soy sauce and go easy on the steak sauce.

Add Detective Novels to Summer Reading – Learn to read between the lines because menu descriptions don’t always tell the whole story about the added fat and calories in a dish. If it says “crispy coating” it probably means it has been deep fat fried or pan fried and always ask the server about how sauces are made. For example, is it a “light” tomato sauce because it’s made with cream and color is lighter? It can happen! And did you know that many restaurants poach seafood in oil? When you see “poached” it doesn’t always mean in low calorie water based broths.

Get what you want but skip the extras- Give in but don’t give up. It’s not the craving for pizza that ‘done your diet wrong’, it was the decision to add extra pepperoni or double cheese that sent the fat and calories over your limit. Watch out for extras such as fried croutons on salads, bacon slices on burgers and cheese sauce slathered on steamed broccoli. Use cravings as an opportunity to add good nutrition such as more veggies on pizza. In the dessert department enjoy a large bowl of fresh berries topped with a small serving of ice cream, instead of a huge bowl of ice cream topped by a few berries!

Find Farms on the Menu

Fresher flavors make for happier taste buds, so summer’s bounty of just picked produce can help keep healthy fruit and veggie focused meals more interesting. The good news is that a bumper crop of chefs today are enthusiastic about featuring top notch organic and locally grown ingredients on their menus. Carvel Gould, executive chef at Canoe in Vinings buys as much as possible from local farmers and added raised bed gardens to the landscaping around the restaurant. Jimmy Carter owner of Milton’s Cuisine and Cocktails in Alpharetta tends an acre garden overflowing with corn, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, herbs and other tasty treasures for chef Boyd A. Rose to feature on their menu of “new southern cuisine.” City chefs focus on rural riches, too. Thomas McKeown ‘s menu at Terrace restaurant at The Ellis Hotel in downtown Atlanta reads like a road map of Georgia with heirloom cherry tomatoes from Crystal Organic in Newborn and lettuces from Indian Ridge Farm in Clarksville. He says, “I try to keep the food as natural as possible and let the food speak for itself. When you start with high quality product it is easy to make great dishes.”

Happy with the Taste but Want to Eat More?
Well, then you’ll have to move more. Whether it’s a morning jog before it gets too hot, a lunchtime cardio class or dancing after dinner, exercise not only helps you maintain the weight loss you’ve achieved; it allows you to eat more without regaining. Trade in some hammock time and step up your activity level this summer and you’ll burn the calories needed to savor a ballpark chili dog or poolside frozen cocktail.