Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Quote of the Day....For Holiday Discussion

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."

-Carl Sagan

Monday, December 21, 2009

What is BPA?

As I previously mentioned, last week I took at cooking class at a reputable establishment in Chapel Hill. During the class, the instructor demonstrated how to cure salmon by adding salt and herbs, wrapping it in plastic wrap, and then allowing it to marinate/cure for a few days.

While the instructor showed how to wrap the fish, a participant shouted out a question about plastic wrap and BPA. "Couldn't we use something else that doesn't contain BPA and doesn't clog up our landfill?" (At this point I leaned over to my co-worker who lives in Raleigh and has never been to said establishment before and whispered "welcome to Chapel Hill.")

So what is it and should we be as concerned as my fellow cooking class student?

According to the Mayo Clinic:
"Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in polycarbonate plastic food and beverage containers and in resin linings for cans. Research has shown that BPA can leach into food from these containers and cans. Because BPA appears to cause health problems in animal studies, some scientists are concerned about the risk BPA poses to humans."

Basically, it is the reason why Pyrex glass storage containers and those metal water bottles have become so popular: to avoid BPA exposure. (And to reduce plastic in the landfills....but since this is a food/nutrition site, I'm focusing on the health effects.)

Where is it found?
  • Water bottles
  • Plastic food containers
  • Infant bottles
  • Compact discs
  • and as coating on food cans (amongst other places)
Why are people concerned?

Mainly, there is concern because there is such widespread exposure. The NHANES survey found detectable levels in 93% of 2517 urine samples from people age 6 and older. Data from these surveys are considered to be representative of the US population.

Should we be worried?

While more studies are needed, an NIH group concluded that there is some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses and children. There is minimal concern for effects on the mammary gland and an earlier stage for puberty for females. There is negligible concern for exposure for pregnant woman resulting in fetal mortality or birth defects.

It should be noted that other studies have shown a possible link between BPA and reproductive disorders, breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and even obesity (although I'm sure that's a stretch.)

In my opinion, it's better to be safe than sorry, especially when there are easy/feasible alternatives. If you agree you can do the following:
  • Avoid plastic containers with the #7
  • Don't microwave plastic food containers
  • Don't wash plastic containers in the dishwasher
  • Reduce your use of canned foods (a good idea anyway!)
  • Try to use glass, porcelain or stainless steel whenever possible, especially for hot foods or liquids
  • Use infant formula bottles that are BPA free and look for toys that are as well
Personally, I use pyrex glass storage containers for my leftovers (even though they tend to disappear when I let Sir Cakewalk take them to work.) I also have 2 non-BPA containing water bottles that I use when working out. When I'm in the office, I use a glass or mug to get water from the fountain. It's cheaper and safer than buying individual plastic water bottles. (Which I personally find a little silly anyway.)

Now go forth and be informed!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Realistic Bookshelf

Now that I have my own office, I have my own bookcase for all of my diet/food/fitness related books. I'm movin on up!

I have books that I hated, books that were great, books from school, books for fun, books for cooking, books for dieting, and everything in between. I like to keep all of them for referencing, even the ones I didn't like or don't agree with....because someone else is bound to read them and ask me about the such and such diet.

I pride myself on my knowledge of diet trends and diet books. I started reading them when I was probably 10 years old, and have continued to do so. So, if you have questions about a book Oprah mentioned, or something you saw at the bookstore, ask me! I can break it down for you, tell you the pros and cons, and maybe even loan you my copy, if it's worthy of being lent out.

While I have read many many many more and while I have more packed away some where in the depths of my basement, here are the ones I currently have on my professional bookshelf:

  • The Human Body Atlas
  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Complete Book of Personal Training
  • Muscle Mechanics
  • SPSS for Windows
  • Chocolate
  • Candy making
  • Celebrate with Chocolate
  • Ultimate Fitness
  • Get with the Program
  • You Are What You Eat
  • Fat Flush
  • Thin for Life
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • The Master Cleanse
  • Abs Diet
  • How We Eat
  • Zen of Eating
  • Intuitive Eating
  • War on Fat
  • Calorie Counts
  • Gastronomical Me
  • Fat Land
  • The Science Fiction Weight Loss Book
  • Diet For A New America
  • Diet For A New World
  • Slow Food Nation
  • 8 Weeks to Optimum Health
  • The Zone
  • Food Politics
  • Moveable Feasts
  • Heal Your Heart
  • Atlas of Food
  • Environmental Nutrition
  • Introductory Foods
  • Introduction to Statistics
  • Arnold’s Fitness For Kids (my very first fitness/health/nutrition book... I got it as a kid)

For books I highly recommend, please see the Realistic Reading List

Or, if you have a book you'd like to me to read or would recommend, please let me know!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Re Sip P : Canned Junk Cakes aka Tuna Cakes

Per my previous post, I hate canned tuna. When my Dad was single he made tuna noodle casserole for my sister and I every time we came to stay with him. To this day, we both hate the dish.

So I didn't touch a can again until I came across a recipe for "spicy" tuna cakes that doesn't include mayo. (Mayo is half the reason I won't touch tuna salad and the like.) I've since changed a few things to make it my own and I often change it up with different ingredients for something different. I invite you to do the same.

This recipe is:
  • EASY
In fact, this is one of my go-to recipes when I need to make a quick dinner.

Ok, are you ready for it? Are you on the edge of your seat? Ok.....drumroll please.

Tuna Cakes

You will need:
  • One can of tuna (any kind) packed in water.
  • One egg or the equivalent of egg substitute
  • One small onion or half an onion (this you can adjust for your own taste)
  • About a tablespoon of green pepper
  • About a cup of breadcrumbs (try the seasoned ones for extra flavor, but stay away from panko)
  • Any herbs you have on hand, fresh or dried
  • A tad of cayenne
  • S & P
  • Oil for cooking (a few tablespoons of any variety, although I would recommend not EVOO (although I often use EVOO because I always have it on hand)) (())()()))((( Ok, no more parentheses. ;)
To make:
  1. Open the can of tuna and drain
  2. Place the tuna in a bowl
  3. Add the egg to the bowl
  4. Dice the onion and want these fairly small or the cakes will fall apart...but they don't have to be miniscule
  5. Put the onion and pepper in the bowl
  6. Chop your fresh herbs and add to the bowl (a small handful total) or sprinkle your dried herbs in (about a tablespoon total if dried), along with S & P, cayenne and any other seasonings you want to try.
  7. Mix ingredients in the bowl with a fork so they are relatively well distributed (it will be quite liquidy at this point)
  8. Add breadcrumbs, about a quarter of a cup at a time and mix as you go. I don't actually know how much to add, it always depends on the batch and I never measure. I just add some, stir and mix, and then add more until the mixture is no longer liquidy and can easily be formed into patties. A cup should be sufficient, but play with this a bit.
  9. Heat some oil in a saute pan. I like to start with a tablespoon heated over medium high.
  10. While your pan is heating, use your hands to form patties like a hamburger.
  11. As the patties are ready and the pan is hot (you know its hot and ready when the oil shimmers and runs around the pan like water), place a few patties in.
  12. Allow the patties to brown but not burn on one side then flip. Allow them to brown on the other side. These cook quickly and tend to burn, so keep an eye on them. If you find them starting to burn, turn down your heat or add a bit more oil. I also like to pick the pan up off the stove and shake it a bit to make sure no patties are sticking and to distribute the oil around the pan.
  13. Once they are lightly browned on both sides they are done! Remove from pan with a spatula and place on a plate with a paper towel. (This allows any excess oil to drain off, which is better for you and prevents soggy patties.)
  14. Serve! I like them plain or with a little sauce such as cocktail, chutney, etc. Try with your favorite.
This makes about 4 patties. I serve two per person with a side of veggies for a quick, healthy dinner.

As I said, you can play with this recipe to suit your needs. You can leave out any of the ingredients except the egg, tuna and breadcrumbs. And you can use another fish or canned product if you'd like.


Something's Fishy

Last night I was reminded of how much I love fish, of how easy it is to prepare well, and of how many people have misconceptions about it.

As I kid I thought that fish=frozen fish sticks or tuna noodle casserole. I hated fish. (I still hate tuna noodle casserole.) I did eat shrimp, but only fried, with extra cocktail sauce, thank you. I don't even know when I began trying it prepared different ways, but it was around the time of my undergraduate years. Then, I was fortunate enough to get a job at a well regarded seafood restaurant. I learned more and tried more there than I did in many of my classes.

I learned that:
  • All fish are not created equal. Some have a stronger flavor but some are soooo mild. Tilapia and mahi are very mild. Salmon is very strong flavored (even when fresh it will have a distinctive smell and taste, see next bullet.)
  • Fresh fish should NOT stink. If you think fish smells, you have not had good fish. (Other seafood does smell, mussels in particular.)
  • The flavor of fish can change the longer you cook it. A well-done tuna steak will be grey (sooo appealing), and taste much like the canned junk. (Although I do have one recipe for the canned junk that makes it edible. Will post later, I promise.) If you leave it less cooked than medium, it will have a totally different flavor. You may like it, you may not. But I have seen many fish newbies take a bite of seared tuna with a red center and smile with surprise and delight.
  • Many fish taste like chicken, only better. I know it is the golden child of nutritionists everywhere, but I hate chicken. Even if I weren't a vegetarian, I wouldn't eat it very often. A fresh fish filet like tilapia, grouper, mahi, etc can be prepared in many of the same ways chicken can, but will have more flavor and won't be tough or dry (if cooked properly.) In fact, if you think you don't like fish but you eat chicken, I dare you to try a good tilapia filet with your eyes closed. You'll probably think its the best poultry you ever ate. Again, you may not, but you never know until you try.
  • Fish is not hard to prepare. My favorite way to cook it is to sear it in a hot pan then finish it in the oven. In other words, you get a pan nice and hot with a little oil. Then you plop in the fish. When it's a little brown on the bottom, flip it and brown the other side. But don't leave it too long and don't let it cook all the way. Then, you put the whole pan in the stove (make sure your pan is able to be in the oven...some will melt), until the fish is to the desired doneness. If you don't have a heat proof pan, you can delicately transfer the fish to an oiled baking sheet and use it. Now that I have a grill, I'm going to start grilling more fish using a similar principle. You can also bake it, broil it, or put it in a nice soup. Or, once in awhile, you can fry it. Have you had fried grouper sticks???? Yum!
  • The taste/quality of your fish depend on where it came from and where you bought it. If you can, I would buy fish at a seafood market or specialty store like fresh market, earthfare or whole foods. Ask the fishmonger about the fish, where it comes from, what's in season, etc. You can request the cut you want and the size you want. You don't have to settle for what they have on display. And they often know some ways to prepare it or might have some tips about fish in general.
Fish is also very good for you. While mercury content can be a concern for certain populations (ill, pregnant), most people can eat fish a few times a week without worry. It's packed with protein and omega-3's and it's low in calories.

And what inspired all of this? What reminded me about the fishy business of fish preparation and consumption? I took a cooking class with an expert on the stuff. My friend sitting next to me shared that the fish we ate in the class was more than she had ever eaten and that she had no idea it tasted that good and could be prepared so easily. She even ate cured Salmon like a champ. She left inspired! And I hope you will feel the same now.

I thought about including a recipe here, but I'd rather not. Honestly, the manner of cooking a fish filet that I described earlier is my favorite preparation. You don't need any extra bam! or fancy ingredients. You can add a sauce if you like, but none is needed. I will, however, include a few recipes in the future. And stay tuned for a canned junk recipe. ;)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is it worth it?

I just received a link for this website:

I'm still checking it out, but it seems to have some good info on organically grown food.

I used to be up in the air on the subject of organics. I even debated on the side of "against" in a mock debate in graduate school. And I think I won. But since then I have read more, seen more, and heard more. The most interesting information I saw was at a national conference last year. Two professors spoke on the subject to a packed room. They showed study after study to support their views that organically grown food is better for you. They showed that it's better for you in that organic foods likely have a higher nutrient content AND because of the potential risks of eating food that has been treated with pesticides and chemicals. I'm sorry that I can't remember the names of the presenters or provide more concrete details of their studies....because it was enough to finally convince me that organic growing was important.

I'm not saying that everyone needs to run out and spend tons of money buying only organic food. But I am saying that there is more to this argument than a hippie desire to be more natural.

What do ya'll think?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thought of the Day

Ulcers are caused not so much by what we eat as by what's eating us.

Reader Question: Motivation to Conquer Holiday Temptation

Do you have any tips or tricks for how to get motivated again with eating correctly at this time of year when you have so little time to spend on yourself?

Thank you for the question. And yes! I do have some suggestions:
  • First, I would say that trying to start a new diet or return to a rigorous eating plan now, may not be the best idea. Then again, I never recommend starting an extreme "diet" as opposed to making sustainable lifestyle changes, but that's another matter. But that doesn't mean you should gorge yourself with goodies until 1/1/10 either.
  • Next I would say the word that no one ever seems to like or fully understand, even though we all know its the answer to most questions: BALANCE. Eating healthfully without starving or depriving yourself to the brink of insanity is all about balance and weighing your options and priorities. Now I know you were not looking for a big philosophical/psychological response. But this concept has practical, day to day applications, especially this time of year:
  1. Decide in advance what some of your favorite holiday treats are. These are the things that are part of your holiday celebration....not just something to nibble on mindlessly.
  2. Have something in mind? (I hope it isn't something with coconut, ew!) ;) Now, can you think of a way to make or purchase a slightly healthier/lighter version of this thing? If not, feel free to email me and maybe I can help you. I don't mean just pull out the sugar and add artificial junk. Nor do I mean taking out all of the flavor. But there are options for making foods better for you, and sometimes they even taste better than the original!
  3. If you really can't make a lighter version of the real thing, than you can have the real thing! But here is what you must do in exchange. Decide when you are going to indulge in said thing. Do you have a party coming up? Is it something you eat Christmas morning? Know when you will be consuming this treat. Then, for the rest of that day, monitor what you else you eat and curtail any further indulgences. For example, I love my sister's cakes. She is working on finding healthy versions of some of them (and might even open her own healthy options bakery in the future), but for now, if I want the treat, I have to eat the real thing, butter, sugar and fat and all. So if I know she is bringing dessert for dinner, I will cut back a little the rest of the day. I'll make sure I eat a good breakfast. I'll eat a lighter lunch packed with veggies. And I'll refuse second helpings at dinner. Then I can eat her dessert guilt-free.
  4. Now, when you actually go to eat your treat, don't just slap a hunk on your plate and then inhale it. Start with a modest portion (if you need help with portion sizes, and most of you probably do whether you know it or not, email me.) Then, eat slowly and really enjoy each bite. Don't watch tv, don't slurp it down with a beverage, and don't talk with your mouth full, ew! Just enjoy! Even if you do eat a little more than you probably should, it won't break the caloric bank, because you've kept your spending to a minimum all day.
  • You can follow a similar procedure any time of the year. For example, I LOVE McDonald's fries. Did you get that? An RD admitting to loving Mickey D's fries. But, when I have them, I don't also have a burger. Instead, I get a small fry and a side salad with light dressing for a light meal or snack. To make it a full meal, I might put some lean protein on the salad (most often from my own kitchen not from McD's.) For the rest of the day, I also watch what I eat....I don't necessarily count every calorie and morsel (although this can be useful if you are trying to lose weight.) But I do try to choose more veggies and fresh foods and less processed, calorie dense crap-ola.
  • Basically my advice is to just put a little thought into each bite. Is this bite good for you? If not, is it worth it and can you "afford" it, ie did you save up for it today? Or, can you make a different version that is just as good? Typically anything processed can be homemade and it will save calories and increase flavor.
  • When you are at parties and there is a lot to choose from, take stock of the choices first and weigh your options. If there is a green salad, fill your plate with that. Then, add in a few other goodies to accompany it.
  • Remember to consider alcohol. These calories need to be budgeted in as well. Again, if I know I want to enjoy a glass of wine or two, I will scale back the rest of my day. Or, I will just have a small amount and enjoy it.
  • Before I go further, I should clarify one thing. When I advise you to watch your caloric budget and to account for the good stuff by cutting back a little I DO NOT mean starving yourself to make room for alcohol or fatty/sugary treats. It is never good to go without food. Nor is it good to overindulge. And combining the two can wreak havoc on your body! When I say "cut back" I mean, make a turkey sandwich at home for lunch rather than eating a burger out. Eat a large salad rather and a small portion of pasta rather than the other way around. Eat some oatmeal, fruit and yogurt for breakfast rather than a bo-han-gu-lays.
  • The last thing I would say is to remember that this time of year won't last forever, but temptations will always be around. We are always busy. Eating healthfully takes a little education and a little work. So go slow and make small changes that are permament lifestyle alterations. Even if you only set two small goals for yourself for this season, think about how great you'll feel if you accomplish them! So think of a couple of ways you could eat better that wouldn't be too hard to achieve, even now. And commit to them. You may have some setbacks, but you may find its easier than you think! Some goal ideas:
  1. Limit sodas (give yourself a specific number/amount, it's easier to stick to) and drink more water.
  2. Bring your lunch to work every day. Don't eat out.
  3. Eat breakfast.
  4. Eat a salad first. Then eat the rest of your meal. It will help fill you up.
  5. Eat at least 5 veggies a day. (You can choose a number that is higher or lower if that works better for you.)
  6. Walk for 30 minutes a day if you are currently not exercising.
  7. Switch to low fat mayo...or switch any product to a low fat version.
  8. Check Realistic Nutrition every day for new posts and comments.
I hope this helps. If you have any other questions/thoughts/suggestions, please comment or email me!

Good luck!

Happy Holidays!

And now a picture I can't get out of my head...dang it!

Good thing I had veggies and healthy soup for lunch today...looks like I'm gonna have to make a big withdrawal from the caloric bank later. ;)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Using It All

Last night I did a bit of cleaning...and the same time!

I got my order from Papa Spuds in and it included (amongst other things): Kale, red potatoes, broccoli and cilantro (all local and mostly organic.)

I chopped up the potatoes and broccoli and sauteed them with an onion. Then I set that aside.

While that was browning in the pan, I took the broccoli stem and onion bits and put them in a big pot of water on the stove. To this pot I then added:
  • a hunk of ham leftover from thanksgiving
  • part of the turkey carcass from tday
  • a couple of carrots that weren't bad but weren't crunchy anymore
  • the stems of the cilantro
  • the stems of some other herbs I had lingering in my fridge
  • any other veggies I had that weren't being used or parts of veggies that were otherwise not usable
  • AND some salt and pepper.
I let this simmer for a few hours. Then I strained it and put the liquid into a slow cooker.

In the slow cooker, I also put broccoli florets, red potatoes, chopped kale, an onion, S&P, and hot sauce. I let this cook all day today. I haven't tried it yet...but it smells good.

Finally, I put the sauteed veggies back in the pan and poured an egg mixture over it. The egg mixture had mostly whites and few yolks, a touch of cheese and S&P. Then I let it cook, flipped it, and served a frittata of sorts. I say "of sorts" because it was rather ugly. I am not a good flipper. Nor am I am good frittata maker...heck I can't even spell the word. But when I make them they always taste good.

So there ya have it. That's how I used my weekly veggie order AND used up any leftovers and nearly bad produce to make two easy and quick homemade dishes. I say "quick" because even though I let things cook for long periods, I really didn't spend much time in the actual kitchen.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Reader Question

A reader recently posted this question:

"Here's a question for ya...super foods. what are they and how much should we eat per day/month? I recenlty caught a few minutes of some health show on TV which basically went over that it's not necessarily the calorie content of foods that contribute to health adn weight gain, but also the hormonal impacts (some reduce the feeling of hunger, some induce it, etc). Thoughts?"

Ok, there really are two questions/issues here.


First, you ask about super foods. Super foods are regular foods that have even more health benefits than the average food. These include various fruits, veggies, nuts, teas, etc. These foods are supposedly good for you because they contain high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, etc. But guess what? All fruits and veggies contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and in varying and differing amounts. That is why we dietitians ask people to eat a wide variety of fresh produce in appropriate quantities (ie enough servings per day.) That way you will reap all the health benefits these foods have to offer in the form in which it was intended.

Calling one food or another a "super food" is a little bit silly. It often leads to the overeating of one particular food at the expense of the rest OR it leads scientists to try to extract the healthy properties from the food and putting into a pill or supplement form. This rarely if ever provides the same benefits derived from just simply eating the food as part of a varied and balanced diet.

It is true that some foods provide some additional health benefits than others. For example, cranberries are often recommended when a UTI is diagnosed. But often times, to get the promised effects, one would need to consume more than the recommended serving. It's never wise to consume too much of any one food. Even eating too many carrots can have adverse health effects!

So my advice would be to ignore the hype about super foods. I know it isn't sexy, but the adage of eating more fruits and vegetables and a balanced, varied diet is still your best bet.


Next, you ask about the calorie content of food affecting weight gain versus hormones. I'm assuming you are asking about leptin and ghrelin. Leptin suppresses food intake while ghrelin promotes the intake of food. Much is still unknown about these hormones and their role in energy balance in the body. But, basically, if they are functioning correctly, then leptin signals the brain to suppress the appetite and burn calories while ghrelin decreases hunger and fat burning, and these hormones are relatively balanced and proportionate and act accordingly to keep calories out matching the calories in. But, this may not be the case in the obese, for whom these hormones may be imbalanced, affecting the body's ability to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

If you really want to know more about these hormones I can break out my thesis...I wrote a good deal about them several years ago and examined the research on their potential effects in relation to processed foods, artificial sweeteners and other artificial additives/ingredients. But I doubt anyone really wants to read that. ;)

So instead, I would say not to worry about this, especially if you are not overweight. Until more is known, there are more important things to focus on when choosing a healthy diet or watching what you eat. But if you are overweight or know someone who is, please let this be a reminder that losing weight is a difficult and complicated endeavor. This is just one manner by which your body may be fighting your hard efforts. But don't lose heart! It is not a lost cause! Stay tuned for more tips, hints, and recipes to guide you on your path to weight loss or better health. If you would like to know more, you know where to find me. Remember, you are not alone and I am here to help.

I hope this answers your questions. Keep sending them my way!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Really Reasonable Re-sip-ees For The Holidays

As I mentioned before, for Thanksgiving I wanted to try to make as much from scratch as I could. It was a very successful endeavor!

Personally, I made sweet potato casserole, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes from scratch the day of the meal, in addition to the turkey, broccoli and putting together a salad. It was much easier and quicker than I expected and everything tasted delicious!

Cooking with whole, unprocessed foods can be easier than you think. You just need to do a little extra prep and research before making them for the first time.

I love and and sometimes for recipes.

For stuffing I made my boss's tried and true recipe:
  • I purchased a loaf of bread from TJ's a few days before Turkey Day.
  • The day of the meal, I cut it into squares.
  • Then I spread the squares on a sheet pan and cooked them for about 10 minutes while the turkey was cooking. (I'm not sure of the exact time and I was using convection so results may not be the same for you....I just kept checking on them until they were slightly brown and crispy.)
  • Transfer cubes to a baking dish.
  • Chop an onion and a few celery stalks and saute them for a few minutes using a tablespoon of butter.
  • Pour these items and the melted butter over the bread cubes.
  • Finely chop a few herbs and sprinkle them into the cube mixture. Almost any herbs will do. I prefer fresh and I had rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley on hand. (No I wasn't going to Scarborough Fair.) But dried ones will work too.
  • Pour broth or stock over the cubes and gently mix just to moisten. I used about a half a cup. Again, this is something you just have to guess and check. So add a little at a time until it's at the consistency you like.
  • Finally, add a can or 1 cup of fresh cranberry sauce. I used canned and saved the fresh stuff for serving by itself. You can vary the amount of this you add as well. Just be sure to use enough to serve as a binder for the dish but not so that its all soaked and bright red.
  • Put the baking dish in the oven and bake until crispy on the top. Yet again, I cannot tell you how long or at what temp since I was using a convection oven. (Does anyone else have one too?) I would suggest about 15 minutes at 350 degrees. But play around with it.
If you'd like any of my other wildly successful recipes, just ask!

Did you make a healthy version or a from scratch version of a holiday favorite?