Get your sun this fall

It’s officially fall and starting to get chilly. If you are like me, you spend less time outside starting now. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in people with Vitamin D deficiency due to not getting enough sunshine. Everyone cuddling up by the television, sitting on their computers or playing video games.

Your bones depend on vitamin D. I found out I was deficient when I had a bone density scan that showed a decrease in density. I constantly felt drained. It’s a little scary, but I have time to keep it from becoming a problem.

Taking a supplement helps but is not enough. All a person really needs to make sure they are getting enough vitamin D is to expose your arms and face to the sun 3 times a week for a minimum of 10 minutes. Being busy at a job all day doen’t mean you can’t make this happen. Get outside for lunch. It will also give you a break and make you more productive in the afternoon.

So there you have it. Join me in making a commitment for the fall and winter to get outside at least 3 times a week during lunch time! Here’s to your bones!

Arsenic in my rice?

Oh boy, here we go again! Yet another food pinpointed for high levels of arsenic! In January it was apple and grape juice. Lots of different foods over the years have been pinpointed like this. With the gluten free diet craze, more people are eating rice. Also consider what rice, apple and grape juice have in common. These are the very first foods that babies eat. That’s why these stories get grabbed by the media and become so public.

Let’s look at the facts.  Consumer Reports, a great organization, did a small scale study showing higher levels of arsenic in rice than reports from the FDA. Both organizations are on my “A” list so who do I listen to? You should listen to both. The FDA carefully looks at everything scientifically. If you word it right, statistics can say anything you want them to, so the FDA does a thorough job studying lots of data and putting results it in standard formats so you can compare apples to apples. Consumer Reports and similar organizations do small scale studies uncovering things that might be falling through the cracks. They raise the awareness and get the FDA prioritized on what people are really concerned about. I recommend looking at both sides to get the whole story.

Arsenic is naturally found in soil and food. The concern is INORGANIC arsenic which is considered toxic. This type of arsenic is believed to cause cancer, but some scientists say there have never been studies to PROVE that eating arsenic leads to illness. To clarify, there is no full scientific proof that is does, but there isn’t proof it doesn’t either. It’s chemically found in pesticides and also drugs given to farms animals. The animal poop used as fertilizer combined with pesticides will cause a buildup in the soil that can last for many years. Plants that grow there suck up the chemical, and people think that because rice is grown in water it actually pulls up more arsenic than other plants. Even some organic farms may not be free of arsenic because the minimum requirement for organic farms to be pesticide and chemical free is only 5 years. The end result of all this is the FDA has prioritized their follow up study and will release their ultimate findings around January.

Now you are saying to yourself, “should I be scared?”  My answer is “no, you shouldn’t be”. I will continue to eat rice, but will act on the concern by making some changes. Don’t wait for the results to come out in January. First, they’ve found higher levels of arsenic in rice grown in the south, including Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri. California seems to be the lowest grower in the United States.  The arsenic is found on the outer layers of the rice which means there is more on whole grain rice, including brown rice. Knowing these two things, you can eliminate the worst of the bunch. If I had to recommend my favorite brand, I’d suggest Lundberg, a California grower who has environmentally friendly growing practices. You can remove 30% of the chemical by thoroughly rinsing the rice before you cook it and then to boil it in a large amount of water ratio of 6 to 1.

As always, like with any other food, eat rice in moderation and you should be okay.  You are going to get sick of me asking you to eat a variety of food to minimize your exposure to bad things, and to maximize your intake of all your daily requirements!

Tapas, small plates, bites and sliders

I love to eat. Trying new restaurants and new food is a passion of mine but can lead to a health disaster if I don’t watch myself! I always pay the price if I go out and have a drink, appetizer, dinner AND dessert. I over eat and feel lousy. Add to that, restaurants are making dinners larger and larger portions. It’s almost to the point of insanity! I usually try to split a meal with someone but with my adventurist nature in food, I can’t always find a taker. It’s not always possible to get leftovers refrigerated and some meals don’t reheat well either. I not only don’t like to pay for food I can’t fully eat, but find it wasteful in a world where so many are starving!

I’m so excited by the trend of smaller portions on restaurant menus. Appetizers used to be an easy way to get a quick bite, but now you have more options. This not only helps us who are watching our waist, but also gives us adventurous types the ability to try tastes of a number of different foods! I hate eating meals that leave you with no room for dessert. Now I can have both and still maintain a healthy diet!

Tapas was introduced in Spain years ago by King Alfonso X. He was ill and found that eating snacks while he was drinking actually improved his health. He made it a law that taverns serve small meals with drinks bringing us Tapas bars today. The snacks they had can be compared to today with things like calamari and antipasto. Lots of menus have Tapas options today.

Small plates are somewhere between an appetizer and a small meal. Depending on the restaurant, you can even get a well-rounded meal including a small piece of meat, a carbohydrate of some sort, and a vegetable side! I love it when I find something like this because it feels more like the portions I serve myself at home. Also, I can add a small dessert and not feel overstuffed!

Speaking of small desserts, I’m finding a lot of places that are not offering the “sampler” anymore, but offering “bites”. This does two things. Ordering a sampler by yourself is too much food, but ordering “bites” gives you small enough portions and you can order it by yourself.  Second, the concept of having a bite of a number of different desserts in one sitting makes be ecstatic! Imagine being able to list off the five desserts you had last night and still keeping it under 300 calories! To see what most dessert bites look like, check out this website http://pinterest.com/bakersroyale/dessert-bites-small-bites/. Bites aren’t just for desserts either. There are many places that offer bites on other foods too.

Sliders are basically a small sandwich on a bun. The original was a burger…….you may have heard of them……White Castle Burgers trademarked their burger called the Slyder.  Over time restaurants have developed their own mini sandwiches to add variety. I’ve seen pulled pork barbeque, tuna salad and even a BLT.

If you don’t have the luxury of a place that offers these size alternatives, you can still hit your favorite restaurant before the menu changes from lunch to the dinner to get the lunch size portion.  Then there’s always happy hour! When I lived on my own for the first time, I lived off happy hour food!

Now you can have your BITES and eat them ALL too! Happy eating!

Chicken soup for your head cold

So I left work early with a splitting head ache from a head cold. My sinuses and ears are in pain and I’m dizzy and nauseous. I’m really a mess! It’s really hard to think about eating but it’s very important to take great care of your body when you are sick or it will last longer and you may become even more miserable.

You always hear about how good chicken soup is when you have a cold or flu. You probably also heard research has now proven that the rumor is true.  Stephen Rennard is the man who finally completed a study and proved that there are some things in chicken soup that do help a head cold. The warm liquid or steam thin out mucus to help it clear from your sinuses.  The chicken releases a chemical that’s commonly used for respiratory diseases and the soup contains anti-inflammatories. The mix of ingredients in chicken soup seems to be a winning combination and it’s also found that the longer it cooks the more beneficial chemicals develop.

So if you are the health fanatic that I am you are probably asking yourself which is better…homemade or canned soup? I read one unconfirmed study that said they saw more benefits from canned soups.  I don’t have anything against canned soups and when I’m sick, I’m not ready to start cooking a pot of soup! I usually have canned soup in my pantry for just this kind of circumstance. Microwaving is my favorite method for fast food delivery when I’m this lifeless.

To increase the healthy benefits of your chicken soup you can pick reduced fat and salt versions. Also add ingredients that are already known to be good for your health like vegetables, peppers, onions and garlic.

Another miracle cure for the common cold…….DON’T FORGET TO DRINK YOUR WATER!!

Well, I’m going to go heat up my chicken soup now and then take a long nap.
I hope this tip comes early enough, just before flu season!

Fried Green Tomato Recipe

Here is the fried green tomato recipe I promised. I got this one from a true southern gardner in South Carolina.  Thanks George for all the great advice!

Sorry I don’t have a picture to show you, but they are so good, I ate them all before I could take a picture!!

Here’s all you need!

hard green tomato sliced thick
milk
cornmeal
salt
pepper

It seems like a short ingredient list, but it truly is all you need to make the best!
Put cornmeal, salt and pepper in a paper or ziploc bag. Shake to mix it up. Pour milk in a shallow pan, dipping the thick sliced of tomato into it. Take one slice at a time from milk and place in the bag, shaking to coat the tomato slice with the cornmeal mix. Lay coated slices on a baking sheet. Place baking sheet in freezer for 10-20 minutes. This will help the mixture stick on the tomato and less likely to fall off while it’s frying.
Fill a large skillet with 1/2 inch of vegetable oil and heat to medium high. Do not heat higher or the center of the slice will not fully cook and the outer crust will char. Do not use a deep fryer. It does not taste as good and will hold more oil. Carefully drop slices into hot oil making sure they do not touch. After a couple minutes the bottoms will turn a golden brown and then can be flipped over like a pancake. Cook for the same amount of time on the other side and then pull out letting it cool and drain on a mesh style cooling rack, or stacked paper towels on a plate. Either of these cooling methods will reduce the amount of oil left on your yummy treat!

You can serve with a number of different sauces but most people like Ranch Dressing. There’s also a few places I’ve been that serve a fried green tomato BLT! Now that is fantastic!

Okay, so this is a little unhealthier than usual for me because it’s fried, but the ingredients are wholesome, there are no chemical or processed additives so it still has benefits.

I hope you like it!

Grilling healthy by reducing carcinogens

It’s Labor Day and what better way to celebrate than to grill up some healthy grub! You are probably saying, “but I thought that eating a big slab of grill cooked meat is not only fattening, but also now known to cause cancer!” Well, yes, there is some truth to what you say, however….let’s make a comparison.  Deli meats and sausages are loaded with nitrates which are well known to cause cancer. Baking meats in their own juice are loaded with fat as well as deep frying. Hamburgers and dogs too are plagued with fat and potentially carcinogens as well.

So let’s take a closer look at grilling:

First, if you are trying to lose weight, make sure you limit the size of your steak to no more than 4-6 ounces depending on how active you are. I usually split a steak with someone else.

The carcinogens you hear about with grilling are called heterocyclic amines (HAs). They are formed when amino acids in meat are cooked at a very high heat. So what you really need to worry about are the burnt parts that come from overcooking or from flare ups that happen when the fat drips into the fire. To prevent this from happening, pick a low fat cut meat, trim off excess fat, and only cook it as high as recommended. Some say 270 degrees should be the absolute max. Trim off any charred pieces before you eat it. Keeping your grill clean will also reduce charring your meat.

Let’s talk marinades! Some marinades are found to decrease the formation of (Has). Olive Oil and citrus based marinades along with herbs like basil, oregano, mint, sage rosemary and thyme reduce this chemical reaction.  Just throw your meat in a ziploc bag, add your marinade ingredients and mix by squeezing the bag. Let it marinade for a couple hours before grilling.

Finally, what better way to eat a healthy meal than to eat lots of fruits and veges on the side! Make this a low fat, gluten free meal compliant with American Dietetics, American Diabetes and American Heart Association! Put large diced produce like bell pepper, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, onion, pineapple, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, potatoes and carrots on skewers, or in folded up aluminum foil. You can also cook corn on the cob right on the grill. Very tasty! You can use a marinade on these as well. I just use a little olive oil, but I know folks who like a bottled Italian dressing. Veges cook quick so watch closely! Heterocyclic amines (HAs) do not form on produce, so you can add as many as you want to your meal without fear.

I found some GREAT lowfat grilling recipes on Delish.com that use the recommendations here. Try them and let me know what works for you!

I hope you enjoy your Labor Day by grilling in a healthy way. Just like I always say, eat any way you want, just do it in moderation so you can still lead a simple healthy life.