17 April 2014
A Diet fro Stress
A Diet for Stress
By Nicole Clark, RD
            Four years ago the CDC reported that 69.2% of American adults over the age of 20 were overweight or obese. Perhaps in response to this endemic, new fad diets are around every corner. Ironically, all of these fad diets appear in an attempt to combat the one diet we can’t seem to shake - the infamous Western diet. 
            The Western Diet, “a diet loosely defined as one high in saturated fats, red meats, ‘empty’ carbohydrates—junk food—and low in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, and poultry” per one dictionary definition. To clarify, ‘empty’ carbohydrates can be read as added sugar. The highly palatable sweetness of sugar has long been a reward to the human taste buds and even more so to the psyche. However, the sweet reward for our ancestors came in the form of highly nutritious, seasonal fruit, in limited supply. Now, the double chocolate brownie with ice cream fills in as a sweet reward, with considerably less nutritional value.
            Sugar not only stimulates the tongue, it is also highly “palatable” to the brain. While not a direct comparison, numerous studies have found that sugar (sweetness) and fat create similar addictive responses to illegal drugs, most notably cocaine. That said, consider the psychological implications on a society surviving on diet rich in these two components. Have Americans truly become addicted to the Western Diet? The evidence is leaning towards “yes”.
            Of course, it isn’t as simple as “food tastes good so eat more”. It seems that chronic stress may be acting as a key ingredient in the obesity epidemic. Chronic stress changes the way neurons in the brain operate. This change may be altering reward sensitivity, preference for hyper-palatable foods, as well as metabolic changes. In this perfect storm, we have a nation where most people experience chronic stress and live on a diet that complements the enhanced reward sensitivity induced by the stress. 
            If diet after diet has failed to help you reach and sustain a healthy weight goal, consider changing your technique. How would you rate your current level of stress? More importantly, how do you deal with this stress? No one stress reducing technique works for everyone. Consider how you respond to stress and match a technique to fit it. It may take some practice. Take note of what makes you feel better, other than high fat, high sugar foods and practice those techniques when stress seems to be getting the best of you. Here are a few examples of techniques you may wish to start with, depending on how you react to stress.
Anger/body tension/agitation -
1.                     Body scan – close eyes, scan body head to toe, relax muscles as you scan over them. Repeat as needed.
2.                     Deep breathing
3.                     Take 5 minutes to read or watch something funny
4.                     Exercise, increase heart rate for 10 minutes
5.                     Visualization – put yourself in a peaceful/ happy environment
6.                     Go outside for fresh air
1.                     Exercise/dance
2.                     Practice positive thinking
3.                     Gratefulness – say 5 things you are grateful for
4.                     Tai Chi
5.                     Give out 3 compliments
6.                     Eat fruits and vegetables and practice really tasting them
The combo - internally tense, externally frozen
1.         Power walk for 10 minutes
2.         Grounding - in a quite area, visualize yourself as a tree with roots extending deep into the Earth. Send your cause of stress down through your roots until it disperses.
3.         Yoga - bring awareness to breath and body
4.         Walk away from situation - temporarily or permanently
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06 January 2014
Decoding Healthy Cooking Part 4: Reducing Fat
Decoding Healthy Cooking part 4: Reducing Fat
By Nicole Clark, R.D.
     Before we end up in a repeat of the “fat-free” diet fad, let’s first point out that fat plays a very vital role not only in our food preparation, but also in our health. I lived with a gal that really embraced this diet during its popularity. I equate that time in my life to the “cardboard” phase. That’s what everything tasted like for a good long time. Granted, this is the same room mate that substituted grapes for raisins in a muffin recipe since they were essentially the same thing. The mushy grapes in that muffin were the closest thing I had to cream in months! Perhaps I should have done more of the cooking.
     Regardless, I hope never to find myself in the 99% fat free diet again. However, the doughnut and fried chicken diet may also need a little compromise. Fat does wonders in baking, creating a delicate, tender texture. Fat is an excellent medium for heat transfer, thus making it great for cooking. Fat makes food look better by enhancing its natural pigments. Most of all, we love fat for its flavor! Too bad that flavor comes at a cost. At more than twice the calories per unit than carbohydrates or protein, our other sources of calories, you can see why reducing fat is good for your waist line! 
      Your waist will thank you for reducing overall fat intake but so will your heart. As there are different types of fats, we know that some are better for you than others. At the risk of losing you with too much information, we’ll keep the focus of this blog on reducing fat.
     The first three blogs in this series provided a great basis for reducing fat. Use leaner meats since meat is one of the highest contributors to fat intake. Use moist heat preparation techniques for cooking, they require no added fat. Dry-heat cooking, such as cooking with fire, is also an alternative.
     Other significant sources of fat include dairy (milk, cheese, cream, ice cream, and butter), nuts, coconut, avocados, olives, and seeds. You know, the delicious foods we add to the leaner foods so they taste better. It’s not to say that you ought to remove these foods from your diet, in fact, you shouldn’t. These high fat foods provide health benefits, when consumed sparingly. Which means we need to define “sparingly”. Practice your label reading. Any meal that has more than 20 grams of fat, is high. Though time consuming at first, it will be worth your while to get to know your food. How else would you know that a medium avocado has 22 grams of fat? That is your portioning of fat for an entire meal! Even though an avocado has healthier fat than you would find in a doughnut, it is still fat and high in calories. Imagine this avocado in a salad with dressing, cheese, and nuts. So much for that low calorie, “healthy” meal!
     Essentially there are two ways to reduce fat. Eat small portions (15-20 nuts, 10 small olives, 1 oz cheese, 1 TBS seeds, 1.2 oz. coconut), or find a substitute. While “reduced fat, fat free, or low fat” products can be better for you, it is still advisable to read your labels. When a product is made with reduced fat, guess what it often substituted to maintain flavor? Sugar. Be savvy and compare the caloric content of reduced fat options and regular options. Sometimes the best choice is to use smaller portions or make a substitute at home. The following list is a great way to reduce fat by making substitutions at home.
High Fat Version
Lower Fat Substitution
1 oz. baking chocolate
3 Tablespoons (TBS) powdered cocoa + 1 TBS margarine
1 cup butter
1 cup margarine (reduces unhealthy fats, not calories)
1 oz. cheese
1 oz. low fat cheese
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup evaporated skim milk OR 2/3 cup nonfat milk + 1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup cream cheese
1 cup reduced fat cottage cheese + 4 TBS margarine + salt + splash of non fat milk. Blend together to desired consistency.
1 large egg
1 egg white + 1 teaspoon vegetable oil OR 2 egg whites OR 1/4 cup egg substitute
1 cup oil
1/2 cup applesauce + 1/2 cup oil (works well in quick breads)
1 cup whole milk
1 cup nonfat or reduced fat milk
1 TBS salad dressing
1 TBS low fat dressing OR 1 lemon wedge + 1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup shortening
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 cup reduced fat plain yogurt (especially Greek yogurt) OR 1 cup reduced fat cottage cheese (blended)
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30 December 2013
Decoding Healthy Cooking Part 3: Steaming
Decoding Healthy Cooking Part 3: Steaming
By Nicole Clark, R.D.
             There is little explanation required for steaming. If you have spent any time in the kitchen then you have likely steamed food at some point. It’s so easy that if all you have is a microwave in your kitchen, you could still steam your food. 
            Similar to poaching, steaming is also a form of “moist preparation”. As a reminder, that means water is used to transfer heat to your food. Also like poaching, this is a very healthy method for preparing food because you do not add fat to assist in the cooking process. Steaming is an excellent cooking method for vegetables, fish, and meat. 
            Steaming food requires that water be heated to the point of evaporation. Food is suspended above the water source, usually with a basket, in a covered container so that the steam can heat the food without it being submerged in the water. The advantage of this method is that because the food sits undisturbed, there is little chance of physically breaking apart the food as it cooks. Additionally, because the food is not submerged in water which can leach certain vitamins, the nutritional content of your food is maximized. For steaming success, there are a few tricks to note.
1.             Do not over steam your vegetables. It doesn’t take but a few minutes (5 - 10 minutes on average) to steam them. The vegetable should retain some crispness. If you over cook your vegetable, it will have a bland color and mushy texture. If you are preparing vegetables for someone who doesn’t usually eat them, I can guarantee you won’t win them over by serving overcooked produce! You may even turn away the veggie lovers with mushy vegetables. 
2.           Every time you open the lid on steaming food, you loose the vapor that is cooking your food. Practice patience and leave the lid closed.
3.            Remember that when you steam food, even after the heat is off, the steam remains trapped in the pot which can lead to over cooking. So, be sure to remove the lid when the vegetables are crisp and tender or when your meat is cooked to a food safe temperature (see http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html)
4.           Let’s say your mother calls while you are steaming vegetables for dinner and you let them go a bit too long. This happens, I know. You can still save your vegetables though! As long as they aren’t to the mushy stage you can remove the vegetables from the steamer and submerge into a bath of ice cold water. This is called blanching. It not only stops the cooking process, but it helps your vegetable retain the vibrant color achieved when perfectly cooked.
5.            For even cooking, make sure that all of your vegetables and meat are cut in fairly equal sizes. Steaming hard vegetables such as potatoes will require that they are cut into smaller pieces. Failure to do so will result in a potato that is cooked on the outside and raw on the inside, yummy. Meat should be cut to a thickness of no more than 1/2 an inch.
6.           Maintain the health benefits of this cooking technique by using citrus juice, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper, or small amounts (less than a tablespoon) of fat to flavor your vegetables after they are cooked. Steam food using a broth or seasoned water to enhance the final flavor. Topping your steamed foods with a rich cream sauce kind of defeats the purpose!
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19 December 2013
Decoding Healthy Cooking Part 2
Poaching, not to be confused with the act of illegally hunting. In the kitchen this cooking technique is often mentioned as a way to healthfully prepare food. In poaching, food is cooked either partially or fully submerged in a pot of water that is heated to 160 - 180 degrees F (71 - 82 degrees C). This temperature is just below the boiling point. The fact that the water will not come to a rolling boil makes this technique ideal for foods that are delicate and may break apart under “rough and tumbling” conditions such as boiling. As an example, eggs and fish are delicate foods that would likely break apart if placed into a pot of boiling water. 
            Poaching is a form of moist heat, meaning that the heat is transferred through water, or other variants including water-based liquids and steam. You know you have an appropriate temperature for poaching when you see small bubbles forming on the bottom of the pot. If the bubbles slowly begin to rise, your temperature is too hot and is now considered a simmer. When the rising bubbles vigorously break the surface, you’ve heated the water to a boil. Any time the bubbles start rising, your water is too hot for poaching. While simmering and boiling have there place in food preparation, it isn’t in cooking delicate food items. Save simmering for stews, rice and soups or when tougher cuts of meat are being cooked. Boiling a delicate food item will not only tear it apart physically, but it greatly increases the chances of overcooking the food. Boiling is intended for tough (root) vegetables, pastas and beans.
            If you haven’t figured it out already, poaching is a very “healthy” method for cooking because you do not need to add any calories to the item being prepared. In other words, it is unnecessary to add fat to your food to prevent it from buring in the cooking process.
            Eggs are likely the most commonly recognized poached food. Usually a poached egg is ordered while dining out, as the technique can be a bit of a challenge to master at home. Fortunately, eggs are fairly cheap. Its an item you can practice on without breaking the bank. The following are a few tips to help you become more successful in poaching an egg at home.   
 1.                      Add 1 teaspoon of vinegar per cup of water. Vinegar quickens the coagulation process so that the egg maintains a nice oval shape. Unfortunately, the addition of vinegar can also make the white of the egg a little tough.
2.                    Use a large pot, half full of water, about 12 cups, and cook one egg at a time.
3.                     Crack your egg into a small bowl, swirl the water gently with a spoon and pour the egg into the center of the swirl. Cook egg for 3 - 5 minutes if at sea level. At 5,000 feet you may need to cook for 5-7 minutes. Remove egg from water with a slotted spoon and let water drain. Cut off any streams of egg white that formed in the cooking process. Serve immediately.
             After you’ve had perfectly poached eggs for breakfast, you may be ready to take on poached fish for dinner. Here are a few rules of thumb when poaching fish. While fatty fish such as salmon can be poached, it is best used for white, lean fish.
 1.             Unlike eggs, you want to use a minimal amount of liquid to poach fish. Too much liquid will dilute the flavor of the fish and the poaching liquid. Your poaching liquid should just barely cover the fish. Too little liquid and you run the risk of it evaporating in the heating process and leaving your fish dry. Poaching can be accomplished in a pan on the stove or in an oven set to 350 degrees F. 
2.           Add herbs or chopped vegetables to your poaching liquid to enhance the flavor of your fish. 
3.            Cover the container that you poach your fish in so that the volatile oils from the fish and seasoning that provide flavor do not escape.
4.           Once again, be sure that your temperature is not too hot, otherwise your fish will become tough. A fork gently twisted in the thickest part of the fillet should easily cause the flesh to separate and flake. When this happens you know the fish is cooked. Additionally, there should no longer be an opaqueness to the color of the flesh.
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10 December 2013
Decoding Healthy Cooking Part 1
Decoding Healthy Cooking, Part 1: Lean Meats
By Nicole Clark, RD
            There is no shortage of healthy cooking tips on the internet. However, it is easy to become stumped on the healthy cooking ideas if you don’t understand the technique to begin with! This series will provide you with a better understanding on the top five suggestions for healthy cooking: using lean meats, poaching, sautéing, steaming, and reducing fat.
Lean Meats
1.      As a rule of thumb for beef or pork, look for the words “round” or “loin” in the description of the cut of meat. For a handy list you can refer to the following website for lean cuts of beef,
i.       Lean means less than 10 grams of fat, less than 4.5 grams saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol per 3 oz. serving.
2.     When it comes to lean poultry, simply remove the skin or look for the word lean if the meat has been ground.
3.     Lean meats are lower in fat. Fat provides moisture and flavor. If you don’t want to turn your protein into a something that looks and tastes like a hockey puck you’ll need to consider your method of preparation. Moist cooking techniques will prevent meat from drying out. 
a.     Braising = use for “round” cuts of beef which come from the back, a well used and therefore tougher muscle. This method is considered a form of “low and slow” cooking, meat is cooked at a low temperature over a long time. This technique tenderizes large cuts of tougher meat by cooking it partially submerged in liquid. The benefits = can be started in the morning (think crock pot) for a meal that is ready when you get home and usually used for cheaper cuts of meat so it saves you money!
b.     Stewing = also a form of moist preparation and similar to braising, but in stewing, the meat is cut into equal sized chunks and cooked fully submerged in liquid. Beef should be lightly browned at a hot temperature before braising or stewing to enhance flavor.
c.      Parchment wrapped = best used for fish, poultry, shellfish, or vegetables. Meat is wrapped like a present in parchment paper with the addition of herbs and spices to enhance flavor. Wax paper will burn in the oven so be sure to use actual parchment paper or aluminum foil.
4.     Cook with acid. Keep in mind that lean cuts of meat are lean because it was a muscle that was frequently used by the animal. Tenderize those strong muscles with the addition of acidic ingredients since they are able to denature proteins in the meat.   Essentially, this is what marinating does. 
a.     This process is best used in thin cuts of meat. The acid will not be able to penetrate thicker cuts and will therefore not tenderize and flavor all the meat. 
b.     Prepare 1/2 cup marinade for each pound of meat.
c.      Marinate beef and pork for up to 24 hours, chicken for 2 to 24 hours, and fish for 15 to 60 minutes. DO NOT reuse marinade after cooking meat as this can lead to cross contamination and food borne illness.
d.     Examples of acidic ingredients = tomatoes, pineapple, lemons, limes, oranges, or vinegar.
5.   Use the meat mallet! Mechanical tenderization is another great way to prepare lean meats. Mechanical tenderization uses a meat hammer to physically break down the proteins in meat via shear force. Be sure to wrap your meat in plastic wrap before hammering a cut of meat to prevent cross contamination across the kitchen. Use this technique for poultry, beef and pork. Delicate meat like fish will be destroyed by this method. 
a.   If you choose to grill or bake meat that is lean it is almost essential that you marinate or mechanically tenderize your meat prior to cooking. Grilling and baking are considered “dry” cooking techniques. With less fat in the meat to provide flavor and moisture, lean meats can become dry and tough if not tenderized through marinade or mechanical tenderization.
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02 December 2013
Living a Life of Purpose
Living a Life of Purpose
With the busy holiday season upon us, and all of the distractions that come along with this time of the year, it can be a challenge to stay connected to our purpose. There are many ways to maintain your connection to the energy of purpose.  Here are just a few:
 Take a few minutes each morning to write your thoughts in a journal
  • Meditate or pray or read something inspirational before you go to bed each night
  • Spend a few minutes in the shower reflecting on your positive vision for the day ahead
  • Put your mission statement on the home page of your computer
 Living a life of purpose allows us to better manage stress, handle difficult personalities and helps us stay focused when life’s storms become overwhelming.
 The key is not how we make the connection with our purpose: it is to assure we do so in a consistent way.
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08 November 2013
The Holiday Marathon
The Holiday Marathon
By Nicole Clark, RD
            Thanksgiving may just be the most enticing holiday meal of the year. The thought of a golden brown turkey filling the house with the most wonderful aroma for hours, cooked to perfection, and now being pulled from the oven has put my salivary glands into overdrive. Homemade rolls on the stove, lightly browned, steaming, and just begging for butter. Mashed potatoes, whipped to a creamy texture and carefully trenched to create the perfect bowl in which to hold the gravy. The infamous green bean casserole loaded with cream of mushroom soup and topped with fried onions. A sad excuse for a vegetable dish, but on this day it is often as close as you can get! The sweet potatoes finished with even sweeter brown sugar and marshmallows. How this unwelcome staple ends up at every Thanksgiving meal I will never know, I doubt marshmallows were abundant 250 years ago! By the time my imagination gets to the stuffing, complete with sausage, rosemary and thyme I am salivating to the point of looking like a rabid animal.  
             It is a wonder that this meal can look and taste so appealing since there is no denying that Chex mix, creamy dips, stuffed mushrooms, and bottomless glasses of wine have been the staple of my late morning and early afternoon! (Did I just admit to drinking wine for breakfast?!?!?). For some indescribable reason, we all feel the need to indulge in a huge, energy dense meal after snacking all day long. Be it the company of family and friends whom we’ve shared the day with, or the fact that this meal comes but once a year, we all find our place at the long table beautifully decorated in celebration of the fall harvest as we prepare to overindulge! I’m thankful that I no longer have to sit at the short card table tucked away in a corner, or awkwardly placed at the end of the “adult table”. However, there is one thing that I would like to take away from the years spent at the training table, the child’s perfected ability to listen to their body and stop eating when satisfied! Thanksgiving however, does not exactly set us up for self control!
            Portion control is the ultimate challenge on Thanksgiving. More than likely, you hold off on eating other meals so you can “save up” for Thanksgiving dinner. The truth is, you end up grazing all day and ultimately eat more than you would had you just had a meal. Additionally, this meal is often bound with emotional ties; recipes that have been around for six generations find there way to the table on this day, and it has been 364 days since you last enjoyed it! It is also a very social event, and when we celebrate, we do it with food and drink, and lots of it! Finally, as part of the celebration we tend to eat like kings and queens on this day with rich, energy dense foods.   
            You may argue that it is only once a year, but the truth is, this is just the beginning of the holiday marathon. Note that I use the word “marathon” loosely, more a descriptive term for a long stretch of eating and drinking as opposed to running. Thanksgiving turns into holiday parties for three weeks until it becomes Christmas, which turns into a week of family and friends spending time together until we finish with the last big hoorah on New Years! If it weren’t for the indulgence of the holiday season, resolutions would never have been invented!
            Practice these tips over Thanksgiving to prepare you for the 6 week marathon you are about to enter. Hopefully, come January 1st, you won’t feel the need to make empty promises this year! 
1.                      Make vegetable dishes the primary source of appetizers
2.                      When portioning out your food, start with 1/3 - 1/2 the portion you would normally plate. Remember, there is more variety than usual, so take less of everything to enjoy it all
3.                      Be sure to eat breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. Include fruit and protein (eggs, yogurt, lean meat) in this meal, knowing you will get your fair share of grains/carbs later in the day.
4.                      Use the following suggestions in your meal preparation to help reduce the calories of meal favorites...
a.                       Chicken broth in mashed potatoes instead of cream
b.                       Fresh fruit dessert with a dollop of low-fat vanilla Greek yogurt
c.                       Skip the butter on your bread
d.                       Make and eat salad with your meal. Who says you can’t start a new tradition!
e.                       Remove the skin from your turkey
f.                        If you love the green bean casserole too, use a low fat cream of mushroom soup, skip the fried onion and add a small quantity of sliced almonds for texture
g.                       Alternate alcoholic or sweetened beverages with a glass of water. Add an orange slice or fresh mint to sparkling water to keep it exciting!
h.                       Use poaching and steaming cooking techniques when possible.
1.                  Don’t forget to move during the day! Start with the local Turkey Day Trot. After the meal, offer to take the kids/dogs to the park.
2.                  Put your fork down between bites, stop half way through and assess how you feel. Stop when you are satisfied! Remember, leftovers are just as good!
3.                  Use a plate for appetizers, choose your favorites and stop grazing!
4.                  Enjoy every bite by being present with your food! Taste it, don’t shovel it!   
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