A return to normalcy with a side of tempeh

Hey folks!

After a nice, long vacation in Italy I’m back and ready to get back into my routine.  I must say, while I do love traveling, it’s always nice to get back home and back into the swing of things again.  And I’ll be the first to admit — I definitely overindulged a bit in Italy.  I’d be really happy if I don’t have to look at a piece of cheese or pasta for quite some time!  While it can be frustrating to come back home and realize that I am going to have to be extra-careful about what I’m eating for a couple of weeks — I realize that everyone falls off the wagon a bit every now and then.  Rather than beating myself up about it, I give myself a little time to get back on track and recommit to eating healthy and getting some good old exercise!

When I got back, of course I was craving lots of veggies and fresh, delicious, low fat foods.  Lucky for me, my little sister, R, just moved into the East Village for the summer and my rents were in town to help her out.  Being in hipster heaven, we all decided to take a trip to Angelica’s Kitchen, a favorite restaurant of mine and a famous New York vegan instutition on 12th st and 2nd ave.  We even dragged my dad, who never saw a piece of steak he didn’t like.  Upon entering the restaurant he asked, “So how’s the burger?” But even my dad was surprised by how yummy-delicious vegan food can be.  We enjoyed a ton of great dishes including their dragon bowl (macrobiotic veggies, tofu, and brown rice) with delish carrot-ginger dressing (R and I wanted to drink it, it was so good), quinoa lemon croquettes, and delicious black bean enchiladas.  And to top it off, the restaurant is BYOB.  Just make sure you bring some extra cash (in true hippy-style they don’t take credit cards).

Now if that’s not what you would call a plateful of health….I don’t know what is!

Verdure means vegetable…

Ciao from Toscano!  I am writing to you from the beautiful hills of the Tuscan countryside.  D, his family, and I arrived in bella Firenze (Florence) three days ago.  We have been enjoying some gorgeous weather, delicious food, and beautiful wine!  The first two days have been an absolute whirlwind — D’s younger sister, E, had never been to Florence before, so of course we couldn’t miss seeing all the sights.  The first day was spent walking the city, taking in the resplendent cathedrals and world-renowned works of art, and finally, a little shopping (we are in Italy after all!).  Although Italy is known for being the birthplace of pasta, it is totally possible to eat healthfully and still enjoy yourself immensely.  Here are some great tips for eating healthy food on vacay (and you really can apply this anywhere):

One of the best things about Italy is the importance of la famiglia (or family).  Dining out is an experience, and meals here are truly shared events.  As such, many dishes are served family-style so that everyone can enjoy!  This is a dream for anyone looking to stay healthy.  Not only is food savored, which leads to less overeating (it takes 15 minutes for the stomach to signal to the brain that it is satisfied!) but dining can be an extremely enjoyable and memorable part of exploring culture and having a fantastic and memorable vacation.

Luckily, Italians love their side dishes!  The trick is here is enjoying rich dishes like pasta and meats in moderation, and loading up on the fiber-rich and filling vegetables sides or contorni.  One of the most pleasant surprises about Tuscan dining is the amount of delicious, fresh, seasonal verdure or greens that is available to enjoy.  Most of my meals have been accompanied by either a lush green salad with little pieces of pecorino cheese, walnuts, and ripe pear, or side dishes of spinach, artichokes, or whatever else is fresh and available.  Italy, of course, is nothing without its pastas, but the servings are quite small in most restaurants (pasta here is really an appetizer rather than an entrée).  Try ordering one or two pasta dishes to share with the table, so that everyone can get a couple of bites (enough to enjoy but not be a huge CALORIE BOMB).  Entrées can be quite hearty, so those are great for sharing too!  I recommend anything grilled — steak, chicken, fish — you really can’t go wrong there.  Be careful when it comes to the bread and the wine though…I know it’s the toughest part when you’re hungry and there is a huge plate of bread in front of you…  I try to enjoy one or the other at dinner — if the bread looks particularly fresh and delicious, I’ll have a small piece with some fresh olive oil and skip the wine (or have just a little sip).  And vice versa if the wine is truly unforgettable.  At lunch I skip it completely (who really needs all that much bread anyway when the rest of the food is SO much more delicious!)  Finally, we come to dessert.  I have become absolutely obsessed with the delicious, cute, little cups of espresso at the end of my meals.  And really, when you’re walking around sightseeing all day the pick-me-up effect of caffeine is really fantastic!  Another thing Italy is quite famous for besides its fresh, amazing pastas is of course, Gelato.  And really, the gelato here is unlike anywhere else in the world.  However, while D can eat three gelatos a day or more  on his quest to try every flavor that Italy has to offer — that wouldn’t be the best healthiest choice for me.  Lucky for me I get a little lick of whatever D is having, or a bite of whatever delicious dessert we share at dinner and don’t feel deprived (but still get to enjoy!).  But remember, just one or two bites and then pass the dessert along – after all, Italy is all about the sharing!

That’s it for now!  Stay posted for more healthy tips from Italia!  Pics to be posted shortly….

Snack attack!

First of all…let me apologize to my readers for the recent lapse in blog posts…I’ve been having a beyond crazy week.  Between starting my masters in nutrition (woohoo!) and getting ready to leave on vacation to Italy (leaving tonight and couldn’t be any more pumped!!!) the blogging has gone a bit to the wayside.

When life gets a little crazy, sometimes it can be hard to grab a full meal.  Suddenly, you get to 4 pm and your stomach is screaming “FEED ME NOW!!”  It’s moments like these when a good snack can make a huge difference.  So what constitutes a good snack?  The best snacks to hold you over are a mix of fiber and protein.  Some great snack ideas are:

  • greek yogurt with blueberries (or any kind of berries)
  • apple with spoonful of peanut butter (peanut butter is fattening so try to keep it at one or two spoonfuls)
  • carrots with hummus or black bean dip
  • whole grain wheat toast or 1/2 whole wheat english muffin with hummus or nut butter
  • a hardboiled egg
  • nonfat/lowfat cottage cheese with fruit
  • a handful of nuts or trail mix (JUST A HANDFUL! )

Now I know what you’re saying…”Yea right!  Like I keep that stuff around when I’m rushing!” Well…let me let you in on a little secret — being healthy is all about being PREPARED.  Prepared for instances when life gets crazy and there is not a healthy snack in sight.  When I’m running around I make sure to at least pack an apple or a banana — they take up very little room and eating that is much better than desperately resorting to an oatmeal raisin cookie at Starbucks (hello 390 unnecessary calories!).  Being prepared isn’t about obsessing about where you’ll get your next meal or snack — it’s about giving yourself more options to be healthy!

At this point I’d also like to take a moment to address energy bars.  If given a choice between a granola bar, and a low-fat yogurt, I always, always, always go for the yogurt.  Most energy bars are not that much different than candy bars — except with more added protein perhaps.  There isn’t so much of a difference in taste between a chocolate-covered powerbar and a snickers.  No one ever got fat from eating too many carrots, but there are definitely people who got fat from too many granola bars.  If you must get your fix of granola bars, or if there simply aren’t better options available..try your best to stick to granola bars made from natural ingredients: KIND bars, Lara bars, Luna bars are all good options and do not have insanely high sugar counts (high sugar makes your blood sugar spike and then crash later…not exactly good for keeping your energy levels stable!).

That’s it for now…keep yourselves posted for some exciting blogging about staying fit and healthy on vacation from la bella ITALIA!

soaking up some Vitamin D

Hello folks!  After a weeklong bout of yucky weather…it was glorious and sunny all weekend long.  I made a point of trying to soak up as much sun as humanely possible (wearing sunscreen of course!).  Being outside was definitely an endorphin-booster, not to mention a great way to get some good old fashioned vitamin D.  According to the Mayo Clinic “The major biologic function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. Recently, research also suggests vitamin D may provide protection from osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, and several autoimmune diseases.”  Sounds pretty sweet to me.

On my quest to worship the sun gods, D suggested that we take a little trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.  Of course we ended up walking about two miles around the outside fence of the park until we could find the entrance (which was actually where we started).  But it was most definitely worth the half an hour detour:

Definitely a good place to bring a book, pack up some healthy snacks, and spend an afternoon.  Enjoy the rest of monday!

GS bakes!

Healthy baking?  A lot of people think that this is an oxymoron.  And to them I say…Give me cookies or give me death!  Baking is by far one of my favorite things to do…banana bread, muffins, oatmeal raisin cookies…you name it I bake it.  The trick is substituting high fat products (such as tons of oil and sugar) for things like egg substitute, applesauce (for the oil), and healthy ingredients like whole wheat flour.  This turns treats that would normally be fat and sugar bombs, into something wholesome and delicious.

For today’s recipe, my boyfriend, D’s mom L, who is a fabulous blogger herself and loves healthy, organic food and ingredients, requested that I bring some baked treats for Friday night dinner.  The following recipe is dairy-free, and as L is kosher (can’t mix milk and meat), it is a treat that she can enjoy any time!

Below is a recipe that I found on www.cookinglight.com (a favorite website of mine for healthy recipes!) for Cinnamon-Spiced Date Cookies. At only 96 calories, and 3 grams of fat per cookie, these treats are a steal.  They are also made with dates which are a great source of fiber, low in fat, cholesterol and sodium, and have more potassium than bananas!

Ingredients (for 36 cookies):

  • 1 1/2  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1  cup  whole-wheat flour
  • 3/4  cup  chopped pitted dates
  • 1  teaspoon  baking powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon  baking soda
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/8  teaspoon  ground ginger
  • 1/8  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4  cups  sugar, divided
  • 1/2  cup  vegetable oil
  • 1/2  cup  applesauce
  • 1  tablespoon  water
  • 1/4  teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flours and next 6 ingredients (flours through cinnamon) in a large bowl; make a well in the center of mixture. Combine 1 cup sugar, oil, applesauce, water, and vanilla in a bowl; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Cover and chill 1 hour or until firm.

Shape dough into 36 balls, and roll the balls in 1/4 cup sugar. Place the balls 2 inches apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until lightly browned (be careful here because these cookies can overcook!  I suggest checking them at the 12 minute mark). Cool 1 minute on pans. Remove from pans, and cool on a wire rack.

* Note…When making these I pushed the dough slightly downward on the cooking sheet so they looked less like a ball and more flat.

And here they are!!

Just don’t eat them all in one sitting!

Sun Salutation?? Yes Please.

Is it just me or has the weather this week in the city been absolutely atrocious?!  When the weather gets gross out…shlepping to the gym gets that much harder (and tedious).  So to shake off the rainy blahs let me inroduce to you (drumroll please!)…PRANA power yoga.  Located right in Union square (17th and broadway to be exact), this haven of warmth is a welcome respite from the elliptical/treadmill routine.

A couple months ago, my friend L talked me into going to a nighttime class with her.  As someone who used to make fun of yoga (like sitting in a class and stretching is a real workout..pshh!) I was pretty skeptical going into class.  I was hoping that the studio wouldn’t be full of incense-burning hippies who smelled like granola.  After buying a class and renting a mat and towel, I walked into a toasty warm rectangular room that was dimly lit with different colored sconces on the walls.  The class was full of young, fit, “normal” people and the instructor was actually kind of cool…in a zen-yoga way of course.  After a little guided meditation, we began what I can only say was a yoga class to put any notions I had of yoga being “soft” to the wayside!  After a very sweaty hour and a half, I emerged — calm, refreshed, and rejuvenated.  The next day I was definitely feeling the burn…I felt like I had used muscles I had never though existed before (hello triceps!)  One of the best things about the class was that I didn’t feel like I was being pushed too hard or pressured into doing maneuvers I wasn’t ready for.  I’ve continued going and find yoga a great cross-training exercise to supplement running and gyming.  Though I doubt I’ll be doing any of this soon:

It was a great experience and you should check it out!  Though to be warned…you might get hooked too!


Organic Shmorganic…

I was doing a little grocery shopping the other day at Whole Foods, when D came up to me and asked…”Why can’t we just go to Food Emporium instead of Whole Paycheck?”  I of course, wrinkled my nose (I don’t particularly enjoy food emporium…the stale smell and amount of processed food in that joint usually gives me the heeby jeebies) and replied “because it’s not mostly organic!  That’s why!”  Not to be a food snob or anything, because I will be the first one to tell you that I do do some shopping at places like Food Emporium or Gristedes, but I try to make a point of buying mostly organic food. D of course asks me later that day “So what is organic anyways?  I mean I know what it is, but I don’t really…”  We all KIND of know what organic means.  The USDA National Organic Program defines organic as such:

“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.”

In basic terms, organic food is food that hasn’t been messed with.  Studies have shown conflicting evidence as to whether organic food is necessarily better for you.  And of course, taste is also hard to quantify because everyone has different tastes as to what they think is good.  In my opinion, I think organic food tastes fresher, cleaner, and better.  I’m willing to shell out the extra bucks on organic food because I like the idea that I’m not putting unnecessary pesticides in my body.  But it is a personal choice whether or not you decide to buy organic.  There are also foods that are more likely to contain pestcides than others, so organic is a better bet.  These foods are:

  • peaches
  • apples
  • nectarines
  • strawberries
  • cherries
  • sweet bell peppers
  • celery
  • lettuce
  • potatoes
  • carrots

Foods that are ok to buy conventional are:

  • Pineapples
  • Avocadoes
  • Mangoes
  • Bananas
  • Asparagus
  • Onions
  • Broccoli
  • Kiwifruit
  • Papayas
  • Eggplant

As a rule of thumb, organic is a better bet for any fruits/veggies where you either eat the skin, or it is a thin-layer of skin.  Tougher skin allows less pesticides to get through.

Yummy organic carrots:

Another great option if buying organic is too expensive for you is to BUY LOCAL.  New York is blessed with some really fantastic farmers markets such as the Union Square Farmers Market.  A lot of these markets sell produce that is grown in the style of organic farming, but may not be USDA-certified.  This is a great option for people who want to save a buck but still buy food that is grown in a clean, sustainable way.

Baby food and other crazy diets….

I was at the gym….perusing their stock of trashy tabloid magazines to entertain myself on the elliptical when my eyes passed over this cover….

Interested in how Jennifer Aniston, a woman whose discipline I have often admired, had lost such a significant amount, I picked up the mag and started to delve into the article.  To sum up, Aniston had been eating baby food — her celebrity trainer, Tracy Anderson had recommended the “baby food cleanse”, which involves eating 14 portions of pureed baby food a day, followed by a regular dinner.  The science behind the diet is that baby food is quickly digested, and quick digestion means faster weight loss.

Um…what!  Not only is this almost laughably ridiculous (grown women eating baby food), it’s unbelievably UNHEALTHY.  Basically you are depriving your body of getting proper fuel on a highly calorically restricted diet.  According to most experts, you should only aim to lose 1 or 2 pounds per week.  Otherwise, the weight loss in unsustainable in the long run.  Once Aniston goes off of this cleanse, I would not be surprised if she put on all her previous weight…plus some.  Basically, her metabolism is now in starvation mode — her body is screaming for food and she keeps feeding it pureed carrots.  Once she goes off this diet, her body will go crazy and absorb all the nutrients it can get.  Not only do extreme diets like the baby food cleanse slow your metabolism, once the diet is over, most subjects will actually gain weight.  The only proven method to lose weight and keep it off is by eating healthy, well-balanced meals, and working out.  There is no magic bullet.  I’ll take the real food…save the mashed bananas for the babies.

Happy Cinco de Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo!! When the weather gets caliente… the salads come out!  Nothing makes me feel more refreshed than a crunchy, cool salad on a warm day.  Today I made a salad with low-fat tuna, delish cherry tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, on a bed of spinach.  Spinach is great for salads because it has a lot of iron, and I find it to be less bloating than some other lettuce choices.  One of my latest obsessions is the low-fat tuna salad sold at Whole Foods.  I eat this at least once a week, because it is super easy lunch on the go and also delish!  They throw red peppers, dill, cornichons (fancy name for mini pickles), and albacore tuna together.  It has just the right amount of flavor and no mayo!  Most prepared tuna salads that you find in deli stands have tons of mayo added, which can be incredibly fattening, and not such a healthy choice.  Your average tuna salad has almost 400 calories for one cup, and 19 grams of fat.  Read:  prepared tuna salad = muffin top.  A healthier choice at the deli counter is getting plain albacore tuna (no mayo added) on whole wheat bread or on top of lettuce.  You can always add low fat mayo if you miss it, or a low fat vinaigrette also adds a punch of flavor.

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