Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Mojito Alternative

Fresh Mint Iced Tea

A few weeks ago I decided to do a 2-week detox. To ensure that I wouldn’t feel left out when everyone else was sipping cocktails , I made my own “special” drinks – alcohol and sugar-free. This is one of my favorites – perfect for summertime.

~ 1 cup mint leaves, rinsed and packed

2 liters water

20-30 drops liquid stevia, to taste

Muddle the mint leaves in a small bowl and set aside. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Turn off the heat and stir in the mint leaves. Set aside and allow to cool for about an hour. Add stevia and stir, then pour into a pitcher or jars and refrigerate for at least another hour. Strain mint leaves if desired and serve over ice.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Vanilla Chai Smoothie

This is a great allergy-friendly smoothie for a postworkout snack or small meal. The xylitol option is a great breakfast for those with diabetes or anyone trying not to spike blood sugar too early in the morning.

1 scoop or serving vanilla rice or whey protein powder
1 Tablespoon cashew butter or tahini
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (non-alcohol based if possible)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
Xylitol, honey or agave to taste (~ 2 teaspoons)
3-5 ice cubes
6 oz water

Combine all ingredients in a high-speed blender and blend until smooth with no chunks. Pour into a tall glass and serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

No-Butter Butter Chicken

I grew up eating a lot of traditional Indian food at home and since I started avoiding dairy due to allergies, I’ve really been missing some of my favorites. This is virtually allergen-free recipe for butter chicken, which has always been a hit for me at potlucks. The dish is composed in two steps: first make a tandoori chicken – this recipe is one I’ve adapted from my mother’s to be a little less spicy. The next step is to cook the chicken with butter (or Earth Balance!) and add a cream and tomato-based sauce. I tried this revised recipe out with a group of friends and it was a big hit!

Step 1: Tandoori Chicken

4 lbs skinless chicken thighs (preferably bone-in)
1/2 cup plain coconut kefir
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp minced, peeled gingerroot
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin
1 Tbsp curry powder
1½ tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp cayenne pepper

Using a sharp knife, cut long, diagonal slashes in each chicken thigh, almost to the bone. This will allow the marinade to penetrate.
In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except the chicken until well combined. Add chicken, turning to coat and making sure marinade goes into all slits. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight.
This dish can be grilled or baked. Shake off excess marinade and discard before cooking. To grill: Grill each side 20-25 minutes at around 400 degrees. In the oven: Bake at 400 degrees in a shallow pan about 35 minutes or until juices run clear when pierced with a knife.

Step 2:

To make into Butter Chicken (Murg Makhanwala), I’ve adapted Suneeta Vaswani’s recipe from her Complete Book of Indian Cooking. This adds layers of flavor to the dish and makes it a bit more decadent.

12 cooked chicken thighs, intact with bones removed
3 green chilies, preferably serranos, each 2 inches
1 piece peeled gingerroot (~1 inch)
1 can whole or diced tomatoes, with juice
½ cup Earth Balance margarine, divided
2 tsp paprika
1 cup plain coconut kefir
1½ tsp. salt, or to taste
2 tsp. garam masala

In a food processor, process chilies and ginger. Add tomatoes with juice and puree until smooth
In a large saucepan, melt ¼ cup of the margarine over medium heat. Add one-third of the chicken and sauté until edges begin to brown, 3-4 minutes. Remove and brown remaining thighs in batches, adding an additional 1-2 Tbsp of margarine as needed.
Turn off heat and remove browned bits from pan. Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp. of butter and stir in 4 tsp. of the cumin and paprika. Cook, stirring rapidly, for 1 minute.
Pour in tomato mixture and return to a gentle boil. Cook, stirring frequently to allow flavors to blend, about 10 minutes. Add kefir, salt, chicken and accumulated juices. Garnish with cilatro leaves and serve with basmati rice.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Diet vs. Exercise, Part III

I truly feel that people’s diets represent intensely personal and emotional aspects of their lives. Trying to overhaul this fragile balance will rarely end well. Each time a person diets, he or she will usually gain back more weight than was ever lost. The more times that people diet, the lesser chance they have of ever being successful. This can put an incredible psychological strain on a person.
Here is what I asked of my clients. To simply eat real food, keep track of everything that they ate, and to sit down for each meal. Eating real food involved some planning as did sitting down for meals. But the planning is a big part of eating consciously and takes away from the anxiety that some people associate with the onset of hunger. Preparing one’s own food can also contribute to the sense of satisfaction felt when eating it. I suggested for my clients to use, a free service that provided a food log, nutritional analysis and an online community. For most people this can yield results, so long as they don’t fall into a deprivation-binge cycle. A heightened awareness as well as a sense of accountability is usually enough to stay on track and see steady results. Just look at Weight Watchers.
However, the results yielded from my above recommendations may not be enough to maintain motivation. This is where exercise comes in. Here, I can’t stress enough that this must be strenuous exercise. Cardio, resistance training, plyometrics, core work and all other exercises should be demanding, and should challenge the person in some new way each time. A good way to check in on this - at the end of every workout, the exerciser should feel a massive endorphin high. Although weight loss through a low-calorie diet may offer faster results, I think the best way to reduce body fat is to keep a moderate calorie diet, avoiding any ultrahigh calorie meals and then starting a rigorous exercise schedule. It’s my opinion that the reason exercise is undervalued as a weight loss tool in the health community is because the activities they reference are repetitive, low- to-moderate intensity ones, like walking. While great for starting out, the body will adapt to this, and people will only continue to see results if they increase intensity (speed, incline) or better yet, try other exercises such as swimming or kickboxing. Additionally, it doesn’t appear that many of these studies follow the clients over a long enough period to take into account increased metabolism and body composition differences from muscle gain.
The essence of what I’m trying to say is that the more weight you can take off as a result of intense workouts rather than dietary restriction, the more sustainable you’re results will be. After all, the term yo-yo dieting was coined for a reason.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Diet vs Exercise, Part 2 of 3

To me diet is literally and figuratively a four-letter word. You hear that 95% percent of diets fail. This is somewhat misleading as most any diet, including low-carb diets (which really translate to high-fat diets) will actually produce weight loss due to a combination of caloric deficit, muscle loss and water loss. What “fails” is the sustainability of any such eating program. Even if a person is on a modest 1500 (down from 2000) calorie a day diet, their basal metabolic rate will be lowered, and even a modest increase in daily calories later on will result in weight gain. Ultimately, most diets result in long-term weight gain. Why – because we cannot decide to control our actions a month or two months from now, we can only control what we do today. This is why I believe all diet books should come with a disclaimer, and I’m not talking about the advisement to consult one’s physician first. In order to achieve lasting weight loss, (if one needs it – don’t get me started on how sick I am of people telling me they want to be skinny) I firmly believe that the most important components are a support system, access to healthy foods, adequate sleep, a means of managing stress and yes, exercise.
This conflicts just a bit with what I’ve learned as a burgeoning nutritionist. Dietary modification is essential to weight loss. Exercise is simply advisable. But something else I’ve learned in while in school is that the number one goal of a dietitian seeing an overweight or obese patient is to prevent further weight gain. When it comes to long-term prevention of weight gain, exercise beats dieting, no contest.
Here’s how:
• Exercise activates the same reward centers in the brain as food, and often will help to decrease overall food consumption
• Exercise, especially resistance training will increase muscle mass, thereby increasing resting metabolic rate
• Exercise counteracts the anabolic effects of insulin, making it harder to store fat and easier to release it
• Exercise increases mood-enhancing neurotransmitters and people who exercise are less likely to be depressed. This may result in less “emotional eating” - a somewhat flawed term that I believe makes its point nonetheless – eating to feel better, whether it be in response to very real physiological cravings or a conditioned behavior
• And of course, exercise increases overall daily energy expenditure, allowing one to eat more without a gain in adiposity
Despite these factors working in its favor, the calorie deficit resulting from an hour of exercise could easily be erased by two glasses of wine and a handful of nuts with dinner. Which brings us back to diet… It would seem that without a deliberate focus on eating, any attempts at weight loss could be in vain. So what happened with those clients of mine? I’ll be sure to tell you soon :)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Diet vs Exercise, Part 1 of 3

I apologize for the rather lengthy lapse since my last post. I sat down to write this one post a few days ago and ended up with what could well have been a book chapter. So I’ve decided to break it down to a mini-series of sorts. Diet versus exercise is something I think about a lot. Perhaps I’ve gone “all in” favoring the food-related end of this matchup by entering a nutrition masters program, but the notion of exercise remains close to my heart. If someone were to ask me the best way to shed extra pounds, what would I suggest? You might be surprised by my answer.

I’m a certified personal trainer, so you may guess that I’m a huge proponent of exercise. But as a tool for weight loss, I will be the first to acknowledge that results may be modest at best. Most studies I’ve read that put diet-focused and exercise-focused weight loss programs head-to-head found that dieting produced two to three times more weight loss than exercise alone. Even those incredible six minute ab videos come with a pocket-sized diet program that is absolutely essential to achieve those jaw-dropping before and afters with results not typical below in tiny print. I’ve witnessed the shortcomings of an exercise-only program firsthand. Several of my clients came for sessions three times per week and did an additional hour of cardio on two other days when they started training with me. This should add up to major weight loss, right? Not necessarily. A month later, many of those clients showed no significant difference on the scale or even in circumference measurements. This is when I had to bring their attention to what they were putting in their mouths. What did I recommend? Stay tuned to find out.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Good things to come

I love food. Nutrition simply fascinates me. I could talk about it all day long. At least 75 percent of the books I read are nutrition-related, and that’s without counting my textbooks. I think most people share my love of food to some extent and also have an innate desire to be healthy. Yet we’re bombarded with messages from the so-called experts, gurus, the media, and of course the food industry trying to sell their books, products and advertising space. So what is true, what should you focus on? I am right there with you. I ask myself these kinds of questions all the time. So in short, the purpose of this blog is to share some of the tidbits I’ve learned along the way from some very wise people, as well as my own experiences. I don’t think there is a lot of black and white when it comes to what is nutritious or healthy. I simply hope to give you, my dear future readers, a glimpse into the way I approach the quandaries of the nutrition world. Don’t get too excited, I’m saving all the good stuff for my book a few years down the road (kidding!)
I’m not going to confine myself to any particular niche here, because I want to keep to what is salient to both me and the rest of the world, as new studies and books are published and Oprah episodes are aired. I’m so excited for the possibilities and hope only to not be discouraged at the difficulty of living up to the perfect, romanticized blog in my head.