Saroj Dhongadi

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Overfat & undernourished

When we hear that an individual is malnourished, most of us would picture someone who’s starving – a wisp of a person who appears to be simply wasting away. Certainly, people who lack adequate nutrients and calories are malnourished, but malnutrition can exist even when calories are plentiful – it just requires too much food with little nutritional value. So here’s a new word for your vocabulary: “malnubesity”. A merger of malnutrition and obesity sounds like a conflict in terms, but, in fact, malnubesity is real – many of us are overfat and undernourished.

How did we get here? We need to look at our evolutionary history for an explanation. Our prehistoric ancestors needed to eat a lot of food in order to meet their calorie needs. For one thing, they were extremely active – burning thousands of calories a day in their constant quest for food. And, their plant-rich diet didn’t have abundant sources of concentrated calories – think added fats and sugars – like we do today.

Our ancestors also had to eat a lot of plant foods in order to get vitamins and antioxidants that their bodies didn’t manufacture. Producing your own vitamins would be an expensive process, calorie-wise. So we were designed to obtain our vitamins from the diet – rather than spending energy to make them – so that more calories could be put to better use in fueling energy-hungry brains.

Human evolution, then, had to design a way to encourage us to take in highly palatable, high calorie foods in order to ensure that we’d meet our needs for nutrients and energy. So we developed a sophisticated reward system – one in which the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain is stimulated by calorie-dense foods, encouraging us to eat more of them.

In other words, we’re hard-wired – and rewarded – to eat foods that will give us the most calories per bite, and to ensure we’ll get all nutrition we need. That’s fine if you’re roaming around in environment laden with plant foods and low fat protein sources. In fact, it’s actually hard to overeat on a diet like this, because the fiber and protein are so satisfying.

But in the modern world, our food supply is overloaded with highly processed, high calorie, appetizing foods that are lacking in vital nutrients. And since we have the neural pathways that encourage us to eat them – and even reward us for doing so – we’re more than happy to comply.

As a result, many of us have become overfed and undernourished. With a diet that supplies an excess of calories and a shortage of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, our health is going to suffer. A little extra padding is one thing, but malnubesity encourages fat to settle in places it doesn’t normally go – surrounding vital organs, like the liver or pancreas, then forcing its way inside cells and significantly affecting how these organs perform.

We’re designed to be incredibly active, but our calorie needs don’t hold a candle to those of our ancestors. Many of us work in situations that hardly require us to move at all. We’re also built to consume as much high-quality food that nature can provide, but we live in what’s been called an ‘obesogenic’ environment – we’re surrounded by easy-to-get, highly processed, high calorie foods.

This mismatch between our genetics and our lifestyle is what’s led to this paradox of malnutrition coupled with obesity. We eat exactly opposite of the way we’re supposed to. We should be taking in lots of plant foods and lean proteins that will maximize nutritional quality at a relatively low calorie cost.

And we’ve got to get off the couch, too. Most of us don’t burn 6000 calories a day – but we sure eat as if we do.

Does your diet include variety, balance, and moderation

It’s been said that there are no bad foods, only bad diets. The idea is this: if we simply ate a wide range of foods – mostly healthy foods – and didn’t eat too much, we’d all be better off. But even though most people might understand the concept of a diet based on variety, balance and moderation, for many it’s still difficult to put into practice.

We crave variety. Humans evolved in surroundings overrun with a huge range of plant foods. And the drive to consume them was nature’s way to ensure that nutrient needs would be met. We carry this same urge with us today – which would still serve us well if we were merely selecting from a spread of edible plants. But we’re not. We’re faced with way too many food choices – not all of them good for us – and studies show that the more choices we have, the more we eat.

What does balance mean? Does it mean you can ‘balance’ a relatively unhealthy food with a healthy one? Do the nutritional positives of a grapefruit balance the negatives of a cream puff? This idea that ‘everything fits’ works out nicely if you plan a diet on paper. You could plan for a fast food burger and fries for lunch, and sandwich it between a really healthy breakfast and dinner. And, if you did the nutrient and calorie calculations for a day like that, it might not look too bad. With careful choices at breakfast and dinner, you could probably keep the days’ calories and fat under control, and even meet many of your nutrient requirements, too.

But who eats that way? I would bet that most people who opt for a fast food lunch are looking for something pretty similar for dinner. And, I wouldn’t expect that people who eat cottage cheese and fruit for breakfast are hitting the drive-through at lunchtime.

Moderation is usually taken to mean not overeating in general, but it especially applies to the ‘extras’, like fats, sweets and alcohol. Some people can moderate really well – they can keep a bag of cookies in the cupboard without losing control. But for others, the concept of eating a single cookie is completely foreign – and for them, learning to moderate intake may never happen. They may be better off to avoid temptation altogether, and never bring the cookies into the house in the first place.

So, are there bad foods, or just bad diets? I think we have both. I’ve got my own list of things I think are ‘unhealthy’, and it’s likely that you’ve got a list, too. Whether we choose to eat these foods, or how often, is a personal decision. But pile enough bad foods on your plate, and you’ve got a bad diet.

In the end, we should be striving to eat as healthy as we can. Variety should come, for the most part, from the huge range of healthy foods we have available. Balance should be less about countering the ‘bad’ with the ‘good’, and more about getting the right amounts of what your body needs – lean proteins, healthy fats, and ‘good’ carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables and whole grains – in order to meet your nutrient requirements.

This isn’t to say we can’t indulge from time to time, but the hardest part is moderation. It’s tough to take in only what you need when there’s temptation everywhere you turn.

Party dress too tight Five tips to slim down quickly, safely

Generally, this isn’t the time of year that most people are watching their weight – because if they were, they’d probably be watching it go up. But you’d be surprised. It’s not unusual for people to call me in a panic mid-December – realizing they’ve got a big New Year’s eve event coming up – and wondering what they can realistically accomplish in a couple of weeks. Of course, this comes up at other times of the year, too. An upcoming wedding, a cruise or a graduation – all can spark the question: How much can I lose in a couple of weeks?

Let me start by saying that there’s no simple answer that applies to everyone. For one thing, a lot depends on a person’s starting weight. The larger a person is, the more calories it takes for them to maintain their weight. So heavier people can cut their usual calorie intake back quite a bit, and will usually lose more weight in two weeks than a smaller person will.

It really does all come down to calories – one way or another, you’ve got to tip the balance so that you use up more calories than you take in over a period of time in order to see that scale budge. The bigger the gap between the two, the faster you’ll lose.

A pound of fat represents about 3500 stored calories – so if you were to burn up 500 of those stored calories every day for a week, you should lose about a pound of fat. You could eat 500 calories fewer than you need – or you could burn up an extra 500 calories from exercise – to make that happen.

• You need to both cut calories and exercise. If you simply cut calories, you run the risk of cutting back too far, and you won’t have the energy to exercise, and it’s harder to meet nutrient needs when your calories are too restricted.
• Relying solely on exercise to lead to weight loss is tough, too. It takes a lot of activity – like an hour of uninterrupted swimming – to burn 500 calories.
• Focus on the foods that provide the most nutrition with the fewest calories, like vegetables, fruits and very lean proteins like fish and shellfish, poultry breast, egg whites, fat-free dairy products (yogurt, cottage cheese, milk) and protein powders.
• Make sure to include protein at every meal –it will help keep you satisfied from meal to meal.
• It’s okay to cut back on grains for a week or two – you should be getting enough carbohydrate from fruits and veggies to fuel your exercise. After a couple of weeks, though, add back a serving or two of healthy whole grains.

Careful calorie counting is key, though. One approach I often recommend for a jump start is to use meal replacements– like a protein shake made according to a specific recipe or a healthy frozen dinner –twice a day, with a third healthy meal. Then, fill in with fruits and vegetables for snacks. This takes the guesswork out of calorie counting, so you’re more likely to see results.

Food waste Hurts your wallet, harms the environment

It really hurts me to throw away food. Aside from the money that’s being wasted, I’m ashamed to be tossing out food when I know there are those who don’t have enough nutritious food to eat. I felt even worse after I read a recent report1 describing the impact of food waste on the environment. After calculating how much energy it takes to produce our food – and how much of that food we toss out – it was estimated that we could save the energy equivalent of about 350 billion barrels of oil if we didn’t waste any food.

Producing food costs a lot of energy – 10% or more of total US energy consumption goes towards food production. It takes the equivalent of about 1.4 billion barrels of oil to produce, package, prepare, preserve and distribute a year’s worth of food.

So here are the numbers – and they’re staggering. We waste an astonishing 27% of the food that’s produced in this country. We dump out 32% of dairy products, 31% of eggs, 25% of vegetables and 23% of all the fruit that’s produced. Some of our most nutritious foods are literally going down the drain, and we’re wasting huge amounts of energy in the process.

On average, we each waste about 150 pounds of food a year – that’s the body weight of an average person – because we buy too much and we prepare more than we need. And much of what we waste is safe and edible. Aside from the leftovers we don’t get around to, we also throw away a huge amount of unopened foods, or foods that we’ve opened and only used part of – like the remains of a family–sized carton of yogurt or the heels of a loaf of bread.

A lot of people throw out perfectly safe food because they don’t understand the dating system on food labels. Here’s the short course: a sell-by date is just the date that a food has to be pulled from store shelves. But properly stored, foods can last a lot longer than that. Milk, for instance, can easily last another week past that date– eggs could last another three. Even a really perishable food, like ground beef, is good for a couple of days after you buy it – assuming you store it properly. A use-by date is suggested for best flavor or quality – but foods are safe to eat after this date.

Food that’s obviously bad shouldn’t be eaten, of course. When foods are still safe to eat but starting to fade, think about how you can use them. When my apples start to get soft, I’ll make applesauce. If the bread is getting stale, I’ll dry it out and make my own bread crumbs. When the veggies are a little limp, I’ll put them into a soup. Sour milk makes fantastic pancakes.

So add these to your list of New Year’s resolutions to help you reduce your food waste and help the environment: When you shop, buy only what you can consume before the food spoils. Yes, larger packages are usually a better value than smaller ones – but not if the food is perishable and you end up throwing half away. Then, cook only what you know you’ll eat, or have specific plans for your leftovers – plan to use them for another meal, pack up for tomorrow’s lunch, or put them in the freezer.

And don’t serve more than you can (or should) eat. One of the biggest sources of food waste comes from food left on the plate.

Healthy pastas

If you’re resolving to eat more whole grains in the New Year, a good place to start might be with some whole grain pasta. In the past, our main decision in buying pasta was shape – did we want sinewy strands, or curly corkscrews? Nowadays, we’ve got delicious whole wheat pastas or noodles with spinach or tomato added, and we’ve got pasta made with rice, corn or quinoa. So how do these different noodles stack up?

Most people buy regular pasta – it’s made from a type of high-protein wheat – durum or semolina – that gives pasta its characteristic yellow hue. A serving – which is defined on the package as 2 ounces of dry pasta (about a cup cooked, depending on the shape) -– has about 200 calories, a trace of fat, about 2 grams of fiber and around 40 grams of carbohydrate. Not a bad deal, but if you switch to whole wheat pasta, you’ll save about 20 calories and more than triple your fiber per serving. That’s a great deal, nutritionally speaking. And those numbers look more impressive when you consider what people typically eat – not one cup of cooked pasta, but more like three.

There are gluten-free pastas on the shelf, too – made with grains other than wheat, like corn, rice or quinoa. Calorie-wise, they all come in at around 200 per cup, but they may have less fiber and some have less protein than wheat pasta. But for those who are going gluten-free, they’re great alternatives.

I’ve also been seeing more ‘super pastas’ in stores, too – products with more protein and fiber, and even some touting omega-3 fatty acids. The extra 3 grams of protein or so usually comes from a blend of higher protein grains, and ground flaxseed provides the omega-3 fatty acids. These pastas will probably cost you a bit more – also keep in mind that the omega 3s found in flax don’t provide quite the same health benefits as those you get from eating fish. You’d be better off cooking up some whole wheat pasta with some shrimp tossed in.

Those pretty red and green pastas have tomato and spinach powder added to them – but the amounts are so small that they don’t increase the nutritional value all that much. They’re fine if you like the how they look on your plate, but they won’t take the place of a fresh or cooked veggie.

On a dry weight basis, all pastas have about the same calories – around 100 per ounce of dry pasta. But most of us think of our portions in cups, not ounces – so consider this: the calories in cooked pasta can range from 175 to 240 per cup, depending on the shape. So if you’re a calorie-watcher, go for the big wagon wheels or the bow ties instead of the fine angel hair. The big shapes pack less tightly, so you’ll get fewer calories per cup.

I’ll admit that up until the last year or two, most whole grain pastas were not for me. When I tried the first whole grain pastas to hit the market, I found them tough and grainy. But the products have gotten so much better – their texture is a true match for regular pasta, and the nuttiness of the whole grain adds a depth of flavor to finished dishes that I’ve really come to love.

Kids & breakfast real life advice

Kids and breakfast – it’s an uneasy alliance. On a typical school day, breakfast often gets shelved in favor of a few extra minutes of sleep, an “I’m not hungry” claim, or a waiting school bus. And when they do eat, parents pat themselves on the back because, ‘at least they ate something’ before their kids went charging out the door. But just because a belly is full, doesn’t mean the brain and muscles are getting the fuel they need.

Recently, Herbalife sponsored a survey* among parents of children aged 6-12, to get an idea of how many kids usually have breakfast at home in the morning before going off to school, and also to find out what they’re typically eating. Of the more than 1100 parents surveyed nationwide, 73 percent said that their kids ate breakfast at home every day before going off to school – while only about 5 percent reported that their kids always skipped it.

That was the good news. But what the kids were eating cast a bit of a shadow on the findings. Most kids were having plenty of refined carbs with their morning meals, but not much protein. And fruit intake was pretty scanty, too.

Kids’ top breakfast choices were refined grain products – foods like cold cereal, waffles, pancakes, toast and bagels. Fewer than half of those surveyed said that their kids typically ate protein-rich foods like eggs or yogurt in the morning, and only 41 percent said that their kids ate fruit before leaving for school.

There’s more to breakfast than a full stomach. Kids need healthy carbohydrates –like whole grain breads and cereals and fresh fruits – to provide fuel to active muscles and busy brains. And a good shot of protein in the morning – from foods like eggs and low fat dairy products – not only keeps kids from getting too hungry, it also helps to keep them mentally alert. A recent USDA report said that our kids aren’t getting nearly enough calcium, vitamin D, potassium or fiber in their diets – all of which could be supplied by a breakfast that included fruit, dairy products and whole grains.

We’re all busy in the morning – and so it may be tempting to take the path of least resistance when it comes to making sure that kids eat. If they say they’re not hungry, why push? If they’re in a rush, busy parents may find it easier – or believe it’s faster – to pick something up than to help kids put together a healthy breakfast at home.
But I wonder.

The newsstand I walk to every morning is right next to a donut shop and around the corner from my neighborhood elementary school. I’m always astonished at how many parents are buying their grade-school kids greasy donuts and sugary coffee drinks at 7:30 in the morning. Does it really take that much longer to prepare a bowl of high-fiber cereal and fruit, to make a slice of whole grain toast to be eaten with a carton of yogurt, or whip up a quick protein smoothie in the blender?

*Survey of US adult population, conducted by Synovate eNation, 9-15-2010 through 9-24-2010, margin of error +/- 3 percentage points.



Which milk is best for you

If you’ve spent any time staring into the dairy case lately, there are enough milk choices to make your head spin. No longer is the decision simply whether to buy regular, reduced fat, low fat or skim – we’ve got goat’s milk, and milks made from soybeans, almonds, rice, oats and even hemp.  But making nutritional comparisons among all these choices is no easy task.

Cow’s milk and goat’s milk are great protein sources, but some people can’t tolerate their natural lactose.  Almond milk is lowest in calories, but it contains very little protein  – and some brands can have a fair amount of salt.  Hemp milk, although it provides some healthy omega-3 fatty acids, doesn’t offer much protein, either.  Neither do rice or oat milk, but at least they’re naturally mild in flavor – so some might prefer them over soy milk which can be a tad bitter. So how do you choose?

Get a boost of calcium and protein, with low fat or nonfat cow’s milk or low fat goat’s milk – or soy milk if you’re looking for a non-dairy alternative.  The cow or goat milk will give you somewhere in the range of 7-10 grams of protein per cup, along with about a third of your daily calcium needs – all for 90-120 calories or so.  Ditto for the soy milks, which are also naturally cholesterol-free, and don’t contain lactose (although lactose-free cow’s milk is fairly widely available, too).

Some people have trouble digesting some of soy’s natural carbohydrates – excess gas is not an uncommon complaint among soy milk drinkers.  And, since plain soy milk may be an acquired taste, keep in mind that the flavored ones have added sugar – and more calories.

Almond milk, like soy, is plant-based, so it’s naturally cholesterol-free.  It’s also lactose-free, and has the fewest calories – averaging about 60 per cup.  But almond milk contains only a pinch of ground nuts – almonds are usually listed as an ingredient after water and sweeteners (although, to be fair, most soy milks list water and sweeteners first, too). Almond milk doesn’t offer much protein –only 1 gram per cup, but most are calcium-fortified, so this might be a good choice if you simply want something with very few calories to wet your whistle.

Like almond milk, the plusses of rice, oat and hemp milks are more about what they don’t contain – no lactose, no saturated fat, no cholesterol.  Of the three, rice has the least protein (1 gram per cup, vs. about 4 for oat or hemp) and rice and oat milks have naturally mild, sweet flavors so they usually have less sugar.  All are calcium-fortified, too, often to levels that come close to matching what’s found in cow’s milk.  But they’ll cost you somewhere between 100 to 120 calories per cup.

Allergies to rice and hemp are rare – something for the allergy-prone to keep in mind.  They’re also gluten-free – as are all milk and milk alternatives, with the exception of oat milk.

What’s next? Salty camel’s milk is set to hit Britain’s supermarket shelves later this year.  Could the U.S. be far behind?

How to gain five pounds during the holidays

Yes, you can pack on five pounds between now and January – and it’s easier than you might think. Most people only add a pound or two over the holidays, but when you look at what a few extra indulgences can cost you, the calories add up fast. To gain five pounds, you’ll need to take in an extra 17,500 calories or so between now and January Here’s how to get the job done.

First, turn the clock back a couple of weeks – to October 31. The average Halloween bucket holds about 250 pieces of candy at about 35 calories each. If you’re like most people, you bought too much – so you’ve been putting away a couple of pieces a day for the last two weeks. That’s given you a 1000 calorie head start.

Up next – Thanksgiving. We’re no longer content with just “Thanksgiving Dinner” – we’ve morphed the holiday into “Thanksgiving Day”, since we spend a good part of the day eating. Many people plan the main event early in the day – it makes it much easier to squeeze in a repeat performance later in the evening. Total calories for the day could easily top 5000 or more – conservatively, that’s about 2500 more than the average person needs.

Sometimes, your workplace can be your undoing during the holidays. Grateful customers and clients, or even coworkers, flood the office with cookies, candies and tins of caramel popcorn. Eat two handfuls of caramel popcorn three days a week for a month (2200 calories) and three pieces of chocolate candy a week for a month (1600), and you’re guaranteed to be a pound heavier by January.

You’re bound to have more goodies at home, too, when the gift baskets start to arrive. You could easily eat 10 mini muffins over the course of a few days (1000 calories), or make a few dives into the salami and cheese crackers (700 calories). Bake a couple of batches of holiday cookies or gingerbread and you’ll be in trouble, too. An extra 6 cookies (and a few samples of cookie dough) could set you back another 500 calories or so.

Now throw some cocktail parties into the mix. Hors d’oeuvres are little calorie bombs, averaging about 100 calories each, and some alcoholic drinks – like sweet martinis – can easily top 300 calories. Two parties = two thousand calories = two-thirds of a pound. Tack on what you’ll get from a couple of potato pancakes and some beef brisket at a Hanukkah party (1000 calories) and you’re almost another pound up.

It shouldn’t be hard to pick up the remaining 5000 calories or so, especially when you’re faced with foods like pecan pie (500 calories a slice), prime rib (800 calories for 8 ounces) and creamy artichoke dip (600 calories in a half cup) – or when Christmas brunch consists of a slice of quiche (500 calories) a giant cinnamon roll (500) and a cup of eggnog (400).

Last tip: be sure to couple all this eating with a bout of inactivity – if you give up your daily 45 minute walks (175 calories) for a month, you’ll be sure to seal the deal by New Year’s.

What to do with leftovers

You’ve heard it time and again. For many people – and I may be one of them – the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers. Don’t get me wrong – I love the holiday and all the preparations. But after a couple of days of gearing up, it seems like the meal goes by in a flash. So it’s nice to have a leisurely weekend to get creative with the leftovers.

While I don’t know exactly what’s in your ‘frig the day after the holiday, it’s safe to say that you’re likely to have turkey, some potatoes (white and or sweet), a bit of cranberry sauce, a little stuffing, a dab of gravy and probably a container of the ever-popular green bean casserole. Reheating is fine, but after a couple of meals, I’m usually looking for a change in taste.

Hands down, my favorite thing to make after the holiday is turkey soup. Once the turkey bones have been stripped of all their meat, I simmer them with onion, celery, carrots, salt and pepper for a few hours to produce a heavenly stock. From there, you can do a basic turkey noodle, or add your leftover mashed potatoes for a creamy soup base. A dab of leftover gravy will add a lot of flavor – but go easy, since it’s loaded with calories.

The turkey lends itself to a million uses, but if you have so much left over that you don’t think you’ll use it in a few days, shred it into meal-sized portions and freeze. It’s great to have it handy to add to dishes like soup, pasta or burritos. Here’s something you may not have thought of –turkey lettuce cups. Heat up some minced leftover turkey with some diced scallions and a little Chinese hoisin sauce, then spoon into iceberg lettuce leaves. It’s light and a refreshing change from the usual turkey sandwiches.

Cranberry sauce is amazing on top of plain yogurt or oatmeal, or spooned over mixed fresh fruit for a quick dessert. You can also blend it with nonfat cream cheese for a tasty spread for your whole grain toast. I also like to spike my cranberry sauce with some ginger, garlic and soy sauce and serve on grilled fish or tofu. It tastes like a really sophisticated barbecue sauce.

If your original sweet potato dish wasn’t too sweet, you can dice up the leftovers with the leftover turkey, then sauté with some onions and other veggies for a one-dish hash. Serve with a green salad and you’re all set. Sweet potatoes would also make the start of a pretty great curry with some leftover turkey added.

Stuffing and green bean casserole are some of the highest calorie leftovers, so you’ll want to use them sparingly, and stretch them out with some healthier ingredients. Add some canned tomatoes and chopped turkey to your leftover stuffing to make a filling for stuffed peppers. And that leftover green bean casserole? Try heating it up with some white wine or broth, then add some garlic and hot pepper flakes and toss with some whole grain pasta.

What do you spread on your bread

Let’s say you’ve gotten the whole grain message loud and clear.  You’ve combed the bread aisles or your local bakery – you’ve read your labels and you’ve found your healthy, 100% whole grain bread.  But wait… what’s going on those healthy breads? How you spread ‘em matters, too.

My husband’s grandfather could not make a sandwich – even a peanut butter sandwich – without first spreading both slices of bread with margarine.  Based on the dizzying array of products on the market, a lot of people must share his passion for oleo. You’ve got spreads, sticks and sprays, fat-free ones and ones that promise to ‘support healthy cholesterol’.  Calorie-wise, the full-fat margarines are pretty much identical to butter, although they do have less saturated fat.  Fat-free spreads are really low in calories – usually only about 5 per tablespoon compared to 80 or so for the regular stuff, but sometimes people use that as a reason to just slather on even more.  For some, the sprays work well to give a hint of flavor for only about 1 calorie per “spritz”.

Light versions of high-fat spreads like margarine can save you a lot of calories – and the same goes for light cream cheese and mayonnaise.  But consider this: if you habitually slather mayo on your sandwich, cream cheese on your bagel or margarine on your toast, you’ll use the high fat versions when you eat out, since the lower fat varieties usually aren’t available.  You might be wiser to try to break the spread habit altogether.

If you like your bread topped with something sweet – like  jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butters and honey – they’ll set you back about 45 calories a tablespoon.  And don’t be fooled into thinking that the “all fruit” jams count as a serving of fruit.  Jams that are made with “fruit and fruit ingredients” may list ‘fruit syrup’ (sugar), or ‘apple juice concentrate’ (sugar) as the first ingredient.  From a nutrition standpoint, regular and “all fruit” jams are pretty much the same.

If peanut butter is your thing, try some delicious almond or pistachio butter for a change.  Yes, nuts are heart-healthy, but peanuts aren’t nuts at all – they’re beans.  As such, they’re pretty good sources of protein.  But the fat in peanuts isn’t nearly as healthy as the fat in tree nuts like walnuts, almonds or pistachios – they’ve got half the saturated fat of regular peanut butter. If you can’t give up your peanut butter, stick with the natural style.  The oil floats because – unlike “regular” peanut butter – it hasn’t been turned into shortening.  Store it upside down in the frig to make it easier to use.

And let me just say that if you like those nutty-chocolatey spreads, I’d suggest you save those for very special occasions.  Yes, they taste like melted candy bars, but they’ve got more calories and saturated fat than even regular-style peanut butter.

Here’s something else to consider – if you think bread’s only function is to hold a spread or a topping, maybe you’re not eating the right bread. Delicious bread – fresh and fragrant, warm and yeasty – is so good on its own, it doesn’t really need any adornment.

Roasting vegetables Making the most of the fall harvest

The change of seasons brings with it a new group of fruits and vegetables you can enjoy. Apples, root vegetables – like carrots and sweet potatoes – and all the cabbage family foods, like broccoli and cauliflower, are at their peak now.  And they’re all great candidates for roasting – one of my favorite fall cooking methods.

With the grilling season over, I start giving a lot more foods the roasting treatment.  The oven’s dry heat caramelizes the natural sugars in foods and brings a depth of flavor to fruits and vegetables that summer grilling can’t touch.

If you’ve never roasted root vegetables, you should give them a try.  Roasted carrots are particularly delicious.    Toss them with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then spread out on a cookie sheet and roast at 425 degrees for about a half hour until they’re tender.  The vinegar turns into a sticky, syrupy glaze that coats them irresistibly.  You can give the same treatment to sweet potatoes or beets – tossing them with something tart before roasting like lemon or lime juice, vinegar, or even pomegranate juice contrasts with their natural sweetness.

Roasted veggies make a great side dish, but on the off chance there are any leftovers, they’re great added to soups and stews, or you can slice them up cold and dress with vinaigrette, or add to mixed greens to give some fall flavor to your tossed salad.

I was never much of a cauliflower lover until I started roasting it; now it’s become a fall staple at my house.  Roasting softens the strong flavor – the cauliflower gets sweeter, and the texture becomes almost meaty.  I coat the florets and a sliced onion with a dash of olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and curry powder, and then roast.  Broccoli and Brussels sprouts – other veggies that are often a hard sell – are also delicious roasted with some oil and garlic.

You can roast fruits, too – and fall apples are fantastic when they’re prepared this way.  Pretty much any variety will do, and you don’t need to peel them – just cut in halves or quarters, remove the core and spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick spray and roast like you would the veggies.  You can toss them with a little lemon juice, apple juice or spices first if you want, but if you start with tasty fresh apples, they’re really good on their own.

Healthy Halloween Controlling the candy monster

When I was little, there was a guy down the street who bucked the Halloween candy trend, and instead pulled quarters from behind our ears. His place was really popular, but he also knew all the kids in the neighborhood, so we all knew that one quarter was the limit – no circling the block and coming back for more. But now it seems that in this era of supersizing – where more is always better and there are almost no limits – we’ve managed to supersize Halloween, too. 

No longer is it just about scary costumes and fun with friends and family. The focus seems to be more on who can collect the most candy. I don’t recall exactly what I used to carry my loot, but I’m positive it wasn’t a pillowcase – which, thanks to its light weight and large size, seems to be the preferred method for hauling Halloween booty.

Does anyone really need a pillowcase full of candy?

I don’t want to spoil anyone’s holiday – but when you recognize that Halloween revelers spend the evening collecting a staggering 600 million pounds of candy from strangers, perhaps there are things we can do to make us feel as if we’re a contributing just a little bit less to the madness.

We’ve learned some lessons from food psychology research that might well apply here.
For example, we know that people eat less from smaller bowls or plates than larger ones – people judge ‘how much they have’ based on how well it fills up a plate, bowl or cup. We also know that people serve themselves less when they’re dipping or pouring from small containers rather than larger ones.

So what if we dole out candy from a small bowl rather than a huge cauldron? Maybe kids would take a little less. And, if we provide our own kids with smaller containers for collecting goodies, they might be satisfied with less, too. All they really want is to go home with a full container – whatever size it is. So out with the pillowcases – and bring back the old-school plastic jack o’lanterns.

The other thing we’ve learned is that the more variety we’re faced with, the more we’re likely to serve ourselves, too. We tend to eat more at buffets for this reason. The same should hold true for candy. If you offer the little goblins an array of candy, they’re probably going to try to take one of each – and you might feel a twinge of guilt for indulging their gluttony. But, limit your offerings to just one type of candy, and it’s more likely they’ll just take one.

You could, of course, buck the candy trend altogether, too. Pulling coins from behind kids’ ears may have lost its appeal, but you could pass out small packs of nuts, colorful stickers, pencils, temporary tattoos and Halloween-themed party favors – all guilt-free alternatives to traditional sugar-laden treats.

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