Monday, June 27, 2011

Organic AND Cheaper

Just got back from Publix and found an example to combat the "Organic food is more expensive than non-organic food" argument.  An 8-pack box of Publix organic maple and brown sugar oatmeal was 30 cents cheaper than an 8-pack of Quaker maple and brown sugar. 

Remember that next time someone tells you it's too expensive to eat organic food.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

More Than Just The Best Part of Waking Up

Nothing beats the smell of fresh brewed coffee in the morning. The aroma itself is enough to get some people going. Millions of people feel like they can't start their day until they have their first cup. I know, because I'm one of them.

Coffee has been enjoyed for centuries all over the world, from royals to peasants and everyone in between. A main reason for its popularity is the energy boost provided by the caffeine. Whether you need the boost to get you moving in the morning, or you just need a pick-me-up to make it through the rest of the afternoon at work, coffee is a great choice.

Coffee is a very low calorie beverage (about 5 cal/8oz cup) and is full of antioxidants. These two perks have been known about for years. More recently, however, other benefits of coffee drinking have started to surface. A recent study from Harvard University shows a relationship between drinking coffee and a decreased risk of prostate cancer. The exact reason for this relationship isn't completely understood, but the evidence is strong enough to encourage coffee drinking.

Another possible advantage of downing a few more cups of joe daily is about to be published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. Caffeine has long been thought to help protect the brain from developing Alzheimer's disease, but according to researchers at the University of South Florida there appears to be "something" else in the coffee that interacts with the caffeine to produce an even greater benefit. The "something" isn't completely known yet, but according to the study, the added effect was seen only in the mice given the caffeinated coffee. As someone who has watched family members suffer with Alzheimer's, I'm willing to do anything I can to reduce my risk of developing this terrible disease. And if drinking more coffee is going to help, it's a win-win type of situation.

If you're a black coffee person, drink up. The benefits are many, and the negatives are few. If, however, you are a member of the cream and sugar crew, you need to take a step back.

The coffee industry is booming around the world. There are Starbucks going up all over the place. Dunkin Donuts have popped up in areas other than Boston, and more are on their way. Even McDonalds touts their new McCafé with all their specialty flavors. These days, if you're not drinking coffee, you are in the minority. But most of this new crop of coffee drinkers load their cup up with cream, sugar, and/or syrup. These additions turn coffee from a healthy choice to a ticking calorie bomb. The biggest bomb at Starbucks is a 670 calorie monster for 24 ounces. Whatever health benefit you might get from the coffee Is completely undone by the damage done to your waistline. And if you're drinking two or three of these a day, you're getting your entire calorie count from drinking coffee. Not exactly healthy, eh?

If you're the kind of person that struggles to drink black coffee, I understand. I've been there. But black coffee is an acquired taste. If you drink it enough, you'll learn to like it. Until then, a dash of skim or soy milk and a little Splenda might help.

The benefits of coffee are known, and more are discovered all the time, but you need to remember that all coffees are not created equal.

Consider yourself warned.

Tread lightly, friends.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Farmer's Markets: Tis The Season

It's Saturday morning and while most people are still in bed, farmers across the country have already loaded up their trucks and headed into town. Many communities across the country have farmer's markets on select days of the week, and no time is more popular than Saturday morning. Find farmer's markets in your neighborhood here.

While farmer's markets are great, especially for the local farmer, there are a couple of things to be aware of before you rush off and fill your bags with produce.

1. Just because something is available at the local farmer's market, doesn't mean it was grown locally. To me, this came as a complete shock, and turned me off from farmer's markets for awhile. I went one week and saw some locally grown vegetables, but the grapes were from Chíle and the melons were from Honduras. If I wanted fruit imported from South and Central America, I'd just go to the grocery store. Make sure you're looking for labels as to where the food is grown. Most farmers will go out of their way to advertise that their food is local, so if you don't see a sign that says locally grown, that should be a bit of a red flag.

2. Just because something is available at the local farmer's market, doesn't mean it was grown organically. For a multitude of reasons, I feel that organic produce is the best thing going. The difference in taste between the organic and non-organic is astronomical. The environmental benefits of organic farming are well documented, as is the harm associated to the environment associated with excessive fertilizer and pesticide application at non-organic farms. The nutritional content in organic produce is also better in organic foods.

3. That said, just because it's not organic, doesn't mean it's terrible for you, especially if it's local. The process and paperwork required to obtain the Organic status from the USDA is very extensive and expensive. If the farm is small, the profit margin is likely razor thin. For the farmer to risk major losses by going through the certified organic process may not make sense. But by talking to the farmer, you may find that his or her produce is every bit as organic as those labeled organic, and it's probably cheaper, too.

And even if it's not completely organic, the argument can be made that local non-organic is as good or better than organic produce grown across the country, or in another country, that has to be shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to get to you.

4. You can shake the hand that grows your food. To me, the biggest pro about shopping at a farmer's market is that you can talk with the farmer and learn how difficult farming really is. I've never met a farmer that I got a bad vibe from. They are all just people trying to earn a modest living and provide for their families. By building that relationship with the farmers in your area, you provide valuable feedback and encouragement for them to keep doing what they are doing. Starting a farm is a scary adventure, but knowing that you have a loyal customer base helps to limit the anxiety. Also, you are likely to find that farmers, like any good business, aim to please. By building a positive relationship with your farmer, you may be able to request new crops for the farmer to grow that you enjoy. In any event, getting to know the farmers at the farmer's market is one of the best parts of shopping there.

5. Farmer's markets are good for everyone involved. Bottom line, if a farmer can't make enough money to live, he or she has to get out of the business. By selling goods at a farmer's market, farmers are often able to get a better cost than by selling them wholesale. And while the farmer is able to get a better price for his or her goods, the consumer also gets a better deal. By buying direct from the farmer, you are able to get a better price than you can find in the grocery store.

So on this Saturday morning, put your coffee in a to-go cup, slap on some SPF, and head down to farmer's market for some delicious, fresh, and healthy local produce!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chicken and Spinach Alfredo Pizza

Made Chicken and Spinach Alfredo Pizza last night for dinner.  It was pretty good and super easy.  Props to my wife for the awesome homemade Alfredo sauce she made the other day.  I don't have a recipe for that, but any good white sauce will do just fine.


Pizza Crust
Chicken, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces
Spinach, washed and dried
Mushrooms, sliced
Red Onion, chopped
White Sauce

1.  Roll out crust and put on pizza pan.  Spread desired amount of sauce on the crust.

2.  Spread chicken, mushroom slices, and red onions on top of sauce.  (Add other ingredients as desired)

3.  Put spinach on top.  Feel free to add a thick layer as it will cook down in the oven.

4.  Bake on center rack in oven at 450 degrees for 6-8 minutes, or as directed to ensure crust is completely cooked. 

5.  Slice and dig in!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stuffed Eggplant

Giving Meatless Monday another shot this week.  I put this dish together in my head the other day, and it would be very easy to substitute ingredients to suit your taste.  Feel free to use this recipe as a blueprint to build your own delicious Meatless Monday meal.

Hope you enjoy!

1 Eggplant, sliced in half lengthwise, some inside flesh removed to create small "bowl"
1 cup Quinoa
Olive Oil
1/4 Red Onion
3 Cloves Garlic
1/2 Bell Pepper
3 TBSP Sunflower Seeds
3 TBSP Apple Cider Vinegar (optional)
Gorgonzola Cheese

1. Heat oven to 350.  Coat flesh of eggplant with approx 1 Tsp of Olive Oil and a pinch of salt.  Put on baking tray flesh side up and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Eggplant flesh should be slightly browned when done.  Remove from oven.

2.  While eggplant is in oven, prepare Quinoa as directed.  Add 3 TBSP Apple Cider Vinegar in addition to the water needed to cook quinoa.  When it is ready, remove from heat and set aside.  1 cup will have cooked up to about 2.5 cups. 

3.  Saute pepper, onion, sunflower seeds, and garlic in olive oil.

4.  Combine sauteed veggies and approx 3/4 cup of quinoa in separate dish.  Stir together and then 'stuff' the eggplant halves with the mixture.  Sprinkle cheese on top, and put under the broiler for a few minutes to melt cheese. 

Serve.  Can use extra quinoa as a side, or serve by itself.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Diet Drama on the Bookshelf

Unless you've been living under a rock like the dudes in the Geico commercial, you've got to be aware of the expanding waistlines of the majority of the US population.  Every health expert and nutritionist has his or her own explanation of the root cause of the additional pounds we are packing on.  While all the angles have a certain amount of merit, I throw my lot in with the crowd that feels that our food choices play the biggest role in determining our body weight.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels that the saying 'you are what you eat' has a good bit of credibility.  This was the scene at the local bookstore my wife and I visited the other day:

In case I need to make things a little clearer, there were 19.5 shelves that contained books telling you what you should eat to get healthy/lose weight.  I counted the books on 3 of the shelves and there was an average of 42 books in that sample size.  For arguments sake, let's say there were only 40 books per shelf, that would give you 780 books trying to sell you a way of eating that will make you healthier.  The problem with all of these books is that there are so many conflicting titles.  There are the no carb books.  There are the no fat books.  There are the no taste books.  Well, maybe not no taste books, but after browsing a couple of them I think that no taste might be an accurate assessment.  There is the cave-man diet book.  The abs diet book.  The skinny bitch diet book.  (Ladies, for what it's worth I'd rather you be cool and a few pounds overweight than be a bitch and be skinny.  Just sayin'.)

There are literally 100's of different titles in the diet and nutrition section trying to tell you what you should eat.  If you ask me, they all miss the point.  Well, all but one.  Nina Planck wrote a book called Real Food; it completely changed the way that I think about food and it makes absolutely perfect sense.  Our bodies need real food to function properly, and real food comes from the ground and from nature.  Now, you can argue that organic is better than non-organic (and I wouldn't disagree with that point), but we as a country and we as a world need to realize that real food is better than processed food for our bodies.  Our bodies don't know how to digest the processed food that we eat.  I believe the reason for this is so logical that it is easy to miss, a kind of 'can't see the forest for the trees' scenario.  Depending on your belief structure, (and I promise to not get into a creation vs evolution debate, at least not now) our bodies have been eating relatively the same types of food for the first 7,000-100,000 years that homo sapiens have been on the planet.  It's only been in the last 60 or so years that we've screwed everything up.  Whether it is trans-fats, partially hydrogenated oils, or genetically modified crops, our bodies can't process them.  When we eat these foods too often, our bodies don't get the nutrients they need, and it sends a signal to the brain to eat more in an attempt at getting the nutrients required.

So, what I tell my clients (pay attention here) is that you need to do the best you can to eat real food.  Real food is the kind of thing you have to cook.  You have to take the time to peel and/or wash it.  Eating real food is the only way to live a healthy and long life.  The shit that we eat from fast food restaurants (excuse my language but I believe that you should call a Big Mac what it is, and it surely isn't food) is killing us.  And by looking at the dramatic rise in obesity rates and chronic diseases in the last 60 years, you can't even say that processed foods are killing us slowly.  Cause they're not.

The question isn't whether you can afford to buy real food; the real question is whether you can afford not to.

Remember, you really are what you eat.