Articles in Health

Roast chicken. Credit: Copyright 2016 iStock

I eased my shopping cart along the meat counter in a national chain grocery store to buy a whole chicken. Roast poultry for dinner seemed like a simple enough proposition. But like so many of us making food-purchasing decisions these days, I was stopped in my tracks by the range of choices.

Should I buy free-range or pasture-raised? Is organic better? Or is the best choice a brand like Foster Farms’ Simply Raised (whatever that means, exactly)?

Confused by all of the labels and marketing claims, I gave up. My family ate a meatless stir-fry for dinner that night.

Later, I learned about a new online resource called Buyingpoultry.com designed to help consumers navigate the supermarket. Could the site guide conscious consumers like me to more sustainable chicken?

Chicken production in a nutshell

Anyone hoping to buy a chicken that truly free-ranged on pastoral farmlands at a grocery store is generally out of luck.

The fact is that 99 percent of all chickens raised for meat (called broilers) in the U.S. come from factory farms. Through consolidation and high-tech breeding practices, the poultry industry has made chicken the most efficient and cheapest animal protein available.

Since 2010, broiler production has increased by more than 10 percent, according to statistics from the USDA. This graph looks surprisingly like the steep climb section on a Stairmaster program. Chicken production, which reached almost 9 billion birds in 2015, is still on the rise. Meanwhile, nationwide demand for barbecued-chicken pizza, chicken Caesar salad and General Tso’s chicken keeps in step.

Trouble is, while making chicken America’s favorite meat, the industrialized production system has incurred an untold debt to human health, the environment and the conditions of its own workers, not to forget the chickens themselves.

Consumers demand healthier chicken

Amid a stream of salmonella-superbug outbreaks and public-health concerns over the routine use of human antibiotics, the USDA announced its plan for stricter regulations and testing in 2015. Two of the largest chicken producers, Tyson and Purdue, pledged to stop using human antibiotics to prevent disease in hatcheries and as growth promoters during maturation. Major food corporations, including McDonald’s, Walmart and Subway, then vowed to shift toward purchasing chicken produced without human antibiotics.

Still, such improvements in the poultry market do not guarantee better animal welfare. According to whistleblower reports about the chicken industry and data from the ASPCA, cage-free chickens are still crammed into windowless barns for their short, dung-filled lives. These Cornish Cross birds, the main hybrid strain for the industry, grow three times as big in two-thirds the time as heritage breeds. Such fast fattening causes bone disorders, cardiovascular issues and other health issues over their roughly 45 days of life.

A sustainable buying guide

This chart can help you navigate the supermarket poultry case. Credit: Copyright 2016 Buyingpoultry.com

This chart can help you navigate the supermarket poultry case. Credit: Copyright 2016 Buyingpoultry.com

After returning from my shopping fail, I Googled Buyingpoultry.com. Created by the Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit Farm Forward, it is the country’s largest online database of poultry brands, products and retailers (including eggs and turkeys).

In the search field I typed in “Open Nature” and then “Foster Farms,” two of the brands I’d considered. “Avoid,” read the bold red graphic on my screen, and below that, “Birds likely suffer from the lowest levels of animal welfare.” The fine print detailed how both brands received an F grade because they did not have any regulated animal-welfare claims or third-party certifications.

“Buyingpoultry.com lets you go to the store with experts,” said Andrew deCoriolis, the website’s architect, when I reached him by phone.

Helpfully, the search results page offered links to the highest-welfare poultry products available as well as to a glossary of labels that clearly illustrates just how obfuscating and, in some cases, downright misleading the claims “free-range,” “pasture-raised” and “humanely raised” actually are.

“Like Seafood Watch, Buyingpoultry.com can be a standard of sustainability and create more transparency,” deCoriolis said.

Buying better poultry

One of the most upsetting experiences for the site’s 5,000 to 10,000 monthly users, according to deCoriolis, is discovering how USDA-certified organic products rank. Browsing Buyingpoultry.com, they’re shocked to see organic products with a D grade. DeCoriolis explained, “Organic is better but not necessarily for the animals.” For one thing, the USDA’s definition of “outdoor access” is ill-defined and does not stipulate indoor enrichments, including perches, or space for natural behaviors such as dust bathing.

At a different grocery store on another day, I opened Buyingpoultry.com on my phone’s browser to check on a regional brand, Draper Valley, for sale. All products in this brand rated “Better Choices,” and the organic line earned a C+. Since this was the best I could get in my area without visiting a small-scale farm, I nabbed this passing-grade chicken for our supper.

So what does it take to rate as a “Best Choices” chicken? According to Buyingpoultry.com’s criteria, these are heritage-breed chickens raised by producers abiding by the highest standards of animal welfare, with their claims certified by third-party groups such as Animal Welfare Approved. 

There’s only a limited supply from retailers in certain markets, including Natural Grocers in Denver, Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco and some Whole Foods stores — but none at all at Trader Joe’s or other national chains.

Persistent consumer advocacy is putting pressure on the poultry industry, however. “The big companies are paying attention,” said deCoriolis. In March 2016, Whole Foods committed to stop selling fast-growing breeds by 2024. Starbucks and Nestlé soon followed, joining the animal-welfare initiative toward slower-growing chicken breeds raised in conditions where they can behave and interact like, well, actual all-natural chickens.

Main photo: Buying chicken can be more complicated than roasting it. Credit: Copyright 2016 iStock

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This Japanese meal has miso sauce, daikon radish, salmon, omelet, purple radish, cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, burdock, chestnut, grapes, dried baby fish -- some of these rather small amounts. I give it a score 10 item including the accompanying bowl of rice and miso soup. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

An official slogan for improving the nutrition of the Japanese population was issued by the Japanese government in 1985: “Consume Thirty Different Food Items Each Day.”

The food items were divided into six categories, and we were advised to choose evenly from each category. Each ingredient, it was said — meat, poultry and fish, soybeans, grains, vegetables and fruits, milk products, and sea vegetables — contains its own nutritional properties, so following this slogan will help to create balanced meals.

Even before this public announcement, there was a growing awareness that the Japanese diet since the turn of the 20th century had succumbed to influence from the West. It was thought that we must return to our own traditional diet to achieve optimum nutrition.

Just for fun, from time to time I still count how many different food items I have consumed in a single day.

A realistic goal?

A high-scoring lunch at home of kinpira ( flavored carrot, parsnip and burdock) and soba buckwheat noodles, fried tofu, cabbage, onion, fennel bulb and egg). Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

A high-scoring lunch of kinpira (flavored carrot, parsnip and burdock) and soba (buckwheat noodles) with fried tofu, cabbage, onion, fennel bulb and egg. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

This practice was instilled in me by my mother. Recently I made the count for all three meals, and found I’d consumed 21 separate foods on that day; far short of the government’s recommendation. This caused me to think. How and why did this government recommendation come about? Is it still a realistic guiding principle?

Here is what I found.

Until 1868, Japan lagged far behind Western countries in technology, science and engineering because of the closure of the country to foreign trade for 260 years. Even the small physical stature of the Japanese population was blamed on a poor, very limited Japanese diet that was based on small quantities of rice, fish, soybean products, with some vegetables and seaweeds.

The Meiji Emperor encouraged the population to begin consuming beef, a food item previously banned for ordinary citizens. Newly imported Western ingredients included meat, meat products, milk and butter, and new preparation techniques led to the creation of new “Japanese” dishes that were called “yo-shoku” (Japanized Western dishes).

Yo-shoku dishes with their rich flavors and large servings instantly became national favorites: beef steak, pork cutlet, curry and rice, “omu-rice” (stir-fried morsels of chicken and rice, seasoned with tomato ketchup and wrapped in an omelet), to name a few.

Dietary changes brought risks

Chikuzen-ni: This dish features broccoli, carrot, onion, purple baby potato, white baby potato, parsnip, shiitake mushroom, chicken and olive oil -- a 9-item dish.

This dish (Chikuzen-ni) features broccoli, carrot, onion, purple baby potato, white baby potato, parsnip, shiitake mushroom, chicken and olive oil — a nine-item dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

During the heyday of Japanese boom-times in 1970-1990, even more varieties of Western foods became available and popular (provided by the major Western fast-food companies). And Japanese began consuming increasing quantities of rare cheeses, foie gras and expensive wines.

These dietary changes came with hefty penalties: Diabetes became more widespread. Heart disease became the number No. 2 killer in Japan. And — this was formerly unthinkable — morbid obesity is now present in the country.

Meals dominated by fat, meat, meat products, egg, sugar and milk products push up calorie consumption but not the number of daily food items. The broad categories of foods of the traditional complete Japanese diet such as seafood, seaweed, vegetables and more fruits are lacking. So the 1985 rule was an attempt to bring variety back to the everyday diet.

Want to try eating 30 different foods in a day? Choose at least two items from each of the six food categories. Since consuming vegetables and fruits is good for our health, add two additional items from categories 3 and 4. If you do this, you will easily approach 20 separate food items — a good start for reaching the goal of 30 items that the Japanese government recommended.

By following this practice, you can change the way you plan and prepare meals to the benefit of your health.

Six categories of food items

This Japanese style fish stew includes porgy, squid and hard-shell clam from fishmonger, Blue Moon, which sets up their store at Union Square Market, New York City, from spring through early winter. Also onion, corn, tomato and green and yellow zucchini are mingling with seafood in dashi (Japanese stock) broth -- an 8 score dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

This Japanese-style fish stew includes porgy, squid and hard-shell clam from fishmonger Blue Moon, which sets up at Union Square Market in New York City from spring through early winter. Also, onion, corn, tomato and green and yellow zucchini are mingling with seafood in dashi (Japanese stock) broth — an 8 score dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

The six categories of food items and what they provide:

1. Meat, fish, poultry, egg, tofu products (protein).

2. Small fish that can be eaten whole with bones, milk and milk products (calcium).

3. Green and yellow vegetables (carotene, plus other vitamins and minerals).

4. Other vegetables and fruits (vitamin C, plus other vitamins and minerals).

5. Grains, potato, bread/cakes/cookies (carbohydrates).

6. Cooking oil, nut and seed oils, nuts and seeds (fat).

Rules to follow

I taught 3-5 years old kids at Children's Museum of Manhattan in New York City to eat vegetables of all colors of the rainbow. The little audience was very curious about the colors of beautiful vegetables. Credit 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

I taught 3- to 5-year-old kids at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in New York City about the value of eating vegetables of all colors of the rainbow. The young audience was curious about the beautiful colors of vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

As you begin your “Thirty Different Food Items Each Day” project, please observe the following rules. Do not count the same ingredient twice. Do not count ingredients used for garnishes in soups, salads and the like; they have minimal nutritional and caloric value. You can, however, count ketchup, mayonnaise and sauces, which have substantial caloric content.

When you reach 21 food items in a day, please send me photos and a description of the meals. I will share them with my audience.

Before then, please enjoy this stir-fried rice recipe, which gives you a 7 score for the dish.

Seven Score Vegetable Stir-Fried Rice

I make this rice dish very often for lunch and dinner. The ingredients used here - carrot, onion, fennel bulb, kale, brown rice, pine nuts and olive oil - can be replaced with other ingredients that you may have in your kitchen. A flavorful and satisfying vegetable rice dish anytime. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbu

I make this rice dish very often for lunch and dinner. The ingredients used here — carrot, onion, fennel bulb, kale, brown rice, pine nuts and olive oil — can be replaced with other ingredients that you may have in your kitchen. A flavorful and satisfying vegetable rice dish any time. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 4 minutes

Total time: 49 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

Sea salt

1 cup chopped carrot

1/4 cup chopped fennel bulb or celery

3 1/2 ounces kale; leaves, cut into thin slices crosswise; stems, cut into thin slices slanted

4 cups cooked and cooled brown rice (preferably made a day in advance)

1/2 cup pine nuts

2 tablespoons butter

1 to 2 teaspoons shoyu

Freshly ground black pepper corn

Directions

Heat a wok or deep skillet over medium heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion along with pinch of salt and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add the carrot, fennel bulb and kale stem along with pinch of sea salt and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add the kale leaves, and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Move the vegetables to one end of the wok (or transfer to a temporary bowl). Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in the empty space of the wok.

When the oil is hot, add the rice and cook, over medium heat, stirring, until the rice is fully heated up, or about 2 minutes. Then combine and toss the rice with the cooked vegetables. Add the pine nuts and give several large stirs. Add the butter, soy sauce and freshly ground black pepper and toss the mixture thoroughly. Divide the rice among 4 plates and serve hot.

Main photo: This Japanese meal has miso sauce, daikon radish, salmon, omelet, purple radish, cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, burdock, chestnut, grapes and dried baby fish. Since some are rather small amounts, I give it a score of 10, including the accompanying bowl of rice and miso soup. Credit: Copyright 2016 Hiroko Shimbo

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Create a ginger tea with tumeric, cayenne pepper, lemon, cinnamon and honey to keep colds away. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

Winter is making its presence chillingly known, and when the bitter winds and icy storms appear, so do the runny noses and sore throats. I’ve discovered that a key friend in these situations is also one of my favorite ingredients: ginger. The spicy root, while better known for curing nausea, also has secret anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting powers that make it a handy natural defense against winter germs. With its subtle heat, ginger even gives that extra warmth needed to sustain you in the frigid months. Luckily, there are several easy and delicious ways to incorporate ginger into your diet, so you can give both your immune system and your tastebuds that warm fuzzy feeling.

Ginger Immuni-Tea

Create a ginger tea with tumeric, cayenne pepper, lemon and cinnamon to keep colds away. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

A ginger tea will warm up your immune system. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

Try this bright tea to warm up your immune system and clear up your sinuses. Add several pieces of peeled sliced ginger (or a teaspoon of ground ginger) to three cups of water. Bring the water to boil and simmer 5 minutes. Add a teaspoon of turmeric (another anti-inflammatory immune booster), a pinch of cayenne pepper (decongestant), a tablespoon of lemon juice (vitamin C infusion) and a cinnamon stick (anti-inflammatory, bacteria-fighting, and antioxidant-rich). Simmer 5 more minutes, then strain into a mug and add a spoonful of honey (sweetens the spice). You can adjust measurements — just err on the careful side with cayenne and turmeric, which pack a strong punch. Prefer a shortcut? Combine the ingredients in a mug and pour boiled water over them, stirring well. Looking to really heat things up? Add rum or whiskey — it’s a Ginger Hot Toddy! A bit of a cheat on the health front, but will definitely help you stay warm.

Ginger Smoothie

Add ginger to your smoothie for a tasty immunity boost. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

Add ginger to your smoothie for a tasty immunity boost. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

This is a great option for when you’re on the run. Fresh ginger infuses refreshingly tart spice into any smoothie. Options include: mixed berries, milk, honey and banana; pineapple, coconut water, yogurt and cinnamon; mango, orange juice, ice and banana; strawberries, banana, milk and honey; carrot (juice), lemon juice, banana and mint; or kale, apple, lemon juice, blueberries, cinnamon, banana, milk and honey. Go wild with variations. I use frozen berries or banana to thicken, but you can add ice if using fresh fruit. Pick your preferred milk or yogurt — I go with almond and goat, respectively — and same goes for greens (like substituting spinach for kale). Toss it all in the blender with a few peeled slices of fresh ginger for a smooth and tasty immunity boost.

Ginger-Miso Marinade/Dressing

This Asian-inspired paste, made with ginger, is good for salads or sauces. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

This Asian-inspired paste, made with ginger, is good for salads or sauces. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

Here’s a zesty way to incorporate ginger into your lunch or dinner. Combine several peeled slices of ginger in a blender with a few tablespoons of miso, soy sauce, rice vinegar and about 1/4 cup olive or canola oil, a scant teaspoon of sesame oil, a clove of crushed garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and/or orange juice, and salt and pepper to taste (and chopped scallions or fresh cilantro if desired). After a few minutes you have a mouthwatering, immune-empowering, Asian-inspired paste that can be used as a marinade for meat and veggies, a dressing for your favorite salad, or even a sauce for stir-fry.

Ginger-Spiced Granola

Incorporate ginger into granola with berries for a healthy snack. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

Incorporate ginger into granola with berries for a healthy snack. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

Granola is the perfect snack: portable, versatile and filling, with lots of protein and flavor. If you’re a granola addict like myself, it just makes sense to create your own. It’s easy and enables you to add all your favorite elements — including ginger!

Here’s a good starting recipe:

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 50 minutes

Total time: 65 minutes

Yield: 6 cups

Ingredients

4 cups oats (substitute other grains, like oat bran or quinoa)

1/4 cup each of your favorite nuts, roughly chopped (I use almonds, walnuts and pecans)

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger

1/4 cup each of dried fruit (figs, raisins, cranberries, apples, cherries — or a combination)

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/4 cup molasses (optional)

1/3 cup maple syrup (substitute agave or honey)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

1. Combine oats, nuts, coconut, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, salt, ginger and dried fruit in a large bowl.

2. On medium-low heat, combine coconut oil, molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a saucepan. Stir until sugar dissolves. Pour sauce over dry ingredients and combine.

3. Lay out granola on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 275 F for 20 minutes; turn the pan; bake 20 to 30 minutes more until golden brown.

Again, feel free to personalize! Don’t like granola too sweet? Scratch the maple syrup and sugar. Wild for luscious clusters? Don’t stir while baking. And if you still need more ginger: Add 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger to the dry ingredients or shave fresh ginger into the saucepan mixture.

Main photo: Create a ginger tea with tumeric, cayenne pepper, lemon, cinnamon and honey to keep colds away. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer

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Forget trendy cleanses; eating healthy is the best way to promote health. Credit: Copyright Dreamstime.com

Still looking for the perfect cleanse to start the year off right? Look no further.

Whether you’re following the brouhaha surrounding the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans or not, I’m betting you already know what the basics of a healthy diet (still) are: mounds of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and lean and sustainable proteins like beans, nuts and legumes. Healthy oils like olive, grapeseed, walnut and flax also play a role. If these foods are the stars of your plate, your year is off to a terrific start.

So what of the other things we chomp, such as cookies, chips, ice cream, candy, chocolate, soda and the like? And if you did overindulge during the holidays, what’s the remedy for restoring your health, and perhaps even losing a few pounds?

Exactly right. You need a cleanse.

Not that type of cleanse

A short-term diet or cleanse offers little in the long run to sustain weight loss and promote health. Credit: Copyright Dreamstime.com

A short-term diet or cleanse offers little in the long run to sustain weight loss and promote health. Credit: Copyright Dreamstime.com

No, I’m not talking about the kind of cleanse touted by too-skinny celebrities and junk-science food bloggers. There’s no evidence behind the vast majority of regimens floating around cyberspace. And guess what? Homo sapiens is a wondrous machine equipped with “detox” organs like the liver, kidneys and the gastrointestinal system, which work to clear your body of noxious substances you don’t need — including those found in food. That’s not to say that treating your body like a dump is a good idea; it’s not, and there’s no reason to make it work extra hard by feeding it junk. But human metabolism is magnificent at removing toxins from the body, while a short-term diet or cleanse offers little in the long run to sustain weight loss and promote health; some may even be harmful.

The cleanse I’m referring to doesn’t have a catchy name (sorry) and doesn’t require a blender (thankfully). And it’s not some weird juice with strange ingredients and a funky flavor (happily). Most important, there are plenty of studies to support that this type of cleanse will, if done correctly, improve your health and weight.

Now take a look around your kitchen pantry, counter, refrigerator and freezer. What do you see? If you’re staring at gallons of ice cream, boxes of cookies, bags of chips and cans of soda (not to mention sweetened yogurts and granola bars), the thing that would most benefit from a “cleanse” is not your body, but your abode. And, unlike your human form, your habitat needs you to do the cleaning. Simply speaking, no matter your dietary vices — and you know what makes you drool — they don’t belong in your house.

Behavioral research studies examining eating behavior (like this one, for example) show that you shouldn’t keep temptations close at hand, since that means — Duh! — you’re more likely to gobble them up. Science aside, common sense and adages like “out of sight, out of mind” tell you exactly the same thing.

Treats are often consumed in too-large portions that contribute substantial calories and few nutrients. They also tend to be loaded in sugar and refined carbohydrates (like white flour), and most of us eat more than is good for our health. Indeed, consuming foods with lots of added sugar (not the kinds found naturally in fruits) are related to a greater risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes; the risk remains, even if you’re at a healthy body weight. That’s why the new Dietary Guidelines state that everyone should limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of daily intake.

Enjoy, in moderation

 The key is to keep goodies out of the house, rather than trying to keep temptation at bay. Credit: Copyright Dreamstime.com

The key is to keep goodies out of the house, rather than trying to keep temptation at bay. Credit: Copyright Dreamstime.com

Make no mistake: I love indulgences like gooey brownies and crunchy potato chips just as much as the next girl. I developed a keen sweet tooth growing up and it took many years to tame. The key was learning to keep goodies special, as if a guest were visiting, and never give them a permanent place on my grocery list or on my kitchen counter. Certainly more logical (and less painful) than rigging the cookie jar with a mousetrap.

I still think about savoring something sweet after everyday dinners, like many of us. But guess what? If there’s nothing around, I get over it. Or I suck it up: you simply cannot eat what’s not there. Excess-calories-I-don’t-need and overeating episode averted. Following most suppers today, I enjoy cut-up fruit or berries, and occasionally a small piece of chocolate. (And I save the outrageous desserts that I adore for special occasions only.) 

Once every few months or so I’ll take a trip to my local gelateria or pick up a pint of ice cream that my husband and I share over a couple of days’ time. If I’m craving salty snacks, I’ll buy a single serving bag or split a small sack with my husband. Do remember: ridding your house of temptation doesn’t imply you’ll never eat these scrumptious things, it simply means they aren’t commonly found in your freezer. Over time, you’ll find you have less of an appetite for sugar and salt as your taste buds adapt.

You can’t control many things in your environment, whether the workplace cafeteria, shopping mall food court or supermarket aisles. But you can control what you have in your house — as well as your car and your office. The spaces where you spend the most time should be filled with food that nourishes your body, not packed with nutritional landmines ready to explode at every turn. To clean up your diet, clean out your house.

It’s the only “cleanse” you need.

Main photo: Forget trendy cleanses; eating good foods is the best way to promote health. Credit: Copyright Dreamstime.com

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Stay healthy when you set sail. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

It’s hard to go hungry on a cruise. In fact, the all-inclusive eats and, often, all-inclusive drinks are a big part of the allure of cruise travel. On just about every ship sailing the seas, there’s food for the taking from bow to stern: from pasta and pizza to curries and what seems like a never-ending dessert selection, there’s something for everyone. These days, that’s even true for those on special diets. Whether you’re looking at a menu or walking the buffet line, healthy choices can be found; sometimes they’re just harder to see.

Special diets

Guilt-free sweet rolls for breakfast. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Guilt-free sweet rolls for breakfast. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas ship dedicates a corner of the daily menu in the main dining room to explaining special diet options. Various icons indicate dishes that adhere to an assortment of dietary needs, including gluten-free and lactose-free items. Then there’s the Vitality option, a three-course meal of 800 or fewer calories; the ShipShape Fitness Center offers corresponding Vitality daily workouts to help keep passengers’ nutrition and weight management on track during vacation. (Some classes are complimentary, while others require an additional charge.)

Devinly Decadence is a specialty restaurant open for complimentary breakfast, lunch and dinner on Quantum and Anthem of the Seas. Devin Alexander, author of eight cookbooks and the chef for NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” has brought her take on healthy cooking to the high seas. Breakfast options include skinny takes on typically indulgent favorites like “no-sin-a-buns” and “banana mania” muffins. All entrées, including popular comfort foods like beef stew and chicken enchiladas, are under 500 calories each.

The fresher, the better

Vitamin shots to start the day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Vitamin shots to start the day. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

On the AmaWaterways river cruise line, healthy eating isn’t defined by calorie counts; it’s about fresh, local ingredients and their preparation. Through recipe adaptation, favorite dishes can be healthy, address growing dietary concerns (gluten-free and lactose-free dining in particular), and still taste great.

Every morning at breakfast aboard AmaSerena, AmaWaterways’ Healthy Corner offers the expected selection of fresh fruits and yogurts. But its Vitamin Shot of the Day can offer a sweet boost that’s strong enough to keep you away from the tempting pastry table. Every day the chef whips up a new blend of fresh fruit shakes: One morning you might wake to a blend of strawberry, kiwi and bananas, the next a mix of apricots, plain yogurt, bananas and sparkling water.

Snacking at sea

Carved or not, fruit is your friend. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Carved or not, fruit is your friend. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

Special diets are a great tool, but they don’t replace smart choices. Think about how you eat at home to help you stay on track. If you don’t usually snack between meals, try not to do it at sea; a bite of this here and a taste of that there have a way of adding up quickly. But if hunger sets in and your next meal is still hours away, don’t just grab what’s easy. Steer clear of confections and baked goods like cookies and pastries, and do your best instead to grab something that’s good for you.

Fruits and veggies are your friends. On the typical weeklong sailing, Freedom of the Seas serves cruisers 40,000 pounds of fresh fruit and 70,000 pounds of fresh vegetables. Aboard the AmaSerena, fruit is always available in the main lounge. And the selection goes beyond a simple bowl of apples: Think three tiers of ripe and fragrant choices that, depending on the day, can include apricots, peaches, citrus, green grapes, red grapes and bananas.

Drink … a lot

It looks healthy, but watch that booze. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

It looks healthy, but watch that booze. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

Drink a lot, but choose your hydration method carefully. Drink water instead of soda, sweet tea or lemonade. Keeping a water bottle handy can help keep you sipping smart.

When choosing cocktails (it’s vacation — you know you’re going to have them), try not to overdo it. You don’t want a collection of colorful paper umbrellas before you make it to dinner.

Sitting down to dinner

Dinner and a show. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Dinner and a show. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

Going out for dinner is always fun, but servers on cruise ships take the experience to a whole new level. After one night, along with your name, they somehow also manage to remember how you take your coffee or the fact that you dislike lima beans but love peanut butter.

So enlist their help in making your calories count. As surprised as they may be, let them know that you plan to stay strong and pass on the bread. And there’s no rule that you have to order an appetizer, entrée and dessert. One night maybe skip the appetizer or order an appetizer instead of an entrée. Get creative. I’ve never met a cruise server who didn’t aim to please.

On Carnival Cruise Line, the floor staff even sings and dances between courses. Diners are encouraged to join in, so take advantage of the opportunity to burn some calories during dinner.

Browsing the buffet

Decadent chocolate crêpes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Decadent chocolate crêpes. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

Buffets are standard operating procedure on large cruise ships. But you should resist the urge to dig into the first dish you see. Take a spin around and check out all of the choices before you pick up a plate; make a point to look for salads and vegetables. Opt for smaller portions. If you really like a particular dish, there’s plenty more waiting. At the buffet aboard Royal Caribbean, healthier options are marked with the same Vitality logo used in the ship’s main dining rooms.

Be choosy. Pizza doesn’t typically taste any different on a cruise ship than it does at home, so spend your calories on some truly vacation-worthy eats like freshly prepared sushi or a cooked-to-order breakfast chocolate crêpe.

Just desserts

One won't hurt. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

One won’t hurt. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

You’re on vacation. It’s OK to indulge a little. The pastry chef aboard Un-Cruise’s Safari Explorer puts out a plate of cookies every afternoon; one won’t do you in, but a handful is a different story.

Make smart choices throughout the day, and there won’t be any reason to feel guilty when you dip your spoon into the gooey center of a famous Carnival Warm Chocolate Melting Cake. Mixed by hand and cooked to order, each Carnival ship serves an average of 900 per day. All those cruisers can’t be wrong.

Main photo: Stay healthy when you set sail. Credit: Copyright 2016 Dana Rebmann

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Kale salad with walnuts for a healthy new year. Credit: Copyright 2015 Andrew Lipton

Like 50 million to 70 million other Americans, I battle with insomnia. My love for food inspired me to start there in search of relief. Here’s what I found.

A shopping list for the sleep-deprived

Chickpeas have sleep-inducing properties. Credit: Copyright 2015 Andrew Lipton

Chickpeas have sleep-inducing properties. Credit: Copyright 2015 Andrew Lipton

Almonds: Rich in magnesium, a mineral needed for quality sleep. A recent study published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine found that low magnesium levels make sleep more difficult.

Carbohydrates: A bowl of your favorite cereal with milk combines carbohydrates and dairy. Along with corn chips, pretzels and rice (especially jasmine rice), cereal has a high glycemic index, which causes a natural spike in blood sugar and insulin levels, shortening the time it takes to fall asleep. Normally we want steady levels to avoid mood swings and insulin resistance. But if you’re in need of sleep, the increase in blood sugar and insulin aids tryptophan in entering your brain and bringing on the sleep.

Chamomile tea: Steeped five minutes with a teaspoon of honey, this increases the glycemic index while acting like a mild sedative to aid relaxation.

Cherry juice: Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Rochester say that drinking this before bed will bring on sleep quickly, as cherries boost melatonin levels.

Elk: Contains nearly twice as much tryptophan as turkey!

Honey: Raises insulin and allows tryptophan to enter the brain more easily. A spoonful before bed, whether by itself or mixed into chamomile tea or yogurt, could give you a more restful sleep.

Hummus: Chickpeas are a good source of tryptophan.

Kale and other leafy veggies: Loaded with calcium, these help the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. If you’re anti-kale, spinach and mustard greens are good options.

Lettuce: A Guatemalan friend swears that drinking boiled water in which three pieces of lettuce have been soaked for 15 minutes before bedtime will put you out. Lettuce contains lactucarium, the milky fluid secreted at the base of a lettuce leaf, which has been reported to cause a mild sensation of euphoria.

Passion-fruit tea: Contains a harmala alkaloid found in high levels in the passion flower. This is a naturally occurring beta-carboline alkaloid that quiets the nervous system. Drinking a cup one hour before bedtime will help induce a sounder sleep.

Root vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, daikon and red radishes, jicama, turnips and gourds are rooted in the soil and therefore reputedly ground us. When we are stressed, root veggies are the things to eat; in winter, they give us warmth and balance. Their magnesium helps relax the nervous system, which reduces stress hormones and helps the body rest; try eating them with leafy greens for additional magnesium. Potassium, which lowers blood pressure and calms the body, is found in high levels in root veggies, as is vitamin C, which does not deplete when cooked. And root veggies are complex carbohydrates, which produce serotonin (without causing a sugar rush) and lower stress. They can therefore help you sleep soundly without waking up.

Shrimp and lobster: Crustaceans contain a lot of tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin and melatonin.

Walnuts: A good source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that can enhance sleep by helping to produce the hormones that set our sleep-wake cycles — namely serotonin (a hormone in the pineal gland that communicates information between neurons) and melatonin (which controls the body’s circadian rhythm). Walnuts also contain their own source of melatonin.

Warm milk: My grandma used to say warm milk can help you sleep, but so can any dairy product ingested before bedtime, including cheese and yogurt. Calcium helps the brain use the tryptophan found in dairy to manufacture sleep-triggering melatonin. It also plays a role in regulating muscle movements, quieting the muscles.

A meal to excite the tastebuds yet calm the system

Elk tenderloin cooked in the pan. Credit: Copyright 2015 Andrew Lipton

Elk tenderloin cooked in the pan. Credit: Copyright 2015 Andrew Lipton

Here’s a perfect dinner that’s sure to induce sleep. Any full-bodied Pinot Noir or Cabernet will pair nicely.

For more information on health and sleep, see Ronald Bazar’s new book, “Sleep Secrets: How to Fall Asleep Fast, Beat Fatigue and Insomnia and Get a Great Night’s Sleep.” Also check out Jenny Herman’s website, Healdsburg Nutrition.

Sweet dreams!

Hummus

Ingredients

8 ounces dry chickpeas, soaked overnight, plus 8 ounces canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 clove of garlic, minced

Big splash of olive oil

Several pinches salt

4 tablespoons cold water

Directions

Blend all ingredients in a food processor. Serve with pita chips.

Kale salad

Ingredients 

1 handful black kale per diner, washed, stemmed and lightly crunched with salt

1 handful toasted walnuts

Thinly sliced red onion or shallot

4 tablespoons olive oil

Squeeze of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon honey

Directions

1. Slice the kale very thin. Place in a bowl with the walnuts and onion or shallot.

2. Whisk together the oil, lemon and honey, add to the salad and toss to coat.

Roasted Elk Tenderloin

Ingredients

2 pounds of elk tenderloin

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lemon

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Pat tenderloin dry with a paper towel and rub with garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Heat olive oil in an ovenproof skillet. When almost smoking, sear tenderloin on all sides. Drain off the oil and squeeze the juice of the lemon onto the elk.

4. Place pan with elk in the preheated oven. Roast for 10 to 14 minutes until medium-rare, then remove and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice to serve.

Jasmine Rice Pudding

Ingredients

2 cups water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon or orange zest

1 cup jasmine rice

4 cups whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise

1 cup raisins

Ground cinnamon and heavy cream for garnish

Directions

1. Combine water, butter, salt and zest in a heavy saucepan; bring to a boil.

2. Stir in the rice and return to a boil. Cover and simmer until all water is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Combine milk, sugar and vanilla bean in another heavy, uncovered saucepan and bring just to a simmer, stirring until most of the milk is absorbed and you have a creamy substance. Pour carefully into the rice and mix to combine.

4. Transfer to a serving bowl, and serve sprinkled with cinnamon and heavy cream poured on top.

Main photo: Kale salad with walnuts for a healthy new year. Credit: Copyright 2015 Andrew Lipton

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Consumers globally are willing to pay more for foods with health attributes, according to a recent study. Credit: Courtesy of Oldways

With ubiquitous food porn and hyped health headlines, 2015 was the year of sizzle over substance. At Oldways, a 25-year-old nonprofit celebrating cultural food traditions, we predict 2016 will reverse that formula with these six food trends for the new year that will affect what we put on our plates.

Our appetite for healthy food continues to grow

The movement toward healthier food choices continues to gain momentum. A recent Euromonitor survey projects global sales of healthy food products will hit $1 trillion by 2017, almost doubling the figure from 2007. It’s no wonder as consumers are now exposed to, and educated about, food choices practically everywhere: restaurants, grocery stores, TV food shows and schools. Based on Nielsen data, with nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) willing to pay more for foods with health attributes, this provides significant incentive and opportunity for manufacturers developing new products.

Sustainable diets move to the center plate

Plant-based diets are good for your health, as well as the planet. Credit: Courtesy of Oldways

Plant-based diets are good for your health, as well as the planet. Credit: Courtesy of Oldways

One diet does not fit all, but research points to plant-based diets such as the Mediterranean Diet and Vegetarian Diet as the gold standard for good health and sustainability. In unexpected places like the airport (e.g., San Francisco International Airport’s Napa Farms Market) and the strip mall (e.g., LYFE Kitchen, Sweetgreen), food establishments are increasingly touting a twofold mission to offer healthy and sustainable fare. Despite being struck from the Dietary Guidelines, sustainability, for many scientists, tops the list of priorities for a healthy diet. “A plant-based diet presents major advantages for health, the environment, use of resources and animal welfare,” said Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and featured presenter at Oldways Finding Common Ground, a conference devoted to clarifying distorted nutrition messages.

Food literacy finally catches hold

The term “food literacy” is gaining currency. Thanks to the 75 million members of the experiential millennial generation, and technology, the youngest American adults connect good health with knowing where their food comes from and who produces it. As Eve Turow, author of “A Taste of Generation Yum,” said in an interview in The Atlantic, “food is also allowing us to access the globe, so we can find out what harissa is made with and how to prepare something with it, in two seconds on our phones.” This extends to appreciation for personal food traditions and a desire to reconnect with the culture of one’s ancestors. That’s good news, as heritage is an ever more powerful motivator for healthier eating, inspiring home cooking, which saves an average of 200 calories per meal.

Supermarkets are the new health hubs

According to the Food Marketing Institute, a food retail trade group, Americans make 1.5 trips to the grocery store each week. That far outstrips visits to health care providers. To help customers make balanced food choices, supermarkets like Hy-Vee, Wegmans and Giant Eagle are hiring registered dietitians in their stores. These RDs will bring good health to consumers (and financial health to the grocery business) by demonstrating how to move healthier choices from shelf to table.

Raw milk cheese is hot

More than half of all cheese lovers say they prefer raw milk cheeses and purchase them regularly. Credit: Courtesy of Oldways

More than half of all cheese lovers say they prefer raw milk cheeses and purchase them regularly. Credit: Courtesy of Oldways

More than half of all cheese lovers say they prefer raw milk cheeses (think Le Gruyère AOP, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Roquefort, Grafton Village Cheddar, and Pont-l’Évêque, a favorite of Prince Charles) and purchase them regularly, according to the Oldways Cheese Coalition 2015 Raw Milk Cheese Consumption and Attitudes Survey.

However, the FDA is looking carefully at unpasteurized cheese, and new regulations could limit availability of traditional cheeses in the United States. Still, 90 percent of U.S. cheese lovers believe they should be able to choose raw milk cheeses. This may be the impetus to give these products, created through the old ways of cheese making, the attention they deserve.

Increased consensus on what to eat

A study in the Journal of Health Communication showed contradictory nutrition news creates consumer confusion, leading people to doubt health and nutrition recommendations. But that may change.

With the imminent release of the updated Dietary Guidelines, along with movements such as Oldways Common Ground — launched with a gathering of 75 top nutrition scientists, medical experts and media members to reach consensus on what Americans should be eating — and the True Health Initiative, started by Yale University Prevention Research Center’s founding director David Katz, which enlists hundreds of experts to spread evidence-based truths about lifestyle as medicine, clarity will begin to trump confusion.

Main photo: Consumers globally are willing to pay more for foods with health attributes, according to a recent study. Credit: Courtesy of Oldways

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Prepare festive fruits for your holiday table, such as wine poached pears with blackberries. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby

There are so many people writing “Eat this!” and “Don’t eat that!” when it comes to the holiday season, it feels like a bit of a buzzkill. After all, food is at the heart of our best-loved holiday traditions and culture, whether baking cookies, shaking cocktails or hosting feasts for friends and family. I would never encourage you to deny these most simple and beautiful of life’s pleasures. I’m a nutrition scientist, not a nutrition Grinch.

Forget denial! Instead, follow these science-based strategies to help your body naturally consume less. Enjoy the season healthfully without making that tired resolution to lose those holiday pounds come the first of the year.

Select smaller plates and cups

Behavioral research conducted at Cornell University and elsewhere has found that selecting smaller plates and cups leads to less food and drink consumed. There’s simply not as much room on your plate for food, which helps manage portions. You can help yourself, and others, by setting your holiday table with smaller place settings. Choosing smaller plates is especially important in a buffet situation, which is a recipe for overindulgence given all of the tasty choices for the taking. This strategy is especially important when consuming calorie-laden foods like cheese and desserts. Another benefit of this tip is that going for smaller portions means you’re more likely to eat what’s on your plate, which means less food waste.

Swap water for wine (sometimes)

Choose water rather than an alcoholic or sugar-sweetened beverage at least once during your evening. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby

Choose water rather than an alcoholic or sugar-sweetened beverage at least once during your evening. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy festive holiday libations as much as that overflowing platter of sumptuous sweets. Liquid calories contribute heavily to our daily energy intake. And, whether alcoholic or not, our bodies aren’t good at recognizing calories in liquid form, so we tend to just pack them on as extra. Why not swap water for wine (or nonalcoholic punch, or soda) now and again? Keeping hydrated is always a good idea, especially when there is a lot of drinking happening. Choosing water rather than an alcoholic or sugar-sweetened beverage at least once during your evening out means you’re consuming that many fewer calories. Extra-added bonus: you’re less likely to be “that person” at the office holiday party. (You’re welcome.)

Savor every delectable bite

If you’re taking smaller portions then you’ll definitely want to make sure you are enjoying every single bite. The advice to chew slowly and consume mindfully is never more important than during the holidays. There are so many good reasons to do so. First of all, it takes time for your brain to respond to satiety signals that tell you “Stop eating! I’m full!” We often don’t hear these signals, either because they are drowned out by our desire for more or because we are not giving our body the chance to react. Further, the holiday season in all its succulence is meant to be savored. Enjoy each moment, including the hedonic pleasures that eating evokes. In so doing, you’ll likely consume less food and have fewer stomachaches from over consumption.

Go for green

A beautiful beet salad can be healthy, as well as festive. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby

A beautiful beet salad can be healthy, as well as festive. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby

Holiday treats tend to be rich in calories. Baked brie, iced sugar cookies, boozy eggnog… Where was I? Yet nutrition scientists recommend that you fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits daily. We are lucky that the increased awareness of consuming plant-based foods for optimal health and weight means that restaurants and businesses are increasingly featuring veggies and fruits on their menus. I encourage you to do the same when you’re planning a meal at your own home. This tip may sound tired, but the dishes needn’t be. There are so many festive ways to prepare vegetables for your holiday table. Think: spinach salad with ruby-red pomegranates and crunchy toasted almonds; roasted butternut squash with crimson cranberries and caramelized onions; or herbaceous arugula with figs, pine nuts and a zesty vinaigrette. And why not feature fruit for dessert, like red wine-poached pears with blackberries? Don’t neglect these superfoods this holiday season.

Hara hachi bu at home

Holiday schedules quickly become packed with cheerful gatherings and epic nights on the town. But every night isn’t a party, and there are still times when you’re spending a quiet evening at home. Thinking about what you’re eating and drinking during those days are just as important as your noshing habits when you’re out. “Hara hachi bu” is an adage of the Okinawans, one of the longest-living populations in the world. It roughly means “eat to when you’re 80% full.” It’s outstanding advice for every day and any occasion, given research has shown that limiting calories throughout your life is related to longevity. But the recommendation is even more critical during this most wonderful time of the year. We all know what to expect when attending holiday parties: food, and lots of it. You’ll help balance your overall calorie intake if you can eat less and make healthier choices when at home.

Get out and play (often)

Get more activity into your holiday plans, such as ice skating. Credit: Thinkstock.com

Get more activity into your holiday plans, such as ice skating. Credit: Thinkstock.com

Weight gain is, ultimately, a simple equation: consuming more calories than you’re burning will lead to storage of energy in the form of body fat. Yet maintaining a fitness routine is a real challenge when there are more stresses on our schedules than ever. But the frustrating fact remains that we should actually increase our activity to compensate for the extra calories we’re consuming. I share your pain in the difficulty in making this happen, but I’d be remiss if the other side of energy balance — physical activity –wasn’t on my list. Hate running? Then how about walking to and from work or taking the stairs rather than the escalator when shopping at the mall? Perhaps ice-skating or a family football game? Jump rope? Hula hoop? Figure out what works for you –and stick to it. And if stuff gets in the way, don’t beat yourself up; just get back out there when you can.

Watch your weight (literally)

Weight gain occurs incrementally, and detecting small changes are best observed numerically. Monitoring your weight by stepping on a scale is the best way to tell whether your holiday feasting has gone awry. You might also consider measuring your overall body composition by calculating your body mass index, which is as important as measuring other physiological parameters such as blood pressure and blood lipids; all of these impact your risk of chronic disease. Weight gain around the waist is especially harmful because of its inflammatory effect, so keeping track of how your clothes are fitting throughout the season is also key. If you don’t own a scale, you might consider asking for one as a gift. Better yet, buy this present for yourself today.

 Main photo: Prepare festive fruits for your holiday table, such as wine poached pears with blackberries. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby

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