Tag Archives: food

recipe link: vietnamese sweet potatoes with beef

8 Feb

This, my friends, is officially the most delicious dish I made in 2011. It’s from the Food Matters Cookbook, and it’s fantastic.

I have to warn you, though, that when I made it (all four or five times!) it looked–well–not like the photo.

It looks like orange glop.

But trust me. Try it. It is soothing and satisfying without being boring–comfort food, but with an exotic spin.

The only change I made was to cut the oil back to one tablespoon. I used olive oil, as I generally do, because that’s what’s next to the stove, and it was plenty. I worry with stir-fries that olive oil will burn; that might happen if your stove gets really hot, so use your judgement and pick something with a higher smoking point if you have a really hot range instead of a sissy stove like mine.

I am loving this cookbook more and more, by the way, and I recommend it. This recipe is typical: lots of vegetables, a smaller proportion of meat, and enough interesting spices to make the result into something more than you expected. (The braised chard with chicken and steel-cut oats turns out to be the only thing I’ve ever cooked that somehow fulfills the void left in my life when I stopped cooking chicken breasts in cream of chicken soup from a can, over rice. I have no idea why, but the sauce reminds me of that, in the best possible way.)

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several ways of looking at an egg…

25 Oct

I am probably not the only PCOS patient who read all of the low-GI diet books and started eating eggs for breakfast–and eventually reached the point of thinking, “I will never ever ever eat another egg.”

For me, at least, breakfast eggs (especially just eggs, by themselves, or with a slice of bacon or something) are unappealing. I don’t like to eat a boiled egg, or a scrambled egg, or any other kind of plain egg.

But I have found that they are a helpful and delicious component of other things. And they’re a great way to balance out an otherwise carb-heavy meal.

For breakfast, if I’m going to eat an egg, I slice an onion and cook it; add other vegetables if I have them (diced tomato, broccoli, whatever’s in the fridge); and then toss in an egg. It’s not the main attraction–more like a sauce for the vegetables.

Similarly, I like an egg on top of steamed asparagus; over rice with stir-fried vegetables; or with a homemade roll and sliced fruit or vegetables. For me, the only way to enjoy an egg is to get it off the center of the plate. I am never going to be a person who likes to just sit down and eat an egg, but they are very good with lots of other things (especially vegetables).

I’ve also found that one egg is plenty. Lots of meal plans or recipes suggest two eggs per person, and that’s one egg more than I’m going to enjoy. But that means that you can have a tasty breakfast with lots of vegetables and add a piece of toast or fruit and still stay within a reasonable calorie range, too.

budget considerations for healthy eating

4 Aug

A friend of mine shared the link to this article about the higher costs of healthy eating. It is true that some dietary habits are more expensive than others, and that processed foods (especially things like hot dogs or boxed pasta with sauce) are very cheap indeed. But there are some ways to eat healthfully and save your dollars. Those techniques usually involve investing some time in planning and food preparation. Here are some of my best ideas for saving money while eating healthfully.

Plan.

Planning your meals helps in a lot of ways, but the most fundamental is this: every piece of food that you have to throw out because it’s gone bad in the fridge is money down the drain. I am as guilty of this as anyone, but I’m making an effort to improve my planning to avoid it.

You can avoid wasting food by planning out your meals (dinners, at least, but all three meals and snacks if you are very organized). That way, you have everything you need for a recipe, but you don’t have a lot of extra things that won’t be needed. You can also plan so that you use up partial containers or bunches: for example, if you’re planning Mexican food on Tuesday, and you know that you won’t use the whole bundle of cilantro, plan to eat Thai curry on Thursday to use up the rest.

Planning also helps you to fit in the prep work you need. If you’re going to eat bean soup, for example, you can plan ahead and put your beans in the slow cooker the night before–it will save you money, because dried beans are cheaper than canned, but it will also cut down on the sodium in your finished meal, and it will taste better (in my opinion, anyway).

You’re often paying for the preparation, not the ingredients, when you buy healthy processed foods (or even unhealthy ones, for that matter). Choose the foods that you really want to buy, like a particular soup that you love and won’t give up, and learn to make the other things you buy from scratch. Restaurants are the same: you pay a lot more for your meal than you would if you made it yourself. Consider how often you eat outside the home when you’re contemplating your grocery budget and think about whether you might do better to make it an occasional treat, if you’re in the habit of going out often. I adore restaurants but try to limit visiting them, both for budgetary and health reasons.

Eat what’s in season.

That might sound confusing or difficult, but it’s really not; what it generally means is, buy the produce that’s cheapest. There will still be some things that are pricey (in my area, for example, you’re never going to see a truly cheap avocado), but a peach that costs 3.99/lb most of the year might cost 1.50/lb when it’s in season.

If you go to a farmer’s market or have a local produce farm or stand, you can usually get an even better idea of what’s in season, and it’s going to be even more delicious (the other big benefit of shopping seasonally).

Use less expensive proteins.

My vision of the ideal diet includes a fair bit of protein, because I seem to do better eating it on a regular basis. But we don’t eat much red meat; I try to focus on more affordable and healthful protein foods. (Full disclosure on this budget discussion: my parents raise Angus cattle, so we have access to free, ethically raised beef. We don’t eat a lot of it, regardless.)

Beans are an excellent source of protein and a very healthful food. I am not a huge fan of them, personally, but we eat them regularly anyway, and I’m finding that I like them more when I cook them more. Acquired taste, I guess (or at least acquired tolerance). Roasted chickpeas are a cheap and healthful snack; dal,  black bean soup, or hummus with pita triangles and vegetables are good dinner options, depending on the season.

I try to serve fish on a regular basis, too, because it has so many health benefits. I haven’t figured out a really affordable source for salmon (if you do, let me know!), so we work it in occasionally and that just becomes part of the budget even though it’s pricey, because it’s so very good for you. The same applies for shrimp, which we get at Costco. I recently discovered swai, which is a white fish similar to tilapia; it’s very inexpensive and was quite good. We also eat a lot of flounder, which is cheaper than most fish.

Prepare your own grains.

Whole grain products can be rather expensive (truly whole-grain crackers, just to name one kind of snack food, are usually pricey and sold by the small box or sleeve). But it’s not hard to cook whole grains yourself and that is very cheap. Rice, barley, steel-cut oats–they’re all very affordable if you can make them the basis of a meal. The barley risotto I posted here recently is a healthy dinner and quite cheap. Some whole grains are even high in protein. (The homemade bread that I bake is high enough in protein that my kids could get enough protein without ever eating meat, if we wanted to.)

Readjust your thinking.

Even when you shop carefully, sometimes it’s going to cost more, especially if it’s worth it to you to buy some prepared foods in healthy versions instead of cooking them yourself. (For example, it might be cheaper to make your own hummus or whole-grain bread, but not everyone has the time or inclination to do that!) But think of it this way: in the United States, we spend very little on food, as a percentage of our budgets, compared to the rest of the world.

The money you spend on groceries will come back to you in the form of lower health-care costs, more energy and better general health, and a longer life. It’s worth it to invest a bit in your healthier foods if necessary. And remember that the most expensive foods you can buy are restaurant foods, so eating in is usually going to save you money even if you’re splurging occasionally on fancy cheese or those pricey artichokes that you just couldn’t pass up in the produce section.

The 100 Days of Real Food Challenge

27 Jul

Just as a disclaimer: I have no intention of embracing 100 days of totally unprocessed food! However, the 100 Days of Real Food website has a wealth of great information, including the guidelines for a 10-day Real Food Challenge. We have houseguests right now, but after their departure, I plan to try the 10-day challenge, just to shake up our habits a bit and give me the extra kick in the pants to look for alternatives to the few highly processed foods that we eat.

This challenge adheres to most of the nutritional ideas that I think are most important; it’s heavily based on the writings of Michael Pollan. Essentially, you eat what you can make yourself. If you buy convenience foods, you avoid the highly-processed ones and look for those that have few (and recognizable) ingredients. She emphasizes local foods, too, which I think is a nice ideal but not necessary for good health. If you can do it, great.

The best parts of the site, though, are the sections with recipes and meal plans and the list of “mini-pledges”–small steps you can take, either permanently or temporarily, to improve the healthfulness and sustainability of your diet. Check it out and get some ideas!

Finally, one last word about this: I think that it can be inspiring to read this kind of thing, but don’t get discouraged if it’s not totally for you. You don’t have to embrace the whole set of rules to make your diet better. I know that we’re very unlikely to give up flavored yogurt in this house, for example. It does have some sugar in it, but my kids love it and it’s high in protein. We just buy the healthiest kind we can find and limit it to a cup a day. If there are things in your life you’re not willing to give up, just find the ideas on the site that DO work for you.

quick overview: the glycemic index

16 May

Since many of the most-recommended eating plans for PCOS patients are based on the idea of glycemic response, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss a couple of things about the glycemic index (and debunk a couple of other myths). Here are a few basic facts about glycemic response, the glycemic index, and how this idea can help you eat better and reduce your PCOS symptoms.

Basics

The glycemic index is a measure of the effects of a certain kind of carbohydrate on blood sugar. Foods with a high GI are the sugars and simple starches that make your blood sugar spike and then plummet (all of those baked goods we love), plus things like potatoes (although these are not as bad as some people have suggested!), and juices or sodas or other sugary drinks. Lower-GI starches include whole grains, beans, some kinds of vegetables, or certain kinds of breads like pumpernickel or rye.

When you hear about “good carbs” vs. “bad carbs,” the difference is the GI. Higher-GI foods set up a number of bad outcomes: the spike in blood sugar causes increased hunger and cravings when it bottoms out, and this eating pattern–over time–can wear out your pancreas, raising your risk of diabetes (especially if you are already insulin resistant, which many PCOS patients are).

In other words, the lower-GI carbohydrates fuel your body without causing drastic ups and downs in your blood sugar–which makes you feel better and is easier on your pancreas. (Eating those lower-GI carbohydrates instead of the sugary or starchy foods can also help you lose weight, especially if insulin resistance is at the root of your difficulties.)

What to Eat
The best books on the glycemic index don’t advocate a radical eating plan. Rather, they mostly suggest reducing carbohydrate portion size and exchanging high-GI carbs for low-GI ones. You can easily find lists of foods by GI on the internet, but it’s really mostly simple (with a few surprises, such as the variation in GI between types of rice). Just choose whole grains, less-processed carbohydrates, and more vegetables instead of starches. (Hey, I said it was simple, not easy.)

The Glycemic Load
You might also hear doctors or nutritionists discussing the glycemic load. This is basically a formula for how much carbohydrate is in a food, multiplied by its GI. The reason it’s useful is that some foods have a high GI, but don’t contain that much carbohydrate, so they don’t affect your blood sugar much. (Carrots are the classic example here.) A food that has a high GI but is low in overall carbohydrate is usually a good choice to eat.

Is this the same as low-carb?
No, it is not. None of these eating plans are low-carb. Atkins, for example, is low-carb, and I do not believe it is a healthful diet at all. But these plans–which have more in common with, say, the South Beach Diet–all emphasize higher-quality foods, better nutrition per calorie, and a balance of macronutrients (that is, a balance between carbohydrate, fat, and protein).

Finally, a Myth
Just because I hear this all the time and read it all the time: no, pasta is not particularly high GI. It’s fine to eat pasta if you can do so wisely and in moderation. It is moderate GI and should be eaten with a low-GI accompaniment. The main reason that so many people struggle with pasta is that Americans tend to eat a lot of it–it should be a moderate serving size, not the only thing you eat at your meal. Also, many people use jarred pasta sauce, which can be a source of a LOT of sugar. Read your label! One sauce that I really like is Victoria marinara (available in most grocery stores, at least on the East Coast, and at Costco). It has no added sugar and it’s delicious.

That said, we eat much less pasta than we used to, because I do find it hard to eat just one serving of it. The main reason I used to cook it was that it was easy: boil noodles, add sauce, and there you have it: dinner! The truth is, though, that it really needs to be just PART of a balanced meal, with more vegetables and possibly a protein source, and at that point I’m cooking anyway and it might be just as easy to cook a whole grain or vegetables instead.

Recommended Reading
My favorite books on this topic are those by Jennie Brand-Miller (she has an assortment; choose the one that reflects your goals or situation!) and the Insulin Resistance Diet. I do also like the South Beach Diet, in many ways, though I find that it is too focused on artificial sweeteners for my taste.

recipe: Caesar Salad

29 Mar

Makes: Enough for about four people as a meal or with a soup–more if you’re serving it as a first course with an entrée.

• 1 head romaine lettuce (or 1 package hearts of romaine)
• 2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
• 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
• 4-6 anchovies, chopped (I know–you think this is gross. Don’t leave them out!)
• ½ cup olive oil
• juice from one lemon
• dash Worcestershire sauce
• ground pepper to taste
• grated Parmesan cheese

Mix all ingredients except lettuce and Parmesan cheese and whisk until completely incorporated. Drizzle dressing over lettuce and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Make croutons if you have some French bread laying around: cut it into cubes, sauté in garlic and olive oil, then toast in a 250-degree oven until brown.

You can, of course, turn this into a heartier meal by adding chicken or shrimp. I often make this when I have leftover roasted chicken.

book review: The PCOS Diet Plan

23 Mar

I just read The PCOS Diet Plan: A Natural Approach to Health for Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, by Hilary Wright. The title is a bit misleading, because this is really a book that covers many aspects of PCOS (diagnosis, treatments, the mechanisms of insulin resistance, etc.). That sounds like a compliment, but it actually isn’t: in trying to be all things to all PCOS patients, this book loses focus. It’s not a long book, and so the coverage of most topics is fairly cursory.

Wright does a good job of wrapping current research knowledge into her text, and she provides footnotes to document her source material, proving that she has done the research on her topic. The book ends up being a sort of PCOS primer, which is fine if that’s what you’re after; however, if you’ve already read up on the basics about the syndrome, this is not a must-read. She emphasizes diet and exercise as the best treatments for PCOS, which I think is great, but there is nothing new in her “diet plan” that you won’t find in The Insulin Resistance Diet or the New Glucose Revolution, both of which are more useful and detailed books about managing your glycemic response and eating well if you have insulin resistance.