Takeout Tips and Traps

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Joe Wilkes

In a perfect world, we'd all be able to spend each morning browsing the farmers' market for the ideal seasonal produce, then spend the afternoon making a nutritious meal that would bring a tear to Martha Stewart's eye with its flawless presentation. But in reality, sometimes you don't even have time to make do with what's in the fridge. You might even have to resort to what's hanging on your doorknob or stuck in your windshield wiper, the scourge of diets everywhere: the delivery menu.

Ah, the delivery menu. A full meal (or more) brought to your door in 30 minutes or less. No cooking. No cleaning. It's like going to a fine restaurant—in your underpants. A dream come true. But it can be a nightmare for your figure if you succumb to some of the common pitfalls of deliverable cuisine. Here are some things to keep in mind so you can order your dinner in without having to let your pants out.

What to watch out for
  1. Good things come in small packages. Unfortunately, most delivery food comes in large packages. It's rare that you can get someone to bring you one or two slices of pizza. You usually get the whole pie. And Chinese and Thai food come in those top-heavy tapered white boxes, so while it may seem you've only eaten half a container, you've actually gone through most of it. Before you dig into your freshly arrived repast, get a plate from your kitchen. (Come on, someone else cooked the dinner, you can wash one plate!) Put a serving on your plate and put the rest in the refrigerator for another time. By removing the extra food, you'll significantly reduce the chance that you'll power-eat your way through two or three meals' worth of calories straight out of the container.
  2. Don't eat the "minimum." One problem with delivery, especially for single people, is that there's usually a $10.00 or $12.00 minimum. If the entrée you order doesn't meet the minimum delivery cost, don't be lured into loading up your order with fatty appetizers or extra desserts just to ensure free delivery. Instead, order two individual-sized entrées and put one in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch or dinner. You'll save money on the delivery fee, plus that's two nights in a row you don't have to cook. You win!
  3. Watch your sides. Your diet's already in trouble since you have to order a banquet's worth of food just to get the delivery guy to show up at your door. Don't get talked into the add-ons like egg rolls, breadsticks, or chicken wings. Don't let a craving, a zealous phone order-taker, or just plain habit talk you into indulging in these unnecessary extras. Your pizza's already going to run you roughly 300 calories a slice (and do you honestly expect to stop at just one?); do you really want to add 300 calories' worth of wings to that?
  4. Read the fine print. The best thing about Chinese, Thai, and other ethnic menus is that since the dish is in a foreign tongue, they usually have to add a couple of sentences about what's in the item and how it's prepared. Look for words and phrases like "steamed," "boiled," "all white meat," etc. Stay away from words like "fried," "crispy," "cheese-filled," "creamy," etc. Also, some menus include heart icons next to the healthier items—keep an eye out for those!
  5. Spice it up. If you can take the heat, sprinkle some hot peppers on your pizza or order your food extra spicy! While some claims that spicy food will boost your metabolism are overexaggerated, there are some other benefits to eating the hot stuff. First off, peppers and curries add a lot of flavor without adding sodium, so pick dishes that emphasize spice over salt. Secondly, if your mouth is on fire, you might be encouraged to drink more water to cool you off. In addition to its myriad other benefits, water will help keep you feeling full, which helps a lot with portion control. (Avoid drinking high-calorie sodas, beers, or Thai iced tea [200 calories a serving] to put out the fire, though.)
What to order

Most of the restaurants that deliver are local eateries, not national chains, so we can't give you specific nutritional information for all of them, but here are some tips for good things to order and bad things to avoid for three of the most popular categories of restaurant.

  • Get steamed. Order steamed rice, not fried, and go with brown rice if they have it—it has extra fiber.
  • Veg out. Look for the dishes that are mostly vegetables and are steamed rather than fried. If you order dishes like beef and broccoli, ask them for extra broccoli.
  • Soup it up. Egg-drop, wonton, and hot-and-sour soups are good low-cal, low-fat options (although they usually have plenty of sodium, so no extra soy sauce!). Fill up on some soup and put away half your entrée for later.
  • Grease: not the word. Stay away from deep-fried dishes like egg rolls, crispy orange chicken, General Tso's chicken, sweet-and-sour pork, etc.
  • Lay off the sauce. Watch out for sauces made with corn syrup or oil. Request low sauce or no sauce. An order of kung pao chicken seems healthy but it's sautéed in enough oil that it can have up to 76 grams of fat—more than an entire day's worth. If possible, ask how it's prepared.
  • Pass up the salt. Ask for low-salt options. Don't use the full-sodium soy sauce packets that come with your meal. Instead, invest in your own bottle of low-sodium soy sauce. Also, make sure your restaurant is one of the many that no longer use monosodium glutamate (MSG) in their dishes.
  • Switch it up. For dinner combos, see if you can substitute healthier options for the normal items. For example, at my Panda Express®, they'll give me an extra serving of steamed vegetables instead of the side of starchy chow mein or fried rice that it typically comes with.
  • The future is bright, and light! A fortune cookie has only 30 calories and no fat, and potentially brings good news or a daily affirmation—treat yourself!
  • Don't pick up that phone. It's hard to find healthy pizza and it's far better to make your own. If delivery's the only option, however, read on . . .
  • More veggies. Load up on veggie toppings like peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, fresh garlic, jalapeños, etc.
  • Less fat and/or less cheese. Ask for low-fat cheese, or ask them to use half the cheese.
  • Defeat the meat. Try to stay away from fatty meat toppings like pepperoni, meatballs, and sausage. Instead, try leaner options like Canadian bacon, chicken, or shrimp.
  • Bust the crust. Not all pizzas are created equal, and neither are their crusts. Most pizza chains list nutrition info on their Web sites, so make sure you take a look before ordering to ensure the smartest choice.
  • Lighten up. Many of the same tips for Chinese food apply to Thai food as well. Try to get steamed brown rice and lots of vegetables and stay away from heavy sauces and high-sodium dishes.
  • Don't get saucy. Satay is a good option, but try not to use too much of the peanut dipping sauce, if any; that's where your calories will start to add up.
  • Don't go (coco)nuts. Watch the coconut milk. It's delicious, but usually extremely fattening. Try to look for dishes flavored with ginger, citrus, curry, or chilies instead. Or ask if they can prepare your dish with low-fat coconut milk.
  • Hold the milk. Thai restaurants offer a lot of delicious low-fat soups that you can fill up on. They also have some soups that are high in fat because of coconut milk. Try and order soups that don't include it. And as with all soups, keep an eye on the sodium.
  • Green and lean. Thai cuisine includes many salads that are a meal in themselves, such as Yum Nuah (beef salad) or Pla Goong (grilled shrimp salad). Many of these have simple lime juice dressings that are low in fat. But, as with American salads, caveat emptor, and ask the restaurant what's in the dressing.
  • Go fish (or tofu). Check out the fish and tofu options. Even more than their Chinese counterparts, Thai restaurants have lots of dishes that feature seafood and tofu. And if you don't care for either, the Thai spices might just help you overcome your aversion.
So while it's unlikely you'll lose much weight on a takeout diet, there are still a lot of ways you can minimize the damage. But if you're still afraid that takeout temptation will take out your resolve, try filling that "30 minutes or less" with a quick P90X or P90X+® workout like Ab Ripper X or Abs/Core Plus while you're waiting for your food to arrive. Then you can enjoy that Szechwan chicken with a side of virtuousness.

Seafood Done Smart

Monday, May 30, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Andrew Rice

My wife and I fight about fish.

Other couples may fight over the remote control, about whose in-laws will get a holiday visit, or about who left the toilet seat up (again). We don't, but sometimes we do fight about the relative merits of mariculture (fish farming) vs. wild-caught fish. My wife recoils at the thought of eating farm-raised Atlantic salmon as if it were pen-raised veal. I'm troubled by the overfishing of wild stocks of fish all over the world. At other times, we squabble about whether we should let our son eat yellowfin tuna, which we all love, but which also contains high levels of mercury.

Our various struggles are just a microcosm of the larger debates about eating fish. The fact is, there's no one easy answer when it comes to picking fish that is healthy, environmentally sustainable, affordable, and delicious. But don't worry; with a little research, it's possible to find the right fish to grace your dinner table. Here are some tips.

Fish fat: fabulous for you!

There wouldn't be much point in eating fish if it were bad for us. To begin with, seafood is a great source of protein, generally low in fat and reasonably low in cholesterol. But it has other benefits too. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which runs America's national marine sanctuaries, says research has shown that eating seafood may reduce our risk for a number of unhealthy conditions, including stroke, hypertension, and heart disease.

Why is it seafood that has these benefits rather than, say, a giant cheeseburger? Because seafood is rich in certain polyunsaturated fatty acids commonly known as omega-3 fatty acids whereas the cheeseburger is just rich in fat. Not all fish are made equally when it comes to their omega-3 content. The best are cold-water fish, like wild salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and herring. Studies by the Washington State Department of Fisheries have found that wild and farmed salmon both have roughly the same amounts of omega-3s per portion. Sardines and other small fish are also excellent sources.

Malevolent mercury

Of course, the flip side of the health equation is the concern about levels of methylmercury in fish. This heavy trace metal is the fallout of industrial pollution of the atmosphere, largely from the burning of coal, and has been linked to brain damage and birth defects. All fish contain some mercury, but the health benefits of most fish species generally outweigh the downside. The best rule of thumb is to avoid large fish that live a long time, as they accumulate the most mercury in their flesh. The EPA advises that consumers avoid shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. Smaller fish like sardines, anchovies, and herring tend to have the lowest mercury levels, as do shellfish like shrimp, lobster, and scallops. Larger fish like halibut, tuna, and salmon have higher levels but not dangerously so, unless you eat them in very large quantities.

o keep your mercury levels in the safe zone, the Natural Resources Defense Council advises eating unlimited quantities of low-mercury species like tilapia, anchovies, catfish, and freshwater trout. You should limit your intake of moderate-mercury species like halibut, lobster, and mahi-mahi to less than six servings per month. Eat no more than three servings per month of high-mercury species like tuna, albacore, and sea bass. And, as mentioned earlier, entirely avoid species like shark, swordfish, and king mackerel.

Is seafood safe for kids?

The verdict on whether or not to feed my 9-year-old son the yellowfin tuna sushi he loves so much (aka maguro, at your local sushi joint) turned out to be a hung jury. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council Web page about mercury levels in fish, both children under 6 years of age and pregnant women should avoid high-mercury species entirely. According to the NRDC, at 9, my son can safely eat tuna, albacore, and other varieties in the high-mercury category, but he should limit his intake to less than 1 ounce of tuna per 12 pounds of body weight per week (in his case, about 6 ounces per week), which is a pretty good portion of sushi.

If you think you or your loved ones might already be suffering from elevated mercury levels, the Sierra Club offers mercury testing for $20.00 per person. You simply download and print out the brochure here, fill it out, and mail it in to the address provided with a sample of hair cut according to the instructions. They'll test it and mail the results back to you in about a month.

The impact on our oceans

Finally, there are a lot of valid concerns about the environmental impact of our fish-eating habits, whether it's the depletion of wild tuna stocks by industrial fishing fleets or the localized pollution caused by pens of farm-raised salmon. Even more complicated, a fish that's okay to eat from one ocean or area, like California halibut, might be overfished or endangered in another, like Atlantic halibut.

The best single resource I've found for navigating the environmental questions around any species of fish or shellfish is the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Web site and downloadable buyer's guide. A PDF of the guide, customized for various regions, is available at http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx.

I also downloaded the Seafood Watch app from the iTunes® store, which is great for checking whether or not you should buy that delicious-looking monkfish fillet on sale at your favorite grocery store. (The answer? No, because it's caught by trawlers that also catch endangered sea turtles.)

A short list of common species that are both mercury safe and environmentally sustainable includes domestically farmed freshwater fish like tilapia, catfish, and trout; wild-caught Alaskan salmon; Pacific halibut; sardines; and mahi-mahi.

Maybe now my wife and I can start fighting about something really important, like who's going to clean up after our seafood dinner.

Is It Time to Eat?

Sunday, May 29, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Mark Nelson

It probably is. Because if you're like many people, you don't eat often enough. According to Turbo Jam® trainer Chalene Johnson, you should eat at least five times a day. That includes three meals and two snacks. So why eat so often?

It helps prevent your body from storing fat.

I kid you not. Our bodies are actually programmed to store fat, and this trait has helped us humans keep going over the eons. At many stages during our existence, it was critical to our survival. If you look back in time with me, I'll show you why.

Picture yourself wearing an animal skin or scratchy woolen toga, a few smears of mud and no hair product. (Don't feel bad—no one else looked good, either.) If you look in your hand, you'll see that you're carrying a spear that you made yourself. The reason for making it is that you're hungry.

If you throw well, you eat. If you miss, you don't. So being able to store energy in the form of fat will hopefully sustain you until your throwing improves.

This same survival tool remains part of our makeup today.

So the best way to avoid slipping into this fat-storing mode is to keep your metabolism going with small meals and snacks. Eating frequently prompts your body to efficiently keep working and burning the calories.

And if that weren't enough by itself, there's another good reason to avoid long waits between meals.

Eating regularly tames wild cravings.

By eating smaller meals on a regular schedule, you'll help your body work comfortably on fewer calories, and stay in an energy (fat)-burning mode. This will help you feel more energetic, and keep your blood sugar stable, which will reduce carb cravings before your next meal.

Now let's say you need even more help controlling your cravings for the wrong stuff. What do you do?

Start your day with the right stuff.

Chances are, you don't eat in your sleep. So when you wake up, your cells are ready to absorb essential nutrients and, in particular, protein.

Throughout the night, your body uses excess or circulating proteins to replenish your muscles, hair, skin, and nails. In addition, your body uses proteins to create millions of antibodies for defense against bacteria, which often attacks while you sleep. That's why eating a healthy breakfast packed with protein is good for you.

Starting your day with eggs, nonfat cottage cheese, a P90X® Peak Performance Protein Bar, or Shakeology® can help you get a good serving of the protein and nutrients you need.

And a good rule of thumb for the timing of this meal is within an hour of waking up. If that's not possible, have a meal or snack as early as possible to get your metabolism revving. So what about the rest of your day?

Lift weights, then lift plates.

Another smart time to eat is about 30 to 45 minutes after a workout. At this time, the enzymes responsible for energy production are in high gear, and the energy-storing hormones within our blood are suppressed.

This means less energy will be stored as fat. Carbs will be immediately taken up to replenish the low glycogen stores caused through exercising. Protein will be used for the recovery and growth of new calorie-burning muscle tissue. And the best news is, your body will burn most of the nutrients from the meal to fuel these reactions. That's why eating after a workout is a good idea.

Having protein late in the day, for perhaps your last meal or snack, will also provide your body with the protein it will use overnight to revitalize your muscles, hair, nails, and antibodies.

Of course, remember portion size. If you're not sure how much that might be, use the palm of your hand as a guideline. It's a good trick, since you probably have your hands with you.

As with most things in life, timing is everything. So when you're trying to drop lbs., don't just think about what you eat—think about when. This will enable you to get more nutrients from fewer calories. Of course, the fewer calories you eat, the easier it is to lose weight. So eat right. On time. On schedule.

By Debbie Siebers, creator of Slim in 6®

My biggest challenge in life so far has been conquering my compulsive eating habit. I remember so clearly the hopelessness I felt because I had no control over my impulses. I would literally sit down to a pint of Häagen-Daz® every day and swear that tomorrow I would start my diet. There are also vivid memories of me downing an entire bag of Chips Ahoy!® chocolate chip cookies and an entire big bag of Doritos®! I had those moments of sitting in my car, opening a jar of peanut butter, and polishing off almost half of it, and then driving to a fast food place for a burger and fries. And let's not forget the CHEESE! I am a Cheesehead, after all, and I would eat blocks of it at a time.

When I think of that now, it truly makes me sick to my stomach. How could my poor body handle that? No wonder my digestion was so screwed up and I have cellulite so bad—even now. You can't possibly expect to abuse your body like that and put such demands on your digestive system and not have major issues. I remember jogging around my block at 4:00 AM, desperate to burn off those calories, and then dropping down to the ground into a heap of tears praying for control and the strength to get my life on track. I do know that I was eating out of emotion—not knowing how to cope with certain feelings I was having.

I knew I had to confront my demons head on and figure it out. I'm not sure of the exact moment I decided to change. It was an accumulation of emotion and just being fed up with feeling and looking bad. Enough was enough! So, I joined a support group and through that program I learned how to eat properly. I learned about portion control.

Growing up, I was never taught any of those things. My mother had been severely overweight when I was growing up, and she loved to bake. And I mean BAKE EVERYTHING you can possibly think of. I would wake up every Saturday morning to hot chocolate chip cookies, gooey brownies, pies, homemade bread, you name it. I would stuff myself until I couldn't eat another bite. Having that support group made me accountable and got me on track. The first 12 pounds came off pretty easily. Then, it was a bit slower, but because I stuck with the program, it consistently came off.

When I moved to Los Angeles at 21, I was on my way to better health and felt more in control. I was a secretary at that time, so I sat most of the day. I definitely had bumps and challenges along the way, but I was determined to get the once lean, fit body back that I had when I was in high school as a cheerleader, gymnast, and sprinter! It was when I joined a gym and began working out with weights that I really started to see the changes. Unfortunately, I made a lot of the mistakes that many women do when they don't really understand how to exercise properly. I worked with heavy weights and didn't do enough cardio. So I got really strong, but I was very bulky! Also, I still was in the bad habit of eating three big meals a day instead of small little mini-meals throughout the day. It really wasn't until I was in my late thirties that I figured it out.

The last thing I needed to get control of was my love for sweets, and it wasn't easy . . . I decided to just starve myself of all carbs and sugars for about 2 weeks. It was truly amazing what happened. I sincerely didn't crave them anymore! I would never have believed in a million years that I would actually desire a delicious piece of fish with vegetables over a pizza!

I think having so much energy and feeling my body toned and lean also gave me extra incentive. Then, when I became a personal trainer at the gym I was working out at, I was literally exercising with my clients all day long doing ab and midsection routines with them. Before I knew it, my waist was tiny and my abs were ripped. I had a six-pack for the first time, and I was pumped!

Now if I really want to have a chocolate chip cookie, I'll have one . . . but only one. And sometimes, I don't even eat the whole thing. I am satisfied with a bite or two. For me, it was a major shift in the way I associated and looked at food. Also, the more educated and aware I became, the easier it was to treat my body with respect. I got into "right-thinking" mode and didn't want to sabotage myself anymore. Some of the tools that helped me along the way were thought-provoking, motivational, and inspirational books and tapes that would put me in the present moment. Now, there is such a wealth of extra support at your fingertips. Beachbody® has developed such an amazing community that you're crazy if you don't take advantage of it.

Get involved in the live chats and the Message Boards. Join the WOWY SuperGym®. Keep that journal every day to help you stay accountable. Empower yourself with knowledge and invest in YOU! You deserve it. You deserve to be happy and healthy! I know if I could do it, you can, too . . . we are all here to help cheer you on and support you to live your best life!

Now . . . GO PUSH PLAY!!


Test Your Sugar IQ!

Friday, May 27, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Joe Wilkes
  1. Which has more calories, brown sugar or white sugar? White sugar actually has more calories than brown sugar. But not many more—only about two calories an ounce. Traditional brown sugar almost always comes from the sugar beet. The extracted beet sugar is mixed with molasses (the by-product of the sugar extraction), which is what gives brown sugar its distinct color and flavor. Cane sugar is light brown in its natural state.
  2. How much sugar typically makes kids hyperactive? Amazingly, none. Science has yet to establish any conclusive link between sugar and increases in hyperactivity in children. It is suspected that sugar may be taking a bad rap for caffeine, which, along with sugar, is present in many sodas and chocolaty snacks, and has been proven to hype up the rugrats.
  3. How is powdered sugar, or confectioner's sugar, made? Powdered sugar is ground 10 times as fine as regular sugar and mixed with a small amount of cornstarch to prevent caking. So if you're ever cooking at home and run out of powdered sugar, just grind up some regular sugar in a blender with a pinch of cornstarch.
  4. How many gallons of maple sap are needed to make one gallon of maple syrup? It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. But the syrup isn't too bad of a sweetener. As maple sugar, it contains seven fewer calories per ounce than sugar, but contains many more essential minerals. Not quite a health food, but better than the white stuff.
  5. Who played Sugar Kane in the 1959 film Some Like It Hot? Marilyn Monroe.

6 Foods with Hidden Sugar

Thursday, May 26, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Joe Wilkes

The average American eats approximately 1,500 pounds of food every year. Of that, 160 pounds are primarily sugar. Of course, sugar is delicious, and I know I'm happier for its existence, but of all the things we consume, it has the least nutritive value. In fact, except for the energy in its calories, there's not much to recommend about sugar. It's a prime source of empty calories, and for those of us who are trying to lose weight, sugar's the first thing we should start trimming from our diets. But here's the problem—despite our best intentions to remove excess sugar from our diet, the food industry has found more and more devious ways of slipping us the sweet stuff. Whether the food industry calls sugar by another name or adds it to foods we never thought would have needed it, our sweet tooth is constantly being bombarded. Fortunately, with stricter labeling laws, we have a fighting chance at cutting back on sugar.

Why does the food industry want to fill us so full of sugar?

It's basically the same as any other industry. For the oil industry to make more money, it needs us to use more of its product by driving more miles. The food industry needs us to use more of its product by eating more calories. The problem is that the American food industry is already producing around 3,900 calories per person per day, which is way more than we need. One solution to this surplus is to sell the food cheaply overseas, which the industry does. The other solution is for Americans to eat more calories. And sugar and its corn-sweetener brethren are great calorie delivery systems, as they pack a huge caloric punch without causing much satiety or feeling of fullness. Most people would probably stop eating steak after they reached 1,000 calories, because they'd be stuffed, but after you drank 1,000 calories from your Big Gulp® cup, there'd still be room for dinner. The other reason the industry pushes sugar so hard is that it's cheap to produce, and the cheaper the calorie, the larger the profit margin.

Sugar in labels—hiding in plain sight.

One of the best ways to disguise the amount of sugar in a product is something the government already requires—printing the information in grams. Most Americans only have the foggiest idea of how much a gram is, because we're unaccustomed to the metric system. So when we pick up a can of soda that contains 40 grams of sugar, we pretty much shrug our shoulders and pop the top. And that attitude is all right with the soda industry! But what if the label said that it contained over 10 teaspoons of sugar? If you saw someone ladling 10 teaspoons of sugar into their morning coffee, you'd think they were crazy, but that's how much people consume in a typical 12-ounce can. A 64-ounce fountain drink you'd get at a movie theater or a convenience store contains more than 53 teaspoons of sugar—almost two cups! Naturally, people would probably think twice if the nutritional information on products was given in measurements that were meaningful to them. But until our heavily food industry–subsidized government decides to change its policy, it's a metric world, we just live in it. But we can take note that four grams equals one teaspoon. So when you check out the label, divide the grams of sugar by four, and that's how many teaspoons you're consuming.

Sugar, by any other name, would taste just as sweet.

Another strategy the sugar pushers use to get us to consume more calories is to rename the offending ingredient. We know to stay away from sugar, but how about molasses, honey, sorghum, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (HCFS), glucose, fructose, lactose, dextrose, sucrose, galactose, maltose, or concentrated juices like grape or apple? Another path to profit that the food industry has discovered is that instead of harvesting relatively more expensive sugar cane and beets, they can produce sweeteners in a laboratory more cheaply and with just as many calories as beet and cane sugar. And with some sweeteners, especially the popular HCFS, it is believed that your body will be less likely to reach satiety than with sugar, so you can consume more. Mo' calories, mo' money. Another advantage to these doses of -oses is that, aside from the fact that many people won't guess they're just different forms of sugar, they can be spread out in the ingredient list required by law, so it won't be as obvious that what you're consuming is pretty much all sugar. When you look at a list of ingredients on a product, the manufacturer is required to list them in order of amount, from highest to lowest. So they can bury a quarter cup of fructose, a quarter cup of sucrose, a quarter cup of dextrose, and a quarter cup of corn syrup in the middle of the list, so you won't be as likely to notice that when you add them all up, the main ingredient in the product is sugar.

Hide and seek. You're it.

So, if you're like me, you may have sworn off soda except for special occasions, and turned the candy bowl into an unsalted-almond bowl. No more sugar, no more problems. Except for this problem—the food industry has cleverly snuck its sugars into products where we never would have thought to look for sugar. It's good for the manufacturer. It jacks up the calorie load, can enhance the product's appearance (high fructose corn syrup gives hamburger buns their golden glow), and can keep our sugar jones simmering at a low boil, in case we ever decide to go back to the real thing. Here are some types of products whose labels could bear more scrutiny.
  1. Spaghetti sauce. A half cup of store-bought sauce can contain as many as three teaspoons of corn syrup or sugar. While some of the naturally occurring sugar in tomatoes and other vegetables will show up on the nutrition label, most of the sugar is added. Look for brands that don't include sugar or its aliases or make your own from fresh or canned tomatoes.
  2. Ketchup. Ketchup can be 20 percent sugar or more. Not to mention that you'll get 7 percent of your daily sodium allowance in one tablespoon. Look for low-salt, no-sugar brands, or make your own, using pureed carrots to add flavor and texture to the tomatoes.
  3. Reduced-fat cookies. Most brands of cookies now offer a reduced-fat version of their product. Nabisco® even offers its own line of low-fat treats, Snackwell's®. But while you're patting yourself on the back for choosing the low-fat option, check the label. The sneaky food manufacturers did take out the fat, but they replaced it with, you guessed it, sugar. Many times, the reduced-fat cookie is only slightly less caloric than the one you want to eat. And because there's no fat to make you feel full, you'll be tempted to eat more "guilt-free" cookies. And just because there's less fat, it doesn't mean you'll be less fat. Fat doesn't make you fat. Calories make you fat.
  4. Low-fat salad dressing. As with low-fat cookies, manufacturers have taken the fat out of the dressing, but they've added extra salt and sugar to make up for it. Check the label to make sure you're not replacing heart-healthy olive oil with diabetes-causing sugar—because that's not really a "healthy choice." Your best bet? Make your own vinaigrettes using a small amount of olive oil, a tasty gourmet vinegar or fresh lemon juice, and some fresh herbs.
  5. Bread. Most processed breads can contain a good bit of sugar or corn syrup. As always, check the ingredient label, and consider getting your bread at a real bakery or a farmers' market—it's the best idea since, well, you know.
  6. Fast food. Needless to say, fast food is generally not good for you. But even if you're staying away from the sodas and the shakes, everything from the burgers to the fries to the salads is a potential place to hide sugar. Check out the ingredients carefully at your favorite restaurant. You may be getting more than you bargained for.

By Stephanie S. Saunders

Few topics boggle dieters and fitness enthusiasts the way sugar does. Is this simple carbohydrate the key to unlocking elite sports performance? Or is it the chains that drag our country deeper into the obesity epidemic? Annoyingly, the answer is both. But before you throw your hands up in frustration and grab yourself a Twinkie®, let's take a minute to talk about sugar. It's not as complex as it seems. In fact, with just a few guidelines, it's incredibly easy to use these simple carbohydrates for good instead of evil.

Rule #1: Just say "know."

Here's a grossly oversimplified look at how sugar, also known as simple carbohydrates, works. Just as with all carbs, you eat sugar and it's absorbed by your blood, where, if you have the right amount of it, the insulin in your system converts the sugar to energy. However, if you introduce too much sugar into your system, the insulin stores it as body fat. A little stored body fat is fine; the body likes some emergency fuel. However, if your blood sugar spikes too often and the insulin has to work too hard converting fat, this can lead to a variety of health issues, including type 2 diabetes and heart problems.

As we'll discuss later, when your body obtains sugar from natural sources, like fruits and veggies, the process tends to be checked by fiber, which slows absorption. However, when you eat foods with added sugar, this can overwhelm the usual checks and balances, causing problems like those nasty blood sugar spikes. To make matters worse, consuming too much added sugar can cause a host of other problems, including tooth decay, increased triglycerides (or stored fat), and malnutrition (from overconsumption of foods filled with empty calories and deficient in nutrients).

If you wanted one overarching rule to work from, you might choose to avoid added sugars entirely. You'll get all the energy you need from foods with naturally occurring sugar. That said, there are times when refined sugar is okay or even beneficial. If you're able to build yourself a lifestyle completely free of added sugar, nice work. But for the rest of us, the trick is moderation.

Rule #2: Less is more.

One teaspoon of table sugar has 15 calories. Honestly, if you have a couple of cups of tea or coffee in the morning and you dump the proverbial spoonful of sugar in each, that's 30 calories. If the rest of your diet is tight and you're active, it won't matter. If you're trying to lose weight and eating at a severe deficit, you'll probably want to skip those few spoonfuls of sugar, because table sugar is nutritionally void and you want every calorie to count nutritionally. Other than that, though, life's short—enjoy your java.

Rule #3: High fructose corn syrup is the enemy . . .

In a recent study out of Princeton University, two groups of rats were fed a sucrose solution and a high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) solution. The rats that consumed the corn syrup got fatter. "Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity," said study leader Bart Hoebel, "but our results make it clear that this just isn't true, at least under the conditions of our tests."

There are a few possible explanations for this. One is that the ratio of fructose to glucose in HFCS is slightly higher. Another is that in the HFCS manufacturing process, fructose molecules are free and unbound, making them easier to absorb. The fructose in table sugar is bonded to the glucose, which means it requires an extra step to be used.

Rule #3.5: . . . and it's hiding behind every corner.

And you thought Invasion of the Body Snatchers was creepy . . . Avoiding the obvious sweetened foods like soda, cake, cookies, and pies is only half the battle. Manufacturers add HFCS (as well as other sugars) to a mind-boggling amount of foods because it adds flavor. If it's in a bottle, box, or can, read the ingredients. You'll find sweeteners in everything from ketchup to peanut butter to bread to salad dressing. With a little effort, you can usually find versions of the same food with no added sugars or HFCS that are more nutritious and taste just as good.

Rule #4: No, the sugar in fruit isn't bad for you.

When the low-carb "revolution" hit in the early aughts, fruit was demonized for its sugar content. This is, in a word, ridiculous. Yes, fruit is loaded with sugar, but it's also usually loaded with fiber, which slows sugar absorption, making it an ideal way to get your simple carbs without straining your little insulin buddies. Fruit is also loaded with easy-to-absorb vitamins and minerals. Most fruit is also filled with water, yet another benefit.

Even relatively low-fiber fruits like bananas offer far too many benefits to deny. Bananas, in particular, are rich in electrolytes, which are crucial to sports performance. As I always say, I defy you to introduce me to an overweight person whose biggest indulgence is fruit.

You can think of the ingredients in Shakeology® the same way. Sure, there's a little sugar in there, but the protein and fiber slow absorption, and the massive amount of nutrients makes it all worthwhile.

Rule #5: Occasionally, a hit of straight sugar is a good thing.

You're sitting around watching television. You haven't done much today. Your glycogen stores are up, and because you've eaten normally, your blood sugar level is balanced. Time for some Results and Recovery Formula? Probably not.

Conversely, you just blasted a killer workout. You've blown through your blood sugar and your glycogen, leaving you shaky and tired. Now, getting some sugar in there to recharge quickly wouldn't be such a bad idea. Furthermore, since it'll rush in so fast, it's a great opportunity to add some protein and micronutrients to that sugar blast, because they'll rush into where they're needed just as fast.

If you genuinely gave the workout your all and you're truly wiped out, you won't even come close to storing that sugar as fat.

So there you go. Not so tough, huh? With a little forethought and self-control, keeping an eye on your carbs can be, ahem, a piece of cake.

Recipe: Spinach Stir-Fry

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Team Beachbody

Here's a great vegan/vegetarian dish (depending on which stock you use) that makes a great side dish for an Asian meal. If you want to kick up the portion size, this tasty stir-fry could serve as the main course—or even the entire meal. Popeye would be proud.
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. grated ginger
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, regular or low-sodium
  • 1 10-oz.bag spinach
  • 1 12-oz. container firm tofu, cubed
  • Dash chili oil (optional)
Mix the stock, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce in a big bowl and add the tofu. Marinate for 30 minutes. Heat a wok or frying pan over medium heat. Place tofu mixture in wok and heat until marinade steams and tofu is warmed through. Add spinach and toss gently over heat until spinach wilts. Great on top of brown rice! Makes 3 servings.

Preparation Time: 40 minutes

Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
99 12 g 2 g 8 g 4 g 1 g

10 Urban Food Myths

Monday, May 23, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Joe Wilkes

There have always been rumors about food. Remember the one about the Kentucky Fried rat or Mikey, the kid from the Life® cereal commercials, who allegedly expired after washing down his Pop Rocks® with Coca-Cola®? These, like so many, turned out to be apocryphal, but in the age of the Internet, it seems like there's always some story making the rounds about a grocery item that will poison you or a food that will miraculously cure what ails you. Here are some myths we were able to dismiss.

  1. Eating carrots improves night vision. This rumor was apparently started by the British during World War II, after a new British radar device began greatly assisting in the shooting down of German bombers at night. Not wanting to alert the Germans of the new technology, the government spread a disinformation campaign about how the British pilots' love of carrots was the cause of their keen night vision. It spread like wildfire, and it has become a staple in parents' arsenals for getting kids to eat their veggies. Carrots are generally good for your eyes, though—studies are beginning to show a link between increased consumption of beta-carotene (carrots are loaded with it) and a decrease in macular degeneration.
  2. Turkey makes you sleepy. It's true that turkey contains tryptophan, the amino acid credited for the poultry's alleged soporific effects, but beef, chicken, meat, milk, and beans also contain tryptophan, and they don't seem to make you pass out on the couch after dinner. Turkey's bad rap probably comes from the famous post-Thanksgiving food coma, which is most likely induced by consuming not trace amounts of an amino acid, but vast quantities of carbohydrates, like potatoes and stuffing. Washing them down with a couple of glasses of wine probably doesn't hurt, either.
  3. Caesar salad was created by or for Julius Caesar. Actually, despite what they might tell you at the Olive Garden®, the Caesar salad is not Italian food. It was created in Tijuana, Mexico, less than a hundred years ago by restaurant owner Caesar Cardini, not in ancient Rome. The recipe includes romaine lettuce, olive oil, garlic, coddled eggs, and Parmesan cheese, among other ingredients, but the original recipe does not contain anchovies—another myth debunked!
  4. Combining Mentos® and Diet Coke® will make your stomach explode. As any YouTube® connoisseur can attest to, dropping a Mentos candy into a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke can create an effect that will give the fountains at the Bellagio a run for their money. However, despite rumors of Brazilian youths dying of burst abdomens, this myth seems to be another of the endless variations on Mikey and the Pop Rocks. There seems to be little evidence that eating any combination of anything generally considered edible will make you explode. (Although that Chinese food I had for dinner came pretty close around midnight.)
  5. Beware of flesh-eating bananas! Many well-intentioned people forwarded around an email not too long ago asserting that the FDA was covering up the fact that thousands of bananas bearing germs that cause necrotizing fasciitis (aka "flesh-eating bacteria") had entered the country. This turned out not to be true. A reverse rumor, that humans were killing bananas, has also circulated. This one says that due to varying explanations, like climate change or genetic modification, bananas will be extinct in less than a decade. This is also false. So eat your bananas. They're full of potassium, they won't make your skin fall off, and there are plenty more where they came from.
  6. McDonald's® uses kangaroo meat in their burgers. This is one that's been around since I was a kid, and common sense can answer it. While some people wouldn't put it past the Golden Arches® to put anything in their food, kangaroo meat seems an unlikely beef substitute, because it costs much more per pound than beef does. Actually, adventurous eaters might consider adding 'roo meat to their diet, as it has more protein and only about half the fat of beef.
  7. Chocolate milk is tainted with cow's blood. This is a popular playground myth that milk too contaminated with blood to sell as plain white milk is colored brown, flavored, and sold as chocolate milk. Chocolate milk and all dairy products go through the same rigorous FDA testing process that regular moo juice does. However, the added sugar isn't doing you any favors.
  8. Aspartame causes multiple sclerosis and lupus. Aspartame, often branded as NutraSweet®, has been rumored to cause many serious diseases. While we consider the jury to be out on whether aspartame is completely safe, there have been no reputable scientific studies linking the sweetener to MS, lupus, cancer, or any other life-threatening illnesses. However, since aspartame still hasn't been on the market long enough for definitive long-term studies to have concluded, it's best to use moderation.
  9. Canola oil is toxic. It's been rumored that canola oil contains the same toxins found in mustard gas. Canola oil is made from oil pressed from the seeds of the rape plant, a member of the mustard family. There's actually no such plant as the canola, but it's easy to see the marketing problems that would result in calling it "rape oil." This may have been one of the reasons scurrilous rumors have circulated about this noble oil, which is perfectly safe and rich in monounsaturated fat (a beneficial fat also found in olive oil and avocados). As for the mustard gas claim, while it's true that canola oil is made from mustard plants, mustard gas is not. It's called that because of its acrid smell, not its ingredient list.
  10. Red Bull® causes brain tumors. Because Red Bull is a favorite beverage of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, it's easy to make a case for this rumor based on anecdotal evidence, but there is actually nothing in Red Bull that has been linked to brain tumors. The beverage has been banned in some European countries because of its high caffeine content (an 8.3-fluid-ounce can has 76.5 milligrams of caffeine, or about 80 percent of the caffeine present in an 8-ounce cup of traditionally brewed coffee), but aside from the typical health concerns regarding any sugary caffeinated beverage, Red Bull appears safe. Claims that it will "give you wings®" seem unfounded, however, and when mixed with vodka, it reportedly makes underpants disappear.

Go Healthy. Go Asian!

Sunday, May 22, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Cecilia H. Lee

Asia is a huge continent. Lucky for all of us, this means a plethora of ingredients with a wide variety of delicious tastes. The distinctive seasonings, herbs, and spices used in everything from Chinese stir-fries to Vietnamese spring rolls means not having to rely on high fat and high sodium for flavor.

Asian diets are considered among the healthiest in the world. That's why people who live on the Asian continent have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other health problems than their American counterparts.

The main component of a typical Asian meal is usually rice or noodles—with plenty of soy, fish, beans, nuts, and seeds as protein sources. Meat, poultry, and eggs are used more sparingly; they're generally not the focus of the meal, which is rounded out by a generous amount of fruits and vegetables.

Whether sweet, sour, spicy, or savory, bring the flavors of Asia into your kitchen for a palate-pleasing meal.

Herbs and Spices

Curry-lovers will appreciate that turmeric (the beautiful yellow spice that gives many curry dishes their color and flavor) isn't just delicious—it also purportedly has healing properties. Turmeric is said to be good for your digestion, your heart, and perhaps even your brain. Many of the other spices used in Asian cooking—like cumin, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom—are also claimed to have health benefits. Ginger and garlic are wonderful antioxidants. So feel free to add generous amounts of these seasonings to your dishes.


It's simple to add Asian flavors to your salads. Sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds go a long way toward adding a bit of nuttiness to your dressings. Round things out with some rice wine vinegar and some low-sodium soy sauce and toss with your favorite lettuce mix, snow peas, water chestnuts, chunks of papaya and mango, some grilled chicken—whatever suits your fancy. There are endless flavor combinations to give your salads a taste of the Orient.


You may be thinking about those grease-laden fried dishes found at Chinese fast-food restaurants. Instead, what I'm talking about are crisp, colorful vegetables flash-cooked in a nonstick wok or frying pan. The nonstick surface requires very little oil, making this a great way to cook your seasonal vegetables and lean meats. First, preheat your wok over high heat, then add some ginger, garlic, and onions or shallots. Next, cook your meat or seafood. Then toss in vegetables like carrots, eggplant, or zucchini, followed by faster-cooking vegetables like spinach, leeks, mushrooms, or cabbage. To finish, toss everything with a bit of soy sauce, vinegar, hot sauce, sesame oil, or whatever flavoring you want to add.

Soy and Tofu

Soy is a major source of protein in the healthy, low-fat Asian diet. Foods like tofu, tempeh, or edamame (whole soy beans) contain isoflavones, which have have been shown in some studies to help stop regular cells from mutating into cancer cells. Foods that contain soy may also help lower cholesterol and are a great source of iron. More and more soy products are being introduced into the market, but just eating plain tofu (which takes on the flavors of any sauce it's cooked in) or tossing a handful of edamame into your stir-fries can be a great way to start putting more soy into your life.


The beauty of Asian noodles is that there are so many varieties available. There are wheat-based noodles like udon, which are wonderful in soup on a cold day. Soba noodles, made of buckwheat, are rich in protein and can be eaten hot or cold, in soup or even on top of a salad. And glass or rice noodles, though high in starch, can be the basis of a low-fat meal. Just stay away from fried noodles, ramen, and those instant noodle packs and cups, which are high in sodium and fat and loaded with MSG (monosodium glutamate).


It's not just the foods most Asians eat that make for good health; even the beverages they drink on a daily basis—often tons of green or black tea—can be healthy too. Teas can help lower cholesterol and act as a mild diuretic, which helps flush the body of toxins and free radicals that can cause heart disease. Green tea is also said by some to have cancer-fighting properties, as well as helping you maintain good breath to boot. Plus, like black tea, it's an antioxidant. So drink up!


Although you may not think "dessert" when you think of Asian food, there are so many great ways to add a delicious finale to your meal. Grill some pineapple rings or spears, or slice some mangoes and serve them with a bit of sticky rice covered in coconut milk. If you have an ice cream maker or even just a freezer, simple sorbets of ginger or lychee are easy to whip up. Any of these choices, or some simple poached pears with a small scoop of green tea ice cream, can provide a flavorful finish your healthy Asian dinner.

Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee is a food and travel writer, an artist, and a chef. A James Beard Award nominee, she has authored several books. Her latest, Quick & Easy Mexican Cooking, includes delicious, nutritious Mexican recipes you can make in just 30 minutes or less. When she's not climbing a mountain somewhere, Cecilia writes, eats, and gardens in Los Angeles.

By Valerie Watson

People have been cooking with flowers since at least the days of ancient Rome. And while the ancient Romans got a lot wrong—cruelty, violence, too many men's haircuts with bangs—they were right on the money with this one. Flowers look nice, smell nice, and, yes, they can even taste nice. (Once you get past that whole "But I'm eating a bouquet!" thing.) Keep in mind, though, that edible flowers can be far more than just a garnish or a visual curiosity. In addition to a wide array of flavors from delicate to tangy, they can also provide essential vitamins and nutrients—while generally being delightfully low in calories. Answer the following true-or-false questions to see where you fall on the edible flower knowledge scale.
  1. True: Artichokes, broccoli, and cauliflower are all immature flower buds. It may not be intuitive to think of these three vegetables—strange, spiny-armored green bulbs; tree-like shapes topped with clusters of tiny green nubbins; or a big round off-white thing that looks like nothing so much as a pickled brain—as flower buds, but they all are. It's unlikely that this new bit of information will convince even a small percentage of America's children that these three traditional kid-repellents are OK to eat, but maybe one little Barbie®-loving girl somewhere will think, "Yay, flowers!" and dig in.
  2. False: The flowers of the chamomile and rose plants may only be safely consumed after they've been dried and made into tea. Health food stores sell fresh chamomile flowers, which can be used in that state—the petals in salads, the blooms on baked goods or desserts as a fanciful edible decoration—or dried for longer storage in jars or floral wreaths. And rose petals can make a sweet and lovely addition to salads, as well as being used to make flavorful rosewater, rose syrup, rose butter, and rose petal jam. When you think of it, this whole edible-rose thing has all the cachet of a layer of fine gold leaf on an expensive chocolate dessert without any of the fears one might associate with a gizzard full of precious metal.
  3. True: The flowering chicory plant can be used as a coffee substitute. The roots of the flowering chicory plant, which is related to Belgian endive, are often baked, ground, and brewed to produce a coffee-like beverage that's popular in parts of Europe and Asia, as well as in the American South, particularly New Orleans. While brewed ground-'n'-roasted chicory, which contains no caffeine, is unlikely to assuage the coffee jones of, say, a hardcore Starbucks® junkie, it may have a placebo effect in an emergency.
  4. False: The seeds are the only edible part of the sunflower. While anyone who watches ESPN or the MLB channel knows how thoroughly sunflower seeds have been embraced by many of the nation's baseballers as a substitute for chewing tobacco in the spit-generation process, fewer people are aware that other parts of the plant are also edible. When steamed, the buds of the sunflower taste a bit like artichokes, and the mature fresh petals have a piquant, bittersweet taste when scattered on a salad. Neither seems like it's as dugout-friendly a choice as the seeds, but all it'll take is one rebel player to start things off, and the rest of 'em will follow like lemmings.
  5. True: The entire dandelion plant is edible, including leaves, roots, flower buds, and petals. Dandelion leaves, blossoms, and stems can be used in salads. When fried, the young buds taste similar to mushrooms. The roots are a good source of vitamin C and other nutrients. The petals can be fermented to make dandelion wine. But if you're planning on eating the actual yellow flower part, don't dilly-dally, 'cause if you wait 'til they turn into those little round white puffballs, they'll make the back of your throat feel all tickly.

By Denis Faye

There's no denying the benefits of a home garden. It provides healthy, organic food that spends mere minutes traveling from plot to plate, ensuring freshness that translates to more nutrients. Furthermore, a home garden means exercise, outdoor time, and savings at the grocery store.

But, unfortunately, planting that plot can seem a little like skydiving. Everyone wants to be the kind of person who does it, but when you're faced with the actual prospect, it suddenly seems incredibly daunting.

Truth is, they're not at all the same. When you're 12,500 feet in the air, you're either in the plane or out of the plane; there's really no in-between. Conversely, a home garden can grow slowly. Even the smallest of gardens—one rosemary plant in a terra-cotta pot—can be vastly rewarding. So find yourself a little dirt and a couple of seeds, and let us show you how to get started.
  1. Where to plant your seed?
    If you're a rural homeowner, finding a little dirt isn't an issue, but we can't all be so lucky. If you don't have access to huge tracts of land, get yourself some pots. Unless you want to plant something pervasive like melon, most produce will do fine in terra-cotta or plastic confines. If you're not sure, read the instructions on the seed pack or ask the person you buy your seedlings from.

    If you don't have the space for that, you can always hang a flower box from your sunniest window or your balcony. I live in a tiny apartment in Los Angeles, so I don't grow squash in my backyard (given I don't have one) but between pots and flower boxes, my green thumb gets an excellent workout.

    Community gardens are also a growing trend. These large, open spaces subdivided into smaller plots for individual gardeners add a great social aspect to your weeding and hoeing experience. It's also an excellent way to learn from more experienced gardeners and to barter fruits and veggies. Grew too many squash this year? I bet that guy with all the tomatoes would be willing to swap a few.

    Find a community garden in your area using the American Community Gardening Association's Web site. (www.communitygarden.org)
  2. Herbalize yourself.
    Herbs are also a good place to start. Many of them are low maintenance, and unlike fruits and veggies, there's no waiting around for the yield. As soon as your plant is established, you can start clipping leaves. Furthermore, they take up little space, making them ideal for the aforementioned flower box.

    Many herbs can produce more leaves than you need. The best solution for this happy problem is to pluck those leaves and dry them out in the sun under cheesecloth to prevent pests and wind from getting at them.

    Start off with perennial plants, or plants that grow for years. Three particularly tough perennials that I always have on hand are mint, oregano, and rosemary. Although they can require watering, I basically ignore them until I want to zing up my pizza or iced tea, then it's just snip and enjoy.

    Parsley is a biannual, meaning it produces leaves in its first year and flowers in its second year, and then it dies. But it's very robust and during that first year, you'll have all the parsley you need.

    Thyme, tarragon, and chives are also easy perennials to try.

    Once you've mastered perennials, you can try annuals, which only last one season and require a little more care. Basil can be used in scores of recipes. The trick to getting it to last all summer is to pluck off the flower buds every morning. The more you pluck, the harder it'll try to grow and the more leaves you get to put in your pesto.

    Chamomile works in a similar fashion. Every morning, pluck the flowers and set them aside. For every one you pluck, two more will grow. Dry these flowers under cheesecloth. By the time a well-managed chamomile dies in fall, it will have provided tea for months into the winter.

    Other good annuals include dill and cilantro.
  3. Produce some produce.
    Keep it simple at first. Leafy greens are a great place to start. Like herbs, you can harvest from them all season long. I've had great success with arugula and chard.

    While tomatoes are supposed to be hardy and fun to grow, I've always found them to be a pain. You need to stake them, and because they're bright red and sweet, they're particularly susceptible to pests like possums. If you don't want to fight that fight, try something just as tough but not as delectable. If you have space, it's hard to miss with any kind of squash or cucumbers. If space is limited, try Japanese eggplant or chili peppers. Considering that Serrano chiles are five times hotter than jalapeños, rodents don't mess with Serrano chile.

    Keep in mind that the plants I'm mentioning above are just things I've had success with. Don't be afraid to experiment on your own. I have yet to try growing beans, but I hear good things. If a crop doesn't work, it will cost you little more than a bag of seeds and a little real estate. No big thing.

    One downside of growing your own food is that, well, a person can only eat so many cucumbers. I make a point of sharing particular large harvests with my neighbors. It's a practice that has made me plenty of friends and resulted in unexpected payback when I needed it most, once as free legal advice and another time in the form of pie. But if you want quicker returns on your crops, look into garden exchanges in your area, where backyard farmers meet to swap produce.

    A quick Web search for "garden share" or "food share" and your state or city should be enough to find like-minded people in your area.

    The idea of packing up a summer's worth of produce and heading out to a fruit 'n' veg swap meet may seem a million miles away at this point, so don't rush it. As I said at the start, one pot and a few seeds is all it takes. Once you master that, your green thumb will itch for more and every year your garden will grow a little bigger without your even needing to try. It'll just happen . . . organically.

Recipe: Mexican Frittata

Thursday, May 19, 2011 | 0 comments »

By Team Beachbody

Not quite an omelet. Not really a quiche. What it is, however, is delicious! This high-protein dish features a healthy combo of eggs and egg whites, along with peppers, onions, and your favorite salsa. ¡Olè!
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 red pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1/4 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 cup salsa (use your favorite kind)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, combine milk, eggs, egg whites, salt, pepper, and cumin; blend with a whisk and set aside. Heat oil over medium heat in a 12-inch nonstick skillet with oven-safe handle. Add pepper and onion and sauté until tender. Pour egg mixture into pan with sautéed vegetables and cook without stirring until eggs are slightly set, then flip over. Place pan in oven and bake until eggs are cooked, about 5 minutes. Place frittata on a plate and top with salsa. Serves 1.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
371 31 g n/a 25 g 15 g 3.8 g

By Joe Wilkes

Summer is almost upon us and that means heat, heat, heat. Here in California, we're always looking for ways to beat the heat. Other parts of the country are also likely to experience long, hot summers this year, and with the price of fuel and electricity going through the roof, cranking up the air conditioning seems like a less feasible option all the time. So what can you do besides sweating it out? Here are a few tips for keeping it cool.

  1. Drink yourself cool. But don't reach for the margaritas. Cool? Yes. Hydrating? No! The key to staying cool is to stay hydrated. And the best thing to drink, as always, is water. Try to avoid caffeine and alcohol, because they'll dehydrate you and make matters worse (although if you've passed out from drinking alcohol, you might not mind the heat so much). Herbal iced tea, lemonade (make your own but go easy on the sugar), and sparkling water are all great summer beverages.
  2. Embrace your inner vampire. Whether or not you have air conditioning, the sun is your worst enemy when you're trying to keep cool. By keeping your blinds and drapes closed during the day, you can keep your place cool without running up the air conditioning bill. If you don't have air conditioning and want to open your windows, lower the blinds to the height of the open windows and keep the windows covered on the side of your house where the sun's shining.
  3. Spice up your life. This may seem counterintuitive, but summer is the best time to eat spicy food. Think about cuisines from countries close to the equator, like Mexico, India, and Thailand, that incorporate chilies and curries. Spicy peppers cause your pores to open and let the cool air into your body. They'll also encourage you to drink more water!
  4. The poor man's air conditioner. And I'm the poor man of whom I speak. During periods of poverty in my youth, I came up with the frozen-towel method of staying cool. Take a washcloth, a hand towel, or even a bath towel if it's really hot, dampen it, and stick it in the freezer. When it's stiff (though not frozen solid), remove it from the freezer and wrap it around your neck. Heaven! When it thaws, refreeze and repeat. If it's really hot, try doing the same with a T-shirt!
  5. Ice, ice, baby. Ice is your friend. Don't have an air conditioner? Have an air conditioner and don't want to hurt the environment? Put a pan full of ice cubes in front of a fan—the ice will cool the air. This is only a temporary solution, as the ice will melt, but it should last at least long enough for you to, say, fall asleep. Taking a cold shower before bedtime can also help keep you cool.
  6. Feet, don't fail me now. Keeping your feet cool is key to keeping your whole body cool. Soak your feet in a dishpan or bucket of cold water. Try wearing damp or frozen socks to bed as well. It'll help fool your brain into thinking your whole body's cool.
  7. White is the new black. And anyone who's seen my wardrobe knows how painful this tip is for me. Black and dark-colored clothing absorb heat and will cook you like a potato in tinfoil. Wear white or light-colored clothing to reflect the heat. Loose-fitting clothing is also good—it'll allow a breeze to move through instead of trapping in the warmth.

By Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee

Overstuffed burritos, deep-fried chimichangas, and greasy enchiladas smothered in cheese are prominently featured on the menus of most Mexican restaurants in the United States. In reality, however, genuine Mexican cuisine is very different. Colorful vegetables, flavorful salsas, grilled seafood, whole grains, and a variety of beans make up the backbone of the authentic Mexican diet.

Here are some ways to incorporate the bountiful variety of flavors of Mexican cuisine into your diet, in a way that's designed to help you lose weight and maintain good nutrition.
  1. Avoid fat and fried foods. Some common Mexican dishes like refried beans are traditionally made with lard. Eating your pinto beans whole (instead of mashed and refried) and simmering them in water or broth (instead of lard), or replacing the lard with minimal amounts of olive oil, can make a huge difference. It may be hard to resist the basket of fried tortilla chips that appears (and keeps magically refilling) on your Mexican restaurant table. However, you can ask for baked tortilla chips or whole corn tortillas to dip into your salsa instead.

    It's also really easy to make your own baked tortilla chips at home. Just cut up corn tortillas into triangular wedges. Lay them out on a baking sheet and spray with a bit of olive oil cooking spray. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven until crispy for just 12 to 15 minutes, flipping once so both sides crisp evenly.
  2. Choose whole grains. Either corn or whole wheat flour tortillas can be the foundation for a delicious Mexican fiesta. They have less fat, fewer calories, and more fiber than their white-flour cousins. Choosing 6-inch tortillas over 10-inch ones can also help you with portion control.
  3. Embrace rice and beans. There's a reason why rice and beans are the other staples of Mexican diets. Black, pinto, and kidney beans are high in protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. As previously mentioned, whole beans simmered in water or broth instead of refried are also naturally low in calories.

    To cook Mexican rice at home with little or no fat, sauté some chopped onions, garlic, and a bit of jalapeño (if you want that extra heat) in a pan with just a bit of olive oil. Add uncooked rice and sauté a bit longer. Add some low-fat chicken or vegetable broth and chopped fresh tomatoes and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked through and fluffy, about 20 minutes. Voilà! Delicious and nutritious rice that's convenient and easy to make. Use brown rice instead of white for whole-grain goodness.
  4. Go with fish—and make it grilled. Along the coastal towns and fishing villages of Mexico and Baja, people eat healthy seafood fresh from the sea. We can embrace that sunny, relaxed lifestyle by eating tacos filled with tasty fish that's grilled (not fried), enjoying ceviche prepared with plenty of lemon or lime juice, or baking a tilapia fillet topped with spices.
  5. Get spicy. Speaking of spices, Mexican cuisine has yet another bonus: It's full of some truly delightful spices and other flavorings, which can help you avoid adding extra salt to your diet. Although your typical Mexican restaurant meal may be loaded with sodium, you don't have to eat that way for a flavorful south-of-the-border-inspired meal. The staples of Mexican cooking include chili powder, oregano, cumin, cilantro, and chili peppers. And remember that hot peppers are a super metabolism booster. Even if you have a delicate palate, you can turn down the heat while still getting the benefits of these peppers by removing the seeds and veins, where most of the heat lives. Lime juice, another staple in adding authentíco flavors, is another great way of enhancing flavor without upping the sodium content.
  6. Sample a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. Mexico is blessed with some of the most delicious fruits and vegetables in the world. Tropical fruits like papayas and guavas, as well as a variety of peppers and squashes, grow abundantly in the hot, sunny climate.

    A typical Mexican street-cart food is often just a bunch of fruits (like mangos, pineapples, papayas, watermelon, or honeydew) and vegetables (including cucumbers and jicama) that have been sliced and seasoned with lime juice and chili powder. You can easily prepare this dish yourself for a delicious and nutritious afternoon snack, at home, at work, or for a road trip.

  7. Don't forget salsas and salads. Let's not forget the soul of Mexican cuisine—salsa! There's a seemingly endless variety of salsas that can be made from tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic, onions, peppers, limes, and more. The more colorful the salsa, the more nutritious it'll be. The good news is that freshly made salsa is good for you, so you can pile as much as you want on your tortillas, grilled fish, or salad.

    And an easy way to make a nice Mexican salad is to get a bowl of mixed greens and toss in some corn, cooked black beans, and a few chopped avocados (but don't overdo it, since avocados, while nutritious, are high in calories), then top everything with a generous serving of your favorite salsa. If you like, add some slices of grilled chicken or a few grilled shrimp. There you have it—lunch!