Category Archives: food
The biggest reason not to ignore the food purists is that in a lot of ways they’re right. Our diet is indeed killing us, and it’s killing the planet too. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta released a study revealing that nearly 27% of Americans are now considered obese (that is, more than 20% above their ideal weight), and in nine states, the obesity rate tops 30%. We eat way too much meat — up to 220 lb. per year for every man, woman and child in the U.S. — and only 14% of us consume our recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Our processed food is dense with salt and swimming in high-fructose corn syrup, two flavors we can’t resist. Currently, enough food is manufactured in the U.S. for every American to consume 3,800 calories per day — we need only 2,350 in a healthy diet — and while some of that gets thrown away, most is gobbled up long before it can go stale on the shelves.
When animal protein, whether organic or not, becomes a supporting player in the diet, then fruits, veggies and grains take the lead. That’s generally a good thing, but here too there are complications. The back-to-the-land ideal of farming without the use of synthetic pesticides and other chemicals can take you only so far in a country with 309 million mouths to feed (not to mention a world with 6.8 billion). Say what you will about the environmental depredations of agribusiness, industrial farms coax up to twice as much food out of every acre of land as organic farms do. And even that full-tilt output may not be enough to keep up with a global population that’s galloping ahead to a projected 9 billion by 2050.
But for most consumers — even those who think of themselves as environmentally conscious — the critical considerations in deciding to go organic involve the far more personal matters of price, flavor and nutrition. Last year’s nutrient study had a lot of organic partisans wincing — and a lot of commercial growers feeling smug — but one paper is hardly the whole story. The real difference between organic and nonorganic produce is in the relative presence of micronutrients such as copper, iron and manganese, as well as folic acid, none of which were included in the study. With these, the results are mixed. (See whether you should buy organic or conventional food.)
By: Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D.
It’s a battle royale, with cheese. In one corner of your mind, there’s the satisfaction of that trim, hard body you’ve built. In the other, there’s the hamburger—juicy, tasty, covered with a blanket of melted Cheddar. Or maybe your struggle is against nachos. Or crispy fish and chips. Or pizza. Hard to believe there ever was a time when mankind could be seduced by an apple, isn’t it?
To avoid temptation, you could wire your refrigerator to deliver a shock every time you open the door. Or you could continue eating pizza, nachos, burgers—all of your favorite comfort foods—without guilt. It can be done. With a few easy tweaks, just about any food can be transformed into good stuff that satisfies your nutritional needs, your tastebuds, and even your nostalgic cravings. Make your comfort foods this way and you’ll have our blessing to pig out.
What’s so bad?: Ground beef is shot through with fat, and that white-bread bun offers little but rapidly digested simple sugars.
Make it better: Start with extra-lean ground beef—if you don’t overcook it, it’ll taste great. Chop up some onions and thawed frozen spinach and mix them into the beef. The vegetables add vitamins and replace some of the moisture lost when you switched to leaner ground beef. Better yet, build those burgers with grass-fed beef or lean ground buffalo, at roughly 4 grams (g) of fat per 4 ounces. Researchers at Purdue University found that wild game and grass-fed meats have higher levels of good-for-the-brain and good-for-the-heart omega-3 fatty acids. Top it all off with a whole-wheat bun for some fiber.
You lose: 6 g saturated fat
You gain: Allicin, 47 micrograms (mcg) beta-carotene, 5 g fiber
Breakfast Sausage-and-Egg Biscuit
What’s so bad?: The sausage patty is fatty (about 10 g per puck), and the biscuit is nearly devoid of nutrition yet contains 8 g fat.
Make it better: Do this yourself—it takes 3 minutes, about the time you’d sit in the drive-thru lane. Beat an egg in a small bowl and nuke it for 1 to 2 minutes. Top it with warmed-up Canadian bacon—a great precooked source of lean protein with only 2 g fat—and slide it into a whole-wheat English muffin. And have it with a glass of grapefruit juice (good luck finding that at McDonald’s) instead of OJ. Drinking grapefruit juice before a meal helps decrease insulin levels and promote weight loss, according to research from the Scripps Clinic in San Diego.
You lose: 4 g saturated fat
You gain: 6 g protein, 4 g fiber, 94 milligrams (mg) vitamin C
Grilled Cheese Sandwich
What’s so bad?: The 18 g saturated fat you take in from the butter and slabs of oily cheese. And the white bread is pointless.
Make it better: Use whole-wheat bread with part-skim mozzarella in between. Crisp it in a skillet moistened with a little olive oil. Losing the finger-licking buttery bliss is worth it. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that an olive oil-rich diet can drop your chances of dying of cancer or heart disease by 23 percent. To protect your prostate, add a couple of lycopene-packed tomato slices. Likely to work late? Throw in a slice or two of lean ham. That will jack up the protein count, keeping your appetite in check.
You lose: 10 g saturated fat
You gain: 11 g protein, 5 g fiber, 1,000 mcg lycopene
What’s so bad?: Oil-pooling pepperoni, to start. Then a huge calorie count that comes mainly from simple carbs and saturated fat.
Make it better: Opt for a thin crust (fewer refined-flour carbs), use half the cheese, and replace the pepperoni or sausage with chicken breast, a lean protein that has just 1 g fat per ounce. (A little barbecue sauce is okay. Great, in fact.) The chicken gives you more muscle-building protein and a ratio of protein to fat that better satisfies the appetite. Add some sliced onions and peppers to rack up a little fiber and some immune-boosting allicin.
You lose: 10 g saturated fat
You gain: Allicin, fiber, twice the protein
Fish and Chips
What’s so bad?: There’s fat everywhere—the breaded and fried fish, the greasy potatoes, and the creamy coleslaw.
Make it better: You love the crunchy crispiness, right? Try pan-seared salmon—it’ll crisp up real nice—for a healthy dose of cholesterol-lowering omega-3 fats and a potential brain boost. A new UCLA study on mice suggests that DHA, one of the fats found in high levels in fish like salmon, helps repair memory damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Roasted potato wedges sprayed with a little olive oil are infinitely better than fat-soaked fried “chips.” Grab a bag of finely chopped coleslaw makings at the grocery store and use either low-fat mayonnaise or, better yet, a tangy vinegar-and-oil dressing.
You lose: 8 g saturated fat
You gain: 4 g omega-3 fats
What’s so bad?: Just 13 ordinary corn chips contains 120 calories and 6 g fat, and you haven’t yet ladled on the electric-orange cheese product, the greasy spiced hamburger mixture, or the sour cream. Do that and you’re hoisting 26 g saturated fat into your mouth. Add thirst-inducing pickled jalapeño-pepper slices and you’re getting a day’s worth of sodium in this 1,129-calorie pile.
Make it better: Start with baked corn chips (less fat), add cooked pinto beans for fiber, and use reduced-fat sharp Cheddar and lean ground round. Top with cancer-fighting diced tomatoes (for lycopene) and diced fresh jalapeño pepper—it has no added salt but still delivers plenty of kick. The whole concoction is leaner, tastier, and way better for you. Go ahead, have some more.
You lose: 677 calories, 22 g saturated fat, 2,500 mg sodium
You gain: 14 g fiber, 2,300 mcg lycopene
Use these simple strategies to boost the health benefits of your produce
While we’ve been dutifully eating our fruits and vegetables all these years, a strange thing has been happening to our produce. It’s losing its . That’s right: Today’s conventionally grown produce isn’t as healthful as it was 30 years ago—and it’s only getting worse.
In 2004, Donald Davis, PhD, a former researcher with the Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas, Austin, led a team that analyzed 43 fruits and vegetables from 1950 to 1999 and reported reductions in vitamins, , and protein. Using USDA data, he found that broccoli, for example, had 130 mg of calcium in 1950. Today, that number is only 48 mg.
What’s going on? Davis believes it’s due to the farming industry’s desire to grow bigger vegetables faster. The very things that speed growth—selective breeding and synthetic fertilizers—decrease produce’s ability to synthesize nutrients or absorb them from the soil.
A different story is playing out with organic produce. “By avoiding synthetic fertilizers, organic farmers put more stress on plants, and when plants experience stress, they protect themselves by producing phytochemicals,” explains Alyson Mitchell, PhD, a professor of science at the University of California, Davis. Her 10-year study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that organic tomatoes can have as much as 30% more phytochemicals than conventional ones.
But even if organic is not in your budget, you can buck the trend. Here, 9 expert tips to put the nutrient punch back in your produce.
1. Sleuth Out Strong Colors
“Look for bold or brightly hued produce,” says Tanumihardjo, PhD, an associate professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A richly colored skin (think red leaf versus iceberg lettuce) indicates a higher count of healthy phytochemicals. Tanumihardjo recently published a study showing that darker orange carrots contain more beta-carotene.
2. Pair Your Produce
“When eaten together, some produce contains compounds that can affect how we absorb their nutrients,” explains Steve Schwartz, PhD, a professor of food science at Ohio . His 2004 study of tomato-based salsa and avocado found this food pairing significantly upped the body’s absorption of the tomato’s cancer-fighting lycopene. Check out Healthy Power Pairs for more examples.
3. Buy Smaller Items
4. Cook Smarter
Certain vegetables release more nutrients when cooked. Broccoli and carrots, for example, are more nutritious when steamed than when raw or boiled—the gentle heat softens cell walls, making nutrients more accessible. Tomatoes release more when lightly sauteed or roasted, says Johnny Bowden, PhD, nutritionist and author of The Healthiest Meals on Earth.
5. Eat Within a Week
“The nutrients in most fruits and vegetables start to diminish as soon as they’re picked, so for optimal nutrition, eat all produce within 1 week of buying,” says Preston Andrews, PhD, a plant researcher and associate professor of horticulture at Washington State University. “If you can, plan your meals in advance and buy only fresh ingredients you can use that week.”
6. Skip Time-Savers
Precut produce and bagged salads are time-savers. But peeling and chopping carrots, for example, can sap nutrients. Plus, tossing peels deprives you of good-for-you compounds. If possible, prep produce just before eating, says Bowden: “When sliced and peeled or shredded, then shipped to stores, their nutrients are significantly reduced.”
7. Mix Them Up
If you’re used to munching on red tomatoes, try orange or yellow, or serve purple cauliflower along with your usual white. “Many of us buy the same kinds of fruits and each week,” Andrews says. “But there are hundreds of varieties besides your usual mainstays—and their nutrient levels can differ dramatically. In general, the more varied your diet is, the more vitamins and minerals you’ll get.”
8. Opt for Old-Timers
Seek out heirloom varieties like Brandywine tomatoes, Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, Golden Bantam corn, or Jenny Lind melon. Plants that were bred prior to World War II are naturally hardier because they were established—and thrived—before the development of modern fertilizers and pesticides.
9. Find a Farmers’ Market