Monthly Archives: May 2008

How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

skitched-20080529-202622.jpgWe Monica’s sure know our stuff. Over at MizFitOnline.com, nutritionist Monica Reinagel is guest-blogging about how to stretch your food dollar while keeping your grocery list happy and healthy. She shares some great tips, such as


Don’t pay a premium for convenience: Save money by washing your own lettuce, peeling your own carrots, slicing your own cheese, and chopping your own onions.



and


Skip the Kits: Pass on the meal kits or already prepared drinks (iced tea, lemonade). Make your own and save.



and my favorite


Go meatless once or twice a week: Meat is one of the costliest items so save money (and boost your health) by enjoying a vegetarian meal.



Her cheap and healthy grocery list includes beans, whole grains, greens, cabbage and canned tomatoes.

Yeah, we’re all about the beans here at casa del SmarterFitter. Here’s our bonus tip: buy in bulk. Especially when it comes to beans, grains, nuts and dried fruits.

Food Glorious Food. [MizFit]

Paris and the Power of Bike Commuting

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Last time I was in Paris, it seemed like everyone was getting around town on a shared bike. Velib, the program that runs the scheme, just released some spicy statistics that seem to support the popularity of bike sharing:


  • Trips to date: 20 million

  • Average trips/day: 70,000

  • 190,000 annual pass holders

  • 42% of users are female, 58% are male

  • 94% of users like the service



This isn’t a surprise: bike commuting is the bomb. We all know it’s better for the planet and better for our bodies, but biking is also good for our health, and I’m not just talking about the fat-burning, booty-busting kind of health. Cycling is also good for the noggin’ (I’m guessing those 94% of satisfied Velib customers are as happy with the ride as they are with the service).

Case in point: Ali of The Office Diet had “one of those days” yesterday and one of the things that helped her get her stress under control was cycling home from work (despite the rain!):


Having an “active” commute, rather than taking the bus or train, really helps me to separate home and work. If I’ve had the sort of day that leaves my mind buzzing, a twenty-minute spin on the bike calms me down and helps me to relax before I get back to the flat. Even if you have to drive to work, try going for a quick walk when you get home – it’ll help you to banish any lingering work worries.



I know this doesn’t help the folks who rely on a car and a highway to get them to work, but surely more cities can take the clue from Paris: Happy cycling makes happy citizens! I know it’s made me and Ali a lot happier. How about you?

Rental bikes
Rental bikes in brussels



Bike Share Love [Tredzblog]

Smokey Green Beans

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In keeping with this week’s continuing bout of physical and technological plague, I am still to tired too be original. So here’s another popular recipe from mi madre. If you’re looking for something interesting to do with green beans, I highly recommend this savory dish. And according to mom, so does my daddy-o:


Steve LOVES my smokey green beans… I’m so proud of the flavors in this simple dish. He gives it a 10+, high praise for Steve. John Thorne would be proud of me, Monica. I followed some principles in the slow, patient approach to cooking… that is, let it brown and use those precious flavor-infused tidbits to bring richness to the taste.




Smokey Green Beans



2-3 cups fresh green beans, cleaned and snapped in half
1 ripe tomato chopped, skin, seeds and all
1/2 large onion, sliced vertically into long strips
1 potato, boiled but firm, chopped in 1/2″ pieces (leave the skin on)
1/2 – 1 teaspoon liquid smoke, original recipe
canola spray
garlic salt, to taste
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
water
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

Use a non-stick large frying pan. Spray with canola spray. Over a rather high heat, add the green beans. Let them sit and form blackened places before turning. Cook this way about two minutes and add the onion. Keep adding spray as needed. Let them brown without cooking through. Add the tomato, seasonings and potato. Cook another few minutes then add some water, scraping up all the browned bits that are so full of flavor. Cover and let the mixture “sweat” awhile. When the pan dries out, add more water and scrape up those delicious browned bits. The tomato will break down into a saucelike texture. The potato will start to release some soft bits which will thicken the “gravy” as you add water. Adjust the seasonings. Green beans should be tender, onions almost carmelized, and potato still in chunks. Put in serving container. Add a bit more water to the frying pan, to loosen the last of the flavorful bits and pour over the green beans and serve. Mmmmmmmm…

Tuesday Link Love

We’ve managed to pack one helluva week into our tiny little flat. My cold persists, and the other night I coughed so hard that I actually pulled a muscle. Then I blew out our amp by crossing the output wire with the firewire cable. (No music. No Battlestar Galactica. Does this mean we have to have real conversation to fill the silence?) To top things off, Tim elbowed his MacBook this morning and broke the screen.

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Never mind. How about some links, yeah?

Sweet Potato Quiche

sweet%20potato%20quiche%20002.jpgMy momma gave me permission to post her recipes on the interwebs, and since I’m still quite sickly and without the brain capacity to write anything original, I thought today would be a good day to share her latest success. It’s a Sweet Potato Quiche, inspired by our meal at London’s Food For Thought, a tiny vegetarian eatery in Covent Garden. The food is simple: quiche, stews, soups, rice salads, green salads, wholemeal bread. It’s the kind of food you could probably make at home, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the money.

Food For Thought’s best sell is that it’s the only place in central London’s main shopping district that serves really fresh, tasty veggie food that won’t make you feel like butt after eating it. My mom liked it so much she bought their cookbook, which had a number of quiches but not the one she had that day. So she winged it from memory and churned out a pretty damn tasty quiche. She also has a good tip for anyone who’s crust-averse:


I also made a “crust-less” quiche which was fabulous! I put the sweet potato on the bottom to form a mock crust. I used spray on the ramekin, but you can use whatever you wish to keep it from sticking.



So there you have it.


Sweet Potato Quiche



4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 sweet potato, boiled, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup frozen corn, yellow
1/4 cup green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup red pepper, chopped
olive oil, dash
1 tomato, chopped
1 pie crust
Mrs. Dash Original – a few dashes

Prepare pie crust and set aside.

Saute onion, garlic and peppers in a little dash of olive oil. When onion is translucent, turn off the heat and add the chopped tomato.

Whisk eggs, and add milk slowly. Add spices to egg mixture.

Spoon 3/4 of the onion/pepper mixture onto the bottom of the prepared crust.
Layer slices of sweet potato over that.
Sprinkle with cheese, evenly over the top.
Add another layer of potato slices.
Top with the rest of the onion/pepper mixture.
Pour the egg mixture over all letting it seep into all the nooks and crannies.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, uncovered. Knife inserted will come out clean, when the quiche is done.


Ladies, wanna get strong? Then stack on the weights.

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Don’t be scared to lift the heavy boulders… just don’t drop them on your head!



Hey girlies, if you’ve been wanting to build muscle but have been hesitant to push yourself with the weights then think again. A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that women who want to build muscle strength and endurance should opt for a “traditional” strength training routine, pumping iron with more weight and fewer reps than other strength routines.

Researchers at Ohio University studied three groups of healthy, college-aged females who performed three different training methods over a six week period:


  • Traditional strength training – heavier weight, fewer reps

  • Endurance strength training – lighter weight, more reps

  • Low velocity strength training – lighter weight, fewer reps, slower workout



Workouts consisted of leg presses, back squats and knee extensions. At the end of the six weeks, participants were measured for absolute strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance and body composition.

If you’ve done any strength training, then you may not be surprised by the results:


  • The traditional strength group gained the most strength in leg press and knee extension exercises; the groups were not significantly different in the squat exercise

  • The traditional endurance training group was the most successful at boosting muscular endurance

  • Cardiovascular endurance didn’t increase significantly in any of the groups

  • All of the groups combined showed a small decrease in percent body fat, but it was not statistically significant.



It’s interesting that body fat didn’t go down by much, but I suppose that’s because these women were “healthy” to begin with. So don’t panic if you’re hitting the weights hoping to lose body fat. Last year, research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that strength training can reduce body fat in overweight or obese premenopausal women, even without dietary changes. The bigger message is: don’t fear the bigger weights. Allow me to refer you to one of my favorite sites for women’s weight training, stumptuous.com. In the words of its wonderful author, Mistress Krista:


If you’re a woman who’s always secretly eyed those dumbbells but has always had some dummkopf tell you you would “hurt yourself”, “get too big”, or Gawd knows what other idiocies, this is a good place for you to start finding out the truth and to learn to love the iron.



Best Bet For Boosting Brawn In Women Is Traditional Strength Training [ScienceDaily]
How Strength Training Can Reduce Body Fat [dietblog]
Women’s Weight Training [stumptuous.com]

How to Write Recipe Instructions

I know some of our readers are into writing recipes. Here is a concise article that has a few good tips on recipe writing, not that you guys need it.


Order. List all ingredients in order of use.

Measurements. Use measurements that will help cooks shop. Say “1 medium onion, chopped,” for example, and not “1 cup chopped onion.”

Advance preparation. Alert cooks to anything that must be done ahead. If onions must be chopped, butter softened, or chicken cut into pieces, tell cooks in the ingredients list instead of at the point where that particular ingredient will be used.



How to Write a Cookbook: Recipes [Suite 101]

Eating Less Beats Exercise for Longevity

A5A3E645-FE70-4F44-BF5D-1C4FDC4F3E6B.jpgThe link between calorie restriction and longevity is in the news again, this time from the University of Alabama where researchers found that eating less is more important than exercise in living a long life.

Derek Huffman and his colleagues studied the effect of exercise and calorie restriction on aging in mice. “Key rodent studies tell us that being lean from eating less, as opposed to exercising more, has greater benefit for living longer. This study was designed to understand better why that is,” said Huffman.

The study supports the theory that caloric restriction leads to physiological changes that do a body good. His team studied biological “markers” related to cell damage in different groups of mice. One of these markers, a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), was lowest in calorie-restricted animals versus the exercise group. This suggests that caloric restriction creates beneficial changes in the body’s hormone levels which exercise does not.

These hormonal differences may play a role in the extending life of rats, but what about humans?

“I wouldn’t say this study has direct implications for people right now,” Huffman said. “But it shows what physiological changes caloric restriction and exercise produce.”

Already, a handful of studies comparing calorie restricted people to exercisers found similar hormonal benefits among those eating less. However, calorie restriction studies are difficult to carry out in people because participants often complain of feeling hungry, lethargic, and cold (can you blame them?).

Luckily, yeast cells don’t have the luxury of a voice box. Yet another study released last month offers further insight into why calorie restriction slows the aging process. Maybe someone can translate the press release for me, because I didn’t understand a thing after the word “Gcn4″ (nope, it’s not in the Oxford English Dictionary).

The study has something to do with ribosomes, the “protein-making factories in living cells” and this “Gcn4″ protein that has something to do with gene expression. If I ever make heads or rattails of this study, I’ll let you know. For now, I can definitively conclude that the human body is a crazy place. I barely understand my big toe, never mind the DNA behind it. Still, I always had a hunch that eating lots and then “working it off” with exercise was somehow not the way forward. What do I mean? Let’s think about it.

Why do we care about all this healthy shmealthy fitness mumbo jumbo? Well, we want to feel good, both now and when we’re older. We also want to fit into that pair of jeans. So, we try to lose weight and exercise because we know how good these are for our overall health. But being healthy isn’t just about “calories in, calories out”. There’s a whole lot going on in our bodies that we can’t see with the scale. Calorie restriction isn’t necessarily the answer, but it’s a good reason to think a little bit more about the “big picture” when it comes to health and fitness. I didn’t need this study to tell me that eating lots and then “working it off” really isn’t cool. It’s not cool because it’s not balanced. And at the extreme, it’s an eating disorder! The end!

Longevity Study In Mice Finds It’s Better To Go Hungry Than Go Running [Medical News Today]

Cocoa-Spiked Red Sauce for Enchiladas

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Isn’t it nice when you cook food for someone and they enjoy it so much that they lick every pan, plate and utensil that touched it? That was a certain someone’s (I won’t say who for sake of their dignity) response to my enchiladas last night, made possible in part by my mom who brought a big bag of corn tortillas with her when she came to visit me in London. Thanks, mom!

The enchiladas themselves were nice – a simple filling of sauteed onion, mushroom and spinach – but the sauce really made the meal. I adapted this recipe on RecipeZaar, which used cocoa powder in the seasoning. I also added sauteed onion and sliced carrot, inspired by Julio’s in Austin, Texas.

The enchilada sauce was good enough to eat by itself with a spoon, and I could see using it to spice up all sorts of things: scrambled tofu, black beans, refried beans, steamed vegetables… it would also make a good base for a veggie chili.


Cocoa-Spiked Ranchero Sauce


Carrots are optional but do add a nice texture, especially after they’ve been baked in the oven. Feel free to experiment with other herbs and spices such as jalapeno, cilantro, or parsley. But don’t ever forget the cocoa!

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 liter water
1 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 carrot, sliced (optional)
salt to taste

In a medium saucepan on a low heat, add the olive oil and garlic and cook until soft.

Stirring constantly, gradually sprinkle the flour into the oil to form a thick paste (ever wonder what a roux is? This is it!).

Continue to stir and add the cocoa powder, cumin, oregano and chili powder.

With a wire wisk, continue to stir while slowly adding the water.

Add the tomatoes, salt and sliced carrots and bring everything up to a boil.

Turn down the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce reaches the desired thickness. Taste the sauce and add more chili powder or salt if desired.

Makes enough for about 8 enchiladas, plus little leftover for spooning onto the enchiladas after they come out of the oven.

To use this on enchiladas:

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Warm the sauce in a saucepan wide enough to fit a corn tortilla.

In a baking pan, ladle enough sauce to cover the bottom.

Place a corn tortilla into the saucepan and cover with the warm sauce. When the tortilla is warmed through and soft enough to roll into an enchilada, remove and fill with your desired filling. Roll the tortilla into an enchilada place in the baking pan.

Repeat until the pan is full.

Pour more sauce on top of the enchiladas.

Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Remove the foil, top with grated cheese if desired, and bake until cheese is melted. Tip: turn on the grill for a minute or two to get the cheese nice and brown and crispy!

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Thanks, mom!


Microwave Your Broccoli and Eat More Fat With Your Salsa

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An article in yesterday’s New York Time’s discusses the best way to prepare your vegetables. Here, “best” is defined by how many nutrients are preserved after cooking. A few surprises here:


  • Steaming and boiling broccoli causes a 22-34% loss of vitamin C whereas microwaved and pressure-cooked broccoli retains 90 percent of its vitamin C.

  • When salsa or salad is served with fat-rich avocados or full-fat dressing, diners absorb 4 times more lycopene, 7 times more lutein and 18 times more beta carotene than those who eat their veggies plain or with low-fat dressing.

  • Boiling carrots significantly increased measurable carotenoid levels, but resulted in the complete loss of polyphenols compared with raw carrots.

  • Processed tomato products have higher lycopene content than fresh tomatoes because the processing breaks down the thick cell walls of the tomato, releasing lycopene for the body to use.

  • Fresh spinach loses 64 percent of its vitamin C after cooking.


That’s interesting, but I think the real point is to eat a variety of vegetables, and eat lots of them. As the article explains:


The benefits are significant. Numerous studies show that people who consume lots of vegetables have lower rates of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, eye problems and even cancer. The latest dietary guidelines call for 5 to 13 servings — that is two and a half to six and a half cups a day. For a person who maintains her weight on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, this translates into nine servings, or four and a half cups a day, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.



Steamed, cooked, raw, microwaved, blanched, poached, sliced, diced or shredded. How you eat your veggies is up to you.

Though that reminds me, here’s an interesting fact about cabbage you may not know:


Cabbage’s anti-carcinogenic glucosinolates are formed by the activity of myrosinase enzymes, which are released when cabbage is sliced or chopped. Cooking denatures the myrosinase enzyme, thus stopping the production of glucosinolates.



Now, I think we’ve had enough of the big words for one post. I’m off to make some cole slaw.

Finding the Best Way to Cook All Those Vegetables [NYT]
Cabbage [World’s Healthiest Foods]