Health & Nutrition in the News

A new study was released by the New England Journal of Medicine this week: “Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates”. In the study, 811 individuals were divided into 4 groups and each group adhered to a particular diet. The diets varied in macronutrient composition (meaning the percentagels of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates differed between the diets), but each one was intended to create a deficit of 750 calories per day. It’s probably not surprising that those who stuck with any of the 4 diets managed to lose weight:

At 6 months, participants assigned to each diet had lost an average of 6 kg, which represented 7% of their initial weight; they began to regain weight after 12 months. By 2 years, weight loss remained similar in those who were assigned to a diet with 15% protein and those assigned to a diet with 25% protein (3.0 and 3.6 kg, respectively); in those assigned to a diet with 20% fat and those assigned to a diet with 40% fat (3.3 kg for both groups); and in those assigned to a diet with 65% carbohydrates and those assigned to a diet with 35% carbohydrates (2.9 and 3.4 kg, respectively) (P>0.20 for all comparisons). Among the 80% of participants who completed the trial, the average weight loss was 4 kg; 14 to 15% of the participants had a reduction of at least 10% of their initial body weight.

So chalk one more up for moderation – the general conclusion here is that reducing calorie intake, not adhering to a particular diet, is the key.

In conclusion, diets that are successful in causing weight loss can emphasize a range of fat, protein, and carbohydrate compositions that have beneficial effects on risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Such diets can also be tailored to individual patients on the basis of their personal and cultural preferences and may therefore have the best chance for long-term success.

On a more somber note, the New York Times  reports that children are being negatively affected by their parents’ obsession with healthful eating. I think a lot about this subject as I try to provide my children with the most healthful choices available and affordable – I emphasize homemade meals (including sack lunches) made from whole, close to the source foods, mostly organic and locally grown. They do think of me as the food police, I fear, but I hope that what I am teaching them is not to fear food but to know what foods to choose more often – I don’t forbid those gummy worms (!?!) if they come our way, but I don’t often spend money on them myself, and I do expect that if lunch comes home unfinished, it does get eaten before the gummy worms disappear.

Because I volunteer for GrowingGreat’s classroom nutrition program, the line in “What’s Eating Our Kids” about nutrition education sometimes being part of the problem caught my eye:

 Some experts are quick to point out that it is not only parents who may contribute to children’s food anxieties. They cite nutritional programs in schools that may go overboard. “I see younger kids who have an eating disorder precipitated by a nutrition lesson in school,” said Dr. Leslie Sanders, medical director of the eating disorders program at Atlantic Health Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J.

It really drives home the message that as adults we need to empower children to make the most beneficial nutritional choices – not by forbidding foods, not by labeling foods as “good” or “bad” (GrowingGreat actually does not allow the use of those words in their curricula), but by teaching them about food’s power to benefit the body and please the palate – and then letting them begin, at the later elementary school ages, to make their own decisions, in consultation with us at the beginning, and then on their own. I think as long as we approach the topic by teaching, rather than preaching, they will learn to choose what is most beneficial for their bodies and minds.

Bean Sprout Salad

This refreshing cold dish is often made with shredded poached chicken breast, but in deference to the start of Lent, here is a vegetarian version. You can find bean sprouts in Asian markets and, more and more often, in the Asian vegetable section of conventional stores. Be sure to pick sprouts that look clean and crisp – they shouldn’t be waterlogged or droopy.

ingredients:

  • 1 medium carrot, peeled, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 medium stalk celery, cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 lb bean sprouts, root ends pinched off
  • 1/2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted, a mix of black and white is prettiest

dressing:

  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • freshly ground white or black pepper to taste

method:

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  2. Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. When the water boils, blanch and shock the vegetables – you should do them each separately so that each one is blanched just until crisp tender – do not overcook! Remove from the ice water and allow to drain for 15 m.
  4. Combine the vegetables with the dressing, mixing gently with your hands.
  5. Place in a serving bowl, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve.

variation:

You can add 1 poached, shredded chicken breast in step 4 – increase the dressing ingredients to taste.

do ahead:

The vegetables (and optionally, chicken) can be cooked and refrigerated for up to 1 day ahead. Bring to room temperature before combining with dressing.

The Original Chicken Rice Bowl

In Southern California, with its large Asian population, the “rice bowl” is a common item in many restaurants, from the ethnic mom & pop shop (many of which make a great one!) to fast food joints (both those that qualify as Asian, like Yoshinoya, and downright American ones, like Jack-in-the-Box, all of which are pretty ghastly). The basic concept is a one-dish meal – some sort of topping served over rice. The homemade version is not only a one-dish meal, it’s also a one-pot meal, a style of cooking that is quick and economical and saves on the pile of pots to be washed! Here, then is a recipe for Chicken Rice Bowl – homemade and healthy! Review the Basic Steamed Rice post for directions on how to use different varieties of rice, how to wash and soak it, and how to cook it.

ingredients:

  • 2 c rice, washed and soaked
  • 3 c water if you’re using a pot, water up to the 2 c mark plus 1/2 cup more if you’re using a rice cooker
  • 4 oz cooked chicken, shredded – do your taste buds, your health, the earth, and the chicken a favor and buy sustainably raised if you can!
  • 6 fresh shiitake mushrooms, caps cut into thin strips, stems reserved for making soup
  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

marinade:

method:

  1. Put the rice and water into the cooking pot or rice cooker, then cook according to the Basic Steamed Rice post only until the water reaches the level of the top of the rice.
  2. While the rice cooks to this point, combine the marinade ingredients, then add the chicken and mushrooms and let the mixture rest.
  3. Place the topping mixture over the partly cooked rice, sprinkle with 1/2 of the scallion, but do not stir. Cook until rice is done.
  4. Let the rice stand, covered, for 10-15 m, and only then mix gently, adjust the seasoning, top with the remaining scallion and sesame oil, and serve.

Braised Beancurd with Mushrooms

Warm and nourishing and vegetarian (although the original recipe often contains a bit of pork)! I usually prefer the silken version of tofu, but for this dish the regular water-packed firm variety works best. You can use fresh mushrooms or rehydrate dry ones for 30 m in hot water – if you do the latter, save the soaking liquid for flavoring this dish and adding to soups.

ingredients:

  • 12 oz firm tofu
  • 1 T salt dissolved in 2 c water
  • 1 T tapioca flour, potato flour, or cornstarch
  • 2 T oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 shiitake mushrooms, stems reserved for making stock, caps cut into quarters
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1/2 c water
  • 3 scallions, cut into 1.5″ sections
  • 1 tsp tapioca flour, potato flour, or cornstarch dissoved in 1 T cold water
  • sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil

method:

  1. Cut the beancurd into 1/4″ thick rectangular slices approximately 1″ x 1.5″ in size, then soak in salted water for 30 m.
  2. Drain the beancurd and pat dry, then dredge lightly in the tapioca flour.
  3. Heat 1 T oil in a wok over medium-high heat just until it shimmers, then add the beancurd, reduce heat to medium, and allow to brown on one side before flipping and browning the other side – this may need to be done in batches, depending on the size of your wok. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.
  4. Heat the remaining 1 T oil in the wok over medium-high heat just until it shimmers, then explode the garlic just until fragrant – do not let it brown. Add the mushrooms and stirfry quickly for 15 seconds.
  5. Add the beancurd, soy sauce, and water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for approximately 10 m, uncovered.
  6. When the liquid is down to approximately 1/4 c, add the scallions and then the thickener. Stir gently but quickly so that your sauce does not become lumpy – it should thicken and become clear in a matter of seconds, but keep simmering until the starchy taste disappears, approximately 1 m more.
  7. Adjust the seasoning, drizzle with sesame oil, and serve.

…and forgive us our sins?

Last week I finally watched Our Daily Bread, a documentary by Nikolaus Geyrhalter about industrialized food production in Europe. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it highly (and so did the New York Times, LA Times, and a host of other reviewers!) There are a plethora of movies and videos produced on this subject by folks with a very clear agenda – PETA, the Humane Society, etc. – but as effective as those are in showing the revolting side of industrial-sized agriculture (and making many converts to vegetarianism/veganism along the way!), they come across as shrill, even desperate in comparison to this fine film.

our-daily-bread 

The movie brought to mind Jesus Camp a documentary that I came in contact with through my job with Diane Winston, the USC Annenberg Knight Chair in Media and Religion. Most of the audience that watches Jesus Camp most likely falls at one end of the spectrum or the other: a person can either be of the born-again tradition or be a critic of it. And what the film can do is feed the point of view that many audience members came in with: the makers shared their film with those who appeared in it before taking it public, and the children and parents basically said, “YES! This is who we are!” and were happy to have their story told in this way. Someone coming from the opposite direction could watch the film and scream, “OMG!!! Look what they’re doing to these children! This is child abuse! This is brainwashing! This needs to be stopped!”

Likewise, the viewers of Our Daily Bread probably mostly come from two opposite sides: the confirmed vegan would watch this film as further proof that his/her choice of diet is the only morally acceptable one. But someone who eats unthinkingly from the industrial food chain could just as easily enjoy the film for its portrayal of what man has created to feed the world –  the machinery that runs nonstop to ensure that we are fed. Richard Pena, chairman of the New York Film Festival selection committee even commented admiringly that “ ‘Our Daily Bread’ is a documentary that could probably find a place in a course on science fiction films.”

Not being an expert on film, I have to wonder – how is it possible to make films like these? Did the filmmakers create a masterpiece by pleasing both sides, or did they just let us go on believing what we already knew to be true?

And what about those who go to see these films without coming down hard on either side of the questions asked? Or those who go without having thought much about those questions? I can’t really judge, since I stand pretty firmly on the side (but not at the extreme) of opting out of the industrial food chain as much as possible. I found Our Daily Bread intriguing and powerful in its total lack of narrative voice-over and interviews. I have seen the PETA-style horror flicks of animal slaughter, so the scenes portraying pigs and cattle being slaughtered and eviscerated were not new to me. Oddy, what scared me most was the scene of 2 workers suiting up to spray a crop in a greenhouse – I couldn’t help but think, “If you are covering yourself head to toe with this protective gear before spraying, why would I want to put that produce in my mouth?!?”

Regardless of where you fall in the spectrum, I highly recommend Our Daily Bread – it’s available on dvd – and then visit the film’s website to read the interviews with the director and editor. My kids watched the film with me (the nine-year-old with much more concentration than the five-year-old of course, although he was fascinated by the pig slaughter scene!), and my daughter did NOT become a vegetarian, although she now questions more intelligently where the food I serve her comes from. Food for thought, indeed.

Chef’s holiday!

I’ll be taking a long weekend to spend time with family, but I’ve posted a menu for celebrating Valentine’s Day in style. Back in the middle of next week with more on cooking healthy Chinese food at home from whole, close to the source ingredients!

Menu: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day! What better way to say, “I love you” than by preparing a homemade meal from scratch for your sweetheart? (And if you create it from local, organic, sustainably raised ingredients, you’re sending a love note to  Mother Earth as well!)

the recipes

the strategy

  1. Up to a day ahead: prepare and chill the black pepper edamame, the beans for the rice, and the red bean soup.
  2. Up to 4 hours ahead: prepare the sesame noodles, bring the edamame out to come to room temperature.
  3. Soak the rice, marinate the chicken.
  4. Prepare all remaining ingredients for the chicken, squash, and broccoli dishes.
  5. Start the squash, leaving it to braise while you prepare the remaining dishes – check on it occasionally for doneness.
  6. Cook the rice, leaving it to finish steaming once you’ve added the beans.
  7. Finish the chicken stirfry.
  8. Finish the broccoli stirfry.
  9. While you eat dinner, warm up the soup for dessert.
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