Sunday, April 5, 2009

Williamsburg around Midnight

One of the most popular breakfast combinations, salmon and cream cheese on a bagel, is also one of the worst foods for any time of day.

The bagel offends because it is made with highly processed, refined flour that has just about zero nutrients left to the grain after so much milling. The cream cheese offends me in a variety of ways. Barring the dairy, it's also so high in saturated fat. I have the least problem with the salmon. High in omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is a good source of a linoleic acid that has been found to have an anti-inflammatory affect on your blood, boosts your mood and makes you feel full longer. The problem with smoked fish has to do more with the high salt and carcinogens linked to the smoking technique.

So why am I spending so much time on deconstructing this combo? Friday night, I was the offender. After having seen a really fun Gomez show in Williamsburg, we were hungry. We'd passed on dinner beforehand.  

And by the time the show got out, all the local restaurants near Bedford Street were closing up shop (probably to make way for the cheesy nightclub scene that unfolds. Is that chav? Must ask husband), save the 24-hour bagel joint near the subway. 

Harking back to a time in college when we'd roll into Columbia Bagels next to the old Marlin bar on West. 115th Street, I had pretty much this order pictured above.

Only this time I ordered tofu cream cheese.

I am evolving.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I digress

This blog was created to discuss all health, fitness and nutrition news worth highlighting.

But, fingers crossed, we're about to sign a book contract this week that may take a lot of my time in the upcoming months. I'll not only be busy writing and researching but traveling a bit to get to better sources. Alas, not everything can be found in NYC!

Very exciting! 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The White House Victory Garden

This week, Michelle Obama broke ground on a project close to my heart: A White House organic "farm." I wrote about it in detail in my column, Food for Thought, on

The Obamas are not the first First Family to grow one on the White House lawn. Eleanor Roosevelt introduced the idea during WW2. Families across the country followed suit with small plots of land where they grew their own fruits and veggies to put on the household table.

Above is a neat diagram of what the new plot at the White House will look like. Alice Waters has been petitioning Presidents for years to start one but I can't imagine Laura Bush nor Hillary Clinton getting their nails dirty. And they didn't.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Exercise and cravings

I don't consider swimming as a form of exercise. 

Part of this is conditioning: growing up in an urban environment, the pools were often humid, musty places in the basements of even my local prestigious private schools.

The other reason is more emotionally charged. What if this happens?

Finally, swimming makes you fat. The very act of it keeps limbs soft and pudgy, not lean and well-defined.  A University of Florida study found that swimmers have a harder time losing weight than runners.

A recent report goes one step further. Runners have different cravings than swimmers. Runners, say the scientists, actually crave light, watery foods like fruit and have suppressed the hunger hormone, called ghrelin. Meanwhile, swimming, even in cold water, increases this nasty little hormone , plus drives a hankering for more fatty, rich, processed carbs like bread or biscuits.

So there.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Did you see 60 Minutes last night?

Me neither.

So here's a recap of the grand dame of farmer's markets:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shake it up

I'll forgive this journalist's light reporting because the facts are intriguing. We eat salt to boost our moods, say University of Iowa scientists this week. 

Even though our bodies only need about 8 grams a day, Americans crave higher intakes of the old NaCl, say researchers, because it activates a pleasure mechanism in the brain to elevate our mood.

I like this one because I am an addict to anything that triggers my happy hormones. Anything. It goes this way: life is just too short to endure or suffer through unpleasantries. And while this may suggest some destructive behaviors on my part (which I can be guilty of, but never regretful of!), it doesn't always. Sometimes my rationale to happiness can be circuitous, such as: skip the party and forgo the fun because I have to get up early tomorrow to get on a plane to take me to an even better venue (say, a Miami beach for my wedding anniversary which we're doing next month!). 

In other words, moderation for me is often regulated by my need to weigh my options to decide which is the more advantageous and make me happier in the long run.

So today, it's salt.  Husband and I are sneaking over to Esca for fish from the salty seas and we don't have a rezzy. We're celebrating a bunch of things. They're all in the works and thus not yet open to announcement. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Thank you "dal-ing"

In appreciation of all the help my cool-ass brother and his girlfriend have provided me in the last 10 days, I will prepare a dinner tonight recognizing my bro's gf's Indian heritage:

Lentil Dal c/o the January 30th New York Times. 

The accompanying photo is silly. Why are lentils piled high in what appears to be a salt shaker? I hate stagey vignettes in print or real life. By real life, I mean in homes where the residents put a bunch of knick-knacks in an arbitrary arrangement in a corner or by a window and ta-da, consider it home decor. I consider it corny.

Anyway, if the dish tastes good enough, I'll even bring a dish over to their place tonight. I'm trekking out to Brooklyn every night for the last week anyway.

This is from a girl who could count on one hand how many times she visited that borough in 2008.

(By the way, why is everything so much cheaper out there? Josh doesn't believe me when I say I pay $1.50 for 1 apple here. In Brooklyn, they're 60 cents a pound.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

60 degrees and counting

I have been remiss lately with the posts. A lot is going on (sites launching, teachers testing, doctors prescribing, friends socializing) alas so I've not been able to get to blogging here.

Still, I was able to sign up for this road race in May, called the Five Boro Bike Tour for May. It goes 42 miles through all five boroughs.

I don't get the thrill out of biking like I do running (so, for instance, yesterday I did both). But it's low-impact and gets me outside on a sunny day, all day.

Join me!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Good morning!

It may still be 18 degrees out there but Spring is here. You can see it in the light, the blue sky and the tiny crocuses I eyed breaking out of the ground in the Park today.

I'm so happy for a lot of things these days. But off the top of my head, I'd list my acceptance in this year's New York Marathon (I have an email to prove it!) as a teeny, but good one. My acceptance even includes the right to forward this acceptance to the 2010 26.2-miler should I not be able to achieve this before a big birthday this December. Awesome.

I love it when I forage on, despite initial obstacles, and win. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Nobel Cause?

I'm on the fence about the current format of Tuesday's Science section of the New York Times. It's due to a nostalgic bias: My very first memory of loving newspapers and news reporting took place when I was in fifth grade at a small, private primary school on the Upper West Side. My teacher, Mrs. Hofstedter, required that we follow a section of the New York Times for an entire month. Then we'd "analyze" the day's stories in class. I chose the Science Times back then. I have been tracking medical and science stories ever since. But instead of going into science, I grew to love reporting from this exercise.

Only these days, this section can often be confused with the paper's Wednesday's Dining section. That's because under a meta-category callled "Nutrition," the paper has decided to focus on a particular wholesome ingredient, like lentils or eggplant, and delve into which phytochemicals or vitamins one is rich in and to offer up some recipes.

I don't think the Science section should carry this kind of coverage.

Still, I saw a recent package on winter squash soups that I am excited to try. Butternut and acorn squashes, two examples, are rich in beta-carotene (cancer-fighting) and folate (good for women of child-bearing age). 

I plan to make their Pureed White Bean and Winter Squash Soup at my next dinner party.

The only one tentatively planned is with an old friend of my husband's and her husband. Indeed they are the most prestigious. I've never hosted a dinner for Nobel Prize winner. They sent us a wonderful wedding gift along with a truly thoughtful note on the state of marriage. She has a fantastic way with words. Is this an appropriate dinner choice. Or should we just go out....

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Doctor's Orders

Starting tomorrow, I can't drink wine or martinis for awhile. I begin taking some meds that require the abstinence of alcohol. The upside is the amount of calories I'll save. The downside is I'll be a little bored. 

Therefore, a trip down Memory Lane seems fitting. This video showed up in my Facebook Inbox this week. I attended this little movie's screening about a year ago. And a year prior to that, in July 2007, I spent a summer weekend at this funny, sweaty, dirty (not that kind of dirty. But sleeping in a pump tent, having just 2 Port-o-Johns and 1 outdoor shower for about a hundred people was a bit too intense for me. Who knew I was high-maintenance?) happening in the Hamptons. Anyway, around minute 6:30 and thereafter, you can see some fun footage. 

To the days of neverending parties (bug spray, optional), click play. The weekend was a salute to Leafy Living. We cooked on open pits, used foods and herbs from the Ryans' vegetable garden and in general tried to leave as little impact on the untouched land that is their property as possible.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Almighty Omega-3s

Living in a City that never sleeps means you have the opportunity to dine out every day and at all hours.

However, study after study (summarized here) shows that dining out can pack on the pounds and put you at risk of not getting your full daily requirements of essential nutrients.

So I try to balance out the nights out for events with a basic, nutrition-packed dinner at home.

For example, tomorrow night we're looking forward to a wedding engagement celebration for one of the loveliest, chicest couples I've ever known. I'm frankly happy they are tying the knot because I get to keep the husband-to-be around. I've never met any one more charming or modest or talented.

So last night, I prepared a meal high in omega-3 fatty acids, the anti-inflammatory lipids found in fresh fish primarily but also some nuts.

I started with wild Coho salmon. Wild fish is often richer in omega-3s because the stock eat plankton and not the grain-derived products that farm-raised ones get. For a fabulous summary of why we need omega-3s so badly these days (or grass-fed meat), this article sums it up. Basically, we're eating too many grains (rich in omega-6 fatty acids) for the last 40 years.

I included a mango salsa as a topper:

It includes chopped red onion, jalapeno peppers (my household loves hot food; if every bite makes me sweat, I'm satisfied) and cilantro. Unlike some friends, we clearly don't carry the gene that finds cilantro nauseating.

Finally, I made a side of quinoa. It may look like a grain and cook like a grain, but quinoa is actually an ancient dish that's more seed-like in origin than grass-like. Plus it's packed naturally with protein and essential amino acids (meaning compounds that our bodies don't naturally produce and we can only get by ingesting food). Just be sure to wash the quinoa before you cook it. This removes a bitter, natural pesticide that coats each granule.

Yummy in my Le Creuset. Voila!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What To Give A Runner

Usually, I run alone. But joining a friend in pounding the pavement is definitely a bonding experience. A running partner is a camrade, a cheerleader and competition, embodied.

Last night I attended a terrific birthday dinner for one such running partner. What do you give a fine lady who has pretty much all she really needs? New things to read, I figured. So I gave her these books.

Strides by Benjamin Cheever (Obvi. How can I not be a fan of pere Cheever, having lived in Connecticut and married to one)

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (TBT, I think he's a great writer with a complicated mind; what he finds fascinating subject matter reminds me of what a precocious boy with little experience around girls would think about. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was beautifully written; though now I think he spends too much time running and not enough time mingling.)

I was seated next to a woman who is training for a triathlon this summer. While that doesn't fit into my plans for this year, it may be a goal for 2010.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Can You Lose While You Schmooze?

Tonight, lovelies, I am attending a book party. And like holiday cocktails or a Christmas tree-trimming, author celebrations are a minefield for bad nutrition. 

Obvi, the cocktails and the trayed canapes are guilty. But even the ones I attend where there is a lack of food to soak up the alcohol is bad for my health. 

I hadn't been to many of this breed until I started dating my husband. 

Why does the my city's literati elite pride themselves on hosting parties with Champagne galore but few bites? My dear chocks it up to fashion. He grew accustomed to this manner overseas. The more well-to-do you are, the more likely you host a modest (even tightwad-like) party so not to give off airs, so it goes.

I learned this first hand one eve at the shiny, bright apartment of an acquaintance. It was organized to celebrate a guest-of-honor, here from Wales, and his new appointment. The soiree included waiters with white gloves and beaucoup de Bubbly. There were 80-plus chatterboxes who either wrote, edited, agented, or granted money on hand. But when I gestured to the one lone bowl of nuts in the room, my husband looked on the bright side (as is his nature): "At least it's not Twiglets. They are foul." Apparently, he's attended one too many parties when he lived abroad where only those Marmite novelties were served.

So for the brighter side for my plan tonight, I aim to eat before I go: If I nosh on protein before the event, I'll avoid unconscious nibbling.  So, should the fare be ever more substantial than umami-enhanced twigs, it won't matter to me.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Pork Butt: It's What's For Lunch

This afternoon, we were joined for a lunch for 10 at Momofuku Ssam Bar. It wasn't anyone's birthday or any celebratory occasion. Rather, we were all there for the bo ssam: a dish on the menu that includes a dozen raw oysters, kimchi and a whole pig butt. (By the way: this isn't the rear of pig but here).

Momofuku requests that you order this meal in advance and for parties of 8 or more. So we met with lovely Bobby and his wife Bipasha and various other journos. One was finishing up his book on Prohibition and its accompaniment, a new Ken Burns documentary; a second was here from D.C. visiting the home office (and left early to take a plane home); another was discussing his column from today, Madoff and President Carter's 1979 infamous "malaise" speech that, in fact, never included the word malaise. The point is, none of us write about food for a living which made the meal so fun and the conversations so interesting and thoughtful. You can actually enjoy the dishes without the pressure of keeping up with the critique of the expert in the room.

It was truly decadent to eat that kind of meal midday. Add to that, the fact that we're eating out again tonight. Top it with the one no-show who didn't make it to the table? Joe's girlfriend came late because she had opted for running around the Park. Priceless.

My Wish Today

I just read that gym memberships are supposed to see a 9 percent rise this year.  Right now, I don't care but wish it was like above in Central Park. S-P-R-I-NG. 

I'm tired of the treadmill and running indoors. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

Austerity Chic

That's the word from today's Wall Street Journal after a dismal aftermath to the New York fashion shows this week and the outlook for London's fashion week next. Luxury goods are not "recession-proof" as the sudden 15 percent fall this year demonstrates.

Bye-bye, over-rated bridge collections sold at the uninspiring likes of Scoop and Intermix if this trend continues (and every financial forecaster seems to say just that). That's how I read between the lines of this article. Indeed, the writers finish up their piece with a discussion beyond clothing but how "austerity chic" will affect other luxury goods, like alcohol. 

Interestingly, that's good news, scientifically speaking:

A new study published in Clinical Nutrition found that those who drank beer and red wine had improved vascular function than those who consumed white wine, whisky and even water. While the powerhouse phytochemical, resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes has been getting a lot of press lately, the fact that beer matched the effect of red wine suggests that it is not resveratrol, but another compound in both beverages, that is the cause.

And I submit that no alcoholic beverage defines a "lapse of luxury" better than a six-pack of beer.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Food Porn

Or, Why I Don't Eat Cheese or Butter

This site is too mean (and simplistic) for me.  

Nevertheless, it sure takes the fun out of greasy foods. 

And I'm going for a long run now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Java Jones

Morning coffee rituals say a lot about your household. I don't think this is a reach; In my first marriage, our home brews were never good enough. We went through dozens of high-end to low-end makers, brands of beans, a range of grindings, even types of water for brewing. But the 'jo never tasted right. 

Near the end, I would jump out of bed extra early just to run downstairs to the local cart man to get his freshly brewed cup. For some reason, the 75 cents of brown stuff boiled in the back of a truck always tasted better than the coffee we made here at home. In recollection, I can't be sure the cart guy had some special touch. But I do think there's something to be said about the general dissatisfaction: It wasn't just the coffee-making, but the union, that was never just right.

Fast forward to 2007: Was it a sign I was dating a better match when my now-hubby actually brought me down to a shoppe in the Meat Packing District to pick up a French press exactly like his? (Almost exactly; his was a slightly dinged up carafe that he bought in London). Today, we drink coffee that is consistently rich, full-bodied yet mellow, and never bitter. Make up the metaphors as you want.

And now there's another reason for a great cup of java. Specifically, four or more cups a day. A new study published today in the medical journal Circulation shows that high intake of coffee can lower a woman's risk for stroke. The researchers suggest that the reason may lie in the phytochemicals that exist in the beans; they may help improve the function of the walls of blood vessels by relaxing them. It may also be that caffeinated coffee helps lower the amount of C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) in the blood.

Either way, having a reason to not jump out of bed and out of the house each morning upon awakening can help lower a woman's stroke risk too.

An Apple A Day

Good news for my favorite breakfast eats: Six studies out of Cornell this year confirm what an old wives' tale have been touting for decades: an apple a day can keep the doctor away. Specifically, researchers from Cornell's Institute for Comparative and Environmental Toxicology have found that apples can stop breast cancer by impairing the growth of tumors. 

How? It's phytochemicals again. There are flavonoids in apple peels that are a potent antioxidant and inhibit an inflammation pathway called NFkB that cause breast cancer cells to grow.

But it's important to add that even the study author, Dr. Liu, says a lot of other fruits and vegetables also do the same job, but we eat a lot of this fruit in the U.S.. "Apples provide 33 percent" of the phytochemicals that we consume each year and that's a reason why Dr. Liu and his team centered their studies on this one (plus, it was supported in part by the U.S. Apple Association and the American Institute for Cancer Research).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Showing Us the Goods

Oh, yeah.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York today rejected a bid by a group representing 7,000 restaurants in New York City to halt the city code that now requires restaurants to post nutritional information on their food. 

The group claimed that these "calorie-disclosure rules" is unlawful. 

But masking the natural taste of a burrito (made from processed ingredients to give it a longer shelf life) with higher fat, higher calorie ingredients is fair.

Luckily, even the US FDA has backed the City's law to post nutritional information on everything from Pain Quotidien's croissants to Burger King's Whopper. 

Moreover, the losing side has stated that they probably won't appeal this ruling. This will lay the groundwork for more cities to follow the law of New York (and San Francisco and Philadelphia).

Now if we can just get some of the city's fattiest non-chain venues (say, Fatty Crab? Shake Shack? Per Se?) to show us their menus' calories (even if it's just online)...

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Midsummer Night

A recollection:

Mid-summer one Saturday evening last year, we were invited to a dinner party in Purdy's, New York. The host was a journalist who I've been reading since I was about 19 years old.  To my happy surprise on arrival: he and his wife were also locavores.

Also dubbed the 100-Mile Diet, in which a person only eats foods grown within 100 miles of their home, a locavore cuisine  promises the freshest, seasonal produce at meals. 

Except the dinner prepared at this 100-year-old impeccably renovated farmhouse was more like a menu of the 10-Feet Diet.

His very cool, lovely wife was not just a great hostess but also an expert in landscape gardening. So flanking the horse farm in the back of the house (all 100+ year-old homes seem close to the road as keeping with the integrity of the era when these homes were first built) was a huge working garden where everything from tomatoes and spinach to swiss chard, cabbage and sunflowers grew.

Plus, we were arriving at harvest time. Indeed, it was the reason why this dinner party was chosen for this particular evening: to dine with friends on the foods ready to be plucked. 

I can't express how thrilled I was by this plan. No overdone gourmand attempts at fine dining that, underneath it all, is just good food drowning in butter or "exotic" cheeses.  This meal would live up to its expectations based on the finest, fresh ingredients, lightly enhanced but never swallowed up by a sauce or a spice.
Yet, one foods not prepared for this menu yet grew wildly in the garden? The delicate zucchini flower (see above). This point was plainly pointed out by one of the other guests who explained how yummy fried zucchini flowers can be. It is a simple dish if you can get a hold of these blossoms off of a zucchini plant. Here is how this one guest suggested to make them:

"Dredge the flowers flour after dipping them in lightly beaten egg yolks. After letting the excess yolk and flour drip off, dip the flowers in a heavy pat of heated vegetable oil for about two minutes.  Then place the fried flowers to dry somewhat on a platter lined with paper towel."

This sounded like a healthier side-dish better than any French fries. And here's why: 

Like the vegetable zucchini, the best known summer squash, its flowers are high in beta-carotene and the phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, both linked to better eyesight. Furthermore, the flowers are high in folic acid, a B vitamin than we just don't get enough of in our diets. The white potato has very little, if any, of these compounds.

Perhaps it is because we were all fueled by such a fantastic dinner (the husband, I may add, cooked primarily; his wife grew the food, after all), but not a single guust was sleepy, groggy or pissy after dinner. In fact, we followed up with an impromptu guitar and singing session on the back porch. But even that was not the finale.

Rather, with a full moon's rays illuminating our path, the night concluded with a return trip  to the garden where, like kids in a candy store, we got to fill grocery bags with whatever produce we could pull or dig up from the garden. As the end of summer harvest, there was an abundance of riches out there to bring back to the City. 

So I rode back to Grand Central with my nails dirty with soil, a tummy satisfied with leafy greens, and two shopping bags of fresh radishes, kale, cabbage, tomatoes and cucumbers, roots dangling and dirt flying be damned. 

It was one of my favorite nights in the world.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peanut Gallery

Peanut butter is a staple in my home. I know it is high in fat and calories (1 tablespoon has 8 grams and 90 calories, respectively) but it is also rich in protein. I always choose the organic, salt-free, sugar-free kinds (otherwise you're consuming a huge amount of high fructose corn syrup and salt), preferring to grind it at the store myself. In my home, I'm not exaggerating when I say we go through about two jars a week. 

But if you are noticing the number of news stories about the salmonella in some peanut butters sourced from some plant in Georgia and another in Texas, you'd think our addiction to the legume is akin to a game of Russian Roulette. 

Nationwide, peanut butter sales are down 25 percent. A Congressional committee is holding a hearing about this factory's practices. There are even smoking guns: emails after salmonella-laced peanut butter harmed consumers in a Minnesota nursing home. 

My husband and I are trying our best to keep the industry afloat. Yesterday, I was informed that at our nearest market (said to be owned by designer Calvin Klein's dad?), the peanut butter has been shunned to the highest shelf, a spot formerly held for odd jars of French chestnuts or somesuch. For my husband, his addiction is derived from living nearly seven years in London. According to him, Londoners live on bad food blithely (even proudly--what kind of taste is that?). And it's not only in the restaurants (don't even get him started about the service), but in the supermarkets where, like chocolate chips, hamburger meat, vanilla extract and black beans, what they deem peanut butter is vile and disgusting. 

And why do I eat my fattening peanut butter guilt-free? Like honey and coconut water, it is an athlete's food.

1. It's protein-dense. And protein is the macronutrient that runners and other hard-core gym nuts (Ouch. No pun intended here) to help build and repair the muscles they use and depend on in every workout.

2. It's low in carbs so therefore keeps blood sugar balanced. A recent Purdue University showed that those who ate peanuts every day didn't take in more calories overall per day than those who didn't eat the legumes. Why? I think because protein is the slowest digesting macronutrient so you're full for a long time.

3. It even contains a bit of fiber. Fiber is a necessity for heart health and low cholesterol readings. We're supposed to consumer 25 grams a day. And that's a lot to rack up even if you're vigilant with your veggie intake like me. (So, how does fiber exactly keep your cholesterol down? After all, fiber moves through our digestive tract fast because we lack the enzymes to metabolize it. And if fiber never leaves your digestive tract and cholesterol exists in our blood, where do the two meet? Answer: Through our bile!  The liver makes bile, which is used to break down and digest fat in the small intestines. For some reason, bile likes to cling to fiber in the small intestines so as we "pass" fiber we also eliminate old bile. In fact, this may be one of the only ways we rid our bodies of old bile. And bile is made from triglycerides so when fiber rids our bodies of our existing amount, our liver needs to make more by using up more triglycerides--and thereby helping to lower our overall cholesterol numbers in the process.)

But last week at a dinner party (held at a fondue joint;  I don't eat dairy so don't even ask me about the food),  I learned that there is a downside to my passion for peanut butter. And it has nothing to do with a case of salmonella.  

Peanut butter has a fairly high amount of the god-awful omega-6 fatty acids. At nearly 5 g per 2 tablespoons, it's enough to make me nervous. We consume way too many omega-6s in our society--from breads, cereals, pastas, rice, any grain really--and it's the reason why we're so short on omega-3s (a society without our through-the-roof omega-6 intake wouldn't need the desperate quantity that we Westerners need today for good health). In short, our priority for omega-3s has to do with industrialization; our great-great-grandparents didn't need to eat salmon three times a week for health.

So maybe this will be the info that makes me curb my habit. My husband already tossed a bunch of Clif bars I got him to keep in his desk at work for snacks due to the fact they were on the FDA's "do not eat". I thought this was cute because I would've eaten them anyway. 

FDA Salmonella Typhimurium Outbreak 2009. Flash Player 9 is required.

But when it comes to omega-6s, he may have a point... If only the FDA restricted the quantity of omega-6s we our food supply...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Belly Up

The state of the US economy may seem like a topic that wouldn't fit a health and fitness blog. But I found two reasons this weekend to bring it up. 

1. It's personal: I'm proud for two friends, Sara Clemence and  Laura Rich who have started a semi-snarky, full-on smart blog on the NYC unemployment situation called They're both beautiful, funny, extremely intelligent journalists (Plus one's a playwright. Laura's also in my cool play-reading group and she's writing a play) who were working at Conde Nast until the end of the year. Making lemonade out of lemons, so to speak, they created a site that's getting the juice it deserves in today's New York Times business section. Not sure if they'll get a book deal out of the item but somewhere opportunity will come out of it. Besides, it looks so professional.

2. It's odd: Saturday's NYT Business section had a story straight out of a women's magazine called "Nutritional Insights on Saving Money." The intersection between well-being and money may be obvious (For example, money can't buy happiness. That's one truism). But I also think it is a waste of space for more valuable 1,200 words.  The focus: apply the advice in successful diet books to saving money. The writer's examples are slippery because he's obviously reaching to make a point that was probably better conceived as a package than it was in downright takeaway/service. A few I get:

Watch your portion size: This means don't indulge in items beyond your budget.
Keep a food diary: The corollary is writing down all you spend.
Don't beat yourself if you fail: This means that you'll sometimes have to put something on a card or see a dip (pre-2008) in your stock portfolio but don't give up. You will prevail if you keep a consistent eye on your finances.

While these are broad, useful ideas in weight control, as we all know, they don't always work and need to be individualized. After all, there are thousands of diet books out there and the weight-loss industry is a mega business. If these points were as easy to use as the author states, we'd all have a great BMI--and a stable, credit-free economy. Instead we lack both.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I Heart Running

I'm very excited for next weekend. It's a 3-dayer that falls over Valentine's Day so my husband (he has an awfully sweet, romantic nature--it's very touching really if you ever met him) has surprised me with a mini-rendezvous. I'm not flying these days so I wanted to go somewhere within driving distance. So we've settled on the North Fork. While it will be a bit warmer than going North (and not to mention, cozy, quiet and serene--ideal Valentine's Day vibes), I still have to pack running gear for wind and low temps. So here's my game plan:

1. No overdressing - Light on my luggage and guaranteed to make a 7-er pleasing, I vow to dress so I'm still chilly on the first mile. This way, I'll be just warm enough when  I begin to sweat (which is usually around mile 2.5).

2. Make it 3 - It's the magic number in 30 or below temps. Apparently perspiration dries up faster when it can transport through lighter fabrics rather than getting bogged down in one thick layer. Plus, you can always take off an outer piece of clothing if #1 ends up happening.

3. Wick it good - I'm a sucker for wickaway/fast-drying fabrics. Sure these products are synthetic and not natural (except for Smart Wool), but they definitely keep me chafe- and blister-free and don't stay wet to freeze me.

4. Tight is right - Yes, it's true. My legs and booty for some reason are getting a little leaner apparently. While I'd love this in spring, this means that extra cold air circulates between the fabric and skin when the pants are too loose. It seems those tight running pants have a role afterall.

5. Head on - In extreme(ish) weather, keeping my neck and head warm is more important than my thighs or chest. I find as long as my fingers and neck are shielded from the winds, I'm happy.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Help then Health

Is my predilection to physical activity nature or nuture? After all, I grew up in the confines of a Manhattan apartment where a trip to greener pastures was just that: a bonafide excursion where my mother would pack my brother and me up (my sibling sat in a stroller but I preferred to walk) armed with a travel bag of snacks and toys, to Central Park two blocks away. We didn't have a lawn to roam about on our own until much later, when we'd summer in Westport, Conn about five years or so later, so every opportunity in those early years to play or run was a prearranged, planned event. 

With this background, it would seem that my thirst for constant movement would boil down to nature. Yet, a brand-new study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition seems to show a different possibility. After studying over 1,300 children, aged 10 to 11 from 23 different urban schools, researchers found overall that "the greater a child's independent mobility, the more active he or she was physically."

And the thing was, even though we didn't spend that much time unfortunately in a pastoral environment, so to speak, I was always outside, walking. In gritty '70s NYC,  I barely spent anytime in the car. I was traipsing to school, walking our dog, trekking to the grocery store, museums, movie theater or to meet friends. I was constantly on the move actually, especially in summer when it was so hot in the apartments and the music from boomboxes on the streets were so loud that my mother would often walk us up and down the blocks for hours until we were too tired to stay up anymore. 

The only organizational fitness I was exposed to in the city was conveniently urban. Jumping rope, hopscotch or kickball were the norm. But I also preferred yoga. In my untraditional, experimental private elementary school called Walden, our kindergarten and first grade teachers would often have us meditate and do yoga for fitness. Sometimes, when I'd come home, I'd get into the Lotus position, explaining to my mother that I was doing "yoga for help." And though I am sure now that I had this wrong, the teacher was saying "health," not "help," I think a part of me still loves the helping, not healthful, benefits of fitness the most.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The French and Their Food

I met a tall, svelte Parisian literary agent on Friday night. She represents the books of various living French philosophers and political writers so you'd imagine we'd have talked more about Foucault than food. But the French as the cliche go, do love gastronomy so the woman and I quickly bonded over food choices that people make in America. 

Her point: Americans always ask her how she stays so slim and she points to the American diet as the reason for our collective weight gain. You see, her husband who stood just a few feet away is from the Midwest, I learned, and so she's pretty familiar with what I'm assuming is heavy on the cheese, processed breads and sausages.

But wait, isn't brie, let's say, a baguette and charcuterie pretty much the foods? Why would the sausage in Madison, WI be any different than in Nice? One reason, she theorized, was that Americans love to snack. In fact, she was once a participant in a Marie Claire article where she swapped diets with an American girl and then they weighed in. (I'm presuming this article came out around the same time French Women Don't Get Fat became a hit diet book). The result? The French literary agent gained 5 lbs. while the American girl lost 5 on a French menu. "I would hold my stomach with disgust every time my husband reminded me that I had snack AGAIN. I wasn't hungry at all."

I am not convinced this is the only reason. After all, I remember a New Yorker article by Adam Gopnick once that walked through his wife's pregnancy in Paris only because she was told to avoid lettuce -- a food American pregnant women would never find on their "avoid" list. Perhaps it is the high-fructose corn syrup in our bread starters (yes. this is true in the majority) that makes our baguettes less wholesome than theirs? And perhaps it is the quality of the livestock's diets that make our cheese and sausage that make it less filling and hormonal havoc-wreaking than the French counterpart?

Or perhaps, it's something else. After all, this literary agent kept popping out of the bar to have a cigarette. And that's one diet aid that perhaps Americans are thankfully getting out of our systems.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Chocolate Diet: A Sweet Spot in Budget-Conscious Times

In these stressful economic times, people seem to be cutting corners on their nutrition. McDonald's has reported strong fourth-quarter results in 2008 and alas, are opening another 650 franchises in 2009. When one Big Mac consists of more than a day's worth of fat and sodium intake, you can see how worrisome this news can be.

But another food area that appears to be booming has more promise. Chocolate sales are rising. While there is some dispute over which areas of the industry (inexpensive bars or premium chocolate) are rocking out, fingers crossed that it is the dark chocolate that will win out. If chocolate is 70 percent cacao or higher, you're actually helping your heart--and possibly your waist line! Here's why:

Chocolate is basically derived from beans of cacao trees so they're plant-based just like broccoli and squash. This means they're full of fiber, health-promoting antioxidants and other promising natural compounds.

These antioxidants, called flavanols, hold a huge array of health benefits. For example, a recent Hypertension journal article found that chocolate's flavanols may help regulate blood sugar production--preventing the spikes that can cause overeating. In addition, the fiber-rich dark chocolate can actually make you feel satiated as long as a small apple.

Chocolate's flavanols also seem to increase circulation, according to Dr. Ralph Felder, author of The Bonus Years Diet. Better blood flow means increased circulation to the brain to keep you alert. It also gives us a younger complexion because an increased blood flow boosts collagen levels to thwart the production of wrinkle-causing free radicals. Finally, it deters artery-clogging clots that can cause heart attacks.

The dark stuff also seems to have feel-good chemicals. Neuroscientists at the University of California found that chocolate contains a chemical called anandamides that give us an ego boost and more self-confident.

Finally, chocolate also has the healthful MUFA (monounsaturated fat) like olive oil. This means that all those studies that are showing how trimming the Mediterranean diet is for our tummies includes the nutrients of dark chocolate.

Just make sure you stick to the darkest kinds for guilt-free snacking. They're way less processed than lighter chocolates and have none of the fattening dairy that milk chocolate is rich in.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What Does an Athlete's Body Look Like?

Awkward gym moment: I jump into a seemingly generic Body Sculpt class the other day at my club. I take a cue from the other participants and grab a bevy of gear (a step, 1 pair of 3 lb dumbbells, a body bar and a mat) that I figure we're using in the class. I follow the teacher's regimen (dead lifts, push-ups, squats, bicep curls, etc.) to a T, yet it seems like he's paying extra attention to me as if I'm doing the exercises wrong. He's fussing with my form, lifting an elbow or pressing on my deltoids.

So I try harder and man, I start to sweat. Next to up the cardio, he directs us all to leave the studio, run down and back up the 4 flights of stairs to the room.  And it's upon my return that he confronts me at the doorway with a heavier body bar and says, "Unless you're wearing hot-pink underwear, you should be using a heavier one." What I want to say is: "I tend to develop muscles easily so I think lighter weights and more repetitions make me leaner than the heavier weights. And wha... about my panties?" But when a 6'4" teacher is talking about mine and pushing a pole in my face, I forget all of this. 

Afterwards, Instructor comes over to me and ask my name. Then he starts asking me how long I've gone to that gym. Then he asks what kind of workouts I do. It's all awkward, I admit, but also makes me curious. "I run and do Pilates most," I say. "But what does it look like I do?" "You look like you swim," says Instructor after a once-over. "Actually, you just look like an athlete."

Sexual harassment aside, this makes me smile. What does an athlete's body look like? Is it Kara Goucher's? Venus Williams? Or does an athletic female's physique also include J.Lo's? She recently finished a triathalon--something I haven't accomplished. Yet. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Catherine's Fishy Diet

Catherine Zeta Jones looks skinnier than ever these days. Maybe I'll have what she's having:

When the 38-year-old Welsh-born actress is craving the fish-and-chips she grew up on, she piles slices of smoked-salmon on black bread and tops it with as many crushed potato chips as she can make in a sandwich. "No mayo or cream cheese," she told The Little Black Book of Hollywood Diet Secrets. "I promise you--it's delicious!"

But the real secret to this diet tip is remembering to indulge in your favorite foods smartly. Abstaining completely from the salty or sweet snacks you love most is a recipe--for diet disaster. Go Catherine!

Crumby Fitness

Even in the dead of winter when the temperature barely goes above 30 degrees and running outside is a near impossibility for me, I still think running on a treadmill in your own home is like eating in bed--crumby. 

I don't care how convenient it may appear to have a huge, heavy piece of workout equipment steps away. The act of getting up and going to a separate place or environment is an important aspect of motivation. Who wants to be reminded 24/7 that they're not working out? And carving a special time and place to run (or for that matter eat) is a vital part of positive conditioning. For a long time, studies have shown that people who eat on the run (or for that matter, in bed!) consume more calories than those who sit at a proper tablesetting. Now an Annals of Behavioral Medicine study has shown that those who own home gyms workout 12 percent less often than those go to a club.

Don't get me wrong. I do have some beloved fitness items at home. Granted these are more for rehab than waist-reduction, but here are my top 3:

1. My Sacrowedgy: For anyone who gets lower back pain or hip stiffness like me, this hot-pink plastic wedge is better than any NSAID. Just lie on the triangular pad with it placed at the base of your spine for 20 minutes and in no time, your hips are open and relaxed. Just support your back and hips by tightening your abs when you get up from it. This passive stretch releases your muscles farther than you think and you don't want to tweak anything when you're too loose.

2. My Stick: Save $95 on a sports massage and rub out those knots yourself with this surprisingly effective apparatus. Tight muscles are the recipe for injury and nothing sucks more than the will to workout--but a pulled muscle to prevent you. This slightly bendable stick has moveable rings on it that loosen up knots and tight muscle areas quickly. My IT band has thanked me for it.

3. My Foam Roller: It looks like a flotation device but really this roller can serve a few different purposes. You can roll on it like The Stick. By applying gentle pressure to certain irritated muscles, it offers "myofascial release" and makes muscles more pliable again. Or, you can just lie on it to stretch your back and neck muscles. This is my favorite passive stretch on the roller. Just make sure your head and lower spine are aligned on the roller and then splay your legs and arms over the sides. After a hard day at work or a hard run, nothing feels closer to floating on air than the foam roller. (Maybe there is something to the "flotation" analogy after all)....

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cuckoo for Coconuts

For the record, I don't care about her on-off affair with John Mayer, her fertility or how "uncool" she thinks Angelina is. But what I am here to dissect are Jennifer Aniston's amazing abs. Her diet has a lot to do with keeping her body weight down. But now I've been hearing that she's been also cooking a lot with metabolism-boosting coconut oil to keep her BMI so low.

Cherie Calbom, the author The Coconut Diet, has been rocking the hard sell of these hard shelled tropical nuts for years. And to be honest, I'm not exactly sure of the validity of the science behind the claim that coconut oil is good for your waist line. Though a saturated fat, the fatty acids in the oil are "medium" chain molecules so they don't have the same effect on our triglycerides and cholesterol as bad transfats. Okay, fine; they are safe for your heart.  But good for a diet? I can only make the leap that they're just like MUFAs (e.g. olive oil) and just digest slowly in your stomach so they keep you full for longer...

But while we're on coconuts, here's a product that's totally work a second look: Coconut WATER. It has a light, refreshing taste and is so chockful of potassium that it apparently hydrates more efficiently than Gatorade. For me, after a hard workout, I find it as satisfying as any sugary drink that replenishes electrolytes--but in far less calories. Now that's a product I can believe in.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Footwear Fabulous

Trust us. These boots aren't really that f-ugly. Besides, after you overcome their aesthetic challenge and hefty-ish price, you'll love how they blend fashion with fitness. How? They're MBTs, a brand of shoe that mimics the effect of walking barefoot on sand or any other unstable surface has on your abs, posture and booty. In other words, they basically work on the same principles as other balancing gear like the Bosu. But since these shoes come in a variety of styles, from sports to professional (like above), you can sneak in extra toning time while you're doing your errands or at work. 

Gold Standard?

The Gold's Gym on West 54th Street used to be one of the best kept gym secrets of Midtown West residents. It's just about open at all hours (unlike the local Equinox that's closed on Sunday. Why? Why?) and filled with members who are seriously invested in their bodies (think actors, models, strippers). And clientele like that can always help inspire a lagging workout. But these two problems above are hard to ignore:

Exhibit A: Don't all gyms have steam rooms closed by the Board of Health for 8 months or so?

Exhibit B: There's the never-ending construction... and the day workers who love to ogle while you're climbing the elliptical trainers. Yuck.

So I'm thinking these warrant a breakup with Gold's?