Healthy Eating: beyond poached fish and celery sticks

I love food. I love the flavor of it, texture & aroma. I love eating. I am a self-described foodie. Wikipedia defines a foodie as "A gourmet is a person with a discriminating palate and who is knowledgeable in fine food and drink. The word is a corruption of the French word gourmet, a valet in charge of the wines. It is often used as an adjective for meals of especially high quality, whose makers or preparers have used especial effort or art in presentation or cooking the meal, or for facilities equipped for preparing such meals, such as a restaurant."

I don't know if I fall into the gourmet part of this explanation; I certainly don't waste my calories on "common foods" like candy bars or fast food. Although it has to be good, it doesn't have to be gourmet & I'm all about volume.

Why do I tell you this? Because loving food is the reason that I cook. Its the reason I got interested in nutrition in the first place. I knew that there had to be a better way of eating than just trusting my waist line to food in a box, can or restaurant. The truth is that I used to look at the food labels for Lean Cuisines or Weight watchers frozen meals and think to myself, "I can make this better, and eat more volume of food for the same number of calories."

So I really get bummed out when someone who is trying to eat healthy thinks that they are doomed to a life of eating celery & carrot sticks, water and baked fish. Lots of foods are healthy for you; its just that the "good for you" gets lost in the food preparation when we leave the preparation up to others (fast food companies, restaurants, or food manufacturers); or worse, gets abandoned for food that is appealing.

I haven't always been a good cook. You can ask my ex-husband about that one. How did I learn? I watched a lot of Food Network. Two hosts that were very influential in my culinary progress were Rachel Ray & Alton Brown.

I learned a lot about flavor pairings & ingredients that I thought were exotic (like ginger root or chilies in adobo sauce) from Rachel Ray's '30 Minute Meals'. Watching her use these ingredients over & over again allowed me to get used to them, and learn her techniques for using them. Cause you know, if someone were to just give you a ginger root, would you automatically know what to do with it? or even more important, how much to use? One thing that I really like about Rachel Ray is that she uses a lot of spices & herbs in her cooking; not only that, but she also explains what they do to the flavor & texture of the dish and suggests substitutions if you can't get the specific ingredient she's using.

When learning how to cook low calorie, nutrient dense foods flavor is the number one important factor. That's why spices and herbs are so crucial. Spices and herbs have few to no calories and have the ability to completely transform your meal into something different. For example: Pico de Gallo (chunky fresh salsa) and Bruchetta are practically the same base: chunked up fresh tomato, onion, salt & pepper. What makes them different is that Pico will have lime juice, jalapeno & cilantro where bruchetta will have garlic & basil. None of these added ingredients have a significant source of calories yet they are huge on taste. But flavor isn't the only thing to consider when we think about good food. The texture of food is almost just as important.

Alton Brown hosts a show called 'Good Eats'. What's fascinating about his show is that he explains the chemistry behind cooking and baking methods. Why is this important? well, you can have a fantastic piece of meat and a wonderful marinade, but if you cook it wrong, it could be dry or tough. And dry and tough meat isn't good eats. Is it?

I recall that years ago I loved making & eating spinach dip. In an effort to make it more "figure friendly" (to coin a Rachel Rayism) I substituted full fat mayonaise and sour cream for their non-fat versions. It tasted terrible. Not even adding more onions could the flavor be covered up. The truth is that we need some fat in our foods in order for them to taste "right". This is one reason why I typically stay away from non-fat versions of most foods. The other reason is chemicals. If you've ever looked at the ingredient list of non-fat foods, you'll notice that they are filled with chemicals & sugars. Many times although they are significantly lower in fat grams, their total calories are similar to their lower fat products. I'd rather have fat than sugar in my food. (more on that in another blog post)

As I started learning about foods and their affect on my body, I also learned that foods with a high water content were more satisfying than foods with a lower water content. Example: 10 grapes are more filling than 10 raisins. I've learned to steer away from fake foods (protein bars, baked chips, microwave meals) opting more for foods as they are found in nature. No, I'm sorry to say that there is no ho-ho tree. I am very discriminating with my food labels, choosing to purchase nothing that has more than a handful of ingredients in the ingredient list, and absolutely nothing that I can't pronounce, don't know what it is or is related to High Fructose Corn Syrup or Partially Hydrogenated Oil.

Because I am so picky about the foods I purchase & eat, I have been forced to cook my meals, and because I love to eat, I've made myself learn how to cook well. My palate has changed over the years. I imagine that in the days when I used to go to Burger King & order 2 burgers & 2 fries for $2 I probably wouldn't have liked plain yogurt with granola and a touch of honey (what I'm LOVING right now) but you never know.

I've learned to make substitutions in recipes that I see. And I think they come out pretty well. The recipes that are on my website are recipes that I eat on a regular basis. Most of my recipes are high in protein, nutrients, and volume, low in calories, and they're easy too.

A few of my favorites right now since it's cold outside are
Beef Stew which is really hearty made with a tomato base, potatos, carrots & peas
Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breasts which are elegant enough to serve to company & they'll have no idea that it's good for them
Chicken Chili
which is full of chicken & beans. Very hearty, high in fiber & little if any fat

But check out all of my recipes here and I hope you learn to enjoy cooking as much as I enjoy eating!