Just in Time for the Holidays Table Manners & First Impressions

January 15, 2015  
Filed under Food

Etiquette is all about learning proper social skills — from how to make first impressions in interviews and during social events, to graceful dining habits that are vital signposts to success in today’s very competitive business environment,” says Fiona Cameron-Williams, International Protocol Consultant to the United Nations International School in Queens, NY, and President of FCW Hospitality and Private Residence Consulting, Inc.

Cameron-Williams believes that table manners play an important part in making a favorable impression, be it at a business meeting, on a first date or during a social gathering. “They are visible signals of the state of our manners and therefore are essential to personal and professional success. The point of etiquette rules is to make you feel comfortable, not uncomfortable.”

Here are some suggestions:
Simple table manners
Pass food from the left to the right. Do not stretch across the table, crossing other guests, to reach food or condiments.
If asked for the salt or pepper, pass both together, even if a table mate asks for only one of them. This is so dinner guests won’t have to search for orphaned shakers.
Set any passed item, whether it’s the salt and pepper shakers, a bread basket or a butter plate, directly on the table instead of passing hand-to-hand.
Never intercept a pass. Snagging a roll out of the bread basket or taking a shake of salt when it is en route to someone else is a no-no.
Always use serving utensils to serve yourself, not your personal silverware.
In a restaurant
As soon as you are seated, remove the napkin from your place setting, unfold it and put it in your lap. Do not shake it open. At some very formal restaurants, the waiter may do this for the diners, but it is not inappropriate to place your own napkin in your lap, even when this is the case.
The napkin rests on the lap till the end of the meal. Don’t clean the cutlery or wipe your face with the napkin. NEVER use it to wipe your nose!
If you excuse yourself from the table, loosely fold the napkin and place it to the left or right of your plate. Do not refold your napkin or wad it up on the table either. Never place your napkin on your chair.
At the end of the meal, leave the napkin semi-folded at the left side of the place setting. It should not be crumpled or twisted; nor should it be folded. The napkin must also not be left on the chair.

At a private dinner party
The meal begins when the host or hostess unfolds his or her napkin. This is your signal to do the same. Place your napkin on your lap, completely unfolded if it is a small luncheon napkin or in half, lengthwise, if it is a large dinner napkin.Do not shake it open.
The napkin rests on the lap till the end of the meal.
The host will signal the end of the meal by placing his or her napkin on the table. Once the meal is over, you too should place your napkin neatly on the table to the left of your dinner plate.
For more etiquette suggestions and information, visit www.fionacameron-williams.com.

Fit to eat: Fruits & Vegetables— Do You Wash Them or Not?

December 1, 2014  
Filed under Food, Places I’ve Played

Stuart-Offer---Headshot-CMYK

By Dr. Stuart Offer

My wife Leslie and I are traveling around the U.S. in our motorhome. Recently, we spent a wonderful day at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Wash. The market was enormous with indoor and outside displays of every imaginable food. There were numerous fruit and vegetable stalls selling their produce, some of which was in the form of cut fruit sold in cups and fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. My first impression was “Wow, what a beautiful and healthy display of foods.” However, knowing what I know I also had the thought, “Does the public know of the dirty little secret about fresh produce that could make you sick or even kill you, and yes even from organically grown produce?”

The dirty secret — much of this produce can be contaminated.

So, should you wash your produce? The short answer is an absolute yes. Let’s face it nobody likes to get a mouthful of sand and grit when eating a salad, however there are many more reasons to wash your produce than this. Many of us may just carry on the traditions that our families did from the past, washing or not washing. For those who never wash, here is some information that may make you reconsider.

There are three reasons to wash your produce: contamination from soil; microbes; and pesticides. As I said, no one likes biting into a gritty salad, and the problems connected with microbe-contaminated produce have been well publicized. Pesticides are designed to be toxic and their effects on people are well understood, so it’s best to avoid them when you can.

Federal health officials estimate that nearly 48 million people are sickened by food contaminated with harmful germs each year, and some of the causes might surprise you. Although most people know animal products must be handled carefully to prevent illness, many don’t realize that produce can also be the culprit in outbreaks of foodborne illness. In recent years, the United States has had several large outbreaks of illness caused by contaminated fruits and vegetables including spinach, tomatoes and lettuce.

Fresh produce can become contaminated in many ways. During the growing phase, fruits and veggies may be contaminated by animals, harmful substances in the soil or water or poor hygiene among workers. After produce is harvested, it passes through many hands, increasing the contamination risk. Contamination can even occur after the produce has been purchased, during food preparation or through inadequate storage.

The FDA has some very good guidelines and recommendations when it comes to produce. Here is what they recommend: 

Buying Tips

Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.

When selecting fresh-cut produce such as half a watermelon or bagged salad greens, choose items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.

Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products.

Storage Tips

Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms) in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below.

Refrigerate all produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled.

Preparation Tips

Begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.

Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce that looks rotten should be discarded. The bruised and damaged areas are where bacteria thrive. 

All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. The more water the better here. 

Many precut, bagged produce items like lettuce are pre-washed. If the package indicates that the contents have been pre-washed, you can use the produce without further washing.

Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first. For instance, if your melon has bacteria on the outside of it and you do not wash it, then cutting into the melon will introduce the germs into the flesh of the fruit. 

Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended. The effectiveness of detergents and commercial products have not been proven and can leave residue on the produce. Yuck, who wants detergent on their strawberries?

Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. 

Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce bacteria that may be present.

Also, keep in mind that packaged fruit and vegetable juices are required to be pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. Farm stand and cider mills that sell fresh juice by the glass are not required to be pasteurized or have a warning label. Also, make sure that fresh cut fruit, such as melon, is stored under 40 degrees or packed on ice. The FDA has recommended the young, elderly or people with weakened immune systems avoid any unpasteurized juices or cut fruit that has not been stored properly. 

One final piece of advice ­ be diverse. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This is not only nutritionally beneficial but may help limit exposure to any one type of pesticide residue.

Fit to Eat: Don’t Cook for Two

September 18, 2014  
Filed under Food

By Dr. Stuart Offer
For many years, I have traveled to all corners of Vermont coaching and teaching people about nutrition. The area from which I get the most requests for help is meal planning.
I love cookbooks and over the last few years I have seen many new books appear with names such as “The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook” and “Cooking for Two.” Personally, I think these books are the worst idea when it comes to meal planning and cooking for busy people, and who these days is not busy?
Instead, let’s talk about the benefits of cooking for four, even six, (let’s call it “cooking large”) when there are only two of you, maybe only one of you.
I love to cook, but I don’t love cooking seven nights a week. I feel a better idea is cooking once, then using the food to create a few meals from the leftovers. This way, I don’t feel so much pressure when I want to make a masterpiece dinner because I know I will get more mileage out of it.
I often cook and prepare one or two big meals per week that will later need only small amounts of put-together time for the remaining meals that week.
My wife Leslie and I are Kansas City certified BBQ judges — we travel to judge-sanctioned BBQ competitions. That being said, I enjoy grilling and barbequing big time. I love to cook massive amounts of food on my grill that I can eat all week long.
One of the big advantages when I cook large is I can shop once, often taking advantage of sales and specials, and prep and clean up once instead of multiple times. Although there is nothing like meat on the grill, veggies and fruit are some of my favorite foods to grill at very high temperatures and eat as leftovers. High heat from the grill will carmelize the sugars in the fruits and veggies (yes, even veggies) and give it a very unique and delicious flavor compared to cooking at lower temperatures.
I come from the school of thought that any grilled veggie can benefit from some salt, pepper and granulated garlic. I also believe any fruit cooked on the grill is better with a little sugar and cinnamon. Below is my favorite ratio of salt, pepper and garlic for veggies, as well as cinnamon sugar.
What I love about grilling produce is it is so easy. There is really no recipe, just a procedure that works for everything. I preheat my grill until screaming hot, then I coat each side of the food with a favorite cooking oil, sprinkle with a light coat of seasoning and grill for two to three minutes per side – the length of time will vary based on whether you like things softer (cook longer) or crunchier (cook shorter). Usually everything is done when you get grill marks on each side.
My favorite things to cook: corn on the cob (husk the corn and grill it naked); zucchini; yellow squash and onions cut in ¼ inch slices. Other favorites are cauliflower cut into ½ inch “steaks,” tomatoes, peppers of any type from sweet to spicy (cut these into large pieces so they lay flat) and avocado (cut in half, remove pit and grill the cut side down with the skin on then spoon out the flesh). Fruits include any stone fruit (peaches are my favorite), fresh pineapple and banana (cut banana in half the long way, coat cut side with cinnamon sugar and grill on both side until grill marks form). These fruits make a wonderful dessert, with a little low fat ice cream or in any savory dishes.
Once you have a pile of these, they can be used either at room temperature or warmed up. For the follow-up meals, try putting them into a salad, fill a sandwich, or think tacos and egg dishes such as scrambles or frittatas —great for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
As you know, I am always trying to get you to eat more fruits and veggies, so here is a great way to make that happen. By the way, this also works for meat, poultry and seafood.
Garlic Pepper Salt
1 cup salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup garlic powder
Cinnamon-Sugar Blend
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Below is an incredibly simple dish that can be made in minutes for breakfast, lunch or dinner
Dr. Stuart Offer is a Vermont health coach and educator currently traveling throughout North America.

Al Fresco Summer Dining in Vermont

August 6, 2014  
Filed under Food

August 2014

By Phyl Newbeck

Summer in Vermont is fleeting so you’ll want to maximize your time in the great outdoors. One way to do that to go on a picnic! Whether it’s an afternoon on the beach, a hike to a scenic overlook, a family get-together or an evening at an outdoor concert, food just tastes better when it’s spread out on a blanket or a picnic table. Enjoy the summer. Dine out while you can!

If you know you’re going use a picnic table, you might want to bring an old plastic-coated cloth that’s easy to wipe down. That way you don’t have to worry about what previous guests – or seagulls – have left on the table. If you’re planning on staying at ground level, a good blanket will provide a little separation between you and the grass or sand. For an outdoor concert, you may want to bring a light, portable chair, but recognize that many venues ask those with taller chairs to sit in the back so they don’t block the views of others.

It’s beautiful outside,but you’re likely to be sharing your space with a few flying creatures, some of whom may think that you are the perfect picnic meal. Mosquitoes are fiercest in the early morning and late evening. Citronella candles can be very romantic, but you won’t want to carry them for long distances so bug repellent is probably something you should think about. For daytime picnics, you’ll also want to remember your sunscreen.

Glass containers aren’t recommended since they’re fragile, but if you do bring along some Chardonnay, don’t forget a bottle opener.

The length of your trip to the picnic site will obviously impact how much or how little you bring. If you’re not going far, a cooler will ensure that food doesn’t spoil and drinks stay cold. A hard-covered cooler has the advantage of doubling as a small table. If you’ve got farther to go, a big knapsack or Adirondack pack basket will do the trick. It’s best to avoid plastic bags unless you enjoy spending your time chasing after them as the wind blows them hither and yon.

Katherine Vanderminden of Village Roots Catering in Pawlet thinks a cold quinoa salad with roasted vegetables and maple balsamic is a perfect picnic dish for a day at the lake. She also favors homemade hummus or black bean dip with vegetable sticks and low salt corn chips. For longer treks, she likes to make venison jerky and will also pre-cut fruit for a healthier snack. Vanderminden cautions picnickers to avoid pasta salads, which dry out quickly, and mayonnaise based salads, which can spoil in the sun and heat.

It’s always safest to pack soft food like fruit or dessert in separate plastic containers. For sandwiches, there is reusable packaging made of cloth with one waxy side for the food and a Velcro clasp to cut down on the use of plastic bags and aluminum foil. One tip for avoiding soggy sandwiches is to put the driest material like meat or cheese closest to the bread with the lettuce and tomatoes in the center. If possible, buy sturdy, re-usable plastic utensils since lighter ones are more likely to break.

Not surprisingly, Director of Vermont State Parks Craig Whipple considers state parks ideal locations for picnics. A tab on the State Parks website even provides a list of prime locations. Whipple suggests the top of Mt. Philo as a great place to spread out a blanket and dine al fresco, but notes that many people prefer the shores of various ponds, lakes and reservoirs. Some parks have sheltered areas which are ideal for large groups of people and convenient for getting out of the weather.

FIT TO EAT: Food and Fractures

June 19, 2014  
Filed under Food

By Dr. Stuart Offer

Osteoporosis is a condition in which your bones are too porous and thin, making them weak, brittle and easier to fracture. According to the national Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), 10 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis. Another 34 million people are at risk for the condition. Osteoporosis will cause about one half of all women over age 50 to break a bone at some point in their lifetime. One-third of those who suffer hip fractures will require nursing home care, and one-fifth will die in the first year after the fracture. Men — don’t stop reading! Although not as large a problem for you, you too are at risk, just a slightly lower risk.

Needed Nutrients

Your bones need a healthy mix of nutrients to prevent osteoporosis. The good news is this may be as simple as swapping out a few things you are eating too much of and switching to some other things. Osteoporosis and the associated fractures have been shown to be preventable with the proper diet and weight bearing exercise. Muscle loss and balance also become worse as we age, so we have a greater risk of falls.

Your first line of defense against osteoporosis is adequate calcium and Vitamin D intake. However, the story does not stop there. The acid base balance of your diet is a very important factor as well. Acid in the bloodstream causes the breakdown and loss of not only bone, but muscle too. Acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, do not cause the problem. It is the acidity resulting from the metabolic breakdown of certain foods. The foods that turn your bloodstream more acidic are grains, like bread, cereals, rice, pasta, crackers, tortillas, cookies, doughnuts, cupcakes and similar foods. When these foods are metabolized, they release sulfuric and other acids into the bloodstream. These grains are also contributing to the increasing overweight and obesity issues of so many Americans.

In contrast, fruits and vegetables get broken down into bicarbonate when they are metabolized, so they add alkali to the body, and this helps neutralize acid. So when your diet is relatively low in fruits and vegetables compared to grains, it is a net acid-producing diet. Protein from animal sources also produces more acidity than does protein from plant sources such as beans and legumes.

Most of you have heard you need calcium for strong bones. Again this is only part of the story. Getting enough calcium is not sufficient, you also need adequate amounts of Vitamin D, which is essential for the absorption of calcium and improves not only bone strength, but muscle strength in our legs as well, lowering the risk of falls and lowering the risk of a fracture if you do fall. Most people, especially in northern climates, get too little Vitamin D. The most important source of Vitamin D is sun exposure, which increases the body’s production of the vitamin. There is very little Vitamin D in the foods we eat, so this is one area where a supplement may be needed. Sources of Vitamin D can be found in salmon and other fatty fish, fortified milk and other fortified food products.

There’s been some confusion about the best strategy for getting enough calcium, and many experts have had second thoughts about the rush to calcium supplements (see related story page 17). As with all vitamins and minerals, you should try to get most of your calcium through your diet. Over the past few years, some controversy has surfaced regarding issues and risks with consuming dairy, however there is one thing for sure, dairy is high in calcium. Other good sources of calcium include kale, broccoli, sardines, soybeans and black-eyed peas.

Weight bearing exercise

Weight bearing exercise is critical for improving and preventing osteoporosis. Walking is a perfect activity. Your body weight will help stimulate bone growth. If you are working out at a gym, choose a machine such an elliptical or treadmill preferably to a bicycle, where you will be sitting. Salt is also an enemy because it causes calcium leaching and bone loss. For optimum bone health, you should also get adequate amounts of magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and Vitamin K.

As I have said many times, there is no better strategy for overall good health, as well as strong bones, than eating a wide and varied selection of fruits and vegetables. These should amount to at least 50 percent of the calories you consume. Osteoporosis is another reason to cut back on all of those unhealthy, overweight-producing grains.

Here is a super healthy recipe with all the “right stuff.” Kale is the shining star here.

 

Pan-Seared Salmon with Kale & Apple Salad

Ingredients

Four 5-ounce center-cut salmon fillets (about 1-inch thick)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

1 bunch kale, ribs removed, leaves very thinly sliced (about 6 cups)

1/4 cup dates

1 honey crisp apple or apple of your choice

1/4 cup finely grated pecorino

3 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds

Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Bring the salmon to room temperature 10 minutes before cooking.

Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add the kale, toss to coat and let stand 10 minutes.

While the kale stands, cut the dates into thin slivers and the apple into matchsticks. Add the dates, apples, cheese and almonds to the kale. Season with pepper, toss well and set aside.

Sprinkle the salmon all over with 1/2 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Raise the heat to medium-high. Place the salmon, skin-side up in the pan. Cook until golden brown on one side, about 4 minutes. Turn the fish over with a spatula, and cook until it feels firm to the touch, about 3 minutes more.

Divide the salmon and salad evenly among four plates.

Cheers for the Health Benefits of Red Wine

May 15, 2014  
Filed under Food

By Dr. Stuart Offer

There are times I think people view me as the “food police.” Mostly, I get this impression when someone sees me at the supermarket and they abruptly turn their shopping cart and head in the opposite direction. Sometimes when I meet people in the supermarket, the first thing they say is “look I have healthy food in there.”

I am not the food police, really, and nothing could be further from the truth. My reality is I eat mostly healthy food, but I also eat my fair share of not so healthy food. I like to follow the 80/20 rule, if I am lucky the 90/10 rule. Eat 80 percent healthy food, and take it easy on myself for 20 percent of the time. This 20 percent allows me to stay motivated for the remainder of the time. That being said, I want to tell you about the health benefits of something you will have no problem wanting to consume — red wine. There is no badge needed to enforce this recommendation.

Red wine has been shown to have some amazing health benefits, but before you go out and buy a few cases, let me first tell you what a healthy dose of wine is. If you already drink red wine, do so in moderation and it is recommended that if you don’t drink, do not start for the health benefits alone. According to “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010,” published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation for healthy adults, which means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65 and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.”

The limit for men is higher because men generally weigh more and have more of an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol than women do. A drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters, or mL) of beer, 5 ounces (148 mL) of wine or 1.5 ounces (44 mL) of 80-proof distilled spirits. If you drink too much, you will not attain all of the health benefits and could end up with potential health problems instead.

Red wine has many healthy components such as polyphenols and procyanidins, but the shining star of red wine is a chemical called resveratrol, which contributes to many of the health benefits. Many drinks and foods have resveratrol, red wine just has more of it. The following plants and drinks are rich in resveratrol: red wine; grapes; blueberries; raspberries; bilberries and peanuts.

Resveratrol is a compound found in some plants. Plants produce resveratrol to fight off bacteria and fungi. Resveratrol also protects plants from ultraviolet irradiation. Red wine contains more resveratrol than white wine because it is fermented with the skins (white wine is not). Most of the resveratrol in grapes is in the seeds and skin. The positive effects of these chemicals are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and they also reduce the stickiness of blood platelets, raise our omega-3 fatty acids and improve certain healthy enzymes.

As you may be aware, red wine has been widely publicized for its heart-healthy benefits, however the more I dove in to the research, the more I learned that red wine’s health benefits go far beyond the heart. It may surprise you that red wine can reduce the risk of depression and prevent colon cancer (by reducing the rate of bowel tumors by approximately 50 percent). Red wine also has anti-aging properties as seen in the longer life spans enjoyed by the people in Sardinia and southwest France. A team from Loyola Medical Center found that moderate red wine intake can reduce the risk of developing dementia. The investigators explained that resveratrol reduces the stickiness of blood platelets, which helps keep the blood vessels open and flexible. This helps maintain a good blood supply to the brain.

Red wine can reduce the risk and help prevent blinding diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness among Americans age 50 and older. These diseases are caused by an overgrowth of blood vessels (angiogenesis) in the eye. Red wine can stop the out-of-control blood vessel growth in the eye that causes blindness.

Red wine also offers protection from prostate cancer. Moderate drinkers experienced a 6 percent reduced risk. Finally, red wine may have some benefits for insulin sensitivity, helping to prevent type 2 diabetes. Red wine may protect the brain after a stroke, improve lung function and help with preventing lung cancer.

That is quite an impressive list. Red wine has not been my go to libation of choice, however after writing this article, I may just rethink that. By the way, if you are thinking of resveratrol supplements, don’t bother. Research finds supplements do not have the same value as drinking red wine.

Dr. Stuart Offer is a Vermont health coach and educator currently traveling throughout North America.


Lentil stew with oranges

The flavors of this lentil dish are brightened with citrus, then deepened with Pinot Noir (a great way to use up any left over wine)

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 ounces Spanish chorizo sausage, thinly sliced (low fat is best or other sausage of your choice)

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 1/4 cups brown lentils, washed and drained

1 cup dry red wine, such as Pinot Noir

2 1/2 cups chicken broth

5 small oranges

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup chopped fresh dill

Directions

1. Heat the oil in a large, deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook for 5 minutes or until just browned on both sides. Remove from pan; set aside.

2. Sauté the onion over medium heat for 5 minutes or until soft. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the lentils and cook over high heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine and simmer until almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add the broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 40 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are quite tender.

3. Meanwhile, squeeze the juice from 2 of the oranges. Remove the peel and pith from the remaining oranges and slice the flesh into 1/4-inch rounds. Add the chorizo to the lentils and stir in the orange juice. Season with the salt and pepper. Remove from heat and gently fold in the dill and orange rounds.

Tip: This stew can be served cold, too. Combine leftovers with fresh greens for a healthy lunch. To save time, you can substitute 1/2 cup store-bought orange juice for the freshly squeezed.

FIT TO EAT: Manage Your Food, Manage Your Energy

April 9, 2014  
Filed under Food

By Dr. Stuart Offer

There is an energy crisis in the USA. I am not talking about oil and gas, I am talking about human energy. This is the energy needed to wake up in the morning refreshed, get through your work or play day and get home without feeling burned out and exhausted.

Having great energy means being able to maintain a comfortable level of energy throughout the day without having your energy level “rollercoaster,” going through wide swings of big highs only to be followed shortly after with equally dramatic crashes. Having great energy is also being able to call on short bursts of high energy during a crisis without exhausting all of your energy reserves.

One of the best ways to manage your energy is to manage your body’s blood sugar. If you have Type-1 or Type-2 diabetes, you are all too familiar with blood sugar. If you do not have diabetes, this could be new information. Your blood sugar is simply how much sugar is contained in your blood vessels. Our body likes to have a medium level of blood sugar to feel best and too much or too little will have negative effects.

The foods that have the most negative effects on our blood sugar level are those with added sugars of any type, or eating refined grains, such as non-whole grain wheat, white rice, white pasta, etc. Refined grains are called fast carbs because they are digested very rapidly, converted to sugars and then quickly absorbed into your blood vessels. High blood sugar can make you feel energetic, awake and pretty good for a very short time. However, this comes at a stiff price in the dreaded quick blood sugar crash. Just as a temperature thermostat in your house works to control the room temperature by turning on the air conditioning when the temps get high, your pancreas does something similar to control your blood sugar. When the pancreas senses a rapid rise in blood sugar, it will over-release the hormone insulin, causing an equally quick and severe crash in your blood sugar.

Low blood sugar has a number of negative effects on you. When your blood sugar is low, your body instinctively thinks food is scarce and in response releases other hormones. Two of these hormones are glucagon, the hormone that gives you a strong hunger drive, and cortisol, your primary stress hormone (think fight or flight). The end result is that you feel sluggish, moody, irritable, agitated, jittery, hungry and generally stressed out. These types of feelings are not helpful when you need to get things done and deal with people and demanding situations. The time frame from blood sugar peak to valley is about 1.5 to 2 hours. When in a blood sugar low, we often grab the first thing we see to eat, usually some sugary drink, refined carb snack such as a donut, bagel, snack bar or meal such as pasta — repeating the same cycle all day long.

What I have described for you is what makes up a typical American’s eating plan. At the end of the day, this type of eating takes more energy out of you than it puts into you. The way to avoid and make this better is to eat foods that maintain an even, slow release of sugars over a long period of time, four to five hours. The best way to do this is to eat whole grains and to avoid as much added sugars as possible. In addition, eating protein and or fiber with meals and snacks will slow down the absorption of sugars. If you feel like something sweet, try a fruit. Although high in sugar, the fiber will slow down the absorption of sugar.

Another common issue I see that puts you on a blood sugar rollercoaster is skipping meals. Often people skip breakfast thinking this is a good way to lose some weight. This strategy backfires in a number of ways. First, you maintain a low blood sugar state for a long period of time, making you feel cranky and hungry. Next, it will slow your metabolism, allowing your body to burn even fewer calories. If you just need to have something sweet, try a low calorie sweetener. I have found xylitol with the brand name Xyla to be the healthiest and best tasting low calorie sweetener. Xylitol will not raise your blood sugar and release insulin.

When nutritionists talk about anti-aging foods, they’re referring to foods that help prevent conditions such as osteoporosis, inflammation and cancer. This smoothie is loaded with long-term-health boosters. The berries and green tea are potent sources of antioxidants, and the ground flaxseed is full of inflammation-fighting omega-3s. It also contains yogurt, a source of bone-strengthening calcium and immune-supporting probiotics. Blend it for breakfast, and the vitamins, protein and fiber will provide lasting energy for whatever comes your way.

Energy Smoothie

Makes one 14-ounce smoothie

1/2 cup frozen organic blueberries

1/2 cup frozen organic strawberries

1/2 cup chilled green tea, unsweetened

3/4 cup plain low-fat organic Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed or chia seeds (no need to grind these)

Natural sweetener or Xylitol to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on medium speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Garnish with fresh berries and serve. Note: For a nondairy alternative, you can substitute cultured soy for the yogurt. You can also substitute other fruit.

Dr. Stuart Offer is a Wellness Coach & Educator.

Choosing the Best Fish for the Planet and Your Health

March 31, 2014  
Filed under Food

By Stephanie Choate

Vermont is stuffed with local, organic, humane food. From condiments to meat to vegetables of all shades and shapes, it’s not hard to find food you can feel good about eating. But one thing that stumps many locals is selecting seafood that’s healthy and caught without overly harming the environment and ecosystems.

Overfishing is in the news a lot, and for good reason. Many of the ocean’s fish populations are being fished to extinction, or have been nearly decimated already.

“Nearly 85 percent of the world’s fisheries are fished to capacity, or overfished,” according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website, www.seafoodwatch.org, one of the most respected programs to help consumers and businesses make choices for healthy oceans. “Our seafood choices have the power to make this situation worse, or improve it.”

It’s a lot to process, but there are tools to help consumers get started.

FINDING SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD

“A lot of seafood is not managed in a way that’s going to provide for the future,” said Victoria Galitzine of FishWise, a nonprofit that works to promote the health and recovery of the ocean by guiding consumers and retailers to sustainable purchasing decisions.

Galitzine said there are lots of tools out there specifically created for consumers who want to find sustainable seafood.

“There are a lot of sustainable options out there, there really are,” Galitzine said. “The U.S. is doing particularly well. Fishery management in the U.S. tends to be pretty rigorous, compared to other countries. There are good options available, you just to ask the right questions and find the right people and use the tools available.”

One of the “very best,” Galitzine said, is Seafood Watch, which uses a stoplight color-coded method to organize seafood into three categories—best choices (green), good alternatives (yellow) and avoid (red).

Seafood Watch produces a region-specific printable pocket guide that you can stash in your wallet and pull out at the grocery store fish counter, as well as a sushi guide. It also has free mobile app, so you can have detailed species guides on your smartphone at the fish counter, helping you select the most eco-friendly choice from a sometimes-bewildering array of options.

The guides, updated every six months, rates fisheries based on whether the stocks are healthy and abundant, don’t threaten populations, minimize bycatch (unintended species caught in nets or on lines, some of which are endangered) and avoid impacting marine habitats and ecosystems.

Two of the most important things to look out for, Galitzine said, are where fish are caught and how they are caught.

“Just asking questions is good to show businesses that consumers care about these issues,” she said. “You may not get an answer, but often asking the question sends the message to retailers that people care.”

You don’t have to be in it alone, though. Many stores or restaurants are educating their workers or waiters about smart fish choices, and they can help you make a decision.

Eric LaVigne, co-owner of Vermont Meat & Seafood in Williston, said he does his best to make sure everything sold in his store comes from sustainable sources. He knows what he is selling and where it came from—something he said is important to his customers.

“We try to do our research before bringing anything into the store,” he said. “There’s a limited amount of fish in the sea. We want to make sure future generations get to enjoy the same seafood we get to enjoy.”

“Pretty much any fish you can get, there’s good sources and there’s terrible sources,” he said. He uses Seafood Watch and works with his vendors, Earth and Sea in Manchester and Black River Produce in Springfield, to source sustainable wild-caught fish or fish from well-managed farms.

“Our vendors have the same values as us,” he said.

Burlington’s City Market partnered with FishWise last winter to put Best Choice labels on the seafood that meets FishWise’s standards—the same ones used by Seafood Watch—so consumers can immediately identify the sustainable options.

“We wanted an opportunity to be able to source more sustainable seafood and share educational information with our customers,” said Allison Weinhagen of City Market. “When customers are ready to make a decision that’s right for them and their family, we’re all about giving them the information to do that.”

Weinhagen said approximately one third of the seafood in City Market is labeled as a best choice. The end goal is to be transparent, Weinhagen said.

“We’re here to meet the needs of our members, and to meet their needs, they need to know what they’re buying,” she said.

WATCHING MERCURY LEVELS

Like many foods, seafood can come with risks of contaminants, including pesticides, chemicals and metals, such as mercury.

Mercury, at high levels, may damage the brain, kidneys and developing fetuses, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Methylmercury builds up in the tissues of fish, so, in general, the higher the fish is on the food chain—or the larger and older the fish—the higher the mercury level. Large, predatory fish—sharks, swordfish, bigeye and Ahi tuna, marlin—end up with the highest levels of mercury and other toxins.

The National Resources Defense Council produces a downloadable pocket guide, ranking common fish from the lowest to highest levels of mercury, at www.nrdc.org/mercury.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

There are countless fishing or farming locations and methods. Here is a breakdown of a few:

Salmon: Some salmon tops sustainable seafood lists, while others come with serious health and eco-system concerns.

Seafood Watch recommends that consumers look for wild-caught salmon from Alaska, Washington and Oregon, which have healthy, well-managed stocks.

In general, farmed salmon is best avoided, with some exceptions.

“Salmon farming is associated with numerous environmental concerns, including water pollution, chemical use, parasites and disease,” according to the Environmental Defense Fund’s website.

The organization issued a health advisory for farmed salmon, due to high levels of PCBs—persistent chemicals that may cause cancer.

Seafood Watch recommends that consumers avoid all farmed Atlantic salmon. It takes a massive amount of food to raise salmon—three pounds of wild-caught fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon. In addition, salmon farmed in open pens release waste and pollution directly into the ocean, infecting healthy wild fish with parasites and disease.

However, some farmers are turning to closed systems, which keep the water and fish contained on the farm. Since U.S.-farmed Coho salmon require less food, Seafood Watch listed it as a “best choice.”

Shrimp: The large majority of shrimp sold in the U.S. comes from Asian or South American markets, where regulation is minimal, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Seafood Watch lists several shrimp sources among its “best choices:” U.S.-farmed freshwater prawns or shrimp farmed in fully recirculating systems or inland ponds; wild-caught Canadian Pacific spot prawns; wild-caught Oregon pink shrimp; and black tiger shrimp from Southeast Asian Selva Shrimp Verified Farms.

However, Seafood Watch recommends that consumers avoid most important farmed shrimp, which typically damages habitats and runs the risk of pollution and the introduction of non-native species.

Consumers should also avoid shrimp caught by skimmer trawl, which can harm sea turtles. All states except Louisiana enforce strict federal regulations to protect sea turtles, so while Seafood Watch ranks shrimp caught in most states by otter-trawl in the Gulf of Mexico as a “good alternative,” it recommends that consumers avoid shrimp caught in Louisiana or Mexico.

Tuna:Tuna is one of our most beloved fish, but its also one of the most threatened by severe overfishing. As a large fish high on the food chain, it also carries a risk of high mercury content.

Look for tuna labeled troll- or pole-caught. Long-line or purse seines can ensnare large amounts of unintended species, including endangered species.

Seafood Watch identifies the best tuna choices as:

Yellowfin caught on a troll- or pole-line in the U.S.

Albacore caught in the U.S. or Canadian Pacific on a troll- or pole-line.

Bigeye caught in the U.S. or Atlantic on a troll- or pole-line.

Skipjack caught on a troll- or pole-line or purse-seine that is FAD-free, or without the use of a fish-aggregating device.

Avoid all Bluefin tuna, which is being fished faster than it can reproduce.

Kid- and budget-friendly canned tuna doesn’t have to be written off either. Canned tuna labeled “white” is always albacore. “Light” may be bigeye, yellowfin, skipjack or tongol tuna.

Seafood Watch recommends selecting albacore tuna from the U.S. or British Columbia labeled troll- or pole-caught or light tuna labeled as skipjack—other species are less healthy. White albacore tuna from other sources is labeled as a “good alternative,” thought not a top choice.

Light tuna is also lighter in mercury content. The National Resource Defense Council has a chart with recommendations for canned tuna consumption based on weight. A 30-pound child should not eat more than one can of light tuna every two weeks or white albacore every six-weeks. An adult weighing 150 pounds or more can eat a can of light tuna every three days and white albacore every nine days.

Aside from being environmentally destructive, long-line caught tuna catches larger fish with higher mercury levels, while troll and pole lines catch smaller fish with lower mercury levels.

BEST BETS

With scores of information—some conflicting—it can be difficult to definitively pick the best fish. But Seafood Watch has put together power list it calls “The Super Green List,” identifying the fish that are currently the best for your health—lowest in mercury and high in Omega-3s—and responsibly farmed or caught.

The elite list

Atlantic Mackerel (purse seine from Canada and the U.S.)

Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.)

Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)

Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)

Salmon, Canned (wild-caught, from Alaska)

Best Choices

The Environmental Defense Fund has also selected its best choices for fish that are eco-friendly and healthy:

U.S. and Canadian Albacore tuna

Canadian Atlantic mackerel

U.S. and Canadian Pacific sardines

Alaskan and Canadian sablefish/black cod

Canned salmon

Wild Alaskan salmon

Other top picks

Other seafood that appear on both Seafood Watch’s list of the most sustainable fish and the NRDC’s list of low-mercury fish include:

U.S. catfish

Clams

Snow, Kona, Dungeness and blue crab

U.S. farmed crayfish

Atlantic croaker, especially non-trawl

North Atlantic mackerel, wild-caught or purse seine

Striped mullet

Oysters

Perch, especially from Lake Erie or farmed in tank systems

Atlantic Pollock, especially from Norway

Salmon from Alaska, reefnet-caught salmon from Fraser River or Washington. Avoid farmed Atlantic salmon.

Pacific sardines from U.S. and Canada. U.S., Canadian or Ecuadorian tilapia

Farmed Rainbow Trout

Whitefish, trap-net or wild-caught

FIT TO EAT: Frankenfoods – Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

March 31, 2014  
Filed under Food

By Dr. Stuart Offer

Frankenfoods are foods that have been altered in the laboratory, either genetically or chemically. Some of these foods look and even taste like food, however, due to their alterations, our body does not recognize many of them as food and they wreak havoc with our health. There are some foods that continue to be up for debate as to their benefit vs. harm, such as genetically modified corn. However, there are some products that are so unequivocally bad for us that the U.S. government is making efforts to ban them. One of these “bad guys” is trans fat. High fructose corn syrup is another food to be suspect of.

In an earlier column, I gave you some ideas and suggestions for switching to healthier oils. This month, I want to warn you of what could be the worst monster on the food shelf, trans fat. Federal health officials estimate that eliminating trans fats would prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease a year. It is so bad that the FDA is rapidly moving toward banning it from our food supply. New York City banned trans fats in 2006.

The negative health effects do not stop at heart disease. Trans fats will:

  • Slow your metabolism
  • Cause weight gain
  • Increase inflammation
  • Lower your good cholesterol
  • Raise your bad cholesterol
  • Cause diabetes, obesity, heart attacks, strokes, dementia, cancer and inflammation

Trans fat was invented for use in margarine and shortening. It was supposed to be a better butter, but in fact, it’s worse. It was the first man-made fat to join our food supply. Many American kitchens were first introduced to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in 1911 with the product Crisco. Trans fat gained widespread popularity during World War II, when many people began using margarine and shortening as alternatives to rationed butter. Did you know that if you put butter and margarine side by side, flies will land on the butter, but they won’t land on the margarine? It’s just too toxic for them.

Trans fats are used both in processed food and in restaurants, often to improve the texture, shelf life or flavor of foods. They are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid, which is why they are often called partially hydrogenated oils. It never goes rancid. You can make pie crust out of shortening even if it has been sitting in the cupboard for 30 years…very scary!

It is hidden in almost all convenience food and fried food such as; microwave popcorn, cupcakes, cookies, donuts, many fried foods, frozen pizza, baked foods, frozen foods, ready to use frosting and frozen pie dough, to name a few.

The first step in getting trans fats out of our food supply was the change in food labeling laws. Many companies have already phased out trans fats, prompted by new nutrition labels introduced by the FDA in 2006 that list trans fats and an increasing number of local laws that have banned them. Food manufacturers actually had to put the amount of trans fat in their junk food on the label. But there was a loophole created by food industry lobbyists that allowed them to hide the trans fats. They ONLY had to notify consumers that their product contained trans fat if it was greater than half a gram per serving. If something says zero trans fat, it can still have lots of trans fats.

Take, for example, whipped topping like Cool Whip. The label says zero trans fat, but if you look more closely, you’ll see the ingredient list on the label says partially hydrogenated fat. Well, partially hydrogenated fat is trans fat. But because the law states that you can say zero trans fat on the label if there is less than half a gram per serving, they can put zero trans fats.

Since most people don’t know that hydrogenated fat and trans fat are the same thing, food makers have been able to hide the trans fat content in plain sight using this little trick. People who ate multiple portions of such foods could quickly take in a dangerously high level while assuming they were taking in none. The good news is the FDA’s new proposal would eliminate this loophole.

I have included a versatile and flavorful recipe (see previous page) that can be used as a sauce, marinade or salad dressing. This will turn anything from steak to broccoli from ordinary to extraordinary. I saw this tacky phrase on a TV commercial, however in this case it really is true!

ARGENTINIAN CHIMICHURRI SAUCE

Note: there are many variations of this recipe, make it your own and enjoy.

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh parsley, firmly packed

1 cup fresh cilantro, firmly packed

1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves firmly packed (or 1 to 1.5 tablespoons dried)

3-6 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons chopped shallots (or green onions)

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 tsp ground cumin

Kosher salt and red pepper flakes to taste

Preparation:

Pulse the garlic and shallots in the food processor until finely chopped.

Add the parsley, cilantro and oregano and pulse briefly, until finely chopped.

Transfer the mixture to a separate bowl. Add the olive oil, lime juice and vinegar, and stir. (Adding the liquids outside of the blender gives the Chimichurri the correct texture. You don’t want the herbs to be completely puréed, just finely chopped).

Season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste.

Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

FIT TO EAT: Time For An Oil Change

December 18, 2013  
Filed under Food

By Dr. Stuart Offer

Over the years, dietary fat has come in and out of fashion and at times been a dietary villain. In more recent years, nutritionists are agreeing that the right oils can be a welcome part of a healthy diet. Love fats or hate them, there will always be one consistent fact —  fats are very calorie-dense, having more than twice the calories as proteins or carbohydrates. Fat, particularly healthy oils, play a big part in my diet and cooking.

Since heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women, it is important to choose oils that support a healthy heart. There is no debating that we should be consuming natural fats and avoiding unnatural ones. Trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are manmade fats that are associated with an increased risk for heart disease. These should be avoided at all cost. If you see this as an ingredient in any product, be afraid, be very afraid and put it back. Saturated fat, also a contributor to heart disease, is another less than healthy choice and should be reduced as much as possible. These are fats found in the highest concentration in many animal products such as meat and dairy.

We should be choosing oils that are high in heart-healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fat. These types of oils are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease because of their positive effects on blood cholesterol

Monounsaturated fats actually help to lower total and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, without negatively affecting your good (HDL) cholesterol levels.

Polyunsaturated fats also help to lower total cholesterol, however some research shows they may also lower good (HDL) cholesterol in the process. Some polyunsaturated fats are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to decrease the risk of blood clotting and inflammation to help lower the risk for heart disease.

Knowing which oils are the healthiest is only half the battle. Pairing the right oil with the proper cooking method is important, as well. Some oils are good for high heat cooking, while others are better for salad dressing. One way to determine this is to look at the smoke point —  the temperature at which oil begins to smoke and break down, releasing carcinogens into the air and free radicals into the oil. When it reaches this point, you should discard the oil and start over.

Here’s a guide to the healthiest cooking oils and ideas for making good use of them in your kitchen:

1. Walnut Oil: A polyunsaturated fat and good source of omega 3s. With a smoke point of 400° F, this oil is good for baking and sautéing at low to medium-high heat or try it drizzled on a salad.

2. Flaxseed Oil: A polyunsaturated fat and good source of omega 3s. Due to its low smoke point of 225° F, it should not be used for cooking over heat. Try it stirred into dishes after heating or in salad dressings, salsa or smoothies.

3. Canola Oil: A monounsaturated fat with a medium high smoke point of 425° F, use it in baking, sautéing, stir-frying and in dressings.

4. Olive Oil: A monounsaturated fat with a medium smoke point of 325° F, use this flavorful oil for light sautéing, sauces like pesto and salad dressings.

5. Peanut Oil: A monounsaturated fat with a medium smoke point of 350° F, use this flavorful oil for light sautéing, sauces such as curry and salad dressings.

6. Almond Oil: A monounsaturated fat with a high smoke point of 495° F, this is a good oil for high heat cooking, like sautéing or frying. Its great flavor also works well in desserts.

7. Avocado Oil: A monounsaturated fat with a high smoke point of 510° F, this is a good oil for high heat cooking, like sautéing or frying, and tasty in salads.

8. Safflower Oil: A polyunsaturated fat with a low saturated fat level, this oil is a good all-purpose oil. Its high smoke point of 450° F makes it good for high heat cooking, like sautéing and frying.

9. Sunflower Oil: A polyunsaturated fat with a low saturated fat level, this oil has a high smoke point of 460° F making it good for high heat cooking, like sautéing and frying.

10. Grapeseed Oil: A polyunsaturated fat with a low saturated fat level, this oil has a high smoke point of 420° F, making it great for cooking and grilling of all kinds. It also has a very mild, nutty flavor that’s versatile enough to use in salads or virtually anything.

When outfitting my kitchen, I like to have two oils, one for salads and one for high heat cooking. My two go to choices are extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil.

Here is a simple recipe that could rival any Four Star restaurant. Use it for pasta, veggies or a sandwich spread.

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