I’m realizing I talk a lot about sweets. Well, I do more than talk… I make and eat a lot of sweets. It’s a good life, I admit.
I’m a good eater – always have been – and I’m not ashamed to say so. I pride myself in being able to pack away more than a gallon of ice cream in one sitting (and then another quart for breakfast the next day). I boast my record-holding boxes of cereal, the jars upon jars of peanut butter eaten by the spoonful, and my classic line: ‘you’re ordering one large pizza? And what about for yourself?’ (often followed by my other classic line: ‘I think I’ve eaten so much my innie turned into an outie’ – yeah, that one I’m not proud of).
I don’t claim to be some sort of competative, just a competent one.
Of course, this begs the question, how do I eat the way I do while staying relatively thin and fit? Well, I haven’t always been. I’ve spent my time being the one giving the evil eye to other girls who could eat and eat and never gain weight (actually, I still do – skinny bitches), so it’s kind of a new concept to me that I might appear like one of them to other people. No question, I’m a little smug when I notice other women quietly hating me for eating generously, but I swear I’m telling the truth when I say it isn’t as glamorous as it seems. I don’t have a fantastical metabolism, I’m not secretly bulimic, and I don’t have any so-called ‘skinny genes’ handed down to me.
You’re probably guessing, right about now, that I’m going to boast to you the many benefits of working out, and how I kill it in the gym for hours every day to eat the way I do – but that’s not where I’m going with this. It’s true, exercise is an important part of staying fit, but I’m generally too lazy to bother with the gym – all the more power to you, though.
While I don’t do pull-ups and bench presses, however, I do stay active. I’m a dog-walker, by profession, which means walking upwards of two miles a day. I don’t even think of this as exercise, because I don’t usually break a sweat, my breathing is steady, and hell, I’m enjoying myself most of the time. On top of walking the pups, I also enjoy many other simple activities – things like Frisbee, biking, jogging, soccer… the list goes on. Of course there are times when I let myself go a little, but after a couple days without physical exertion I tend to stagnate, become depressed, and revert back to tubs of ice cream and giant bowls of cereal. Seriously, my ass would probably meld to the couch if I didn’t get up to eat so often.
Falling into a slump from time to time is nothing new to me, but these lulls don’t usually last more than a few days before the itch for movement gets too strong. As I said, I’m not here to preach the powers of thorough and frequent exercise, but if I were to offer advice on the subject I would say: find something you like to do, and do it. If running isn’t fun for you, don’t run – roller blade instead, or bike, or swim, or garden, or join a sport. Whatever it is, make it something you enjoy doing.
Now, where was I… ah, the food! Right.
I suppose I’m lucky, because while I love sugar, butter, flour (those are the main food groups, right?), I also adore vegetables and fresh fruit. I crave mountains of salad the same way I crave boxes of doughnuts, and to a certain extent these things balance each other out… but only to a certain extent.
I’m sure I’ve made it clear to you, reading my blog, that I don’t “diet”. In fact, I have a bit of a beef about dieting, in general, which I’d like to talk about before we continue… I should say, first, that I’m not a qualified nutritionist. I’m just stating some pent-up opinions I have, based on self-conducted research and experience.
There are some very serious misconceptions going around – they’ve been around for many years, but unfortunately only seems to be getting worse with time. Things like, the idea that eliminating things from our diet is good. That starving ourselves is right (and I don’t strictly mean anorexia so much as not allowing yourself to eat when you’re hungry), and that ‘low calorie’ is the same as ‘healthy’.
Yeah, that last one is especially big. Low carb., low cal., no fat, sugar free… we’ve heard it all before. And I agree, in most cases, that we have many of these things in excess – but the answer is not to mechanically or chemically alter our food to not contain them. Our bodies need them!
Take fats, for instance – although some should only be consumed in moderation (I mean, in more moderation), many fats are not only good for us but necessary for healthy cell function. Good fats like those found in fish, avocado, nuts, and seeds can be great sources of essential fatty acids (things our bodies need and cannot get on their own), as well as serve as transportation for proteins and vitamins to get where they need to go. In fact, several key vitamins and minerals are fat-soluble, which means we cannot digest or absorb them without the help of fats.
And don’t get me started on the whole low calorie thing. Every gram of protein, fat, carbohydrate, etc. contains a certain number of calories. One gram of protein, for instance, equals four calories. One gram of fat, nine calories… you get the idea. “Calorie” is simply a form of measuring the energy contained in food, so when a food is labeled ‘low calorie’, it isn’t made with lower calorie fats and proteins, it is made with less fat and protein. While I can eat a one hundred calorie bag of nuts, all that means is that I will have half as many nuts, and only get half as full, as I would from eating a two-hundred calorie bag. Which brings us back to the starving ourselves bit…
As a nation, in general, we’re all about bigger is better. Hell, wasn’t I just bragging about how much I’m able to eat? But the solution we tend to draw from this is, if we can’t have the super-sized serving, than we shouldn’t have hardly any.
Let me go back to what I said about calories -they are a way of measuring the potential energy contained in food. When we eat food, our body uses the things inside it according to our current (and to a certain extent, upcoming) needs. This is why athletes eat carbs before working out, and proteins after, for a high energy start and a slow, muscle settling finish. Whenever you eat something, your body is making decisions about what to do with it – to use it right away, or store it for later. Eating smaller amounts, or eating less frequently, tells your body that it won’t be getting many of the things it needs for awhile – therefore, as a safety mechanism, the body will choose to save as much of what you give it as it can.
This is a small scale example of something called ‘starvation mode’. Your body’s goal is not to be thin and fit so much as it is to be alive, and healthy. If it fears that rations might be low, it will conserve energy (very efficiently, I might add) and like a squerrel store away as many nuts as it can to last through hard times.
To keep your metabolism going steady, and your body using food most efficiently, it’s ideal to eat smaller, more balanced portions more frequently throughout the day. The goal is to know when your stomach is full, and stop there – this can be harder than it sounds. The Boyfriend has this wonderful trick of happily noshing away, and then stopping, pushing the rest of the food away to be saved for later (or, more often, to be given to the dog). It amazes me how he can hear his stomach say when its full, down to the very bite, and stop on its command. Because he’s so attuned to his body and it’s needs, he rarely over-eats, and often makes healthier choices simply because he knows when he’s had not enough, or too much, of something. I have to say, I’m jealous of how naturally this comes to him. But really, I do the same thing in my own way. With the help of a couple of friends going through nutrition and culinary school, the internet, and my own fair share of calorie counting and portion measuring in the past, I’ve learned to have a sense of what is in the food I eat, and what a ‘serving size’ really looks like. I don’t count calories, because I always have an approximate tally of how much protein, fat, fiber, etc. I’ve had. At any given time I can look back and say – I haven’t had enough protein, that’s why I’m still hungry! Or: I’ve had nothing but buttercream frosting, no wonder I feel like crap! (See? It’s easy!). What The Boyfriend can manage intuitively, I manage through educating myself on what food is made of, and what my body does with it.
This is a similar approach to what body-builder diet-program designers do, minus the hundreds of dollars you’d pay to have them custom tailor a plan for you. Of course, a trainer would base your dietary needs on your height, age, and body mass index. Those are things you can also figure out for yourself, if not to calculate your personal needs, than to just have a better understanding of your body. There are multiple sources on the internet that can help you properly measure and weigh yourself, or you could go to a gym where I’m sure they’d be happy to help out.
All right… that, by far, is not the extent of my quibbling over the current mind-set of dieters and nutritionists, but I’ll spare you the rest for now. Some basic tips I would leave you with, though, would be to not rely on food labels to tell you when something is ‘healthy’ or not, and, if you’re checking the nutritional panel on the side of the packaging, don’t just look at what’s in a serving but at how much a “serving” is. Begin measuring things like breakfast cereal, or pasta, and get an idea for what a “serving size” looks like on your plate. Being able to measure with your eyes, and not just your stomach, can be a very useful skill to have.
If I lost you during all of that, I’m sorry. I’m back on my intended trajectory, now, to show you some of the healthier foods I like to keep around to help me stay on track. This list is endless, and I could go on and on, but these are just some of my favorites.
#1 – Hard Boiled Eggs
The egg. So simple, yet so complex. Eggs Benedict, Huevos Rancheros, Omlets, Cakes, Meringues, baby chickens… Mmm!
Nutritional information for one large egg (50 grams, by weight):
70 calories, 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of complete protein
Vitamins A, D, E, B1, B2, B6, B12, Zinc, Calcium, Iodine, Selenium… The Incredible, Edible, Egg!
I love eggs in many different applications, but one of my favorites is hard-boiling. It keeps things simple, and is great with a sprinkle of salt (or to be turned into salad toppings, egg salad, or deviled eggs!).
How you do it:
Place however many eggs you want to boil into the bottom of a pot, in one layer.
Pour in cold tap water, covering about one inch above the eggs, and place on a burner turned to high heat.
Let the water come up to a rolling boil, then slap the lid on ’em and turn the heat all the way off.
Set a timer, and let them sit in the hot water for 12-15 minutes.
This is the hard part for a lot of people – getting the amount of time right can vary slightly based on the size of your eggs, and under-doing it can leave you with unset yokes while over-doing it will land you with that unappetizing gray/green ring around the center. I usually aim right in the middle, for 13-14 minutes, but I also tend to NOT set a timer, then wonder out of the kitchen to do something else and come frantically running back with no idea how long I’ve been gone. I call it the crazy person technique, and so far it’s served me well. Guess I’m just lucky like that.
Once the time is up, remove the lid and run the eggs under cold water, then leave them soaking in cold (or iced) water until completely cool.
Tip: I’ve heard (but have not tried myself, yet) that adding a tsp. of baking soda to the cooking water will make the shells easier to remove. If anyone’s tried this, let me know if it works.
One of the things I like to do with hard boiled eggs is to peel one, put it in a zip top baggie with a sprinkle of salt, and take it with me as a snack in the car. Sometimes I even go so far as to add a handful of veggies, and if you wanted to get really fancy you could make these up ahead of time and label them for your week.
*Gasp* look at how neat and organized! And what’s that in the background, interspersed between the prepaired baggies of eggs?
# 2 – Nuts, Seeds, Snackings
I also love nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. sometimes I go so far as to make granola, but more regularly I just make a dry mix for snacking or lunching on. My issue with nuts is, it’s easy to get carried away eating them – because of this, I like to buy my favorites in bulk (economical!) and then scoop them out into measured baggies.
The nutritional values will vary depending on the nut, but in general you can count on (per 1 oz. by weight):
160-170 calories, 14-15 grams of healthy fat, 3-4 grams of fiber, and 6-7 grams of (incomplete) protein,
and a wide assortment of vitamins and minerals including E, B’s, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Folate, Zinc, Iron… the list goes on and on.
Hold up! What do I mean by complete and ‘incomplete’ proteins?
There are 9 essential ‘amino acids’ our bodies need to function. Alton Brown put it best, I think, when he described them like building blocks. Once our bodies collect a complete set of these, they form a whole protein which can then be used to build muscle etc..
Meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and soy are all considered complete proteins, while nuts, seeds, legumes, most wheats, and grains need to be eaten in combination with one another to supply all nine of the essential aminos.
Alright, back to the nuts. When I’m measuring out little mixed bags, I also like to sometimes add some dried fruit, seeds, and sometimes a pinch or two of cocoa nibs. You could also add a handful of munchable breakfast cereal.
For easy measuring, I just count the highest calorie content ingredient and then fill the baggie on a kitchen scale – multiply the ounces, and I know how much is in the bag!
# 3 – Green Smoothies
Trust me, this isn’t as weird as it looks. In fact, it’s a very simple fruit smoothie – I used banana’s and kiwi for the one above, but you could use whatever you like. Mangos, strawberries, pineapple… the possibilities are endless.
So what makes it that color? Well, it ain’t the kiwi’s, I can tell you that. Whenever I’m whipping up a smoothie, I like to add a handful of spinach and a few chunks of avocado to the mix. It changes the flavor only slightly, while adding a big kick of nutrition. Optionally, for an even creamier concoction, you could add a few spoonfuls of Greek yogurt to the mix.
So – bananas, kiwi, whatever fruit you have on hand (I like to use bananas, first because I love them and second because they’re so sweet I usually don’t have to add any honey or sugar)
handful of spinach (spinach is best here, because it’s tender and mild, but in the summer I’ve been known to throw in a handful of whatever dark leafy greens are fresh in the garden)
1/8 – 1/4 of an avocado
Optional: milk, soymilk, almond milk, water… for thinning it out
Ice, for slushifying it
yogurt, for thickening it
Spin it in the blender until thoroughly combined, pour into a glass or a portable bottle, and enjoy!
Nutritional info varies.
# 4 – ‘Instant’ Frozen Yogurt Dessert
Speaking of Greek yogurt, I loves it. For a healthy snack, or quick breakfast, I like to eat it with fresh fruit cut up into it, and if I’m feeling fancy a drizzle of honey or spoonful of jam to sweeten it up. For a bit heartier of a meal, I’ll add some granola, or a handful of oats, to the mix.
Another great way to use it, though, is to blend it with frozen fruit. This isn’t the same creamy deliciousness you could get by making actual frozen yogurt with an ice cream maker, but for a quick dessert it’ll do the trick.
1/2 cup greek yogurt – I like to buy the full fat kind, but that can sometimes be tricky to find. (Or, if dairy doesn’t work for you, you could use soy yogurt.)
3/4 – 1 cup frozen fruits or berries of your choice
Optional: handful of chocolate chips, or nuts
honey, sugar, agave, maple syrup, etc. for sweetening
Blend the yogurt and the fruit, scraping down the sides of the blender from time to time. You want it to be really thick, so add more fruit if necessary.
At the end of blending, add in any sweeteners and additional ingredients – fruit, nuts, chocolate – and serve immediately.
Nutritional info will vary.
Wait – why Greek yogurt?
Greek yogurt is, for the most part, regular yogurt that’s been strained of some of its liquid. This makes it thicker and richer. It’s also, usually, a little less sweet – in fact, I like to use it in place of sour cream in many recipes. Because it’s more dense, it also contains more protein and probiotics per serving than regular yogurt – bonus!
# 5 – Tuna Salad without the Tuna… or the Mayo… or really anything at all like Tuna Salad…
Alright, if you’ve trusted me this far, please stay to hear me out. This is going to sound gross, and I’m a little ashamed to share it with you, but trust me when I say it’s not all bad.
Pictured above is a mix of sardines, avocado, lemon juice, and a little salt. The reason I compare it to tuna salad is because it does resemble it in many ways. Sardines instead of tuna, mashed avocado instead of mayo, squeeze of lemon and some salt to brighten it up. So why not just eat tuna, instead of (what many people, including myself, cosider nasty) sardines?
Well, I love tuna salad. I love making a big batch of tuna salad, having some sandwhiches, and eating the left overs straight out of the bowl. It’s also very healthy, and by all means deserves a place in this list.
The reason, though, that I sometimes choose sardines and avocados instead is the truly astounding amount of nutrition packed into those little fish. This is, again, going to sound disgusting, but because they are eaten bone-in, they’re a great source of calcium and iron. They have some of the healthiest fats, including omega-3’s, lots of high-grade complete protein, and dozens of vitamins and minerals.
Add to that avocado, which is yet another source of good-for-you fats, and contains something like 20 different essential vitamins and minerals, and you’ve got yourself one nutritional powerhouse!
Now, I have to mention that the first time I heard of this, I was reluctant to give it a go (but, as mother always said: ‘you can’t say you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it’). So, try it I did, and I discovered that, although not my favorite food, it was certainly palatable. Even, dare I say it, enjoyable. The texture was my biggest issue, being somewhat like liver pate, but that was easily overlooked when eaten on a hearty slice of bread or toast. So far, I’ve liked it with rye bread the best.
It’s also important to note that you should use a good brand of sardines. I didn’t realize this until I accidentally bought a different brand than my usual, and discovered a slimy, fishy, grainy taste and concistancy which I did not expect and was in no way appetizing.
(Holy crap – looking at this picture I just noticed that the box says ‘nutritional powerhouse’ on it. I totally stole that phrase a minute ago, and when I wrote it I was like: ‘funny, that’s not something I say…’).
This is my favorite brand. It’s a little bit pricier, but is absolutely worth it. The sardines are bigger, meatier, and taste worlds better than any other I’ve tried so far.
I like to buy them packed in water, rather than oil or tamoto sauce, because I figure those things can be added per my recipe if I so choose.
So – here’s what I do:
1 medium avocado
1 can sardines, packed in water
1/2 a lemon (or a whole if it isn’t very juicy), squeezed
big pinch of kosher salt
Optional: tomatoes, celery, onion… whatever you might think to add to tuna salad, pretty much.
Spinach, lettuce, or other leafy green
Bread or toast – I like rye
In a bowl, with a fork, mash up the sardines and avocado as if you’re making guacamole. Add the lemon and salt, any veggies you want, mix to combine, and serve sandwich style. I like it open-faced.
The nutritional info will vary depending on your bread, sardines, the size of your avocado, and of course whatever you want to add to it, but in general this makes a high-fat (that’s a good thing, here!), high-protein meal that will fill you up and keep you satisfied for hours afterwards.
Of course, the list goes on – piled-high salads, beans, chickpeas… it amazes me, sometimes, that more people don’t love these things the way I do. I just love steamed broccoli. Who’s with me?
Other highlights include:
Oatmeal – for breakfast, a big bowl of oatmeal can keep me going for hours. I like to ‘bulk’ mine up by shredding carrots or zucchini into it and adding warm spices and brown sugar. Or, I’ll skip the sugar and add some mashed-up banana and nut butter.
Soups – soups can be nice and filling, not to mention comforting, and are generally pretty light for the amount of full you get out of them. Beans and lentils are some of my favorites, both in taste and nutrition.
Oven Roasted or Steamed Veggies – whatever is fresh or on hand, from squash or potatoes to carrots and onions, I like to either steam, or roughly chop into hearty chunks, toss lightly with olive oil and seasonings, and roast at 425f. until browned and cooked through.
Popcorn with Nutritional Yeast – did you know that corn is a whole grain? That’s right. Eat your grains, people. Popcorn is one of my favorite snacks, because I can make a giant bowl of it (and if you hadn’t noticed, I like large amounts of things) and nosh away absent-mindedly for awhile. Plus, it tastes good. To keep it healthier, pop your own (either in an air-popper, or with a little bit of coconut oil on the stove), skip the butter, and add a few shakes of salt and a tablespoon or so of nutritional yeast flakes. Nutritional yeast is often described as tasting a little like parmesan cheese, and is often used as a vegan cheese substitute. Besides being tasty, it has lots of B-vitamins, complete protein, and fiber, too!
Bon appetit, mon ami!