Losing My Religion: A Reformed Eater's Guide to Healthy Eating
I can’t believe I am going to write this blog. There is nothing sexy about healthy eating. There’s nothing gourmet about it either.
That’s what I thought.
But now that I am a woman of a certain age and I’m starting to see how my body and digestion are changing, I’m thinking about diet a bit more. While I think any eater’s manifesto should be to eat anything, to try everything, I once took this manifesto as a 24/7 job.
These days I try to balance what I am eating a bit more. That means I try to make healthy choices most of the time, and save the more extravagant things for eating out, dinner parties and special occasions. And yes, I’m sexing up the healthy stuff, so I feel good about what I am eating.
It all started when I read Mark Bittman’s Food Matters over a year ago. His argument, one made from someone who eats and writes about food for a living, is that our diets have way too much meat in them, and we need, as others are also saying, to move toward a more plant-based diet. I’ll admit I was driven to considering changing the way I eat because I simply can’t digest things the way I used to. In my family, portion and the ability to consume many things at one time had always been held as a kind of heroic act. Being a good eater was a sign you were healthy and engaged in the world, and that nothing would get in your way: If you ate with gusto, you lived with gusto. I grew up eating—well--everything. But as I got older, it seemed my system simply gummed up from being fed too much.
Then, about five years ago I was forced to quit sugar. This was bad news for someone who loved baking, dreamed of being a pastry chef, and even made wedding cakes for others. I began to notice sugar wasn’t so good for my mood, and the more I had it, the more I wanted it. And my mother turned up with Type II Diabetes. Besides losing 30 pounds, I felt less moody without sugar. Check. But it meant changes to my diet: that’s when I started eating a Mediterranean diet, avoiding carbs at all costs and eating protein with every meal. It was good for a while, but then I noticed my cholesterol and triglycerides inching up. I seemed to eat a lot of butter and cheese. I was, in effect, eating a whole lot of meat with just a little bit of veg on the side. Some meals were made up of protein (and fats) only!
The final straw came last year when I just felt like I wasn’t really digesting my food. I’ll spare you the details: it was ugly. After reading Bittman’s book, I decided to try eating more vegetables and legumes, and less protein. As part of the bargain, I slashed dairy, which for me is probably an ugly allergy waiting to happen. I am lactose intolerant already, and lately, I’ve noticed some bad side effects from too much sour cream. I also am trying to cut out sugar substitutes, those little friends of the low-carb lifestyle, which seem to come with a whole set gastrointestinal issues.
See nothing sexy about this stuff, right?
But then I discovered some great ways to incorporate whole wheat and whole grains into my diet, not to mention some really good whole grain products. And I’m not suffering. Plus, now I feel practically saintly on the days I’m eating steel cut oats and whole grain tostadas.
I still eat dessert—sometimes—and have French bread—sometimes—(with butter!) but when I’m at home, I try to get as many veggies and grains into my daily diet as possible.
Here are some ideas:
Smoothy & Toast
I make a smoothy with cranberry juice, banana, and frozen fruit (I always put the fruit that’s going bad in a bag and freeze it so I have something for a smoothy.), with a TBSP of flax seed (good for lower cholesterol and LDL) added. I try not to drink more than 8 or 10 ounces because all that pureed fruit is just like mainlining fructose. Sometimes I pair this with toasted whole grain break (Alvardo’s, found in the frozen food section of health food stores, is the BEST) with a bit of Adam’s peanut crunchy butter on top.
Steel Cut Oatmeal w/Baked Apples
Sunday Brunch – Sweet Potato Hash
Instead of doing Eggs Benedict, I make this version, which incorporates vegetables and has less meat (so less fat). Basically, I sauté a sweet potato (good fiber) with onions, and then add asparagus and spinach. When it’s done, I put a poached egg on top and drizzle with hollandaise. Okay, it has some fat, but it’s got veggies too! You can also add fresh corn and green chiles for a southwestern feel. See the recipe page for hollandaise recipe.
Veggie Sandwich with Avocado.
I use toasted Alvardo’s bread (I use sprouted multi grain) and a nice, strong mustard. Then I spread on half an avocado, add red onions, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. This sandwich is really good and good for you.
Whole Grain Tostada
I fell in love with making tostadas when I discovered Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain Tortillas. According to them “the live grain [makes a] difference.”
Here I just heat a tortilla in a fry pan with some black refried beans on top. Once the bottom is crunchy, I squeeze on a little lime, sprinkle with kosher salt, and add chopped lettuce, red onion, and tomato. You can also add other veggies (stir fried broccoli is good), or avocado, and a bit of cheese if you like. You can also use this same recipe to make KILLER huevos rancheros. Just add the fried egg.
Hummus and Pita Chips
I make my own pita chips by cutting up whole wheat pita bread into triangles and then brushing it with olive oil and crushed garlic. I sprinkle them with kosher salt and bake for 20 minutes in a 350 oven, turning once. The trick here is to also eat tomatoes and carrots and artichoke hearts (I like the marinated ones) with the hummus, and not just the chips. Makes a good snack too.
Stir Fry, of course
When I’m feeling really like I’ve eaten too much, I make stir fry. What makes it sexy is that I use Lundberg’s Wild Blend (a blend of wild and whole grain brown rice) instead of regular brown rice. The trick is to cook the rice with chicken stock so it has flavor. Then I stir fry broccoli, mushrooms, kale, asparagus and onions with chopped ginger root in olive oil. After a few minutes, I add chicken stock and cover for about 3 minutes.
Made with whole wheat pasta and green vegetables, this recipe is really healthy and very, very sexy. Try serving it to someone you love. See recipe page for ingredients and instructions.
Whole Wheat Veggie Pizza
I tend to think pizza is best with veggies anyway, unless, of course you plan to layer a hot pie with thin, velvety prosciutto, and then, well, that’s just orgasmic. Here, you get more fiber with the wheat crust, and there are plenty of stores like Sunflower Market who sell fresh crusts in the frozen food section if you don’t want to make your own. Besides your basic Margherita, pictured here below,
here are some combos(all of these pizzas are sauce-less—just brush the shell with garlic and kosher salt):
Wild mushrooms, fontina and just a bit of fresh mint: Strange and wonderful.
Caramelized onions and goat cheese.
Sauteed artichoke hearts, shallots, and asparagus. (I like to deglaze this one with cognac).
Fresh rosemary and thin-sliced red or yellow potatoes with fontina (Here’s an OMG pizza).
The “OH MY GOD” French White Bean Soup
This soup is easy, hearty and so good, your friends will think you are a gourmet. Made with white navy beans, leeks, thyme and chicken stock and then pureed and mounted with lemon butter. Serve it with a bitter green salad for contrast and you’ll feel like you’re somewhere in France. See recipe page.
A word about veggie burgers...
I love them. And they are, unlike something, a worthy “meat” substitute. Try a Original Garden Burger on a whole wheat bun with strong dark mustard, avocado, red onion, lettuce and tomato.
Or try the regular Boca burger with caramelized onions. The trick to both burgers is to sauté them on high heat until they have a little crunch on the outside.
Bananas and granola bars
I know this combo is higher on the sugar scale, but it is healthy and easy. I just slice the banana onto the granola bar. Kashi has the best bars—try the pumpkin and flax seed.
Layer fruit tossed in a bit of whole wheat flour in ramekins with turbinate sugar and a bit of butter. Make a crumble top from turbinate, walnuts and rolled oats. I am not a fan of cinnamon and fruit, so I leave that out.
This rustic fruit tart bakes any old fruit, sprinkled with sugar, in an easy whole wheat pastry—my favorite standby dessert. Recipe on the recipe page.
And for the Lactose Intolerant
Coconut Bliss Dark Chocolate – there are no words…It’s pricy, but treat yourself sometime.
In the end, the trick to sexy eating is to add a flavor or texture that pops. So try lime, chopped red onions, cilantro or almost any fresh herb, whole grain textures that you toast, white beans that you puree (they also make great dips when mixed with veggies), crunchy things like iceberg lettuce, carrots and cucumbers or sautéed broccoli, or something colorful and surprising, like asparagus or shredded beats.
BTW- my cholesterol and lipids have gone down. But remember, it's all about balance. Have the fondu or the steak and fries, just don't have them every day.