Tag Archives: O’Neil on Eating

Galapagos Eco Gourmet


Imagine if your grocery list was edited to remove foods considered a threat to the balance of nature in your own backyard.


That’s the culinary challenge Norman Brandt faces everyday as executive chef of

the Pikaia Lodge in the Galapagos Islands.


“When I got the position I made a list of ingredients I needed for the kitchen and I was told you can’t bring those in,” said Brandt.

No blue cheese, no cherries, no chia seeds and no imported citrus to name just a few of the foods tightly restricted by Ecuador’s biosecurity regulations for the Galapagos.

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The goal is to prevent the introduction of invasive species and pests that could threaten indigenous plants, many vitally important to the islands’ world famous wildlife.


The Galapagos Islands have become a mecca for ecotourism attracting over 250,000 visitors a year who arrive with binoculars and cameras in tow ready to spot giant tortoises, sea turtles, penguins and unique birds including the blue-footed booby.


Galapagos National Park rules control the number of people and time limit spent in wildlife areas and you must stay at least six feet away from the creatures.


Birds don’t fly away when you walk by and curious cute baby sea lions hop towards you.


“They thrive because there are no predators here,” said Andrew Balfour, general manager of the boutique eco-property Pikaia Lodge where rooms include a copy of “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin.

Elegantly furnished rooms overlook an extinct volcano now covered in lush green foliage.
Strikingly modern architecture of Pikaia Lodge


Guests drink in the DNA Bar…


….and dine in the Evolution dining room.


Andrew Balfour, Pikaia Lodge

“The magic of the Galapagos is that you see nature in an intimate way and see how the adaptation of the species is crucial from island to island,” says Balfour.











Chef Brandt, from mainland Ecuador, has enthusiastically learned to adapt to his new environment by getting to know local farmers, discovering wild cherry tomatoes and showcasing Galapagos seafood including tuna, grouper, octopus, and spiny lobsters.


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On the menu is a seafood Carpaccio with peppers from chef Brandt’s kitchen garden and the crunch of yucca chips with seafood terrine.  Some imported foods are allowed but restricted and undergo close inspection. Chef Brandt has to make his grocery list at least 9 days in advance,


Avocado, passion fruit, and oranges are grown here planted by early settlers.


Dairies produce milk but only fresh cheeses.


“So I’m trying to make my own aged cheese,” said Brandt.


He showed me a small wheel of yellow cheese. “I want to wait for two or three months more. It’s an experiment so we’re all learning about it.”

He makes his own red wine vinegar and ages the local grass fed beef so it’s more tender.


Traditional tastes of Ecuador at the Pikaia Lodge including a quinoa risotto and Arriba chocolate mousse with passion fruit chili coulis add a gourmet touch to Galapagos adventures. What’s a pikaia? It’s the first organism discovered with a spine. See the design with little dots in the dessert above? That’s a pikaia.



Getting to the Galapagos and Getting Around 


From Atlanta I flew to Quito, Ecuador which is super high altitude at over 9,000 feet above sea level. Took my breath away, literally.


But so did the fabulous hotel we spent the night in before flying to the Galapagos islands the next morning.


The historic and gloriously luxurious Hotel Gangotena in Quito, right of the wide San Francisco Plaza, is a member of Virtuoso.  It’s beautiful.


I had the best, the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever experienced. What a way to get ready to launch off to wilds of the Galapagos!  Hey, even the airport in Quito was super nice.

Check out the sleek and modern airport bathrooms!


Souvenir shops in the airport got us primed and ready to experience Galapagos wildlife viewing …blue footed booby neck pillow anyone?


But….why oh why didn’t I buy that Blue Footed Booby throw pillow?! I love it! OK, next time for sure!



Galapagos Glam – no vortex left behind!




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Fresh and Fit Diet Advice

13 to go

Weight loss regimens are a national obsession especially at the start of the New Year when fitness centers fill up with new converts and supermarket carts fill up with salad fixings.


Whether your goal is to trim a few pounds or overhaul eating habits for the long haul, here is a round up of fresh nutrition wisdoms from registered dietitians who specialize in health coaching.

It’s All About You

One size does not fit all fits all when it comes to nutrition. Changing what you eat can make you feel better and your jeans fit better but it can’t make you into a six-foot tall supermodel. So have realistic expectations.


“People, like dogs, come in differing sizes and shapes,” says registered dietitian Nancy Clark, author of the Sports Nutrition Guidebook. “There are St. Bernards, greyhounds, Labs, poodles and Chihuahuas. Be proud of your ‘breed’, honor your genetics, and treat your body with respect,” says Clark.

Fitness Friends


Phone a friend. Registered dietitian Annette Schottenfeld, of Nett Nutrition says, “Walk with a co-worker. Meet new friends in dance class or team training at the gym. Stay connected with fitness friends to ensure you will show-up, motivate each other and share successes.”

Some Like it Hot


Fed up with cold rabbit food?  “Rather than trying to eat more and more salads, cook vegetables the way Mediterraneans do by roasting or stewing them with olive oil, onion, tomatoes and herbs,” suggests registered dietitian Elena Paravantes, health editor of Olive Oil Times. 

Learn by Example

peach dish

Demand for home delivered kits of pre-measured fresh ingredients with easy to follow recipes is heating up nationwide.  Mary Alice Shreve, registered dietitian with Atlanta based meal kit delivery service Peach Dish makes sure recipes feature healthful foods with seasonings that add flavor without relying on salt. How about a Super Foods Salad with kale and sunflower seeds or Red Quinoa Parsnip Stew? Shreve says, “It’s all about getting people back in the kitchen. If you can put olive oil in the pan you can handle these recipe.”

Add to Your Diet


Registered dietitian Toby Amidor author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen, advises setting short term goals, “It’s very important to establish short-term benchmarks and achieve different ones every few weeks,” says Amidor. “Short-term goals should be positive. For example, eat a fruit during at least one snack time each day.”

healthy new year

Goals should be measurable and pleasurable!



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Foodie in the Family Gift Ideas


If you’ve got a ‘foodie’ on your holiday gift list or someone who wants to become one in the New Year here are some simple, affordable and fun suggestions in the culinary category.


Watch the segment with  Christine Pullara and me with all of the gift ideas on NBC Atlanta & Company right here!


“The designers in the housewares industry are truly ‘building a better mousetrap or cheese knife’ every day,” says Mary S. Moore, owner and founder of Atlanta based Cook’s Warehouse.  “For instance the tofu press has totally changed and made effortless the process of removing moisture from tofu, from hours of squeezing to placing in a press and walking away.  There are thousands of examples of this kind of ‘aha and/or duh’ innovation.”


Healthy eating begins with healthy cooking and the easier the tasks become the easier it will be to enjoy time in the kitchen preparing meals to help support weight management goals all year round.


Gifts for Healthy Cooking

  • Salad spinner- create a gourmet gift basket and fill the salad spinner with olive oils, mustards and vinegars for making vinaigrettes.
  • Slow cooker- one of the best ways to tenderize tasty cuts of lean meat in stews packed with tasty vegetables.
  • Non-stick pans – great for sautéing vegetables with just a little bit of oil.
  • Microplane grater – for zesting citrus and grating hard cheeses and whole spices.
  • Great gadgets – make fruit and vegetable prep a breeze and a lot of fun with produce specific gadgets such as a jalapeno corer, cherry pitter, citrus juicer, strawberry huller, avocado cuber, garlic peeler and ginger grater.
  • Specialty spices – more expensive spices like cardamom, vanilla, saffron, smoked paprika and curry powders are elegant gifts to add flavor without sodium and healthy antioxidants with no calories.
  • Immersion blender – make rich and creamy textured soups and sauces from cooked vegetables without the need for much or any cream.
  • Spiralizer- to make oodles of ‘zoodles’, these great gadgets turn vegetables such as zucchini into pasta-like swirls.
  • Cooking classes – great gift for the gourmet or the kitchen beginner.

Moore, who offers over 800 cooking classes per year, says, “Our most popular cooking class is Knife Skills 101.  It’s a great building block and helps the student to become more confident in their abilities and feel more at ease in the kitchen.”


Fit for Fitness

  • Fitness sensors – they just keep getting better and better and even talk to your smart phone! Wearable digital fitness bands keep track of activity, food intake, and sleep patterns.
  • Fitness Gear – Clothes or equipment for an activity someone does or wants to try such as yoga or Pilates mat, yoga blocks, hiking poles, sports specific workout clothes and shoes.

Gifts for Gardeners

  • Little garden kits – Snip fresh herbs to add healthy seasonal taste to recipes. Small decorative containers of grow–your-own fresh herbs can sprout now on winter windowsills.
  • Big garden help – wrap up a brand new shovel, rake, or garden hose and attach vegetable seeds packets to plant in the spring.

 Something Special


The Ruffino Bruschetta Board by Noble Goods is hand crafted from walnut and is designed to beautifully display toppings for bruschetta such as olives, cheese, roasted red peppers and hummus.  And introducing the perfect stemware for enjoying Champagne. Meet the Riedel Veritas Champagne Wine glass. Yes, even better than Champagne flutes for savoring the delicate nuances of Champagne.

Merry Christmas and happy shopping!


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Happy Healthy Thanksgiving!


Whether you’re doing the cooking at home, taking a dish to a gathering or making restaurant reservations for Thanksgiving dinner Atlanta area chefs offer some inventive ideas to add a deliciously healthy twist to menu traditions.
While Thanksgiving is not a day for dieting, it’s certainly smart to up the flavor appeal of holiday favorites with creative recipes that help keep the calories down. That way you have room for a bigger slice of pumpkin pie. Yes, you can indulge without the bulge.

Here’s the How to Indulge without the Bulge segment for #HealthyThanksgiving I did for WGN TV with Chicago food stylist Connie Pikulas.


Enjoy Winter Salads

Look at these beautiful Brussels sprouts!

The very first Thanksgiving’s mission was to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. Chefs turn to the season’s harvest for culinary inspiration. Salads are often overlooked in the parade of roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy.
At newly opened Paces & Vine, chef Ian Winslade’s Tuscan kale salad with mandarin orange dressing, crystalized ginger and local radishes, is a great winter produce idea. The Thanksgiving to-go menu at Murphy’s, also under Winslade’s direction, features a winter salad of mixed greens, pears and walnuts as well as butternut squash soup with the flavors of apple and ginger cream.
Sweet New Ideas
What Thanksgiving spread would be complete without sweet potatoes? Sweet potatoes are rich in healthy fiber, potassium and beta-carotene. Chef Carvel Gould suggests roasting sweet potato wedges and tossing them together with parsnips and rutabaga wedges cooked in a non stick pan with some garlic and shallots for about four minutes until their tender but still have some texture.

Chefs at Seasons 52 restaurants, who specialize in creating just-as-tasty but lighter, lower calorie dishes are serving maple-glazed roasted butternut squash with their Thanksgiving menu this year.

Modern Family Menus
From the head of the table to the kids’ table, there are bound to be a few folks at Thanksgiving gatherings this year who have unique diet needs including a nut allergy, a gluten intolerance or are vegetarian or vegan. No doubt whoever’s cooking the meal will feel a bit challenged. Sous chef Cooper Miller of JCT Kitchen says, “We are used to special diet requests so we create a bunch of sides that anyone can enjoy without nuts, bacon or breadcrumbs. Then we throw in a few dishes loaded with all of those ingredients for those who want to splurge.” An easy idea for home entertaining: create a condiment platter of ingredients so each guest can customize their plates depending on allergies or food preferences.

Everybody’s happy on Thanksgiving.


How Not to Get Over Stuffed on Thanksgiving

• Fill your plate with your personal holiday favorites first. Don’t waste your calories on foods you can eat all year long.
• Turkey and all the trimmings may be the draw, but remember the main event should be sharing time with family and friends.
• Start a new tradition by taking a walk with family and friends after the big meal and serving dessert after the stroll. You’ll feel better and dessert will taste even better.
• Give thanks that even dietitians believe Thanksgiving is not a day to diet. You may not lose any pounds over the holidays, but if you maintain your weight you’re doing great.

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Sample Blog Post

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Chefs and their Menus

What’s on the menu? That’s a critical question chefs must decide before they open a restaurant.  “I was afraid. It was like writer’s block. I needed a point of view,” says Joe Truex, executive chef of newly opened Watershed on Peachtree.  Truex, no newbie to menu development has cooked in professional kitchens from his home state of Louisiana to flashy Las Vegas to the renowned Le Cirque Restaurant in New York. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1989 he set off to Switzerland to immerse himself in European cuisine and then after another stint in demanding Manhattan kitchens including the glamorous Peninsula Hotel decided to head south.  The menu of his former Atlanta restaurant Repast even caught the eye of Martha Stewart who invited him to appear on her television show.

It was a combination of these culinary experiences that led Truex to define what he wanted to cook at Watershed on Peachtree, “I decided that the menu for Watershed on Peachtree should be personal. I wanted to make it an autobiography of my life.”

So, on the menu you’ll find Joe’s Jambalaya, an homage to his upbringing in Mansura, Louisiana. “But it’s prepared in a classical style with everything cooked separately. I grill the sausage. I sear the scallops,” says Truex.  The Grilled Steak and Panzanella  Salad he learned to make at Le Cirque, ”It was owner’s Sirio Maccioni’s favorite.”

The focus of the menu is farm –to- table with locally grown produce and southern staples from pork to pecans. One item Truex had to include in his new menu story is Watershed’s famous fried chicken night (Wednesday), made popular at the eatery’s former Decatur location.

OK, I didn’t’ have a photo of fish at The Optimist but here’s me with a trout in Aspen!

Go Fish

Everyday has a catch- of- the- day when you open a seafood place. Chef Ford Fry has launched The Optimist and Oyster Bar in west Midtown with executive chef Adam Evans at the helm. Last month after lunch at Fry’s JCT Kitchen, I saw Evans sitting outside with chef de cuisine Brian Horn, working on laptops and legal pads designing the menu for The Optimist.

Here’s one of the delicious dishes I shared  for lunch at JCT Kitchen that day. 

That’s when it hit me that writing a menu is complicated business. Not only do you have to think of culinary mission of the menu and food costs; you have to consider who’s coming to the restaurant, do they want big plates or small plates, do they care about local farms and sustainable seafood, do they want to start with a salad, will they share dessert, do they crave hand crafted cocktails?

Mixologist, Laura Creasy is the mind behind the bevy of beverages on the menu at JCT Kitchen and The Optimist. 

The answer is usually yes to all of these questions today. And while it’s hard to please all of the people all of the time, seafood lovers dining at The Optimist will find a sea of offerings from delicate grouper with smoked Vidalia onions in a horseradish broth to down home fish house fried hushpuppies dusted in cane sugar. 

Dream Menu

As a dietitian who loves to dine out here’s what I like to see on the menu.

-Sensible portion sizes. It’s nice when the servers can tell you if the fish entrée is big enough to share or if you should just get your own.

-Healthy appetizers. Too many starters are deep fat fried or loaded with cheese. Great choices are seafood ceviche, steamed shellfish, simple salads of great greens or heirloom tomatoes with fresh herbs and without cheese.

– Clean tastes. Chefs love to make rich sauces, but too much can over power the flavors of fish or any food. Don’t gild the lily.

– Flavors without fat. The Optimist’s wood roasted Amish chicken with a fresh salsa verde is a good example. So is Watershed’s salmon with tomato and herbs.

The Old Salty Dog at The Optimist with fresh squeezed pink grapefruit juice and an impressive slab of grapefruit peel.
-Slim and stylish. Used to be that pungent foods such as Brussels sprouts and grapefruit were menu outcasts. But happily and healthily they’re now in vogue.

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Salt and Flavor Savvy

Pepper may be used to add the heat, but when it comes to diet debates the seasoning closest to the fire is salt.

Talk about spicing things up!

Government health officials have declared the sodium in table salt as a nutrition no-no with advice to limit intake in home cooking, restaurant menus, processed foods and school lunches. Sodium levels in foods have been on the nutrition watch list for years because research studies show that too much sodium in the diet is associated with high blood pressure, which can increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Meanwhile, there’s a heaping helping of scientists who say the salt warnings are way overblown and that there’s not enough research to prove that even if it does raise blood pressure a bit that salt consumption causes heart disease deaths.

So who should care about consuming way too much salt? Just about everyone, according to health watchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who report that 70% of U.S. adults should limit sodium intake.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend healthy adults consume no more than 2300 milligrams of sodium (about one teaspoon of salt) per day. A lower limit of 1,500 mg per day is recommended for adults with high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, the over 50s, and all African-American adults.

FYI: most of us consume around 4000 milligrams of sodium a day (about two teaspoons).

Fish tacos and a Margarita with salt on the rim! Just don’t lick the whole rim.

Cut Salt, Not Flavor

A big challenge for restaurants is that creating foods lower in fat and calories often means adding flavor with other ingredients such as sauces and salty spice blends which are often high in sodium. Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods list sodium content to help you keep track. Some chain restaurants provide sodium information on their websites. But, in general when dining out you’re often on your own.

  • The main source of sodium in the diet is salt or sodium chloride, with 2, 325 milligrams of sodium per teaspoon. Most salt comes from processed foods such as salad dressings, soups, cheeses, baked goods and snack foods. So cut back on portions or choose lower sodium versions; there are many better tasting ones on the market today.
Hot chiles, citrus, herbs, hot sauces add big flavor so you can use just a little salt.
  • Taste buds adjust. Scientists who study taste have found that when you cut back on salt you get used to it in about three weeks. You may even discover the real flavor of foods!
    A squeeze of tart lemon brightens flavors so you don’t need as much  salt.  
  • Note that pickles, cheese, smoked meats, gravies, sauces, salad dressings, barbecue sauces, soy sauce and broths are usually high in sodium so use sparingly. A tablespoon of soy sauce, for instance, contains 1,000 mg sodium. Hot sauces are often sodium free; read the labels.
  • Ask the server for help. Request that foods be prepared without added salt, or ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side. For low-sodium dressings, try lemon, lime or a splash of vinegar. Get to know the delicious difference between the taste of red wine, sherry, rice wine, balsamic and cider vinegars.
  • Look for menu items you can season at the table, such as a baked potato instead of mashed potatoes. Surface salt, such as a light shake on scrambled eggs or fresh sliced tomatoes, can give you the salt flavor hit you crave with just a small sprinkling. Even if those who don’t worry about salt and their health must agree that too much salt in a dish unpleasantly overpowers the other flavors.
  • Upgrade your saltshaker. Sea salt (which by weight contains the same amount of sodium as regular salt) is often brighter and livelier in flavor so you can use less salt to season foods. Amy Myrdal, registered dietitian with the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in Napa Valley notes that all salts are not alike, “Kosher Salt which is very soft and fluffy has granules that melt quickly on the tongue and 1 teaspoon contains only 1120 milligrams of sodium compared to regular table salt with 2,360 milligrams.”
  • Eat more spinach, cantaloupe, oranges and other fruits and vegetables. They’re naturally low in sodium and are excellent sources of the mineral potassium, which acts as the healthy counter-balance to sodium in body fluid regulation. Salsas made with fresh fruit and vegetables are a great way to add healthy flavors to foods.

Carolyn O’Neil, is a registered dietitian and co-author of  “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!”  Email her at carolyn@carolynoneil.com

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Healthy Foods You Already Love!

Do you flip-flop over what you think you like and what you think you should eat?
Win-Wins for Taste and Health

There’s no need to choke down chia seeds, develop a taste for tofu or eat any other foods wearing a trendy health halo if you don’t really like the taste of them. Choosing foods to improve the quality of your diet should start with recognizing what you’re already doing right. Do you add blueberries to yogurt or snack on a few pecans? You’re upping your intake of disease fighting antioxidants. Do you like to carry bottled water in your car? You’re more likely to stay hydrated and not confuse thirst for hunger. Do you go for the mustard and go light on the mayo when ordering sandwiches? You’re choosing big taste without big calories.

 Anytime you add more vegetables to a meal, use less cheese, choose leaner meats, grab the whole grain version of breads and go easy on the butter and oil-you’re right in step with the list of things to do to eat a healthier diet.

So rather than convincing you to try – chick pea cakes with flax seed granola (which I just made up but might actually taste good!)- or some other super nutritious sounding food let’s celebrate some of the dishes you may already be enjoying but, might not have known how healthy they really are.

Win-win for Taste and Health

Why not add some chopped fruit to your Guac?
  • Gaucamole– Since the main ingredient is avocado guacamole is a good source of heart healthy mono-unsaturated fats. The impressive list of nutrients in avocados includes fiber, potassium, Vitamin E and folic acid. Of course, where there’s fat; there are calories. One ounce of avocado, which is 2 tablespoons of mashed or two to three thin slices contains about 50 calories. But compared to two tablespoons of butter at 200 calories you can see why using avocado as a spread is a healthy idea. The mix of chopped tomato, onion, cilantro and jalapeno added to avocado to make guacamole actually lowers the calories and increases the fiber and vitamin content even more per bite. Just make sure not to eat too many fried tortilla chips (6 large- 130 calories). Enjoy with torn pieces of one corn tortilla instead (70 calories).  Or better yet with carrots, celery or jicama – a super crunchy and slightly sweet root vegetable popular in Latin cuisines. 
BBQ Chicken Flatbread!

  • BBQ Chicken – Here’s the bottom line if you’re aiming to reduce your bottom line or waistline – batter and deep fry a five ounce chicken breast and you’re chomping on 500 calories. But, if same size chicken breast is dressed up in barbecue sauce instead you choice is 350 calories – a 150 calorie saving. Want some more sauce to moisten the meat at the table? Most barbecue sauces contain only 15 calories per tablespoon. (The sweeter, thicker ones will be higher in calories.)

Seafood dishes are win-wins for taste and health
even with pasta if you choose a tomato based sauce.

  • Peel ‘n Eat Shrimp- The USDA’s My Plate dietary recommendations suggest we eat fish and shellfish at least twice a week to mix up our protein choices and consume seafood’s heart healthy Omega-3 fats. Shrimp are exceptionally low in fat and calories, especially if you keep them that way by enjoying boiled shrimp (¼ pound of boiled shrimp-112 calories, 1 gram fat) instead of fried (274 calories, 15 grams fat). Peel ‘n Eat Shrimp are often boiled with a spicy seasoning so all you need is a squeeze of lemon and you’re ready to dig in. And since all that peeling takes some time, it slows you down a bit so you’re more likely to keep portions in control. (Yes, shrimp contain some cholesterol, but because they are so low in total fat they’re considered a healthy choice.)

Hangar steak ( I’d skip the ball of herb butter) is a lean and flavorful choice .

  • Sirloin Steak- If you’re going out for a steak dinner ordering a sirloin steak can help you save on both your food dollar budget and your fat and calorie budget. Not as pricey as filet mignon or porterhouse, the sirloin cut is one of the leanest. A six-ounce top sirloin steak, strip steak, flank steak or London broil has about 300 calories and about ten grams of fat. Splurge on the same size serving of prime rib or rib eye and you’re looking at an additional 100 calories 10 grams of fat per serving. Want some sauce with that? 2 tablespoons of steak sauce-30 calories vs. 2 tablespoons Béarnaise sauce-120 calories. Better yet enjoy steak with sautéed onions and mushrooms and you’re adding more vegetables to your steak dinner.

Sushi is a win-win for taste and health, just avoid the “sushi” with cream cheese
 or other “don’t think they eat this in Japan” stuff.
  • Spring Rolls– No, not the deep fried egg roll kind- sorry. But, you can dig in and enjoy the Tai basil rolls popular on many restaurant menus, today. Wrapped in chilled rice paper and filled with fresh veggies and maybe bits of shrimp or chicken they’re a low calorie, high fiber finger food full of crunch and flavors. Low calorie dipping sauces range from sweet and spicy to pungent fish sauces.

  • Gelato– La dolce vita! Italian gelatos are commonly made with milk not cream so are lower in fat and calories than ice creams. But the real plus for a portion control conscious sweet tooth is that gelato is usually served in a dainty half-cup serving. Enjoy sliced strawberries, blueberries or summer’s sweet mango as a topping and you’re adding a fruit serving to your dairy dessert.

Banana gelato sounds great! And apparently  you can use the banana peels to make a pair of shoes!
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Southern Foods Y’all

When Richard Blais arrived to join other top named chefs presenting cooking classes at the Loews Hotel assembled for the 2012 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival he showed up with a bunch of leftovers. “I had a chicken carcass in a pan, some celery tops, cilantro stems and the tails trimmed off of radishes,” said Blais, a winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef All-Stars.”

Chef Richard Blais gets creative with everythying in the kitchen

Blais, who is busy writing menus and getting the kitchen set up to open his latest Atlanta restaurant, The Spence, wasn’t taking short cuts or trying to underwhelm his foodie fans. He was there to prove a point. “It’s ethical and economical and even virtuous to use every part of a product,” Blais told his audience. “The garbage can is not an option.”

Hey Richard, are those carrot tops? You win the Top Sustainable Chef contest too!

Southern Flavors Today

The three day festival focused on food and wine, featuring southern chefs, wine experts, craft beer brewers, bourbon makers and food producers filled the midtown hotel, nearby tasting tents and local restaurants with culinary stars and enthusiastic followers. In its second year, The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, organized and founded by Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, champions the past, present and future of Southern plates and palates.

How about a dash of Duke’s mayo with your Dish?

There was plenty of fried chicken, barbecue and biscuits, of course, but the variety of foods presented showed that “eating Southern” today means a reverence for the region’s farm fresh produce from Georgia pecans to Vidalia onions. And palates are changing.

A bit out of focus but so dang cute, Bryan Caswell gets ready for Cast Iron Cookoff.

During the “Cast Iron Cook-off” pitting chef Bryan Caswell of Houston’s Reef restaurant against chef Kelly English from Iris in Memphis, two of the judges – who just happened to be the moms of Love and Feichter chosen to reign over the Mother’s Day event- shared with the crowd that they were cooking with less bacon fat and more olive oil and enjoying more fresh herbs, salads and vegetables.

Can’t have an Atlanta Food & Wine Festival without some Georgia Peaches!!  

Nose to Tail, Seed to Stalk

There’s an old adage that good cooks know how to use ‘everything but the squeal’ when preparing a whole hog. Blais takes that philosophy even further by applying the concept to all meats, fish and vegetables. His cooking class called “Waste not. Taste a lot.” took folks back to the days when very little went to waste. “Wasting food makes me sad. There’s great flavor in the stems and trimmings of vegetables. You can slice the cilantro stems and use like chives. Corn cobs are the bones we add to stock to make corn soups taste even better. As chefs we should ask our selves ‘what do we do with the extras?’ such as the salsa verde I made with carrot tops during my demo.”

The menu at The Spence will feature both broccoli florets, for instance, and the stems which a lot of cooks just discard. Blais who is executive chef and partner says, “I think the broccoli stems are beautiful. We will make little pedestals out of them as rounds we can sit sautéed scallops or sweetbreads on top.” Nutrition note: broccoli stems are higher in fiber than the florets. And stems, seeds and stalks of most plants are high in antioxidant content.

Atlanta Food & Wine Festival featured star chefs and eager foodies. Norman Van Aken packs the room.

Tail to Fin

Using the whole fish is good for the palate and the planet, too.

Chefs Norman Van Aken and son Justin add a dash of Caribbean flare and flame to recipes.

Father and son chef duo Norman and Justin Van Aken from Miami and Key West grilled a whole red snapper, “This is nose to tail cooking too. We should be thankful for the use of every part of the fish and without being too preachy it’s respectful if you’re taking this creature from the sea,” said the elder Van Aken who notes that cooking fish on the bone is much more flavorful than preparing just the filets.

Sharing some tips from their upcoming cookbook, My Key West Kitchen, Norman Van Aken suggests using the bones, head, fish and tails of a grilled fish to make a delicious fish stock, “It’s like brewing a cup of tea. Why not throw in some lemon balm too?”

So cooking Southern today looks a lot like cooking Southern generations ago prioritizing farm fresh flavors and smart kitchen sense; it just took us a few years to get back to the past.

Watch Norman Van Aken and me in vintage CNN On The Menu video
He’s a rogue model pioneering New World Cuisine

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Marvelous Marche Region of Italy

Glorious view of the Adriatic from Hotel Emilia near Ancona 

While throngs of visitors flock to Tuscany and Venice, the region known as Le Marche or simply Marche on the east coast of Italy is just waking up to tourists. If you refer to the country’s geographic comparison to the shape of a boot, Marche (pronounced ‘mahr-keh’) is positioned just above the heel so would be the calf of the boot. From the lavender lined cliff views of the Adriatic to the hilly Renaissance towns filled with priceless art and gilded historic theaters there’s much to discover and very little competition to see the sights.

Bronze water horse fountain and no crowds in the square, Ascoli Piceno 

“It’s way out of the way. There are no tourists down there,” says Atlanta native Doug Strickland of Integrity Wines who’s traveled to Marche to source sustainable wines. “It’s a beautiful region with great chefs. There are cool chapels and well restored ancient buildings.” During my visit to the Marche I was delighted with the freedom to explore places on my own. Unlike Florence and Rome where you have to wait in long lines to gaze upon the statue of David or crush into the Coliseum, it was so quiet I could have reached out and touched the works of Raphael at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, where the great artist was born. A rustic farm house lunch of fava beans, pastas and rabbit at the Locanda Ca’ Andreana near Urbino was enjoyed in the company of the family dog sleeping by the door.

Fresh cherries and friendly dog at Locande ca’ Andreanna 

We’re Glad You’re Here !

What I found the most compelling was the welcoming attitude of the people who were honestly happy to see tourists and share their enthusiasm for this lesser known region of Italy.

Adorable bartender and a bowl of joy

My focus was culinary, of course!  I visited organic cheese producers, biodynamic wineries, savored seafood lunches by the beach and experienced elegant candle lit dinners with a little opera thrown in for entertainment.

Fusilli with fresh clams at Mattia in seaside San Benedetto del Tronto

Lunch begins with this colorful plate at Locande ca’ Andreana 

The Marche is a dream destination for food and wine lovers searching for festive and authentic settings. Hey, they invented lasagna here. Oh, and the accordion.
Italian Lessons
With the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet in mind I interviewed several svelte Italian women who live in the Marche and while pasta may be on the menu they were all adamant about how and when they eat to help them stay slim.
Daniela Pirani- dining in sequined top, skinny pants and heels -“I love sweets and cakes. But I really try to limit. I never eat pasta for the evening meal. Only once a week for cakes and sweets.”

Marta Paraventi- touring in pink t-shirt, black jeans and loafers – “I eat pasta or risotto for lunch maybe once a week, but only 100 grams of pasta.” (about ¾ cup)

Heather Griffin – translator originally from Pinehurst, North Carolina lost weight when she moved to Marche – “I walk a lot more now can’t park in front of your house. There’s a different way of eating here. Italian women don’t like to eat pasta in the evening. They have a salad in evening maybe with boiled eggs, tuna canned in water, olives, fennel and mozzarella. They don’t eat bread at night. And pasta portions are rich but small. I’m hooked on smoked bacon, tomato sauce and cream.”

The Happiest Hour
An Italian culinary custom which seems contrary to calorie control is the relaxed pre-dinner tradition of Aperitivo with a drink and little snacks such as olives, potato chips, nuts or bites of bruschetta. But that’s usually accompanied by the practice of la passeggiata – an early evening stroll- which aids digestion and adds physical activity. Griffin says, “It’s my favorite time of day.”

Marche has rolled out a new tourism campaign but are residents ready for more tourists to share the beauty of their land and lifestyle? The region’s President Gian Mario Spacca responds, “Yes, slowly but surely.”

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Dr.Oz on Dining Out

Dr. Oz in his scrubs after taping episode of The Dr. Oz Show

Chances are if you dine out with Dr. Mehmet Oz he won’t be staying for dessert.

“One of my pet peeves with restaurants is when they push dessert. It’s metabolic suicide,” Oz told me recently after the taping of The Dr.Oz Show at NBC at Rockefeller Center in New York. As one of the studio audience participants I got to watch Dr. Oz in action and gain a better understanding of his media mission to help viewers improve their lives, “We try to get people into wellness. But, it’s not really a health show, it’s about life.” Topics on the show this day included the body pains you shouldn’t ignore, tips on buying food and health products in bulk and discerning which outrageous alternative health treatments are actually legitimate. Hint: leeches can play an important role in modern medicine.

Assertive with Oz

Now back to the issue of declining that dessert. Oz, who is a cardiac surgeon as well as Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University, is concerned about the significant health consequences of obesity in America but says, “It’s really a 100 calorie problem.” He explains that by cutting 100 calories when you can (skipping dessert) or by burning 100 calories through exercise most folks can prevent weight gain. “You need assertiveness training to dine out. You have to ask the waiter not to bring the bread and butter. Look on line at the menus ahead of time. Even fast food restaurants have healthier options today.”

And if you can’t find a healthier version of your favorite restaurant food, The Dr. Oz Show can show you how to make your own at home. Do you like fried rice? In a segment called “Fake Out – Take Out” a Dr.Oz fan identified as Lisa prepared a lightened up version of Shrimp Fried Rice that featured edamame beans, quinoa and ponzu sauce- which is lower in sodium than soy sauce. Audience members tasted and approved. “Number one, you have to give them foods that they like,” explained Oz “Foods that taste good and happen to be good for you. The ponzu sauce was a smart idea.” Calorie savings shared on the show revealed that a typical order of Take Out fried rice contains 1000 calories, while the “Fake Out” lighter recipe contained only 360 calories.

The Oz File

Dr. Oz gained fame as a medical expert on The Oprah Winfrey Show for over five seasons and has authored best selling books with Dr. Michael Roizen including YOU: On a Diet and YOU: Losing Weight. The Dr. Oz Show has earned Daytime Emmy Awards for Best Informative Talk Show host two years in a row for 2010 and 2011.

After observing the morning taping, I met Dr. Oz in his office where he had changed out of the tailored suit he’d been wearing for the show and into comfy blue scrubs and a black t-shirt. His was relaxed and welcoming even though he was preparing to tape another episode in the afternoon. I felt as if I was being greeted by a family physician who’d known me for years and told him that’s how he appears to greet the guests who are ‘patients’ on his show. “I think that’s something that’s lost in American medicine,” he said, “Someone who knows your parents. It’s about identifying a quilt of symptoms.”

Another highlight of my visit to The Dr. Oz Show happened in the hallway outside the studio. I heard someone call my name, “Carolyn? Is that you?! It’s me Kari Pricher from CNN Features!” Kari and I worked together at CNN when I was hosting Travel Now. Now Kari is an Editorial Producer for The Dr. Oz Show. Small world and a wonderful coincidence to run into her again. Way to go Kari!!!  

Oz’s Lunch

Even though topics presented run the gamut from flossing to fibromyalgia, Oz believes “Good nutrition is the foundation of the show. When I walk into a grocery store I see all of the healthy foods and it’s like a pharmacy.” I looked next the scripts arranged on his desk and noticed a plate of food. Guess what he was having for lunch? A serving of the winning recipe for healthy alternative take out – the shrimp fried rice. How about that?

Oz is a doctor who takes his own medicine.

“Fake Out” Shrimp Fried Rice Recipe

2 tbsp canola oil

3/4 lb frozen shrimp, defrosted

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 chopped red pepper

1 cup asparagus cut into bite size pieces

1/2 cup shelled edamame (frozen can be used)

3 tbsp Ponzu sauce

1 egg and 2 egg whites whisked together

2 cups quinoa cooked in water

Additional Ponzu sauce to taste

Sriracha sauce to taste


Cook quinoa in water. Bring 2 cups of water and 1 cup dry quinoa to a boil. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until tender.

In a large non-stick frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat. Add the shrimp and garlic. Add pepper, asparagus and edamame. Cook for a few minutes until vegetables start to wilt. Add Ponzu sauce and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Move all ingredients to one side of the pan.

Scramble the eggs and egg whites. Cook in the pan. Add the cooked quinoa and mix all ingredients together. Add Sriracha and Ponzu sauce to taste. Enjoy!

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I Heart Pork Tenderloin

Pork Tenderloin Cutlets in Cracker Jack Salad at JCT Kitchen, Atlanta

Pork Tenderloin is Heart-Healthy 

If you’ve been scanning restaurant menus for chicken and fish to find healthful dishes you can widen your gaze. Pork which often gets overlooked as a leaner entrée possibility has officially joined the list. Pork tenderloin is now certified with the American Heart Association’s “Heart Check” mark indicating it qualifies as an extra lean heart-healthy protein. Bacon may be getting a lot of culinary attention lately and a rack of baby back ribs slathered in barbecue sauce can rack up 1000 calories, but, there’s more than one way to serve a pig. In fact, ounce for ounce pork tenderloin is as lean as a skinless chicken breast. A three ounce portion of pork tenderloin contains less than 3 grams of fat and 120 calories. Isn’t it great when you can please desire for flavor and good health with the same meal? “Pork tenderloin is very popular on our menus,” says Chef de Cuisine Brian Horn of JCT. Kitchen & Bar. “It goes well with so many other flavors.” On JCT.’s lunch menu the “Cracker Jack Salad” features thinly pounded pork tenderloin cutlets topped with an arugula salad lightly dressed with Georgia apple vinaigrette and garnished with the crunch of spiced caramel popcorn.

Not Your Grandma’s Pork Chop

Over the past couple of decades, changes in feeding and breeding techniques have produced leaner pigs. According to the National Pork Board, today’s pork has 16% less fat and 27% less saturated fat than 21 years ago. Pork tenderloin may be the trimmest of them all, but the loin cuts, including pork chops and roasts are the next leanest with 147 calories and a smidge over 5 grams of fat per three ounce serving. “For those who love the great taste of pork, the new certification is a wonderful reminder to incorporate more heart-healthy foods into their diet without sacrificing flavor,” says Pamela Johnson of the National Pork Board.

In the Pink

Recipes for preparing pork have changed too. Last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made it official that pork can be safely cooked to medium rare, at a cooked temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a three-minute rest time to continue cooking. This is fifteen degrees less than the previous recommendation and means the meat will be slightly pink in color. Because pork is leaner today, it’s important not to over cook it so the meat is juicy and tender. So slightly pink is considered very safe by the USDA. Chef Dean Dupuis of South City Kitchen says five years ago if he served pork a little pink in the middle his customers would send it back but, “It’s not as bad as it once was when everyone freaked out.”

Pork’s Nutrition Power

While cured pork products such as bacon and ham are relatively high in sodium, fresh pork is naturally low in sodium.

Pork tenderloin and other loin cuts are excellent sources of protein, thiamin, vitamin B6, phosphorous and niacin and good sources of potassium, riboflavin and zinc.

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Mars and Venus Dining Out

Don’t Pressure Her to Order the Molten Chocolate Love Cake 

This week of Valentine’s Day dinner dates seems like a good time to address the dining differences between the sexes. She’s on a diet; he wants a big steak is a stereotype of course so researcher Dr. Gayle Timmerman of the University of Texas at Austin put restaurant eating behaviors to the test. In a survey of 146 male and female adults she set out to identify sex differences in the strategies used and barriers encountered when attempting to dine out healthfully in restaurant settings. Turns out there is more compatibility than conflict at the table –good news for couples sharing a romantic meal and discussing the menu any time of year. As reported in the medical journal – Preventing Chronic Disease – Timmerman discovered the top strategies for managing weight for both women and men included saying “no’ to sugary drinks and ‘yes’ to steamed vegetables and whole grain options. Both men and women were good listeners paying attention to hunger cues to stop eating when they felt full. Meanwhile, both sexes included rarely asking the chef to make something special that was lighter in fat and calories. Where is Meg Ryan when you need her?

Dining Differences

OK guys don’t be surprised if your date asks for part of her meal to-go and think of the money you’ll save if she just wants an appetizer for dinner Compared with men, Timmerman found that women more frequently shared appetizers, substituted an appetizer for a meal, ate a salad for the main course, ordered salad dressing on the side, had half of the meal packaged to go, and shared a meal with a dining partner. More women choose mustard over mayo and order foods grilled, broiled or poached.

But, you might have to help her tell the server to remove the bread basket. Turns out men in the study didn’t perceive that as a barrier. And don’t pressure her to order the molten chocolate love cake for dessert. Women reported that eating when not hungry to please other people was an “overwhelming barrier.”

Shared Challenges

While there are plenty of healthy options on many menus today, research shows that the more we eat out the more we weigh. Forty percent of Americans dine away from home at least three times per week. Several factors driving what we order and how much we consume when dining out include taste, portion size, emotional needs, perceived value, and social interaction. All of these things can lead to over consumption for both men and women including a busy lifestyle, being overly hungry when eating out and not wanting to waste big portions. That’s why Timmerman and other behavioral scientists watch what we eat to help tailor effective weight management advice that’s personalized to fit men, women, children and a diversity of lifestyles, food preferences and settings.

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” Email her at carolyn@carolynoneil.com

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Super Bowl Snacks to Fill Nutrition Gaps!

Game on!
There’s almost as much hype about the menu for Super Bowl parties as there is about the big game. Many restaurants, bars and food markets have their flags flying high with special football focused menus to attract hungry fans. Super Bowl Sunday is a big day for food. Some say it’s the second biggest day of over-zealous eating next to Thanksgiving. Fans will be snacking before kick-off and all the way through half-time to the final cheers and trophy presentation to feed their nerves and celebrate the great plays with nachos, wings, pizza, burgers, ribs, submarine sandwiches, guacamole, chips and plenty of beer.
Here’s just one sports fan statistic to put consumption into perspective – The National Chicken Council estimates 1.25 billion pounds of wings will be devoured on Super Bowl Sunday.

Here come the Game Day Dietitians!

Add to the scrimmage nutrition experts who are out in numbers to throw a cautionary “flag on the field” to evaluate high calorie menu choices. After all, weren’t we just talking about New Year’s diet resolutions a month ago? There are some fairly simple ways to lighten up football food favorites. Use low fat sour cream or Greek yogurt in dips. Try to calm your nerves by crunching on celery sticks instead of diving into the tortilla chips. Use a small plate to create your game day meal plan instead of mindlessly grabbing finger foods so you lose track of your intake score. Tackle the stuff you really crave first such as guacamole with a few chips or small order of wings and then move down the field to secondary players when you’re not as hungry so you won’t eat as much.

Super Bowl Scores for You

Snacks, such as those served on game days, may have the reputation for being high calorie extras but they can play starring roles by saving the day with nutrients you may be missing in other meals. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, many Americans fall short of the nutrition goal post for these seven nutrients: fiber, calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, C and E.

Here’s how to snack on Super Bowl Sunday to boost your health. Game on!

Fiber: “The Safety” –aids digestion, lowers cholesterol and linked to appetite satiety. Foods: whole grain crackers, tortillas, bread, fruit, vegetables.

Broaden the veggie team to include cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, bell peppers, zucchini and yellow squash.

Calcium: “The Running Back” – supports bone health and healthy blood pressure.

Foods: Fat free or low fat milk or chocolate milk, yogurt or frozen desserts, low fat string cheese and Greek yogurt in dips. New research from the University of Maine shows that drinking one glass of milk per day boosts mental power in visual, verbal and memory tests. Think fast: should we run the ball or throw it?

Potassium: “The Wide Receiver” -regulates blood pressure to keep the cardiovascular system healthy and strong. Foods: citrus, citrus juices, cantaloupe, banana and green leafy vegetables including popular spinach dip made with frozen chopped spinach!

Vitamin E: “The Nose Guard” –supports immune system, healthy skin and works as antioxidant to lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Foods: Avocado in guacamole, in salads and on sandwiches. Nuts including walnuts, almonds and Georgia pecans.

California Haas Avocados smooth, creamy and rich source of Vitamin E.

Magnesium: “The Offensive Guard”- needed for bone and muscle health, nervous system and heart health. Foods: Pumpkin seeds, spinach, black beans, shrimp and soy beans. Calm close score nerves with healthy peel-and-eat shrimp and edamame beans.

Vitamin A: “The Kicker”-needed for healthy eyesight, skin and immune system. Foods: Orange colored produce such as tomatoes in salsa, carrots and mango.

Vitamin C: “The Quarterback” – lead player in looking and feeling good by supporting immune system, wound healing and healthy skin. Foods: Citrus, strawberries, bell peppers and tomatoes found in salsas! Hey add some chopped orange segments to the salsa too.

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Fresh Start Diet

Looking to lose weight this year? It remains one of the most popular resolutions. But research shows the most successful dieters — those who lose weight and keep it off for the long haul — practice healthy eating and exercise habits all year long. They don’t have New Year’s diet resolutions because they don’t make big promises that are impossible to keep. For instance, if you’ve ever vowed on January 1st that “I’ll never eat ice cream again!” or “I’ll never order French fries again!” you made one of the biggest New Year’s diet mistakes — biting off more than you can chew. Instead, set a time limit or portion limit. “I’ll only eat French fries once a month.” Or “I’ll only eat ice cream in a really small bowl.”

Whether it’s the last week of January or first day of June, there’s no time like the present for new beginnings. Here’s a simple guide to help you hit the reset button on food and fitness habits. Follow these FRESH start rules to launch a healthier new you.

Garden Fresh Flavors

F- Freshen up your food life – Think fresh fruit and veggies first. Fill up your plate with produce and go beyond the usual broccoli and green beans. Restaurant chefs are more creative than ever before with vegetable side dishes. A recent lunch at Farmstead restaurant in St. Helena, Calif. was a sensible serving of sole with lots of braised carrots and fennel lightly sauced with lemon and butter. Delicious vegetable sides at Valenza in Brookhaven include braised kale and roasted cauliflower. In veggies and grains, fiber adds good health and helps you feel full longer. So choose whole grain breads, pastas, pizza crusts and go for the brown rice instead of white. Think whole grains! The nutty flavors are palate pleasing in granola bars, cereals and your favorite shape of pasta. Sunbelt Bakery makes the best raisin and date granolas for breakfast!

R- Recognize barriers – Embrace and understand your favorite food splurges. Whether it’s chocolate cake or pasta with cheese sauce, it’s going to be tough to say ‘no’, so accept the power of your splurge foods and resolve to enjoy them in small quantities. Use a small plate to serve yourself. Research shows your mind will think it looks like a lot more food than the same amount on a large plate. Crave the bubbles in soft drinks but want something healthier? Make your own at eateries by asking for club soda mixed with a splash of orange juice or pomegranate juice.

E- Enjoy the taste of eating right – Did you know that steamed shrimp, roast beef, sirloin steak, Canadian bacon, boiled eggs, barbecued chicken and roasted pork loin are all diet-friendly lean protein choices? Feel free to add low-cal flavor with mustards, horseradish, cocktail sauce, hot sauces and salsas. Get excited about the crunch of fresh vegetables in a salad, not the croutons! The green salad served at Bistro Niko in Buckhead features the peppery punch of radishes.

S- Start new habits – Keep a list of what you’re eating and drinking for a few days. Be as specific as possible on types of foods and amounts. Don’t know what a cup of mashed potatoes looks like? Get some measuring cups out and become familiar with portion sizes. This snap shot will help you keep track of over eating and while you’re at it — write down your physical activity. Or literally take a snap shot of meals and snacks with your phone. Research shows those who are mindful of what they eat are more successful with weight loss goals.
H- Have a plan – Eat breakfast. Schedule time to take a walk or go to that yoga class. If you’re eating out tonight, eat less at lunch and walk more tomorrow. If there’s a road trip on your schedule, pack fresh fruit and a whole grain granola bar such as the ones from Sunbelt Bakery under 150 calories per serving. Curb your hunger so you aren’t tempted to stop at a fast food joint. Successful long term weight control is a balancing act.

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Of diets and detox

Weighty Nutrition Truths 
Talk about taking one for the team!

While millions of Americans try to eat less to weigh less, a group of 25 healthy volunteers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge agreed to pig out in the name of science by consuming nearly 1000 extra calories a day. Their mission was to help weight control researchers figure out if weight gain varies from person to person when they over-eat and how much is stored as body fat.

Did they all gain weight? Yes, they each packed on nearly eight pounds of body fat. But, the total number of pounds gained – as measured on a scale – was dependant on the percentage of protein in their meals. The group eating less protein gained less weight.

As reported in this month’s Journal of the American Medical Association eating a low protein diet (5% of calories from protein) causes the body to lose more lean body tissue compared to a normal (15% of calories from protein) or a high-protein diet (26% of calories from protein). The low-protein group gained half as much total weight as the other groups but it was due to muscle loss not because they stored less fat. In fact, Dr. George Bray, the study leader, reports that the low-protein group stored more than 90 percent of the extra calories as body fat. So, the numbers on the scale aren’t a good guide to tell you where the pounds are going.

More Protein?

Based on these new findings, there’s more reason to pay attention to protein. That doesn’t mean you have to mainline meats or protein powders. The USDA’s My Plate guidance to eat 6 to 8 ounces of protein foods a day is what’s recommended to protect your muscles. Unfortunately, research studies such as this one from Bray often get misinterpreted and misunderstood. Some may conclude eating more protein will help you lose weight; others might think limiting protein aids weight loss. Neither assumption is true. What is true is that over eating regardless of the food source leads to fat storage. No protein miracle cures, sorry.

Understanding Studies

“We get information in snippets about a study,” says Atlanata resident Robert Davis, PhD, author of Coffee is Good for You: the Truth about Diet and Nutrition Claims. “What is the whole picture? To look at a puzzle we must put all of the pieces together.” Davis’ new book debunks popular myths and points to what’s proven. He says nutrition scientists are closer to the truth now more than ever but many people are still misled by unfounded food fads such as “detox” diets. “Your body does not need to be detoxed,” says Davis referring to severely restrictive juice cleanses and regimens often including laxatives and herbal supplements. “Repeated and prolonged detox dieting can potentially lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, muscle breakdown and blood sugar problems.” If a “detox” plan leads to weight loss he says it’s because you’re cutting back on calories. The book includes a valuable explanation of the types of research used to study health from preliminary test tube studies to gold standard randomized clinical trials – the kind used by Bray in his weight gain research.

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Time to Delve into 2012!

Tasty and Healthy Food Trends for the New Year

Can’t decide between a side of the down home locally grown vegetables or the international taste adventure of a Korean kimchee? Then you’re smack dab in the middle of two colliding culinary trends predicted for the New Year. We want the world, but we want to support local farmers and producers.

Chef Micah Willix of recently opened Latitude Food and Drink in Buckhead has found a way to satisfy both of those cravings. His globally inspired cuisine is a delicious mélange of flavors from the Mediterranean, Asia and South America all featuring many ingredients from around the southeast.

Chef Micah Willix with guests at Latitude

Latitude’s pan roasted Louisiana redfish is served with quinoa, tangerine and local winter squash; the freshly ground lamb and beef burger acquires an Italian accent with rosemary aioli and arugula. Willix says, “Latitude will be an opportunity for me to explore more options of different cuisines and cultures, but I still want to cook and create dishes that are simple and close to the source.”

Farmer Dave Taylor’s Chefs’ Garden for Old Edward’s Inn  

More farmers on the menu. The National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot?” menu trend survey of chefs places locally sourced meats, seafood, produce as well as alcoholic beverages in the top ten for 2012. Dietitian Joy Dubost, director of Nutrition & Healthy Living for the NRA says, “Local farms and food producers have become an important source of ingredients for chefs and restaurateurs wishing to support the members of their business community and highlight seasonal ingredients on menus.”

Nutrition plus: organic and locally grown produce often tastes the best.

World Tours– “Cooking is at a crossroads where everything collides!” according to restaurant consultant, Michael Whiteman of Baum & Whiteman. Their 12th annual menu trend prediction list says from tortillas to tarragon we still want the world on our plates, “The wilder, the better. After all, if your new car’s parts come from around the world, why shouldn’t your sandwich ingredients?”

Just a tiny taste of the spice selection at the Culinary Institute of America Napa Valley campus! 

Nutrition plus: Borrowing from the world’s spice cabinet from Spanish saffron to Indian curry powders you can add flavor to food without as much salt.

Healthy Kid Stuff- Children’s menus continue to get an overhaul in 2012. Dubost says, “Nutrition – especially when it comes to children – is becoming a major focus for the nation’s nearly one million restaurants, in tune with consumers’ increasing interest in healthful eating.” The NRA’s annual convention in 2012 will feature a new Healthier Kids Fare Pavilion to showcase healthful children’s options.

Nutrition plus: The NRA’s Kids Live Well program helps restaurants develop menu items that meet specific and strict nutrition criteria.

Veggie Variety– Side dishes continue to gain gourmet steam as chefs put more effort into quality and quantity of choices. Willix’s warm beets with tarragon and smoked fingerling potatoes are show stoppers.

Nutrition plus: easier to eat your vegetables.

Gulping the Garden- Think way beyond the Bloody Mary as kitchens and bars continue to collaborate in 2012. The category of “culinary cocktails” made the NRA’s list of top trends. Mixologist Thomas Keenan at the Old Edwards Inn in Highlands, North Carolina creates refreshing blends of beet juice, broccoli, cucumber, herbs and edible flowers get a kick from vodka, tequila, rum, brandy or moonshine.

Nutrition plus: The drinks are made with vitamin and antioxidant rich fresh fruit and vegetables.

Would you like a little or a lot?

Have it Your Way– Expect an easier time asking for ‘sauce on the side.’ Mintel Research predicts more consumer control in 2012 as customized ordering systems will continue to flourish, as will greater flexibility in menu design.
Nutrition plus: Special menu requests help you control the salt, fat and calorie content of your meal. Gluten free choices more mainstream too.

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