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Friday, September 14, 2012

Quinoa. Gesundheit.

A few years ago I began strictly limiting the kind of meat that I ate. A story that I could tell perhaps in another post, I decided to only eat meat that was raised humanely and without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones. I made this decision for both health and humanitarian reasons. When I decided to limit the kind of meat I was eating, I also decided to cut back on the amount of meat that I was eating. So, gone are the two-steak-dinner nights, and the chicken for every meal days. But since meat is a good source of protein, I knew I needed to find some substitutes, even though we don't really need as much protein as we think we do (many of us get more than our fair share in a day...and unless we're professional athletes, we're going to be just fine). Even so, I began to search for substitutes, and I quickly found one that would become a favorite.

Quinoa (pronounced: keen-wah), is a grain-like crop that is grown primarily for its edible seeds. Cultivated by the Incas over 5,000 years ago, quoinoa is now considered a superfood, packed with phytonutrients and antioxidants. You can prepare quinoa in myriad ways, which is part of its appeal (seriously, Google: quinoa recipes). I have used quinoa as a dip, a rice substitute, in salads, and have even eaten it as a dessert. It's like the duct tape of food. When cooked, quinoa is light, fluffy with a slight crunch to it, and a subtle flavor that compliments nearly anything you put in it or next to it on the plate. And it's good for you. Quinoa has 6 grams of protein per serving, with all nine of the essential amino acids that help build muscle! Quinoa is also loaded with the vital nutrient magnesium, and also manganese and copper which act as antioxidants in the body. And for those of you looking to add some fiber to your diet (which you should always be doing), look no further than quinoa (3 grams per serving - not enough to have you running for the restrooms, but just enough to give your body what it needs).

I typically make a large bowl of quinoa with veggies and black beans and then eat it all week with pretzels or pita chips as a dip. It's a great snack idea as you can eat it warm or cold. Here is my recipe for a quick and easy dip:

  • Black beans (as much as you would like)
  • Half a bell pepper (I prefer the red because of the extra vitamin C)
  • 3/4 tsp of cumin
  • 3/4 tbsp of oregano (fresh if available, I use dried because it's quicker, easier, and cheaper)
  • A few pinches of salt (to taste, but don't overdo it on the salt)
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Any other veggies you'd like to add - it's really up to you!
Place 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook until all the water is absorbed (about 10-15 minutes). Add the other ingredients and serve.

You could also use this same recipe as a rice substitute for tacos, but add some cilantro!

So grab a bag of quinoa from Trader Joe's, or even from Wal-Mart (though it's actually cheaper at Trader Joe's), and cook up a snack or meal using this ancient seed. If you try it, let me know. Or if you have other great recipes using quinoa, share them down in the comment section.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Trust Fund Football...and Vitamins

When we were younger we used to buy cheap seat tickets to Denver Broncos games outside the stadium and then once we were inside we'd try to move down closer to the field. That was how we rolled. It was a great way to get quality seats at the price of the cheap seats. But it didn't come without labor, stress, worry, and even getting the boot at times.
A couple of us trust fund kids heading to the game!
(any resemblance to actual trust fund kids is purely coincidental.)

We'd grab our cheap seats, get acclimated to the high altitude up in the "nose bleeds," and then glance around the stadium's lower deck for a group of unoccupied seats. After about ten minutes into the game we'd make our move. We'd stealthily sneak past the usher by creating a diversion and then settle into our new seats. It was risky because we knew that the proper owners may just be held up outside the stadium at their favorite tailgating site, or maybe stuck in traffic, or perhaps they were snagging a footlong at the concessions stand (in which case I might have had to inform them of the dubious contents within one of those footlongs, but I digress), but we didn't care. We risked it anyway for the view. Every time a group of fans strolled towards our aisle, a little nervous, we planned our escape. If the true owners made it in that day, we played dumb, blamed each other, and retreated back to the friendly but vertigo inducing cheap seats. But...if the true owners never showed, we pretended to be young, bank rolled trust fund kids with too much money and time on our hands, enjoying our seats and the game!

Yeah...taking a daily vitamin is just like that (I know you were beginning to wonder where I was going with this...). The best way to enjoy great seats at a Broncos game is probably to actually purchase them (though I might argue with myself on this point on certain levels...but for the sake of the metaphor, I will concede the point). It's less like cheating and more like the real thing. And it's the same with getting your vitamins. The best way to get vitamins is in food, the natural way. Eating fruits, vegetables, and other natural foods provides the body with the daily essentials the way we were intended to get them. It's less like cheating and more like the real thing.

The problem arises when we don't always get these essentials. What then? Studies show that less than 1% of us get the recommended daily vitamins our bodies crave. Well in that case, go ahead and sneak down to the lower level and hijack someone else's seat (is this metaphor still working?) by taking a multivitamin in pill form. Multivitamins are not the best way to get vitamins, but they offer a power packed punch of what we need and may not be getting. Remember, they are called "suplemental vitamins" for a reason. They are meant to supplement our regular diet.

I take a multi-vitamin each day...just to cover my bases. And I do it the way that Dr. Oz recommends: half in the morning and half at night, and with food (food helps the body absorb the vitamins better than an empty stomach). I prefer the generic "One A Day," or "Centrum" vitamins guessed it, they are the cheapest. Though I wouldn't encourage you to rely on the multi-vitamin alone (it causes stress, worry, and sometimes you get booted from the nice seats), they are good to have to supplement your diet, especially since most of us don't get enough. So keep taking them, or begin taking them...Dr. Oz style. But also search for foods high in vitamins that your body needs and get them the natural way. You'll feel much more like some spoiled, trust fund kid with too much money and time on your hands. (I think I've now taken that metaphor as far as it apologies.)          


Friday, September 7, 2012

Why Do Veggies Taste So Bad!?

"Why!? Why are they so bad!?"
Let's face it, steamed veggies taste a bit like warmed-up construction paper. Not quite the worst thing you've ever tasted...but it's nothing to post about ton Facebook. Most of us just slap some steamed (or microwaved) veggies on our dinner plates and call it good...because it is good for our bodies. But then we try to subdue our pent up, volcanic frustration at how not good it actually tastes. Which may inevitably lead lashing out at small children or animals. And no one wants that.

I have four kids. So much of what I strive for is the quickest, most stress-free, and least expensive way to do something...for obvious reasons (or less obvious if you don't have kids). My life is already filled with chaos and my wallet already leaks like a hose in the suburbs left on all night. So cheap and easy is often best. I don't have a ton of time or money to throw at veggies to make them taste a whole lot better. But neither I nor my kids enjoy them as they are...and we can't take it anymore! Well a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled onto a solution that is quick, easy, cheap, and kid friendly (and that I also like it)!

Drumroll please... When making veggies, add some tomato or spaghetti/pasta sauce and a bit of shredded cheese. The tomato sauce adds a burst of flavor that should alleviate your volcanic anger at bland veggies. Plus, tomato and spaghetti sauces are made mostly of tomatoes and tomato puree. So in most cases it adds to the nutrion value as well. Remember: tomatoes contain lycopene and other vitamins that does your body good. Just be sure to read the label on whichever sauce you choose (a future post to come on reading labels). Note especially the sugar and sodium contents and make sure they aren't too high. Or, if you don't have four kids...make your own tomato sauce with fresh ingredients!

No Franken-Cheese!
The cheese also adds to the taste and makes the veggies appear more familiar to kids. Just be sure not to use too much (think of it as a garnish or condiment...not the main course), and to use real cheese...not processed "Franken-Cheese." Remember: real cheese hardens after being warmed and then cooling off. There is no such thing as real "nacho cheese" that stays gooey forever. These "nacho" cheeses are filled with enzymes and other un-natural ingredients to keep them gooey. Steer clear.

Let me know how it goes if you try it! And until you do try us all a favor and stay away from small children and animals.

Friday, August 31, 2012

10 Reasons I Love Chipotle Mexican Grill

Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good Chipotle burrito. They know about my daily cravings for a tortilla wrapped piece of heaven. Quite honestly, I can't get enough.

So I thought I would share the Top 10 reasons I love Chipotle...and why you might too.

  1. Their advertising - never lame. Always clever. Always cool.                              
  2. It tastes awesome. It is quite literally a gourmet burrito - for less than $7!
  3. Chipotle supports sustainable agriculture and purchases much of its food from local, family farms who use sustainable methods in raising animals and crops - I went and visited one actually. Back when I managed the Chipotle in Coon Rapids we all had to take a field trip to Iowa to see one of our largest providers of pork, Nyman Ranch. They had free range pigs, they rotated their crops each year, and they were involved in a project to restore native prairie land (I went and saw it!). Chipotle intentionally chose to purchase food from them because of these practices. (Did you know that you can actually ask your local Chipotle manager which farm your meat came from? It's written on the box that the meat came in. Although you may want to wait a few weeks to go into the Elk River Chipotle and ask...they're getting real sick of me.)
  4. Free Range Chicken and Pork - this is both a health and humanitarian plus. The chickens and pigs that Chipotle uses are not couped up in pens like on industrial farms (which is not only cruel, but also leads to a less healthy meat). They roam chickens and pigs are meant to. This actually makes the meat tast better, too! (Yes, I realize the irony of raising the animals humanely only to later kill them for food. This is something that still causes dissonance for me.)
  5. No growth hormones or antibiotics - The meat from Chipotle is chemical free! This is more natural for the animals (some cases of growth hormones being pumped into chickens actually make the chickens too large to simply walk around on their own. It's weird. It produces a bigger pay day for the farmers, but is awful for the chickens. And don't forget, whatever the chicken ingests, so do you if you eat that chicken meat.) So eat up professional athletes (not that you care about ingesting chemicals, anyhow...)! Too soon?
  6. I can see the kitchen that my food is being prepared in! I can watch what the chefs are doing and how they are preparing the food. No tricks. No dubious additives being mixed in behind closed doors. No dudes walking around with their feet in my lettuce...ahem...Burger King. 
  7. No microwaves - no microwaves means that nothing is being re-heated. It's all cooked fresh and ready to eat. And none of those weird red heating lamps, either. 
  8. No can openers - their veggies don't come in cans, they come from the fields directly to the store. 
  9. Their brown napkins - the napkins are brown because they are not dyed white (and they are made from recycled material). I'm cool with that. Thanks, Chipotle for not making me wipe my grill with dye. 
  10. White cheese - do you know what makes cheese orange? Not milk. Milk is white. What makes cheese orange is more dye. I'll take the naturally white cheese please. 
  11. BONUS: Did you know that because of Chipotle's large demand for Daisy Sour Cream, Daisy now makes sour cream without RBGH (growth hormone often used in cows that ends up in milk and then in the sour cream that you ingest)? Chipotle has become quite a power player in the industry and continues to demand that food is done right. Daisy listened. As Chipotle continues to grow, the need for healthier farming and food production will also increase. When Chipotle first started, they couldn't find enough cattle ranchers who met their naturally raised standards - but since Chipotle's demand has increased, they now source 100% of their beef from ranchers who meet the standard! Remember, for years restaurants like McD's and Burger King (and others) largely dictated how ranchers would raise cattle. Chipotle has spawned a revolution! And farmers have begun to change their ways. Viva la revolution!
An Actual Chipotle Cow

Monday, August 27, 2012

Eating Salads Can Ruin Your Health!

Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad with Oriental Vinaigrette
1,430 Calories!
Salads are healthy, right? A great option for any meal, right? (even though we'd probably give you a second look if you ordered one for breakfast). Salads have leafy greens, veggies, and often times some type of added protein, like chicken. So far so good, right? But what if I told you that I once came across a salad that weighed in at over 1,500 calories! Yes...1,500. Two zeros. Not one. 1,500 calories...for a salad. And what if I told you that five of six unhealthiest salads in America (according to Yahoo Health) topped the 1000 calories barrier? It might be enough to quit eating salads.

So what happened to our healthy salad? Well, it was hijacked by a throng of calorie monger thugs who filled it with all sorts of unhealthy ingredients...all but poisoning our once nourishing dish. The main culprits? Ingredients such as cheese, deep fried croutons, and enough high-calorie salad dressing to drown a fish. Toss enough of these together into a bowl and it doesn't really matter how much spinach, tomatoes, or cucumbers you won't be enough to undo the damage.

When choosing a salad at a restaurant be sure to explore the ingredients. Ask the server to leave the croutons off and ditch large amounts of cheese (or cheese altogether if you're up for it). If there is a protein added make sure that it isn't deep fried protein, but grilled. And probably most importantly, take it easy on the dressing. If you are really hard core about eating healthy and/or losing weight, just ask the server for some olive oil, salt and pepper, and a lemon slice/lemon juice and then add these to your salad to taste. If you are not as hard core, simply stay closer to the vinaigrette dressings and the "Light" dressing and don't overdo it. A few tablespoons is all you really need. When making salads at home, toss your salad ingredients into a large zip-lock baggie with your salad dressing (a few tablespoons) and shake it up. This will help coat ALL the leaves with the dressing, ensuring a flavor burst with each bite and helping you to avoid the temptation to soak the veggies with more.

Another way to give your salad a boost is to stick with dark leafy greens as opposed to the whiter/lighter lettuce. Ice burg lettuce won't hurt you, but it doesn't really help you either. Mostly water, ice burg lettuce has little nutritional value at all. Instead, opt for the spinach, romaine, kale, or other dark leafy greens. (Do this at places like Subway, too, which is notorious for its ubiquitous ice burg lettuce, but which also has a fresh spinach option, though less publicized).

A lot of restaurants refuse to disclose their nutritional stats, so be careful. The "Eat This, Not That!" app for the iPhone might be worth the download! (the books are great, too! and they have a "For Kids" version!)

It's time we take back the salad! Who's with me?