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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Recipe Edition!

Since you're all taking The Pantry Challenge and cooking at home this week, I thought it would be a good time for a recipe makeover! Send your favorite "not so svelte" recipe to me at jenny@thesveltegourmet.com. Over the next couple weeks, I'll choose a few to revamp. I'll publish the made-over versions in upcoming blog entries!

I know what you're thinking. There's no way "my famous xyz" will be the same with lighter ingredients! Well, you're right, it probably won't be exactly the same. But here's what I can promise you -- it will still satisfy your urge for whatever it is supposed to satisfy! In other words, comfort food will still comfort you, dinner party food will still impress your guests, and quick-to-the-table dinner will still be speedy. Remember, this is a lifestyle change. We still need our favorites from time to time. Denying ourselves these guilty pleasures just leads to a backslide to bad behavior. My goal is to make your guilty pleasure with a lot less guilt!

Some of the made-over recipes from The Svelte Gourmet include spaghetti, lasagna, pad Thai, burgers and even pizza -- a pizza so good that my family says it's better than delivery. They request it weekly and I oblige. After all, the entire 8-inch pizza only has 400 calories and is loaded with wholesome ingredients and no preservatives! That's my kind of diet food!

So send me your favorite guilty pleasures and I'll get to work on some svelte make-overs! Don't worry, I won't publish your original "secret" recipes -- just the new versions, attributed to you.

Send your recipes to jenny@thesveltegourmet.com. Go ahead, challenge me!

If you need some recipe ideas in the meantime, The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Take the pantry challenge!

What we don't know CAN hurt us. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in my quest to figure out what's in the food we're eating, I've learned some pretty scary things. Restaurant salads are often the most calorie-laden things on the menu. Lean meats and vegetables are often prepared with oil and butter in restaurants. Eating a roll or two from the basket before your entree arrives can add 400 calories to your meal. My favorite CHICKEN sandwich at the fast-food restaurant near us has 800 calories -- in JUST THE SANDWICH. Don't even get me started on the fries. A restaurant-sized portion of pasta is often 3-4 times the recommended serving size. That adds 600-800 calories to your meal in JUST the pasta, never mind the sauce, cheese, sides, bread, etc. The restaurant margaritas I investigated had 500-1100 calories -- EACH.

Here are some additional things I figured out during my discovery:
1. Cooking at home can be fast
2. Cooking at home can shave thousands of calories off your DAILY intake
3. Cooking at home saves money
4. Cooking at home (even healthy cooking!) can taste just as good, if not better, than eating out

So I throw down the oven-mitt (sort of like a gauntlet, right?)! Here's the challenge! For one week, prepare healthy meals (lean proteins, veggies, whole grain carbs and only heart-healthy fats) AT HOME. This really is the perfect time for it, with the chilly February weather even here in Charleston (and in some parts of the country, even more snow on the way!). Use what's already in your pantry, fridge, or freezer -- and if you find that you've stocked your kitchen with unhealthy options, head to the grocery store. If you do venture out, stay away from prepared and processed foods -- microwave dinners don't count as home-cooking! And steer clear of the drive-through, take-out and deli!

Maybe you cook everyday and want to use this challenge to make your meals more healthy. Maybe your spouse does the cooking and you want to try your hand at it for a change. Or maybe neither of you cook and what you've just read above makes you want to make a change for yourself and your families. Whatever the reason, please give it a shot! I can tell you this -- eating in, cooking for myself and understanding what was going into the recipes (and thus, into my body!) was what made me lose weight. No crazy diets, no starving. Just eating the right foods at home. It shaved thousands of hidden restaurant calories from my diet. It's a no-brainer, right?!

Here are some tips to get you started:

1. At the beginning of the week, make a pot of soup. It's quick to reheat, lasts for several days and feeds you several times. The Creamy Broccoli Soup is a good choice because it's filling, low in calories (only 75 per 1 cup serving!) and packed with fiber. Keep the soup in the fridge and heat some up throughout the week for a quick lunch or a healthy snack -- or dinner if you don't feel like cooking!

2. Leftovers make great lunches during the week, or you can put them in the freezer for future dinners. I make The Svelte Gourmet Skinny Lasagna and Sweet & Spicy Chili regularly for the purpose of storing leftovers!

3. Banish the potatoes! They are simple carbs, they add unnecessary calories to your meal, they take a while to cook and you will still have enough to eat without them -- I promise!

4. Plan each meal to include a lean protein and lots of veggies. I typically plan meals that include whole grain rice or whole wheat pasta twice a week.

5. If you need recipe ideas, consult this blog or The Svelte Gourmet cookbook! Both are loaded with healthy choices, so you can't go wrong.

I'm taking the challenge, too -- over the past couple months, I've fallen into some bad behavior. Eating on the run, letting my passion for baking take over, seeking comfort food as the mercury falls. I'm ready to get back to it! Spring is right around the corner. Are you with me?!

Please comment below and share with us what you're cooking -- if you're trying this for the first time or if you already cook every day anyway! We can all use some inspiration and every challenge is easier with friends. If you need help or want an idea for what to do with some of the random things in your pantry, comment below or send me an email at jenny@thesveltegourmet.com. Maybe we'll come up with some new recipes together!

Take the pantry challenge! Eat in, eat right, lose weight, feel better. That's it. Good luck!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. A portion of sales will be donated to Louie's Kids in the fight against childhood obesity.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Food: Fashion or Fuel?

So I was cleaning up at the news station after my cooking segment the other day, and I was talking to one of the anchors and another show guest. The anchor really enjoyed the Creamy Broccoli Soup, and she was especially happy to learn the yogurt substitution trick. She was telling me about a cooking class that she took. During the class, she raised her hand and asked if there were any substitutions they could use to make the food more healthy. She said the chef gave her a glare that was like daggers. Then the other guest added that he once took a French cooking class, and he asked the chef if he could substitute soy butter. The chef threw a book at him. Wow...I'm prepared for a whole bookshelf to be thrown at me! I make creamy soup with no cream (gasp!) and I use a meat thermometer in my chicken (!!!).

I'm not bashing chefs or culinary training, nor am I saying that there is no place for rich foods or restaurant meals. I love eating out and trying unique, beautiful dishes! I am in awe of the amazing chefs who make it their life's work to create gastronomic masterpieces for us to enjoy. We are entitled to our nice dinners and guilty pleasures. I read cooking magazines and cookbooks and watch cooking shows daily. I love to cook and consider myself a foodie. But if I ate like that 3 meals a day, I'd be unfit inside and out. I also like to try rare and special ingredients, gourmet cheeses and foods that turn every night dinner into fancy fare. But if I did THAT for 3 meals a day, I'd also be broke. What I am saying is that we shouldn't be chastised -- by anyone! -- for wanting to keep ourselves and our families healthy most of the time.

I couldn't find a statistic on it, but I'd be willing to bet that 99% of people responsible for putting food on the table at home do not have formal culinary training. Many of us learned our cooking skills and eating habits from our parents -- good habits and bad! Recently, I've heard comments like, "my parents/grandparents ate fried food everyday and they lived to be 90." Well, my great grandmother baked bread everyday and fed her family a diet loaded with potatoes. After all, that's the most cost effective way to feed a husband and 13 children. But when you knead the bread yourself, dig your own potatoes and wash clothes for 15 people on a washboard, you're getting your cardio! I'll go out on a limb again and say that most of us do not have what is considered an "active" job. I certainly don't -- typing doesn't burn many calories, and even a thousand laps around my kitchen can't be considered cardio.

Anyway, I write this blog and share my recipes and lessons for the "every day" cook. Whether we have formal training or not, we all have to eat. Several times a day! I love the craze surrounding food and cooking -- there's even an entire television network devoted to it! But with food as fashion, the concern has mostly been taste, not nutrition. What's gotten lost is the concept of food as fuel. We need it to survive, and if we want our bodies to perform optimally, we have to put the best stuff in. Lean proteins, heart healthy fats, vitamin-rich vegetables and whole grain carbohydrates. The good stuff.

In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 32 percent of American children are considered overweight and 34 percent of all Americans are considered obese. WOW. This is a serious problem. And the culprit isn't fancy restaurants, chefs or the Food Network. Really, I believe it's the drive-thrus and the processed and frozen food aisles at the grocery store. We've sacrificed nutrition for convenience. We're spending more time on the couch and in front of our computers and less time exercising. And we're going to pay the price for it. And this is not about being skinny, it's about being healthy inside, too. Keith used to have digestive problems and high blood pressure. Since he's been eating healthier and staying away from the sweet tea, he no longer has acid reflux and his blood pressure has normalized. Oh, and he's lost 20 pounds -- just a bonus.

Preparing healthy food everyday may seem daunting, but it really can be simple, fast, inexpensive, AND delicious! I receive so many comments from fans about what they do to make healthy food for their own families, and I love that this blog has become a forum for us to share our ideas. I've also received a little criticism here and there from those who have "expertise" in one area or another. And that's fine, throw those books! Dodging them is great cardio!

And I guess if I have to have a point, it is best said by this alliteration (because I'm nerdy like that) -- food can be fun, fashionable, and fancy (and fantastic, of course!), but most importantly, it should be fuel. Feed your bodies right (most of the time) and you'll be fit inside and out. And it feels good!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. A portion of sales will be donated to Louie's Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting childhood obesity.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Creamy Broccoli Soup -- As Seen On TV!

Good morning! I am honored to be joining Louis Yuhasz from Louie's Kids on Lowcountry Live (ABC News 4) this morning at 10:00 a.m. to talk about our participation in the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival. I'll be cooking my Creamy Broccoli Soup on the air, as well!

For the recipe for Creamy Broccoli Soup, please click here.

To purchase The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook, please click here. A portion of sales will be donated to Louie's Kids (fighting childhood obesity).

To inquire about "personal training in the kitchen" cooking lessons or parties, please click here.

Thank you for watching and reading! Enjoy!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Moving beyond the PB&J -- eating on-the-go!

The other night, I had a craving for Tangy Buffalo Chicken. I was marinating the chicken and invited my in-laws to join us. I knew this was risky, since my father-in-law has a major aversion to chicken breast ("because I don't like shoe leather"). Yet I'm determined, as always, to show him the joys of a properly cooked chicken breast (I'm very stubborn). Usually I stick to varieties of lean beef or seafood when they're coming over, but tonight was chicken, already in progress. He'd been warned, but he came anyway! Now lest you think we're prone to bickering, this is all just lighthearted teasing, comments always made with a twinkle in the eye. But I was floored by his next comment. "This is really good, I'm surprised (wink). It's juicy and moist (that word makes me cringe, so he says it as often as possible). But don't tell anyone I said that...I have a reputation to uphold. (grin)" Oops...well I just told you. But I'm sure he won't mind. Anyway, just when I thought I'd come out victorious, he says, "but you really should learn to fry -- it would make you more well-rounded in the kitchen." My retort? "But, see, I don't want to be rounded!" Point made, end of discussion.

What does this have to do with "eating on-the-go," you might ask? Well, not much, except that I made some extra chicken for us to have for lunch the next day. And also that I like a challenge, whether it be getting my father-in-law to eat chicken breast or coming up with interesting lunches that don't require microwave access! My husband was talking to a friend the other day who has an exceptionally long daily commute, so she's relegated to drive-thru (not very svelte) or whatever will fit in her bag. So I thought this might make a good topic for discussion. Below are my ideas, but I would love to hear yours!

The first thing we must do is skip the brown bag and invest in an insulated lunch bag. These are cheap, handy, cute and come in a variety of sizes. They even come in male-friendly versions (I tried to pack Keith's lunches in this adorable one in the picture, but he wasn't having it!). Anyway, get one of these and a cold pack that lives in your freezer until you need it, and you can keep almost anything cold enough for several hours.

No microwave? No problem! Get a Thermos -- I find that the wider, "squattier" models are better for eating out of with utensils. Heat up your food to piping hot before you leave the house, put it in the Thermos and it will stay hot for hours. Soups, chili and stews are obvious choices for the Thermos, but they're also great for leftover stir-fry, rice or pasta dishes. If you're not worried about aesthetics, stuff some The Svelte Gourmet Skinny Lasagna in there....YUM!

Now I don't know about you, but I absolutely cannot stand reheated chicken. But cold, it's amazing. Different than last evening's main event, and perfect for a variety of on-the-go lunch options. Whole wheat sandwich pitas, bread or wraps are great. Use some leftover chicken, vegetables and some interesting spreads (light mayo will be fine if you have a cold pack, but why not liven it up with some mashed avocado, sundried tomato, olive tapenade or honey mustard instead? Yummy!). Try a chicken taco -- they're great cold or at room temperature. Leftover steak with some low-fat horseradish sauce and arugula would make an amazing sandwich. If you're watching your carbs, use the same ingredients wrapped in lettuce leaves. They're crisp and refreshing with no carbs and negligible calories. For low-calorie toppings that add a ton of flavor, try pickles, banana peppers or olives. Yum! I love sandwiches, so I could go on and on...

Why not take that leftover chicken and turn it into a chicken salad. Make it with yogurt instead of mayonnaise, and it's instantly transformed into health food! You could eat it over a salad, but I prefer to toss it with some veggies (snow peas are great, or celery and onion) and cooked whole grain pasta for a filling but light lunch.

For breakfast on-the-go, try some of my Raisin Honey Bran Muffins from an early blog entry. These are easy to eat, packed with fiber, and very low in calories. The perfect way to start your morning. Try one with some lowfat yogurt or an apple and some light cottage cheese. This beats a boring bowl of cereal any day! Want more protein? Have a hard-boiled egg -- just peel it before you leave the house, because it's not the easiest thing to do while you're driving. Safety first!

Snacking is the easiest and the toughest at the same time. Easy because we are learning the healthier things to eat. Harder, because if we don't portion ourselves, we'll eat way more than we should. So before you leave, package one portion of nuts (1/4 cup has 180 calories, so watch those nuts!) or grab a part-skim mozzarella cheese stick for protein. I love fruit with lowfat peanut butter or light cream cheese. Again, watch the portions. Here's a trick -- mix the peanut butter with the cream cheese. It tastes amazing and is equally great on apples or celery! YUM. I also keep homemade whole wheat baked tortillas on hand, and they're great with salsa or a quick guacamole (avocado, onion, tomato, jalapeno, lime juice and salt -- throw in cilantro if you like it. I don't!). Avocados are full of heart-healthy fat, but watch your portions. Try mixing in some plain yogurt to increase the volume without adding a ton more calories. Yogurt-based dip is also great with a variety of raw veggies. I also love homemade beef jerky -- Keith makes the BEST. We use lean beef like London broil and we can watch the salt since we're making it at home. It's a great snack!

Sure, you could make salads, but here's something a bit more interesting. A plate of raw vegetables with yogurt dip, a hardboiled egg, some lowfat cheese, some turkey pepperoni (only 4 calories per slice!), and some pickles and olives make a VERY flavorful light lunch.

My favorite lunch on-the-go is cold The Svelte Gourmet pizza, but there isn't ever any left. Oh well!

Please share your ideas with us! We all need some inspiration for packing healthy and simple lunches for ourselves, our spouses and the kids. And if you try some of these suggestions, let me know what you think!

Oh, and I almost forgot...keep some extra plastic forks, spoons and napkins in the car. It's no fun eating yogurt with your fingers!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.

Eat, drink and give back - Girls' Night Out with a Cause!

Clients come to The Svelte Gourmet for different reasons -- some are trying to lose weight; some love to cook, but want to make their food healthier; some just want a night out with friends; and others know that if they come to The Svelte Gourmet, they won't have to do the dishes! Whatever the reason, we always have a great time, make a lot of fantastic food, and keep the calories to a minimum.

This particular group of ladies has a monthly girls' night out, with one major difference -- each month, they pick a charity to support. What a fantastic idea! I was honored to host their group and inspired to find my own ways to give back. I'm sharing this with you in the hopes that their girls' night out theme inspires you, too!

They had a great time, learned a lot, and we prepared a 5-part meal with fewer calories than 2 slices of pan pizza or most restaurants' dinner salads (more on this later)! But don't take my word for it...here's what they have to say:

Serving Up Taste, Not Calories
by Tess Hughes, GNO with a Cause
Charleston, South Carolina

The GNO with a Cause group headed out to the quaint town of Meggett, South Carolina to attend a fully-personalized, Thai-themed cooking lesson at the home of Jenny Fox, creator of The Svelte Gourmet. She welcomed us into her beautiful home to get a personalized, hands-on lesson on cooking a four course meal with less than 800 calories.

The room was filled with nostalgic music and the smell of fresh ingredients as we entered the home of The Svelte Gourmet herself. The kitchen was organized by course with recipes and ingredients at each station, which kept the preparation time down to a minimum. As a team we whipped up each course and sat to enjoy it before moving onto the next item on the menu. In between course preparation, Jenny answered any questions and offered up helpful hints. In addition to learning some fabulous low-calorie recipes, we took home a wealth of information on nutrition, no-calorie fillers and cooking tips and tricks. Jenny even had recipe cards of the entire meal for us to take home. The lesson's content was invaluable!

At the end of the meal, we were full, satisfied and talking about scheduling our next lesson before we could make it out of the front door. Although we
had just met Jenny for the first time that evening, we felt at home and welcomed. Thanks to Jenny for her charitable contribution to our February GNO with a Cause that benefited the Grace Home. To learn more about Grace Home, please visit

Here's the menu that Jenny prepared for us:
Ginger Sesame Salad Dressing over a bed of spinach, tomatoes and cucumbers
Far East Tomato Soup
Bok Choy with Sesame Drizzle
Shrimp Pad Thai
Petit Creme Brulee

For more information on The Svelte Gourmet, please visit

Thank you, Tess, for the great review! Now, a couple things. First, for the sake of learning, we cook a lot of courses as part of The Svelte Gourmet lessons and dinner parties. I certainly don't cook 5-part dinners every night, and I'm guessing you don't either! But take the dinner we cooked and split it up a little, and you have components that very easily fit into a reduced calorie diet. For example, the soup for lunch with a slice of whole grain bread; entree, side and salad for dinner; and dessert for a snack. Voila! But still, even with all its components, this entire dinner had fewer calories that 2 slices of pan pizza.

Which brings me to another point...a lot of people tell me they're trying to eat better, but wonder why they're not losing any weight. I know it can be depressing, but it's very important to know how much you're actually eating (even if you eat it anyway). You will be shocked by how many calories you're actually taking in. Yes, I'm a bit (a lot) nerdy with my calorie spreadsheets and Internet nutrition searches, but it really helps me to know what I'm putting in (and therefore, why the scale isn't budging!). I don't always practice what I preach, but in any lifestyle change, you're entitled to splurge once in a while. Anyway, if you have any questions about the calories in the foods you eat, let me know -- I'll research it for you!

Again, I'm honored that the ladies chose The Svelte Gourmet for their February location, and their review provides a great snapshot of what we do for clients in The Svelte Gourmet kitchen. It's inspired me to keep giving back, and I would love to do this same sort of GNO in my free time. What fun! And for great causes, too! In keeping with this model, I'll be donating a portion of cookbook sales to the Haiti relief efforts and Louie's Kids (fighting childhood obesity). The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chicken Masala with Coconut Milk (New Recipe...and wait 'til you hear what else!)

Sometimes I get so excited, I can hardly stand it. Now is one of those times. I know that not all of you share my passion for cooking, but I'm sure wherever your passion lies, you know this feeling. And for those of you who do share my passion for cooking, you know exactly how I feel -- sometimes you just have to share!

So Keith wanted The Svelte Gourmet chili for dinner. He's requested that we have chili in the crock pot or in the fridge or freezer at all times, so I try to oblige. I love when he loves my food! But I didn't want chili, I wanted to make something new. I've been on this international kick lately, and I wanted something warm, spicy and exotic. I was discussing recipes with a friend this morning and she inspired me. Indian food!

But before I get into the Chicken Masala, I have a couple other things to share with you. First is my obsession with my immersion blender. You know by now that I have a thing for kitchen gadgets. Really, though, I like the things that make my life easier. I do love to cook, but it's really the challenge of making recipes healthy and simple that is what I love most. After all, we have to cook EVERY DAY. It needs to be simple. Otherwise, we end up reverting to bad habits. Anyway, any recipe that says "transfer to a blender" immediately turns me off. Until recently. This, my friends, is an immersion blender. It changed my life! You may have one of these tucked away in your cabinet ("because I don't make milkshakes!"), but you should get it out. This baby is super handy. So handy, in fact, that it didn't even make it back into the cabinet after last night's client dinner party.

The immersion blender makes very quick work of pureeing your dishes into beautiful, silky, smooth masterpieces. I first introduced this in my post about the increasingly popular Creamy Broccoli Soup. It literally takes 12 minutes to make -- and 10 minutes of that is boiling the broccoli! With this handheld blender, you can just cook, blend and serve in one pot! I even use it when Courtney and I make spaghetti sauce (she doesn't like the chunks). So if you have one of these babies, dust it off and put it to good use. If you don't have one, consider getting one. They're relatively inexpensive and in my opinion, indispensable!

OK, get ready, because this news is VERY exciting. I recently heard about this from a friend, and I did my requisite due diligence. So here goes. Basmati rice ranks similarly to brown rice on the glycemic index! I feel like running around the neighborhood and spreading the news! The glycemic index measures carbohydrates and the effect they have on blood sugar. As you may have read in my last post, whole grains are lower on the glycemic index than grains that have had the bran and germ removed (white flour, for example). Well, as it turns out, the higher the amylose content of rice, the lower it is on the glycemic index. Amylose is apparently a type of starch and I don't know much about it (yet), but it seems that basmati has it. This is very exciting, because basmati rice is wonderful -- aromatic, fluffy and really yummy. Very exciting news! This may not seem like a big deal to you, but I promise you'll see!

Now onto the main event -- the recipe! Don't be afraid to try some of these spice mixtures (like garam masala), even if you've never heard of them. The flavors are amazing. And I picked these up at my local grocery store!

Chicken Masala with Coconut Milk
Serves 4

For the chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup light coconut milk
2 tbsp finely chopped onion
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil

Cut chicken into 1-2 inch cubes. Marinate them in the yogurt, light coconut milk, onion and salt for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. Reserve the oil for browning the chicken later.

For the sauce:
1 tsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz can)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garam masala
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup light coconut milk

Heat 1 tsp oil in a skillet over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and saute onions and garlic for about 3 minutes (or until they begin to soften). Add diced tomatoes, salt, garam masala, curry powder, coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into a small mixing bowl. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.

Heat remaining 1 tsp oil in the skillet over high heat. Reduce heat to medium. Drain marinade and add chicken to skillet, cooking for about 2 minutes (flipping the pieces after 1 minute for even cooking). Add reserved sauce to pan, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 5-7 minutes (or until chicken pieces are cooked through). Remove from heat. Remove chicken from skillet with a slotted spoon. Allow sauce to cool in the pan for about 3 minutes, then add yogurt and coconut milk. Blend with immersion blender until smooth. Serve chicken over basmati rice and spoon sauce over the top.

Of course I made the chili, too. But Keith was very happy with his dinner and is ok with saving his chili for tomorrow (or for Munch!). I just wish we had leftover masala...

For more tasty, svelte recipes, try The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook! It's available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Whole Grains: Mystery Solved!

So it seems that I've created some label-reading monsters out there! Which is great, I'm not complaining. By reading food labels, you're hopefully starting to understand calorie counts, portion sizes and all the nutrition (or lack thereof!) that's in the food you're eating. I read the labels for everything -- if I read something bad, I still may eat it. I just like to know what I'm putting in!

Anyway, you're starting to ask some questions, too, which is also great! One I've gotten a lot recently has to do with whole grain, whole wheat and the whole food theory in general. More specifically, I've been asked, "if whole grain flour/bread has the same calories as white flour/bread, then why can't we just eat the white one? Isn't it just calories in, calories out?"

Here's the short answer:
1. Whole grains help stabilize blood sugar
2. Whole grains keep you feeling fuller, longer

How? Well, there are very long, very boring explanations for all this, but I'm going to put it into my own words. Basically, as your body digests carbohydrates (beginning with chewing!), it converts it into sugars (energy) that are absorbed into your bloodstream. If this conversion and absorption happens very quickly, your blood sugar spikes....then crashes. If this absorption happens slowly, your blood sugar remains stable.

A grain is made up of bran (or fiber), germ and endosperm. The bran is on the outside, the germ contains the nutrients, and the endosperm is the starchy part. Your body really has to work hard to digest the fiber and the germ to get to the endosperm. But processed foods (like white flour) are basically the starchy endosperm that's been stripped of the bran and germ. Therefore, they are converted to sugar and absorbed into the blood stream quite quickly. In fact, your body processes the sugars in a piece of white bread much like a piece of cake! Ever wonder why you're always hungry? You eat white bread or other junk food, then an hour later (or less), you want to eat again. That's because your body has very quickly processed and used up what you put into it. However, the whole grain slows things down considerably....

The whole grain has all three parts, so it takes your body longer to digest, convert the sugar and carry it to your blood stream. You feel fuller longer and you don't have the negative effects of your blood sugar rapidly rising and falling! Staying fuller longer ultimately means you'll eat less, which is why whole grains are recommended for weight loss.

Plus, you're getting all that great fiber! Fiber (the bran layer) of food comes in two forms -- soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber (found in fruits, veggies, beans and whole grains) dissolves in water, and is what weighs down your stomach and makes you feel full. Insoluble fiber (often found in the peels of foods and whole grains) is bulky and helps food pass through your intestines. Some experts believe it also helps block some of the fat that your body takes from food -- I like that theory! Yay fiber! You also get a lot of fiber from fruits and vegetables. I like to aim for at least 30 grams of fiber a day.

So to make a long story short (too late!), whole grains are better for your body -- both inside and out! Not only do they help your dieting efforts by making you feel full, but they help keep your blood sugar stable and your digestive tract running smoothly.

Now that you're ready to switch from white bread to whole wheat, here are some things to remember. Back to the label reading! Wheat and whole wheat are not always the same. In order to be considered a whole grain, it must have the three parts (bran, germ and endosperm). So make sure you see the word "whole" or look for this seal. Also, foods high in fiber (like bran cereals), may not contain the other parts of the grain -- so while you're getting the good fiber, you're missing some of the value of the whole grain.

If you have anything to add, either from your own experience or a medical background, please feel free to leave a comment! The more knowledge we have, the more successful we'll be. In the meantime, I'm going to go make some popcorn -- it is a whole grain, after all!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. A portion of book sales through the end of February will be donated to the relief efforts in Haiti.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Surviving the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl means different things to different people -- some are die hard football fans, some just like the commercials, some host annual parties and some just attend. But across the board, Super Bowl party food often ranks right up there with the game itself. And for many, Super Bowl equals super fattening!

Chips, dips, wings, nachos, BBQ, chili, burgers, potato salad, giant subs (or hoagies or grinders...whatever you call them where you live!) -- sound about right? There are ways to hit the Super Bowl parties without gorging on all the junk food. Sure, it's tough to pass up -- especially those once-a-year treats. So have a little of the bad (but oh-so-good!) stuff, then follow a couple simple rules to make it through the second half!

If you're the type who doesn't eat unless you're hungry (I'm not, I eat all the time, regardless!), then this is a great tip for you. Fill up before you get there! Eat a healthy meal of lean proteins and lots of fiber, which will fill you up and keep you feeling full longer. Or, if you plan to sample some of the fare, then have a snack so you don't arrive at the party famished. We all know what happens when we do that! We eat so fast that we've taken in a ton of calories before we realize it. At least I do. Maybe you're all a bit luckier, but my appetite gets me every time. So try this tip...

With my propensity to munch, I stay close to the veggie tray. The crudités might not sound all that appealing, but a handful of sweet sugar snap peas, a couple baby carrots and some tangy grape tomatoes later, I'm not hungry anymore. And I haven't taken in too many calories. I skip the dip unless it's light and go for the salsa on my veggies. You won't even miss the chips. (OK, maybe a little, but we're on a mission here!)

Moderation is key, of course, but if you're going to have that sandwich, take off the cheese. You'll save 100 calories per ounce (yes, OUNCE!) of cheese. That's about a slice. Ugh! Pile on the veggies and some mustard for extra flavor without the calories and fat. And if you have the option, use whole grain bread. It's higher in fiber, which again, will fill you up faster.

Yes, I have to go there...if you're watching your weight or simply trying to be healthier, don't drink your calories. A light beer has about 100 calories, but some ales are upwards of 350 calories EACH. Soda is loaded with sugar and calories. I have learned to love sparkling water with lemon, a splash of fruit juice, or as part of a wine spritzer. Yum! 'Nuff said.

Now, if you're hosting the party, the ball is in your court! Wrong sport, but you get the idea. Put out these healthy choices for your guests, and I'll bet they won't even know they're eating healthy! Options from The Svelte Gourmet Cookbook include Sweet & Spicy Chili (getting rave reviews nationwide!), Tangy Buffalo Chicken (make it as chicken fingers!) and Blue Cheese Burgers (try them with the Zucchini "Fries" on my favorite new blog, MelDabbles.com!). And here's what I'll do -- if you order the cookbook before Sunday, I'll email you these three recipes so you'll have them in time for your party!

This morning I was backstage at Lowcountry Live (ABC News 4 in Charleston) and had the pleasure of watching Louis Yuhasz, founder of Louie's Kids, share some of his healthy Super Bowl snacks during the cooking segment. Louie's Kids is a non-profit organization fighting childhood obesity, and I'm thrilled to be supporting them as part of the upcoming BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival. The Svelte Gourmet will be cooking live (!!!) on Lowcountry Live on February 18th at 10 a.m., and I am donating a portion of cookbook sales from the show and the festival to Louie's Kids. If you'd like to be a part of this donation, simply mention Louie's Kids in your cookbook order!

I'm still donating a portion of all sales to the Haiti relief efforts, too, through the end of February.
The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.

Happy Super Bowl! Enjoy!