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|March 12-18, 2009
• Just around the corner
Scotch Corner Pub brings a taste of the Highlands to Boulder
by Clay Fong
• Infestation was blessing for pinot noir
Two books inspire us to fill the larder for a better diet
by Emily Nunn
Interested in taking first steps toward more healthful eating? Turn to two new inspirational books for help: The Flexitarian Diet, by dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner and Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, by cookbook author Mark Bittman.
Neither author is a strict vegetarian. Blatner (who is national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association) is obviously a “flexitarian,” which sounds obscure but simply means she’s a casual vegetarian who eats meat on occasion.
Bittman has been a self-professed proselytizer for meat minimalism ever since the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations revealed that the global livestock industry contributes to global warming in much larger ways than most people imagine — “about one-fifth of all greenhouse gases — more than transportation,” he writes in his book’s introduction.
Each instead subscribes to the dictum offered in The Omnivore’s Dilemma from author and food guru Michael Pollan: “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” But, unlike Pollan, Bittman and Blatner also give actual directions on how to do that, plus menus, recipes and tips. And above all, they’re realistic.
“I think what’s unusual is that not only am I not a scientist or a dietitian, but I also refuse to be dogmatic,” Bittman said. “A lot of this is common sense. It’s a ‘We’re thinking about things differently now’ plan.”
Which for him, personally, means: “I basically just cram my refrigerator full of vegetables.” Of course, his book’s recommendations go well beyond that idea.
“It’s not about eating less,” he added, while also pointing out he didn’t invent the idea of eating less meat, but that he was in the position to offer his way of doing that. “It’s about eating different things, shifting the balance. You can eat carloads of vegetables, for instance, and not gain weight.
“This is about modifying incrementally; have fruit salad a few times a week, rice and beans twice. Start eating oatmeal for breakfast,” he said.
Today, Bittman’s diet is about 70 percent plants. But a couple of years ago, he was overweight, with high cholesterol, elevated blood sugar, sleep apnea and other modern health maladies. After a visit to his doctor, he overhauled his habits, which helped him lose 35 pounds.
“The only basic rule, the only thing people really need to do, is change the proportion of what they eat. Eat less processed food and animal products and more plants, and you’re doing the right thing,” he said.
But his book goes way beyond that decree, and includes a brief but incisive history of how we got to our present state of bad eating in the U.S. — as well as recipes (with variations to suit your own taste) and weekly menus to get you started.
But for beginners, Blatner, who is elementary in her approach and a little more rigorous when it comes to rules, may be a better fit.
She is, after all, a professional dietitian — who happens to laugh a lot when she talks about food, offers quick and delicious recipes in her book, and clearly believes there’s nothing lovelier than eating right.
“(Food) is the building block of everything you are in terms of mood, attitude, cells, what your skin looks like,” Blatner said. “Food really is a very magical piece of the puzzle when it comes to having a healthy, well balanced life.”
The Flexitarian Diet can be described as an inspirational, motivational diet-makeover cookbook.
It may surprise you to find Blatner is a proponent of convenience foods — as long as they’re healthful and natural. For instance, she is a big fan of ready-to-eat microwaveable brown rice, and other easy but nutritious eats.
“You’re only as healthy as your last trip to the grocery store,” Blatner said.
With that in mind, her one simple rule if you want to be a good flexitarian: “Before you pull into the checkout aisle, make sure that 25 percent of your cart is whole-grain: whole-grain bread and pita, brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn and whole-grain pasta. And 25 percent is lean protein — chicken, turkey, fish, low-fat dairy, even turkey pepperoni or chicken sausage; you should experiment. And make absolutely certain that the final 50 percent is filled with fruits and vegetables. So, 25-25-50,” she said. (Which is not that far from Bittman’s ratio.)
Blatner knows how hard it is for her clients to reform habits, but she’s there when they fall down.
Her book is loaded with pantry suggestions as well as tips to help them get back up. It contains quizzes, menus, recipes and strategies for staying on the right path.
One of her most important tips: “Don’t put your vegetables in your crisper! I’m not kidding. I call it the R.I.P. drawer, because that’s where produce goes to die. Put it in the middle of the refrigerator at eye level, because that’s where you look when you open the door. This really works.”
As stylistically different as Blatner and Bittman might seem, they would probably like one another — and not just because of their common passion for beans as an alternate source of protein.
“I’m on a mission to make sure every single fridge or freezer in America is stocked with a container of home-cooked beans,” said Bittman, without a trace of mirth.
“I love them!” said Blatner. “And people don’t eat enough.”
Dawn Jackson Blatner’s Pantry
Refrigerator and freezer:
Fruits and vegetables, pre-cut and cleaned, stored at eye-level in the fridge, as well as an accessible fruit and veggie tray
Natural dressings, sauces and condiments. Per serving (typically a tablespoon), check for 50 calories or fewer, 1 gram saturated fat or less, 200 milligrams sodium or less
At least one fresh herb
Trans-fat free margarine (not stick margarine or butter)
Natural nut butters
Frozen vegetables and unsweetened fruits
Frozen meals with about 250-350 calories, 4 grams or less saturated fat and 800 milligrams or less sodium per serving
Quick-to-cook frozen lean meats (chicken sausage, cooked shrimp)
Canned tuna in water
Low-sodium tomato products: diced, pasta sauce, salsa, etc.
Healthful oils (olive, sesame and peanut) and cooking spray
Herb and spice rack stocked with Blatner’s favorites: buttermilk ranch seasoning mix, chili powder, cinnamon, crushed red pepper flakes, cumin, curry powder, Italian seasoning, rosemary, sage
100-percent whole-grain bread, pasta, tortillas, pitas, English muffins, crackers, cereal, oatmeal
Quick-cooking grains such as whole-grain couscous and low-sodium microwaveable brown rice
Mark Bittman’s Pantry
Grains: Mostly whole; include rice, cornmeal and whole-grain flours. Once you figure out which grains you like, buy them in bulk and keep some in the cupboard and some in the freezer.
Beans: Choose an assortment of dried beans, but not more than you can use in a few months. Canned are fine but more expensive with less selection and do not taste as good.
Olive oil: Your go-to oil, extra-virgin in almost every case. Country of origin does not matter; price does. The $10-a-liter stuff is perfectly fine.
Other oils: Something neutral for cooking Asian-style dishes or pan frying at high heat, such as grapeseed, sunflower or peanut. The key is minimally processed, high-quality, cold-pressed oil, when possible.
Staple vegetables and fruits: These include much-used seasoning varieties, such as onions and garlic; frozen vegetables including spinach, peas and corn; and fresh vegetables, which you have to buy at least a couple of times a week. Long keepers such as carrots, potatoes, celery, lemons and limes can be replenished as you use them.
Fresh herbs: Something as simple as parsley can make all the difference in a dish; almost all herbs, especially basil and mint. Dill, rosemary, thyme and cilantro are great to have around, too.
Spices: As varied an assortment as your space and budget will allow.
Vinegar: Bittman thinks sherry vinegar is the best value because it is the most versatile; balsamic is more popular but sweeter. Well-made red and white wine vinegar are good.
Dried fruits and nuts: For snacking and cooking, plus sesame and sunflower seeds and nut butters.
Meat, dairy and cheese (mostly for flavoring, used sparingly): Parmesan, bacon, butter and eggs.
Canned tomatoes: Plum tomatoes are best; chopped tomatoes make life easier. Avoid those with additives.
Realistic tips for healthful cooking and eating
—Plan to shop: Dawn Jackson Blatner suggests you pick a day to shop, then stick to it. Also, decide what you’re having for dinner in the morning. Keep a reminder on the refrigerator with a list of meals you’ve shopped for.
—Do some prep: Mark Bittman suggests washing and prepping vegetables when you get home from the grocery store; at the very least, you’ll always have a quick stir-fry on hand. Also, make extra beans and rice when you’re cooking and pop the rest in the freezer.
—Experiment: “So many of my patients fall into a rut: carrots, cucumbers, iceberg lettuce,” Blatner said. “And they wonder why they’re so bored and can’t stand vegetables.”
—Condiment-ize: Bittman suggests considering meat a condiment. Blatner recommends the same for nuts. Both add richness, flavor and protein to dishes but don’t have to be the focus.
—Read labels: Ingredients are listed in order of amount. “If you’re going to get barbecue sauce or salsa or ketchup, just make sure that the first ingredients are food — meaning tomatoes, etc.,” Blatner said. Baked goods should be whole grain.
—Practice: “It takes 14 tries to like a food,” Blatner said. “And that’s where the patience comes in; you absolutely can retrain your taste buds.”
—Do a reality check: “Until 100 years ago, meat was a treat and processed food didn’t exist,” Bittman said. “You’d have a chicken once a week.”
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