Are We What We Eat?

DIET.  Now there’s a word we’ll all consider. And there’s a word most of us will decide (with a modicum of guilt) to ignore. It is a hard thing to do. Diet. It evokes images of depravation, doing without, being hungry most of the time. Some of us will look a little past Diet and see a healthier, slimmer, pain-free self. So we’ll take a stab at Diet, last a few days, push it for a few weeks, perhaps make it for a month, struggling all the way. Then give up.

Defined, Diet is not a scary word. Webster’s tells us the root of the word literally means “manner of living” from the Greek diaitasthai, “to lead one’s life”. So, that’s not so horrible. But that was in the 13th century. We’re now in the 21st century. And, like everything our species touches, we will modernize and our language is not immune. That old Greek word, brought up to date, has evolved its meaning. It’s now “a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight”.

Well, the word has evolved. We have not.

Historically we are hunters. Our earliest ancestors killed for meat and that is all that sustained us for millennia.  We are genetically disposed to crave fat. Eliminating the fat leaves us feeling unsatisfied, unfulfilled and makes us crave it even more. It also makes me very cranky. For some, even the threat of pain and ill health will not keep them away from Porterhouse steaks and double chocolate desserts.

But wait. A few do succeed with Diet. They stick with it, don’t lapse and really change their lives. I have two friends like that. One has eliminated all red meat and recently, eliminated poultry. She has kept up with a strict regimen of exercise, healthy eating and has lost an amazing amount of weight. She looks terrific; is excited and happy with her new way of living. She is a Changed woman. My other friend took off 40 pounds in 5 months. He put himself on a regimen of mostly steamed foods, zero fat and limited alcohol. He has always been very active so adding exercise was not a challenge. He too seems to be a Changed man and in a permanent (and yes!) satisfied state of restriction.

I don’t know why some have that will power. It seems to me they are denying our basic DNA and somehow ignoring the call for fat and that need to feel full. Or maybe not. Maybe that’s the secret. Maybe that’s the key. Perhaps they’re not in denial at all. Perhaps they have found a way to Fool Themselves.

But let’s, for one more paragraph (or two), go back to the scary part of Diet. All the work out in the world will be like Sisyphus up the hill if we don’t regulate what goes into our mouths. We all know that. We can not keep weight and cholesterol in check and be healthy and pain free if we continue to consume too much bad fat and too much unrefined sugar. We all know that too. But while we still carry the cave(wo)man chromosomes, we no longer lead that rigorous cave(wo)man life. No mater how much exercise we get, basically, our environment now is a whole lot cushier.

So, let’s sum up: We crave the fat. We need to feel satisfied. We are not, as a rule, inclined to tolerate hungry. We also want to be healthy and we want to live a long time. And just exercise is not enough.

While I do not have the complete answer, I do have a bit of a solution. But first, let me issue a quick qualifier. I am not a dietician. I have no training as a nutritionist. However, Food is my passion and I am, as you may have noticed, obsessed with Good Food. And, I think, if we focus on the Good part of Food, we are already half way there to a better, healthier way to eat. We need to tease (Fool) ourselves into feeling full, into thinking we’re getting and tasting the fat. And that, I expect, is what my very healthy friends have discovered.

And, oh yes, one more tiny thing: time. Let’s not ignore that. It is an issue. It is an obstacle to consider when planning a Good Food program. We are all very busy, often way over tired, constantly running in 5th gear.  I’ve considered that and will not further add to the obligation overload.

Okay, let’s get started. Here’s how I’d begin:

Once a week, carve out some time and cook a lot of  Healthy Good Stuff. Avoid buying Unhealthy Bad Stuff.  If it’s not in the house when the munchies hit and time is short and you have to grab and go, there will only be Good Food to choose from.

Have a plan before you shop. Then, make a list before you go. Stick to that list. Eat before you shop; do not shop hungry. That is a big mistake and will lead to Impulse in-store Snacking and Unhealthy Food Buying.

Cooking and Menu.

  • Roast 2 chickens or 2 turkey breasts at once with lots of vegetables roasting in the same pan.  Carrots, parsnips, corn, onions, broccoli, green beans, asparagus, peppers, squashes and cauliflower all roast beautifully. Season lightly with olive oil, minced garlic, fresh lemon juice, a favorite herb and pepper. Omit salt. Lemon juice will give way to salty after it’s cooked. One hour and you have dinner plus extra for lunch wraps that pack to travel, chicken or turkey salad or another meal of quesadillas. Include some sliced avocado in the wraps, skim milk cheese in the quesadillas; that will give you a taste of the fat we crave, it’s just better fat. (Oh, while you may roast the birds with skin on, please toss it after cooking).
  • Make a large pot of Quinoa cooked in chicken or vegetable broth to add lots of flavor. It can accompany any light protein for dinner, serve as a substantial main course with roasted, grilled or sautéed veg and also turns into salads for lunches and snacks. Add favorite nuts, dried fruits, raw vegetables, left over cooked vegetables, parsley, cilantro, fresh citrus juice; any combinations you like. Quinoa is a complete food—it contains all of the nutrients we need. It is very healthy and very filling.
  • Seafood. We all know that diets rich in fruits of the sea are among the healthiest. Think of the Mediterranean, the Greek Isles and the Sea of Japan. Try using cookbooks and recipes from those cultures and dig in.
  • Soups. They are also very filling and by using low fat vegetable or chicken broth as a base and milk or yoghurt instead of cream, they become even healthier. Puree your soups. That provides a richness that’s very satisfying and serves up the illusion of more fat and feeling full. Soup is also as good in the summer as it is in the winter. Make a lot and it will last in the fridge for several days. Fill a thermos and you’ve got lunch ready to go or, store in small cups for quick snacks to grab.

These are 2 of my favorite cold summer soups—they taste good and they’re pretty easy to make.

Fresh Pea Soup

3 tbs. sweet butter, 1 shallot minced, 4 scallions chopped, 1 head butter lettuce, roughly torn apart, 2 cups fresh or frozen peas (don’t defrost if using frozen), 4 cups low fat chicken or vegetable stock, S & P to taste, 6 fresh tarragon leaves, chopped, 2-3 tbs. plain yoghurt or milk. Optional Garnish: minced green onions, snips of more tarragon.

Melt butter and add scallions, shallots, peas and lettuce and sauté for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add warmed chicken or vegetable stock. Add S & P to taste. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Puree and check seasonings. Adjust if necessary. Cover and chill. Mix in yoghurt or milk. Garnish. Serves 4-6.

Roasted Beet & Tomato Soup

3 TBS unsalted butter, Extra Virgin olive oil, 1 cup chopped sweet onion,1 TBS minced garlic, 3 TBS apple cider vinegar, 2 pounds fresh beets—red and/or golden, 2 cups fresh tomatoes diced (seeds and all),1 cup peeled diced potatoes, ½ cup fresh carrots chopped, 4 cups low fat chicken or vegetable stock. S&P to taste. Yoghurt or low fat sour cream and minced chives for garnish

Place the beets in a foil lined baking pan, sprinkle lightly with S&P and olive oil, cover with more foil and roast at 350° until just fork tender (about 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of the beets). Remove from oven, cool, peel and cut in ½.

  • Melt butter in heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, season with S&P and sauté until just starting to soften; 3-4 minutes.
  • Add garlic, sugar & vinegar, raise heat to medium high and cook until almost all the liquid evaporates.
  • Add the rest of the vegetables, stock & if needed, more S&P to taste. Raise heat to high and bring everything to a gentle boil. Then reduce heat, partially cover the pot and simmer until all the veggies are very tender. About 30-40 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat, uncover and let cool. If you have a Foley food mill and need a kitchen work out, puree the soup—in batches– through the mill; discard any leftover skins or seeds. Or, just use a food processor and whirr until everything is creamy and smooth.
  • Transfer the soup to a glass or porcelain container, cover and chill well.
  • Serve with dollops of yoghurt or low fat sour cream and minced chives.

Serves 4-6.

 ONE NOTE FOR BOTH SOUPS:

**Ingredient portions do not have to be perfectly exact, a little more or less of this or that is okay. 

**Cold deadens flavor; you’ll want to over season just a bit.

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