Where we get fit and spin (wool)

Archive for February, 2012

Rules for Internet Information

I’ve just been involved in a few discussions based on information gleaned from the internet. I thought I would share my rules for internet information, and see if you have any others, or take issue with mine.

  1. Look for corroboration- if only one website has a certain opinion, it is automatically suspect in my mind.
  2. Look for detractors. Google “critique of ‘x'”, or “reviews of ‘x'”. If you only find one, or if the one can’t write or spell, see rule number one.
  3. Look for detail corroboration in neutral sites.
  4. How does this fit with what is generally accepted?
  5. Be suspicious of “Doctors don’t want you to know”, or “The government doesn’t want you to know” I concur the government and institutions are inept, but draw the line at malignant.

Using those rules, I was given Neal Barnard’s name as  a trusted source of food information. I googled it and came up with PCRM, Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. Their site was definitely biased in favor of veganism, and he is officially tied to PETA, as their medical adviser . Acticash.com and physicianscam.com both critiqued PCRM, but I had reason to believe those two were linked, so I couldn’t be sure there was more than one critiquer.

As far as corroborating information, I read a LOT of nutrition advice. I find lots of sites in favor of paleo, low carb, low fat, anti-gluten, anti-lactose, and even a few vegetarian. PCRM is about the only one I’ve ever seen that is that strongly vegan. Veganism is not widely supported by most nutritionists, as it is very difficult to achieve true balance, without a tremendous amount of will power and discipline.

I was going to leave PCRM in the question mark category, suspend judgement until further notice, till my daughter sent me this:http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/09/why-a-big-mac-costs-less-than-a-salad/

IT states in the article that the graphic was compiled by PCRM. My first thought was to google subsidies and see how much truth was in this. Here is one cite I found, the CATO institute


The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributes between $10 billion and $30 billion in cash subsidies to farmers and owners of farmland each year.1 The particular amount depends on market prices for crops, the level of disaster payments, and other factors. More than 90 percent of agriculture subsidies go to farmers of five crops—wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, and cotton.2 More than 800,000 farmers and landowners receive subsidies, but the payments are heavily tilted toward the largest producers.3

This was one of the few sites that put numbers on it, but I found several others that were complaining about farm subsidies, and they all had the same line, meat and dairy is not as heavily subsidized as grains and cotton.

All this to say that if your biases get the best of you, you become an unreliable source. It doesn’t make them evil, and I wouldn’t automatically discount everything they say, but I would see if through the filter that they are heavily biased, and they are not being 100% honest about that bias. They are less about health than they are about animals. Eating meat is not the worst thing for you, nor is dairy.

In light of this, in case you can’t figure it out, my bias is strongly in the direction of Michael Pollen. Eat real food, not too much. Yes, less meat and dairy is better for most people, but I don’t think no meat is better. Or eggs, milk, and fish. Eat lots of veggies, and less of every thing else is healthy. Eating fewer calories, independent of the source, is better. Eating nutrient dense foods is good. Milk, vegetables, eggs, fruit and meat are nutrient dense. Avoid sugar and baked goods, they have few or no nutrients and lots of calories.

The internet is a great source for information, but you have to do your due diligence. How do you do yours? Did I miss anything? Do you have any funny misinformation stories?

AAARRRGGGHHH!!! They just don’t get it!

Please tell me they got it wrong. I heard about this story on Fox News, and the initial story left out one crucial detail, one that I quote and cite below. Before I get to the crux of the matter, even the initial scan of the story makes me shake my head.

A North Carolina preschooler came to school with a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, apple juice and potato chips – and her lunch was promptly replaced with chicken nuggets from the cafeteria.

According to reports, a state agent who was inspecting lunch boxes that day decided the girl’s packed lunch did not have enough nutritional value.  A regulation put into place by the Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires that all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs meet federal nutritional guidelines.

If a child’s home-packed lunch does not meet the standards, child care providers are instructed to supplement the lunch with missing items.

Wh-wh-what? Turkey- low fat protein source, vitamins and minerals.
Cheese-calcium, protein, some vitamins.
Banana-C’mon, since when is fruit not good enough?

Now, I’m not thrilled with chips and apple juice, I could quibble with that, but what 4 year old would plow through all that anyway? It’s what they said they replaced it with, on the basis of what she sent wasn’t nutritious enough. Chicken nuggets. Have we not gone through this enough? Did not Jamie Oliver try to show kids why they shouldn’t be eating those? But what is the point if the cafeteria can’t figure it out and somehow thinks they are more nutritious than a turkey and cheese sandwich. It is so ludicrous that I can’t fathom it. Maybe, just maybe, these nuggets are real chicken, not “pink paste”. Still, they are breaded and fried. Is that what we want to teach our children is nutritious? I desperately want to think that they got it wrong, that some editor threw the nuggets in to inflame people like me. After seeing what our school cafeteria served my kids, I can’t assume that. Our school thought bread sticks with marinara sauce was good as a serving as grain and vegetables. And people wonder why I get so animated?

*Sigh* I’ll wipe the spittle off my chin and calm down. It just means I have more work to do.

Making Healthy Cooking Easier and Cheaper

Eating as healthy as possible, as cheaply as possible does require more effort on your part. Here are some of my top thoughts on making it easier. There is a phrase I hear a horse trainer using that applies here:”Make it easy to do the right thing, and hard to do the wrong.” If we make doing some of these things too hard, we won’t do them. The other thing to keep in mind is the “80/20” rule – make 80% of your diet as “clean” as possible, so you can afford the other 20%. So if tonight you have a whole wheat pizza with black bean and salsa topping, it will won’t be so bad that you get your potatoes from a box the next night.

  1. Prepare beans overnight, double batch, freeze half
  2. Cook double portion of brown rice, freeze half
  3. freeze produce, including large amounts from auction or market
  4. Do some of the prep work for tomorrow’s dinner while cleaning up tonight’s
  5. Soup usually makes huge batches, freeze half.
  6. Use tools- food processor, blender, whatever, to make it easier.
  7. Use the microwave as often as possible

I think you can see a trend here. I rely heavily on my freezer, especially since there are only two of us. With the worries about BpA’s in canned food, I’m reluctant to use too many, especially tomatoes, since their acid is more likely to leach the BpA’s out of can’s lining. I have canned my own, and will do so again, but I also dry and freeze a lot.

Of course, all this work fits into my philosophy that it is too much sitting and easy food that led us to where we are now, so reversing that by actually participating in our own food preparation is a good thing. If you have any ideas, tips, favorite recipes or any other tidbits, send them along.

Quick Dinners

All right, you just walked in the door at 5pm, lugging the kids and groceries. You and the kids are STARVED, what do you  do?

A -Order pizza.
B- Hand out Twinkies, put the perishables away and sink into the couch.
C- Make a healthy dinner while putting the groceries away.

If you know me, you know “C” is the correct answer. If that looks too daunting, let me help. First, hand the kids a healthy snack. They are going to be miserable if they are too hungry, and that won’t help you. Fruit, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, cheese sticks and yogurt are all acceptable and quick. If they don’t eat as much dinner, who cares? What you already fed them is nutritious.
Dinner- How fast can you boil water? Cook up some whole wheat pasta, add a can each of salmon, corn and fat free cream of “*” soup. You can use any cream soup, I use mushroom, but if you don’t like that, use chicken or broccoli. I also use canned mushrooms in this. I like onions in mine, I chopped them and added them to the pasta water just before the pasta is done. Mix everything in either a glass bowl and microwave to heat, or back into the drained pasta pot, just enough to heat through. Top with Parmesan cheese if you want.

Rotisserie chicken from the store,microwave baked potato and microwaved veggies. Done in 10 minutes.

You can haul steak or chops out of the freezer, defrost in microwave just long enough to get the wrapper off, put on broiler pan, still frozen, top with favorite seasoning and broil it. You can cook frozen meat, as long as you can get the wrapper off. All kinds of veggies come frozen, including green pepper and onion. Saute them in the pan while the meat is cooking. Throw a sweet potato in the microwave, take some salad out of a bag. Bam. Done.

Any meal can be rounded out with raw, roasted, sauteed, or microwaved veggies. Meat can be cooked frozen, microwaved, or skipped. Beans are a perfectly good protein source, so are-gasp-soybeans. I wouldn’t eat textured soy protein very much, there is some controversy about the phytoestrogens, but fermented soy (read:tofu) doesn’t seem to have the same risks. Starches aren’t even necessary, but we all like them, and they are easy to get. I’ll give more ideas of how to make the healthiest versions of starches easier in a future post.

Yes, bagged salad is more expensive, but not by much, and it depends on what you get. Spinach in a bag is $1.29 at Aldi’s, I bought a bag last Monday, now it’s Friday, I’ve gotten 4 servings of protein shakes and 6 salads from it. I call that  I do things like use my carrot peeler and peel raw turnip and carrot into my salads. If you try and tell me it’s too expensive, I better not see a $2 bag of chips on your counter. Rotisserie chicken, already cooked for you at Walmart or Tops is the same price as raw. Go figure.

Bon Appetit.

Yogurt 101

While I think commercial yogurt is a fairly safe and natural product, I do think it is one of those things that are cheaper to make yourself. Right now, in our area, milk is less than $2 a gallon. I don’t want to think about why that is, or how that is affecting farmers. I will just use lots of milk. See this previous blog if you are lactose intolerant. My husband does not like skim, but I use it for cooking, so the yogurt is fat free. My daughter gave me a yogurt maker for Christmas:

yogurt maker

handy little thing

While you don’t need one to make yogurt, I have to say it makes the whole process easy and fool proof. From the booklet that came with it, I learned a few things to make better yogurt. First, boil the milk. For some reason, this makes the yogurt thicker. If you have a large pyrex measuring cup-pyrex measuring cupIt will make doing so very easy, add the milk and nuke for about 10 minutes, till the milk climbs up the sides. I also add some powdered milk, to increase the nutritional content. Let it cool to 115-120, I use my meat thermometer to test, add some commercial yogurt, stir, and put in clean jars, either the ones from the yogurt maker or you can use canning jars and then put in a cooler with hot water, or in your oven, with the pilot light on. You just need some way to keep it very warm for 7-12 hours.

Can we all get past the romance with greek yogurt? It is simply yogurt with the whey drained off. No additional protein is added to it, it just has less water. You can do this yourself, either with store bought or your own homemade.yogurt in a strainer, with a paper towel, draining off the whey.With your own, you need a paper towel to prevent the yogurt from going through the holes. This is how much whey comes off.whey from the yogurtGreek yogurt is more expensive, since it has less water, it takes more milk to make the same 8 ounces. Making your own would definitely be advantageous.

The yogurt can then be used to make healthier alternatives for many higher fat dairy products. You can use it in place of sour cream. I am now experimenting with making yogurt cheese, to replace cream cheese. To make yogurt cheese, you fold the paper towel over the top, and put some weight on it, to squeeze even more liquid out. If you are feeling very thrifty, you can save the whey and use it in your bread recipes, in place of some of the water. Why does have some protein, but it is mostly water.

This is not a time saving activity. While it only takes about 15 minutes  to prepare, you do have to wait for it to cool off. I would just let it ferment overnight, putting it in the fridge in the morning. It isn’t difficult, but I can understand if people don’t want to spend the time.


I Give Up, if This Doesn’t Make you Move to Cooking/Growing your own, Nothing Will.

Jamie Oliver superimposed on a McDonalds sign.

Thank you Jamie.

I stumbled on this in another blog, then had to go look for it myself. This yahoo article has a link to the original news post, but also has some other common chemicals found in food. That pink paste picture we’ve all been seeing of the chicken nugget production is really the “pink slime” they’ve created of “mechanically separated meat” treated with ammonium hydroxide. The article states that it is part of the production of mechanically separated meat. Can you say “hot dogs”? Do you still think that our government is taking care of the safety of our food and that anything you buy off the shelf or in a supermarket is safe? Can you imagine the board meeting where they decided this was a good idea? “Hey guys, we can use the scraps off the floor if we soak them in disinfectant first. This will up our profit margin two points. The FDA approved it after we reminded them what would happen to the American economy if we don’t grow.”  What kind of corporate culture creates a aura where this is considerate a good way to treat customers?

Here is a list of what is in a Big Mac, from McDonalds website: Big Mac®:
100% Beef Patty, Big Mac Bun, Pasteurized Process American Cheese, Big Mac Sauce, Lettuce, Pickle Slices, Onions. Sounds ok, right? What is the bun made of? Processed cheese has a number of chemicals, what are they?

Here is the same list I got from “Vegan World News

Enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate riboflavin, folic acid, enzymes), water, high fructose corn syrup, sugar Lettuce, Pickle Slices, Onions, minced beef and fat, Vegetarian Cheddar (51%), Water, Butter, Vegetarian Cheese (9%), Whey Powder, Milk Proteins, Emulsifying Salts (Trisodium Citrate, Citric Acid), Natural Cheese Flavouring, Salt, Preservative (Sorbic Acid), Colour (Natural Carotenes, Paprika Extract), Anti-caking Agent (Soya Lecithin)., soybean oil and/or partially hydrog- enated soybean oil, Salt, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, wheat gluten, ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, sodium stearoyl lactylate , datem, ascorbic acid, Azodicarbonamide, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides , monocalcium phosphate enzymes, guar gum, calcium peroxide, soy flour, calcium propionate (preservative), sodium propionate , soy lecithin, sesame seed., oil, diced pickles, high fructose corn syrup , sugar, vinegar, corn syrup, salt, calcium chloride, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate, spice extractives, polysorbate 80, distilled vinegar, water, egg yolks, high fructose corn syrup, onion powder, mustard seed, salt, spices, propylene glycol alginate, sodium benzoate (preservative), mustard bran, sugar,garlic powder, Mono Sodium glutamate, caramel colour, extractives of paprika, soy lecithin, turmeric, calcium disodium EDTA

I can’t verify that their list is accurate, but it does demonstrate the difference of “full disclosure”. If you doubt the real list of ingredients is that long, just check out your average loaf of bread. Try Hawaiian Punch.

Repeat after me: “Eat real food.” Please! If it takes too long, see some of my articles on making it easier, but also, if it that hard to make your own food, how much time are you watching tv/on the computer/playing video games. Turn them off and get in the kitchen. Sounds counter intuitive, doesn’t it?

I’m Not a Food Blogger

So, I’m never going to be a food blogger, but I have been thinking a lot about how to get people to understand that eating well doesn’t have to be expensive or terribly time consuming. I think it is clear that cooking your own food is the best way to avoid the bad things in our diets. However, it requires more time and thought to do so, and we all get busy, tired or lazy at times.  I’ve come up with ways to make it easier.  I will just give you this entry as a series of ideas, and if more come to me, I’ll make it a regular feature.

First, make friends with your microwave:

  1.  Not only is it fast, it lets vegetable keep much of their nutritional value. I take a regular cereal bowl, dump some fresh or frozen veggies in, put a plate on top and pop it in. 2-3 minutes for fresh, 4-5 for frozen. If your husband talked you into pizza, cut a slice in half, microwave some broccoli, onion and green pepper, drop it on the pizza. Half the calories, twice the nutrition and yummy.
  2. Bake a sweet potato in the microwave. More fiber and vitamins than a white potato, one can usually feed 2-3 people, takes only 5 minutes and retains more moisture.
  3. Eggs take only 25-30 seconds in the microwave. You have to watch them. Coat a bowl with spray oil, crack an egg in and cook on high.
  4. You can cook corn meal, which is what Polenta is, easily in the microwave. I cook a cup of water on high for a minute, add 1/4 c. of corn meal, a dash of salt, microwave on high one minute, stir, cook and stir like that until it is the consistency you like.  Put the aforementioned egg on top, salsa and/ or cheese and you have a 5 minute lunch.
  5. You want a really sweet treat, that’s healthier? Peel a banana, cut in half length wise. Put in a bowl or plate, cut side up. Arrange chocolate chips and mini marshmallows down each side. Microwave just till the chips melt and the ‘mallows puff up. It makes the banana sooo much sweeter, it’s almost too much.
  6. Make your own yogurt. I got a yogurt maker for Christmas, and it says to bring the milk to a boil for thicker yogurt. It is so much easier to do so in the microwave. No scorching, and as long as you keep an eye on it, no boiling over. About 10 minutes for a quart of milk.

These are just my microwave thoughts. Next I’ll do an article on some super quick dinner ideas. After that, some ways to make the healthiest choices easier.

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